The Three Loves

Series: Collision

Sermon by David Strain on May 15, 2016

Malachi 1:1-5

This morning we are taking a break from our ongoing exposition of the book of Exodus. God willing, we’ll come back to it in the fall. As we begin the summer months, for now, we are going to be sitting together under the ministry of the prophet, Malachi. So let me invite you please to go ahead and take your Bibles and to turn there with me, to the prophecy of Malachi, chapter 1. Start with Matthew’s gospel and then turn back into the last book of the Old Testament; you’ll find the book of Malachi, page 801 in the church Bibles.

Malachi is written sometime in the middle of the 400s BC. The people of Judah have returned from exile back to the land and there the temple has been rebuilt, the walls of the city restored. They live now as a minor vassal state, part of the larger Persian Empire. Ezra, Nehemiah have been leaders in the land. Haggai and Zechariah have been prophets preaching. And yet, God’s rich mercy notwithstanding, the people of Israel’s spiritual temperature is low indeed. They are not doing well spiritually. If you were to scan through the book of Malachi, you would see God’s people arguing with Him, expressing incredulity, unbelief as they hear the message of God in their lives. Verse 2 of chapter 1, “How have you loved us?” Verse 7, “How have we despised your name? How have we polluted you?” Chapter 2 verse 17, “You have wearied the Lord with words but you say, ‘How have we wearied him?’” On and on, over and over again, God’s people protest with a sort of self-justifying, studied, feigned innocence, talking back to God in a posture of unbelief and spiritual apathy. And yet, Malachi nevertheless preaches to them words not just of rebuke, but of Gospel hope. There is, you might say, a collision, as the title for our sermon series has it – a collision taking place between the God of love and grace and sovereignty and the apathetic and spiritual waywardness of His people.

And in the very first verse, actually, the word that’s used for this book, “an oracle,” it means, “a burden,” suggests something of that confrontation. There’s a weight, the weight of divine authority, attaching to the message of Malachi as it comes to confront his people and us, in our apathy and in our sin. And so as we hear it, we need to understand God wants to confront us. There’s a collision that may well take place in our lives between His call and His Word and the way we are living now. But if we will hear it in faith, the Holy Spirit helping us, the message of the book of Malachi will change us forever. That said, before we read it together then, would you bow your heads with me as we pray?

Almighty God, send us now please, we pray, the Holy Spirit to help us not simply understand the text but to be led by its message to a fresh encounter with you that we may come to renewed repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, in whom alone there is hope for sinners. For we ask it in His name, amen!

Malachi chapter 1 at the first verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:

“The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.

 

‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’ ‘Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ declares the LORD. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.’ If Edom says, ‘We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,’ The LORD of hosts says, ‘They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.’’ Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, ‘Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!’”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy, inerrant Word.

In 1981, an Australian internist, a man called Barry Marshall, developed a theory. He and a pathologist at the Royal Perth Hospital there, discovered that the stomach could be overrun by a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori, and he became convinced that bacteria was actually the cause of ulcers in the stomach. It was thought in those days, actually, that it was stress that was the cause. And so when he advanced his theory, everyone laughed at him. He was mocked because he was suggesting that you could treat an ulcer with a pill and deal with the bacterial infection that caused it and clear it up with antibiotics. Everyone thought that was preposterous! He couldn’t test his theory on lab mice because the Helicobacter bacterium only troubles primates. He was forbidden from testing it on humans and so driven to some desperation, as he was observing the suffering that he believed needless suffering of his patients, he tested his theory on the only subject he could ethically recruit. He tested it on himself!

He drank a, I’m sure it was a noxious cocktail of bacteria, including the Helicobacter pylori bacterium and very, very quickly developed extremely severe symptoms of a stomach ulcer. He biopsied his own stomach and demonstrated once and for all that ulcers are caused not by stress, but by this particular bacterium. He went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 for his work. And now today, stomach ulcers are routinely treated with antibiotics. But when he first advanced his theory, he was pilloried for it. “What a ridiculous idea!” everyone thought. They laughed at him! They thought him a quack-fraud, a dangerous fringe extremist. The treatment plan everyone thought was the wrong plan for that particular condition and disease. But the appearances at first were entirely misplaced and Marshall was quite right.

I Have Loved You!

And as we read the book of Malachi, it is God’s treatment plan for an apathetic, wayward, and spiritually declining people. And we naturally expect God’s treatment plan to include denunciation and rebuke and warnings of coming judgment. But the dominant note, surprisingly, is the one sounding in verse 2. Look at verse 2! It’s not at all the tone we expect as Malachi preaches for spiritual awakening. Here’s the burden, the weighty, pressing, urgent message of the Word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. Here is it; “I have loved you,” says the Lord. The message is one of love. Whatever rebukes we deserve to hear from the Law of God, whatever denunciations of our sin we need to waken us up to our self-absorption and pride, unless and until we grasp the love of God or perhaps even better, unless and until the love of God takes hold of us, there is no hope, no possibility of real change. The entire encyclopedia of Gospel blessing is comprehended in these four words – “I have loved you.” It was love in eternity that purposed our salvation, love that moved the Father to send the Son. God demonstrating His love for us “in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Love that called us from death into life and gave us saving faith. Love that keeps us and sustains us until at last we are brought home to glory. Love from beginning to end, Love; the whole encyclopedia of Christian beatitude is comprehended in these four words, “I have loved you,” so that there is no hope, no forgiveness, no sanctification, no advancement in Christian obedience, no perseverance through trials, nothing, no joy, no rest, nothing outside the truth expressed in those four words. “I have loved you.” You are loved! You are beloved of God, believer in Jesus!

I wonder if perhaps you’ve been looking for the wrong treatment for your spiritual disease. You have, perhaps, been making resolutions. You’ve turned over any number of new leaves. You will do better, try hard next time, right? And don’t misunderstand! We ought to make resolutions and we must do better and try harder. But the supernatural antibiotic that is God’s treatment plan to kill the disease, the ulcer of sin in your life, and strengthen obedience and mature faith and sustain us amidst suffering is the burden of the Word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. “I have loved you.” I love you! You are beloved! It may actually be the most important thing of all for some of you here today, simply to hear Abba Father speak those words anew to your heart. That what you need most of all is to hear the Word of the Lord to you, not first summoning you to do, but first summoning you to receive the Good News as you trust in Christ – it is because you have been beloved from eternity, and will be loved to eternity.

It is a glorious message, isn’t it? So good to hear. “I have loved you. You are loved,” says our Father. Which makes it all the more astonishing when you see Israel’s reaction as they hear this declaration of love from the Lord. Look at how they answer! You know, when Dr. Marshall propounded his theory about Helicobacter pylori and the cause of ulcers in the stomach everyone laughed at him. Look at what happens when God declares His love for His people. How do they respond in verse 2? “I have loved you,” says the Lord, “but you say, ‘How have you loved us? You’ve loved us, really? We’ve been in exile and now we live under the boot heel of the Persians. We are weak, impoverished, suffering, but you’ve loved us? What does that even mean?’” Sometimes we have a hard time squaring our experience with the declaration that God loves us, don’t we? We look at our circumstances and we hear God say in His Word, “I love you,” but we find it hard to make those two things fit together. We don’t feel love. We feel perhaps abandoned or forgotten or overlooked as we’ve cried out for help. There are even times, (I wonder if this reflects your experience) you feel so submerged beneath the waves of worry, anxiety, pain, trouble, that you no longer even hear how arrogant it sounds to talk back to God. “How have you loved us? Prove it! You call this love?” It’s not a humble response to God.

But do notice how God answers them despite their arrogant question nevertheless. In a way, His answer is a demonstration of love of its own, isn’t it? He doesn’t denounce them for their wrong-headedness. Instead, with remarkable patience, He answers their question in three ways. Here’s exactly how He loves us in three ways. First He says His love is unconditional, then He says it is asymmetrical, and finally He says it is universal. His love is unconditional, asymmetrical, and universal.

  1. God’s Love is Unconditional

Look at verses 2 and 3 first of all. God’s love is unconditional. “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother,” says the Lord, “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I hated.” Jacob and Esau are the fathers of two nations, Israel and the Edomites, and to demonstrate the nature of His love for His people, Israel, God highlights His perfect sovereignty in electing one and passing by the other. Consider these two, God says to us? They are brothers, actually not just brothers – twins. Though Esau is the first to be delivered and so according to the culture and practice of the day, he would have been the one to receive the birthright and inherit the blessing. But if you read through the story of Jacob, you will see that he was a trickster, not a particularly honest or straightforward man, manipulating others, and cheating his brother out of his birthright. Really of the two, both by the norms of the culture at the time and by most estimates today, based on their merits alone, Esau, not Jacob, should be the one to receive God’s favor and blessing. But God doesn’t bestow His favor based on our merits, nor does He withhold it merely based on our demerits.

Romans chapter 9 at verse 11, “Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls, their mother was told, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved and Esau I hated.’” God does not bestow His favor based on our merits or our demerits, but based rather on His sovereign, electing love alone. Or listen to Deuteronomy 7:6-8 as God makes the same point to the people of Israel. “The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” And then He explains His motives for choosing them. “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set His love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all the peoples. But it is because the Lord loves you.” Did you hear His explanation of why He loves them? “It is not because of you that the Lord loves you, but it is because the Lord loves you that I love you.” He loves you because He loves you, not because you are lovely! He loves you because He loves you despite our unloveliness. Ephesians 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love, he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of his will to the praise of his glorious grace.”

God’s Choice is Unconditional

Why did He choose us? Not because of anything in me and nothing in you, but because of His free and unconditioned love. In love, He predestined us. Israel asks, “How did you love us?” You might ask God that question from time to time. “How have You loved me?” He has loved you unconditionally, eternally despite you not because of you. He loved you in the election of grace before the worlds were made. What an unshakable, unassailable ground of security and comfort and confidence there is in that wonderful truth of God’s free and unconstrained election. You see what it means? If He set His love on you not because you were lovely and despite your unloveliness, then there is nothing you can do, since there never was anything in you that you did to provoke Him to love you, there’s nothing you can do now to forfeit His love for you. If by grace you are a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, He who set His love on you before there were stars will never, never withdraw His love from you. “I have loved you from eternity and I will til eternity.” “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Your unworthiness to be loved was no barrier to God’s electing love. He chose you and fixed His love on you. Your unloveliness, unworthiness to be loved, was no barrier when He sent His Son. “For God so loved the world that He gave His Son.”  “He demonstrated His love in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” No barrier. No barrier today to His love. In your foolishness, in your anger, in your waywardness, in your backsliding, if you will but trust in Christ there is no grounds in you that may cause God to withdraw His love, not anything that will cause you to forfeit His love. God’s love first is unconditional.

  1. God’s Love is Asymmetrical

Secondly, notice that His love is asymmetrical. That is to say, it is not the mirror image of His wrath. His electing love is not the mirror image of His wrath. Look at verses 3 and 4. “I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste to his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert. If Edom says, ‘We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,’ the Lord of hosts says, ‘They may build but I will tear down and they will be called the wicked country and the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’” When our text speaks about God’s hatred of Esau, we are not to think of God’s hatred as a spiteful, unreasoned prejudice coloring His actions toward Esau. That’s how we hate! But God’s hatred is judicial, never capricious. It is holy, not vindictive. It is the passing by of sinners justly withholding undeserved mercy in order to treat them instead strictly as their sin deserves. That’s how God treated Esau! It is how He treated Edom. It is how He treats all who refuse to come to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith. That’s what the text means when it talks about divine hatred. He justly withholds mercy and hands sinners over to their sin and to coming judgment.

God’s Love for His Elect

But that is not how He treats His elect. Out of a mass of sinners deserving His wrath, in His great love, He chooses to save some by means of the cross. And as we hear that, immediately I suspect, many of us have already begun to argue with God. Confronted with His selective, electing love, saving some sinners and not others, we question whether God isn’t being unjust, don’t we? But consider Jacob and Esau; consider Israel and Edom our passage says to us. The two are very similar. Jacob and Esau, you will remember, were twin brothers. Israel and Edom have virtually parallel historical experiences of defeat and then exile and then return to the land and then a desire to rebuild their homeland. Both Israel and Edom were sinful, wicked. Both had broken the Law of God. Both deserved His wrath and curse. As God points out in our text, He’s treating Edom as its sin deserves to be treated. It is the wicked country after all.

The point, do you see, is not that God is unjust to leave Edom to the consequences of its sin. The point, rather, is that God is extravagantly loving not to treat Israel that way too. Or to put it a little differently, when people object to the selective choice of God in saving some sinners out of the mass of fallen humanity to be His people, very often they’re asking the wrong question. We ought not to ask, “Why doesn’t God love and rescue all people equally?” Rather, we ought to ask the far, far more perplexing question given the universal guilt and depravity of every human heart – “Why does God choose to save any? Why does He love any? Why rescue any? Why not treat us all as we deserve?” And so here as we look at the asymmetry, we’re actually being shown just how generous and extravagant the love of God really is. Who, were He to treat us all justly and give us equity and be “fair” then none would be saved; all would be lost as He treats us as our sins deserve. But instead, He fixes His love upon His people and on them shows mercy. Is there any truth in Scripture more suited to shatter our pride than this one, to put us in the dust and exalt God on His throne than this one? That we deserve to be judged and condemned because every one of us are guilty in the sight of God, yet we are not condemned, but accepted and forgiven and adopted into the family of God, and only because of free, unconditioned, electing love. It puts us in the dust! It exalts God in His sovereignty and independence that we may give Him all the glory.

Why was I a Guest?

“While all our hearts and all our songs join to admire the feast, each of us cries with thankful tongue, ‘Lord, why was I a guest? Why was I made to hear Your voice and enter while there’s room, when thousands make the wretched choice and rather starve than come?’ Twas the same love that spread the feast that sweetly drew us in, else we had still refused to taste and perished in our sin.” Isn’t that how we feel as we think about God’s electing and asymmetrical love? “Why was I a guest?” It was this love that chose us and sent Christ for us, and keeps us, and will bring us home – free love, love lavished on us when we deserve only wrath, so that we find ourselves saying, “Why have You chosen me?” There’s amazement, humility that ought to spring up in the hearts of every child of God before the mystery of the electing, sovereign love of God that we, we should be made the objects of His love.

  1. God’s Love is Universal

God’s love is unconditional, it’s asymmetrical, and finally, it is also universal. Very quickly look at verse 5. “Your own eye shall see this, the judgment of God on Edom, and you shall say, ‘Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel.’” God is talking about judgment on Israel’s ancestral enemy, Edom. And it will generate glory to God even among the nations. But that same language, you see, reappears later in this chapter. If you’ll look down at verse 11, you’ll see the same language with a different tone, not the tone this time of judgment, but a tone of Gospel hope. “For from the rising of the sun to its setting, my name will be great among the nations.” There’s the same language from verse 5. “And in every place, incense will be offered to my name and a pure offering for my name will be made great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.” There it is again! The Lord will be great among the nations, not just in judgment, but also in mercy; not just in wrath but also in love. Not just in condemnation but also in redemption. The God of election is also the God of mission. The God who chooses to save some, reaches out to the whole world.

Election to Mission

A large part of the purpose of Malachi is to awaken God’s people from their apathy, to remind them of their purpose and their mission. As Jesus put it to His disciples speaking about this great doctrine of election in John 15 at verse 16, “You did not choose me but I chose you” – there’s election – “and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit” – there’s mission. Election is not simply election to salvation; it’s election to mission. We have a great task to do – to make the name of God appear glorious among the nations, to gather in the people of God, scattered in the world among every tribe and language and nation, that they, with us, may come and offer true worship and declare that the name of the Lord is great beyond the borders of Israel. And we are to go, we are to go with the Gospel of redeeming love in Jesus Christ to all the world, emboldened because we know that only those whom God has chosen before the foundation of the world will come, and be confident as we evangelize and proclaim the Good News because all those whom He has chosen must come, shall come. John 6:37, “All whom the Father has given me,” Jesus said, “will come to me.”

You see the point! God’s mission in the world can’t fail. It can’t fail! The name of God will be great among the nations, and all those whom He has chosen He will redeem having purchased by the blood of His Son. And He commissions us to go to the ends of the earth and to hold forth Christ to the world and plead with sinners to make God’s name great by bending their knee in repentance and faith. Malachi treats the spiritual disease of apathy and compromise actually with the surprising antibiotic of God’s electing love. Instead of it being a disincentive or grounds for yet more apathy, it is the antidote to apathy showing them that if we are indeed a child of God by grace it is because He has loved us from eternity and we are secure in His love. But if we are loved from eternity we are called to proclaim that love to all the world. Grasping the wonder of the love of God ought to humble us, it ought to exalt God, and it ought to propel mission. And so, as our Father says to each of us anew this morning, “I have loved you. I have loved you with an eternal, unconditional love. With an asymmetrical love I have chosen to save you when I need not have done so. I might have treated you as you deserved to be treated, yet I have loved you none the less. And with a universal love – a love not just for you, but for the ends of the earth.” We ought to bow in humility and rise up in adoration and praise and then go forth with holy boldness knowing the mission of God in the world cannot fail to proclaim Christ, that the name of God may be great among the nations.

Let us pray together!

Our Father, we adore You for Your mercy and Your grace which You have lavished upon us with all wisdom and insight, having chosen us and predestined us in love. What a mystery, what an unfathomable abyss of mystery Your love for rebels like us really is. And as we stand at the brink, staring into its depths, we pray that You would indeed us it to humble our hearts, to enflame our praise, and to embolden our evangelism and mission that the world with us may declare, “Great is the Lord beyond the borders of Israel!” For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

©2016 First Presbyterian Church.

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