Sermon Manuscript . . .
God’s Love for an Ungrateful People
A few weeks ago, I turned 50. I was feeling a little nostalgic, so I pulled out one of my old diaries. There was one year when I kept a journal for an entire 12 months. It was 1981 and I was eleven years old turning twelve. I thought I’d share a few awkward memories with you this morning–but let me say this first. These entries are just a little embarrassing and I’m entrusting my life to you as I do this–so please be kind.
I was eleven years old in Form 2 at school in New Zealand—that’s the equivalent of 6th grade. Here’s my entry on March 12, 1981.
And here is March 19 (a week later).
This is April 15.
And last, this is July 28.
Now there’s a trend here and I want you to see it in summary form–here it is.
Slide 6–It isn’t fair!
Slide 7–It isn’t fair. I just want to be like the other boys.
Slide 8–Dad is being ugly again.
Slide 9–Dad is being ugly again . . . AGAIN!
And I’m sorry to tell you that this same sentiment is littered throughout my whole journal. Now as I read these, the picture that came to my mind was a little boy, sitting on his loving father’s lap, slapping his father across the face! It’s terrible! I was loved, I was cared for, I was embraced. I was warm, dry, and filled. I had more than most kids in the world–and instead of being grateful, I complained because life was just so unfair.
In New Zealand, that’s what we call “spitting the dummy”! That’s what that is–it’s a baby who’s just had it. He’s mad at the world, so he spits out his pacifier and starts to bawl. So here’s me at eleven years old, spitting the dummy, throwing a wobbly, packing a sad–and recording the whole thing in a journal.
That’s exactly what Israel is doing here in Malachi chapter 1. They’re spitting the dummy. They’re upset, they’re ungrateful, they’re unloving. They’re entitled infants who are questioning God’s love for them.
Look at this. Let’s read the passage to get us started. If you’re visiting today, we started a new series in Malachi last Sunday. Today we’re jumping right into the text–it’s in your handout. It’s Malachi 1:1 to 5. “The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi. 2 ‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have You loved us?’ ‘Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ declares the Lord. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob; 3 but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” 4 Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins”; thus says the Lord of hosts, “They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant forever.” 5 Your eyes will see this and you will say, “The Lord be magnified beyond the border of Israel!”
This is an amazing and shocking passage of Scripture, because Israel’s attitude is so, so bad–just like my journal. Chris gave us a great intro to the book last Sunday. If you remember, Israel has been restored to the Promised Land, having been taken away into captivity by the evil Babylonians. Now they are back in the land. The city of Jerusalem has been rebuilt. The temple has been rebuilt. Prosperity is returning. Freedom is being enjoyed by the nation. These are more comfortable days for Israel.
And then comes Malachi, the last prophet of the Old Testament. And he says in verse 1, “The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.” Now look at this verse. This is the introduction to the book. He says this is “the oracle of the word of the Lord.” Some of your translations will say, “The burden of the Word of the Lord.” Malachi’s message is a heavy burden–a heavy message. It’s a concerning message to Israel, because God is not happy with this nation.
The name Malachi literally means “my messenger,” so this book then is a heavy burden, 1) from the Lord, 2) it is for Israel, and 3) Malachi, the prophet, is the agent. He’s the messenger. Then we get into the burden itself in verse 2–this is God’s declaration.
1. God’s Declaration
This is what God declares. Look at verse 2, “ ‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord.” “I have loved you, Israel. I have loved YOU. I, the Creator of the universe, have loved you. I, the holy and righteous Judge, the sovereign God who does what He pleases–I have chosen to love you.”
He loved them by choosing their father, Abraham. He loved them by making them His special, chosen nation. He loved them by promising them blessings, and land, and a kingdom, and a future. He loved them by providing a sacrificial system whereby they could, by faith, be granted forgiveness for sins. He loved them by making Himself available to them in a special relationship.
And then more recently in their history, He loved them by allowing them to survive the Babylonian destruction. He loved them by bringing them back to their land, restoring them from exile. The nation is still alive and thriving. There is renewed religious and social life. He has kept His promises to them. He has loved them, without a doubt! It’s a simple statement–but it has massive, massive implications.
Sadly though, Israel didn’t appreciate it. God has loved them, but they don’t see it. They don’t acknowledge it. They don’t get it. Instead, they call God’s love into question. It’s like they’re children, sitting on their loving Father’s lap, slapping Him across the face. They’re packing a sad, spitting the dummy. Their response is so bad! Look at verse 2 again–this is Israel’s denial.
2. Israel’s Denial
The Lord says, “I have loved you!” But Israel responds with, “How have You loved us?” What!? “How have you loved us?”!What a shocking question! What a terrible accusation! How could Israel dare ask God this question? What on earth has happened in their hearts, that they would even dare to speak these words?
The answer is this. As we learned last week, Israel had become apathetic, complacent, comfortable, entitled. Instead of seeing themselves as blessed by a sovereign God, they viewed themselves as equals with God, who thought they had the ability to bargain with Him. They thought God was obligated to give them everything they wanted. They believed they weren’t being treated the way they deserved. And so they threw this accusation back in God’s face–“You don’t love us, God!” Slap!
How do you think that would make God feel? Many of you are parents and you know firsthand what it’s like when your children say unkind things to you. “I hate you, Mum! I hate you, Dad!” What does that do to your heart as a parent? Well that’s exactly what Israel is doing here to God. Can you imagine how that must have broken God’s heart? Don’t you wonder how Israel could possibly say this to Him? How can they do this?
Well, they do it the same way we do it today. Let me give you some examples. “My wife just cussed me out–where’s God’s love?” Or, “My husband ignores me, day after day! Where’s God’s love in that?” And, “My job just let me go! Where’s God’s love now?” Or how about, “My investment was blown to smithereens! I thought God was supposed to love me!” And, “My car just broke down! Where’s God’s love?”
“My parents were violent towards me! Where was God’s love then?” Sadly, “My country persecutes Christians? Where’s God’s love?” Often, “My friends have abandoned me! Where’s God’s love?” Or, “My child has cancer! How could a loving God allow that?” And it’s in moments like these, that we are just the same as Israel, because we think we deserve better than what God gives us.
Israel believed God owed them. They thought they actually deserved His favor–His selection. That’s why they’re doubting God’s love. Look at verse 2 again, because next we see God’s answer to that arrogant question. This is God’s defense and it’s not what you might expect. This is a total surprise, actually.
3. God’s Defense
Israel says, “How have You loved us [God]?” And the Lord answers, “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” That’s God’s answer–“Weren’t Esau and Jacob brothers?” Weren’t they the same? Weren’t they equals? Didn’t they have the same parents? And yes, that’s true–Esau and Jacob were brothers. In fact, they were twin brothers. For the whole story, we’d need to go back to Genesis 25. You should read the story this afternoon–it’s an awesome story.
There we find that Abraham had a son, Isaac–and Isaac had twin sons, Jacob and Esau. All four of them were wicked men. Abraham was a Gentile–a liar, and an adulterer. But in spite of that, God chose him to be the father of a blessed nation. Isaac, his son, was no better. But Isaac was chosen by God to inherit the blessings promised to Abraham. Then came Jacob and Esau–neither of them deserved God’s favor. Neither of them was choice-worthy. Neither of them was better than the other, but God chose to pass Abraham’s blessing onto Jacob.
And now in Malachi, 1,500 years later, Jacob’s descendants, Israel, slap God across the face and say, “You don’t love us.” And God’s response is, “I could just have easily chosen Esau, you know!? I could have just as easily given my blessings to Esau and not Jacob. Neither of them deserved my favor. Neither one of them was better than the other–but I chose you. I chose Jacob. I chose his lineage. I didn’t have to, but I chose you, Israel. Doesn’t that prove my love for you?!”
The Lord’s defense here is so amazing. Israel is apathetic, complaining, prideful, lazy, stingy, and ungrateful. And God’s defense is to show them just how much He has loved them by choosing them when He chose Jacob. Surely that’s enough for them–surely God’s electing grace is enough for them.
It’s like an adopted child claiming to be mistreated–it doesn’t make any sense. Loving, adopting parents, caring parents–they go to an orphanage. They can choose any orphan they like. They chose one elect child and then years later, that same child turns on them and claims to be unloved! What? That’s ridiculous. But that is what Israel is doing. God adopted them, and now they are questioning His love.
Keep reading–in verse 2 God says, “Even though Esau and Jacob were twin brothers, ‘Yet I have loved Jacob; 3 but I have hated Esau.’ ” Okay–time out. Wait just a minute! God loved Jacob, but hated Esau. Stop right there–that sentence needs explanation, because at first glance that just doesn’t seem fair, does it? Does it sound fair to you? Does it sound like Jacob and Esau were treated with equal opportunity? Did they both get a fair shake–what do you think?
Let me try to help. The first thing we must not do is attribute human emotions to God’s actions. Don’t do that. Our feelings of love and hate are so often a response to how people treat us. Love and hate, for us, are emotional responses based on what we like and what we don’t like. But God doesn’t operate that way–so we can’t define God’s love and hate in human categories.
Second, the verbs love and hate must not be weakened down to mean more love and less love–that’s not what God is saying. These are not two degrees of love, like Jacob is loved more and Esau is loved a little less. No, love and hate are opposites, so that meaning must be retained here.
And third, God’s choice to love Jacob is not a question of what he deserved. It’s not even a question of what’s fair. It’s certainly not a question of Jacob being better than Esau, because he wasn’t. If you want to talk about what Esau and Jacob deserved, they both deserved God’s hatred–both of them. They both deserved God’s judgment. They were both sinners from conception. They were both depraved from their beginning in the womb. And just like Abraham and Isaac before them, both were condemned to eternal death and judgment by a righteous and holy God.
So don’t be thinking Esau missed out on something he should have gotten–he didn’t. He got what he deserved–God’s judgment. Conversely, what should amaze us is that Jacob got any love at all. Don’t be upset that God hated Esau–that’s expected. Be amazed that God chose to love Jacob–that’s what we shouldn’t expect. God’s love–that’s the amazing statement here. That God elects to love anyone at all is amazing!
Our problem is that we are so prideful and entitled that we think God owes us. Even if we dare not say it out loud, there are times in our lives when we allow our minds to be skewed by Western, humanistic philosophy–human ideals of justice and ethics, what’s wrong and right, and what’s fair. In moments like that, we are tempted to point an accusing finger at God and say, “That’s not fair! What gives you the right to only choose some?”
When someone mentions the word election, so-called Christians all over the world shudder because they think their freedoms have been stripped away. They can’t stand the doctrine of predestination, because they think all people should be able to choose for themselves what their destiny is going to be. Their American ideals of independence and self-autonomy, and freedom, and self-determination are being removed from them, they think. So they shriek at the mention of Calvinism and they call it heresy.
And in the worst cases, they call God an ogre who is mean and unloving. When all He did was go through the orphanage and select a child here and a child there, and made them His own. That’s not unloving, that’s not the action of an ogre–that’s the definition of love. God selected unlovable people and chose to love them in spite of their unlovability. God continues in verse 3. ” ‘I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.’ ” That’s what God did to Esau and his descendants, Edom.
As Malachi wrote these words, Israel needed to consider what their lot would have been if God had treated them like Edom. So God reminds them that if they were not chosen, they would have been, they should have been, just like Edom–a desolation, a wilderness, a scavenger’s existence with no blessing, no Holy Land, and no love.
Do you ever consider what your life would have been like if Christ had not saved you? Think about it. If you could project into the future, your life without Christ–what would it be like? Where would you be today? What kind of person would you be? That thought alone should generate all kinds of thankfulness in your hearts for how God has chosen to love you.
Now look at this–God condemns Edom and states His judgment upon this evil nation. But look at how they respond. They’re defiant. Look at verse 4. This is Edom’s defiance.
4. Edom’s Defiance
“Though Edom says, ‘We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins.’ ” The Edomites knew their Old Testament history just as well as the Israelites did. They knew their father was Esau. They knew God had chosen Jacob and not their father for a special relationship. They knew God was opposed to them. But they didn’t care–they were gonna make it on their own anyway.
The Edomites figured, “We don’t need God’s blessing. We don’t need God. We can make it on our own.” So they set high and lofty goals for themselves. They were gonna fight against God’s purposes and try to rebuild. They were gonna be a mighty and powerful nation, regardless of what God thought.
But here’s what God says about their plans. This is God’s determination.
5. God’s Determination
Verse 4 again, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘[Edom] may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant forever.’ ” In other words, Edom can try all they like–arrogant, proud men can plan all they want. They can work as hard as they might to increase their riches, improve their livelihood, guarantee their security, line their pockets, and secure their comfort. But in the end, all their selfish desires will be torn down by the sovereign God who punishes sinners. That’s what God does.
Instead of living in the Holy Land, Edom will be called the “wicked territory”–it’s a play on words. Sin City is where they will live–“the wicked territory“. They will never rise to prominence, because the Lord is angry with their insolence and self-indulgence. This is God’s righteous determination for sinners–it is what sinners deserve. It is appropriate. It is just. It is the right conclusion for everyone born in sin.
And we all know it would be the right conclusion for us too, if it were not for God’s electing, saving grace. If it wasn’t for God’s love, that would be us. So God says He’s going to treat Edom just as they deserve. And then finally in verse 5, we see Israel’s response. This is called Israel’s deliverance.
6. Israel’s Deliverance
Look at verse 5. God says to Israel, “Your eyes will see this [you will see my treatment of Edom] and you will say, ‘The Lord be magnified beyond the border of Israel!‘ ” This is the Lord’s promise to Israel. God says, “Even though right now your heart is far from Me, Israel. Even though right now you are apathetic towards Me. Even though right now you deny My love for you, and you pridefully believe you deserve better than Me. Even though right now you are selfish, divorcing one another, and are stingy with your tithes. Even though right now you are ungrateful–I will still deliver you!
“One day sometime in the future, I will restore your hearts and you will look at the plight of other nations and respond to Me with amazement and thankfulness. Instead of saying, ‘Where’s your love for us, God?’, you will say, ‘The Lord be magnified in the whole earth.’ ” Israel will be delivered and their response will be worship. In the end, the only thing that matters is that God gets the glory. Listen, no matter whether God is showing His sovereign electing grace to His chosen people, or whether he is judging sinners who are born with sinful DNA and continue hating God for their whole lives–either way, God is going to get the glory. He is magnified.
And know this–the Israelite story is the same as the Christian’s story. We look around and we see God dealing out His divine justice on people who hate Him, and our only response is, “Thank you Lord that You don’t treat us that way! Thank You that You loved us, elected us, adopted us, drew us in, gave us a new heart, regenerated our souls, and gave us the gift of faith to put our trust in You for salvation. You Lord, You get the glory–not us.” That is amazing!
Now that’s the text for this morning. Shawn Farrell will pick up the account next Sunday. It’s such an amazing book. This is going to be a great series. But now let me spend the rest of our time together today looking at some contemporary application–what are the lessons for us? What is God teaching us here in SoCal, 2019? Here we go–I have nine implications for you.
1.When you don’t see yourself as very bad, you cannot see God as very good.
Spiritual pride will kill you. Attitudes of self-righteousness, entitlement, and self-centeredness make it impossible to see God’s goodness. People think God is just like them. Listen, we see it all the time. Someone says, “I’m a Christian!”–but they don’t love God’s kind discipline. They don’t fear God’s righteousness. They don’t obey God’s kind instructions. They don’t want to believe that trials are good. And so when the trials come, they accuse God of not loving them!
And the reason is because they’ve failed to understand their own rank, rotten, rancid depravity. They’ve lowered God to their level and now treat Him as an equal. Listen folks–we need to see ourselves accurately. We are so sinful, we deserve Hell. For us then, any day that doesn’t include Hell is a very good day. I’m not trying to be cliché here–this is a truth we need to embrace. Psychology says we are good people who are trying to be honest to ourselves. The Bible says we are bad people who are trying to become like someone else–Jesus. So we must humble ourselves–see ourselves from God’s righteous perspective. Then we will see just how good He has been to us.
2. When we see the terrible plight of sinners, we should be driven to appreciate God’s love for us.
When you see your sibling walking further and further from God . . . when you see them walking away from Christ . . . when you see them running towards sin instead of running towards grace . . . when you see them making a mess of their lives and you realize–wait, we had the same parents, we had the same opportunity, we had the same exposure to the Gospel. My heart was softened and I was saved.
Meanwhile, they’re as hard as nails. That should drive you to your knees in thanksgiving, because you know that if it weren’t for God’s love, you would be doing exactly the same thing. We’re not saved because we earned it. We’re not saved because God saw something good in us worth saving. We need to be thankful God doesn’t treat us the way we deserve. We need to be so thankful.
3. God does not owe you.
God has not promised us trouble-free lives. If all we receive from Him is His friendship and forgiveness, then we are in a very good place. That’s all we need, right? Nothing else. Sometimes I think we subconsciously buy into the health/wealth/prosperity philosophy, where God is expected to improve our lot in life. Things should always be getting better. Money resources should grow. Comfort levels should grow. Relationships should improve. Health should be guaranteed.
But listen, God does not owe us these things. He didn’t give them to Jesus–why should He give them to us? Listen–any day not in Hell is a really good day. Any day not being treated the way we deserve is a really good day. Why do we think God owes us more than that?
I met a young man awhile back–he was your stereotypical millennial. He was really struggling with very normal life circumstances. He was bitter that he had to work a job to make ends meet. Imagine this–he had to wake up at 6am to go to work. He had a boss who expected him to do stuff. He was sour because all of this was so unfair. I said, “Suck it up, dude–welcome to normal life.” I admit, it wasn’t my best counseling moment.”
But listen, we all succumb to this kind of thinking from time to time. We all buy into the idea that God owes us some kind of normal, American, middle class, standard of life. But that’s just not true. God doesn’t owe us anything.
4. Ingratitude always leads to disobedience.
If you’re not thankful to God, you will not obey Him. As we read through the rest of Malachi, we’re gonna see that Israel failed in multiple areas of disobedience–why? Because they weren’t thankful for God. Because they didn’t acknowledge God’s love for them. But if we come to grips with the fact that God loves us, that’s the key to a changed life. If your heart is drawn in gratitude for God’s love for you, then a changed life will follow.
5. In the same way a parent absorbs the unkind words of ungrateful children, so too does God absorb our sins in order to maintain relationship with us.
Parents, when your child says, “I hate you–you’re being ugly again!” Do you respond with, “I hate you too.”? No–you absorb their sin. You show patience. You display grace. You bring loving discipline, if necessary. But in the end, your love for your child wins out over their sin. That’s exactly how God treats us. He’s so patient. He’s so forgiving. We trample on his kindness and He turns up His grace even more, simply to maintain a relationship with us. Doesn’t that make you love Him? It should.
6. If you’re a Christian, be overwhelmed and humbled by predestination.
Yes–be humbled by God’s undeserved choice of you. He didn’t have to choose you. He could have chosen someone else. But we’ve been adopted by God. He adopted us when we were bad. We didn’t choose Him–He chose us. That’s love. Predestination should amaze us.
No one comes to me and says, “Nigel, you’re so mean–you only chose one wife. Why did you choose Sereena and no one else? You left all the other women behind. That’s so mean! All those other women are missing out on your love, Nigel!” No one ever says that to me.
In the same way, the Lord chose Israel in the Old Testament. And in the New Testament, Christ has chosen a bride–the Church. These are the select objects of God’s love. And if you’re in Christ, if you’re a member of the Church, the bride of Christ, it should blow you away that God would see fit to love you. That is an overwhelming and humbling truth.
And by the way, the doctrine of predestination is not just for seminary students. It’s for normal, everyday Christians who are coming to grips with the fact that God loves them. Our election should cause us to tremble at the kindness of God.
7. When trials come, embrace them as the kind gift of a loving God.
Oh, this is challenging–God lovingly brings trials to grow us, to make us more like Christ. So instead of running from them or trying to escape them, we need to learn to embrace them, bring them close, value them. Because they’re designed for God’s glory and for our good.
It goes like this. “My wife just cussed me out!” . . . “Thank You, Lord, that You’re teaching me how to display the fruit of the Spirit in my marriage–my wife’s words are good for me. Thank You.”
“My husband ignores me!” . . . “Thank You, Lord, that I get to love my husband in Your strength, even though he doesn’t see it. I’m learning to live my life for You and not for the attention of a man. Thank You, God. You’re so kind to give me my husband.”
“My job just let me go!” . . . “Thank You, Lord, that You’re teaching me to trust You, and not earthly resources.”
“My investment was blown to smithereens!” . . . “God, “You love me so much that You want me to lean on You, not on earthly securities. Thank You for teaching me that lesson. I love You more than money.”
“My car just broke down!” . . . “Thank You, Lord, for my broken down bomb. It’s way better than Hell. You’re so kind to save me from damnation and give me this broken car instead. That’s a good trade.”
“My parents were violent towards me!” . . . “Thank You, God, for teaching me that You’re my loving Father whom I can trust. Thank You that I get to forgive my parents, just like You’ve provided forgiveness for me.”
“I’m being persecuted!” . . . “Thank You, Lord, that I have the extreme privilege of suffering for the Gospel’s sake. There’s nothing better! Lord, You love me–and being persecuted for Christ’s sake is a blessing.”
“My friends have abandoned me!” . . . “Thank You, God, for unfaithful friends. Thank You, that I get to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, whose friends also abandoned Him. I’m privileged to be treated by people the same way people treated You.”
“My child has cancer!” . . . “Thank You, God, that in spite of the physical effects of the Fall, I have this opportunity to consider the realities of eternity and my relationship with You during this trial. Thank You, God, that You love me so much to bring this cancer into my family.”
I’ve been hanging out with Jesse Roman–Jesse had a car accident back in November last year. He almost lost his life due to a head injury–it was bad! He’s lost his sight in one eye, coordination, balance, etc. He currently can’t drive. His whole life plan has changed. But he’s such a blessing, because he looks back on it all and thanks God for it–because it was that accident that brought him to faith in Jesus Christ.
Listen, if any of that grates with you–if any of that doesn’t feel right to you, if you can’t trust God like that, then you don’t know God! You don’t know Jesus Christ! Your faith is not settled. You don’t know the sovereign God of the universe who plans out all of our trials for His glory and for our good. He loves us so much. That’s why He takes us through difficult circumstances–to make us like Jesus. Please don’t fight God–embrace the trials. Pull them in close.
8. God expects us to change our attitude even if He does not change our circumstances.
In Malachi, Israel is saying, “God, if you would fix our circumstances, then we will fix our attitude.” They’re saying, “God, improve my circumstances, and then I’ll love you.” That must have been such a heartbreak for God. He’s loved them to the hilt–and all they have for Him is a selfish demand for more.
We have to change our attitudes regardless of what God does for us. Anything less than that is such a disappointment for Him. Listen, sin is not just breaking God’s Law. Sin is breaking God’s heart. We need to fix our attitude in the midst of our trials. Anything less than that is sin that break’s God’s heart.
9. Christians are not those who claim Christ simply to escape Hell. Christians are broken people who hate their own sin, dream of being holy, and trust Christ in order to be transformed.
If all Christianity is to you is a way to avoid Hell, then you’re not a Christian. If that’s all it is–a way to avoid eternal fire, then it’s nothing at all. That’s not genuine faith. That’s not a heart-change. That’s not Christianity. True Christians are those who hate to sin. They can’t stand their fleshly desires. They want to change. And they depend on God to bring about regeneration, to make them born again, to make them righteous, to make them perfect.
If you love your sin, If you plan out your sin in advance, If you have secret sin, if your religious life is all about keeping up appearances, and if you think that in the end, God will overlook that and gift you Heaven anyway–you got another thing coming. No–true believers love Christ and want to follow Him, no matter the cost. They will lay down their lives daily, and when the trials come they say, “Thank You, God–You are so kind to me. You are treating me way better than I deserve! You have loved me–and I will never question that again.” Let’s pray.