As we come to the last words of the last book of the OT, I got to thinking about last words. We usually think of last words as being especially important or poignant. We think a person’s last words should somehow be especially worth listening to, worth sitting up and taking notice of. Kim Ahlers was telling me about how her family was all able to gather by the bedside of her grandmother in her last hours and how her grandmother made a point of speaking good words to all of them. I got to thinking about what famous last words have been spoken in history so I went on-line and looked up famous last words. I read literally hundreds of them from all through history. Some were humorous because they probably didn’t realize they were speaking their last words. Like the last words of a redneck, “Hey, everybody watch this!” Groucho Marx said, “Die, my dear? Why, that's the last thing I'll do!” Another notorious sinner said, “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do” (Oscar Wilde, d. November 30, 1900). A couple to more sober words from famous people: President Woodrow Wilson simply said, “I am ready.” And then there is Nathan Hale’s famous line, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country” (American spy, hanged in 1776). Of course I was drawn to those whose final words reflect a sense eternal life in Christ. Edgar Allen Poe: “Lord, help my poor soul.” Mother Teresa: “Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you” (Sept 5, 1997). John Wesley: “The best of all is: God is with us.” John Newton: “I am in the land of the dying, and I am soon going to the land of the living” (Anglican preacher, abolitionist, and writer of "Amazing Grace."). You know what struck me most after reading hundreds of last words? How few of them where noteworthy, how few of them seem thought out, how few of them where really wise words for those being left behind. I was dismayed at how trivial or petty or insignificant most of them were. It’s became painfully obvious to me that a lot of people have never given it much thought. And it also became painfully obvious to me that most of us don’t really know when the last moment will be so we may be caught off guard and not even have a chance to leave some good last words. We need to think about our last words and we need to think about what we want them to be while we are still of sound mind. Why not plan your last words and leave them with your will. Let them be about eternal things, things that matter the most. Michelangelo did that in one sentence, “I give my soul to God, my body to the earth, and my worldly possessions to my nearest of kin, charging them to remember the sufferings of Jesus Christ.”
Some wise wag once remarked, “There are three kinds of people in the world, those who are good at math and those who aren’t.” Or there are two kinds of people in the world, those who always divide people into two groups and those who don’t. Then there is the obvious one, there are two kinds of people in the world, male and female. Our text this evening describes two kinds of people and speaks to two kinds of people.
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
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.
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.
I have already said that one of the reasons I decided to slow down and preach through Malachi is that it’s a mirror of our age, of these times we live in. Nothing mirrors our day like the unfaithfulness of pastors and spiritual leaders. Last week in Malachi 1:6-14 we read that the priests were rebuked for their practices, in this text they are rebuked for their preaching. Before it was how they handled the sacrifices, now it’s for how they handled the Scriptures. Before they were trivializing the people’s offerings, now they are trivializing the truth.
You will recall when we studied Haggai and Zechariah that God had sent those two prophets to rebuke His people for neglecting to build God’s temple. Now years later God sent Malachi to rebuke the people for neglecting the sacrifices and worship of God once the temple was built. We are witnessing here the re-paganization of worship and as the worship goes so goes the culture. Remember I said one of the reasons I decided to stop and preach through Malachi was because it was so modern, so contemporary. This is us. We are living in a time of the re-paganization of our worship and our culture. The terms used to describe our times are post-modern and post-Christian. When a person or a nation loses the fear of God, before long anything and everything goes. There is no shame, no guilt, no taboos. As goes our worship, so goes our lives and our culture. We worship what we fear and 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. Life is routine, nothing particularly spiritually significant is going on. Where’s God and what’s He doing? Is He being faithful to His promises? Does it really matter what we do or don’t do or how we do it? Does it really matter to God? Does He notice or care? God sends Malachi, whose name means messenger, to confront His people who were being unfaithful in four major areas of life: unfaithful in worship, lead by unfaithful clergy, they were being unfaithful in their marriages and they were being unfaithful in their financial giving to God’s work.
Outline of Malachi: Malachi’s prophecy is made up of a series of charges answered with How questions. 1:2: I have loved you, says the Lord. But you say, How have You loved us? 1:6: O priests who despise My name. But you say, How have we despised Your name? 1:7: You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, How have we defiled You? 2:13-14: He no longer regards [your] offering. Yet you say, For what reason? 2:17: You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, How have we wearied Him? 3:7: Return to Me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, How shall we return? 3:8: Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, How have we robbed You? 3:13: Your words have been arrogant against me, says the Lord. Yet you say, What have we spoken against You? Eight complaints in the form of a question are answered with eight responses from God. We will take the first one this evening.