Malachi, Chapter 3, Part 1

Malachi 2:17 – You have wearied the Lord with your words.  But you say, “How have we wearied him?”  By saying, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.”  Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”

Now obviously, God does not grow weary.  In this instance, the prophet is assigning a human characteristic to God, in order to make his point. Being human, we can understand how irksome or tiresome the constant whining of these people was to God.  That is the point Malachi is trying to make.  We see this several times in scripture; see Isaiah 1:14 and Isaiah 43:24 for examples.

In general, the state of the Jews is one of unbelief and mistrust in God.  Despite the fact that God brought them back from captivity and restored the temple, they are ungrateful and unfaithful to God and his laws.  They despise the covenant and are corrupt in their actions towards God and their fellow man. 

And now they bring up the ages old complaint of God’s people – why do the wicked prosper?

When the Jews returned from Babylon, they looked at the nations surrounding them who were serving idols.  These wicked people were wealthy and prosperous, seemingly happy and abounding in all the good things of this world. 

Meanwhile, the Jews, who had the true oracles of God, were left in want.  They were ridiculed and opposed by Gentiles; they were struggling to get by and had no hope of ever getting ahead in life.

They begin to complain and murmur against God.  They allege that God must love the wicked because they are prosperous.  Furthermore, if God does NOT love wickedness, then why doesn’t he judge the Gentile idol worshippers? You can almost see them stomp their foot and cry “unfair!” like a spoiled child.  Or, perhaps (according to them), the world just flows along by blind chance and is not governed by the providence of God at all.  If God is the judge of all men, where are judgment and justice?

[Side note – this is a bold question coming from a group of people who, based on their own sinful actions, should definitely NOT be looking for the judgment of God, or his coming!]

Prosperity of the wicked is an issue that seems to crop up in every generation.  It was one of the main issues back in the book of Job.  It was addressed by Asaph in Psalms 73.  In the time of Jesus, we saw Lazarus sitting by the gates of the rich man, begging for crumbs while the dogs licked his sores.  Maybe, just maybe, you too have questioned the prosperity of evil people. 

But it’s time to slam dunk those thoughts into the pit of hell, where they belong! 

The scriptures are very clear that God is completely just.

Psalm 89:14 – Righteousness and justice are the habitation of your throne: mercy and truth shall go before your face.

Isaiah 30:18 – And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of justice: blessed are all they that wait for him.

Further, we need to remind ourselves that God is the only eternal being; only he can see the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).  When we look around and complain about the prosperity of the wicked, are we not focused on a trivial span of time?  How long is the life of a man compared to eternity?  James says our lives are like a mere vapor, which vanishes within seconds (James 4:14).  If the wicked prosper only in this life, those riches are fleeting indeed, for earthly life is momentary! 

Contrast that with the promises of eternity with God. 

John 6:51 – I [Jesus] am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever…

1 John 5:11 –And this is the witness, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

True riches are found in an eternity spent with the Father, Son and Spirit of God!  Since that is the case, we need to stop acting like children and start acting like mature believers.  Renew your mind with the TRUTH – you are a citizen of heaven; this world is NOT your home.  This world is going to pass away and the only thing that will matter in eternity is your relationship with God and your service in his kingdom. 

The TRUTH is that God works all things out for your good, particularly your eternal good.  God is not adverse to using hardships to strengthen and mature your faith.  We are his servants in this life, and some of our tasks and circumstances may be difficult or trying.  That is a normal part of Christianity.  So cancel the pity party and turn to the Lord:

I Peter 5:6-7 – Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 

Don’t EVER compare yourself to the wicked.  EVER.  Those thoughts have no place in a mind turned over to God and renewed by his Spirit and word.  I assure you, if evil men prosper, it will only be in this life.  You, however, will be blessed forever and ever as a child of the Most High God! 

Let us now consider the Jews’ second question:  Where is the God of justice/judgment?

The Jews believed that God was the judge of all the earth, and they are correct in this notion.  But then their reasoning takes a wrong turn.  Since God has not shown judgment in their timeframe, they mistakenly believe that he either will not or cannot punish evil.  Therefore, they conclude that either God does not exist or that he is unjust!

But God refutes those beliefs with a prophetic word through Malachi:

Malachi 3:1 – “Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me.  And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.

He begins with the word ‘behold’ which is like the sound of a trumpet, arousing attention to a great proclamation.  The Jews should pay careful attention, for God is about to reveal something astounding and significant to them.

God is indeed the judge of all the earth, and judgment WILL come.  Of this there can be no doubt; it is a certainty that cannot be stopped by the unbelief or contempt of man. 

But it will occur at the appointed time, and in the manner that God decrees.

How did God choose to handle the judgment the Jews were looking for?

Jesus himself speaks through Malachi (whose name literally means messenger) and declares ‘I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me’.   Of course, Jesus is referring to John the Baptist here.  John is a prophet and like all prophets, his job was to call all men to repentance and reformation.  John the Baptist is the first step in the promised judgment of the world.

Let me explain what I mean by that.  As mentioned previously, it is a dangerous thing for sinful men to desire judgment.  In order for any of us to stand in a time of God’s judgment, we will need an intercessor.  

Jesus the Messiah is that intercessor, but before he could come and fulfill that role, his herald/messenger had to come first and prepare the way.  Why did the way need to be prepared or cleared?  Because, as Malachi clearly shows, sin had blinded the eyes and understanding of the Jews.  Unless they could acknowledge their sin, they would not seek a savior/messiah.  And if they would not seek/accept the savior, then they were sure to perish under God’s judgment.  (Hence, God sends Malachi to the Jews of that day, and John the Baptist to the Jews of Jesus’ day.  Perhaps he is sending you in this day!)

Luke 1:17 – And he [John the Baptist] shall go before him [Jesus] in the spirit and power of Elijah…to make ready a people, prepared for the Lord.

So, the ministry of the ‘messenger’, John the Baptist, is the first ‘step’ in judgment.

The second ‘step’ is the coming of Jesus to reveal the kingdom of heaven and to die for us:

The Lord or the Messiah will come ‘suddenly’ or unexpectedly ‘to the temple’.  In other words, he will come very shortly after his messenger proclaims his coming.  Sure enough, from our perspective we can verify that the public ministry of Jesus began only months after John the Baptist began calling the Jews to repentance. 

What did Jesus do in the temple?  He cast out those who sold and bought, he over turned the tables of the money changes and those who sold doves.  In short, he cleansed it from defilement (Mark 11:15-17), purified it and also filled it with his teaching and his glory.  This is what Jesus desires to do in our lives (we are the temple of God), if we will accept the sacrifice of the Messiah.  

The one who comes suddenly to the temple is also ‘the messenger of the covenant’.  Who, then, is the messenger of the covenant?  Jesus himself, of course! 

Jesus was the Messiah, who would come as the fulfillment of the covenant made with the patriarch Abraham.  The old covenant declared that through Abraham’s seed all of the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 26:4).  As you well know, God was referring to Jesus dying as the sacrifice for the sins of all mankind.  All people, Jews and Gentiles alike, can be cleansed of sin and be in a covenant relationship with God because of what Jesus accomplished with his death and resurrection. He is not only the messenger of the new covenant, he is the mediator of it (Hebrews 8:6, 9:15 and 12:24). 

Malachi 3:1 goes on to say that the Jews “delighted in” the messenger or messiah.  This is true.  Generation after generation of Jews expected, longed for, and delighted in the promise of their messiah. 

The prophets of Israel and Judah had many times assured the people that a messiah/savior was coming.  They prophesied many gracious and wonderful promises of good things under the kingship of Messiah, the Son of David.  The Jews built their hopes on these excellent promises.  During times of distress (such as they now experienced under Malachi), they turned to these promises for comfort.  There is nothing wrong with that; the promises were given for their comfort and faith.

However, they concentrated on the promises of Messiah as an earthly ruler, who would sit upon the throne of David forever.  They expected him to restore the power and prestige of Israel, bringing prosperity and peace to his chosen people.  They understood the Messiah to be the one who would crush all of their enemies under his feet, and bring judgment upon the wicked.  This is the judgment they are asking God to bring upon the wicked in Malachi chapter three.

But their request presents a problem.  They did not perceive that they themselves were wicked.  Malachi has shown us that the Jews felt they were okay with God because they were part of the first covenant and had Abraham as their father.  They did not recognize their own sin.  However, God has declared that they are just as wicked as the heathen, and they need to repent or they too will fall under judgment.

Little did they realize, God was not ignoring judgment because he wanted the wicked to prosper.  He was (and is) withholding final judgment of the wicked, until the blood of Jesus could make atonement for all those who wanted to be saved. 

So the coming of Jesus the Messiah and his death/resurrection were the second ‘step’ in judgment.  Again, we see evidence of God’s great mercy- He put a way of escape in place before he pronounced judgment upon mankind. 

Malachi 3:2 – But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?  For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 

‘Step’ 3 in God’s plan is to cleanse his people of sin.  This is something God does in every generation.  He was doing it back in the days of the post exilic Jews, he did it the days of the apostles, and he is still doing it in our generation.  The refiner’s fire and the fuller’s soap both refer to a call to holiness where sin is renounced and removed from our lives.

What is a refiner’s fire?

Refining with flame is one of the oldest methods of refining metals.   It is the preferable method for larger quantities of gold. In ancient times, this form of refining involved a craftsman sitting next to a hot fire with molten gold in a crucible being stirred and skimmed to remove the impurities or dross that rose to the top of the molten metal. With flames reaching temperatures in excess of 1000 degrees Celsius, you can be sure that all impurities were burned away and only pure gold was left.

The spiritual implication is that the Lord will cleanse his chosen people by putting them in situations/circumstances that would burn out all of the sin in their lives, leaving a people that were pure and holy.

What was a fuller and why did he need soap?

The trade of the fullers, so far as it is mentioned in Scripture has to do with cloth or clothes. The fuller’s job was thickening (making full) freshly woven woolen cloth by cleaning, bleaching, wetting and beating/treading the fibers to a consistent and desirable condition.  Fuller’s earth was a variety of clay that was used to scour and cleanse the cloth.  The process of fulling or cleansing clothes involved treading or stamping on the garments with the feet or with bats in tubs of water, in which some alkaline substance (fuller’s soap) had been dissolved.  

In short, it is a purifying process, just like the refiner’s fire. So the Lord will act to ‘clean, bleach, wet and beat’ our spiritual fibers to a ‘consistent and desirable condition.’

Ephesians 5:27 – That he [Christ] might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

God’s refining and cleansing processes for his people, would come BEFORE the final judgment of the wicked that the Jews of Malachi’s day were clamoring for. 

Back in Malachi’s day, cleansing began with the priests and then flowed down to the common people. 

Malachi 3:3 – He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord.

As we noted before, the priests led the common people.  Since the religious leaders were quite corrupt, the renovation/renewal of the nation must begin with their purification.  That is why they are particularly addressed in this verse.  They must undergo the refiner’s fire and the fuller’s soap, and be cleansed.  Once they were righteous, they would lead the people in righteousness.  It would begin with them, then flow onto the common people. 

Thus, the changing of the nation is not instantaneous; it is done as one person at a time repents and commits to righteousness. 

This is the way our nation will be changed too. 

Today, Christians are the priesthood of the new covenant.  God will refine us – he will purge us through instruction, affliction, temptation or any other way that Holy Spirit sees fit, in order to rid us of the grime of sin and make us pure and holy, fit for his service.  This is not a punishment.  It is a growing process that will be for the glory of God and our good. 

I Peter 1:6-7 – In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 

The act of purification presents a dramatic picture for us.  God is the craftsman, sitting by the fires of trials and tribulations, with his people in the crucible of life.  He perfectly and skillfully places them into situations that are not too hot (difficult), nor too cold (easy).  He keeps his people in the fire for the exact amount of time needed to burn up their sin and unholiness, then immediately and tenderly removes them to safety, so nothing is lost.  The result is a people fit for service in his kingdom; a people who will rule and reign with him in the next age.

1 Peter 4:17 – For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begins with us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

I know that all Christians are distressed about the things that are taking place in our nation.  Many of us are frustrated beyond belief, and want to be part of the solution to this problem.

One thing you can do is to minister to those around you.  Leading one person at a time to Christ will eventually change our nation as a whole.  You don’t have to worry about saving thousands at a time.  God will certainly call some Christians into that role, but not all.  Most of us can do our part by winning and making disciples of the lost in our own circle of influence. 

Malachi 3:4 – Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

What is the end result of the work of God in the lives of his people? They will be sanctified by Holy Spirit (Romans 15:16) and consecrated to God, becoming true worshippers who worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).  

Then and only then, can we offer sacrifices in righteousness. 

No longer would Israel offer lame, diseased or torn animals to God.  They will bring acceptable animals and offer then in righteousness.  God will be pleased with the offerings and those who are making them.  They will escape the judgment that God brings upon the wicked.  

In our day, Messiah will make us acceptable in God’s sight by his blood and our sanctification.  We will bear good fruit for his kingdom, and we too will escape the final judgment of God upon the wicked.   

What about those who resolve to cling to evil? 

Malachi 3:5 – “Then I will draw near to you for judgment.  I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

Eventually, if the mercy of God is rejected, judgment will come. And once it comes, there will be no opportunity to turn back.   

God mentions that he will come swiftly, which is a rebuke to the Jews, who earlier accused God of standing by and doing nothing while the wicked prospered.  Now God declares that when the time for judgment comes, it will come swiftly and overtake all who are practicing evil.

We find that God mentions a number of specific sins when he speaks of the coming judgment.  As you can guess, Israel was guilty of these exact sins. 

They justified themselves and expended a lot of energy in concealing their sin, hoping to escape punishment.  But God, who sees and knows all things, is well aware of everything they have done.

There is only one remedy for the sin of Israel – They must turn from their wicked ways, and seek the mercy of God.

The same is true for us!  Only those who confess their sin and turn from it can expect to escape from the wrath/judgment of God which will come at the end of the world.

Sinners always ask ‘where is the God of judgment’ and ‘where is the promise of his coming’, but soon enough they will find judgment at their door and there will be no escape from it.

Malachi 3:6 –For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.

Though the sentence passed against evil in verse 5 will not be executed until the appointed time, it WILL be executed, for the Lord does not change.  He hates sin as much today has he ever has. 

But his unchanging nature also assures mercy and faithfulness to those who seek him.  God never allows his word to go unfulfilled; he watches over his word to perform it.

Jeremiah 1:12 – Then said the Lord unto me, You have well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it.

Israel is a witness to the unchanging nature of God.  God had been forever faithful to the covenant he made with them and their ancestors.  If God had not done so, the nation of Israel would have ceased to exist long before the day of Malachi! 

The people had been sinful, unfaithful and fickle towards God.  He had every reason to abandon them for not keeping up their side of the covenant, but he did not.

Eventually, the old covenant was totally fulfilled and replaced with the new covenant.  Since the Jews (for the most part) rejected the blessings offered to them under the New Testament, they opened themselves up to a curse, which they will reap if they do not change.

In short, we should all take this important fact to heart:  God does not change.  His mercy and grace are still available to every man, woman and child who honestly seeks them.  But his wrath also awaits all those who reject him, in every generation.

Malachi 3:7 – From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them.  Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.  But you say, “How shall we return?”

The ‘days of your fathers’ may refer to the beginnings of the nation, or to a much later period – the return of the exiles.  But either way, the charges brought against Israel remain the same.  They have turned aside from the covenant and have not kept the laws of God.  They grew weary and rebellious under the laws of God; they betrayed his trust and served false idols. 

Ezra 9:7 – Since the days of our fathers we have been in a great trespass unto this day…

But God, whose mercies are new every day, extends a gracious invitation to his chosen people.  God invites them to repent and return to their duties in service to God.  If they will do so, God will return and be reconciled to them, removing the judgments they are currently under and shielding them from the ones to come.

It’s a good offer.  An incredible opportunity.  In fact, it is much, much better than they deserved. 

But with distain, they reject the offer.  Instead, they say ‘What do you mean, return?  How have we strayed from your law’?  In essence, they are offended at having their faults exposed and being expected to change their ways.  They see nothing in themselves to be repented of; in their own eyes they are justified.

They are so firmly resolved to continue in sin, that they will find a thousand excuses to turn away from repentance and remain in their sin. 

I don’t think I need to add anything else – the application to us is obvious!

Let me offer you some encouragement:

We have lived our entire lives in what is known as the age of grace.  It is a time when God has deferred final judgment, so that he can call sinners to repent and turn from evil.  Scripture tells us that it is God’s will that none of us perish, but that we are all saved through the blood of Jesus Christ. 

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that this offer will last forever, because it won’t.  One day, Jesus will return to judge the world.  In light of that, I encourage you to do two things: One, share the gospel of Christ with anyone that you can.  Give them the same chance you have received to repent and come to Christ.  Two, get rid of any and all sin from your life.  Return to God and let him help you root out every last speck of evil and wickedness from your being.

Let me offer you some relief:

There is a day of judgment coming, but it is not coming for those who are found in Christ.  If we have surrendered our lives to God and we are trusting in Jesus to cleanse us from sin, we have nothing to fear; we have passed from death to life (John 5:24).  We can look forward to the coming of the Lord with great rejoicing because he is coming to get us, and bringing reward with him!

Let me offer you some strength:

When Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God, he gifted us with the presence of Holy Spirit to assist us in our walk here on earth.  Holy Spirit has been sent to grow spiritual fruit in our lives, to bring the word of God to our remembrance, to comfort and guide us, and to give us spiritual gifts that allow us to fulfill the destiny that God has mapped out for us.  You don’t need to fear Holy Spirit – you need to trust him!  He is your strength and your helper!  You need to open yourself up to Holy Spirit and allow him to move in your life as he desires.  When you do, you will find that you no longer need to rely on your own strength or wisdom, because Holy Spirit will lead you in the way everlasting.

Malachi, Chapter 2, Part 2

Malachi 2:10 – Have we not all one father?  Has not one God created us?  Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?

Malachi now turns, somewhat abruptly, to another offence.  It involves the breaking of vows to God and to their fellow man. 

God begins by reminding the Jews that they had been created by God.  In this instance, God is not referring to their birth, but to the creation of the nation of Israel.  God made them a peculiar people, set aside for his own purposes and glory.

God also refers to them as having ‘one father’, which refers to the patriarch Abraham.  When God created/entered into covenant with Abraham and his offspring, it created a new set of relationships.  The Jews were bound to honor both God and their fellow man.  From that moment onward, every offence against a fellow Jew was a violation of their relationship to God and to each other.  Simply stated, a sin against a brother/fellow Jew was a sin against God and the whole nation.  

For example, back in 2 Samuel 24, King David sinned by counting all of the fighting men of Israel.  In response, God brought a death angel upon the whole nation.  Thus, David’s sin was treachery against not only God, but against his nation and his fellow Israelites.  Before it was all said and done, 70,000 men were dead.

Notice that in verse 10, God did not name a particular sin.  He just reminds his people that sin was a treachery against their brothers, their nation and their God.  Clearly, God is laying a foundation for what he is about confront them with, and he will show how their sin is affecting their entire nation.

Malachi 2:11 – Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem.  For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god.

And here the specific sin is revealed.  Jewish men were to have only one wife, who was also to be Jewish – they were forbidden to marry Gentiles.  Like all young men, they would work to gain the affections of the daughter of a fellow Israelite, and enter into a marriage covenant with her.  Much like today, they vowed to love her, provide for her, and be a lifelong companion to her through all the joys and sorrows of life.  

But later these same men were enticed by sin; they lusted after the foreign women who lived in Jerusalem.  Since having two wives was forbidden, they ‘put away’ or divorced their first Jewish wife in order to marry the foreigner.   

God declares their actions an abomination, which is defined as anything that is hateful, wicked or shamefully vile; something that produces disgust and includes anything that is offensive to God.  Even we, as sinners, can understand that there is no level on which this is righteous behavior.  And it wasn’t just morally wrong.  This sin had great spiritual implications as well.

The Jews were commanded to keep themselves separated from the nations around them, in order to maintain their position as custodians of the revelations of God to mankind.  They were abiding witnesses of God’s existence.  Through Israel, God planned to bless all the nations of the world by bringing forth the Messiah. 

But they often disobeyed God and formed idolatrous connections to Gentiles.  In fact, this sin (divorce/marrying foreign women) was absolutely rampant during the time of Malachi.  Nehemiah and Ezra worked diligently to remove the evil which Malachi addresses here. 

The Jews were faithless towards God, their nation and their fellow man.  How sad that this takes place in Jerusalem, the Holy City which contained the ONLY sanctuary of the living God. 

The sanctuary was the meeting place between God and Israel and it is often symbolic of that relationship.  By having contempt for the ordinances of the Lord, they profaned the holiness of God and made a mockery of their covenant relationship to him, in a very public way.  Thus, they are said to have profaned the sanctuary of the Lord.  Rather than being a witness FOR God, they gave the Gentiles a reason NOT to believe in God.

Besides the fact that divorce is something God hates, why was it such a big deal to marry a foreign woman?

Because these physical unions/relationships had spiritual implications.

Those who worship and serve the true God are called his sons and daughters (Deuteronomy 32:19, II Corinthians 6:18).  Likewise, those who serve false gods are the children of the idol or demon that they serve.  Therefore, if a Jewish man married a foreign/Gentile woman, he was willingly making himself the son-in-law of Satan! 

As one half of the marriage relationship, these foreign women had immense influence over their husbands. 

All throughout the scriptures, we find foreign women introducing idol worship into the marriage relationship.  This resulted in the Jewish husband turning to idolatry, rather than bringing the wife into covenant relationship with the Lord.  The result was a divided house – partly serving God, while partly serving Satan.  But ultimately, there can be only one master of a house, and in the day of Malachi, that wound up being Satan most of the time.  

This was not just a problem for the common people.  Sadly, the corrupt priests were also committing this sin:

Nehemiah 13:29 – Remember them, O my God, because they have desecrated the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.

How does this apply to our generation? 

God has not changed.  He still takes the marriage covenant very seriously and he still hates divorce.  However, we live in a fallen world and there are times when reconciliation is impossible and divorce is the only answer.  In these situations, God is there to provide healing, hope and forgiveness.  Divorce is not an unpardonable sin.  

On the other hand, we need to acknowledge that faithfulness and holiness in marriage is vitally important because in the new covenant, it represents the relationship between God and mankind. 

Ephesians 5:31-32 – Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

When a man and woman are faithful to each other for life, building a sound relationship, knowing, respecting and loving one another, while facing the challenges of life together, it presents a picture of our relationship with Christ.   

Not only that, the new covenant also reveals that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 6:15-20). 

When we sin against our bodies by entering into unlawful sexual relationships, we are defiling or profaning the temple of God, which is the exact crime the Jews were charged with back in the day of Malachi.  So really, nothing has changed.  We too, profane the temple or sanctuary of God if/when we engage in sexual immorality.  Just as in the days of Malachi, this sin is common in the church and can even be found in some of the pulpits of our nation.

When we embrace things that are popular in our culture but have a sinful source (such as lust and sexual sin), we are being spiritually unfaithful to God.  God has no agreement with idols and when we chose what stems from evil we are choosing/preferring evil over God. 

This often results in spiritual blindness, loss of the favor of God, being snared by deceptive errors, and a loss of influence in our culture.  Does any of this sound familiar?  It should – this is exactly what happened to Israel.  Through sin, they lost influence in their culture and they forfeited the privilege of exemplifying God to a lost and dying world.  Let’s not make the same mistake!

In short, God’s will is for us to be in partnership with a person who also acknowledges him as Lord.  When we are not, we often experience these consequences: domestic unhappiness, divided households and children who are spiritually confused. 

Malachi 2:12 – May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts!

Our translation says the Lord will cut off ‘any descendant’ who does this.  Your translation may say ‘the master and the scholar’.  This includes the person who actively originates the sin as well as the one who passively accepts it.  Neither the priests (teachers/masters) nor the common people (scholar/student) would go unpunished.  So, our translation is accurate when it says ‘any descendant’.

But let’s not rush through this concept.  It is one thing to actively promote sin.  All of us are against that.  But through the prophet Malachi, God is saying that when we passively sit by and accept sin or do nothing to fight against it, we are just as guilty!  Don’t we see this sin in our lives today?  We may not have had an abortion, but sometimes we do nothing to stop it or fight against it.  We may not have been the one to take prayer out of the public schools, but what have we done to fight against it?  If the answer is ‘nothing’, then we too, share in the guilt of this offence.

God will cut off (literally to scrape off or to blot out) anyone who commits this sin.   God puts his people on notice that no matter how prevalent this practice had become, no matter how accepted within the culture, God still considered it a sin and as such, it would result in punishment and eventually death, if they did not repent. 

That is worth repeating:  God puts his people on notice that no matter how prevalent this practice had become, no matter how accepted within the culture, God still considered it a sin and as such, it would result in punishment and eventually death, if they did not repent. 

The phrase ‘bring an offering to the Lord’ is a little unclear. 

  • It may refer to those who consider themselves to be God’s people, as no one else would be bringing an offering to God. 
  • It may be a reference to the belief of the Jewish men that an offering with shield them from any penalty associated with this sin. 
  • It may indicate that the priests who are guilty of this fault will be put out of the office of the priesthood where they can no longer minister before the Lord. 

We cannot overlook the fact that all three may be true, especially in light of what we just learned, namely, God considers it a sin for us to passively sit by and do nothing when sin abounds.  

Malachi 2:13 – And this second thing you do.  You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.

The multiple sins of the people and priests have led to the situation described in this verse.  The priests were corrupt.  They no longer had respect for God or his offerings.  They stopped teaching the common people the right way to worship God and live holy lives. 

One of the sins that became rampant in that environment was the divorcing of their Jewish wives and the marrying of foreign women, who lured the Jews into idolatry and other wickedness.

Because they were engaged in gross sin, God paid no attention to them when they brought offerings to him.  He did not regard or act on their prayers and petitions. 

Once the people realized God was not moving on their behalf, they wept and mourned before the altar because their worship was futile.  Their sacrifices did not please God and their worship was in vain.  Because of their spiritual condition, they couldn’t see what was happening.  They did not seem to understand the problem, so they moan and groan and complain that God had abandoned them.   

Who was ultimately responsible for this situation?  Malachi lays the blame at the feet of the priests.  They were to keep themselves pure and holy, so that they could stand in the gap between God and sinful man.  Once they became corrupted, all sacrifices were either polluted or offered by impure hands, and these could not be accepted by God.

Again, we must remind ourselves that in our generation, we are the spiritual priesthood of God.  We are to keep ourselves pure and holy, so we can be salt and light in our generation and point others to Christ.  As Jesus reminded us if the salt has lost its savor, what is it good for?  Only to be trampled underfoot (Luke 14:34-35).

Malachi 2:14 – But you say, “Why does he not?”  Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.

There is no rational explanation for why people would attempt to make excuses or act innocent in the presence of an all-knowing God!  Although the men feign ignorance, God has seen not only their actions, but their lust, pride and idolatry.  God lays the charge of unfaithfulness right at their feet.  They are without excuse.

These Jewish women were the wives of their youth, their companions and their covenant partners. They were with their husbands in sickness and in health, sharing the sorrows, joys, hopes, fears and interests of life.  They were the ones who bore children and worked as a help meet to their husbands.  These wives had indeed given their husbands the best years of their lives.  They were the ones whom the husband had made a marriage covenant with; they were to be life time companions.  And keep this in mind – the marriage covenant was entered into voluntarily – the men were not forced into it, they desired and sought after it!

So again, it is easy for us to see that the actions of the Jewish men were a gross abomination before God.  Having violated their covenant responsibilities toward their wives, how can they expect God to answer their prayer and bless them as if they were righteous?  Can we expect anything different when we actively choose to sin against God?  

Today, we often consider marriage to be primarily a legal union, and so it is.  But many people fail to recognize it as a true spiritual union as well, and breaking that spiritual covenant comes with a price.  

Malachi 2:15 – Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?  And what was the one God seeking?  Godly offspring.  So guard yourselves in your spirit and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.

What does Malachi mean when he says ‘did not he make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union’?  Keep in mind, the subject at hand is marriage.

Marriage was the very first institution that God sanctioned.  It came before the church, before family and before government.  When creating a helper for Adam, the Spirit of God had enough power to make as many women as he wanted to.  If God had wanted Adam to have 10 wives, he could easily have accomplished that.  But he didn’t.   

When God instituted marriage, he made it in ONE specific way:  One man and one woman.

This law is confirmed by Jesus during his ministry on earth:

Matthew 19:8 – He [Jesus] said unto them [Jews], Moses because of the hardness of your hearts allowed you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

In this New Testament passage, the Jews relied on a law given by Moses, which allowed them to break their marriage vows.  But Jesus rejects that idea and points them back to the original institution of marriage in the Garden of Eden.

The marriage of one man and one woman until death do them part is a perpetual law that God made from the beginning.  Divorce was allowed under the law because of circumstances relating to sin, but it is not God’s will.  His will is clearly revealed by Jesus in the same passage of scripture in Matthew:

Matthew 19:4-6 – And he answered and said unto them, Have you not read, that he who made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they two shall be one flesh? Therefore they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.

So we now understand the reference Malachi makes when he says God has made them ‘one’ – he speaks of a man and woman becoming one in the sight of God when they marry.

One of the things that God desires from marriage between his people is godly offspring – children who are trained by their parents in the precepts of religion (salvation, prayer, being filled with the Spirit, holy conduct, familiarity with the word of God, etc).

It is plain to see that if the Jewish men married women who served Satan, there will be problems in the spiritual lives of the children.  They may receive some instruction in the ways of Jehovah, but they would also see and probably practice idol worship.  This would result in spiritual confusion and chaos.  It would NOT result in children who are trained and ready to take over spiritual leadership in their nation, when their parents get older.  With no trained people at the helm, what will happen to true religion?  

This is a concern that still faces the church today.  With more and more ‘unchurched’ young people in our society, we have a lack of true spiritual leaders who can take over when this generation gets old.  There is much work to be done for the kingdom of heaven and for our nation!    

This passage also reveals a deeper truth.  Consider this: God could have created millions of couples (men/women) at the beginning in the garden, but he only creates a single pair – Adam and Eve.   Why does God desire that the whole human race springs from a single pair? 

So that Christ, coming from the same family, might in his sufferings taste death for every man; because he had a nature that was common to the whole human race.  If God had made multiple pairs of men/woman at the very outset, Jesus could only die for the sins of the world by being incarnated into each family line.    

For these reasons, men are not to deal treacherously with their Jewish wives, which they married in their youth. 

Malachi 2:16 – “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts.  So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.

This force of this scripture is best revealed in the King James version:

Malachi 2:16 – For the LORD, the God of Israel, says that he hates putting away: For one covers violence with his garment, says the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that you deal not treacherously.

Obviously, we wear garments or clothes all the time.  Their purpose is to cover up or to hide our nakedness.  The Jewish men were guilty of betraying their wives.  This is the violence described in the verse.  The ‘garment’ they used to try and cover up or hide this sin, was the permission of Moses to divorce their wives (Deuteronomy 24:1).    

But they are not fooling God!  He sees right through their foul garments and into their hearts which are full of lust and idolatry.  Therefore, God warns the Jews to guard their own souls and to remain faithful to him, to their fellow Jews and to their nation.

What about you?  Are you searching for something to wear in the spiritual realm?  Here are the most fashionable items:  Garments of praise (Isaiah 61:3).  Robes of righteousness (Psalms 132:9, Isaiah 61:10).  Clothes of salvation (Isaiah 61:10).  Clothes of humility (I Peter 5:5).  White robes of holiness (Revelation 3:18).  Even sackcloth is a good choice sometimes!

If we spent as much time and effort on our ‘spiritual clothes’ as we do our physical wardrobe, we would surely be pleasing to God!

Malachi 2:17 – You have wearied the Lord with your words.  But you say, “How have we wearied him?”  By saying, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.”  Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”

This verse is actually the beginning of a new discourse between God and his people.  We are going to comment on it next week, as we look at Malachi chapter 3.

Let me offer you some encouragement and relief:

In this section of Malachi, God calls his people to account for their evil actions in the matters of marriage and divorce.  What was happening in the physical realm was an indication of their spiritual unfaithfulness to God, their fellow man and their nation.   

But we don’t have to fall into the same trap as they did.  Let’s examine our own spiritual clothing – are we wearing robes of righteousness and holiness?  Are these robes pure or could they use a little washing in the blood of Jesus? 

The good news is that we can wash or even change what we are wearing.  If our attitudes and actions are outdated and worn, God will provide us with new garments.  As always, you are not alone.  The Holy Spirit is ready and waiting to assist us in making changes, so call upon him today.     

Let me offer you some strength:

Let’s be honest – there are times when we are tempted to be unfaithful to our fellow man, to God or to our nation.  There are times when it would just be easier to give up or do nothing, rather than to getting involved and making sacrifices for good.

But we know those temptations are false promises.  We must rise up and resist them.  We can stand strong, if we choose to do what is right, and let God fill us with his strength.    

Proverbs 3:7-8 – Be not wise in your own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.  It shall be health to your body, and strength to your bones.

Malachi, Chapter 2, Part 1

Malachi 2:1 – “And now, O priests, this command is for you.

In chapter 2 of Malachi, God is calling his priests to spiritual reformation.  The attitudes and actions they had displayed in the past were no longer acceptable.  It was imperative that they change their ways immediately, before they brought further judgment upon themselves and led others deeper into sin.  

What do we know about spiritual reformation?  Normally, it is not an instantaneous event.  It is a process that may take some time.  

As you can imagine, the first step is to see/recognize the problem.  The person must come face to face with their wrong doing and they must acknowledge it as sin.  Often, this can be the most difficult part.  For whatever reason, people are often blind to their own sin (but really great at identifying it in others). 

Perhaps it is because we tend to justify our actions, or perhaps it is because we get comfortable with our sin and accept it as normal.  Either way, people hate to admit when they are wrong.  It may take some time for a person to fully acknowledge and admit their wrong doing, and then repent.   

Once a person has admitted their sin and repented, they need instruction in righteousness.  They need to examine the word of God to see where they went wrong and to understand the path of truth and righteousness that God wants them to follow. 

Psalms 119:105 – Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.

Third, they must renew their minds, and allow change to happen in their hearts.  When you change the way you think and believe by meditating on the word of God, your mind will cause a change in your heart.  So renewing your mind in the ways of God is a critical step in the process of spiritual reformation.

Paul reminds us of this in the book of Romans:

Romans 12:1-2 – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Lastly, we would expect to see change manifest itself in the person’s outward actions.  As the mind renews and conforms itself to the laws of God, it will cause change in the heart.  When the heart is changed, the person’s actions and attitudes will also change, becoming pleasing and acceptable in the sight of God.

This change brings glory to God.  It reflects to the world the justice and holiness of God, but also his mercy and grace.  It shows the world that God is the true and faithful Father, who loves his children and desires to bless them.

Now, in the case of the priests in Malachi’s day, they were pretty much at step one.  As we noted earlier, they were unhappy with their current situation and they were blaming God for their trouble. 

When God drew attention to their sins, they flatly denied any wrongdoing.  They were offended at the mere suggestion that they had sinned, and that their situation was of their own making.  Although it is easy for us to recognize their sin, they were blind to it!  In the rest of this chapter, we are going to see God reasoning with them over and over, until he can get them to understand that they were wrong!

Spiritual reform was critical to the priests of Malachi’s day, and it is still critical for the church today.

Let’s face it – none of us are perfect!  All of us have different areas in our lives that the Holy Spirit wants to change in us.  In order for that change to begin to take place, we must first recognize and acknowledge the problem.  Holy Spirit may call attention to an area of your life as you are praying, or reading the word.  He may even cause a brother or sister in Christ to speak to you about it.  When that happens, do you immediately retreat into denial or anger?  Or, can we commit to humbling ourselves and trying to objectively consider the evidence?   

Malachi 2:2 – If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings.  Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.

A life of righteousness always brings about the goodness and blessing of God.  God greatly desired to bring blessing to the Jews, but he could not reward bad behavior and sin. 

In this case, the level of their sin had reached a point where God had begun to curse them. 

Now, that may seem harsh to you and I, but it was not.  The Jews of Malachi’s day were living under the terms of the Old Covenant.  In that covenant, God clearly set down the circumstances in which he would bless them, and the circumstances in which he would curse them.  You can read it yourself in the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 28.  It is a long chapter, so we cannot reference the entire thing, but we are going to look at one particular verse.

Deuteronomy 28:20 – The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me.

As strange as it may seem, by placing a curse upon the Jews, God is actually being faithful to the covenant he made with his people.  But here is where people misjudge God.  They think that God delights in cursing his people, when the opposite is true.  God delights in blessing his children and giving them the desires of their hearts (Psalms 37:4).  But again, God is not going to reward sin.   The wages of sin is death, and God does not want his people to die.

By placing judgment upon them, God is giving them a nudge in the right direction.  He is correcting or disciplining them, like a loving Father would.  His desire is that they will change their ways (repent) and return to righteousness, so that He can once again bestow blessing and life upon them.

However, while God will correct and encourage and motivate them to do what is in their best interest, ultimately he will allow them to choose their own path.

God has also given free will to those of us under the New Covenant.  How will we use that privilege?  Will we choose life or death, blessing or cursing?    

We notice in this verse that God has already sent the curse of lack and poverty upon the Jews; they are already experiencing it.  This is probably the situation described by the prophet Haggai, in Haggai 1:6-11.

They were planting, but the harvests were extremely small.  There was enough food to keep them alive, but just barely.  They had clothing, but were never warm.  They worked, but they never got ahead in life.  No matter how much their wages were, it was just enough for them to   survive. 

It was a miserable existence, clearly void of the blessings of their God. 

The situation was especially hard for the priests.  In God’s economy, the common people farmed and shepherded and brought a tithe of their increase to the temple.  The purpose of the tithe was to meet the needs of the temple and the priests.  So if the people experienced lack, the tithes would be even smaller (or in some cases non-existent); consequently the priest’s portion would get smaller and smaller.

This means that the priests were ultimately hurting themselves when they did not correctly teach and instruct the Jews in the law.  When they showed contempt and disrespect for God’s sacrifices, it came back upon their own heads.  The best thing they could do for everyone was to listen to the word of the Lord through Malachi, immediately repent, and change their ways. 

 Malachi 2:3 – Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it.

This verse is quite interesting.  Our translation says that God will ‘rebuke your offspring’.  Your translation may say that God will ‘corrupt your seed’.  These may seem like strange, unrelated translations, but they are actually similar.

The prior verse spoke about God removing his blessing from the seed of the ground, or their food sources.  That was certainly one aspect of God’s blessing that he was withholding from his people at that time.

But as you know, seed also refers to descendents or offspring.  There is no doubt that the Jews were the chosen people of God.  Being descendents/seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was a source of pride and joy for them (emphasis on the pride).   Their role as the chosen people of God was a big part of their national identity. 

They began to believe that God would always love and favor the Jews over Gentiles, no matter what.  In other words, they no longer believed that they had to keep up their end of the covenant in order to remain the people of God.  They believed God would wink, or turn a blind eye to their sin, because they were his chosen people, destined to bring blessing to all the nations of the earth.

But God shatters that foolish confidence. 

The priests have scorned and despised God and his holy name.  God now threatens to do the same to them.  He will cause them and their offspring/descendants to be treated with the same shame and contempt they gave him.  The priests had offered illegal, unclean, polluted sacrifices to God.  Now, they will be treated as if they had the poop of those very sacrifices smeared all over their faces!  How disgusting!     

God declares that he will also make sure they are ‘carried away with it’.  According to the law, the dung of the atonement sacrifice was never burnt upon the altar to God.  It was always taken outside the camp and burned with fire.  So the Jews are in danger of being removed from God’s presence, rather than being in his service.

Leviticus 8:17 – But the bull and its skin and its flesh and its dung he burned up with fire outside the camp, as the Lord commanded Moses.

In other words, if they persisted in their evil ways, God would remove them from his presence, just like the foul waste of the atonement sacrifice.  Their nation will ‘stink’ and other people/nations will hate them, and shun their fellowship. This is a very serious warning.  

Let us now consider that God has not changed!  He hated the sin of the priests back in the day of Malachi, and he hates the sin of his royal priesthood today. 

What sins might we be harboring in our own lives?  Are we trying to serve God while holding on to unforgiveness?  Envy? Lust or greed?  Are we guilty of being hypocrites, or of judging others? 

We would do well to stop and judge ourselves, taking advice from King David:

Psalms 139:23-24 – Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous (wicked) way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

If we will take the time to openly and honestly seek Holy Spirit and ask for his guidance, he will not only reveal any areas in which we need to make changes, he will assist us in making the change.  Then we do not need to worry about being ashamed before God or our fellow man.

Here is something else to consider:  The nation of Israel was made up of individual people who were influenced by the priests.  As the people went, so went the nation.

The nation of America is made up of individual people who can be influenced to seek God and turn to righteousness, or reject God and stay in sin.  You may not be a famous leader in this country, but you can still influence this nation for God by being active in righteousness. 

Your church may be a small one, but it can (and should) influence your community to seek the Lord.  So get involved!     

Malachi 2:4 – So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts.

‘So shall you know’, or in other words, God says the judgments that have come upon Israel are both a sign and an example to them. 

The sign was for the generation of priests in the day of Malachi.  God’s judgment was a call to the priests to repent of their past wicked practices, and change their ways.  Beginning at that very moment, they were to walk righteously and holy, making sure they did not dishonor God or treat his house with contempt ever again. 

The example is for the offspring/future generations of Levi.  When they see the consequences of profaning God’s ways, they will be encouraged to stay on the path of righteousness, where they can enjoy a covenant relationship with God, and all of his blessings.

Malachi 2:5 – My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him.  It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me.  He stood in awe of my name.

By definition, a covenant is a formal agreement between two parties, where the duties of each party are plainly set forth.  It is a lot like a contract. 

God made a covenant or contract with the Levites.  They were to be his priests.  They were to fear and respect God, teach his ways to the people, and be an example of holiness to the nation.  They were the ones who stood in the gap between man and God. 

For his part, God gave the Levites the gift of serving in his presence forever.  He also promised them life and peace. 

And for a time, the priests kept up their end of the bargain.  They stood in awe of God, treating His name with respect and obeying his commands.  In return, they were given the precious gifts of life and peace.  What a wonderful heritage!  How could the current group of priests have strayed so far from the ways of their ancestors? 

Malachi 2:6-7 – True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips.  He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity.  For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.

These verses make reference to the vast numbers of priests that served before this generation, who had faithfully served God according to the agreement.  What were they like?

The law of truth was in their mouths – They studied the scriptures and knew the law.  When they spoke, taught or offered council, truth was on their lips.   Because his speech was based on the precepts of God, the priest spoke with wisdom, authority and integrity.  People recognized and respected his words as coming from God. 

No wrong was found on his lips – The former priests did not give judgment or advice to please men or for their own benefit.  They simply spoke the truth, whether it pleased or displeased the hearer.  Unlike the current generation, he would never pronounce something clean that was unclean or accept something as clean when it was not. 

He walked with God – The actions of the priest matched his words.  He not only knew the word and laws of God, but he practiced them in his own life and enforced them in his own household.   He lived a life of communion with God.  He was honest, trustworthy and walked in love towards his fellow man.  Thus, he walked with God and lived a life of peace and righteousness.

He turned many from iniquity – This is the result of a life lived for God.  God crowned his efforts with success; he was able to influence those around him and save them from death and destruction.  Because of his example, others were drawn into a true relationship with God.

When we look at this description of the faithful Old Testament priest of God, we cannot help but notice that these are the same things God has called us, the New Testament priests to do as well.

We too, must have God’s grace, mercy, love and laws on our lips.  We must be people of integrity and godly wisdom.  Our lives must match up to the testimony we proclaim.  When this is the case, we have a true witness for Christ.  When we love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and begin to love our neighbor as ourselves, we walk with God and draw others to him as well.   

And don’t forget – the message we have to share is so much greater and more wonderful than the Old Covenant that the priests lived under.  Hebrews chapter 8 talks about Jesus being the mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises (Hebrews 8:6).  What a pleasure it is to be one of the New Covenant priests for Jesus!  

Malachi 2:8-9 – But you have turned aside from the way.  You have caused many to stumble by your instruction.  You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.

In the prior verses God proclaimed the goodness and faithfulness of the prior generations of Jewish priests.  He is now going to contrast that with the behavior of the priests who served in the post exilic temple.

Based on Malachi chapter 1 and Nehemiah chapter 13, we can see many of the sinful and corrupt practices that crept into Jewish life during this time.  These included mixed marriages (marriages with foreign women), admittance of strangers into the house of God, profaning the Sabbath day, polluted sacrifices, lack of teaching, and a general disregard for the covenant and distain for the Lord.  All of these sins can be attributed to the carelessness and unfaithfulness of the priesthood.  God justly charged them with ‘turning aside’ from the good and prosperous path that their ancestors trod.

They betrayed the trust that God placed in them by corrupting the covenant between God and the priesthood.  They used their positions to enrich themselves; they cared nothing for the glory of God or the souls of their fellow Jews. 

God accuses them of being partial in the law.  This meant one of two things.  Either they would pick and choose which parts of the law to teach and enforce, or they would misinterpret or misapply the law in favor of their friends or against their enemies; in essence they did not apply the law to each person equally and fairly.  Obviously, this is completely against the ways of God, who is no respecter of persons.  Thankfully, His throne rests on pillars of righteousness and justice (Psalms 89:14) and we can have confidence that God treats all of his children equally.

As New Covenant believers, we are to treat all people the same, without judging or showing favor to one over another.

1 Timothy 5:21 – In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.

What an awful reputation rested upon these priests!  What an awful existence for the people under their care!  

The worst part is that their actions caused people to stumble in their walk with God!  Instead of bringing their people closer to the Lord, their hypocrisy caused people to view God as unjust and unfair.  Jesus said, ‘Woe to those by whom offences come!’ (Matthew 18:7).  God will certainly and swiftly bring abasement and shame to these priests who have caused others to stumble.

Thus, by their actions the priests made the covenant void.  They had no right to expect God to grant them the life and peace that were promised to those who walked with God.

As we examine this situation, we find that the priests of that generation were creating a legacy of sin and destruction.  This is especially sad when we find that they inherited a righteous legacy from their forefathers.

What kind of a legacy are we creating right now?  How do we want our children and grandchildren to view our time on earth?  Do we want to be a Godly example to them?

More importantly, what kind of a world do we want to leave them?  One in which the church is powerless and faithless, or one in which the power of God is present to move mountains? 

Let me offer you some encouragement: If you are reading this, then there is still time and opportunity for you to make changes in your spiritual legacy.  Why not do what King David did – take time out from your busy schedule to get alone with Holy Spirit and see if there are things in your life that need to change.  See if there is a way that you can make a greater witness or impact on your immediate and extended family.  Your testimony will stand forever.

Let me offer you some relief: Holy Spirit never stops working in our lives.  As long as we are willing, he will keep making us over into the image of Jesus.  Sometimes we have sin in our lives that has been present for a long time.  We may have habits or thought patterns that we think we will never be able to overcome. 

But that isn’t true… all things are possible with God!  So don’t give up.  Keep renewing your mind. Together, you and God can win the victory over sin!

Let me offer you some strength: Sometimes, we can be our own worst enemy!  If you are always looking at what is negative in your life, it can sap all of your strength.  This week, why not focus on the good things God has done in you and through you?  Soon you will realize that things aren’t as hopeless as they seem.  God has used you in the past, and he wants to continue to use you to edify your brothers and sisters in Christ, and to witness to the lost.

 

Malachi, Chapter 1, Part 2

Malachi 1:7 – By offering polluted food upon my altar.  But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised.

In the prior study, we saw that God was dealing with his people, but particularly with the priests.  Why was that?  It was because the priests were the leaders of the nation.  If they honored, loved and served God, so would the rest of the people. 

But they were far from being holy.  In fact, they despised everything to do with God.  God had a real case against these men, but in his great love and mercy, he sends a message to them through Malachi confronting them with their sin and calling them to repentance. 

The first accusation God brings against them involves his altar, or your translation may say ‘table’.  This refers to the brazen altar, where the burnt offerings and sacrifices were made to God.  Offerings of any kind made upon this altar were often referred to as food, bread, or God’s bread:

Leviticus 21:6 – They [the priests] shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God.  For they offer the Lord’s food offerings, the bread of their God; therefore they shall be holy.

How exactly was the food/bread polluted? 

As you recall, any animal (lamb, goat, bull, etc) offered to God in sacrifice had to be without blemish.  No true priest would accept an offering that was blind or sick, or lame, or weak/injured, or even a runt.  You were to give your best offering to God.  Anything else was an insult to him. 

Deuteronomy 15:21 – But if it (the animal) has any blemish, if it is lame or blind or has any serious blemish whatever, you shall not sacrifice it to the Lord your God.

Think of it this way.  What if you had a friend that owned an extensive collection of jewelry – watches, rings, necklaces, cuff links, earrings and any other piece of jewelry you could imagine – made of gold, silver, diamonds, rubies, sapphires and pearls etc.

Now if your friend said they wanted to give you a gift – a piece of jewelry from their collection – would you be excited?  Of course! But what if you opened the box and it was a really thin, slightly bent, scratched and dirty looking gold-plated ring.  Would you be impressed?  Why not?  Because that awful bent ring was worthless to them!  It didn’t even cost them anything to give it to you. In fact, they were probably glad to get rid of it!

Giving it to you was actually an insult, because it shows how little they value their relationship with you.         

The same is true with God.  Remember when Jesus and his disciples were in the temple observing people giving offerings?  The scripture says that many rich people came in and gave large sums of money.  There was also a widow who gave two copper coins, which was the equivalent of a single penny. And then Jesus gives us this truth:

Mark 12:43-44 – Truly, truly I say to you this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she…put in everything that she had, all she had to live on. 

In other words, her gift was extravagant and valuable to God because it was her best.  It cost her something to give that offering; it was a true sacrifice.

So when the post exilic Jews brought lame or blind offerings to be placed on God’s altar, they were giving worthless offerings – animals that couldn’t or wouldn’t be used for anything else, because they were defective or blemished or half dead already.  Just as getting the gold-plated ring was an insult, it was an insult to God when the Jews presented him with sick and damaged animal offerings.    

Did you realize that there is a parallel between the altar of burnt offerings (God’s table in the Old Covenant), and the communion ceremony (God’s table in the New Covenant)? 

What did the animals (also referred to as food/bread) that were sacrificed on the brazen altar represent?  Depending on the circumstance, they were used as an atonement for sin, or a fellowship offering, or an offering of thanksgiving for the harvest, or a vow, etc.  In other words, the sacrifices that were placed on the altar created a relationship or a fellowship between God and man.  They were symbolic of the atoning work of Jesus.

As we know, in the New covenant, Jesus willingly laid down his life for our sin, to establish a love relationship between God and man.  Thus, the bread (and blood) of the communion table represents the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  God gave his highest and best sacrifice; a sacrifice that cost him dearly – the life of his only Son.

So when the post exilic priests offered polluted offerings on the altar, they were teaching people to mock or despise the offering that the Messiah would one day provide for them.  Their polluted worthless sacrifices showed irreverence for the ceremonies and laws of the very God they claimed to serve.  In fact, they were scorning God himself!

There is also another angle to consider here.  Remember that the priests kept a portion of every sacrifice that was given in the temple (meat, bread, etc) for their own use.  Some scholars have suggested that the priests accepted substandard sacrifices because they were afraid.  If they refused to take anything but the best, perhaps the Jews would stop bringing sacrifices to the temple all together; then the priests would have nothing for themselves or their families.  Perhaps they accepted the worst because they felt it was better than nothing at all. 

If that is what they thought, they were wrong!

Malachi 1:8 – When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil?  And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil?  Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor?  Says the Lord of hosts.

God makes another appeal to their natural reasoning.  On the one hand, the priests were saying, ‘presenting lame offerings to God okay, because of our present circumstances’.  Yet, if they went to see the governor of the region, they would not take such a mangy offering! 

Is it proper to offer the King of Kings and Lord of Lords an offering that, under the very same circumstances, they would not offer to a mere man like themselves?  They would never even consider giving that mangy, blind animal to a man of worldly renown, yet they offer it to God.   How wicked!  How ungrateful!  How despicable!  Sadly, they are blind to their own evil ways. 

Here is something that makes the situation even worse.  These are not Gentiles.  These are not people who have no idea who God is, or what he is about.  These are not people who are new in their dealings with the Lord.  These are people who profess and believe that they are God’s children.  

The law required a perfect sacrifice because God should be honored with our best.  God has a right to everything we have, and his rights are supreme over everyone else.

Nevertheless, God has given us authority over our best.  Because it is under our own control, dedicating our best to God becomes a test of faith and love.  God asks for our best, but he gives us the option to give our best to anyone or anything we please.  It’s our choice.

People who offered a polluted sacrifice failed the test.  They showed that God did not have first place in their lives.  By giving their best to others, they showed that they were trusting in others (or themselves) more than God.  They were going through the motions of worship, but their hearts were far from their heavenly Father.

Can the same thing be said of worshippers today?  Are there people who make a pretense of worship, but their hearts are far from God? 

For instance, do we just randomly throw $10 dollars in the offering plate because that is the acceptable thing to do?  Or have we purposely determined in our hearts what we will give God as an offering? 

Do we go to church and sing the songs because they are upbeat and enjoyable, or did we come there with the intent to worship God during that time?

Do we ever mechanically pray for people with an empty heart, or do we really stop and join with them and intentionally intercede for them with heaven?

In short, are we going through the motions of our Christian lives without really giving God our best and highest?  Are we polluting the relationship we have with him?  To just go through the motions is to live a faithless Christian walk.  If this is the way we choose to operate, we should not be surprised if God is not pleased; for the bible reveals that it is impossible to please God without faith.

Hebrews 11:6 – But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.   

Let me give you a gentle reminder that this text deals with sacrifice.  God expects us to sacrifice different areas of our life as an offering to him.  What are you giving God?  Is it your highest and best?

Malachi 1:9 – And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us.  With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? Says the Lord of hosts.

So the post exilic priests were despising God with their polluted offerings and service.  Since that was the case, who could they cry out to when problems came?  Did they have any basis to expect answers and favor from God?  Of course not!  Why should God be gracious to those who rejected a relationship with him and treated him with contempt?

It seems obvious, but we sometimes act the same way.  Consider this and see if you believe it is true:

Man is not so much the victim of his circumstances, as he is the creator of them.

While that is not the case 100% of the time (case in point, Job), it is certainly true much of the time. 

We waste our money and spend beyond our means, then cry out to God when the debt collectors come.  We eat too much and fail to otherwise take care of our bodies, then we cry to God when we have health problems.  We marry unbelievers, then whine about our marital situation.  

And that is not the worst of it.  When we don’t have good stewardship over our finances, that means when God is looking for someone to use in that realm of life, we have eliminated ourselves from his service.

If God is looking for someone to perform a job for him, but we can’t do it because of our poor health, we have just missed a chance to be in his service. 

Were the post exilic Jews victims of their circumstances, or the creators of them?  What about us? 

Based on our relationship with God, can we expect his favor and blessing?

Malachi 1:10 – Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain!  I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand.

The priests had control over the temple area, but there were Levites who were door keepers.  It was their job to remain at their stations and examine all sacrifices that were brought to the door of the temple.  They were to determine if the items that were presented were acceptable according to the law.  If so, the Levites presented them to the priests.  If not, they were to reject them so that no unfit or polluted sacrifice might enter the temple. 

Since they were letting anything into the temple, God justly wishes that one of them would have enough of a conscience to just shut the doors and stop the sin!  How sad is that?

Because the offerings themselves were polluted and because the hearts of the priests and people were far from God, the sacrifices were considered void; they served no purpose.  There was no benefit in even offering them to God, because they were unacceptable to Him. 

As always, God desires obedience rather than worthless sacrifice.  As always, He desires relationship over empty action. 

Let’s face it – God could have permanently shut the door of the temple anytime he wanted to.  He had done it when he allowed the destruction of Solomon’s temple just before the exile. He would do it again when he allowed the temple to be destroyed in AD 71.  And certainly, God would be justified in destroying it in the present case.  But despite their sin, He once again demonstrates his mercy.   

He does not shut the doors himself; he leaves them open so that repentance can take place.  In fact, this is not the first time he has shown such mercy (see Isaiah 1:11-15).  God has plans that span the entirety of time and eternity, and He will be faithful to His promises, even when man is not!    

Malachi 1:11-12 – For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering.  For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.  But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised.

Obviously, God is making reference to a future time.  The sacrifices of Israel could never fully bridge the gap between God and man, and the people of the world could not all travel to the temple to offer sacrifices to God.

Through the prophet Malachi, God is revealing his glorious future plans.  Through Jesus the Messiah, God will put in place a new covenant, where Gentiles are brought into the kingdom of God.  During that age, people can worship anywhere, as long as they worship in spirit and in truth.

John 4:23 – But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him.

It is true that the Jews despised and polluted the symbol of the coming sacrifice of the Messiah, but that would not stop God from bringing about his glorious purposes.  In a day that was future to the days of Malachi, God’s name would be praised, glorified and revered by people of every nation!

This would have been a shocking idea to the Jews.  They never considered a scenario in which God placed them on the same level as Gentiles!  The Gentiles were dogs who had no covenant with God!  They despised God!  How could God accept worship from them?  It was unheard of!  Salvation for the Gentiles was an incomprehensible idea to the Jews. 

This startling news served to amplify the magnitude of their own sins.  Remember at the beginning of this study, when we mentioned Israel was in dire need of medicine but did not even realize she was sick?  This is an example of one of the ways that God used to show her that she was sick.  God was using this revelation to shock them into recognizing their own sin, so they could repent.

God does not desire to cast the Jews aside.  He wants them to repent, and be his loving children, so he can continue to be their loving Father.     

What a privilege to be a part of the fulfillment of this prophesy!  Doesn’t it make you want to worship him right now?  Let’s take care to make sure that we ourselves cherish and honor this gift.  Let’s be sure to worship God in spirit and in truth, making proper sacrifices to him!

As a side note, just to be clear, the priests are probably not saying these exact words aloud.  However, their actions are speaking louder than any words ever could.  By their deeds they shout aloud that they despise God’s promises and presence.  However, this charge cannot be laid solely at the feet of the priests, for the common people were just as guilty.  The rebuke of God via Malachi applies to all the people of that generation – and this one too!

Malachi 1:13 – But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts.  You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering!  Shall I accept that from your hand?  Says the Lord.

God required the performance of the external rites of the temple because they were a picture of what was to come – the ultimate perfect sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah.  By taking these rites seriously and treating them with holiness, the Jews would have honored God.  They would have been an example to all generations of the goodness of their heavenly Father/Master.  The temple rituals were a chance to exercise repentance and faith in God.  They were a way of connecting with God and experiencing a relationship with Him. 

But when the priests and the people fell into gross, blatant contempt of the temple services, it was an insult to God.  It was an abomination.  And through their actions, they brought judgment upon themselves.   

Malachi 1:14 – Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished.  For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.

Suppose you were running a business over the internet.  If you advertised and promised a really great, top quality product, but then delivered something of inferior quality, that would be deception, fraud and theft.  You could actually face legal charges. 

In the same way, those who claimed they were bringing God their best, but in reality were substituting animals that were injured or maimed, were also committing deception, fraud and theft – against the Holy One of Israel!

What have we vowed or promised to God?  Have we consecrated our lives to Him and His kingdom?  Have we vowed to put Him first in our lives?  Did we ever promise to use our time and talents for His glory? 

In keeping those promises, we offer ourselves upon God’s altar of sacrifice, where we become a sweet smelling savor to him.  In breaking those promises, we steal from God, and bring dishonor to his Holy Name. 

 Consideration and meditation of the greatness of God will not only build our faith, it will prevent us from offering frivolous service to him.  The greatness of the mercy and love of God should humble us to a point where we worship him in spirit and in truth, not in vain repetition or half-hearted fervor.  This is the only service that that is worthy of him.

I believe it is worth noting that after the prophet Malachi, God embarks upon a period of 400 years of silence with his people.  Surely, God’s final words to his people were not only important for them, but for us as well.

Let me offer you some encouragement, relief and strength:

We know that in this life, we will never achieve perfection in our walk with Christ.  Try as we might, sin will always interfere.  But we are still required to have perfection as our aim; Jesus is the benchmark of our Christianity.

So don’t become careless in your devotion to Christ.  Don’t give up on your commitment to personal holiness.  I encourage you to honestly examine yourself and see if any sin has crept into your relationship with Him.  

Do you still revere and honor him?  Or have you entered into a state of ‘sloppy grace’, where you imagine that anything goes because God forgives?  Don’t fall into that trap; you will disqualify yourself for his service.   

Now is not the time to let up your guard.  God is at work in the world, and you are going to want to be a part of that!  

So be sure that you are loving your neighbor as yourself, and loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength!

Malachi, Chapter 1, Part 1

Malachi 1:1 – The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.

Hopefully, you took time to read the introduction to this series, which was posted last week.  If so, then proceed on.  If not, please take a few minutes to acquaint yourself with the overall history of this passage of scripture.

Our translation says the word of the Lord was an oracle.  This is certainly true; an oracle is defined as: The answer of a god or some person reputed to be a god, to an inquiry respecting some affair or future event, such as the success of an enterprise or battle.

It is also defined as: The communications, revelations or messages delivered by God to the prophets; including the entire sacred scriptures.

God is certainly about to give a message to his people through Malachi, which concerns current and future events.  So the word ‘oracle’ applies. 

But other translations have the word ‘burden’.  A burden is defined as: That which is borne with labor or difficulty; that which is grievous or wearisome; a heavy load (literal or figurative).  This word is also a fitting one for the message of Malachi. 

Why would the communication of God to his people be a heavy load for the prophet?

Because this word/oracle is like a dose of bitter, awful tasting medicine.  The nation of Israel is sick, but she doesn’t even know it!  She desperately needs this ‘medicine’ from God, so she can be restored to good spiritual heath.  If Israel doesn’t get this medicine, she is in danger of dying.  But no one wants to swallow a big dose of bitterness, even if it is beneficial in the long run!     

So God uses Malachi in a two-fold way.  First, he must confront the Jews with their wrong doing (let Israel know she is spiritually ill) and second, he must deliver a message of repentance and hope (give her bitter medicine, which will heal her). 

Now, is there anyone out there who loves to bear bad news to people, even if it is for their own good?  Of course not!  If you never did anything but bring people bad news, you would very shortly find yourself alone and without friends.  But this is the role that Malachi has been assigned by the Lord. 

His message is not going to bring him fame and popularity.  He is not going to be invited to speak at big conventions.  People are not going to follow him on social media, or buy his book. (Well, maybe that isn’t quite true since his book is part of the bible, but you know what I mean!)    

While his message is absolutely critical for the people, it is still going to be a hard message for him to deliver, and a hard message for the people to accept.  This makes it a burden.

But the good news is that God is delivering the perfect message, at the perfect time, for the perfection of his chosen people, who have a very great and profound destiny.

 Can we stop here and look at our own country, the United States of America? 

Can we say that she is God’s chosen nation, just as Israel is?  Can we say that she, like Israel, is spiritually ill but doesn’t even know it?  Do you see a parallel between the political, financial and moral situation we find ourselves in right now, and the one the Jews faced so many years ago post exile?  I do.  I also believe that God has a dose of ‘medicine’ to give America which may seem bitter going down, but unless we take it, we may die as a nation. 

The good news is that God, as we would expect, is delivering the perfect message to us, at the perfect time, for the perfection of his church, because we have a very great and profound destiny ahead of us – the great harvest of souls that will occur before the coming of Christ. 

Remember back in our introduction we noted that God skillfully intertwined the spiritual message of Malachi with the religious reforms of Ezra and the political reforms of Nehemiah.  These men, under the power and direction of the Holy Spirit, brought about changes in their nation.

I suspect God is doing something similar in America.  What is God calling you to do in this hour?  Is he calling you to become active politically?  Is God putting you in a position to bring reform to the judicial system?  Is he calling you to bear a burden of spiritual significance? Is he putting wealth in your hands to be used for the kingdom?  Is he calling you to be a voice of repentance in this nation? Do you want to play a part in the great end time harvest? 

Do you want to assist in the healing of this nation?  There is more than enough ‘burden’ to go around for all of us. 

So read on, and ask God how this Old Testament prophetic book applies to you in this day.   

 Malachi 1:2-3 – “I have loved you,” says the Lord.  But you say, “How have you loved us?”  “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord.  “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.  I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.”

Malachi delivers his message in a very unique way.  He could have just stood up and said, “Thus says the Lord…”, and fired off his whole oracle, but he didn’t. 

Instead, he engages his listeners/readers in a series of rhetorical questions.  This is sometimes referred to as ‘discussion speech’, because the prophet is giving the word of the Lord in the form of an anticipated discussion of events between the people and God.

In this format, the prophet reveals the true thoughts and feelings of the people, even though they might not want to admit what they are thinking.  He gets this information from God, who knows the thoughts of all men.  After revealing what the people would say if they were being honest, God then addresses the questions and complaints of his people. 

God prefaces his message with a firm assurance of his love.  God never changes; his love for his people neither waxes nor wanes, despite the viewpoint of man.  Jeremiah says it this way in the King James Version of the bible:  

Jeremiah 31:3 – The LORD has appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved you with an everlasting love: therefore with loving kindness have I drawn you.

The English Standard Version says it this way:  ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.’

God’s love is clearly evident in his actions towards Israel.  He set them apart as his chosen people.  He made a covenant with them.  He preserved and blessed them.  He delivered them from Egypt, fed/watered them in the wilderness, and brought them into the Promised Land.  We could go on and on, listing the many tokens of love that God has given the Jews.  God loved them completely and perfectly at all times.

Yet, the post exilic Jews did not see it that way.  They doubted God’s love for them because events did not turn out as they expected.

They had indeed returned to Jerusalem, and rebuilt the walls and the temple.  But none of the wonderful things announced by the pre-exilic prophets (like a new covenant, a transformation of nature, a state of peace and prosperity under the messianic king) had come to pass.  They were not a great and victorious nation.  They were not especially prosperous.  Messiah had not appeared. 

So they murmured and complained. They chose to ignore the past and present mercies of God.  They became thankless and disrespectful.  People began to question God’s power and providence; they accused God of not loving them.

So the eternal and faithful love that God had exhibited towards his people was returned with ingratitude, disrespect and dishonor.  All this is summed up in the question ‘How have you loved us?’

God’s response is to call their attention to Jacob and Esau.  As you recall, these two men were twins, the sons of Isaac and Rebekah.  Each one became a nation of people – Jacob’s descendants became Israel, and Esau’s descendants became the Edomites.  Because they were both sons of Isaac and grandsons of Abraham, you would expect both of them to be given similar privileges by God, but that is not the case.  

Jacob and Esau

In our English translation, Malachi says that God ‘hated’ Esau and ‘loved’ Jacob.  This does not mean that God actually hated Esau for no reason.  It means that God favored the nation of Israel over the nation of Edom.  The words ‘hate’ and ‘love’ are not to be taken literally.  They are used to show the wide gap/contrast of favor between the two nations.  

How did God favor Jacob/Israel?  He gave Israel the Law, the covenant, the temple and the prophets, while Edom got none of that.  He gave Israel a land flowing with milk and honey, while Edom got the desert and some mountains.  Both Israel and Edom were turned over to their enemies, but God restored Israel and left Edom in ruins. 

Many scholars see a parallel here between the righteous and the wicked.  All people have trouble in this world (the rain falls on the just and the unjust), but God favors the righteous.  For the righteous, worldly sufferings have an end, and all of our sorrow will be turned to joy.  Not so for the wicked, whose suffering will be endless.

Malachi 1:4 – If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country’, and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever’.”

Here we see the defiance of Edom.  The Lord has allowed them to be destroyed, but in defiance they rise up and declare that they will rebuild.

But God confirms that the Edomites have no hope of restoration.  No matter how much labor and money and time they spend in their quest to rebuild, they will not succeed.

God has decreed their destruction because of the way they treated the Jews when Israel was overrun by Babylon.  (They captured large numbers of the Jews who had escaped and turned them in to the Babylonian soldiers for profit).  

All 21 versus of the book of Obadiah are an oracle against the nation of Edom, but we will just mention one verse here:

Obadiah 10 – Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever.

Sure enough, Edom was eventually overtaken by Babylon just as Israel had been.  Yet, in the fullness of time, Israel is restored to her own territory, while Edom ceased to exist.  Only the providence of God could accomplish this.   

Daniel 2:21 – And he [God] changes the times and the seasons: he removes kings, and sets up kings…

Clearly, God loves and favors his chosen people over all other nations.

The difference in favor shows itself again when the former Edomites are branded as a ‘wicked country’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever’.  Consider this:  God was angry with both Edom and Israel; His anger resulted in the destruction of both nations. 

But God’s favor and purposes rested with Israel so he used her exile in a positive way (to remove the sin of idolatry amongst other things), and then restored her as promised. 

As her Father, he disciplined her, in order to train her in righteousness.  He helped her mature, so she could be trusted with even more favor.  He prepared her for the coming Messiah, so that all nations could be blessed through her, just as He had promised in his covenant with her.

Thus we see that God has been completely faithful to his promises:

Psalm 89:31-34 – If they [Israel] break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.  Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor allow my faithfulness to fail.  My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.

Meanwhile, Edom was wiped from the face of the earth – forever.  How then, can the Jews of the post exile period claim that God does not love and favor Israel?

Malachi 1:5 – Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!”

The difference that was evident in God’s dealings with Israel vs Edom was just one instance of God’s favor upon them.  There had been many, many instances in the past, and there were more examples yet to come.  Future generations would also recognize God’s favor upon them, and give him glory for it.

So the word of God through Malachi begins with a factual statement of His love and favor.  What other nation had been chosen by God besides them?  What greater honor could there be than to be the people of God, the embodiment of his blessings?  And what did Israel do to deserve these benefits?  The answer is NOTHING

Thus, God has made a case for his undeniable love and favor of Israel.  He now goes on to reveal the unthankful attitudes and actions of his people, despite that love and favor. 

Malachi 1:6 – “A son honors his father, and a servant his master.  If then I am a father, where is my honor?  And if I am a master, where is my fear? Says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name.  But you say, “How have we despised your name?”

Let’s consider the relationship between parents and children.  There is a strong law of nature present in that relationship.  A child automatically loves his parents.  He will naturally look up to them, believe them and trust them.  (Sadly, this occurs even when the parents are abusive.)

If the parents are good, loving parents, that love and respect continues to flourish and grow as the child grows.  There will be times of correction/discipline and times of teaching, but that does not diminish the love of the child for the parent.  If anything, it causes it to increase. 

Now, there can be no doubt that God is the father of the Jewish people:

Isaiah 63:16 – Doubtless you are our father…you, O LORD, are our father, our redeemer; your name is from everlasting.

John 8:41 – You do the deeds of your father. Then said they (the Jews) to him, We are not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.

If God is Father, and Israel is his child, then we would automatically expect certain things to be true of that relationship.  We would expect Israel to love God.  We would expect them to look to God for provision, protection and guidance.  We would expect them to believe in God and to trust Him.  We would also anticipate certain times of correction and teaching to occur.  And all through this process, we would see love flourish between God and his children.

But through the prophet Malachi, God himself declares that despite his perfect parenting, Israel exhibits no love towards him!  She is cold and heartless.  She denies his love, scorns his correction and does not trust him.

Hmmm… perhaps Israel looks at God more like a master than a father.  That too, is a fitting role.  If God is the master then Israel was his servant.  What natural laws govern the master/servant relationship?  Respect and obedience.  The servant will fear and/or respect his master and will act accordingly by doing the master’s bidding/will.

But again, God declares that Israel does not even treat him like a servant treats his master!  They neither fear nor respect him.  God declares that Israel is guilty of ingratitude and contempt.    

Here, I offer a word to the wise for our generation.  God is both our Father and our Master.  We are both his children and his servants.  A mixture of both reverent love and respectful fear is due to Him.  Yes, we can rest in his love, but we also need to be about the business of his kingdom – spreading the good news of the gospel, making disciples of all men and baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Did you notice that here in verse 6, the Lord seems to shift focus?  At first, it seems as if he is addressing all of the Israelites, but now he seems to be speaking specifically to the priests.  Why is this significant?

If the nation of Israel was a group of servants unto the Lord, then the priests were like a special subgroup of servants.  They had the privilege of standing before God, when no one else could.  They were the ones who stood in the gap between man and God.  They had access to the covenant, and they were charged with the task of knowing and teaching its laws to the people.  They were to enforce sound doctrine.  They were to live lives of holiness as an example to their fellow countrymen.  They were to keep God’s name sacred among the people.  They were spiritual leaders; they were to lead the nation in honoring and fearing the Lord. 

When they fail to be good children/servants to God, the rest of the nation follows their example.  If they are corrupt, then we can be sure the entire nation was corrupt too. 

Therefore, correction/discipline of the priests is of the utmost importance and must come first; reformation of the common people and the nation hangs upon the reformation of the priests.

And what a horrible example they set for the nation!  The spiritual leaders of the nation actually despised the very name of God.  To despise means ‘to look down upon with disfavor or contempt, to scorn, to undervalue; to have a low opinion of’.    

Ask yourself these questions:  If the priests scorned and looked down upon God, what kind of service do you think they gave him as they served in the temple?  How seriously did they take his laws?  How effective were they in teaching the law among the people?  

Here is another question:  Why should we care about the service of some priests who turned to dust long, long before our great-great grandparents were born?

Because you and I are the priests of today!

1 Peter 2:9 – But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Look around you.  Our nation is in turmoil.  It no longer acknowledges God as either Father or Master. Why is that?  Could it be that the church has not been taking her duties seriously?

We have the privilege of standing before God, with access to his throne room; we are to stand in the gap for lost souls.  Do we?  How concerned are we with the lost?

We are to live lives of holiness as an example to our fellow countrymen.  We are to hold God’s name and his reputation as sacred among the people of our society.  Do we? Or do people have a hard time seeing the difference between the church and the world?

We have access to the new covenant, and we are charged with the task of being a force for holiness and righteousness in our generation.  This requires us to be active in every aspect of our society such as our schools, our courts, our businesses and our political system.   Are we using our positions in society to promote holiness and righteousness?

When the world tries to promote evil, does it fear a battle with the church, or does it just assume we will roll over and let them do as they please?

Could it be that reformation of America hangs on reformation of the church?

When God confronts Israel’s sin through the prophet Malachi, they respond, ‘how have we despised your name’? 

Now, this is a key question.  If they ask this question with a humble desire to really understand what they were doing wrong, that would have been good.  It would have displayed an attitude of remorse and repentance.  It would have indicated they were ready and willing to change their ways. 

But they asked the question with distain and defiance, refusing to acknowledge their own sin.  And that’s a problem because if they don’t acknowledge their sin, they won’t be able to repent.  Their only option will be to harden their hearts against God’s call to repentance. 

But God is merciful and gracious.  He will reason with them, and give them specific examples of how they are despising his name.  He will be very clear about the charges he is bringing against them.  God desires for them to see and repent, but if they don’t God will be clearly justified when he judges them.

But, before we get into the specifics of their wrong doing, I want to stop here and apply what we have learned to our own situation.

The first thing we saw in this chapter was God reaffirming his love for his people.  There was clear evidence of this love all around, but the people chose to ignore the evidence.  They were busy having a kind of pity party, because events after the exile did not turn out as they expected. 

What does a self examination reveal to you?  Are you now, or have you ever, indulged in a kind of spiritual pity party, when God did not give you what you wanted?  Was there ever a time when things did not turn out the way you thought, and so you accused God of doing you wrong or not loving you? 

I fully and freely admit that when things don’t go my way, it is irritating.  And it is tempting to question God’s ways during those times.  But now I see that when those times come, it is my job to look at the facts objectively, by looking over God’s past dealings with me and seeing all of the tokens of love that he has given me.  When you do that, it is easy to see that he loves you and he is working things out for your good! 

What about our nation? Is anybody besides me extremely unhappy with what is going on in our nation’s capital and in its highest offices?  Anyone blaming God for that?  Anyone grumbling because God has not done what we expected, as a result of our prayers for the nation? 

If so, you should be very, very careful.  In fact, I would immediately stop the grumbling and repent.  You can be absolutely certain that heaven received your prayers:

1 Peter 3:12 – For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.    

You can also be absolutely certain that God is in control of events and He is working behind the scenes in America, even if you don’t see it!  God loves America just as much as he loves Israel and he is bringing about his purposes in his own way.  This may involve correction of his church.  In fact, I am going to go out on a limb here and say that it will most definitely involve correction for the church.

The church in America seems to be complacent.  Where were we when evil was voting for abortion and gay marriage and prayer-less schools?  How effective and active are today’s churches in spiritual warfare?  When did we decide that we could effectively run the church and be victorious without the direct supervision of the Holy Spirit? 

I firmly believe that God is working in America to bring about change, but part of that plan is going to require us to change as well.  God is calling us to enroll in spiritual boot camp.  He is calling us to wake up and start learning how to fight back the forces of evil.  He will direct the battle, but we must do our part by fighting.   

In the scriptures, David credits God with teaching him the art of warfare:

Psalms 18:34-40 – He [God] trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.  You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.  You gave me a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip.  I pursued my enemies and overtook them, and did not turn back till they were consumed.  I thrust them through, so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet.  For you have equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise up against me sink under me.  You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed.

God is ready to train the modern church in warfare.  Part of that will be of a spiritual nature, part will be religious reform and part will be in the political/business/worldly realm.  So I encourage you – don’t wait for the draft – enlist today, because Uncle Sam truly needs you!

Let me offer you some encouragement:  Back in the days of Malachi, God’s people had a choice.  They could accept the medicine that would bring healing to them (even though it seemed bitter at the time), or they could give up and die.  I believe that we, as individuals and as a nation, are facing the same choice.  This battle can be won.  We can be victorious.  I encourage you to be an active part of what God is doing right now!     

Let me offer you some relief:  God has never lost a battle.  So get on the winning side.  Draw close to God.  Learn to hear his voice.  Spend time in his presence.  Follow where he leads you.  

Let me offer you some strength:  We all want our children and grandchildren to inherit a nation that is righteous and blessed by God.  Even though things look a bit hopeless right now, we can still give them that.  But it is going to take effort on our part.  So don’t give up.  Instead, get involved in what God is doing!

 

Malachi, Introduction

The next biblical book that we are going to study is Malachi.  Uh-oh!  I see some of you rolling your eyes already! 

While many Christians don’t feel it is necessary or profitable to study the Old Testament, I disagree.  Here are some reasons why:

First, as Malachi will shortly point out, God has not changed.  The things that pleased him in the past still please him now.  The things that angered him in the past still anger him today.  Therefore, the spiritual truths presented to God’s people in the past are still relevant for his people now.  

Second, someone once said that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.  The same principle applies here.  Because there is ‘nothing new under the sun’, taking a good, thorough look at Israel’s past temptation and sin will assist us in our current Christian walk.  It will aid us in avoiding the same mistakes they made, and help us keep ourselves on the straight and narrow path of righteousness.

Third, you don’t have to take my word for it that the Old Testament is still applicable today – listen to what the Holy Spirit said through the apostle Paul: 

2 Timothy 3:16 – All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.  

Notice that ALL scripture is profitable for the Christian; not just the New Testament.  After all, what scriptures did the apostles use when they preached Jesus as the Messiah? That’s right – the Old Testament!   

We can conclude that it is indeed worthwhile for us to study and become familiar with the Old Testament.  

I have also heard people say that they do not enjoy or get any benefit from reading the prophetic books like Malachi.  Many people say they don’t really understand these books; even after reading them, their meaning and significance remain a mystery.   

Let’s consider that for a minute.  I think we have all had those thoughts at one time or another.  The prophetic books of the Old Testament are certainly not as straightforward and easy to understand as some of the other biblical books, such as the gospel of John or the book of Ruth.

Why is that?

Well for one thing, the prophetic books are best understood when you consider the circumstances surrounding God’s people (or the nation of Israel), at the time the prophesy was given.  If you don’t familiarize yourself with the crisis that faced the nation, then the messages don’t seem to make any sense. 

It’s kind of like this – you need to know the question (the crisis) in order to understand the answer (the prophesy from God).  If you have one or the other but not both, they will both be confusing!

C. Hassell Bullock, in his book An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books, says it this way:

“The prophets spoke to Israel in times of crisis… Had there been no crisis, there would have been little need for the prophets.  When the list of literary prophets is posted, it will be noted that they are clustered around critical historical events or eras.”

So, if you are just reading the bible cover-to-cover, or if you are following a read-the-bible-in-a-year reading plan, you will come across the prophetic books, but they will be separated from the historical circumstances that prompted them.  This makes them extremely difficult to understand.         

In our study, we are going to include known facts regarding the historical and national circumstances surrounding the book of Malachi.  This will greatly increase our understanding of the book.

Another reason that the prophetic books are sometimes difficult to understand is that prophesy tends to blur time – it lumps the past, present and future together. 

To complicate matters, prophesies tend to have two or more fulfillments – one near to the time the word was given, and a second fulfillment in the future.  (This is not an extreme difficulty in the book of Malachi, but in other prophetic books, it is a critical issue.) 

So, admittedly, timing is an issue in every prophetic book, and that can make the books more difficult to understand.  Lucky for us, thousands of years have passed since the Old Testament prophets penned their works.  Thanks to hindsight, we have a better understanding of the prophets than former generations.    

However, time has not solved all of the mysteries of the prophets.  I can guarantee that all of our questions will not be answered, because even now (in 2021) we have not seen the complete fulfillment of many of the promises spoken by God in the prophetic books of the Old Testament.  While we do our best to look into the future and anticipate what will happen, only time will eventually reveal the complete fulfillment of God’s promises.  Simply stated, we cannot hope to fully and completely understand everything the prophets spoke/wrote.

But that is not a good reason to ignore them.

In fact, the opposite is true.  Think about it – God has given us promises that are still unfulfilled.  Should we ignore them or cast them aside?  No way!  We should be spending time examining those promises, bringing our questions before his throne, seeking to know if today is the day that God will bring them to pass.  Perhaps you and I are the generation in which these promises will manifest!  Perhaps you and I will be the very people that God uses to bring these promises to pass.  Have you considered that?     

Think of it this way:  the Old Testament prophets are like a goldmine that has been dug, but not fully explored or mined.  Who knows what rich veins of goodness and blessing and victory are waiting in those pages?  Who knows what God has in store for us in this generation, through those prophets? 

It may take some time and effort to explore the prophetic books, but I believe it will be well worth the effort (and since I am the host of this blog, that is what we are going to do!)  

Now… what do we know about the ancient prophets? 

They are divided up into two categories:  Literary prophets and non-literary (or verbal) prophets. 

The non-literary (verbal) prophets are men who spoke the words/oracles that God gave them, however, their words were not specifically written down and saved for future generations.  For example, we have all heard of Elijah and his successor, Elisha.  These are examples of non-literary prophets.  They spoke the words that God told them, but there is no ‘book of Elijah/Elisha’ that contains all of the prophesies that he spoke.

The words of the non-literary prophets are preserved for us in the Old Testament passages that reflect the life of someone else.  For example, Elijah ministered during the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.  His prophesies/words are recorded in the context of what was happening in the nation of Israel during the reign of Ahab (I Kings 18).  

Another example is the prophet Nathan.  He ministered during the reign of King David; his words are recorded in the context of what God was doing in the nation of Israel and the life of David as opposed to being recorded in a book bearing his own name (2 Samuel 7).

As I am sure you have figured out, literary prophets are simply the prophets whose words/prophesies/oracles have been written down and preserved for us in the form of a biblical book that bears the prophets name.  For example, Isaiah or Malachi.

The literary prophets have been further subdivided into two categories:  major prophets and minor prophets. 

The terms ‘major’ and ‘minor’ have nothing to do with the actual messages they bring.  Obviously, any word directly from God is relevant and important.  The terms major/minor simply refer to the length of the book.  The shorter ones (the last 12 in the Old Testament) are considered minor, and the rest are designated as major.

As we pointed out earlier, the messages of the prophets are generally easier to understand when you place them in their proper place in the history of Israel.   

So stop here for a minute and list the top 7-10 defining moments of Israel’s history which are recorded in the Old Testament.  

Here is the list I came up with.  Yours might be slightly different, but in general these events were historically significant:  

  • The forming of the nation (the era of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob)
  • The period of slavery in Egypt
  • Freedom from slavery/Egypt
  • Inheritance of the Promised Land
  • The era of the monarchy
  • The division of Israel into 2 nations
  • The fall of the Northern kingdom
  • The fall of the Southern kingdom
  • The exile
  • Return to the land from the exile
  • Reestablishment of the temple.

Even a cursory reading of the Old Testament shows that God sent wisdom, guidance, warning and promises to his people during these major events.  While that role was sometimes fulfilled by angels or even God himself, the major source of communication was through the prophets.

Prior to the monarchy being split into two, prophetic ministry was mainly of the verbal type.  Once the split occurred, the ministry of the literary prophets became preeminent. Interestingly, God assigned one set of prophets to the Northern Kingdom, and a different set to the Judah.  No single prophet ministered to both kingdoms.

Five of the Old Testament prophets ministered to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, until its destruction in 722BC.  They were Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah and Isaiah.  This is sometimes referred to as the Assyrian period.

Six of the Old Testament prophets ministered to the Southern Kingdom of Judah, until its destruction in 586 BC.  They were Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Ezekiel and Obadiah.  This is sometimes referred to as the Babylonian period.

Once the southern kingdom fell, Israel was in exile, which lasted 70 years.  At the end of that time, God miraculously brought them back to the Promised Land and had them rebuild the temple and the walls of Jerusalem.    

Five of the Old Testament prophets ministered to the post exilic Jews who returned to the land by the decree of Cyrus.  They were Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah, Joel and Malachi.  This is sometimes referred to as the Persian period. 

So the point is, anytime you read one of the Old Testament prophets, their message will be much easier to understand if you know what the political and moral circumstances were during that time.    

For example, the earliest prophet of the Persian period was Daniel, who specifically set his face to seek God about the return of the people from exile (Daniel chapter 9).  He was very concerned about the sin of his nation, and of its future state.   

Haggai and Zechariah prophesied at a time when Israel needed a push/encouragement to finish the work they were called to do (complete the temple and walls).  Haggai focused on spiritual apathy, Zechariah on great things that God would do in the future (God never gives correction without hope).  They worked in conjunction with Joshua the priest and Zerubbabel the governor. 

Malachi

Malachi also prophesied during the post exilic period.  We will soon discover what his message was!  For now, let’s see if we can determine a date for his ministry.

We know the Jews officially returned to their homeland in several waves, beginning in 537 (after the decree of Cyrus in 538 BC).  We also know that the temple was eventually finished and dedicated in 516 BC.  Since Malachi makes reference to the temple in his prophesy, so we know he ministered sometime after 516 BC.

We also know that Ezra (a priest) led a wave of returning Jewish exiles to Jerusalem in 458 BC and that Nehemiah (the governor) was also ministering in Jerusalem in 445 BC. 

If we make a comparison between Malachi and Nehemiah, we will find that both of these men spoke out about many of the same issues.  These issues include priestly corruption, neglect of tithes, disrespect for God and intermarriage with foreigners. 

So we find that God orchestrated the ministries of these men (Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi) to bring about the changes that were necessary in order for the Jewish people to fulfill the destiny God had in store for them.      

Think of it this way:  John the Baptist prepared the people for the coming ministry of Jesus by preaching a message of repentance.  In much the same way, Malachi also preached a message of repentance, which prepared the people for the coming social and religious reforms instituted by Nehemiah.  

Because their ministries are intertwined, an acceptable date range for the ministry of Malachi is 455-425 BC.  

What was going on with the culture at that time? 

Well, certainly, there was cause for rejoicing and celebration when the Jews returned to their homeland.  Under the ministries of Haggai and Zechariah they finished the temple and the walls.  They established themselves in the land and began to prosper.  The priesthood was faithful to their duties and the people were faithful to the Law.  It was a season of spiritual closeness to God.   

But as the years passed, that generation died and a new one took its place.  The new generation had not been in exile.  They had not lived without a temple.  They did not have the same appreciation for God as their forefathers.  They lacked the earnest and zealous devotion to God that their ancestors exhibited.

Their apathy became apparent in their service to God.  They disregarded the law, oppressed the poor and became more and more like the heathens they lived among. The priesthood also became corrupt and failed in their duty to teach and enforce the laws of God.  They considered themselves servants of God, but they dishonored him in their daily service.

In essence, the Jews as a whole were in rebellion against God.  They were morally and spiritually corrupt.  They were blind to their own sins.  If they continued along this path, they would soon wind up back in exile or worse.  (It reminds you of the Jewish priests and leaders we encountered in the book of Matthew, does it not?)    

In the midst of this crisis, God sends his people a message of warning and hope through the prophet Malachi. 

Now that you know the background of this prophetic book, why not take a few minutes this week and read through it?  See how much you understand yourself and next week we will begin our verse by verse examination of the text.

 

  

Matthew, Chapter 28, Part 2

Matthew 28:11 – While they were going, behold, some of the guards went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place.

Last time we examined the resurrection event from the perspective of those who were faithful to Jesus.  Now we will see the same events from the perspective of ‘unbelievers’.

In verses 2-4 of chapter 28, Matthew informs us that the guards were at the tomb when the earthquake occurred and the angel appeared.  Instinctively, they realized that the angel had far greater power and authority than anything they possessed, even as a group.  They cowered in fear before the angel.

Eventually, they were able to rise and leave the tomb; they were gone by the time the women arrived there.  The most likely scenario is that the senior officers went to see the priests, while the ordinary soldiers returned to their barracks.  After all, there was no need to stand guard at an empty grave. 

This raises an interesting question – did the soldiers see Jesus rise from the dead? 

It is doubtful that they did.  If Jesus was not going to let his faithful followers see him rise from the dead, he certainly wasn’t going to manifest himself to a bunch of heathen soldiers (possibly the same band that crucified him).  In fact, there is no record of Jesus appearing to any unbelievers after the crucifixion (Acts 10:40-41).  

As we discussed in our last post, some scholars believe that the angel opened the door of the tomb, and Jesus came out.  But others dispute that.  They believe that Jesus never walked out the door of the tomb at all.  They believe that since Jesus had a resurrected body, he could pass through the stone of the tomb, as he passed through the walls/doors of buildings (John 20:19, 26). 

If this is the case, then we are left with the same question we had before – why does the angel open the tomb?  If Jesus had already left it, what was the point? 

The answer is that the tomb was not opened to let Jesus out, it was opened to let the disciples in! 

God wanted reliable witnesses to the resurrection.  So the women and (later) the disciples were able to go into the tomb, see the grave clothes and testify that the tomb was empty.       

Matthew 28:12-13 – And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep’”.

As the soldiers were under the command of the priests, they brought their report to the Jews, rather than Pilate.  In response to their report, the chief priests called an emergency meeting of the Sanhedrin.

Now, you would think that these events would give the Jewish leaders a reason to pause and carefully consider their beliefs and future actions.  There can be no doubt that there was an earthquake.  There can be no doubt that these heathen men had seen an angel, and they were scared.  There can be no doubt that the tomb was empty, because the soldiers would certainly have looked inside to see.  Therefore, the only logical conclusion is that Jesus rose from the dead.  And if that was true, he MUST be the Messiah!

The religious leaders were blinded by hate.

But again, the Jews are blinded by hate and fury.  They refuse to recognize any scenario that indicates Jesus as the Messiah of their people.  So instead of accepting the truth, the council conspires together and makes up a lie. The soldiers are to tell everyone that they fell asleep, and the disciples took the body of Jesus during that time.   You would think the Scribes and Pharisees could have come up with something a bit more realistic than a weak fairy tale like that!  Just look at all the inconsistencies in their version of events:

  • The story of the Pharisees required ALL of the soldiers in the entire detachment to fall asleep, ALL at the same time.  Falling asleep on duty was a death sentence for any Roman soldier; even ONE man falling asleep was unlikely.  
  • If they were all asleep at the same time, how do they know that it was the disciples who came and took the body? 
  • On the other hand, if they saw the disciples stealing the body, why didn’t they put a stop to it?  That was their job. 
  • How did the disciples manage to roll the stone away from the tomb without waking up the soldiers? 
  • The disciples had no real motive for stealing the body; a ‘faked’ resurrection would soon be found out.  Besides, by all accounts, they have been temporarily stunned into cowardly inaction.  They couldn’t even bring themselves to stay until the crucifixion was over; there is no way they had the courage to break into a heavily guarded tomb and steal the body. 
  • If, for some strange reason, they did want to steal the corpse, they would do it as quickly as possible – they would not take time to remove the grave clothes before they left. 

Nevertheless, that was the story the religious leaders came up with, and that was the story they were going to stick to.  But now they face another dilemma. 

The tomb is empty and the body is gone.  There is no way around that.  It won’t be long before the disciples find out the tomb is empty, and they are going to spread the word that Jesus has risen.  That story would spread among the people like wildfire.  So the religious leaders have an immediate need to circulate their version of events, or else everyone is going to believe in Jesus.    

Step one of that plan was to bribe the guards into supporting their story.  Where do you suppose they got the money for the bribes?  You guessed it – the temple treasury.  Previously they had used sacred money to betray Jesus, now they use it to hush up his resurrection. 

Matthew 28:14 – “And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”

In addition to the bribe money, the Scribes and Pharisees also guarantee the guards that there will not be any repercussions from Pilate.  How could they be so sure?  What do they mean “if” the governor hears of it?

Pilate stayed in Jerusalem during the Passover so he could deal with any trouble/rebellion that might pop up during the feast.  But after the city emptied, he would immediately return to Caesarea. 

He wasn’t going to hang around Jerusalem to make further inquiries about the death of Jesus.  He was probably glad to have that whole matter behind him.  The only reason he ever got involved in the situation in the first place was at the request of the Jewish leaders.  So, unless the Sanhedrin demanded him to take further action (which they obviously wouldn’t), he would have considered the matter closed, and immediately left town.  He had no interest in what had happened to the body.   

Matthew 28:15 – So they took the money and did as they were directed.  And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

‘This story’ refers to the lie that the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb.

According to Justin Martyr, who wrote in AD 170, the Jewish rulers sent messengers to their fellow Jews all throughout the known world, proclaiming that the resurrection was a myth, and that the body of Jesus had been stolen by his disciples. 

Matthew informs us that their campaign of disinformation was at least somewhat successful because 15-20 years later (when he penned his gospel), the Jews were still spreading this rumor around. 

Although denying the resurrection amounted to an attack on Christianity, this did not prevent the truth of the gospel from spreading far and wide. It traveled much further than the false rumors – it crossed the boundaries between Jew and Gentile and it went from Jerusalem to Judea to the uttermost parts of the world!

Try as he might, Satan will never stop the gospel message!   

Matthew 28:16 – Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.

As we have mentioned prior to this, Matthew’s gospel is streamlined in many ways.  Here is another example.  Jesus made a number of appearances to his disciples which have been recorded by both Luke and John, which Matthew has omitted from his text.

These appearances were private meetings that included the women and the disciples. 

However, as Matthew indicates, there was an appointed meeting that was to take place in Galilee.  Jesus no doubt revealed the time and location to his followers in one of their private meetings.  Although we don’t know exactly where that meeting took place, many people conjecture that it was the same location where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. 

Why do you suppose that Matthew records only this one meeting?  Maybe by mentioning only one meeting, he is calling it to our attention.  He is letting us know that this meeting was extremely important.

This was the meeting that Jesus spoke about during the last supper, before he died:

Matthew 26:31-32 – Then said Jesus unto them, all you shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.  But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee.  

It was the meeting the angel mentioned on the day of the resurrection (Matthew 28:7).  It was the meeting that Jesus himself spoke about while he met with the women, who were on the way to inform the disciples about the resurrection (Matthew 28:10).  It is probably the meeting that Paul spoke about where over 500 followers of Jesus were present:

1 Corinthians 15:6 – After that, he [Jesus] was seen of over five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep.    

How did so many people get invited to the meeting? 

Well, ask yourself this question – If you were one of the disciples and you had seen and spoken to Jesus after he was risen, would you keep that information to yourself?  Or would you joyfully tell others, especially people you knew were believers?  Of course, you would share your good news!

And If you heard this good news what would you do?  Of course, you would do whatever it took to be in Galilee that day, to see your risen Lord!  So it isn’t all that improbable for there to be over 500 people waiting in Galilee to see the Lord!    

Matthew 28:17 – And when they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.

This too, would be natural.  The disciples certainly recalled the words of Jesus when he told them he would die and rise again.  There was no doubt in their minds that Jesus was the risen Messiah, the Son of God and they immediately worshiped him. 

However, while Jesus had appeared multiple times to the 11 and to the women, some people at this meeting were seeing Jesus for the first time.  In a group this large, it would take some time for Jesus to get around to greeting each person.  So some may have doubted until they actually came face-to-face with Jesus and had a chance to speak with him.

Once they got close enough and spoke with him, faith triumphed over doubt.  They recognized his walk, his speech and his face.  Perhaps he showed them the nail marks in his hands as he did for Thomas. In any case, his followers knew it was him.   

Doubt may also have occurred because the event they were witnessing was truly mind blowing!  The one who had been cruelly tortured and put to death as they watched was now standing before them in a heavenly body, which revealed his glory and splendor.

Matthew 28:18 – And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 

Was authority given to Jesus right then?  Didn’t he already have authority? 

Jesus, the Son of God, had an original right to all things because he was the creator of all things:

Colossians 1:16-17 – For by him [Jesus] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

As creator, he has the right to control and dispose everything.  In other words, the Creator has a right to arrange, set in order, regulate, settle or otherwise make determinations regarding his creation.  He has the right to assign a use or bestow a purpose on anything he chooses.  This is true for all the hosts of heaven, as well as all life and material on earth.

As you know, he gave mankind authority over the earth, which man then turned over to Satan. 

 Now, after his voluntary death and resurrection, all authority and power in the universe are put into the hands of Jesus as Mediator of the new covenant.  

Because of what he has done, Jesus now has all power and authority to redeem his people, to create and gather the church, to defend his chosen ones, to subdue all of our enemies, to make us conquers and then make us more than conquers!  In other words, he is taking back planet earth!

Ephesians 1:20-23 – …that he [God] worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.  

Jesus is the head of the church; he has all authority and power to redeem, defend, lead/guide, provide for and save the church which he purchased with his own blood.  His authority and mediatorial government extends over the material world, over angels, over devils and over mankind, whether wicked or righteous.   

As the One with all authority and power, he now gives his followers a commission: 

Matthew 28:19-20 – Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

The commission was given primarily to the apostles, because they were about to lay the foundations of the church.  But this commission also extended to the other believers of that day as well, and it has been passed down through the ages to you and me. 

The New Covenant of salvation is not restricted to the Jewish nation, as the Old Covenant had been.  Now, Jews and Gentiles alike are eligible to join the family of God. 

Those of us who believe are to share the gospel with others and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, lead them to faith in Christ as well. 

We are to show them the love of God and assist them in understanding his laws and statutes.   We are to help them become equipped to be soldiers in the army of God, able to bring still others into the kingdom of heaven. 

We are not only to disciple them, but we are to baptize them.  That is, we are to devote them to God by submerging (or sprinkling) them in water. 

When we are baptized, we are identifying with the atoning work of Christ in our own personal life.  As we are submerged in the water, it represents our death to sin and our burial.  As we are raised up out of the water again, it signifies our new birth in the kingdom of heaven; the salvation of our soul.  We went into the water as a sinful person, but came up a new creature in Christ; old things were passed away and all things became new.

Of course, we are speaking symbolically here.  It is the blood of Jesus that cleanses us from sin and makes us a new creation in Christ.  Baptism is an outward sign of salvation, which Jesus has already accomplished within our hearts.  

The rite of baptism is to be proclaimed in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.  

Baptism signifies a full and eternal consecration of the person being baptized to the service of the Being in whose name it is administered:

  • By being baptized in the name of the Father, you agree to obey his laws, to be devoted to him, to receive his system of religion and to trust his promises. 
  • By being baptized in the name of the Son, you agree to receive him as Messiah; he is your Prophet, Priest and King.  He is your Savior and you submit yourself to his laws.
  • By being baptized in the name of the Holy Spirit, you agree to publicly receive him as  the Sanctifier, Comforter and Guide of your soul. 

All together, you are making a solemn commitment to the service of the Trinity. 

Baptism, therefore, is irrefutable evidence of the doctrine of the Trinity; the Son and the Holy Spirit are equal with the Father.

Who are we to disciple and baptize?  Individuals in all nations; or all human beings.  There are no restrictions to who can become a disciple of Christ and be baptized.

Matthew 28:20 – teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  

Here we see that the apostles did not have the right to ‘take over’ the church.  Jesus, even though he would now be with them in Spirit, was/is still the head of the church.  He is still the Rabbi or teacher. 

The teachings that he gave the apostles were to be passed down through the ages to each new generation of believers.  The Holy Spirit made this easier for us by prompting different men to pen the books of the bible.  So God has provided every generation with spiritual shepherds and the manual for Christian living. 

As we have stressed many times in the past, it is imperative that each believer examine what is being preached from the pulpit and taught in classes to ensure that the teachings line up with the Bible.

Living your own Christian life is one thing, but winning the world is quite another.  Let’s talk about our commission for a moment.  Preaching the gospel to the whole world, baptizing and discipling all those converts… it sounds like an impossible task.

And in some ways, it is.  It is an ongoing duty that will never be finished, until Jesus calls us home to heaven.  It is a duty that we can never hope to achieve by relying on our own human strength/power.  It can only be fulfilled by working with Jesus and depending upon his invincible Spirit for strength, wisdom and power.  It is His Spirit that convicts men of their sins and leads them to repentance.  Thus, victory only comes with the help of Jesus and his Spirit. 

But here is the good news – we have the assurance of Christ that he will be with us until the end of the age.  Thus, we are guaranteed to have his help at all times.  Because Jesus is head of all things (including the church), he is able to provide strength, power, wisdom, finances, open doors, closed doors, miracles, new ideas/opportunities and anything else that his church needs in its mission to spread the gospel all over the world.  Hallelujah!  

Notice that Jesus is going to be with us until the end of the age.  This means that Jesus is and will continue to be in charge of all that happens during the gospel dispensation or what we call the age of grace, which began with his resurrection and will end with his second coming.  All we have to do is listen to his voice and follow his commands; he will provide everything else that the church needs for victory.

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Jesus is with you all the time.  That means every moment of every day.  This is the same Jesus who has angels at his beck and call, who causes demons to tremble, who causes storms to cease, the blind to see, the lame to walk and the dead to raise.  He is living inside of you!  What more encouragement do you need to go out and share the gospel, while living a full exciting life?  What will you and Jesus accomplish today? 

Let me offer you some relief:

Jesus is the head of the church, not man.  Man loses direction or becomes corrupt or does stupid stuff, but not Jesus.  He is perfect.  So you don’t need to worry about the final outcome of the church.  I assure you, it will be successful, because Jesus will not let the church be defeated by the powers of darkness.  In fact, the church is going to wind up being holy and without blemish:

Ephesians 5:27 – That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

So don’t waste your time on worry.  Spend your time in God’s presence, listening to his voice and obeying his call.  These are the keys to a successful Christian life and a successful church.

Let me offer you some strength:

We live life not knowing what tomorrow holds.  That is not true for Jesus, the head of the church.  The scriptures tell us that he already knew how everything would wind up, before it even started, and that it would wind up exactly as he planned!

Isaiah 46:9-10 – …I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My council shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…”

So when things don’t seem to turn out like you planned or hoped, take courage and strength in the knowledge that Jesus is the head of your life.  He knows what tomorrow holds he will make all things work out for your good. 

Happy 100th post!

Can you believe it? This is the 100th bible lesson post for the Kipton Community Church blog, SHOWERS. Remember, that stands for a Second Helping Of the Word for Encouragement, Relief and Strength.

If you have been a reader from the very beginning, we thank you and hope this has been a blessing to your walk with God. Please share it with someone you know.  

If you joined us at a later point, we are very glad to have you along.  All of the posts that occurred before you joined us are still accessible, so feel free to back up and read what you missed. 

There will be no new post next week (1/20/21), as we gear up for our next lesson series. Join us for a new study on 1/27/21, and God bless you!

   

 

Matthew, Chapter 28, Part 1

Matthew 28:1 – Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

The four gospels each give us different details of the events surrounding the resurrection.  For our study, we will limit ourselves to what has been recorded in the book of Matthew.  However, for a fuller picture, you would need to read the other gospels as well.

Let’s take a few moments to remember how the ancient Jews mark time, because it is very different from the way we do it.

In our minds, a new day begins at 12:00 am, or midnight, and it lasts for 24 hours.  According to our reckoning, three days means 72 hours. 

In the Jewish calculation of time, days are marked by sunset.  Specifically, a new day begins each time the sun goes down and it becomes dark.  Further, it was the Jewish custom to count partial days as ‘a day’ or a full day when they were referring to blocks of time. 

So by Jewish standards, Jesus did not necessarily have to be dead for 72 full hours to be considered dead for three days.  He only needed to be dead for a portion of the first day, all of the second day (obviously) and a portion of the third day. 

Is that what happened?  Let’s take a look.  Jesus died at 3 pm on the afternoon of Friday, and was buried shortly thereafter.  According to Jewish reckoning, Friday counted as ‘one day’ of the three day time period, because he was dead from 3 pm until the sun set. 

A new day began when the sun went down on Friday, and it lasted until the sun went down on Saturday.  That was the second day. It was the Jewish Sabbath day.    

Sundown on Saturday began the third day that Jesus was in the grave.  So daybreak/sunrise on Sunday morning was actually midway through the third day that Jesus was dead.  The fourth day would have begun at sundown on that Sunday. 

Therefore we would expect Jesus to rise from the dead sometime before sundown on Sunday.  Otherwise, he would be dead more than the three days that were prophesied to his followers.

Now, some of the devout women (Matthew names two, but Mark and Luke indicate there were also others) who were followers of Jesus left their houses before dawn on Sunday (the first day of the week), to see/visit the tomb. 

What was their purpose in going to the tomb?  According to the gospel of Luke, they went there to further embalm the body of Jesus with more spices (Luke 24:1).  According to the gospel of John, they also went to mourn (John 11:31).

As you recall, Joseph of Arimathea arranged for an enormous stone to be rolled in front of the tomb to shut the door.  The door had also been sealed by the Pharisees and chief priests, and it was guarded by Roman soldiers.

How did the woman expect to open the door?  The gospel of Mark tells us that they really did not have a specific plan when they left to go to the tomb: 

Mark 16:3 – And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher?

But God had a plan – he sent the women to the tomb before sunrise on the third day so they could find the tomb empty.  This way, they are witnesses that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, just as prophesied. 

According to some scholars, Jesus was likely in the tomb about 36-38 hours total.

Matthew Henry offers this interesting idea in his Whole Bible Commentary:  “Christ, on the sixth day, finished his work; he said ‘It is finished’; on the seventh day he rested, and then on the first day of the next week did as it were, begin a new world and entered upon new work.”  

What an amazing thought!

Matthew 28:2-3 – And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.

Before we go any further, let me ask you this:  If you were planning the resurrection of Jesus, how would you do it?

Perhaps you would have placed a bright star over the tomb, similar to the one that was above the manger at his birth.  Then hundreds of people could have made their way to the tomb.  And after a big flash of lightening, the stone could have shattered into millions of pieces and Jesus could have walked out to the thunderous applause of everyone!  But our ways are certainly not God’s ways, are they?

God has something much simpler and more profound planned.  He first reveals his resurrection to the women, who faithfully stayed by Jesus during his death.  They were the first ones to seek out his tomb.  And God rewarded them fully.  They saw Jesus before any of the disciples.  In fact, they were given the privilege of sharing news of the resurrection with the eleven.

When the women first arrive at the tomb, they find an angel sitting upon the great stone, which has been rolled away from the entrance of the tomb.  This should not surprise us.  Angels frequently attended Jesus while he was on earth.  They appeared at his birth, they ministered to him after his wilderness temptation, and again during his time in the garden.  Now they are bearing witness of his resurrection.

The scripture specifically tells us that it was the angel who rolled back the stone from the door of the tomb.  Why is that?  Why didn’t Jesus do it himself?

Court of Heaven

Maybe Jesus was making a spiritual statement.  In the court of heaven, he had been arrested, condemned and sentenced to death, because of our sin.  To roll the stone away himself would imply that he illegally ‘broke out’ of confinement before his sentence was completed and his debt satisfied.    

However, when a messenger of God rolls the stone away, it is symbolic of being released because his sentence had been completed.  Jesus had paid the FULL price for our sin.  Divine justice had been completely satisfied.  Since heaven had ordered his release, a heavenly representative opened the door. 

And because Jesus paid our debt, we too have been set free.

Isaiah 49:24-25 – Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered?  But thus says the LORD, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contends with you, and I will save your children. 

Are you jumping for joy yet?  You should be!  We were lawful captives of sin and death.  We had no hope of EVER being delivered from that bondage.  But Jesus came and contended with Satan so that we could be set free!

Matthew 28:4 – And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.

What?!  These were experienced, hardened soldiers.  Their assignment was a ‘piece of cake’… all they had to do was keep a dead man in his grave.  How hard could it be?  No doubt, they were completely full of self confidence as they stood guard that night.  The only resistance they expected was a small group feeble and fearful disciples.    

But instead they are confronted with power, authority and might that is far beyond anything they knew existed – and this was only an angel, a mere servant to the Son of God!  One glimpse of an angel of the Lord struck them with terror, and they fell to the ground, helpless and powerless.      

The soldiers are not the only ones to see the angel.  The women are about to see him too, but their experience will be far different than that of the soldiers.    

Matthew 28:5 – But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.

Let’s look at it from the women’s perspective for a moment.  They were in a state of grief and sorrow.  When they left home, it was still dark outside.  They were probably outside when the earthquake hit, and that would put them on edge.  As they reach the tomb (finally!), what do they find?  The stone rolled away and a supernatural, radiant being sitting on it! 

There is no way they would not have had a sudden stab of fear.  But the angel’s very first action is to tell the women ‘fear not’.

Why shouldn’t they fear?  Because they were seeking Jesus.  The scriptures assure us that when we seek after or pursue interaction with our Lord, we will find him.   

Hebrews 11:6 – … God …is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

In fact, God is so interested in having a relationship with you, that he comes knocking on your heart’s door, waiting for an invitation to come in and fellowship with you.  

Revelation 3:20 – Behold, I stand at the door and knock:  if any man hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him and will eat with him, and he with me.

We note that the resurrection of Christ brings joy and peace to the believer (the women), but terror and confusion to his enemies (the soldiers). 

We also note that the women had lots of excuses to turn back from pursing Jesus at the tomb: 

  • It was dark. 
  • They were grief stricken and tired. 
  • There was no one to open the door for them. 
  • The earthquake was dangerous. 
  • There were guards. 
  • Tomorrow was another day.  

But despite all these obstacles, the women continued on.  They didn’t let anything distract them from their search for Jesus.  How much more remarkable are their actions when we consider that all they expected to find was the corpse of their Lord!  

What distracts us from seeking the living presence of our Savior?  Do our excuses seem feeble in light of what these women did?  

Matthew 28:6 – He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.  Come, see the place where he lay.

The women receive the news that Jesus is not the dead body they were expecting.  He is alive, because he had risen!  God was faithful to his promise. 

They are invited to come and examine the empty tomb.  John tells us that the grave clothing was still there (John 20:5-6), but Jesus was gone.  The women remembered what they had heard (that Jesus would rise again on the third day), and they matched it up with what they saw (the empty grave/the burial cloth), and so they believed.

They are the first ones to hear about the miracle of the resurrection.

Matthew 28:7-8 – Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.  See, I have told you.”  So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

It might have been tempting to stay at the tomb for a while, communing with the angel and rejoicing in their new found knowledge that Jesus was risen.  But it’s time to move on.  God has appointed a special task to them.  They must go and spread the word of his glorious resurrection to the disciples. 

This news would be a tremendous and much needed comfort to the eleven.  Right at that moment, they were in the midst of horrible grief, profound uncertainty and heavy guilt.  To hear the news that their Lord was again alive, would have astonished them, and given them a lifeline of hope!

Here is something to carefully consider:  The eleven did not immediately believe the news based on the word of the women.  However, their testimony caused the disciples snap out of their despair and move into action.  They felt a need to search out this matter and see whether or not it was true. 

Consider carefully…

The disciples will come to faith in the resurrection by a gradual means.  They had heard about it, long before it happened.  That was like a seed planted in their heart.  They had seen his death, the beginning of the mystery.  That was like the seed sprouting up in their soul.  Now, they hear testimony of the resurrection.  This was like a life giving ray of sun beating down upon their understanding.  This will result in them going to the tomb themselves.  It will result in them traveling to Galilee expecting to meet their risen Lord and Savior.  Eventually, after Pentecost, this ‘gradual work’ would bear much fruit for the kingdom of heaven by heading up the formation of the church.      

So…what ‘gradual discoveries’ is Jesus trying to work out in your life? 

Has God given you dreams during the night or visions during the day?  You should not consider that an unusual or impossible thing.  That concept has been explained to you in scripture.  Hopefully, your dreams have spurred you to action – to seek out the interpretation of what you have seen.  The interpretation of the dream should move you into further action, to bring about the plans and purposes of God in your life.  As you take the first step, he will reveal the next. What are you waiting for? 

Has God captured your attention and intrigued you with the thought that there is additional power and anointing available to you through the Holy Spirit?  That too, has already been taught in the scriptures.  Is God calling you to search the scriptures?  To speak to others who have obvious signs of power in their lives?  What is he trying to tell you about supernatural gifts that the Holy Spirit wants to operate through you?  Will you search out the matter and see if there is something there for you?

Has God given you a tiny seed of an idea for a business or some new discovery that will benefit mankind?  Are you ignoring that idea as something that could never work?  Do you think that if it were true, someone else would have already done it?  Don’t be so sure.  God is a revealer of mysteries.  He may have one just waiting there, with your name on it.  Why not take the time to follow up on it and see where it leads?  

Search it out!

Don’t miss your chance!  Take the time to search out the matter.  If nothing comes of it, what have you lost?  But if it truly is of God, then he will further reveal himself to you.

You will find a greater and deeper revelation of who God is, and what he has in store for your life, if you take that first step of faith.

So without any delay or preparation or excuses, the women set out to do as they were commanded. They are exercising their faith.  Therefore, we would expect them to experience a greater revelation regarding the resurrection of Christ.  Let’s see if that happens.

Psalms 119:60 – I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments.

They left to bring joy and comfort to those who were hurting. When you know someone who is suffering, and you have some comfort to offer (a prayer, a hug, a testimony, food, etc) don’t delay!  Let us do good as swiftly as possible!    

Matthew 28:9 – And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!”  And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.

These ladies not only heard the first good tidings of his resurrection, they got the first meeting with the risen Christ!

Did you notice that as they walk in obedience to what they had been told (go tell the disciples), they find greater wisdom and knowledge – Jesus is revealed to them in a new way.  Why is that? 

When we are in obedience to Christ, our thoughts and actions are in harmony with him.  Because we are focused on him, his desires become our desires.  We will automatically consult him for assistance and guidance, and we will listen close enough to hear his voice.  As we work together with him, he reveals himself in experiential ways.  So when we are operating in obedience to Jesus, we are much more likely to see him, hear him, and find greater revelations of him.

The scripture says that Jesus verbally greeted them and in response they ‘came up’ to him.  Can you imagine the emotion that must have manifested during that reunion?  Can’t you just picture their overwhelming joy and astonishment as they realize it is Jesus?  I imagine that all the weariness that had enveloped them over the last few days was instantly gone.  I imagine that it was replaced by a surge of hopeful energy; all those who wait upon the Lord renew their strength. 

Although they spoke no words to him (what words would have been adequate?), their actions revealed the contents of their hearts.  They came (ran?), fell at his feet and worshiped him. 

Our translation says they ‘took hold’ of his feet, but the original word means to ‘fall prostate before’.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that they grabbed his feet, only that they humbled themselves by bowing before him.

 Matthew 28:10 – Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

I have never had an angel reveal his presence to me.  However, in the scriptures, it is clear that when people come across divine beings, they are commonly struck with fear and a great sense of unworthiness.  Thus, we saw the women experienced fear when they first saw the angel. 

How much greater is Jesus than that angel!  How magnified is their sense of fear/alarm and unworthiness!  Accordingly, Jesus tells them not to be afraid. 

He the reiterates his invitation – the disciples are to meet him in Galilee.

Galilee is about 80 miles from Jerusalem.  Why do you suppose Jesus wanted to meet with them there?  If they were all in Jerusalem already, why take that kind of a trip?

It was a peaceful place compared to Jerusalem where the vindictive religious leaders and heathen rulers were on high alert.  The city was probably still in tumult from the Passover.  The Romans were short on patience, waiting for the visitors to leave.  So Galilee represented a place of rest where the disciples did not have to be in fear.

In addition, Jesus had many followers in that region.  Perhaps he wanted to visit them too.

Jesus calls the disciples ‘brothers’ for the first time here.  This assures them of the love and goodwill that Jesus has for them, despite the way they abandoned him a few days earlier.

In fact, now that Jesus has instituted the New Covenant, we can all be a part of the family of God. 

Hebrews 2:11-12 – For both he that sanctifies and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare your name unto my brethren, in the midst of the congregation will I sing praise unto you.

As in the case of the disciples, our entrance into the family of God is not hindered by our past mistakes or failures.  If we turn to Christ, he will freely forgive all our sin and wash us white as snow!    

Let me offer you some encouragement, some relief and some strength:

The women heard Jesus speaking to them.  Does that make you jealous?  Do you want to hear Jesus too?  If so, I have some good news for you.  God speaks to each and every one of us, and the bible is very clear that we can hear him speaking:

John 10:27 – My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:

God wants to speak with you about every aspect of your life – physical and spiritual. He speaks to you because he loves you and he wants a relationship with you.  Think about it – don’t all true relationships contain a strong element of communication?  Since that is the case, it only makes sense that God wants to communicate with us. 

Now, wouldn’t it be silly if God were talking to us, but we had no way to hear him?  That would mean that God was speaking in vain, or without purpose.  It would mean that his words had no power.  And we know that cannot be true! 

So the problem can’t be that God isn’t speaking.  Neither can the problem be the ability to hear him, for the scriptures declare that we CAN hear him (John 10). 

The problem is that we lack training and discipline.

I encourage you to practice hearing/listening the voice of God.  Here are some simple steps to get you started.  Begin by spending some time in worship.  This gets your mind focused on the Lord. It shuts out other thoughts that will distract you.

Then, read a portion of his word.  The bible is the living word of God; he speaks to all of us through his word and ask yourself this: What is God saying to me about my life/situation through this portion of scripture?  Write down what you feel God is saying to you.

If you follow these steps regularly/daily, you will soon begin to hear and recognize his voice.  This, however, is just the beginning; so you will want to search out other materials that assist you in hearing the voice of God.  So don’t delay – get started now!

 

 

 

 

Matthew, Chapter 27, Part 4

Matthew 27:51a – And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 

As we mentioned in our last post, God gave three incredible signs at the time of the death of Jesus.  These signs proved that Jesus was not a common criminal or a mere man who was unjustly sentenced to death.  The signs were a witness that Jesus was exactly what he claimed to be – the Messiah, King of the Jews.

The first sign was the unexplainable darkness that overshadowed the land from noon until the death of our Savior at 3 pm.  This sign was a testimony to all that were at the crucifixion that day – Jews and Gentiles alike.  The Light of the World was leaving, so the world was left with only darkness.

The second sign, the tearing of the temple curtain, was a very powerful sign sent specifically to the Jewish people. 

The temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom.

What curtain is Matthew referring to? 

When we read about the construction of the very first tabernacle (the original movable temple), we are told that God required a curtain or veil to separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place:

Exodus 26:31-33 –  And you shall make a veil of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen of skillful work: with cherubim shall it be made:  And you shall hang it upon four pillars of acacia wood overlaid with gold… and the veil shall divide unto you between the holy place and the most holy.

The Holy place contained the candlestick, the altar of incense and the table of showbread.  Priests entered this room multiple times every day to perform their duties.  These included trimming the candle wicks, filling the oil, burning incense, cleaning up/removing ashes, etc.  The bread on the table was removed and replaced with fresh bread once a week.  So this room was visited frequently.  

The inner room, or the most holy place, contained the Ark of the Covenant.

The lid on the Ark of the Covenant had two angels (one on each end) which faced each other, with their wings stretched out over the ark.  The Mercy Seat, or the place where God’s presence dwelt, was underneath the wings of the two angels (Exodus 25:17-22): 

Exodus 25:22 – And there I will meet with you, and I will commune with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the testimony…

Unlike the Holy Place, the Most Holy Place (the very presence of God), could only be accessed once a year, and only by the high priest, who was there to make atonement for the sins of the people.  At that time, it was a fearful thing to go into the presence of God.  If the high priest did something wrong as he atoned for his own sin, he would be struck dead when he entered God’s presence, because sin cannot exist in the presence of God. 

So the purpose of the temple curtain/veil becomes apparent.  It separated or kept men from accessing the presence of God, where their sin would destroy them.

Access to God was denied.

From the time Israel became a nation, until the death of Jesus, 99.99999% of the men (and 100% of the women and children) had absolutely NO access to the presence of God.  The few that did went into that room with fear and trembling.

But all that changed with the rending of the curtain.  What exactly occurred as the curtain was torn?

Jesus himself, our great High Priest was entering into the Most Holy Place!  

Hebrews 9:12 – He [Jesus] entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves, but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

He did not enter into the holy places with the blood of animals like other high priests, but he entered through his own atoning death on the cross:

Hebrews 10:20 – …by the new and living way that he [Jesus] opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh…

Jesus entered into the Holy of Holies and made atonement for us with his own blood, once and for all – no other blood sacrifice has ever been needed!  Because of what Jesus did, we may freely and confidently enter the presence of God ourselves!

Hebrews 4:16 – Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

As Jesus tore that curtain, the door into the kingdom of heaven was fully opened.  It will remain open throughout the dispensation of grace.  Anyone who chooses to do so may enter in, through the sacrifice of Jesus:

John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me”.  

Do you fully comprehend how astonishing this is?  You – a sinful, fallen member of humanity – may enter into the very presence of your creator, God Almighty!  You may enter his presence and actually live!  You may approach his throne to fellowship and commune with Him!  You may bring your petitions and problems, your questions and desires straight to God!  This is a privilege that millions of human beings never had – so don’t take it lightly!  Take advantage of it.  Love it, rejoice in it, wallow in it – visit God every moment of every day!   

But wait – there’s more!  Prior to this, you had to be a Jew to be one of God’s children; the door to the family of God was closed to everyone else.  So by tearing or destroying that curtain, Jesus was opening the way for Gentiles to also become the children of God.  He was ripping apart/removing the wall of distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles.  Now there is ONE, united holy family of God!

But wait – there’s still more! By tearing or destroying that curtain, Jesus was destroying the ceremonial law.  As Jesus indicated during the last supper, the Jewish temple service was now obsolete.  Men were no longer needed as a ‘go between’ for people to reach God.  Each man, woman, boy and girl can speak directly to God.  

Now, under the new covenant, WE have become the priesthood of God!   

I Peter 2:9 – But you are a chosen race; a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

We now have the privilege of declaring to others the mercies of God, and the ability to lead them to the kingdom of heaven through the open door of Christ Jesus.

Matthew 27:51b-53 – And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened.  And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

The third sign is also very extraordinary.  When Jesus gave up his spirit, there was a violent earthquake, which was so powerful, it split the rock around Jerusalem.  

Scholars see a number of lessons in this event.

First, it proves the horrible wickedness of those who unjustly crucified Christ.  They point out that the earth was cursed when it was forced to accept the blood of Abel, who was murdered by his brother Cain (Genesis 4:9-12).  In their opinion, the earthquake was a sign of rebellion; the earth was saying that it did not want to accept the innocent blood of Christ, which was much more precious than that of Abel. 

Second, many see the earthquake as evidence of the final, official defeat of the devil’s kingdom.  The Messiah had come, and despite all the powers of hell, he was victorious.  Jesus had remained true to the Father, overcome temptation, taken the sin of all mankind upon himself, and brokered the new covenant between God and man.  Satan was now a defeated foe and the earth was a herald of the final deathblow!

Third, Jesus once said that if the children would stop crying out ‘Hosannas’ of praise, that the rocks would cry out.  Was this what was happening during the earthquake?  Was the earth proclaiming the praise of Jesus, while mankind was either mocking him or silently mourning him?

However, the most common interpretation is that the earthquake was a small taste of the resurrection of the dead; a sign that Jesus had conquered death.  Remember, the Jews buried people in caves or tombs dug out of rock.  As we might expect, the quake opened up a number of these graves, and the bodies lay out in the open.     

Note: The coming to life of these saints most certainly did not happen until 3 days later, even though Matthew records the events together.  This assumption is based on the scriptures which declare that Jesus was the first fruits of those who were raised from death to life:

I Corinthians 15:20 – But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Colossians 1:1 – And he is the head of the body, the church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

Since Jesus did not rise until 3 days later, these saints could not have risen before he did.  Once they did rise, Matthew says they showed up in Jerusalem and appeared to a lot of people.

Can you imagine that?  Can you imagine going to the funeral of a friend or relative, then seeing them in your city a week later?  It would certainly be a memorable meeting wouldn’t it?  Providing, of course, that you did not die from shock or fear!

Unfortunately, these few verses don’t give us as much information as we would like to have.  But scholars have made some basic assumptions:

  • The people had probably not been dead very long.  If one of the ancient patriarchs rose from the dead, no one would recognize them.  Thus, it may have been someone like Simeon, who spent most of his life in the temple and was well known to many people by sight. 
  • They probably did not live to die again.  In other words, the Bible says it is appointed unto man once to die; so these saints probably die not live another 50 years on earth and die a second natural death.  They may have gone with Jesus when he left the disciples and went to heaven in the clouds. 
  • Their purpose was to show that Jesus had conquered/defeated death; the promises that he had made regarding eternal life were to be believed.

We cannot say for sure who they appeared to (enemies? friends?), in what manner they appeared, how often they appeared or what they said and did.  Speculation would be futile; we shall have to wait until we get to heaven to get these answers!

Matthew 27:54 – When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

The words of this soldier have long inspired intense debate. 

Some believe that the words should have been rendered ‘Truly this was the Son of a God’.  In other words the soldier had taken note of all the events that transpired that day, and based on what he saw, he believed Jesus was an innocent/righteous man.  He was proclaiming that Jesus was who he professed to be, but at the same time, the soldier had no real knowledge of what that meant. 

Others believe that the soldier, being a resident of Jerusalem, would have had at least a basic understanding of the Jewish religion.  They feel that when the soldier correctly judged Jesus as being the Son of God, he was acknowledging it in the proper context; he understood what he was saying and was a witness to the identity of Jesus just as Peter was when he said ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’. 

In either case, notice who is convinced by the signs – not the Jews, but common Gentile dogs!  And not only Gentiles, but Roman soldiers – some of the most hard-hearted, vicious and cruel men on the earth.  These soldiers had put hundreds of men to death by crucifixion.  Pity and fear were emotions they did not possess.  Why, only hours earlier, they had been mocking Jesus.  They spit on him, struck him, pulled out his beard and jammed a crown of thorns on his head! 

Even these ‘unlearned’ men are able read the signs and acknowledge that Jesus was an innocent, righteous man while the Jews were so filled with hate and envy, they could not even admit his innocence.

Matthew 27:55-56 – There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

This group of women had been with Jesus for some time.  They accompanied him on his journeys and provided money to fund his ministry:

Luke 8:2-3 – And certain women, who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven demons,  And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who ministered unto him of their substance.

The disciples had promised to die with Jesus, yet all of them had fled the scene, except John.  How remarkable, that these courageous women faithfully followed Jesus to Calvary, and then stayed to watch the proceedings until the very end.  In fact, they will be the last to leave Jesus at the cross, and the first to search for him at the tomb.   As such, they became witnesses of things that the disciples did not see or hear.

Matthew 27:57-58 – When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus.  He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.  Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him.

First of all, it should be noted that the bodies of all executed criminals (Jesus is included in this category), were the ‘property’ of Rome.  The government was responsible for disposal of the body.  Pilate could have done anything he wanted with it.  He could have ordered it to remain on the cross until it rotted away or the birds ate it.  He could have ordered it to be tossed into a mass grave with lots of other bodies.  He could have had it burnt, or dismembered or secretly buried, or any number of other things.

But in accordance with his great master plan, God had already chosen and equipped the right man to organize and carry out the funeral of his Son.  That man was Joseph of Arimathea. 

Joseph was actually a member of the council that sentenced Jesus to death, though he himself opposed his condemnation (Luke 23:51-51).  Council membership indicates that he was a well respected man who had influence within the community.  He was also very rich.  More importantly, he follower of Jesus, albeit secretly. 

The gospel of John tells us that Joseph had a partner in the funeral – Nicodemus (John 19:39).  This was the same Nicodemus that visited Jesus at night.  He too was on the council that condemned Jesus.  He too was a leader in Israel.  Together, these two men planned and carried out a private funeral for Jesus.

The character and reputation of Joseph most likely had a direct influence on the decision of Pilate in regard to releasing the body of Jesus.  Because the death of Jesus caused such a public uproar, his body couldn’t be released to just anyone; misuse of his body could be used to incite rioting in the city.    

Pilate’s decision may also, at least partially, have been based on lingering feelings of guilt for condemning an innocent man.  Perhaps he thought a decent burial would in some way help atone for his crime.  In any case, the request was granted and Joseph received the body. 

Matthew 27:59-60 – And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock.  And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.

Let’s face it – it is very unlikely that the disciples (even if they were present) could afford to bury their teacher.  They had been ‘out of work’ so to speak, for the last three years; a group of wealthy women had been paying for their day-to-day needs.  This task had to fall to someone that God had equipped for it; someone with enough wealth and influence to get the job done.  

It was going to take money to prepare the body of Jesus for burial.  Money was needed to transport the body, to clean it, to buy the cloth as well as the spices that were wound into the cloth. 

It was also going to take money to actually bury him.  Just like today, gravesites are not free.  You have to pay for them.  Joseph is rich enough and generous enough to donate this tomb to Jesus.  This is actually another fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy:

Isaiah 53:9 – And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death…

The tomb itself was also uniquely suited for the body of Jesus.  It was not a cave; it was hewn out of rock, which meant that there were no secret doors or hidden passages that could be used by the disciples to steal the body.  It had one door, which was shut by an enormous stone.  In fact, blocking the entryway with the stone was the last act of the funeral. 

Once that was door was shut, the living departed without any further ceremony.  They went home, leaving the dead person behind. 

However, it should be noted that in the case of a Christian, the opposite is true.  The dead saint has actually gone home to the land of eternal living, and left us behind!  May this thought give you comfort when you consider some of your deceased loved ones. 

Matthew 27:61 – Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

These women came to the grave to see the end, and overwhelmed with sorrow and anguish sat down to mourn.  How often have we done the same thing at the grave of our loved ones?  And yet, as we will see in chapter 28, their mourning would soon be turned to joy at the resurrection.  There will be a glorious resurrection for all those who trust in Christ! 

Matthew 27:62-63 – The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that imposter said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’”

The phrase ‘the next day’ seems a bit confusing to us.  It sounds like the tomb was left unguarded the first night that Jesus was dead, which would make no sense.  If the disciples were going to steal the body of Jesus, they could just as easily do it on the first night, as the second.

The answer can be found when we remember that the Jews do not count days like we do.  For them, each new day begins at sunset.   Jesus was crucified during the day; he died around 3 pm in the afternoon.  However, by the time he was buried, it was after dark.  So in the reckoning of the Jews, this was technically ‘the next day’ after the crucifixion. 

In our time line, it would be understood this way:  Jesus died and was buried the same day.  That evening, after or during the time of internment, the Jewish religious leaders met with Pilate to make arrangements to secure the tomb.

Matthew 27:64 – “Therefore, order the tomb to be made secure until the third day lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.”

Remember when the leaders asked him for a sign that he was the Messiah?  Jesus told them to look at the sign of Jonah, who was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights (Matthew 12:39-40) before reappearing on land.

Furthermore, this once again proves that they clearly understood what Jesus meant when he said ‘destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it again’.    

It is also possible that Jesus spoke of his resurrection more frequently, even though these declarations are not recorded for us in scripture. 

After all, the resurrection is the lynchpin of the gospel.  Everything depends on it.  If Jesus does not resurrect himself, then all of Christianity is false, the kingdom of heaven is a lie, and no atonement had been made for mankind. 

So the bottom line is that it was common knowledge throughout the ranks of the Jews (from the lowest shepherd to the chief priests and Pharisees) that Jesus predicted his own resurrection on the third day. 

Given these universally known predictions, the Jewish leaders want to make it impossible for the disciples to steal the body and fake the resurrection of Jesus.  They took stringent precautions against any kind of fraud.  They were not going to allow any room for controversy regarding the death of Jesus.    

How ironic that God causes them to be trapped by their own craftiness!

Because they took such overwhelmingly great care in making sure the tomb was sealed and guarded, they essentially provided an alibi for the disciples – there was no way the followers of Jesus could have perpetrated any kind of fraud in the resurrection.  So the Pharisees wind up being the strongest witnesses of the very news they were hoping to suppress!

Furthermore, if they thought about it, they would have realized just how ridiculous their preparations were.  If Jesus had not truly risen, and his followers stole his body to fool everyone, then they were fooling themselves too.  What possible benefit could they gain by faking the resurrection?  They would still know in their hearts that they were wrong; they would know that the kingdom of heaven had not really come and their faith was in vain.  Why would the disciples want to spend the rest of their lives in a pointless endeavor to get people to believe a lie?  Why continue a farce that would certainly end up with their own painful deaths?  Had they been wrong, it would have made far more sense for them to admit the mistake and move on.   

Matthew 27:65-66 – Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers.  Go, make it as secure as you can.”  So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.

The purpose of the guards was to protect the tomb from any kind of invasion, such as the followers of Jesus stealing the body.

The purpose of the seal was to protect the tomb from the guards themselves, who otherwise might be tempted to take a bribe and allow the tomb to be raided. 

How was the tomb sealed?  We know that a large rock had already been rolled in front of the opening, so as to close it off.  It is probable that ropes were then placed across the stone and each end fastened to the stone wall of the tomb with wax or cement of some kind.  This wax/cement may have also been stamped with the seal of Pilate.

We find Pilate trying to please all sides in this matter.

He allows the friends of Jesus to have his body for a decent burial, but he also allows the religious leaders to do what they feel is in their own best interest – to guard the tomb. 

What are we to make of Pilate’s words, ‘make it as secure as you can’? 

Perhaps he is trying to pit one side against the other.  No matter which side ‘wins’, he can claim to be on their side.  He would use this as leverage to keep peace in the city. 

Perhaps he has spoken with his centurion and is now convinced that Jesus was the Son of God.  If he believes that, then his words may be mocking the religious leaders, because they could never secure that tomb against God himself!

Perhaps Pilate wants to remain neutral in all of this.  Perhaps he wishes the whole controversy will just ‘go away’ without requiring him to take a side in the matter. 

If so, that was a vain hope indeed. The death and resurrection of Jesus will always demand a decision from every person who walks the earth. It will demand a decision from you and from me.

What decision will you make?  Is Jesus the Messiah of the world, sent by God to redeem mankind?  If so, have you surrendered your life to him?

Let me offer you some encouragement:

We have all lost loved ones to the sting of death.  But as we pointed out in this study, that is not the end.  There will be a resurrection from the dead.  Because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, death will eventually be swallowed up in victory:

1 Corinthians 15:54 – So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.

We know that we will one day be reunited in heaven with all those who have trusted in Christ throughout the ages, where we will never be separated again.

Let me offer you some relief:

But in order to have that hope, you need to trust in Christ.  You need to repent from your sin, accept Jesus into your heart, and live for him.  When you do so, you will find relief from sin, fear and condemnation; there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

Let me offer you some strength:

Sometimes it is hard to share the gospel with those who know us best.  We fear that they will reject or ridicule us.  We sometimes hesitate because we know we have failed in the past, and they have seen it.

But stop for a minute and consider today’s lesson.  If we want to spend eternity in the company of our loved ones, then they MUST trust in Jesus for their salvation.  Can we use this understanding as a catalyst to strengthen our resolve to witness to our loved ones? 

I suggest this:  Pray for the salvation of that loved one.  Then ask for the Holy Spirit to lead you in sharing the gospel with them.  Don’t do it on your own power or in your own timing.  If you do, the effort will likely fail.  But if we let Holy Spirit take the lead, He will give you the words to say that will penetrate their heart and make Christ a reality in their lives.

This post is being made public just a day or so before the first day of 2021. What does the new year have in store for you?

Many people see the New Year as a chance for a new beginning. They make an effort to change something about themselves that they don’t like. Sometimes they are successful, but often they are not.

However, the death and resurrection of Jesus can provide a new beginning to every person who desires to be free from sin. Jesus will make you a new creation in Christ. Old things will pass away, and all things will become new. This change is always successful, because it depends on the blood of Jesus, not your will or your strength.

So why not invite God to walk with you through 2021? He will cleanse you from sin, and work all things out together for your good, if only you will seek Him!

    

Matthew, Chapter 27, Part 3

Matthew 27:39-40 – And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself!  If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

What utter disrespect the Jews show to Jesus as he suffers on the cross!  Where are the crowds who recently paved the road with palm branches and cried out ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’?  Where are the multitudes who were healed and set free by the power of God?  Where are the thousands who ate of the loaves and fishes?  They are nowhere to be found.

What we do find is a crowd of Jews who rejoice at the downfall of Jesus.  They jeer and taunt him in his darkest hour.  But there is something more sinister than just torment happening here. 

These people are being used to shake the faith of Jesus.  Our savior has been physically tortured beyond belief at this point.  Every single breath he takes ravages his body with pain.  His spirit is weighted down with the sin of the world.  Now, at the height of his suffering, the enemy comes to viciously attack him, no doubt using every single weapon at his disposal.     

Notice that the Jews taunt Jesus with the exact same words that Satan used in the wilderness temptation (Matthew 4:3, 4:6): “If you are the Son of God…”.   Satan was tempting Jesus to bypass (or in this case end) the suffering of the cross.  Can you imagine how incredibly strong that temptation must have been?  And yet our Savior does not fall to the evil one.  He remains strong and true; crossing the finish line of redemption on our behalf.

Matthew 27:41-42 – So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself.  He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.”

The religious leaders are just as ignorant as the common people.  Because Jesus does not immediately deliver himself from death, they incorrectly assume he does not possess the power and ability to do so.  They think that it’s ‘now or never’ for Jesus to prove that he was the Son of God; but they forgot that he had already proved it – by the miracles he had performed over the last 3 years. 

They again mock him for the statement that he could destroy the temple (his body) and rebuild it (raise it again) in three days.  They had no idea that the very thing they detested and derided him for was, even then, being fulfilled in front of their eyes! 

What ignorant, blind leaders! Jesus never intended to ‘save himself’ as they understood it.  He chose to be on that cross, laying down his life and later taking it back up again.  He chose to suffer so he could save and deliver US from death!   

Matthew 27:43 – “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him.  For he said, “I am the Son of God.”

As you recall, the real reason the Jewish leaders wanted to have Jesus put to death was because he claimed to be the Son of God.  They considered his claim false, and thus they deemed him guilty of blasphemy. 

Now, as he hangs there on the cross in the midst of intense pain and suffering they throw his words back in his face once again.  If he really was the Son of God, as he claimed, then surely God would immediately step in and deliver him from his suffering.  The fact that God did not deliver him demonstrated that he was not the Son of God (or so they thought).     

Matthew 27:44 – And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.

It is remarkable that even the robbers who were crucified alongside Jesus reviled him.  You would think they had more important things to worry about; why waste your final breath reviling someone who is suffering with you?

But their actions prove that Jesus was forsaken and despised by all levels of society, even down to the worst of the worst. 

We do note, however, that the gospel of Luke tells us one of these men repents and places his faith in Christ.  Jesus assures the man that he would enter Paradise that very day (Luke 23:39-43)!

Matthew 27:45 – Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.

During the last three hours that Jesus hung on the cross (noon to 3 pm), darkness covered the land.  Was there a natural explanation for this? 

There is speculation that it could have been an eclipse, but many scoff at this idea.  They claim that history records a full moon at the time of the crucifixion, which was opposite to the sun, so an eclipse was impossible.  Additionally, they say a total eclipse would not account for a three hour period of darkness.

Others believe the sun was darkened by clouds and smoke which erupted before the great earthquake that took place.  This theory also has its detractors.  If enough particulate matter was in the air to cause darkness, it would not fall to the earth and disappear within a mere three hours.

We may not know the exact cause of the darkness, but we do know the reason for it.  God was calling attention to the death of Jesus.  What a fitting witness:  The birth of Christ was attended by a very great and unusual light (Matthew 2:2), while the death of Christ was attended by a very great and unusual darkness.  As the Light of the World was leaving, the world was left with darkness!  This was the first of several signs that were noted by those present on that day.  All of these signs testify that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah of the world.

This darkness was predicted back in the book of Amos:

Amos 8:9 – And it shall come to pass in that day, says the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth on a clear day:   And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring up sackcloth upon every waist, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it like the mourning of an only son, and its end as a bitter day.

So, it would seem that God was once again reaching out to his people.  The Jews had become so blinded by their hatred of Jesus that they rejected the truth.  But God was going to give them several incredible signs on that day, which they would surely remember.  And if they meditated on these signs (the signs were so astonishing, you could scarcely do anything else) it would again point them to Jesus as the Messiah.    

Matthew 27:46 – And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The intense suffering of Jesus cannot be understood or explained by us; it is beyond our human comprehension.  This was not just physical suffering, but spiritual suffering as well.   

As we mentioned earlier, there can no doubt that Satan was present at the crucifixion.  Luke 4:13 tells us that Satan departed from Jesus ‘for a season’, which indicates that he would return to tempt Jesus again.  There can be no doubt that Satan launched upon Jesus the most severe and heinous attack possible at this time, in order to take full advantage of the weakened physical state of our Lord.  Scholars suggest that the ferocity of Satan’s attack was at its worst during this very moment.

Just as we do not know or understand the depth of temptation that Jesus was experiencing, neither can we know or understand the intense spiritual agony that was upon him.

If Jesus were to be a true sacrifice for us, it was necessary for him to be judged guilty at the judgment seat of God, and to suffer all the wrath of God for our sake.  As he experienced that wrath, the inward sadness/brokenness of his soul was so intense and violent, that is caused him to cry out (Psalms 22:1).        

We should always view the indescribable torment of Christ with utter reverence; for it was a holy sacrifice, made on our behalf. 

Isaiah 53:10 – Yes it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt… 

In my opinion, Isaiah has the best reflections on the suffering and agony of Christ in chapter 53 of his book (please, please take the time to read this entire chapter right now – it will be very meaningful to you, as you read the events of the crucifixion).

Matthew 27:47 – And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.”

When Jesus spoke, he was not speaking Greek, but Syro-Chaldaic, which is a compilation or mixture of Hebrew and Syriac.  It was not a language that everyone would have clearly understood.  So, two possibilities present themselves in this situation.

One is that the Jews were mocking the cry/prayer of Jesus.  If this is true, then these people clearly understood that Jesus was calling out to God, but twisted his words to make them refer to Elijah. 

How is calling out to Elijah mocking Jesus?  The Jews were well aware of the scripture that said Elijah must come before the Messiah would be revealed.  They thought that by calling out to Elijah, Jesus was asking him to come and thereby admitting that he was not the Messiah.

Of course, if this was their thinking, we know they were wrong.  John the Baptist fulfilled that role when he came in the spirit and power of Elijah, to call people to repentance (Matt 17:10-12), and bear witness that Jesus was the Messiah.

At any rate, the second possibility seems more likely.  In this explanation, the people simply misunderstand what Jesus said.  The language may have been unfamiliar to them.  Also, keep in mind that there is now a supernatural deep darkness over the land which has a calming yet terrifying effect on the bystanders.  The time of coarse joking is past; the spirit of mockery has gone. Something beyond their understanding is happening. 

Matthew 27:48-49 – And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink.  But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”

The Roman soldiers commonly drank a mixture of sour wine and water.  It is entirely possible that there was a supply on hand for the soldiers to drink as they carried out the executions of the day. 

So in response to the cry of Jesus, someone puts a sponge on the end of a stick, dips it in the wine/water mixture and offers it to Jesus.   But while he was getting the sponge, others urged him to wait.  Clearly, they all understood that supernatural things were occurring; perhaps Elijah might actually come.

Matthew 27:50 – And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

John tells us the words that Jesus uttered that day:

John 19:30 – When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

How do you view the statement of Jesus?  Do you see it as a cry of pain as his life expired?  Or do you view it as a shout of exultation and victory?

Considering that his last words were spoken with a loud clear voice, we can surmise that he was still in full strength.  His life had not been squeezed out of him by vile men, but rather he had dismissed his spirit from his body, of his own accord.  When the time was right – when the temptation of Satan had been firmly rebuffed, when the sin of all the world had been fully placed into his account and he paid the price of the wrath of God, then and only then did Jesus dismiss his spirit with the loud, triumphant exclamation, ‘IT IS FINISHED!’

Considering his last words were spoken with a loud, clear voice, we can surmise that Jesus attacked our spiritual enemies with vigor, strength and power.  Even as he hung on the cross, he was spoiling/defeating evil principalities and powers.  He was putting death in its place.  Jesus did not barely win this battle; he conquered; he won by a landslide.  He destroyed evil, triumphing over Satan without question.  Jesus is the one who is ‘mighty to save’ (Isaiah 63:1).  Satan’s hold on us was destroyed; our redemption was sealed with the victorious cry, ‘IT IS FINISHED’!

Let me offer you some encouragement:

It seems odd that our study brought us to the death of Christ in the month of December.  In fact, his death on the cross is being ‘posted’ two days before Christmas.  We might be tempted to say that our timing is off.  But I don’t think so.

The announcement of the birth of Jesus should never really be separated from the fulfillment of his purpose on the cross.  The events are inseparable; it takes both to give us a complete picture of God’s grace. 

The world loves to celebrate the birth of Jesus in extravagant fashion.  But they have missed the point.  As wonderful as the birth of Christ was, it was really only a prelude to the main event – the crucifixion.  The true cause for celebration came as Jesus proclaimed ‘IT IS FINISHED’ and gave up his life on the cross.    

So over the course of the next few days, I encourage you to dwell not just on the promises that were made to mankind at the birth of Jesus, but to also consider the fulfillment of those promises which occurred on the cross.  

By all means, rejoice and celebrate His birth!  But don’t shrink for examining the pain and suffering of his death, because the real victory was won through the cross, not the manger.   

Let me offer you some relief:

When Jesus was born, there was rejoicing because the promised savior had come. But that promise was not actually fulfilled until Jesus died.  Now that he has died and risen again, all sin – ALL SIN – can be washed white as snow.  So let me give you some relief – no matter what you have done, no matter how badly you have sinned or ‘blown it’, forgiveness can be yours.  The price has already been paid by Jesus through his suffering.  So reach out to him today, and find relief from your sin.       

Let me offer you some strength:

Right now, you and I still live in the realm of sin.  Every day is a constant battle to overcome evil of some kind.  And sometimes we can get weary in the midst of that conflict.  But let me give your strength a boost – evil has been officially defeated.  The day that Jesus hung on the cross and triumphantly exclaimed ‘IT IS FINISHED’, Satan’s hold on you was broken.  So take heart.  Don’t give up.  Run your race with courage and might.  Jesus has won the victory for all those who trust in him!   

Merry Christmas!

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.