THE DASTARDLY DEMON THAT DEBILITATES OUR DEMEANOR

MALACHI 3:13-15

 

 

Play Audio

                                             

            This morning we bring our Minor Prophets sermon series to a close as we turn to the twelfth and final minor prophet, Malachi, and we will focus our attention on that “dastardly demon that debilitates our demeanor.” I’m referring to discouragement.

            It’s surprising how frequently we encounter discouragement.  The person who says, “Dust.  Two weeks of work and it all turned to dust.”

            The person who says, “My marriage has become a drag.  On our wedding day I thought it would be so different.  It’s nothing like I imagined it would be.”

            The new college graduate who can’t find a job.  It’s even a challenge for her to get an interview.

            The school teacher who has to teach in overcrowded classrooms with little parental support and has to pay for some school supplies out of her meager salary. 

            And then I think of Malachi’s next door neighbors.  Listen to the discouragement in their voices (3:14 on page 778 of your pew bible) ...

 

            It is vain to serve God.  What do we profit by keeping his command or by going about as mourners before the Lord of Hosts?  Now we count the arrogant happy; evildoers not only prosper, but when they put God to the test they escape.

 

            The year is 450 B.C.  Seventy years have passed since Haggai and Zechariah urged the people of Judah to rebuild the Temple and the city of Jerusalem.  And not only did the prophets Haggai and Zechariah urge the people to rebuild, but they also made a promise.  They promised, “If you rebuild God will send rain and give you bountiful crops.  If you rebuild, God will take up residence in Jerusalem as never before and life will be wonderful.”

            So, the people did.  Based on the promises the people rebuilt the city and the Temple.  In fact, at the time of Malachi the Temple had been completed for sixty-five years.  The people had fulfilled their part of the bargain and they awaited the promised blessings, and why not?  After all, Haggai and Zechariah had told them to expect the very best.  In fact, turn with me to Zechariah’s prophecy once again, to chapter nine, verse nine.  It’s a familiar passage, often quoted on Palm Sunday.  Listen to the promise ...

 

            Rejoice, greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 

            He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, from the river to the ends of the earth.

 

            To those who had heeded Haggai and Zechariah, they expected that to occur at any moment.  They expected Messianic Age to commence and the Messiah to come riding into town victorious and triumphant.  Fueled by Zechariah’s words, they expected Israel to recover her glory days with a Davidic king in place, ruling from sea to sea - in their lifetime.

            The realities, however, were quite different.  For those who had returned from Babylonian captivity, well, they found life was just as hard as it had ever been.  The new Jewish community was only a tiny part of the vast Persian Empire, hardly larger than Jerusalem itself.  Moreover, periodically the rains ceased to fall contradicting Haggai’s promise of bountiful crops if they would only rebuild the Temple.  As these conditions persisted, and the fabulous dreams of the messianic kingdom on hold, a spirit of discouragement and cynicism infiltrated the faithful and the people began complaining.  They began saying, “It’s useless to serve God.  What’s the use if this is what we receive?  Why try if this is our reward?  Here we are knocking ourselves out to please God and we’re no better off than those who could care less about God.  Why try?”

            And it’s to this discouraged group of saints that Malachi proclaims his message.  And as a quick aside, the name Malachi means “my messenger” and that’s an appropriate name for a prophet, sort of like naming a mountain climber “Cliff” or someone who lives at the beach, “Sandy.”  Malachi is God’s messenger and he delivers a heavenly message concerning how to handle discouragement.  Malachi, however, does not just speak to his neighbors living on his cul-de-sac.  No, Malachi also speaks to us.  We might call it his “Three F Plan” for dealing with discouragement.

            Number one, the first “F”:  If we want to defeat discouragement, Malachi encourages us to face our expectations.  Remember all those waiter jokes about the fly in the soup?  Jokes like, “What is that fly doing in my soup?” and the waiter looks and says, “The backstroke.”  Or “What is that fly doing in my soup?” and the waiter says, “Don’t worry about it, the fly won’t eat much.”  Well, there is a fly in the soup of life.  It’s the disease carrying insect of expectations.

            It happened to me every Sunday after Easter.  For years every Sunday after Easter, I expected attendance to be high, after all we are riding the wave of the resurrection, and every Sunday after Easter, I got a little discouraged by the incredible drop off in worship attendance.  I found myself asking the same question every Sunday after Easter:  “Why did I spend so much time on the Easter message if the crowd doesn’t return?”

            But not any more.  I few years ago I faced my unrealistic expectation of the Sunday after Easter, and now I expect a significant drop off that Sunday.  In fact, I named the Sunday after Easter “Cannon Ball Sunday” because you can usually fire a cannon ball through the sanctuary that Sunday and not hit anyone! 

            And that’s what Malachi attempted to do with the people of Jerusalem.  He wanted them to face their expectations.  Remember the people of Jerusalem expected the Messiah to return in their lifetime.  Unfortunately, they heard Zechariah wrong.  Zechariah said, “A day is coming when ...” and they heard “A day is coming now ...” and Malachi has to clear up that misunderstanding, that false expectation.  Note how he does it.  Chapter four, verse one ...

 

            See the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all the evil doers will be stubble ... Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.  He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.

 

            In other words, “It will be a while before the Messiah returns.  Elijah needs to return first and after that the evil doers will get what they deserve and you will get what you want.”  By the way, that’s how most New Testament scholars see John the Baptist.  They saw him as the promised return of Elijah.  John dressed like Elijah, spoke like Elijah.  In the New Testament John the Baptist is Elijah 2.0. 

            Unrealistic, unfair, biased expectations fuel discouragement.  If we face our expectations we will save ourselves from a lot of discouragement.

            Second, Malachi tells us if we want to combat discouragement we need to feed the positive.  Look with me at what he has to say in the second verse of his first chapter.  Here we catch another glimpse of the people’s discouragement and what God does with it.  Chapter one, verse two ...

 

            I have loved you, says the Lord.  But you say, “How have you loved us?”  Is not Esau, Jacob’s brother? says the Lord.  Yet I have loved Jacob (that’s the nation of Israel) but I have hated Esau; (that’s Israel’s enemy the nation of Edom.  That’s the nation Obadiah lambasted.)  I have made his hill a country a desolation and his heritage a desert for jackals.

 

            Note what God does here.  He gets them to look at the positive.  Sure the Messianic age has yet to commence, but look what I am doing.  God reminds them, “Hey, even though you don’t think I’m doing anything, don’t forget what I did with those enemies of yours, the Edomites.  I put them in their place.  Don’t wallow in the negative. Look at the positive things I am doing around you.”

            I huge poster hangs in our garage.  It’s a poster of Trudy, her picture on the poster, when she ran for public office in Lake Mary, Florida.  Some folk came to her, she was quite active in the Chamber of Commerce, and asked her to run for city commissioner.  We campaigned and she even received the endorsement from the Orlando Sentinel newspaper, but she lost the election.  The “good-ol’-boy” incumbent got re-elected, and the night of November 4,1997 was a pretty tough night in the Meyer household.  Trudy was down and discouraged.  She had put in so much time only to come up short.  Then, we started emphasizing the positive.  We began saying things like, “You did a great job for your first time running for public office,” and “This experience sure taught us a lot about the community in which we live,” and “This may be God’s way of protecting our family time,” and “If you decide to run again we’ll know how to campaign better next time,” and we came up with a handful of positive things from a discouraging outcome, and shortly the discouragement dissipated.

            So the next time we get discouraged, let’s make a list.  On one column list all the negatives, all our reasons for being discouraged.  Then in another column, list all the positive, all the reasons to hope, and let’s feed those.  In other words, face the discouragement, but feed the positive.  Let’s stoke the positive fires and see what becomes of our discouragement.

            Finally, find the pearl.  Chapter four, verse two ...

 

            But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.  You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.  And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day I act, says the Lord of hosts.

 

            In other words, hang in there.  Work through the discouragement and you will be a better, stronger person for it.

            Chuck Swindoll writes with great wisdom in his devotional book Growing Strong in the Seasons of Faith.  In a selection titled “The Sting of Pearls” he writes,

 

            Pearls are the product of pain.  For some unknown reason, the shell of the oyster gets pierced and an alien substance - perhaps a grain of sand - slips inside.  On the entry of the foreign irritant, all the resources within the tiny, sensitive oyster rush to the spot and begin to release healing fluids that otherwise would have remained dormant.  By and by the irritant is covered and the wound healed - by a pearl.  No other grain has so fascinating a history.  It is the symbol of stress - a healed wound - a precious, tiny jewel conceived through irritation, born of adversity, nursed by adjustments.  Had there been no wounding, no irritating interruption, there could have been no pearl.

 

            The Apostle Paul put it this way.  He said, “We rejoice in our suffering because we know that suffering produces perseverance and perseverance produces character and character produces hope.”

            By the way, perseverance, character and hope are pearls.

            Face, feed, find.  That’s the counsel that comes from our twelfth and final minor prophet.