Malachi 3:6, I the Lord do not change. In our world people like to say death and taxes are unchangeable and inevitable. If something is changeable, it’s changeable in only two ways. Either it can get better or it can get worse. Normally we like to change things for the better. This is why we can say that God is unchangeable. He can’t get better because He’s already perfect. And He can’t get worse because then He would no longer be perfect. God is and must always remain perfect so He is therefore unchangeable. The fancy theological word for this is immutable. Theologians like to talk about the immutability of God. It just means God is the same yesterday, today and forever. Even death and taxes will one day change and go away, but God will remain the same forever. The Israelites and we owe our very existence and survival to the unchangeable faithfulness of God. Remember last week we read that they were accusing God of being unjust and of winking at evil and calling evil good. They were accusing God of changing, but God doesn’t change
Remember last Sunday I said I believed Jesus walked all the way to Tyre just for the sake of one Syrophoenician woman, that He might test and strengthen her faith and make her faith public for all future generations. A reason why I think that is that right after that Jesus leaves that region and walks back to the area around Galilee. He goes there, lets one crumb fall from the masters table, and then leaves. Notice to where Jesus returns, the region of the Decapolis. Remember what happened in the Decapolis in Mark 5? That’s where Jesus healed the Gadarene demonic and sent the legion of demons into a herd of pigs. Remember how the people begged Jesus to leave and the healed man wanted to come with Jesus.
Mark 7:24-26, Jesus went where? Our Heavenly Father has a son who was a bit of a traveling man. Of course He condescended to travel the greatest distance of all, from heaven to earth. While He was on earth He never wandered more than about 150 miles from His place of birth. If He had been born in Lynden, Olympia would have been as far as He ever walked. On a couple of occasions Jesus traveled outside of the Jewish regions of Palestine. On one occasion He went to NW Palestine to the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon on the Mediterranean coast. Jesus is in foreign territory among heathens. In the words of Paul in Ephesians, these people are “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Remember Mark is writing to Gentile believers in Rome, so they would hear this story with special interest. Seeking some peace and quiet Jesus goes to this region to get away from the press of the crowds and the stress of the opposition leaders. “But immediately…” Mark tells us a distressed Gentile woman came to Jesus to plead for mercy on behalf of her demon oppressed daughter. Obviously Jesus’ fame has spread far and wide, it knows no borders, it knows no culture barriers. Though she is far outside the sheep fold of Israel, somehow she knows about this shepherd and has knowledge of and faith in His ability to cast out demons and heal diseases. Mark says that she heard of Jesus. What does Paul say about hearing? Faith comes by hearing.
happen to good people? Have you ever thought that it seems like God is awfully quiet in light of all the evil and wickedness and immorality in our world? Have you ever wondered if God really is a just judge given how people seem to be getting away with murder? Here we are again reading modern Malachi as he speaks another relevant word to our culture that is sliding back into paganism.
At our home in OKC by the front porch there was a trellis holding up a climbing rose bush. Over time it was less clear which was holding up which. From time to time I would prune and tend the rose bush and sometimes I had to tend to the trellis. Let me ask you which was more important the rose or the trellis? Here’s a trickier question. Which existed for the sake of the other? The trellis exists to help and support the vine, but the vine doesn’t exist for the trellis. Churches are a mix of trellises and vines, and it’s vital to the health of a church to know which is more important. The fundamental work of the church is to spread and make known the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s the vine that we plant, fertilize, tend, water and nurture and from which we start other starter shoots. This Christian ministry needs some support and structure, some undergirding, management, finances, infrastructure, leadership and governance. We need good trellises to help grow health vines. But always our focus is on growing the vine. In any organization including churches a problem starts when the trellis takes over the vine or trellis work becomes more important or more the focus of attention. Problems develop when more and more people put more and more time into the trellis and leave the vine work to just a few. To use an old phrase, when the tail starts to wag the dog things are out of balance. In many ways trellis work is easier. Vine work, ministry work is harder, more personal, requiring us to step out of our comfort zones. But the goal of churches is to grow the vine and not the trellis. The trellis is important, but trellises don’t grow vines, the real work is the vine. The goal of the church is to make and grow disciples of Jesus. Let’s look more closely at a text that gives us a vision for the goal of the church.
We have been away from Malachi for a month now. Let me remind us of the reasons I decided to slow down and preach through Malachi. It’s a mirror of our age, it’s so modern, so contemporary. This is us. We are living in a time of the re-paganization of our worship and our culture. Our culture is described as post-modern and post-Christian. When a person or a nation loses the fear of God, before long anything and everything goes. There’s no shame, no guilt, no taboos. As goes our worship, so goes our lives and our culture. We worship what love and if that isn’t God then it’s idolatry and idolatry destroys a person and a nation. We are living in a time similar to the people in Malachi’s time. God sent Malachi, whose name means messenger, to confront His people who were being unfaithful in four major areas of life: unfaithful in worship; led by unfaithful clergy who trivialized the peoples offerings and trivialized the truth; they were being unfaithful in their relationships, especially their marriages; and they were being unfaithful in their financial giving to God’s work.
Let’s go and see what more the Lord has for us in His Word under three offenses. The offense of the Pharisees, Matthew 15:12. I inserted into our reading of Mark’s gospel a few verses from Matthew’s gospel which include this comment from the disciples to Jesus. Matthew 15:12 The disciples came and said to Jesus, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” There are two things to notice in this little exchange. First, of course Jesus knew they would be offended and He said what He said anyway. Notice Jesus’ boldness in opposing false teaching and His instructing His followers in true doctrine so that they would know the difference and be equally bold in opposing false doctrine. Jesus showed no regard for the Pharisees’ man-made religion and their self-righteousness. He rebuked their pride and hypocrisy. He dismissed their washings and purification rituals as trifles, not nearly as important as God’s Laws. When the truth of God’s Word is at stake we cannot sit idly by in the name of tolerance or out of fear of giving an offense. That’s not an excuse to be harsh or mean spirited, to shoot off our mouth any way we want. In our responses we are not excused to sin. We shouldn’t try unnecessarily to give an offense. The point is simply to stand for the truth with clarity and conviction, and with humility and grace.