Is it really worth it to follow Jesus? I mean, what difference does it really make? Would it not be better to hold some of the same beliefs, but just be less committed. You know a private Christian. Perhaps you could come to church at Christmas and Easter, but not really get involved: stay on the fringes. That kind of Christianity is at least considered respectable in many ways: Church for weddings, funerals and the like, but not fanatical; not obsessed by it; not really committed to a church, but just to private beliefs.
Perhaps I’m describing you, and you like it that way! You know that you don’t want to get sucked into the life of a church. You have enough to worry about without adding church to your list. And surely it wouldn’t make that much difference, would it?
It certainly makes a difference in all kinds of ways that are not particularly pleasant. I mean, there is certainly little public respect any more for being a Christian – particularly outside of Anglicanism.
So, why would anyone want to actually give their lives to the service of the Lord?
Does it really make any difference at all – it doesn’t sem to, does it?
Does it make any diference to anything that matters. Let’s face it: if we think of those marriage promises, “for better for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer” those who are committed to the Lord certainly don’t seem to be any richer or any healthier than those who aren’t are they… and isn’t it a matter of opinion whether they are any better off at all? Certainly some of the people who appear kindest and most loving people that I know are not Christians.
What difference does it really make?
What difference do you expect it to make… What do you expect from God?
There are those who would call themselves Christians who suggest that that is exactly what all Christians should expect…
John Wimber Power healing quote.
But it is not just those with little faith that suffer much. Often the most godly seem to suffer the most. It is those who speak up most for Christ who are most persecuted. It is seems to often be those who are most caring towards others who quietly suffer physically.
What then are we to do? Are we to be resigned to the fact that it is not worth it to serve the Lord, and retreat to a half-hearted faith at best? Or can we find true motivation for wholehearted and joyful service of the Lord?
It is not a new question.
450 years before Jesus came there were those asking exactly that question: it didn’t seem to be worth it: but Malachi reports not only their complaint, but also more than sufficient motivation to recognize that the Lord is indeed worth serving with all our heart and soul and mind and strength; far more in fact than if all was at stake were health, wealth and worldly happiness.
Seek a new solidarity (3:13-16)
Celebrate a new service (3:17-18)
See a new separation (4:1-4)
Seize a new certainty (4:5-6)
Seek a new solidarity (3:13-15)
13 “Your words have been hard (niv harsh[MPGS1] ) against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ 14 You have said, ‘It is vain [MPGS2] to serve [MPGS3] God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning [MPGS4] before [MPGS5] the Lord of hosts? 15 And now we call the arrogant[MPGS6] blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test [MPGS7] and they escape.’”
16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The[MPGS8] Lord paid attention [MPGS9] and heard them, and a book (niv scroll) of remembrance [MPGS10] was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.
The people who came back from exile knew their history. They knew that on the day that the Lord brought Israel out of slavery, it made a huge difference in this life whether or not people were faithful.
A whole generation had died in the wilderness because they had not put their trust in the Lord’s ability to bring them into the promised land.
On the day when they made an idol of a golden calf, 3000 died. When they had worshipped Baal at Peor, 24000 died from a plague.
By contrast, when the people trusted the Lord, he was with them in remarkable ways. He had brought them out of Egypt with 10 extraordinary miracles. He had parted the Red Sea for them. He had provided food from the sky and water from a rock. On one day the sun stood still miraculously until they achieved victory over an enemy.
A generation ago he had brought them back out of exile, though many of the unfaithful had either died or been scattered.
But now; now, it seemed to make so little difference. God didn’t reign down judgements on the ungodly; and he didn’t seem to bless the godly.
So, what was the point?
Well, the point was that the Lord had not changed: there was sufficient motivation for them to serve the Lord, and that was the Lord himself. He was worth serving.
And part of what they needed was just to have a group of people who would encourage each other: “Yes, the Lord does seem to be working in ways htat we don’t understand. But he is the same Lord. He is still worth serving!” Why should we doubt him, just because he isn’t doing what we want… surely his plans must be better than our desires!
And so they were effectively renewing the covenant that the Lord had made with them at Sinai… or Horeb as it was called in that other great covenant renewal that had taken place in Deuteronomy.
Like a married couple whose marriage had gone stale, they reminded themselves of how great the Lord was and that he was worth serving.
If you are not a Christian, who do you gather around you to tell you what to think? You don’t let anyone tell you what to think, I assume… in what sense are you a product of your culture, and other influences?
Who do you listen to? What are your major influences?
The BBC? Wikipedia?
Who do you trust to tell you the meaning of life? Your life is in their hands.How do you know they are trustworthy?
If you are a Christian, who do you listen to?
Accountability relationships… what is the area of your life where you are most likely to ast as if it is not worth serving the Lord. Your marriage? Your workplace? Your thoughtlife? Your prayerlife? Who knows about it? Who have you gathered around you to encourage you and hold you accountable?
If you are a child, do you realise that as you grow, you are hearing more and more voices, and not all of them have the same understanding of the world. Some voices are trying to sell you things that you don’t really need… what that toy you hadn’t even heard of, but as soon as you saw the advert, you thought that you NEED it… you don’t. I hope you have friends who are not Christians: but who is being more an influence on what you are living for: you on them, or them on you?
I hope that more and more we should be a church where we are such an encouragement to one another.
Baptists have particularly seen this as a central part of what it means to be a church; they have often had church covenants, summarizing the bible’s teaching on how we should live together as Christians, and encouraging one another to live in this way.
Let me read a section of such a covenant from a church I formerly belonged to.
“We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.We will walk together in brotherly love, as becomes the members of a Christian Church, exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonish and entreat one another as occasion may require.
We will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, nor neglect to pray for ourselves and others.
We will endeavor to bring up such as may at any time be under our care, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and by a pure and loving example to seek the salvation of our family and friends.
We will rejoice at each other’s happiness and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows.[i]
Pray for the elders of this church as we seek to lead this congregation to have such a covenant.
Married couples: Realise that you are to renew your covenant vows not just at your 25th wedding anniversary… but daily…
For them it was a temporary covenant that for the large part failed, for they fell away form recognising their absolute need for grace.
As a church, what does it mean for us to be those renewing our covenant with the Lord.
That is what we will do at the end of this service. The Lord’s supper is when we are reminded of the New covenant and its basis.
The function of the Lord’s supper as covenant renewal.
We are reminded that Christ is ultimate the one we are to gather around and listen to. We are reminded that we can only be heard by the Lord and accepted because of what Christ did.
In large part the renewal that came through those who gathered together in response to Malachi’s teaching was short lived.
There were for some centuries those who thought that they were carrying on the spirit of that group. They were determined that Moses’ law would indeed be upheld. But they left too little room for grace. They became a group that moved from encouraging obedience to trying to coerce others into obedience. In the end, that group, calling themselves the Pharisees would kill the one who would bring about the true fulfillment of all covenants.
Accountibility, and covenant renewal is only going to do us any good if we allow one another to speak God’s truth not just to our wills, but to our hearts; we cannot merely see obedience as a duty, but also as a delight.
2. Celebrate a new service (3:17-18)
17 “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession[MPGS11] , and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves [MPGS12] him. 18 Then once more you shall see [MPGS13] [MPGS14] the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.
The service the Lord requires of us is not the service of slaves, but of Sons.
The complaints had been wrong against the Lord, because they had thought that they were working for an immediate reward in the way that the hired worker wants his wages at the end of the week. But the Lord has a far greater service for his people. We are his children whose serve not for our wages, but because we have a share in the family business. And that business is all about displaying the glory of the Lord.
We serve not so that we can accumulate possessions on earth as our reward from the lord, we serve, because , as the Lord himself says in verse 17, being his treasured possession is our reward.
Think about heaven. What are you most looking forward to? The golden streets? Wondering what the fruit of the tree of life might taste like? Or being united to Christ? Can you imagine heaven without Christ there.
“If you could go to heaven; have spectacular sunsets, no more disease, no more depression, all the friends that have gone before you, all the toys that you’ve ever wanted and Jesus not be there, would that be OK? My fear is that many in our churches are saved on that basis. They love what Jesus has to offer. Hell is hot – no-one wants to go there. Guilt is a bad experience, so I would like not to have guilt feelings, so if he could help with that that would be fine. I’d like marriage to go better and the kids not to play up. And if Jesus can do that for me bring it on. And you don’t have to be born again to want that. You just have to be born again to want Jesus.
There was a sense in which the whole Old Testament people of God were YHWH’s son. (Hosea 11).
But this section shows us that there would be division. A division between those who were sons only in name, and those who bore the family resemblance, because they longed to love and serve their father.
BUT in the New Testament we are all truly sons.
Do you see Christians as those slaving away for the Lord? Or as those who have found a new freedom. It is the service of the family business, not the service of the hired worker.
The most incredible thing is that our service would even be considered worthy of such a Lord. If we were only servants it would not be.
“I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him”
If you have a hired worker, if they don’t do the job right, they can do it again, or get no pay.
we are having some work done in the manse at the moment. The workmen are excellent. But if they were not, we’d ensure that the job was done in the way that they were contracted to before they’d get paid.
Is that how you think the Lord treats our service of him: sorry it’s not good enough – do it again. He would be right to do that. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords for he made the earth and everything that is in it. He deserves total and perfect service. But he spares us that; he takes delight in our feeble, mixed motives, flawed service. He is treats us as his children; his attitude to our service is like the mother who sits patiently with her 4 year old and listens to him try to read his first book. The words are very simple, yet th four year old stumbles over them, confusing his b’s and d’s. and yet there is delight on her face with every attempt that is being made, for she is treating him like her son.
How can the Great Lord accept such second-rate service?
Do you fear that your service will be unacceptable to the Lord, so you shrink back from serving? NO! it is by God’s mercy that your service is acceptable.
It is only if we are in Christ, who has already fully served the Lord on our behalf. We are not serving to earn his favour, it is because those who trust in Christ fully have his favor already that we are freed to serve him. So great a service is due such a great king, that the best of our good deeds have enough sin in them to send us to hell forever. Yet our flawed obedience is acceptable to our loving heavenly Father, because Christ has already paid the price for all the sin in it.
John calvin said of this verse:
We now see how these two things harmonise - that reward is promised to works, and that works themselves deserve nothing before God; for though God can justly reject them, he yet regards them as acceptable, because he forgives all their defects.[ii]
Because of Christ, every single joule of energy spent in service of the Lord is not wasted. It is not in vain! It is acceptable to the Lord as perfected by Christ.
Then, my brothers and sisters, our service of the Lord can indeed be not only a duty, but a delight, when we know that, because of Christ, he is delighted in us.
If you are not a Christian, the Lord is inviting you this morning to become his child.
You cannot come through you effort; but you can come through Christ’s. this is where the Pharisees got it so wrong. They thought that by keep hundred of rules the Lord would accept them as sons,and they failed to recognize that they could only be Sons by trusting in God’s one and only Son.
Who are you serving today? Your career? Your marriage? Your real estate? Have any of them truly blessed you in the way that you hoped they might as you began with them. They are a blessing from the Lord; but they are not ultimate – they are gifts from him to point to him.
They will possess you, or the Lord will have you as His treasured possession.
See a new separation (4:1-4)
4:1  “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven (furnace), when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.
The fact that there seems so little difference between the lot of the righteous and the wicked is, says the Lord, only a matter of time.
One day the difference could not be clearer or more stark.
Every good thing that we have in this world will be gone, if we do not have the one good thing that we all need.
The Lord will hold us all to account.
And then, only that which has been in the service of the Lord will remain. The rest will be burned up.
Then those who have feared the Lord will have nothing else to fear. For when they see him it will be their joy.
The very coming that for those who seemed to have everything is a day of weeping, for hose who seemed to have so little, but had Christ, will be a day of new freedom.
That day has already dawned.
It approached on that first Christmas, when the Sun of Righteousness himself was born.
It dawned as he died and rose from the dead.
It will reach its noonday strength when he returns, and every eye shall see him.
What will that day be for you?
A day of joy completed, even as Christmas is joy begun; or a day or joy ended, even as this world will be passing away?
Do you fear the Lord?
Perhaps you think it almost impertinent of me to ask you if you are ready for that day. Perhaps you think it is just a very private matter, that shouldn’t really be talked about too much in public, and you wish we could just get onto the next carol!
But it cannot be merely private. Faith is deepy personal, but not private; for it anticipates this most public of days; the day where every eye will see the Lord jesus in his return, and in his light, everything else will be revealed. He is the Sun of Righteousness. Perhaps today we feel we can hide from him. We will not be able to on that day. But today, he calls us not to hide from him, but to bask in his light, that we might welcome him with joy when he returns.
Will he really?
Perhaps our last reason for wondering if it is all worth it, is the question of whether that day will really ever come.
Seize a new certainty (4:5-6)
5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” 
For the original hearers Moses was to look back, Elijah was to look forward. For us, both are looking back. John the Baptist was the one who was to prepare the people for the first coming of jesus.
Who will prepare you for the second coming?
The second Advent of Christ is as certain as the first.
Perhaps you doubt it…
No, there is no doubt that Jesus will return. There is no doubt as to his verdict. It is as certain as the fact that he has already come.
What will Christmas mean to you this year?
Will it be for you a grasping at your own past? An attempt to recapture something of the magical feeling that you remember as a child? Will it be ablout trying to generate that feeling for your children?
Or will your Christmas be a time of great joy, for you rest in the certain assurance that when the Son of Righteousness returns in his full strength he will be meeting you as his treasured possession.
[i] Capitol hill Baptist church covenant. http://www.capitolhillbaptist.org/we-are/governed/covenant/
[ii] John Calvin, commentary on Malachi 3:18.