Honor Thy Majestic Father
"A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?" says the LORD Almighty. "It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name. But you ask, 'How have we shown contempt for your name?' You place defiled food on my altar. But you ask, 'How have we defiled you?' By saying that the LORD's table is contemptible. When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?" says the LORD Almighty. "Now implore God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?"—says the LORD Almighty. "Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you," says the LORD Almighty, "and I will accept no offering from your hands. My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations," says the LORD Almighty. "But you profane it by saying of the Lord's table, 'It is defiled,' and of its food, 'It is contemptible.' And you say, 'What a burden!' and you sniff at it contemptuously," says the LORD Almighty. "When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?" says the LORD. "Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king," says the LORD Almighty, "and my name is to be feared among the nations."
We are going to spend two weeks on this text. Next week we will focus on the curse of careless worship, and ponder what the priests were doing here that so offended God and what we can do today to avoid that same curse.
The Main Point of the Text
But today we focus on what I think is the main point of the text. I would state it like this:
Those who know God as Father should honor their majestic Father.
This is the main burden of the text. The attitude and the actions of the priests in their ministry is a dishonor to God. Verse 6:
"A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name."
And so this morning God aims in this text to brand this truth into our minds so that it stays with us and marks us off from the other herds of the world. Those who know God as Father should honor their majestic Father. "If I am a father, where is my honor? says the Lord of hosts."
Two Kinds of Responses to God's Fatherhood
When God reveals himself to us as Father, when he calls us to himself and adopts us into his family through faith in Christ, and gives us the Spirit of adoption, what does he intend for us to feel? What kind of response to his fatherhood does he want us to have?
I think the answer is that there are two kinds of responses that must always be kept together.
- He means for us to have a childlike reverence for his age and
strength and wisdom and authority, and for simply being the source
from which we came and on which we depend minute by minute. We
should revere him and honor him as our Father.
- He means for us to have a childlike security and peace in his pity and his provision and care for us.
The Emphasis Today
I think that probably the emphasis today is very different than it was 200 years ago. If you ask a typical evangelical Christian today what the fatherhood of God means to them, they would probably almost all say, "It means that he loves me, that he will take care of me and guide me and forgive me and take me home to live with him forever some day." And this would be true—wonderfully true!
And nothing that I say this morning is intended to lessen the preciousness of that truth. In fact everything I say is intended to deepen and sweeten and secure that truth.
But is it not striking that the most famous of all biblical commands relating to child and father is surely the fifth commandment? Exodus 20:12, "Honor your father and your mother." And yet very few people today would say that the fatherhood of God implies to them that God is to be honored and revered and venerated and held in sacred respect.
The Contemporary Ideal of Human Fatherhood
I wonder why this is the case. I suspect that part of the reason is that for some decades now the ideal of human fatherhood in our society has not been a godly man whose leadership and authority and wisdom and strength wins the respect and reverence of his children? Rather it seems that we have been so intent on correcting the specter of authoritarianism, and aloofness, and abusiveness that we have lost the central biblical dimension of fatherhood, implied in the fifth commandment, "Honor your father!" Which also implies, "Fathers, be worthy of the honor of your children! Be the kind of father who calls forth from your children not only a playful affection, but also a deferential respect and honor."
The Contemporary Ideal of Childlikeness
The other side of this coin is that the ideal of childlikeness in relation to a father has not included a very heavy emphasis on reverence and respect in our era. Three hundred years ago when Thomas Watson wrote his commentary on the Westminster Catechism, things were very different. He asked, "How are children to show honor to their parents?" And he answered, with a wealth of biblical texts, "By a reverential esteem of their persons . . . Inwardly, by fear mixed with love . . . Outwardly, both in word and gesture."
This is not the atmosphere that we breathe today. "Reverential esteem" is not typically demanded by parents or given by children. Whether this is the cause or the result of our lopsided view of the fatherhood of God, I'm not sure. I suspect that it works both ways: the less we emphasize the need for children to reverence their human fathers, the less God's fatherhood will trigger our reverence; and the less God's fatherhood wakens our reverence and honor, the less we will make that part of the human ideal of fatherhood.
A Balancing Corrective
However you perceive the present state of things with regard to children and fathers today, I hope that you will recognize with me that this text in Malachi 1:6 is a balancing corrective for those who see the fatherhood of God merely in terms of his approachability and care and condescension. The fatherhood of God is brought in to humble the priests, to frighten the priests because they are despising their father's name. They are treating his altar as something trivial and contemptible. The fatherhood of God in this text is not for comfort or security.
"If I am a father, where is my honor!"
The clear teaching of a verse like this is that the majestic fatherhood of God implies a sacred duty—that his children should honor him and respect him and pay to him reverential esteem.
Malachi Helps Us Feel Our Father's Majesty
I want to show you three of the ways that Malachi helps us feel the majesty of our heavenly Father in this passage of Scripture. He begins the paragraph in verse 6 by showing us that God is our Father, and then devotes the rest of the text to showing the utter inconsistency between having God as Father and treating him the way the priests were treating him.
But notice: the inconsistency that Malachi points out is not that they should show more gratitude to a Father who cares for them. That is certainly true. But Malachi's point is that they should show more honor to a Father who is so majestic in authority and self-sufficiency and universality. Let's look at those three things.
1. By Calling Him the LORD of Hosts
The first thing Malachi does to help us feel the majesty of our Father in this text is to use a special name for him again and again. Eight times in these nine verses (24 times in the whole book) God is called "the LORD of hosts."
- Verse 6, "And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts."
- Verse 8, "Will he be pleased with you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts."
- Verse 9, "Will he show favor to any of you? says the LORD of hosts."
- Verse 10, "I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts."
- Verse 11, "My name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts."
- Verse 13, "'What a weariness this is,' you say, and you sniff at it, says the LORD of hosts."
- Verse 13, "Shall I accept that from your hand? says the LORD of hosts."
- Verse 14, "I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts."
"Hosts" means great numbers of armies or angels or stars. So what Malachi wants us to see and feel is that our Father in heaven has infinite authority in the universe. He can wield any and all armies on the earth to accomplish his purposes among the nations, whether they know it or not. He has myriads of unstoppable angels who do his bidding flawlessly and never fail in their errands. And he has appointed every star in the universe its position. He holds them in place—all trillion trillion of them—and calls them all by name.
And on the altar of this Father the priests are offering animals with mange and broken legs!!
2. By Showing That God Needs No Sacrifices
Second, Malachi helps us feel the majesty of our Father by showing that he does not need these mangy sacrifices, or any others! Our ancient Father is not dependent on the Social-Security payments of the priests.
This comes out in verse 10: "Oh, that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire upon my altar in vain!" In other words, "Close the temple. I don't want the smell of your sacrifices. I don't need the food of your sacrifices." This is the majesty of God's universal ownership of all things and his freedom and independence from all creation.
Psalm 50:9–12 puts it like this:
I will accept no bull from your house,
nor he-goat from your folds.
For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the air,
and all that moves in the field is mine.
If I were hungry, I would not tell you;
for the world and all that is in it is mine.
Or as Paul says in Acts 17:25, "He is not served by human hands as though he needed anything, for he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything."
Our majestic Father owns every square foot of Minneapolis. He has creator rights to every lake shore lot in Minnesota. This land is his land. From California to the New York Island. From the Red Wood forests to the Gulf Steam waters, this land was made for God and for his Name.
And on the altar of this majestic Father the priests are offering animals with mange and broken legs!!
3. By Showing Us That God Will Be Honored by All
Finally, Malachi helps us feel the majesty of our Father by showing us that some day his authority and his ownership will be honored among every people and in every place.
Verse 11 is one of the most amazing and exciting promises in the Old Testament. The RSV uses present tense verbs. But in the Hebrew there aren't any verbs except one participle that can be either present or future. Surely the KJV and NASB and NIV are right to see a prophecy here and to use the future tense, since God's NAME is not yet great among the nations.
From the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.
In other words Malachi says to the priests: the name of your Father which you dishonor with sick sheep and mangy goats—that name is one day going to be reverenced and held in highest esteem by every nation of the world and in every place on the earth.
Should you not then honor your majestic Father?
Now let me close by applying this lesson in two ways.
1. An Application to Human Fathers
First, there is an application to us as human fathers, namely, that we should represent, alongside our wives, a standard of truth and righteousness and authority and trustworthiness and tenderness and condescension that will demand and win from our children both reverential esteem and tender affection.
When I have the chance to sit with Noël and my four sons on Sunday night in one of these pews, there are two kinds of things that I want to happen. I want my littlest ones to clamber to sit in my lap. I like a four-year-old head against my chest with a chubby ink-stained hand reaching up to rub my cheek. Without that tender affection between me and my sons I would be a failure as a biblical father.
But the other thing I want as we sit there in the pew is this. If one of my sons is misbehaving (I wish it didn't happen, but we all know better), I want one severe glance from my face to strike fear into their heart and bring them under control.
The happiest and holiest children in the world are the children whose fathers succeed in winning both their tender affection and their reverential and loving fear. And they are the children who will come to understand most easily the mystery of the fatherhood of God.
2. An Application to Our Relationship with God
Which leads me to the second application, namely, that in our relationship to God we should always mingle feelings of reverence and fear and awe on the hand with feelings of security and tenderness and friendship on the other hand.
One of the most remarkable things that I have been discovering recently is that these two dimensions of our relationship to God are not only kept together in Scripture; but in fact the proper experience of the one is made dependent on the other.
For example, Psalm 25:14 says, "The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him." But doesn't friendship cast out fear? Yes. It casts out cowering fear. Paralyzing fear. Hate-engendering fear. Guilt-laden fear. But not reverential fear. The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him.
Another example is Isaiah 66:2, "This is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word." Do we want the face of the Lord to shine upon us? Do we want him to lift up his countenance upon us and smile with warmth and tenderness? The Lord says in this verse, "This is the person upon whom I will smile, the one who trembles at my word." His friendship is for those who fear, and his countenance is for those who tremble.
One last illustration from Psalm 103:13, "As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear him."
Who will discover and know the pity of God? Who will rest in his mercy—and I would go so far as to ask, Who will frolic in the ocean of God's compassion? Those who bow with reverential fear, and honor their majestic Father.
There is no contradiction here—unless it be the contradiction of our own hearts, rebelling against the mercy or the majesty of our heavenly Father. May that rebellion be overcome in all our hearts. For surely the experience that God holds out to us this morning is the deepest, most satisfying relationship in the world.
A Closing Prayer
That we not be cowering or dumbfounded or paralyzed in the presence of our merciful Father; nor that we be flippant or careless or trifling or presumptuous in the presence of our majestic Father. But rather that we discover in the power of the Holy Spirit the mystery of godliness:
- a bold brokenness,
- a reverential relaxation,
- a fearing familiarity,
- a trembling tenderness,
- an affectionate awe.
Almighty God, and Heavenly Father, how the world needs Christians like this! How our children need parents like this! How your fullness would be glorified in a church like this! Make us a people like this! For you are the LORD of hosts, the owner of all things, a great King for all the nations, through Jesus Christ. Amen.