Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Listening God

This morning we’re going to look at a passage of Scripture found in the last book in the Old Testament, the book of Malachi.

At the time of the writing of Malachi, the nation of Israel had strayed far from God. Evil abounded in the land. Unbelief prevailed. The majority of people went their own sinful ways, giving little thought to the will or ways of God. They laughed at the prophets and showed utter contempt for God and His Law.

As a nation we have strayed from God until our president said, “America is not a Christian nation.”

Many in our nation agree with Him. Just because other religions have come to this great land of ours does not mean that we are no longer a Christian nation!

With that in mind, listen as God speaks to Israel through the prophet.
"You have said harsh things against me," says the Lord. Yet you ask, “What have we said against you?” You have said, “It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out His requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape." Malachi. 3:13-15
To put it very bluntly, the people were saying that God was inconsequential, insignificant, and irrelevant. In other words, they thought that God was absolutely powerless to do anything about anything, anymore. So, as a nation, they were ignoring Him. He was unimportant to them. What a pitiful environment in which to live!

But, do you remember? Back in the beginning of their nation, as their forefathers were settling into the Promised Land, Joshua, their leader, had challenged them,
“…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” Joshua 24:15-18
And the people had responded,
“Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! It was the Lord our God Himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations…who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because He is our God.”
And that generation of Israelites was faithful to its vow, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord … because He is our God.” They didn’t forget Him, or ignore Him!

There is no question that their forefathers, the founders of the nation of Israel, had a deep and abiding faith and trust in God.

But by the time of Malachi it was painfully obvious that the nation of Israel, as a whole, had turned almost completely away from God.

Listen again to what God was saying to them:
"You have said harsh things against me," says the Lord. … "You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.’"
This sounds a lot like Israel in Jeremiah’s day.
“At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turns from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; If it do evil in my sight that it obeys not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them. Now therefore go to, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now everyone from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good. And they said. There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will everyone do the imagination of his evil heart.” Jeremiah 18:7-12
Let us read a verse from Psalms 9:17:
“The wicked will be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.”
Does this sound familiar? Is our nation going through the same pattern of behavior? I wonder.
When our national leaders do not honor God, what will our nation become?

But there is hope. Let’s go on in our scripture, for in the next few verses of Malachi there are some things that are rather intriguing.
Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in His presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored His name.
"They will be my treasured possession," says the Lord Almighty, "in the day when I act. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”
Malachi 3:16-18
What does this scripture say?

First of all, it tells us that in the midst of a faithless nation, God still had a faithful remnant! Even though a great majority of the people had turned their backs upon Him, God still had people who honored and worshiped Him, and sought to do His will.

I would like to tell our president that there are some of us whom we still call ourselves Christian!
There are not many of us, in comparison to the nation as a whole, but Christians have committed themselves to remain faithful to God, no matter what anyone else says or does. And while surrounded by the spiritual darkness of their day, they drew closer and closer together to talk with each other and to support and encourage one another in serving God.

Second, it says that God heard them. Well, of course He did. Doesn’t the Bible teach that He hears our prayers? We can pray, each of us, and know that He has promised to hear and answer our prayers. So, of course, He heard them.

Now this verse didn’t say anything about prayer, but what it did say was that the people talked and God heard.

Even though they were only a small group in the whole nation, God was paying attention to them.

They talked about Him, worshiped Him, and discussed His wonderful ways. And as they did, God was listening to their conversations. He eavesdropped. He tuned into their frequency.

Kings were making laws, but God was listening to His people.

Generals were giving orders, but God was listening to a handful of folks talking about Him. Judges were speaking in court, but God was listening to His remnant.

Politicians were making speeches, but God’s ears were tuned to His faithful followers.
And I believe that God is still doing the same today!

Third, Malachi tells us that the Lord enjoyed what He heard so much that He had it all written down in a book – “A scroll of remembrance…” it is called.
“Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book? When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies’ turn back: this I know; for God is for me. In God will I praise his word: in the Lord will I praise his word. In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.” Psalm 56:8-11
Do you get the picture? Here is God, summoning an angel, I suppose, to take notes – to write down what was said and who said it so that it would be remembered forever!

Think of that! God really does see and hear what we’re doing and saying - and not just when we’re in church or praying to Him. There’s a record being kept of it, too.

Fourth, notice what God says in verse 17. "They will be my Jewels (treasured possession).” God had made them a promise in Exodus 19:5.
“Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine”
From Malachi the Hebrew word translated is “treasured possession.”

And it is often translated as “jewels” or “treasure.” So God is saying that these faithful people are His jewels, His very own treasure. He goes on to say that in the day when He acts, He is going to remember them and protect them.

God makes His meaning clear by saying:
“And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” Malachi 3:16-18
In the light of that verse I want to be sure I’m part of God’s jewels – His treasure. Do you?

But, even though we call ourselves Christians, how can we make sure that we’re a part of God’s faithful remnant today?

Maybe we can find out by looking once again at what this scripture tells us about them and what they were doing.

They remained true to God.

First of all, it tells us they “feared the Lord” – they held Him in awe and because of that they remained true to Him. It was a time when it wasn’t easy to stay faithful to God. Corruption was everywhere. Hypocrisy abounded. Evil ruled the day.

And we could very easily say the same thing today. You see. It’s never been easy to follow God’s ways. But God has always had a remnant.

This remnant said, “Even though everybody else curses God, we will praise His name.” They stood for righteousness in a wicked nation. They endured the ridicule of family and friends. And God looked down on this small group of faithful ones and said, "They will be my treasured possession."

God’s Jewels remain faithful in every situation.

They talked about God.
“Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it.”
Not only was this remnant faithful, but when they got together in their meetings, they didn’t spend time gossiping, criticizing, or talking about the weather or sports or current events. They could have, but the times were too dark. They talked about the Lord. They testified about God’s blessings and presence. They spoke of answers to prayer.
“Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul. I cried unto him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me: But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me.” Psalm 66:16-19
Have you ever noticed how eager someone in love seems to be to talk about the person or thing he or she loves?

But here it says that God’s special treasure, His Jewels, are those who love to get together to share with each about the things of God.

How much does your Christianity mean to you? Is it real? Has it made a difference in your life?

When people have expressed their love and committed their lives to each other in marriage they want to be together, to share all they are with each other.

And in the same way, those who commit their lives to Christ, who become a part of His bride, the church, want to be together and share all they are with each other, too.

They honored His name.
“Those who feared the Lord.”
Finally, look at the latter part of verse 16. Not only were they in awe of the Lord, and eager to share their faith in Him with each other, they honored Him by their words and their lives. They remembered the mighty acts of God. They believed what the prophets had said and written about Him.

The Psalmist said,
Blessed is the man that does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit at the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. Psalm 1:1
In a speech in Dallas, Texas, the beloved Corrie Ten Boom, author of The Hiding Place, said that many times people would approach her and say, “Corrie, what a great faith you have.” She smiled as she told how she would reply to them. “No, it’s what a great God I have.”

And whether it was in the nation of Israel in Malachi’s day, or in the United States of America today, it is still true. We still serve a great God.

I want to close with a promise from chapter four of Malachi.
“For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven. All the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.”
“But unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings. Ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts.”

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