We are now half-way through the 2018 College Football Year. I’ve already moved on to basketball. In my opinion, this year’s football season has been boring. Nobody’s beating Alabama and Tennessee ain’t beatin’ nobody. So, go ahead and give the trophy to the Tide, enjoy the World Series, plan your Super Bowl party, and get ready for March Madness. Oh, and GO PREDATORS! And, GO GRIZZLIES! In the South, College Football is a religion and only heretics would give up on the season. I guess I will keep watching.
College Football brings out the best, and worst, in people. Every team has a fan base that ranges from apathetic to fanatical. What kind of College Football fan are you? According to a recent article on the website, “bleacherreport.com” there are five different kinds of fans:
- The Savage Fan: This type of fan loses “all sense of morals and civility once the opening kick is underway.” Alcohol does nothing to temper their savagery.
- The Fair-Weather Fan: Also known as a “band-wagon” fan, this fan only cheers for his or her team when they are winning. Also, every year or so this type of fan has a new “favorite team” they have “always liked.”
- The Dedicated Fan: This type of fan bleeds the colors of their team. Game Day is more important than spouse’s birthday, anniversaries, or their own children’s weddings. “Personal insults do not get to these fans. Call them every name in the book and insult their wives, but when you talk trash about their team, all bets are off. They will defend their team until the end.”
- The Downer Fan: This type of fan does not “cheer, shout, or show any form of emotion.” They sit quietly and think you should as well. The only reason you know this person is a fan is because of the shirt they wear with their team’s name or logo on it.
- The Attention Seeker Fan: This fan goes over the top in what they wear to the games. “Wigs, overalls, full-body suits, painted bodies/faces, etc. all necessities…” These fans do play important roles because their enthusiasm pumps up the crowd.
The Prophet Malachi
We have come to the end of our study through Malachi. Today’s text (Malachi 3:13-4:6) is his seventh, and final, sermon. At times, Malachi’s words have been harsh. His main audience is not just the people of God, but the leaders of the people of God. His words have not been easy to hear. He has criticized their worship practices, their sacrifices, the commitment, their giving, and their tolerance of injustice. He has continually called them to repentance. Over the past several years I have been drawn to the Old Testament prophets, especially what we refer to as the “Minor Prophets” (because their books are shorter than the “Major Prophets”). I believe their words are as relevant to our spiritual conditions as a country today as they were when they first prophesied. Malachi’s last sermon is no different.
The opening illustration asked, “What kind of football fan are you?” Malachi’s final sermon begs the question, “What kind of God-follower are you?” Malachi’s final sermon begins, “‘You have said harsh things against me,’ says the LORD” (Malachi 3:13a). Can you imagine the audacity of the people? How dare they speak evil of God! Yet, how often do we do the same thing. You say, “Wait a minute pastor. When have we spoken against God?” That’s a good question, and it exactly the question the people in Malachi asked, “Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’” (Malachi 3:13b).
Three things stand out about this verse, based on all that has gone on before in Malachi’s prophecy: First, the people are self-deceived. They don’t remember doing anything wrong. Second, they doubt God’s words. God continually makes statements against them and they continually deny God’s accusation by asking questions. Third, they refuse to change their ways. God calls them to repentance, but they continue to make the same mistakes.
The people (remember, these are people who claim to follow God), can’t imagine anything they have said to upset God, so God reminds them, “‘You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty?” (Malachi 3:14). WOW! Can you believe that? Did you catch what Malachi says? The harshest thing you can say against God is that it is a waste of time to serve God! It’s a waste of time to worship God, to give to God, to serve others, to take care of the poor, the orphan, the immigrant, and the widow, to fight against injustice. It must break God’s heart when we say there are things more beneficial, and more profitable, then serving Him! The only way a person can reach this conclusion is when their religion becomes self-centered (“What’s in it for me?”), instead of God-centered (“What more can I do for Him?”).
Not only have they said following God is a waste of time, they continue, “But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape” (Malachi 3:15). Have you ever looked around at you own struggles and then looked around at other people’s care-free life and thought to yourself, “Why am I struggling, trying to do what is right, trying to be a good person and follow God and not getting anything while that other person is living like the devil and getting everything?” If you have, be careful, you may be guilty of saying “harsh things” against God. In these two verses we learn that the people were mad at God and envious of evildoers. That’s borderline blasphemy!
This morning’s question is not, “What kind of football fan are you?” Rather, the question is, “What kind of God-follower are you?” Thus far, from Malachi, we see the first type of God-follower, and that is a critical God-follower. A critical God-follower follows God while complaining the whole time. This type of follower criticizes everyone and complains about everything. There is no pleasing this person. This type of person jumps from church to church to church and finds fault in every church without realizing the one common denominator in all the churches they visit and attend is their presence. A critical God-follower served God only after asking the question, “What’s in it for me?” Their faith is self-serving, and God condemns that type of faith.
What kind of God-follower are you? A second kind is a fearful God-follower. Notice what Malachi says next. “Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard” (Malachi 3:16a). The bible clearly teaches we are to fear the Lord. Proverbs states, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge…” (Proverbs 1:7). God, through Malachi, is commending the people who respectfully fear Him. People who fear the Lord, gather with other believers who fear the Lord and talk and pray and encourage each other; and God hears them. What a wonderful promise!
Those who fear the Lord also remind themselves of all God has done for them in the past, and God honors their remembrance by remembering them as well. Listen to Malachi, “A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name” (Malachi 3:16b). Another wonderful promise!
Malachi continues, “‘They will be mine,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not’” (Malachi 3:17-18). When God’s judgement comes, those who fear the Lord will be safe and secure. A third, wonderful promise!
A fearful God-follower serves God out of duty and God honors him/her by surrounding them with people who pray with them and encourage them. He honors him/her by remembering him/her and by keeping them safe and secure when judgement comes.
What kind of God-follower are you?
The final words of Malachi are about the coming Day of the Lord, a day of judgment. Malachi writes, “‘Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘Not a root or a branch will be left to them’” (Malachi 4:1). One reason we should fear the Lord is because He is a just God and will one day judge the world.
What kind of God-follower are you?
So far Malachi has mentioned two types of God-followers: (1) A critical God-follower. (2) A fearful God-follower. Next, Malachi mentions a third type. He writes, “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,’ says the LORD Almighty” (Malachi 4:2-3). A third type of God-follower is a reverential God-follower. This is the ultimate God-follower! This person will experience the new heaven and the new earth when Christ returns. When Jesus returns, it will be like the sun rising, bringing healing wherever its rays shine. Reverential God-followers will rejoice like a calf set-free, and will be victorious over all wickedness. What a day that will be! A reverential God-follower serves out of love and God rewards him/her.
God concludes His message through Malachi by reminding the people He will never judge without first warning people and sending prophets to prepare people for His coming judgement. Why does He do this? Because He is a merciful God, full of grace.
Listen to Malachi, “‘Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6). The God we follow is a God of judgement, but His judgement is full of mercy and grace.
I find it interesting that the theme of Malachi’s final sermon is judgement. Yet, it begins with followers questioning if following God is worth it and envying evil doers, but ends with the promise of safety and security for those who truly follow God. It’s as if God is saying, “Don’t listen to what others are saying and don’t be deceived by what you think others are experiencing.” Following God will be worth it! Evildoers will be judged! Keep on keeping on.
What kind of God-follower are you?
Are you a critical God-follower?
Are you a fearful God-follower?
Are you a reverential God-follower?
I began this sermon with a football illustration. In honor of the baseball playoffs, let me end with a baseball illustration.
An umpire named Babe Pinelli once called Babe Ruth out on strikes. When the crowd booed with sharp disapproval at the call, the legendary Ruth turned to the umpire with disdain and said, “There’s 40,000 people here who know that the last pitch was a ball.”
Suspecting that the umpire would erupt with anger, the coaches and players braced themselves for Ruth’s ejection.
However, the cool headed Pinelli replied, “Maybe so, Babe, but mine is the only opinion that counts.” In the end, the only opinion that matters about what kind of followers we are, is God’s.