How Do You Love Me
How Do You Love Me?
How Do You Love Me?
Intro: Please turn with me to the Book of Malachi, chapter one. This morning we’re beginning a new series of messages from the book of Malachi which we’ve entitled, “Questions People Ask.” As you’re finding Malachi - and maybe having some difficulty - let me encourage you by saying that most people would have trouble finding Malachi. It’s a book that - unfortunately - is easily overlooked and seldom preached from. In fact I can’t remember ever hearing a sermon series from Malachi. Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament. It’s usually the book we run into because we didn’t turn far enough to get to Matthew. So, if you get to Matthew - go backwards a few pages and you’ll find Malachi.
While your turning I’d like to share some background on this book. Especially, why we’re looking at Malachi. As the Old Testament comes to a close, Malachi contains the last of God’s prophecies given to His people for about 400 years. After Malachi the prophetic voice from heaven ceases - there are no more revelations from God - until the coming of Jesus Christ. Malachi - bridging this gap of silent years - at it’s core is a love letter from God. It’s a letter from God full of hope, encouragement, and love to sustain His people.
The reason for the title of our series - “Questions People Ask” - is that in the book of Malachi there are a series of questions that the people ask God. As we go along in this series you’ll find that these questions are questions that many people are asking today - especially as dramatic revelations and signs from heaven seem less common these days. Probably, if some of these questions are not questions that you yourself are asking I encourage you to follow God’s answers because there is probably someone around you who is asking these questions and you’ll want to be ready to encourage them with God’s answers.
Malachi 1:1-5 - “An oracle: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi. 2"I have loved you," says the Lord. "But you ask, ’How have you loved us?’ "Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?" the Lord says. "Yet I have loved Jacob, 3but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals." 4Edom may say, "Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins." But this is what the Lord Almighty says: "They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord. 5You will see it with your own eyes and say, ’Great is the Lord--even beyond the borders of Israel!’ “
This is the first question. In response to God’s declaration, “I have loved you”, the people ask, “How have You loved us?” Put another way, “Where is Your love? I don’t see any evidence that You’ve loved us.” Let’s look at this first question this morning and see if we can find God’s answer. But first, let’s pray.
Transition: Before we go on let’s make sure we understand the question and how the same question is being asked today.
Looking at the nation of Israel - at the time Malachi was writing - it’s easy to identify with the honesty and despair of this question. For 70 years the Israelites had lived in exile in Babylon - as slaves of the Babylonian and Persian Empires. Then - returning from exile - for eighty plus years the Israelites had been living in their motherland. Imagine - the glory days - the golden years - of the independent state of Israel were buried under 150 plus years of history - a myth passed down through the generations.
Now these people had returned. Maybe as many as 100,000. Under Ezra they had rebuilt the Temple. But, it paled in comparison to what had been before. Under Nehemiah they had rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. But, they lacked the manpower to defend against their enemies - enemies which would have loved to have seen them wiped out. Living conditions were poor. Many were discouraged.
God - the God of their forefathers - had allowed them tragedy after tragedy - finally to be dragged off into exile. Their return, the Temple, the wall, whatever prosperity they had they believed was because they had made it happen - their strength - their abilities. Where was God was in all this? How arrogant was it for God to claim that He had loved them.
We look at things that are happening today - 9/11 or when our health fails - we lose a job - marriages struggle. It’s easy to ask the question. “Where is this God of love? How have You loved us?”
I. God’s Love Is Doubted – vv. 1-2b
A. God’s PASSION Is Declared. 1:1-2a
1. "I" disease usually means a failure to see God’s love!
a) And they had it bad!
b) God had clearly said He loved them … many times in history, and as recently as their return from captivity in Babylon to the promised land under their grandparents.
2. It is true that God had allowed their previous captivity, to cure them of their constant idolatry … but He hadn’t cast them away or destroyed them.
a) This was evidence of His continued love for them.
b) They failed to see it as love.
c) Most children don’t see discipline as love when it produces pain!
3. But they had found freedom again, and prosperity … and yet they were complaining that they didn’t see God’s love!
4. God appeals to their history … they are the descendants of Jacob, and God has loved Jacob, how could they say they weren’t loved?
a) They didn’t see it because they were only focused on NOW … their tunnel vision did not let them see the expanded view of history.
b) Most of the time when we are feeling like "God doesn’t care or love me" it will be for the same reason!
5. The truth is that God loved them more than they appreciated … in fact, it wasn’t because they were better than others that God loved them, it was because God CHOSE to love them … He had sought them out first!
6. Quote: “God wants us to worship Him. He doesn’t need us, for He couldn’t be a self-sufficient God and need anything or anybody, but He wants us. When Adam sinned it was not he who cried, "God, where are you?" It was God who cried, "Adam, where are you?" -- A.W. Tozer, Worship: The Missing Jewel. Christianity Today, Vol. 41, no. 5.
a) This has always been the case … God seeking us out even before we sought Him out.
b) This is proof of His love for us.
c) BUT … it is possible to turn away from His love, and this is what Israel was doing!
B. Israel’s GRIPING Is Revealed – 1:2b
1. They asked, "How have you loved us?"
a) They just didn’t see God’s love, they were too limited in their vision, only the present moment was their focus.
b) We cannot judge God’s love based on the moment, God’s love works through time and it will take time to see it properly.
2. So often we fail to see God’s love when we are facing restrictions, or problems, or pain … but we must understand that even these events can be a sign of His love if they are teaching us how to avoid unhealthy choices in our life.
a) ILLUS: At a summer Christian camp for children one of the counselors was leading a discussion on the purpose God had for everything He created. They began to find good reasons for clouds and trees and rocks and rivers and animals and just about everything else in nature. Finally, one of the children said, "If God had a good purpose for everything, then why did He create poison ivy?" The discussion leader gulped and, as he struggled with the question, one of the other children came to his rescue, saying, "The reason God made poison ivy is because He wanted us to know there are certain things we should keep our cotton-pickin’ hands off." -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 254.
3. God does not allow suffering and pain to just make us miserable, but to make us grow and become stronger!
a) Israel sometimes failed to see this, and the result was always the same, a cooling off spiritually and questions about God’s love and concern for them.
b) All of life must be seen in a larger context to appreciate God’s love for us.
4. Tragically, it had been 2 or 3 generations since Israel had returned to the land and rebuilt the temple and instead of being more mature they were more miserable!
a) It is unfortunate, but sometimes growing older only makes some people MORE bitter and not more spiritual!
b) Quote: “It’s scary to realize that most of the people who failed in Scripture failed in the second half of their lives.” -- Joe Aldrich, Leadership, Vol. 13, no. 3.
c) You can fall away just as easily later in life as you can earlier in life.
5. There is nothing more miserable than a believer who doubts God’s love for them!
a) Their doubt about God’s love had resulted in lifeless ritualistic worship.
b) Their doubt about God’s love had resulted in poor giving, withholding their tithes. (Mal. 3:6ff)
c) Their doubt about God’s love had resulted in boredom with life.
d) Their doubt about God’s love had resulted in a lack of love for one another, hence divorce had become rampant, and marrying unbelievers had become common.
6. When you lose your belief that God loves you it will not be hard to live in a way that shows no love to anyone else!
II. God’s Love Is Demonstrated – 1:2c-5
A. A New PERSPECTIVE Is Needed. 1:2c-3
1. As a way of opening up their perspective God reminds them of His love for Jacob … their forefather.
a) By doing this He is reminding them of His covenant … to love always the descendants of Jacob, THEM!
b) They really needed to see BEYOND their present situation, and history provides great evidence of God’s presence and love.
c) So often we fail to do the same thing, we get mad at God over something that HAS JUST happened and forget all His other mercies in the past.
2. It is such a simple truth, but it has profound power over our lives … God made a choice to love Jacob, Israel and us!
a) ILLUS: Karl Barth was invited to deliver one of the distinguished lectureships at a theological seminary in the East, and while he was there a group of ministers and theologians and dignitaries of one kind or another sat down with him in a kind of question-and-answer period. Someone asked the question, "What is the most profound thought that you know, Dr. Barth?" This is what he said: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." -- W. Frank Harrington, "The Love That Brought Him," Preaching Today, Tape No. 51.
b) We need to understand that God’s choice to love does not excuse Jacob from hardship. God’s love gives us hope in hardship.
3. The ones who should have been concerned about rejection were the descendants of Esau … they had rejected the birthright and covenant, but Israel had no reason to doubt God’s love.
a) God states here: "Esau I have hated."
b) This was not capricious, it was because of their rejection of the covenant that they were "hated."
4. The Israelites were not the ones in jeopardy, their doubts about God’s love were unfounded.
a) Their previous adversity and captivity were not signs of God’s hatred toward them, but evidence of His love, to turn them from their wickedness!
b) Sometimes tough times in our lives help purge our tendency to turn away from God, we come to Him because we NEED Him.
B. God’s PLAN Is Explained. 1:4
1. Then there was Edom … perhaps Israel was angry that their enemy Edom was still prospering … Edom was rebuilding nearby too, and Edom was arrogant about their ability to prosper by their own strength.
a) Yet, Ezekiel had prophesied that they would be desolate. (Ez. 35)
b) Jeremiah had stated Israel’s restoration and Edom’s destruction: Lam. 4:22 "O Daughter of Zion, your punishment will end; he will not prolong your exile. But, O Daughter of Edom, he will punish your sin and expose your wickedness."
c) Zechariah had also said the same thing. (Zech. 5:5-11)
2. Edom’s bragging will one day be shown to be foolish … pride always is a prelude to a fall!
a) ILLUS: A minister, a Boy Scout, and a computer expert were the only passengers on a small plane. The pilot came back to the cabin and said that the plane was going down and unfortunately there were only 3 parachutes on board for the 4 of them. He added, "Since I am the pilot and have 3 children and a wife to support I am taking one of them" and then he jumped. The Computer Wiz said next, "I should have one of the parachutes because I am the smartest man in the world and everyone needs me" so he took one and jumped. The minister turned to the Boy Scout and with a sad smile said, "You are young and have your whole life ahead of you, I have lived a longer and a rich life, so you take the remaining parachute and I’ll go down with the plane." The Boy Scout however responded, "relax, Reverend, the smartest man in the world just picked up my knapsack and jumped out … we each have a parachute left!" So much for pride!!! -- source unknown
3. Their failure to believe God loved them was evidence of their failure to believe God’s Word since it had clearly predicted a day Edom would fall.
a) The issue was really their misunderstanding about God’s love.
b) They thought God’s love meant they were exempt from responsibility and effort.
c) So many times we pray the wrong way when things go wrong … we want God to just "fix" the problem without our involvement, but our prayer really should be more like this:
I asked God to take away my pride, and God said no. He said it was not for him to take away, but for me to give up.
I asked God to make my handicapped child whole, and God said, "No, her spirit is already whole. Her body is only temporary."
I asked God to grant me patience, and God said no. He said that patience is the byproduct of tribulation. It isn’t granted; it’s earned.
I asked God to give me happiness; God said no. He said he gives blessings; happiness is up to me.
I asked God to spare me pain, and God said no. He said I must grow on my own, but he will prune me in order to make me fruitful.
I asked God if he loved me, and God said yes. He gave me his only Son who died for me, and I will be in heaven some day because I believe.
I asked God to help me love others as much as he loves me, and God said, "Ahhh, finally! Now you have the idea." -- A Christmas card cited by Vic Pentz, "A Twinge of Nostalgia," Preaching Today, Tape No. 88.
5. They had no reason to doubt God’s love, their future is like the past … secured by God’s promises, it was not a time to pine about the momentary lull they felt.
C. God’s Great PROMISE Is Assured! 1:5
1. God assures them, "You will see it with your own eyes and say, ’Great is the LORD -- even beyond the borders of Israel!’"
a) While they may be momentarily locked into tunnel vision and therefore can’t see beyond the narrow scope of "today" there will soon come a time when they will witness God at work, even beyond the borders of Israel, and they will realize that indeed God does love them.
b) God is assuring them about the future … after appealing to the past, in order to lift them from their backsliding in the present.
2. God’s love at work can’t always be seen in JUST the moment, or in just our OWN life … we need to look around! And if we do indeed look around there will be plenty of evidence that God loves us!
a) Backsliding begins with an "I" problem, and it is corrected with the lenses of the past and the focus of God’s Word for the future … then you have good "vision."
b) Thank God His love isn’t like ours!!!
c) Question: “If God loved you as much as you love him, where would you be?” -
3. God’s love is powerful enough to change everything around them, and everything in them … but only if it wasn’t doubted!
a) ILLUS: During the Korean War a South Korean Christian civilian was arrested by the Communists and ordered shot. But when the young Communist leader learned that the prisoner was in charge of an orphanage, caring for small children, he decided to spare him and kill his son instead. So they took his nineteen-year-old son and shot him right there in front of the Christian man. Later, the fortunes of war changed and that same young Communist leader was captured by the UN forces, tried, and condemned to death. But before the sentence could be carried out, the Christian whose boy had been killed came and pleaded for the life of the killer. He declared that this Communist was young, that he really did not know what he was doing. The Christian said, "Give him to me and I will train him." The UN forces granted the request and the father took the murderer of his boy into his own home and cared for him. And today, that young man, formerly a Communist, is a Christian pastor, serving Christ. This is the power of forgiving love that can only be described as superabundant, the kind of love the dying Stephen reflected in the Book of Acts. -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 224.
4. What about you?
a) Do you believe God loves you?
b) If you doubt this it will show in the way you love others as well as the way you love yourself … and if you don’t doubt it you will be poised to show the world the power of God’s love in one life!
Conclusion: Thinking through God’s answer for us today - it is an awesome fact - which should not be quickly passed by - that God chooses to love us. How do we know this? In the midst of everything where do we see God’s love?
Think with me about these familiar words from John 3:16: “For God so loved the world - we can put our own name there - each of us is a part of that world - For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life”
What does it meant that God chooses to loves us? God so loved us that He seemed to love us better than His only Son, and did not spare Him that He might spare us. He permitted His Son to die so that “whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life”
God gave His Son to exile among men - to be born in a manger - to work in a carpenter’s shop - to be among scribes and Pharisees - and their cruel tongues and slander. He gave His Son to hunger and thirst - amid poverty and desire. He gave Him to be scourged and crowned with thorns. He gave Him to die on a cross - crucified. And on the cross - Jesus cries out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” (Mark 15:34) “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” - God hides His face from Him. God gave Him to be made a curse for us - gave Him that He might die, “the just for the unjust, to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
How many of us would give up our first born and only son for this? What was there in the world that God should love it? There is so much to warrant His displeasure - wrath - condemnation. Are any of us worthy of this love? Which of us could have ordered God to love us - to send Jesus to die on the cross?
God has chosen to love us - you - me. It’s impossible to understand what this means. We see the example of it in Jesus Christ. And yet, we wonder at His love.
It’s this love that causes Moses to declare to the people of Israel, “The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8) God’s love from which Paul encourages Timothy, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful.” (2 Timothy 2:13) Or to the Romans, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” (Romans 8:35-39) With this love, Jesus - God - declares to us, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)
God’s love is not based on our circumstances or worth or value. But, on His choice to love us. God’s love gives hope. Despite circumstances He never leaves us. Despite our lack of faith God remains faithful to us. Even when we turn against Him God will always fulfill His promises.
This morning you may be wondering where God’s love is. God knows your questions. He knows your circumstances. God loves you. You may be a Jacob who struggles with God or an Esau who needs to turn to God. Maybe we cannot understand what it means that God loves us. His love is beyond our experience. Yet, we each need to accept His love. One of the early signs of drifting from God is bitterness and doubts about His love. So often we "judge" God based on material blessings or on just the moment. God’s love however must be viewed over a lifetime or we may fail to see it properly. Failure to see God’s love is a serious "I" problem, and means we need our vision corrected. God will not fail us -- He loves us more than we give Him credit for!!