Summary: Good and bad examples of priests

Malachi 2 - 10/23/16

Turn with me this morning to Malachi chapter 2. If you aren’t sure how to find Malachi, simply turn to Matthew 1 and go three pages to the left. Malachi is the last book of the NT, and the events here take place about 100 years after the Jews have returned to Jerusalem after being exiled for 70 years to Babylon. Malachi’s message to the Jews is “Turn around, you’re going the wrong way!” And as we read the book, we never want to think “those Jews were so wayward” - but we always want to personalize the message and think “how am I going astray?” So as we come to God’s word, let’s pause and pray that God would speak to us by what we see in His word. Let’s pray!

Malachi 2, starting in verse 1. Read 2:1-9

The chapter starts out, “And now this admonition is for you, O priests.” It’s easy when we read a phrase like that to simply “zone out” and think “this isn’t for me - I’m not a priest!” But before we fall into that trap, we need to remember first that 1 Corinthians 10:11 writes about the OT events and says, “these things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.” Even if you aren’t a priest, we can learn from the examples given to us in scripture.

But let’s also remember that each one of us who is a follower of Christ IS a priest. Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:9 - “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” And each one of us here today, just like the priests in the OT, is to be pointing others to the truth and setting an example of faithful worship of our God. Sadly, though, sometimes instead of rejoicing that God sees fit to use us for His glory, sometimes we end up seeing our duty as drudgery rather than a delight. We become so “familiar” with our Almighty God that we end up thinking of spiritual things as commonplace. And that is a danger we NEVER want to allow ourselves to fall into.

Malachi writes a searing rebuke to priests who weren’t taking God seriously. They viewed their role in the Temple as a job, as if they were shopkeepers or CEOs running a business. They’d lost any sense of mystery, reverence, and wonder of the God of all creation. And they’d lost the joy of ministry. Today pause for a moment and search your heart as we look at this passage, and ask yourself, “Have I lost the wonder and awe of Almighty God?”

We want to look at these priests in Malachi’s day and learn from their bad example. We want to guard ourselves to make sure we don’t make the same mistake. They had five fatal flaws:

1. They dishonored God’s holiness - Look at verse 2 - If you do not listen, and if you do not resolve to honor my name,” says the Lord Almighty, “I will send a curse on you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not resolved to honor me. God gives a warning to the priests - if you do not listen, if you do not resolve to honor - but then He says I will send a curse and then I have already cursed. God isn’t warning the priests to make sure they don’t go down the wrong road - He was warning them they ALREADY had strayed far from the right path. They were NOT listening to God; they were NOT honoring God’s name. And as a result they were under God’s curse.

They first step down the road towards sin and destruction is coldness of heart. We allow the wonderful things of God to become commonplace. What do you think about God? Do you hold Him in high esteem? When you pray, is there a sincere reverence that you are coming before the throne of the Most High God, or do you pray flippantly as though God were the window clerk at a fast food drivethrough?

This word “honor” is not the idea of obedience. Yes, if we honor God, we will obey what He says to do. But there is a much deeper starting place to consider. Honoring is not about action, but attitude. Honor has to do with the “weight” we give to something. We view God to be one worthy of great “weight” in our esteem.

“What you think about God is the most important thing about you.” How you view God will affect everything in your life. These priests no longer honored God, which means that they did not consider Him worthy of their esteem. Notice in the first part of verse 2 that because they didn’t honor God they didn’t bother listening to Him. The word “listen” means to “hear intelligently with the implication of obedience” and to “set your heart” refers to an active decision of the will. So they SHOULD have listened to what God had to say because they had hearts that were focused on God. But sadly, their hearts were far from God, and so the did not listen and they did not obey, and as a result they ended up under the curse of God on them. We know from chapter one that they didn’t honor God because they were giving Him garbage for sacrifices. So the first flaw was that they dishonored God’s holiness. Secondly,

2. They departed from the way - They had wrong heart attitudes towards God: they failed to view God as they ought, and as a result they ended up going down the wrong path. Verse 8 says, But you have turned from the way. When you are on the right path, and you take one step to the side, you still are very close to the right path. But the farther and farther on you go in that wrong direction, the farther and farther you end up from the right path. That’s why it is so VERY important to search your heart daily. When we see something in our life that shouldn’t be there, we need to confess it quickly and turn from it right away. Because the longer we allow ourselves to go down the wrong path, the harder it will be to get back on the right path. That’s why we need to always keep a tender heart towards God.

Today, take a moment and think about yourself. Is there an area in your life where you have strayed from the right path. You know what the right path is - you know what you should be doing - but you see that you have strayed - maybe just a little - but you know you need to get back to “complete obedience.” Don’t allow Satan to lead you where you know you don’t want to go. Faithfully following God always brings you to the right destination. If you have departed from the way today, get back on the right path. Make a commitment that you are going to deal with whatever the issue is and start obeying God TODAY!

The third flaw we see in the priests is that

3. The destroyed others - look at the second half of verse 8 - and by your teaching have caused many to stumble. Whether we like it or not, others are watching us. Others are following our example. When we follow God faithfully, it encourages others to be faithful to God. When we excuse sin and think trivially about God, it tells others it’s okay for them to trivialize God. We like to use the excuse “I’m not hurting anyone else” - but the truth is that whenever we sin, others are always involved - because our bad example can lead many astray.

The fourth flaw we see in the priests is that

4. They desecrated the covenant - “You have violated the covenant with Levi, says the LORD Almighty.” So what does that mean? Think back to the 12 tribes of Israel. When Moses leads the Jews out of Egypt in the exodus, they come to the promised land and settle in their various areas. But the tribe of Levi is special. God chose them to be the ones who would set the example of faithfulness. Back in Exodus 32 when Moses is on Mt. Sinai getting the 10 commandments, Aaron his brother is down with the people making a golden calf, and the people begin to worship this idol. Moses comes down and he is furious with the people for their idolatry. He cries out, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him. The Levites go through the camp killing those who had turned to idolatry, and Moses says, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.” What is going on there? The Levites were so passionate for God that they were willing to destroy their own countrymen. God chose that this tribe who was so concerned for the holiness of God that they would kill their own brothers - this was the tribe that God chose to lead in all things regarding worship.

Think back to what we are told about how passionately we are to serve God: If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, even their own life--such a person cannot be my disciple. We can never let others influence us for evil. We never want to keep from obeying God because a person we love might be disappointed. Sadly we all know the stories of a young man or woman who felt a call to the mission field, but momma didn’t want them to leave home, so they settled for less than God’s will. Or someone who declared a call to preach the gospel, but they met a girl and got married, and they never quite ended up in ministry. Let’s make sure that we are passionately commited to obeying God, no matter who might come into our lives to turn us astray. The priests in Malachi’s day had lost that passionate commitment to God. And then the fifth flaw in the priests,

5. They were despised by the people - Look at verse 9 - So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law. They were people pleasers - they valued what the people thought more than what God did. But because they were in a spiritual freefall, they ended up being rejected by the people. You might try to be a people pleaser, but those people you are trying so hard to please will never respect you because of it.

What people really want is someone who will speak the truth to them. Paul writes to Timothy and warns that they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. But deep down in their hearts, people know a people pleaser isn’t telling them the truth. We need men and women who will stand up and say This is right - this is wrong - this is the way - walk ye in it! You will never be politically correct when you speak the truth. But you will be honored by God and men for declaring truth. Even if people don’t agree with you, they will respect you for speaking the truth.

As a result of these five flaws, God is going to rebuke, reject, and remove the priests. We find some very, very graphic images here. God is going to curse them. In verse 3 when God says He will rebuke their descendants, it is referring to the idea that their sin will affect their families. Then the end of verse three we see God saying, I will smear on your faces the dung from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it. As part of the sacrificial system, as priests would prepare an animal for sacrifice to be burnt on the altar, they would take out the guts and the offal, the dung, the manure from the intestinal tract and take it to a rubbish heap outside the camp. God says I’m going to smear your face in the feces! How graphic! But that just goes to show us how much God hates sin and how very serious it is to play games with God. God is going to publicly humiliate the priests and take away their ministry. And whenever we go down the wrong road, if we do not repent quickly, we need to beware the hand of God’s discipline upon us.

So WHY would God do that? We like to think of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” - but lest we ever forget, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Hosts! In fact, several times throughout this book, when Malachi refers to God, He is called the Lord Almighty! The idea is that He is the self-existent creator who is the head of all the armies of heaven. He is the God of angel armies! And is is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!

But God is going to bring this rebuke to the priests because He loves them! Remember what God says in Malachi 1:2 - I have loved you, says the Lord. God loves us far too much to let us continue down the wrong road. He brings discipline into our lives to bring us back to repentance.

Hebrews 12 tells us, My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.

So the lesson of Malachi 2 is first of all a lesson of the failures of the priests. We want to learn from their mistakes and search our hearts to make sure we don’t fall into any of the same traps.

Have I failed to view God with great honor?

Have I failed to follow God’s ways?

Have I hurt others by my bad example?

Have I lost my passionate commitment for following God?

Have I lost the respect for others by compromises in my life?

But there is also a beautiful example for us to see here in Malachi 2. Malachi doesn’t just criticize; he offers a positive example, a role model of proper ministry, that of Levi. In the days of Moses, God made a covenant with Levi and his tribe, to serve in the Tabernacle (and later the Temple). Levi demonstrated what godly service is all about; he set the standard. We see in him four marks of a godly servant of God: Reverence, instruction, conduct and protection. Look at verse 5: He revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.

Here are four characteristics that each one of us would do well to emulate. First

Reverence - In Numbers 25 we find another example of God’s covenant with the tribe of Levi. The Jews end up having sexual immorality with Moabite women. Balaam - the pagan witchdoctor, come to curse the Jews for the king of Midian - but God won’t let him. Instead God makes him offer a blessing. So Balaam tells the Midianite king that if he really wants to attack the Jews, he should get them sexually involved with the Midianite women. You say, I don’t remember that in the story of Balaam - but that’s because we remember the Sunday School version of the story - not the biblical version. Go back to Numbers and reread the account. Revelation 2 also talks about it - There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.

So when this sexual immorality breaks out, God sends a plague on the Jews. When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear into both of them, right through the Israelite man and into the woman’s stomach. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.

The Lord said to Moses, “Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites. Since he was as zealous for my honor among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in my zeal. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”

The covenant of peace with the tribe of Levi is also seen in Phinehas - who revered God so very much that he was willing to take severe, extreme action to follow God. We need to have that same type of reverence for our God. We need to view God so highly that it scares us to even think of disobeying our Great God.

The second thing we need in our lives is

Instruction - verse 6: “True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips.” Levi was a model of one who taught the truth. Another beautiful example is Ezra. Ezra 7:10 tells us Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.

So you say, what does that have to do with me? I’m not a SS teacher! But the truth is that God has called us ALL to teach the truth. Before Jesus left the earth, He gave some final instructions. We call it the great commission: Matthew 28:19-20 - Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Christianity is to grow through multiplication - not through addition. God’s plan is for each one of us who has been taught the truth to pass it on to others. Consider 2 Timothy 2:2 - And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. We who have been taught the truth are to pass it on to others.

Does that mean you need to start a class? No. But we all need in one way or another to seek to teach the truth. Maybe it’s a bible study you have with one or two neighbors or friends. Maybe it’s just looking for a teachable moment to apply a scriptural truth to someone who needs a little instruction. But let’s understand that if God’s word is truth, and we want to live by the truth, we need to teach others that truth. So Levi models reverence, instruction, third

Conduct - Levi demonstrated a holy lifestyle - He walked with Me in peace and uprightness. Levi set a personal example by his life. Jonathan Edwards explained his aim in his preaching: “I preach with two propositions in mind. First, every person ought to give his life to Christ. Second, whether or not anyone else gives Him his life, I will give Him mine.” Regardless of what others may do, we want to do the right thing. Remember the song, I have decided to follow Jesus - the cross before me, the world behind me - though no one join me, still I will follow - no turning back, no turning back. Let’s make sure that our conduct, our lifestyle, sets a right example for others. Matthew 5:16 - In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. So Levi models reverence, instruction, conduct, &

Protection - verse 6 once again, and turned many from sin. When we revere God, teach the truth, and set a personal example, others’ lives will be affected. God desires to use us to reach others. James 5 says, Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. Our goal is to see others turned to the truth, turned to follow God faithfully.

It’s sad when those who claim to follow God, don’t. We call them hypocrites. The church is filled with them. But the saddest thing about it is that others are turned away from following God. It’s sad when ministers do not believe the Bible is God’s authoritative, inspired word. They try to explain away the miracles recorded in Scripture. From Malachi 2 we see the dangers of these wayward priests, and we want to make sure we don’t want to fall into the same traps. But we also see the brilliant example of Levi, and like him, we want to revere God, teach the truth, set a good example, and turn others to the Lord. May God help us to do that faithfully. Let’s pray.