The Tragedy Of Apathy.
“You have said, ‘What’s the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands or by trying to show the Lord of Heaven’s Armies that we are sorry for our sins?'” – Malachi 3:14 NLT
The Temple has been rebuilt for almost a century. The walls of Jerusalem have been restored. The exiles who had returned under Ezra and Nehemiah have settled down into their new lives in the Land of Promise. Marriages have taken place, children have been born, homes have been built, and businesses started. Life has fallen back into a routine and the people have fallen back into some old habits. Malachi is the last of the Old Testament prophets and he brings a message of warning from God regarding the peoples’ unfaithfulness. It seems that time has passed and with it, the peoples’ enthusiasm for the things of God. Religiously, they are simply going through the motions. Their hearts aren’t in it. They offer sacrifices to God, but He accuses them of doing so with blind, crippled and diseased animals. They are cutting corners and short-changing God – ultimately showing contempt for His holiness. They are treating as common things that should be holy – offering food for sacrifices that does not meet God’s standards. The people complain that it is too hard to serve God. His expectations are too high, His commands are too demanding. So they lower the standards and choose to live by their own set of rules. Instead of honoring their marriage commitments, they become unfaithful and ultimately, choose divorce rather than keeping their vows. They were rationalizing their behavior “saying that all who do evil are good in the Lord’s sight, and he is pleased with them” (Malachi 2:17b NLT). To justify their lifestyles, they were having to twist the words of God.
In spite of all that God had done for them since the day He had chosen them, the people of Israel had chosen to treat God with contempt. He had brought them back from exile and restore them to the land. He had helped them rebuild the Temple and restore the walls of Jerusalem. He had given back to them everything they had lost due to their own sin and rebellion. And their response was more of the same. More contempt. More unfaithfulness. More sin. More selfishness. More disobedience. More spiritual apathy. They had reached the sad point of saying, “What’s the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands or by trying to show the Lord of Heaven’s Armies that we are sorry for our sins?” (Malachi 3:14 NLT). They saw no benefit from serving God, so they just decided not to. Their focus had become myopic and me-centered. They had determined that they would only serve God for what they got out of it. God had become nothing more than a cosmic vending machine in the sky – who existed to dispense blessings and fulfill their desires. If He wouldn’t give them what they wanted, there was little or no use for Him.
Malachi closes the Old Testament. When the last word in penned by this last of the prophets, God goes silent for a period of more than 400 years. He stops communicating with the people of God. There are no more prophets sent from God until John the Baptist appears on the scene. God has said all He is going to say. But He has not done all that He is going to do. He has a plan for His people. He has a plan for all people. He is going to send His Son. He is going to provide mercy, grace, forgiveness, and salvation through the ministry of the Messiah. God will send the ultimate sacrifice to atone for the sins of mankind once and for all. God will do for mankind what it could not do for itself. He will provide a way to renew the hearts of the people and restore them to a right relationship with Him. The Old Testament ends on a sad note. But the New Testament opens with a bright light shining in the darkness – the birth of Christ – the hope of the world.
Father, forgive us for our apathy. We are just as guilty as the Israelites of losing our focus and making this all about us. We can end up going through the motions, without our hearts being in it. Help us to see how easily we can fail to live lives that are truly set apart to You. Don’t let us give up just because living the Christian life can get hard. Never let us lose sight of all that You have done for us through the gift of Your Son. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men