Offal Leaders

Scripture Focus: Malachi 2.3-4, 9
3 “Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will smear on your faces the dung from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it. 4 And you will know that I have sent you this warning so that my covenant with Levi may continue,” says the Lord Almighty.

9 “So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law.” 

Reflection: Offal Leaders
By John Tillman

In their commissioning, priests had the blood of the sacrifices daubed on their ears, hands, and feet to represent their holiness. This marking of symbolic purity qualified them to speak for God, work for God, and lead the people.

Malachi describes a de-commissioning of unfaithful priests. Instead of blood that represented purity and life, the unclean feces from the animal would be smeared on their faces, representing impurity and death.

Normally this fecal matter, along with the skin and any other part of the animal not eaten or offered as a sacrifice would be carried to a location outside the community to be burned. In Malachi’s vision, the priests who dishonor God will be carried off with this offal.

God instituted the priesthood as a way of blessing the people. It was part of God’s fulfillment of his promise to bless the entire world through Abraham. For these priests, however, their part in that blessing was over. God even promised to reverse the priests’ blessings to curses.

However, there is still hope in Malachi’s vision. The disgusting image of the feces-smeared priests does not mean God is canceling the priesthood or the Temple or his mission to bless the nations. He’s just removing the sinful, the prideful, the corrupt, and the abusers of his people. God removes these priests so “that my covenant with Levi may continue.” 

In every age, not just the time of Malachi, God is displeased with spiritual leaders who misrepresent him. God promises to bring dishonor on leaders who bring dishonor on his name. However, God’s plan to bless the nations won’t be derailed by spiritual leaders who fail. 

We can make two mistakes when we are confronted with revelations of sin and corruption in spiritual leaders. One is to continue following/supporting these leaders. God smeared their faces with offal, but some keep trying to wipe it off and pretend nothing is wrong. Anyone can be forgiven. Not everyone can be reinstated. (Luke 12.48; James 3.1)

A second is to abandon faith in God because we lose faith in humans. God’s holiness is the reason these leaders are disgraced. We do not have to allow these “offal-smeared” leaders to cause us to stumble and abandon faith.

Rather than destroying everything, God’s purpose is to restore everything. Despite our shock at the removal of leaders, God’s covenant of life and peace through our high priest, Jesus, can continue.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I am bound by the vow I made to you, O God; I will present to you thank-offerings;
For you have rescued my soul from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living. — Psalm 56.11-12

Today’s Readings
Malachi 2 (Listen – 3:12)
Matthew 13 (Listen – 7:23)

This Weekend’s Readings

Malachi 3 (Listen – 3:13), Matthew 14 (Listen – 4:14)
Malachi 4 (Listen – 1:06), Matthew 15 (Listen – 4:23)

Read more about Priests of Life and Peace
God’s purpose is not to end the priesthood. Instead, through Christ’s sacrifice, he instituted a new priesthood for all who follow Jesus.

Read more about The Branch and the Branches
There are multiple reboots of the priesthood. Joshua is just one of them. Zechariah has a vision of Joshua… as a “burning stick snatched from the fire.”

From Esau To Jacob

Scripture Focus: Malachi 1.2-3
2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord. 
“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ 
“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, 3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”

Matthew 12.48-50
48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” 

Romans 5.8
…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Reflection: From Esau To Jacob
By John Tillman

“Esau I have hated.”

We may wonder: Does God randomly hate people? Am I one of those arbitrarily hated by God?

It is normal to struggle with difficult passages, especially those that have been misused. For example, some passages in Malachi 1, including this one, have been twisted to support slavery. Those who did this surrendered to culture and profit and selfishness, all the while proclaiming themselves wise, biblical, and superior. May we not make similar mistakes.

It’s impossible in a 400-word devotional to unpack a difficult passage like this. I won’t attempt it. Let us simply meditate on a few details from scripture.

  1. “Esau” doesn’t mean the individual. God is using these names as collective nouns to speak to the descendants of these brothers, not the brothers themselves. We don’t do this much in our culture. The closest thing we might understand is using the name of a country’s leader to refer to actions of that nation. For example, “Volodymyr Zelensky” meaning Ukraine, or “Xi Jinping” meaning China.
  2. God’s “hatred” isn’t arbitrary. It refers to justice for Edom’s actions—what they collectively did and continued to do. Esau, the individual, while reconciled to his brother, enjoyed God’s blessing. His descendants continually opposed Israel throughout their history and came to represent, poetically, all people opposed to God and God’s people.
  3. God’s “hatred” is not absolute. Edomites are not arbitrarily cursed or hated throughout history or in totality. In many places, God implies hope for Edom. He shows he cares for them, gives them their own land, and commands that no Israelite should despise an Edomite. (Deuteronomy 2.1-8, 12; 23.7)
  4. This statement’s purpose is to show love, not hatred. God speaks poetically to reassure his people. He points to justice done on their behalf, which proves his love. To Micah’s readers, this justice was the downfall of “The Wicked Land” (Malachi 1.4) that harmed them.

We can be assured of God’s love and justice. We are not innocent. Yet, we are not hated. We are loved. This is demonstrated in Christ as God turns “Esaus” into “Jacobs.”

God loved us when we were like Esau—sinners, rebels, and persecutors. (Romans 5.8) All of us have been children of Esau, but by God’s grace, we can become children of Jacob and brothers and sisters of Christ (Matthew 12.50). Through Jesus, we cry “Abba, father,” (Romans 8.15; Galatians 4.6; Mark 14.36) for “Jacob, have I loved.” (Malachi 1.2)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living. — Psalm 116.8

Today’s Readings

Malachi 1 (Listen – 2:47)
Matthew 12 (Listen – 6:41)

Read more about Identity Lost, Identity Gained
God, our father, longs to bless us…No one who comes to him will need cry, “Do you have only one blessing, my father?”

Read more about Running to Forgive
In this moment, in a limited way, Esau demonstrates the welcome of the gospel. The wronged party shows undeserved mercy.

Beyond Secular Santa—Epiphany

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Peace,
John

Scripture Focus: Malachi 4.1-3
1 “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. 3 Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty. 

John 21.17-19
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” 

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” 

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” 

Reflection: Beyond Secular Santa—Epiphany
By John Tillman

Secular Santa is just the kind of god some people want. 

Santa talks a big game about rewarding the good and punishing the bad, but in the end no one ever gets coal. He’s kindly and jolly and sweet but ultimately meaningless because he never truly stands against evil. That’s fine if the worst “evil” you’ve experienced is pestering from your siblings in a happy suburban home. But for those who have experienced true evil, a winking, smiling expression of justice that never punishes anyone is unsatisfying.

Santa (as typically defined in westernized culture) is really just a god of self-gratification through whom we expect to have our desires and wants fulfilled by magic that comes without a price. Santa is the prosperity gospel version of Jesus. Be good and be blessed. Name it and claim it.

In Santa’s defense, even he has been dumbed down. Saint Nicholas was not a wishy-washy wish granter but a helper of the oppressed. He used wealth to free the enslaved and impoverished not to pile up possessions for the already rich. He is also remembered humorously for “punching heretics” after losing his temper and slapping Arius at the council of Nicea

Even “Santa” has deeper meaning for the mature. The point of “Santa” becomes not to get gifts but to give them. We become like Santa, a giver of gifts to others. When practiced properly, even secular Santa traditions point us to Christ, sanctification, and discipleship.

As much as we may desire trinkets and toys from a magical gift-giver, what we all truly desire at heart is justice. Our sin-sick souls echo the sighs of the earth, seeking restoration and release from the curse of Adam. That day is coming, Malachi assures us. The “sun of righteousness will rise” and evil will be crushed and burned. Jesus is coming to town. On that day, we’ll frolic and play in ways no scene of Christmas morning can compare to. 

In the meantime, we wait and work. Like Peter, we are called to maturity, to transition from a recipient of grace to a granter of it. For mature believers, we are to feed his sheep rather than ourselves. We are called to follow Jesus in every way possible. We must take up our cross rather than lay burdens on others. We must stretch out our hands to work and establish justice or die trying.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
And now I saw heaven open, and a white horse appear; its rider was called Trustworthy and True; in uprightness he judges and makes war. His eyes were flames of fire, and he was crowned with many coronets; the name written on him was known only to himself, his cloak was soaked in blood. He is known by the name, the Word of God. Behind him, dressed in linen of dazzling white, rode the armies of heaven on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword with which to strike at unbelievers; he is the one who will rule them with an iron scepter, and tread out the wine of the Almighty’s fierce retribution. On his cloak and on his thigh a name was written: King of kings and Lord of lords. — Revelation 19.11-16

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Malachi 4 (Listen -1:06) 
John 21 (Listen – 3:58)

New Year’s Day Readings
Genesis 1 (Listen -4:55) 
Matthew 1 (Listen – 3:29)

Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 2 (Listen -3:42) Matthew 2 (Listen – 3:18)
Genesis 3 (Listen -4:14) Matthew 3 (Listen – 2:17)

Read more about End of Year Giving and Supporting our work
Today is the last day to give this year! Don’t miss your chance in 2020 to support our 2021 content with a one-time or recurring gift.

Read more about Christmas is Upside Down :: Epiphany
Christ’s declaration in Nazareth must echo through each of us. The Spirit of the Lord that was upon him, longs to manifest himself in us.

Bearing Reproach—Epiphany

Scripture Focus: Malachi 3.1-5
1 I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty. 
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years. 
5 “So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.

John 20.17-20
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. 
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 

Reflection: Bearing Reproach—Epiphany
By John Tillman

“Don’t shoot the messenger” is a cliche based on the fact that messengers may be treated badly for faithfully stating the truth.

This is perhaps especially true of the Lord’s messengers. They are criticized and laughed at. Words like “crazy,” “out there,” “heretics,” “unrealistic,” and “mad,” are tossed around.

Malachi’s prophecy is often tied to John the Baptist. Jesus said that John was mocked for elements of his Nazarite vows. John was discounted as crazy by the religious establishment and was murdered by the government for his sexual ethic. (Matthew 11.18-19; Luke 7.33-34)

All four gospels (especially Mark and John) name Mary Magdalene as the first messenger of the gospel of the resurrection, (Matthew 28.1-10; Mark 16.9-10; Luke 24.5-11; John 20.11-18) yet she is disrespected both within the Bible and in church history.

Mary’s testimony, and that of the other women, is not believed and is referred to in a dismissive fashion, implying their report is considered unreliable. (Luke 24.22-24) In addition, Mary was falsely slandered centuries later by church leaders’ poor teaching. Three biblical women (none of whom are called a prostitute in scripture) were amalgamated into one false picture of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. (Who is Mary Magdalene?, by Mary Ann Beavis) 

John was dismissed as a madman and beheaded for his moral stance. Mary was slandered as a prostitute. Even the Magi, to whom Christ is revealed on Epiphany, were under threat by the angry king Herod, who, unable to reach them and desperate to kill Christ, slaughtered innocent children. 

We must not be surprised at our mistreatment as the Lord’s messengers, whatever form it takes. 

When Christ appeared to his disciples, he brought peace for us to share with the world. The next time he comes will be different. John the Baptist says Christ will wield an axe. Malachi promises fire and harsh, burning, launderer’s soap that will wash away the filth Malachi described in the previous chapter. 

May our offerings be brought in righteousness. May we testify of the gospel to sorcerers, adulterers, and perjurers. May we stand against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and who deprive foreigners of justice. 

By these things, we are the Lord’s messengers, preparing the way, carrying the gospel to all around us. We must be willing to bear any reproaches that come because of it. It is not we who are being attacked but the precious cargo we carry and the precious lives of those who are yet to be saved. 

Bearing the gospel will also mean bearing reproach.
May we be faithful in both.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. — Psalm 85.9

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Malachi 3 (Listen -3:13) 
John 20 (Listen – 4:17)

Read more about End of Year Giving and Supporting our work
Don’t miss your chance in 2020 to support our 2021 content with a one-time or recurring gift.

Read more about Truth Unwanted :: A Guided Prayer
As the world investigates Jesus in our lives, we can expect the same treatment that Jesus received.

Priests of Life and Peace

Scripture Focus: Malachi 2.5-7
5 “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. 6 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. 
7 “For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth.

John 19.35-36
35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” 37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” 

Reflection: Priests of Life and Peace
By John Tillman

From the moment of his birth to his death and resurrection, Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies concerning the awaited savior and faithful witnesses recorded these events.

Jesus proclaimed that the promise of a savior to come and a light to dawn in the darkness was fulfilled in himself. (Luke 4.17-21) He told the religious leaders that Moses wrote about him. (John 5.46-47) He gave Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus a walking masterclass about himself. (Luke 24.25-27, 32) He promised his disciples the Holy Spirit would teach them how all of scripture testified about him. Here in Malachi, we see some shadows that pointed toward the Christ to come. 

The Levites had a covenantal, priestly role. They were to be light to the people and the people were to be light to the nations. They were to have words of life (Malachi 2.5-7) on their tongues and in their teachings. But the Levites failed to honor God.

Their ministry was so corrupt that God set out to reverse their work. The God who had promised to “Bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you,” (Genesis 12.2-3) reversed course, telling the corrupt leaders that he will “curse their blessings.” (Malachi 2.1-2

God also promises to smear “dung” on their faces. This feces is from the skin, intestines, and waste of sacrificial animals. (Exodus 29.11-14; Leviticus 1.11-13) This waste would normally be carried out of the camp and burned. This is another reversal. In their commissioning, Levites had the blood of the sacrifices daubed on them to represent holiness. (Exodus 29.19-20) Their faces, smeared with feces rather than blood, graphically showed that they would be discarded and replaced.

God’s purpose is not to end the priesthood. Instead, through Christ’s sacrifice, he instituted a new priesthood for all who follow Jesus. (Genesis 14.18-20; Psalm 110.4; Hebrews 7)

As Christians and priests, may we maintain the new “covenant of life and peace” in Christ’s blood. 
May we “walk in peace and uprightness” so that our blessings may never be cursed by God.
May we be covered in the righteousness of Christ, not the dung of our own sins.
May the gospel of grace speed our feet toward the ends of the earth.
May acts of generosity and justice be wrought by our hands.
May words of life and light be on our lips.
May we be faithful witnesses of Christ, our high priest.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, and your faithfulness to the clouds. — Psalm 36.5

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Malachi 2 (Listen -3:12) 
John 19 (Listen – 6:23)

Read more about End of Year Giving and Supporting our work
Even a tiny seed may, when planted, produce a great harvest, and it only takes a small patch of grass to grow over and beautify a bare acre of earth.

Read more about Making Him Known :: A Guided Prayer
For the sake of your Name and the salvation of the nations, glorify your Son, Jesus Christ, through us no matter what we may suffer.