We’ve reached today the end of the book of the prophet Malachi, written about the year 400 b.c., two and a half thousand years ago. You will remember that the Malachi prophesied in the city of Jerusalem that had been rebuilt after the people had returned from their exile to Babylon. The temple and the city walls were rebuilt, but then nothing much had happened for over a hundred years, and the people were beginning to doubt that God really loved them. So their response to God was becoming increasingly half-hearted.
Let me begin by asking you a question. What do you think being a Christian is like? On balance, when you weigh up the pros and cons, is it in your advantage to be a Christian? Is it a good thing or is it overall a bad thing to do?
I've heard it said that when someone becomes a Christian, the last part of them to be converted is frequently their wallet. That was just as true in ancient Israel as it is today.
Do you ever look at the world, and everything that is broken within it, all the bad stuff that there, is the people who do horrendously bad things – and wonder why God does not fix it. Why does he not stamp out all the bad things? Why does he not intervene, and take off the stage of this world all the people who do really awful things?
The people of Malachi’s day had got tired of God. Or rather, they suspected God had got tired of them. I won’t recap the history in full this morning. I’ve shared the historical background of the book of Malachi on a number of weeks recently. suffice to say for today that a hundred years has passed since God did anything to show that he still loves his people, and so they are growing tired and cynical. They’re treating God cheaply. This comes out in a number of ways, but one of them is that they are treating marriage cheaply.
If you were here last week, one of the things I said was that it is important that the people charged with passing on God’s word, God’s message to his people, do not duck or modify the things that God has to say but that are hard for us to accept or hear. Then we come from there to the material before us this morning, and I am immediately met with a passage that it is extremely tempting to skip, and to jump straight from halfway through Malachi 2 to the beginning of chapter 3.
Don’t you hate the politician’s answer? They don’t give you a straight answer to the question they’ve just been asked, because they worry about what you will think of them if they do.
When people who teach about God do this, it is tragic, because if there is a God nothing matters more than knowing what he’s like, than knowing what he requires of us, than knowing how we can get to be in his good books, than being able to be certain that we are in his good books and so we are secure for eternity.
We’re continuing to look at the gap that there is between God’s great love for, us his blessings to us, and our response to that.
It’s a good thing to think about at harvest time, because harvest is when we call to mind the rich blessings that God gives us in so many dimensions and areas of life. To do that, and then to look at what our response both should be and is, is a very fitting exercise to do.
So, we’re looking this morning at the mismatch between God’s great love for us, and our response to that love. So: I know in myself that God’s love is really very great. It’s a very big and wonderful thing. But if you were to read how much God loves us from how I respond to him, you would not get the impression that God’s love is very big and very wonderful. There’s this gap which is a big gap, and that’s what we’re thinking about.
That Bible reading is set in the world of animal sacrifice which means it seems a bit remote. It's hard for us to relate to, to connect to. We don't have animal sacrifices today and hopefully most of you think that's a very good thing indeed.