CALL TO WORSHIP
L: Becoming a baby,
A: Christ transformed all of us into his sisters and brothers.
L: Telling us stories we had forgotten,
A: God helps us to walk the paths of discipleship.
L: Becoming foolish in the world's eyes,
A: the Spirit teaches us all we need to find our way into the kingdom.
"By Who's Authority?" by Stewart Burrows
Woody Allen, a notorious atheist, once confessed in an interview, “It’s hard for me to enjoy anything because I’m aware how transient things are... Yes, there are times when you think, ‘My God, life is sweet, it’s nice,’ and thoughts of mortality are in abeyance. You know, watchingthe Marx Brothers or a Knicks game or listening to great jazz, you get a great feeling of ecstasy... But then it passes, and the dark reality of life starts to creep back in.” That’s the way life is for those who do not believe in a personal God who created the universe in love. It answers Kim’s question.
I say this as a backdrop to our scripture today. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day are full of unbelief and in denial of the obvious. They steadfastly refused to believe in him no matter how much evidence there was. They ask Jesus: “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?” They denied that he was from God, much less that he was God. Jesus then said, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism — where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?” It was a brilliant maneuver, because John had said that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and that he was the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29-34). What more authority could you have? If they believed that John’s ministry and words were from heaven, there would be no question about his authority. But they did not.
They were caught in a bind. They wrangled among themselves saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’ — we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” They even admit that they did not believe John. Michael Ignatieff, in his book, The Needs of Strangers, says, “What a man does not want to believe, he can find a way to deny.” And that is the way it is, as we know. So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” Why not? Because they had already been told and they would not believe it, and he knew they would not believe even if he told them again.
Then Jesus told a parable: “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Then Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” Tax collectors and prostitutes were the lowest of sinners in Jesus’ day. Why did he say they would enter the kingdom ahead of these religious folks? He explained by saying, “For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” So when these sinners believed John, repented and were baptized, they entered the kingdom of heaven — ahead of the Pharisees who did not believe John’s message and balked at it. The lowest of sinners believed and repented, but those who were steeped in the Scriptures did not believe. They claimed that they obeyed the Father and went into his field, but in reality they did not. Meanwhile, the sinners who at first rebelled against the Father, changed their minds, obeyed and did the Father’s bidding. They actually went into the vineyard before the religious leaders who were still standing outside the gate. It was a shocking reversal. Those who claimed to be following God appeared to be going into the vineyard, but they never went. Those who appeared to be far from God were now actually carrying out his will and doing his work. Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky asked: “Can man be good without God?” And that really is the question. Being religious in not enough, as Jesus’ parable clearly points out. Believing the right things does not matter if you are not doing the right things. Being religious will not do it; you need to actually have God in your life. You can’t do it on your own.
Chuck Colson tells story after story of men in prison who had committed crimes, but who came to Christ and were thoroughly converted. No one would have guessed that some of these men would be devout followers of Christ one day. One such story was the account of a man named Danny. Danny had been a fighter, and he was in prison for murdering a man named John Gilbert. But someone gave him a Bible, and as he read it, he found himself being attracted to the Jesus he was reading about. Colson tells his story: “The more Danny felt drawn to Jesus, the more he saw himself in a new light. He was used to comparing himself to the guy on the next bar stool, and that way he usually didn’t look so bad. But when he compared himself to Jesus, he started to feel afraid. This man who never raised his fists scared him as nobody else ever had. He also read the passages about people being ‘cast into outer darkness,’ where there was ‘weeping’ and ‘gnashing of teeth.’ Danny knew something about darkness... Lying on his bunk at night, Danny began to review his whole life, horrified by the person he had become. He saw himself living for his next drink, his next coke party; he saw himself using women. His last girlfriend had been good to him, but he would have thrown her away for the next quarter ounce of coke. In fact, he probably had. That next Sunday, when the guard called out for people who wanted to be let out of their cells to attend chapel, Danny shouted, ‘Cell 16.’ But he sat like a stone through the service, hearing little. He was there to ask a question. Afterward, he approached Chaplain Bob Hansen and asked him if the passages he had read about outer darkness were really about hell. ‘Yes,’ said the chaplain. ‘Then I’m in big trouble,’ Danny said. ‘When you get back to your cell, get on your knees by your bunk,’ said the chaplain. ‘Confess your sins to God, and pray for Jesus Christ to come into your heart.’ Danny did just that. In his cell, he knelt, confessed that he was a sinner, and asked Christ to be his Lord. As he did, he kept remembering horrible things he had done, and the memories brought both pain and an eagerness to be forgiven. Talking to God seemed likecarrying on a conversation with someone he had missed all along without knowing it. He could almost hear God replying through a silence that echoed his sorrow and embraced it. Danny not only felt heard, he also felt understood, received. He slept that night. And every night afterward.”
Eventually, Danny was released from prison, got married and had five children. He then graduated from Wheaton College and was ordained. He went on to work with troubled kids in Boston, and then was offered a job as prison chaplain. He had been very far from the Father, but turned around and began to work in the Father’s vineyard.
There are many stories like Danny’s. And, conversely, there are many stories of religious leaders in our time whose lives are full of hypocrisy and lies. We have all read their stories and heard about their corruption and fall. What appears to be is not always what is. Those who appear to be working for God and living for him are not always the ones who are. Those who appear to be far from God are not always as far as they seem. Jesus’ words ring true: “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Matthew 19:30).
Jesus warned: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to” (Matthew 23:13). Sometimes it can all be pretense. Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” (Mark 7:6-7). You see, this is the problem: We see this whole thing about God as a matter of keeping rules. What we fail to see is that God wants to have a relationship with us — even if we haven’t kept the rules. He will forgive us for not keeping the rules, but there is no forgiveness for not having a relationship with him. Forgiveness is only something that opens the way to coming to God and having a relationship with him. Those who see it as only a matter of keeping the rules do not enter the vineyard, because they can always find ways around the rules. But those who understand that it is a matter of loving the Father will not only enter the vineyard, they will do it joyfully. The Pharisees had reduced God to a set of rules so that they no longer saw him as a person. No wonder they could not accept Jesus for who he was. It was who Jesus was that gave him his authority.
C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity said, “Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable.” But he understood that was the result of a naturally inquisitive mind. He then went on to say, “...but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods where they get off, you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.”
There will always be questions, and they are never to be feared, but neither are they to be invited to dinner and given a room to stay in. Sometimes it is good to doubt our doubts. It is even better to abandon ourselves to the truth of who Jesus is and what God has done for us through him. The world, and we are live in it, were created in love. You were born, not just to believe in God, but to love him and live in joyful relationship with him. This is the sum of life and faith.
CALL TO WORSHIP
One: Jesus travelled many places.
All: Some made him welcome, others did not.
One: Yet in all places, Jesus made others feel welcome.
All: Jesus seldom missed a chance to tell someone they were beloved children of God.
One: And so in Jesus’ name I welcome you her
All: Beloved children of God, when we welcome one another, we welcome Jesus.
One: In the spirit of love, let us worship God.
New International Version (NIV)
1 The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.
2 How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
3 Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
4 Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.
New International Version (NIV)
2 I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint
New International Version (NIV)
Zacchaeus the Tax Collector
19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
SERMON: THE PRESENCE OF ABSENCE
PRESENCE OF ABSENCE
Luke 19: 1-10
There was a little boy who got separated from his parents in a large shopping
center. The Security Department quickly located the child, and took him to an office while the frantic parents were paged over the public address. One of the security guards got a large ice cream cone for the boy, so when his parents arrived at the office, there was their little son happily eating his ice cream. Suddenly, as his parents embraced him, the child burst into tears. One of the security guards said, "Gosh, I guess he didn't know he was lost until he was found!"
Isn’t that like many people today who are lost, who need some help to find their way. Like that little boy we don’t always know we are lost until we are found and experience a wonderful home coming.
The story of Zacchaeaus is about people like you and me, who at times get LOST and need help finding our way back.
Often we assume stories in the New Testament are just for the people 2000 years ago, but the Bible relates to all generations-with stories and parables,-- teachings that have a message for us today. The story read this morning is no exception—its title “Zacchaeus meets Jesus.” And I’m sure there is a personal the message for each of us.
Traditionally Zacchaeus is a really despicable character, a sinner, He is a tax collector and lives a rich, lavish life-style. He was despised by everyone in the community, a real bad dude, and he needs to change and to turn his life around. He never met Jesus, but he seeks out Jesus by climbing a sycamore tree; Jesus sees him and goes to his house, there, he is transformed, turns his life around, he become a new man.
A wonderful story, this morning I would like to explore another possible interpretation to this story.
We must ask ourselves--WHY DID LUKE INCLUDE THIS STORY? The
story is not in the other gospels (Mark, Matthew or John.) I think Luke had problems with some wealthy members of his church community.
Maybe they complained about Luke’s invisible God while gentiles could see
and touch their gods, —the gentiles seemed to have little wooden or stone
statutes of their many gods in their homes--god of fertility—god of
harvest—god of weather—god of health, while Luke’s God couldn’t be
seen or touched or heard. And even when they search for God, it was all in
In an attempt to explain God’s constant love to these upstanding members of his congregation, Luke tells the story of Zacchaeus -- a person like them who had everything he could want—wealth—family-fine house yet his life was empty-- even with all his possessions -he felt empty and lost.
I noticed in the bible I was reading used the presence tense “I GIVE half my possessions to the poor. Other bibles use the future tense “I WILL GIVE half my possessions to the poor.
(New Revised Std.-Living Bible use the future tense “I will give.”
King James-Amplified-Revised Std. use the present tense “I give.”)
Reading in the present tense gave me a whole new interpretation to the story!! Listen to how the story might be told using the present tense. From New King James Bible.
Zacchaeus, had a family, lavish house and plenty of money, something was missing- he was LOST, felt alone and empty. He hears that his friend Jesus, who I think he had met before, will be passing through town and decides to discuss his problem with him--Jesus sees him and suggests they have dinner together.-so off they go to Zac’s house.
During the meal, Zacchaeus tell Jesus how frustrated he is, “let me tell you that I GIVE, not I will give, half my income to the poor, that’s more than the religious leaders asks of us. Furthermore, whenever I discover I made a mistake and cheated someone, I PAY, not I will pay, back far more then the law requires. He tells Jesus, “ I treat everyone fairly-- follow all the rules of the my Jewish faith; yet I’m miserable, unhappy, have no peace of mind. I spend half my time searching for God and yet GOD SEEMS ABSENT FROM MY LIFE.”
Jesus tells Zacchaeus to have FAITH, GOD’S LOVE IS ALWAYS PRESENT- Zacc. relishes hearing Jesus words and begins to understand God’s ways. Jesus restores Zacc faith in God and blesses his entire household. Jesus tells Zacc. to carry on being honest and fair in his dealing with the people knowing- God is with him.
I think Luke used the story as a way of helping his parishioners recognize although God is not seen, God is always present in their lives.
A natural question might be , “What does this have to do with us?”
A good question.
Maybe a lifelong dream has been crushed and we realize what was hoped will never come to pass. Or maybe it’s a crisis in our faith and have doubts. Or it could be some difficulty in our family situation, or problems in our personal relationships that drain the joy and enthusiasm out of life.
Outwardly we seem to have our lives all together- a job-- caring families--
a home—friends-abundant possessions, we seem to be enjoying the “good
life.” But inwardly, many of us feel lost, alone and empty. “GOD SEEMS
ABSENCE FROM OUR LIVES.” Sounds just like Zacc.
If there is someone who can help us , it’s Jesus, for he had similar
experiences of being alone.
Jesus experienced a lot of tension in his life as he followed God’s plan and he too, sometimes questioned “where was God!”
The bible tells us about the times “God seemed absence” from Jesus life.
--Jesus asked if the cup of the cross could be taken from him.
--Or remember on the cross he cried out “God why have you forsaken me.”
It seems to me we shouldn’t get upset because we don’t feel God’s presence, God didn’t abandon Jesus and God surely won’t abandon us.
An example of Christian faith was Mother Teresa,
this is a quotation from one of her letters. “In my heart there is no faith—no love –no trust—there is so much pain—the pain of longing, the pain of not being wanted. I want God with all the powers of my soul—and yet there is between us this terrible separation.”
Amazingly, through all her personal struggles, she continued to restore the hope of countless others with her radiant joy and serving others.
It didn’t matter HOW MOTHER TERESA FELT, JESUS GAVE HER COURAGE TO GO AND MEET GOD ON THE STREETS OF CALCUTTA
We, like Mother Teresa and Zaccheaus can get discouraged-- life seems empty because we do not “FEEL GOD’S PRESENCE” in our lives.
In the story Luke gives us a good starting place --WITH JESUS.
Jesus tells us God’s presence is not dependent on OUR FEELING OR LACKING OF FEELING; but if we look into the eyes of the men, women and children we meet each day—THERE WE WILL FIND GOD’S PRESENCE.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord we come to you this morning full of doubts and fear for this world. There are times we search for you, yet you seem absent, Help us to be aware of your presence- not found in our feelings but in our hearts. Give us the courage and the strength to continue to help bring justice and peace to your global village. Give us the faith to never doubt your presence in our lives and give us hope for a brighter future. AMEN
CALL & RESPONSE:
ONE: Come let us join our hearts in a chorus of praise
ALL: And lift up our voices with the saints of every age!
ONE: Let this place be filled with a spirit of joy
ALL: For God is in this place with gifts of life and love
PRAYER OF INTERCESSION & LORD'S PRAYER:
Creator God, lend us Your strength to do Your will. Give us hearts for justice and peace. Grant us loving hearts of compassion. Walk with us as we seek to care for Your creation, Your children, Your heart. We come before You today knowing what it is that You require of us, but wondering how to achieve the things You ask of us. As we continue to ask ourselves how to better serve You and one another, guide us, support us and encourage us. Guide us in making the right choice. Support us as we work to follow those decisions. Encourage us so that we might • always be asking the questions and striving to find the answers.
Like, Elijah, 0 God, we turn and face You in the midst of the storms of life. Help us this hour to hear You speak to us — not in the wind, or the thunder, nor even in the upheaval of the ground beneath us. Help us to hear You speak to us, in our hearts, as that still, small voice amidst the chaos and turmoil, which gives us direction, peace and hope. In Your name we pray together:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen
A short video tid bit from the Drama Moment (Click on the blue link **writing** to get to it)
ELIJAH GETS AN INVOICE
(Both enter, stand opposite sides of stage with phones to ear)
DAVE: (holds clipboard) Hi. Can I talk to the prophet Elijah, please?
ELIJAH: This is Elijah. Who's calling please?
DAVE: This is Dave down at the chemical supply house.
ELIJAH: Oh, yes, Dave. Is there a problem?
DAVE: A problem. Yes, there's a problem. You're way over your credit limit. That's a problem.
ELIJAH: I'm sorry, it couldn't be helped.
DAVE: Oh, then it WAS you who ordered all that fire and brimstone?
ELIJAH: Why, yes, of course.
DAVE: Oh, rats!
ELIJAH: What's the matter?
DAVE: I had a bet with Morty, here, that it wasn't you who ordered all the fire and brimstone. I bet him that someone stole you credit card and maxed out your account without your knowledge.
ELIJAH: No. I was the one who made the order.
DAVE: Wow. That's a lot of fire and brimstone. Let's see, I figure that at 12,000 BTU's per person, you had to wipe out, what, 100 guys with all that stuff?
ELIJAH: 102 to be precise.
DAVE: Wow! What did they do to you?
ELIJAH: Well, it's a long story. I...
DAVE: (flips pages on clipboard) Hey, we're still on page one of the script. If you keep your explanation under two minutes, nobody's going to complain.
ELIJAH: Well, it has to do with King Ahaziah.
DAVE: Oh, yes, one of those obscure kings in the Bible at the end of the book of First Kings.
ELIJAH: Ahaziah was the son of King Ahab and Jezebel, and he became king of Israel. But he worshipped Baal, which ticked off the Lord. So, when Ahaziah injured himself in a fall, I prophecied that he would not recover from his injuries and die in his bed.
DAVE: So, when you left the palace, he sent some troops out to bring you back and take back your prophecy.
ELIJAH: How did you know?
DAVE: It's right here in the script. Page two.
DAVE: Well, listen, I don't want to steal your thunder. Tell me about the fire and brimstone.
ELIJAH: Well, like you said, King Ahaziah sent a captain and his company of 50 soldiers to bring me back to the palace.
DAVE: Then, WOOM! You let them have it with 850 shekels worth of fire and brimstone.
ELIJAH: Burned up the captain and all 50 of his soldiers, (snaps fingers), just like that.
DAVE: That's because of the secret ingredient in the brimstone. Works every time. (giggles)
ELIJAH: So, King Ahaziah sent another captain and another company of 50 soldiers. The captain insisted that I go back to the palace with him. He said that the king's injuries had not healed at all, and that I'd be in big trouble if I didn't take back the prophecy.
DAVE: Then WOOM! You let them have it with another 850 shekels worth of fire and brimstone.
ELIJAH: I didn't realize the stuff was that expensive.
DAVE: It's the foreign oil. The price of crude is way up. But please, continue with your story. It says here in my script that King Ahaziah sent ANOTHER 50 soldiers to bring you back.
ELIJAH: That's right.
DAVE: (flips pages) But I don't have an invoice for another 850 shekels. So, how did you zap them? With lightning?
ELIJAH: No, the captain demonstrated a fear of the Lord, so I went back to the palace with him.
DAVE: That's taking a big chance, isn't it Elijah?
ELIJAH: Not at all. I knew what was going to happen.
DAVE: Because you looked ahead to page three of the script?
ELIJAH: No. I'm a prophet of God. I know the future. I went back to the palace, but instead of taking back my prophecy, I repeated the prophecy that King Ahaziah would die in his bed.
DAVE: What happened?
ELIJAH: He died instantly.
DAVE: No!. Well, I guess he had it coming.
ELIJAH: That's right.
DAVE: So, Elijah, baby. Are you going to look into the future and tell me when you're going to pay this bill for 1700 shekels?
ELIJAH: Well, I'm looking into the future and the only thing I see is I get taken up to heaven by a fiery chariot in Second Kings 2.
DAVE: Hey, wait a minute. You mean you're skipping town? Who's gonna pay for all that fire and brimstone?
ELIJAH: Read ahead in the script. Maybe you'll find the answer there. (lowers phone & exits)
DAVE: (flips pages) Hey, wait a minute. The script ends as soon as you hang up the... Hello? Hello? Oh, man! (shrugs & exits)
The Offertory Prayer:
We dedicate this offering, Lord, for the work of the church, and we ask You to use all that we have and all that we are in Your service. Amen
New International Version (NIV)
1 Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights above.
2 Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
3 Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars.
4 Praise him, you highest heavens
and you waters above the skies.
1 Thessalonians 3:6-13
New International Version (NIV)
Timothy’s Encouraging Report
6 But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. 7 Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. 8 For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
The Last Prophet
There are many prophets listed in the Bible, both major and minor, from Samuel to Elijah, Job to Amos, Isaiah to Jeremiah and Daniel and Ezekiel. The last prophet in the Old Testament is Malachi, which is also the last Old Testament book. The very first verse in Malachi reads, "An oracle: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi." It is believed that the time was around 450 B.C. The book was written to correct the lax religious and social behaviour of the Israelites, especially the priests.
In Hebrew, the name Malachi means 'messenger,' which points to Malachi's role as a prophet of the Lord, delivering God's message to God's people. We know nothing of the prophet's parentage, ancestral or tribal roots, geographical origins or other vocation. Malachi offered no identifying information about himself, leaving out markers typical of other prophets, such as his father's name, or the current leader of Israel. All we know is that he received and communicated the love of God to the Jews.
Malachi's message comes to the people in a time of great spiritual decline. It is estimated to be approximately 80 years after the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem and the promises of the coming Messiah have not yet been realized. As a result, the people had become lazy and developed an increasingly casual attitude toward the worship of God. Malachi states that their sacrifices were unacceptable to God, husbands were unfaithful, and the priests had neglected God's covenant. Malachi's notable prophecy deals with the coming of the Messiah.
The heart of Malachi's prophecy was to drive home the point that God loves them, but they needed to remember the commandments if they were ever going to prosper. They needed to understand that if they would repent, God would surely bless them. Then Malachi once again reminds them of the coming day of the Lord.
The book of Malachi closes the ministry of the prophets. Malachi's famous words, "Behold, He is coming," is the prophetic cry that began in the first book of the Bible, and the message continued all the way through to the end. God is faithful to His promises and this is what the prophets declared.
The prophets had continually hammered into the minds of the Jews that their worship of false gods and their not doing things that worship commanded had been the reason they lost their homes, their city, their temple and were carried into captivity. The second commandment which God gave Israel from Mount Sinai forbids the making and worshipping of images. After a thousand years of sinning against this commandment, the Jews at last came to obey it. But before the second commandment is the first, which says, "I am the Lord thy God. You shall have no other gods before Me." Breaking the first commandment leads to breaking the second and all the rest. Obeying the first commandment leads to obeying all the commandments. If we keep God in our hearts, we have love in our hearts, for God is love. And love keeps us from sinning against God.
The great Jews, the true Jews, like Daniel and Zerubbabel, and Ezra and Nehemiah, kept the love of God in their hearts. But most of the Jews wore their religion outside. Because they didn't worship graven images, they said, "We are the people of God." But yet they broke other commandments, and so they were guilty of breaking the whole law. It was against the idolatry of the heart that Malachi prophesized. His prophecy is largely an answering of the questions the Jews asked, questions about the worship of the Lord.
"I have loved you," said the Lord through his faithful prophet Malachi. "How have you loved us?" asked the Jews. "I have loved you like a father. But you have despised My name." And the Jews continued their questioning. "How have we despised Your Name?" And God replied, "Your offerings at My altar have been polluted." Again the Jews questioned, "How have we polluted them?" And God once again answered, "You have said, 0 what a weariness it is! And you offer it as a duty, not from love. Return to me," said the Lord, "and I will return to you."
But still the Jews questioned. "What do You mean, return? What have we done that is wrong?" "You have robbed Me," said the Lord. "Will a man rob God?" And the people asked, "How have we robbed You?" "In your tithes and offerings. Bring now the whole tribe into the storehouse and prove Me," said the Lord, "if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing until there is no more need."
And finally Malachi prophesized that the day of the Lord's judgement was coming, in which all the proud and all that do wickedly shall be as stubble which shall be burned up. But for those who love the Lord, the Son of Righteousness shall arise, with healing in His wings. And moreover; "Behold, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, but I come and smite the earth with a curse." With these words close the prophecies of Malachi and the messenger of the Old Testament.
Why is Malachi so important? His unique position as the final book of the Old Testament offers a glimpse into the hearts of the Israelite men and women, members of a nation that had been especially chosen by God, descendants of Abraham, and inheritors of the rich tradition of the Jewish people. Their history told of glories like the exodus from Egypt and the faithfulness of God to King David. But they had also experienced the judgement of wandering in the desert and the shame of exile from the Promised Land.
The book of Malachi teaches us that the Jews still strayed from the Lord's path. They need God's intervention as much as ever, so this book, as a final statement of judgement in the Old Testament, anticipates God's saving work through the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Malachi prophesizes that the day of the Lord is coming and it will be a day filled with a burning away of all that is evil and corrupt in the world. This day will be filled with joy for the ones who serve the name of the Lord. But there will also be a time judgement for those who have arrogantly rejected the Lord. The Day of the Lord is a time when God intervenes and brings either blessing or judgement.
Malachi informs us about the day of the Lord and the coming of Jesus, and we here today have the benefit to see how that all came about. We have been blessed because we are on the other side of the resurrection of Jesus. The book of Malachi ends on a note of hope. The day of the Lord lies in the future. The call to repentance has been given and the promise for the faithful has been declared.
God wants us to know Him intimately. He wants us to have a full and interactive relationship with Him. The message of Malachi has been to explain how that relationship can be maintained.
Let us pray: 0 god, we pray that You will forgive us for having eyes that grow large toward the world and small toward service to You. And in Your forgiveness, we pray for empowerment. We seek to once again be energized and electrified as we pour our lives into preparation for the second coming of Christ. Amen.
Now, go forth from this place with renewed
inspiration to the work of God. Seek good, not evil, love goodness and establish justice. This, the greatest offering we can make, letting justice roll down like water, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. Go in peace, with love for our neighbours.
PRAYER OF INTERCESSION & LORD'S PRAYER:
Most gracious God, hallowed be Your name. Help us to honour Your name in what we say and what we do as we worship here this hour, and as we go about our daily life in the week to come. May Your gracious presence surround us this day, so that obedience to Your Word becomes a joy rather than a burden. May the depth of Your grace, the width of Your love, the height of Your joy, inspire us, here and now, to more fully be Your people, folks known not by forced friendliness, but by gracious attitude. We look to You for this, God, because on our own, we are tempted to be just the opposite. Empower us with Your Spirit. Let us pray together the words our Father taught us, saying;
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
The Offertory Prayer:
Lord God, thank you for the blessings You have given us year after year. Help us to wisely use the time You have given us, while we remain here on earth, to serve You through all the people around us who are in need. Amen.
Ezra & Nehemiah
How many of us faithfully read our Bible every day? I know I should, but there's always that "something" I just have to do first. I belong to that group of procrastinators, the people who say we're too busy today, but maybe tomorrow I can spare a few moments. The Bible spans a period of 4000 years, or forty centuries, and I, for one, have only skimmed the surface of the amazing stories, poems, songs and prophecies.
At one time I could name all the books of both the Old and New Testaments. I know the familiar stories, like Adam and Eve, Moses, Abraham, King Solomon and David, and I'm familiar with the New Testament stories of Jesus and the disciples. But there are some people, especially Old Testament characters, with whom I am not that familiar. I've heard their names, but I don't really know who they are or what their 'claim to fame' is.
Two such people are Ezra and Nehemiah. I definitely knew their names, but who exactly were they, and what did they do? I decided to find out! I discovered that Ezra was a preacher and administrator. Nehemiah was a foreman and soldier. Both were inspiring to those who sought to please God. Both were faithful to God and their life callings to the end. I'd like to take you on this journey with me and dive into the lives of Ezra and Nehemiah, two great books of the Old Testament.
There was in the city of Shushan, the Persian capital, a Jew named Ezra. He was a priest and a scribe. He read and studied the law of God and the scriptures. Ezra was the very best type of scribe. He was pious, a lover of the Lord, and wholly given to doing for his people. He gathered together all the copies of the law of God that he could find, and then had them multiplied by his helping scribes. He then gave the copies to those who wanted them. So Ezra did a great service, even to us, in preserving these laws and the word of God.
Later, Ezra decided to go back to Jerusalem. He talked to the Jews in Babylon and Persia and got many of them to agree to go with him and strengthen the work in their homeland. During the captivity, when the temple at Jerusalem lay in ruins, the Jews made in the different cities where they were scattered, meeting places called synagogues. In these synagogues, the people were instructed. The law of God was read to them, and also the prophets and the histories, and they were taught to sing the psalms. But God still intended to make the temple at Jerusalem the centre of his worship.
Ezra was greatly respected and honoured by King Artaxerxes. And when he told the king what was in his heart, to help build up the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem and the people of God, Artaxerxes encouraged him and gave him help. He made a proclamation that all Jews who wanted to go with Ezra should do so. And he gave great treasures of gold and silver and other precious things. And he ordered the governors of the provinces near Jerusalem to help also.
So Ezra gathered the people together on the river of Ahava some distance from Babylon. He took all the gold, silver and other precious things which the king and the people had given, and started for Jerusalem. The company were four months on the way and they went without soldiers of the king to guard them, for Ezra trusted in God, and he led his people to trust in God also. And God brought them safely through to Jerusalem.
Ezra found a good deal of disorder in the city. The first leaders had died, and those who came after them were careless. Though the temple had been completed and its services were going on, many of the Jews were backsliding and doing the bad things their fathers had done. Especially did they transgress God's commandment by taking wives from among the Samaritans and heathen about them.
With fasting and prayer and exhortations, Ezra stopped this and had the men get rid of their foreign wives. He gathered all the men of the land together in Jerusalem, read them the law and received their confessions and promises. There was a great reformation brought about by the teaching of Ezra, and the Jews in Jerusalem and Judah began to prosper in the ways of the Lord.
Now we fast forward thirteen years after Ezra led his company to Jerusalem and began to teach the people the law, and we encounter another Jew, a young man, who was high in favour with Artaxerxes. This young man was Nehemiah. He was cupbearer to the king.
One day Nehemiah had a visit from his brother Hanani and some other Jews who had just come from Jerusalem. Nehemiah asked his brother how things were there, and Hanani said they looked very bad, for the walls were broken down and the gates were burned, and all the Jews were in great reproach among the people around them.
Nehemiah was so distraught that Artaxerxes noticed and asked what was the matter. Nehemiah answered, "I pray that the king may send me to Jerusalem, that I may rebuild it." The king agreed and Nehemiah travelled to Jerusalem with some of his brethren and with an armed guard which the king had furnished. When he reached the city, he didn't tell anyone at first that the king had given him authority. But by night, taking a few of his men with him, he rode all around the walls of Jerusalem and saw just how broken down they were. In the morning he called the rulers together and said, "You see how Jerusalem's walls are broken and many of the houses inside are still not built. Come, let us build the walls of Jerusalem."
They just looked at him, thinking, no doubt, "Here, all these years we have lived this way, and there is just no hope of anything better. We haven't the money or the strength to rebuild the city." But then Nehemiah told them that he was the king's high officer, and that the king had told him to come and rebuild the city. And so the people got to work and built.
But there were enemies who didn't like it when they heard that Jerusalem was to be made strong. These enemies mocked and they conspired, trying to frighten Nehemiah. They tried to ambush him, and they threatened to come up with an army and fight the Jews. So Nehemiah armed his people and set half of them to stand guard while the others built. This action frightened his enemies and they decided to leave Nehemiah and the Jews alone. In 52 days the wall was finished and the gates were set up. Most of the houses, though, were not yet rebuilt, and there were very few people actually living in the city.
More than that, the people complained that their rulers, their own Jewish princes and elders, oppressed them, taking the greatest portion of the grain and produce they raised, and also took their money. The people had sold their land, and some of them had sold their sons and daughters to be servants, just so they could raise enough money to pay the taxes and the interest that the rulers charged. At this, Nehemiah became very angry and he called the rulers together and reproached them for treating the people so badly. They were afraid of him because the king had given him authority. The nobles promised they would give back the land and the children, and they gathered more of the people into the city and built it up.
It was at about this time that Nehemiah had found Ezra, the scribe. He was still living and working for the people. But Ezra didn't have the authority that the king had given Nehemiah, and the wayward ones among the Jews had disregarded him and had created all this bad state of affairs. Now, however, he joined with Nehemiah and the two of them brought the people up to a better state.
In the seventh month the called the people together for the great feast of Tabernacles and the Day of Atonement. Ezi.a read from daylight to noon from the book of the law of God. You see, the people in Jerusalem didn't have the book, and what they might hear once in a while from the priests and Levites was easily forgotten. So now they found out they had been transgressing the law in many ways, and they mourned. But Nehemiah and Ezra told them to rejoice, for the Lord forgave them. The people all listened and pledged themselves to obey the law.
The people would backslide one more time and again Nehemiah set to work to bring them up to the mark. Great were the toils, earnest were the prayers, and mighty were the labours of this man of God. He was not a prophet, and neither was Ezra, but they were great servants of the Lord. Ezra taught the law of God, he multiplied the scriptures and he set up schools to teach young and old. Nehemiah established the government and created respect for the law. They fixed the nation of the Jews. Never again did the Jews worship idols or false gods. And so the labours of Ezra and Nehemiah were not in vain. It wasn't easy to reform God's people. It required great sacrifice and commitment. Likewise, it isn't easy to reform God's people today, either, but we must have the commitment necessary to stand for truth and make the sacrifices needed, to always follow the law of God.
BENEDICTION & CHORAL AMEN:
As we go forth from this place today, let us never forget that Christ is at the foundation of all we are and all we do. Let the world see that we are Christians. Be proud to show the world who we belong to.