The audio recording failed this Sunday. The following is a transcript of the sermon notes:
We live in a very sensitive society that is becoming more and more sensitive. We have developed into a people with a very strong culture of unspoken social norms of political correctness and doing everything to avoid offending someone else. In some instances this can be really good because it can protect vulnerable people from bearing the brunt of the insults of the masses. But sometimes it can be plain frustrating… for example have you ever felt like you just needed to be blunt with someone… Maybe you were trying to explain:
- To a child why their behaviour was inappropriate
- To a staff member you manage why they were failing to perform satisfactorily
- Or to a friend why they were acting in an immature or hurtful way
But the longer the conversation went on the more circular it became and the more frustrating it grew… and yet you felt compelled because of the pleasantries and unspoken social norms of our day, to keep trying to get your point across without hurting their feelings… all to no avail…
Well I bet there was part of you that was screaming out to speak simply and bluntly… to deliver the truth with such weight that it would not be missed… to hang the social pleasantries even if it would be perceived as harsh and overbearing… even if it trampled all over “the done thing”!
As we have been working our way through Malachi we have seen that God is using this prophet as a kind of blunt wake up call to the people of Israel who were living a delusion. They had become so convinced that they were doing OK that they needed to be shocked into realisation.
In week one we saw that deep down Israel doubted God’s love for them… they were worshiping Him on the surface but in reality they were just going through the motions and giving lip service their faith because they had lost confidence in God’s love.
And last week we saw that while the people were bringing sacrifices of praise and honour to God, but in reality these sacrifices betrayed a total lack of respect for God because they were using the sacrificial system to rid their flocks of worthless animals rather than giving God their best.
Well this week God continues to press in on this abuse of the worship system… but this time He will take aim at the ones who were leading it… the priests. And what we will find is that God has to be incredibly blunt with these leaders because of how far they had fallen from His call on their lives… and how devastating their brokenness was for the nation.
This week we are going to see what bad leadership looks like and what God does when there are bad leaders over His people.
In order to understand the reason behind God’s blunt dealings with the Priests, we have to understand the origin of this priestly order. The religious leaders of Israel were given their title from birth. The priests were members of the tribe of Levi and were set apart to serve the people by facilitating the worship of Yahweh. It seems that God in His grace and wisdom chose to take the tribe of Levi in the place of the firstborn whom He saved on the first Passover, Numbers 3:12, “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the Lord.”
In doing so He made a covenant with the priestly Tribe of Levi, further explained in Deuteronomy 33:8, “Give to Levi your Thummim, and your Urim to your godly one, whom you tested at Massah, with whom you quarreled at the waters of Meribah; who said of his father and mother, ‘I regard them not’; he disowned his brothers and ignored his children. For they observed your word and kept your covenant. They shall teach Jacob your rules and Israel your law; they shall put incense before you and whole burnt offerings on your altar.”
Basically the Priests were called out from among their brothers and given the immense responsibility of teaching the people the Law of God, offering sacrifices to atone for the people’s breeches of this Law, and facilitating the worship of God according to the Law.
Priests stood in the gap between the people and their God and it was on account of His covenant with these priests that God considered the sacrifices they offered as worthy. Therefore they would have been considered some of the most respected and important members of Israelite society. But more than that… their role was critical to the nation’s identity… if they did not have the priests their offerings would fall on deaf ears and their cause would be a lost one.
Unfortunately many people view leadership as a glamorous position. They see the privileges that come with the territory and they aspire to claim leadership because of the apparent perks. But while many people desire a leadership position because of the glamour associated… it should be noted that this role of priest was not supposed to be glamorous:
- Priests were supposed to live humble lives, never seek to profit from their ministry, and never gain a tangible inheritance in the promised land.
- Furthermore, priests were supposed to consecrate themselves, which involved ceremonial cleansing, abstinence from wine during ceremonies, and avoiding anything that would make them unclean… this included being able to mourn the dead…
- On top of all of this their living was conditional on the faithfulness of the people… they only ate if they people brought their tithes and offerings…
Priests who failed to execute these duties ran the risk of being publicly removed from office on pain of death.
Accusations Against the Leaders
We are not told exactly what it was that drove the priests of Malachi’s day into the kind of life that evoked a blunt rebuke from God such as we see in this text, all we are told is what kind of abuses they were committing:
- Verse 2 – do not listen, do not take to heart, do not give honour to God’s name (Ignorance)
- Verse 8 – Turned aside from the way, caused many to stumble, corrupted the covenant (Pride)
- Verse 9 – show partiality in their instruction (Greed)
If you think back to the privilege of their position, these abuses seem all the more shocking.
And yet they are not uncommon abuses of leadership. Ignorance, pride, and greed… In fact we can probably say that these areas of weakness continue to plague all leaders, but especially those in the church of Jesus Christ.
Simply because we are supposedly living in a far more civilised society, with far greater knowledge and training, and far more checks and balances in place… does not mean that we are immune from ignorance, pride, and greed destroying our leaders.
The church of Jesus Christ has suffered its own share of failed leadership…
- There are some who in their ignorance have turned away from God’s word as their source of truth and embraced anything and everything that sounds appealing.
- Others in their pride have believed themselves to be above God Himself and have set themselves us as masters… extracting whatever they want from the people they are meant to serve… praise, riches, and even sexual gratification
- And there are still others who use their office for their own gain… making decisions based on what other powerful people can do for them or based on whatever benefits them the most
We need to realise that there are countless people who have suffered under the hands of leadership that has lost the plot altogether… people who have been led astray, caused to stumble, and crushed by the weight of some leader’s pride. I cannot stress to you enough how devastating this broken vision of leadership has been on the church of Jesus Christ…
The brokenness of the priests of Malachi’s day stands as a reminder that no leader is immune. I am not immune… Jonny is not immune… your bible study leader is not immune… your favourite celebrity pastor is not immune… you are not immune!
God’s Judgment Against the Priests
I have shared with some of you before that in my journey towards coming to faith in Christ my life reached a crisis point when I sat at a beach party scraping the vomit…
The truth is that sometimes God uses the most vile and ugly images of this world to get through to His people. And when it comes to the ignorant, proud, and greedy priests of Malachi’s day, God does not hold back:
- Verse 2 – send the curse upon them, curse their blessings
- Verse 9 – He will make them despised and abased before all the people
- Verse 3 – rebuke their offspring, spread the dung of their offerings on their faces
The image here is harsh indeed. When animals were brought for ritual sacrifice the priest would cut their throat and shed their blood before the animal was burned. However, as you can imagine, there were parts of the animal that were not desirable for sacrifice… namely the gut. So this part of the animal would be removed and discarded before burning.
So when God says that He will spread the dung of their offerings over their faces, He is saying that He will cover them in the very animal waste that they had rejected… it was like God was saying that He had rejected the priests in the same way that they had rejected the digestive system and refuse of a lamb or goat. And their rejection would be graphic! God was going to render them unclean, which for a priest was the worst possible judgment. It would have disqualified them from service. It would have shamed them publicly. Removed from office or even executed (Law).
Many people aren’t willing to engage with the church because of the hypocritical and downright disgraceful behaviour of its leaders. They hear the stories of priests abusing children, of evangelists embezzling money, and of preachers who are unfaithful sexually and they lose all respect for the church. And this is completely understandable… if you are here this morning and you have been personally scarred by ignorant, proud or greedy church leaders and you find it hard to respect or resonate with church, then I want you to know God feels the same way you do.
God’s response to the broken priesthood of Malachi’s day was going to be fierce! He called them out, denounced their lifestyle and ministry, and he rejected them in the most vivid of ways. God’s disdain for those who abuse the role of leadership amongst His people is unparalleled. So the feelings that you have towards modern church leaders who abuse their position are completely understandable, justified, and actually godly.
But for some reason God persists with His people despite their broken leaders.
For some reason He doesn’t abandon us completely.
In fact this passage reminds the people that God will not leave them without an exemplary image of a true leader after God’s heart. God calls the people, and their broken priests, to look back to the ideal image of a priest established through the family of Levi:
- Verse 5 – minster a covenant of life and peace, fear of the Lord, standing in awe of God
- Verse 6 – true instruction in his mouth, walked with God in peace and uprightness, turned people from sin
- Verse 7 – Lips guard knowledge, people seek instruction from him, the messenger of the Lord
Where the ignorant, proud, and greedy priests of Malachi’s day were abusing the people for their own personal gain… the ultimate priest was charged with serving the people for their good… serving them with an upright life, wise teaching, and a deep reverence for God.
It is like God is issuing a challenge to His people… It is like He is saying… this is how broken your leaders are… you need to know and you need to see how I will shame them by rubbing the dung of your offerings all over their faces…
But don’t give up hope… the office of priest still stands… and there is a righteous leader to be found… look for him and follow him:
- There is one who will minister the covenant of life and peace to you
- There is one who will stand in awe of God and minister out of a fear of the Lord
- There is one who has the truth of my instructions in his mouth
- There is one who walks with God in righteousness
- There is one who turns people away from sin
- There is one who can truly be called my messenger
God is screaming at His people: Your leaders may be broken, but I will not leave you without hope… I have abandoned your leaders, but I haven’t abandoned you… There is still hope if you look to those who lead after my own heart.
And what we need to understand today is this charge hasn’t changed.
Yes there are those who abuse the leadership roles they have been given… but God promises to reject them… but God also promises to give justice to those who have been crippled by them… God will graciously preserve leaders who lead for the good of His people.
Ultimately however, the people struggled to find leaders who truly fulfilled what it meant to lead in the likeness of God. And to be honest the people struggled to even look for them… instead they were content with the same ignorant, proud, and greedy leaders… and as a consequence the whole nation suffered.
That was until the first Christmas! In Luke chapter 1 Zechariah prophesies about his son John who was to prepare the way for the Messiah… a Messiah who would, from Luke 1:77, “give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Where no faithful leaders were found, God raised up His Son, born that first Christmas, to fulfil His promise not to leave His people without upright, life-giving, truth-imparting leadership!
And if you consider the way of Jesus’ life you will see the very heart of God for His leaders:
- Jesus ministered a better covenant… a covenant of life and peace
- Jesus stood in awe of His Father, walked in His ways, and spoke His words
- Jesus turned the people away from sin and restored them to life
- Jesus could truly be called God’s messenger
And the people saw His leadership and they flocked to Him… crowds and crowds of people came to hear Him teach and receive the blessing of His compassion and love.
But the leaders of the day… the priests, Pharisees and teacher of the Law… could not stand Him. They had the same ignorant, proud, and greedy hearts as the priests of Malachi’s day and they rejected Jesus… shamed Jesus… cast Jesus out… and sent Jesus to His death.
See what we need to see today is that Jesus fulfilled the role of a perfect priest and yet endured the judgment of a wicked priest… It seems grossly unfair that the bent leadership destroyed God’s perfect leader… But in truth this was the only way that God could redeem His people!
Jesus performed the duties of the perfect priest, but suffered the judgment of the unrighteous priest so that His people might finally be set free from sin… that He might lead His people in the way of truth, peace and life!
These are the leaders we are waiting for today… the ones Christ is leading through!