Please open your Bibles to the last book of the Old Testament.
The Italian prophet, Malachi.
We began our study of this book last Sunday, and we are going to work our way
through it right up to Holy Week and Easter.
The name Malachi means “My Messenger.”
And Malachi’s message in one word is “revival.”
Malachi reminds us that there is a constant, regular need for spiritual renewal in the
church of God. Very often God’s people must be called back to faithfulness.
Faith in Christ wanes, and it must be re-animated by the Sprit of God.
We all know this is the way it is in our individual lives.
We wax and wane in our devotion to the Lord, our communion with him in Word
and payer, our service and commitment to his kingdom.
We know the joy of the Lord comes and goes, our sense of his nearness fades.
It’s true of individuals and it’s true of the church as a whole.
It’s true of congregations. Times we thrive spiritually, times we grow dull.
Malachi is about revival. Our need for it. How we seek it.
And the blessings of God’s Spirit when he brings it.
Malachi’s generation knew the Lord and had walked with him as their parents
and grandparents had, but for various reasons, they had developed attitudes and
habits that had built a wall between them and God’s blessings.
The Lord was burdened by this. He wanted the best for them.
So he sent the prophet Malachi with five concerns.
Five important matters that the Lord in his wisdom knew that they must address
in order to return to the family circle and the blessings of the covenant.
But before he spells them out he says:
First things first, before I say anything, I want you to know—I have loved you.
I chose you. Jacob I have loved. I have predestined you for good things.
We looked at that last week. Chapter 1, verses 1-5.
Now, with that in mind, knowing that I loved you and chose you—
listen to the first hard thing I have to say.
INTRO: I have an old friend who is a great inspiration to me.
I’ve told you about him many times. His name is Charlie Baldini.
He is a real Italian, unlike this Italian wannabe Malachi!
Charlie and I were in seminary together. He is a pastor on Staten Island.
Charlie accepted the call to his current church about 12 years ago.
It was a church that no pastor in his right mind would have looked at twice.
But the Lord, through a number of providential events, placed Charlie there.
The church was almost dead.
It had a sizable membership role and a regular attendance.
It also had beautiful building and a good location on the island.
But it was almost dead spiritually. Charlie said that when he got there,
he thought that maybe two people in the entire congregation were born again.
He said the others were clueless about spiritual things.
He said they didn’t even understand what he meant when he told them that he
would accept the call the be their pastor, but that he would be preaching about
Jesus Christ, heaven and hell, sin and salvation.
He said he knew they didn’t have a clue what he meant because they all nodded.
They said that was ok, he could preach whatever he wanted.
But Charlie knew that it wasn’t ok.
He knew that some would love his message and some would get angry
when what he was preaching really started to sink in. And he was right.
As this church has slowly re-awakened through his faithful ministry—
he’s seen many victories and changed lives, and lots of opposition.
He’s had church members tell him things like:
“If you mention the name Jesus again, I’m going to be sick.”
He’s had some of these antagonistic members actually try to run off new people
who have joined the church, young believers fed by Charlie’s teaching.
But he’s held on by the power of the Holy Spirit.
There are ministerial colleagues who have said:
Go and be a minister where you will be fully appreciated, gifts put to better use.
Or start a new church, so don’t have to fight these battles.
But Charlie’s response is: You don’t understand the culture of New York.
If this old church can be revived, it will have a much more profound impact
in this neighborhood, than a new church ever would.
A number of years ago Charlie was digging through some church records,
and he came across a document that brought tears to his eyes.
It was the doctrinal statement of the church from 80 years ago.
He said it was a solid, evangelical, Calvinistic statement of faith.
He said that any PCA church would have gladly adopted it.
I asked him: Charlie, what happened? Why did this church fall away?
He said: I’ve researched that, the answer is, 50 years of liberal preaching.
50 years of ministers who did not preach about Jesus Christ, sin and salvation—
but who instead preached about morality, social concerns, and political topics.
50 years of pastors who did not bring the sheep to green pastures and still waters of
the word, Sunday after Sunday, but who abandoned sheep to fend for themselves.
Ministers were responsible for the spiritual demise of the church.
And it is through a minister that the church is being revived.
I’ve told you about Charlie before, and his church.
But I could think of no better illustration for this first concern of Malachi.
God’s people had grown cold spiritually, they had put up walls against the Lord.
He wanted them to return to the family circle and the blessings of the covenant. Where does the Lord start?
With their pastors. With the ministers of the church. Priests and Levites of Israel.
There are plenty of very hard things that the Lord has to say to church members
in the rest of Malachi, to the people in the pews.
But he starts with the men in the pulpit. He strips them bare.
He exposes not only the things they are doing that are damaging the spiritual
life of the church, he exposes their underlying motives and attitudes as well.
And he warns them: Listen pastors, if you don’t heed what I have to tell you—
I will curse your blessings. You will be a curse to your congregation.
But, of course, with these words of indictment and warning is the underlying
message of grace—Pastors, come back to me. Return to your calling.
And the flock under your care will be blessed.
I know this probably seems strange, that you are about to hear a whole sermon
about pastors—their sins and failures and role in the church.
You might be thinking, what does this have to do with me?
Why couldn’t Andrew skip this part and go on to something that applies
more to my life. I would very much like to do that.
But we have a commitment in this church to the study of the whole counsel of God.
The way we go through the Bible, verse by verse, passage by passage,
forces me, and forces us as a body, to deal with topics that we wouldn’t choose.
The Bible has things to say about every part of the life of faith—
and the role of ministers in the health and decline of the church is one.
It’s true, I’m mostly going to be preaching to myself—
but if you listen, I think you see that there are things God is calling you to do.
Three points—I’ll give them to you as we go.
MP#1 The pastoral ministry is essential for the spiritual health of the church.
Malachi starts his message on revival by addressing the priests.
That underscores a point that is often made in Scripture—the Lord has made the
ministry, the priesthood essential for the spiritual health of the church.
Let’s start with this word priest. Malachi addresses the priests.
Priest is a word that many Protestants are wary of using. Not all Protestants.
But most of the Christians in our evangelical circles would say:
Catholics have priests, we have pastors or ministers.
Jesus is our only priest. We don’t need a man to be our priest.
But let me push back against that and make the argument that ministers
and pastors in the New Testament church are fundamentally no different
from priests in the Old Testament church.
The sacrifices the Old Testament priests performed were no different in substance
from what I do in worship, no different from my administration of Lord’s Supper.
Old Testament worship in all its forms pointed to the grace of God in Christ,
and were expressions of gratitude and commitment to the Lord.
The word priest is a perfectly good title for ministers and pastors.
In Romans 15:16, Paul calls himself
“a minister of Jesus Christ with the priestly duty of proclaiming the Gospel.”
You could call me your pastor or you could call me your priest—
and you would not be out of line biblically in any sense.
It’s an important point, because it opens up the application of this passage.
According to Malachi, what is the priest supposed to do? What is his calling?
To be a preacher of the Word of God and an overseer of God’s worship.
Malachi mentions God’s covenant with the tribe of Levi, the priestly tribe.
In alluding to this covenant with Levi, Malachi echoes the language of Deut 33
where Moses sets Levi apart and describes the work of the priest this way:
“He teaches your precepts to Jacob and your law to Israel.
He offers incense before you and whole burnt offering on our altar.”
There it is, that dual responsibility of the priesthood—
teaching the word of God and overseeing the service of worship.
There is a parallel in Acts 6 when the Apostles instituted the office of deacon,
put the deacons in charge of taking care of the need in the church.
The Apostles said now “We will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
Now, here’s an important detail. There is a definite article in front of prayer.
It could be translated, probably should be, “The Prayer.”
We will give our attention to the prayer and the ministry of the word.
What’s that? What’s the prayer? It’s not the act of praying itself, but simply an
old way of describing the worship service of the church.
You still see that use of the word prayer in the title of the book Episcopalians
use for worship—The Book of Common Prayer. Book of corporate worship.
So here we have ministers of both the Old and New Testaments called to the
same two important responsibilities—the word and worship.
Concerning his preaching and teaching of the word, the minister must
give true instruction. Must pay attention to, take seriously the message.
And concerning worship, he must guard the integrity and reverence of the service.
It is a very easy thing to show both from Scripture and from history that
the church is only as healthy as her ministers are diligent in these duties.
The church rarely rises above a poor and unspiritual ministry.
But the flip side is that the church rarely fails to prosper
when the Lord provides godly and gifted men for her pastorates and her pulpits.
Malachi is talking about revival. Look at the history of the church.
We associate all the great movements of reform and revival with the names
of particular ministers. Through their preaching and leadership, church revived.
In the 4th century, the church was almost overwhelmed by the heresy of Arianism.
Arianism taught that Christ was not divine, but a created being.
Who rescued and revived the church? The great minister Athanasius.
Another great minister who preserved and revived the church was Augustine.
And what about the Reformation—ministers Luther, Calvin, Knox,
Or the Great Awakening with Whitefield, Wesley, and Edwards.
Or the modern missionary movement—William Carey, Henry Martin.
Adrienne worships at Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church.
Strong, generous, God-fearing congregation. But not always the case.
There were several decades of serious spiritual and doctrinal decline.
But there was a minister in the 70s, a Dr. Long.
Profound spiritual changes that took place under Dr. Long.
I’ve heard people describe it. Reawakened hunger for Christ, Bible.
Prayer meetings and small groups, paying attention to sermons.
A revival in the true sense of the word, deep, real, lasting change.
Dr. Long set that church on a solid foundation that has continued.
Pastor they have now one of the best in our denomination.
The spiritual health of the church is dependent on her ministers.
What this means for you—
I know I can say this to you because this is a mature congregation and
you won’t take it the wrong way—
It means that if you want revival for yourself, your children, your church,
then you must put yourself under the regular preaching of your pastor,
and you must obey his spiritual instruction.
Do your best to pass on to your children a respect for the ministry,
and an understanding of its great importance for their souls.
Cherish it and support it. Expect the best from it.
Because even if the pastoral office is filled by a man of very average talents
and abilities, if he is faithful, then God’s people will be blessed.
That brings us to second point, a very sobering one.
MP#2 The pastoral ministry is to blame for the spiritual demise of the church.
Dr. Robert Rayburn preached on John 10:1.
In that verse Jesus says that some men who enter the sheep pen are not shepherds,
but thieves and robbers.
Dr. Rayburn titled his sermon: “The Fifth Column of the Church.”
You know what a fifth column is—
it refers to a group of people who undermine a larger group from within.
A fifth column might be a group within a political party who set about to undermine
the party as a whole—make it irrelevant, so that another party gains control.
Or a group of citizens in a nation who set out to subvert the sovereignty of the
nation, maybe to deliver it into the control of an outside power.
So Dr. Rayburn had this sermon titled: “The Fifth Column of the Church.”
What is the smaller group within the larger group of the church that
undermines it from within? Ministers.
That’s right, it’s ministers who pose the greatest spiritual danger to the church,
it is ministers who are most to blame for the spiritual demise of the church—
individual congregations, denominations, and sometimes whole branches.
That’s why Malachi starts with the priests.
Because they are responsible for the spiritual demise of Israel.
Sometimes it’s very easy to see the pastoral ministry undermining the church.
There are many examples of gross misconduct by ministers who truly are thieves
and robbers. Do you remember Robert Tilton, the TV evangelist?
In the early 90s he was exposed by the secular press.
They showed that Robert Tilton was asking people to send in prayer cards with
a donation, promising to pray for them.
The PO Box on the prayer card envelope was actually a Dallas bank.
The bank opened the envelopes, deposited the money, threw the prayer cards in
the dumpster—bushels of them, bales of them.
By the way, if you want a laugh, search for Robert Tilton on Youtube.
Make sure you have a junior high boy watching video with you.
That’s a crude example, the more sophisticated but just as obvious are the
numerous ministers who gladly undermine the supernatural elements of
Scripture and the Christian faith.
Every Easter you can count on reading an article in the news that quotes some
minister or seminary professor who says that Jesus didn’t really rise from dead.
And guess what, it doesn’t really matter if he rose or not.
Because Easter and Christianity is about self-potential, blah, blah.
There are also those ministers who are only too glad to undermine biblical morality.
Just this week, read about a prominent evangelical minister in England,
Rev. Steve Chalke, who has come out in support of homosexuality.
We are going to see more and more of that in the near future
It’s just a matter of time before preaching the biblical sex ethic will be
classified as hate speech, as inciting violence against homosexuals—outlawed.
And as that happens, we are going to see more and more influential ministers
say that their view have changed, God accepts any sexual lifestyle.
Those are all very real examples, very serious, very damaging to church.
But if I stopped with those crass examples, I wouldn’t be honest with the text.
Malachi doesn’t let me get away with just criticizing TV preachers and liberal
professors. He turns the spotlight on all ministers in a very unsettling way.
He says: You priests, you place defiled food on the Lord’s altar.
You sacrifice blind, crippled, and diseased animals in worship.
Let me tell you what this means. Leviticus was the worship manual for Israel.
One of the most basic rules was: Bring the best for sacrifice.
Bring the best of the flock and herd. No blind or crippled animals.
But that’s what the people in Malachi’s time were bringing.
And the priests, the priests were not challenging their hearts and behavior.
The priests were not saying: The Lord wants your best, he’s told us in Word.
Instead, they were accepting these flawed sacrifices.
Here’s why. This is how priests were paid, by getting part of the meat.
And the meat of a blind animal, or a crippled animal tasted just as good,
as the meat of a perfect lamb or calf.
They didn’t want to confront people as their pastors, challenging their hearts
and behavior, running the risk of being criticized, the risk of people leaving
the church and stopping their offerings completely.
They were making a good, comfortable living in the ministry,
and they didn’t want to rock the boat.
And that love of ease, and fear of confrontation, and desire for status quo
eventually affected their view of the office, the power of their preaching as well.
I can’t tell you how close this cuts to the bone. Malachi nails it.
Understands the ministerial mindset, typical weaknesses of ministerial personality.
See, Malachi doesn’t challenge their doctrine.
The priests in Malachi’s time were theologically sound.
All the bad old idolatry of the priesthood before the Babylonian captivity gone.
These priests knew the Bible, they knew the right doctrine.
But because of their fear, love of ease, and mostly their unwillingness to grasp
what was at stake spiritually, they were leading the church into spiritual decline.
Richard Baxter was one of the greatest 17th century Puritan pastors wrote:
“I am afraid, nay, I have no doubt, that the day is near when [many] ministers will wish that
they had never known the charge of souls; but that they had rather been coal miners, or
chimney sweeps, or tinkers, than pastors of Christ’s flock; when, besides all the rest of their
sins, they shall have the blood of so many souls to answer for.”
Pray for your pastors—not just for me—
I know you do, I feel power of your prayers.
But for me and other pastors you know—perhaps relatives in ministry,
pastors in other churches, old home churches, prominent pastors.
Pray that they would be preserved from these sins,
from this fear and love of ease and ineffectiveness.
That they would see the seriousness of their calling, and treat it that way.
Brings us to final point.
MP#3 The pastoral ministry is dependent upon the sons of the church.
Right in the middle of this indictment against the priests is a magnificent statement
about the ministry. Chapter 2, verses 4-7. Let me read it again.
“And you will know that I have sent you this admonition so that my covenant with Levi may continue,” says the LORD Almighty. “My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin. For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction—because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty.”
Malachi says the Lord has made a covenant with the tribe of Levi,
he has made a covenant of life and peace with the tribe of pastors and ministers.
What is a covenant? A covenant is a personal and formal relationship.
It’s personal, it’s an intimate, close connection between people.
And it’s formal, there are vows, promises, and responsibilities that the people
in the covenant make with each other, and there are witnesses and ceremonies
that recognize and affirm this relationship and these promises.
Marriage is a covenant. It’s a personal and formal relationship.
A man and a woman are intimately, personally, lovingly connected.
But marriage is more than just a personal relationship.
If two people shack up, it’s not marriage, no matter how much love each other. , Because marriage is also a formal relationship.
There are vows, duties, responsibilities—sealed by witnesses and ceremonies.
Promises of blessing for faithfulness, warnings of sorrow for broken vows.
The Lord says that he has made a covenant with Levi.
And in this covenant the Lord says:
Listen ministers, if you revere me, if you stand in awe of my name,
if you walk before me in peace and uprightness
then this is what I promise to do for you and through you.
Your lips will speak truth, your mouth will give instruction—
You will by my messenger of salvation, and you will turn many people from sin.
In other words, I will give you the awesome privilege of being used as a special
instrument of my grace for the people I love, my chosen ones,
my beloved son Jacob.
What a great and awesome calling.
But there is one more aspect of the covenant that is of crucial importance.
And that is that when God makes covenants with his people, they are generational.
God delights in pouring out his grace on generations.
He said to Abraham, I will be your God, and the God of children after you.
The promise is for you and for your children.
And it’s the same with his covenant with Levi.
It was a covenant with a man, Jacob’s third son, Levi—
but also with a tribe, all of his descendants who serve the church this way.
Where does the tribe of Levi come from? Where do ministers come from?
From the next generation. From the sons of the church.
Listen, the only way there will be men in the pulpits of the church,
proclaiming the truth, leading God’s people with reverence and awe,
turning many from sin, is if there are boys in the church who grow up
and become pastors—who by training and vows come into the tribe of Levi.
And it is often the case that revival in the church and the calling of young men to
ministry go hand in hand. I don’t have time to give examples but there are many.
And on the other hand, when generations of church members pass with very few
young men going into the ministry, good candidates choosing other work—
then usually, the spiritual climate of the church is in decline.
So this is my last application:
If you are the parents of sons, you should think seriously about the possibility
of the Lord calling your son to the ministry.
If you see in him a love an interest in the church, a love for worship,
a love for the Bible. If you think he has the temperament and diligence—
cultivate those things. Do your best to train him, encourage interests.
The Lord is the one who calls, affirms callings. Can’t push son there if not called.
But on the other hand, a sense of calling can be delicate, needs to be nurtured.
Talk about it: Have you ever thought about being a minister?
And you young men, there are many things you might do with your life.
Many ways besides the ministry to serve God and people and use your talents.
But there is no calling more vitally connected to the health of the church,
and the eternal welfare of the people he loves than the ministry.
You may say: No way, that’s a scary thought, me a minister.
And parents, you may think, we don’t want a preacher in the family.
But remember, God had only one Son, and he made him a pastor.