An Indictment of Worthless Worshipers (Mike Riccardi)

Malachi 1:6–14   |   Sunday, August 12, 2012   |   Code: 2012-08-12-MR


Back in January, my wife, Janna, and I bought a newer car. It was kind of a big deal for us because the car was only a few years old, and neither of us had ever owned a car that was made in the same decade in which we were living. And you know how when you have something new you’re careful to take care of it—you kinda baby it a little bit. Now, being from New Jersey, it’s not in my nature to be a defensive driver. But with this car I would slow down almost to a complete stop over speed bumps. I wouldn’t make any quick, sharp turns. We have the last parking spot in our carport, and so if we open the door too far it grinds against this cement wall, and so for the first few months, trying to get in and out of that car made me feel like I was doing yoga—trying to contort my body so I can squeeze out of there without chipping the paint on the door. The worst is trying to get into the car when Janna’s been driving it and hasn’t pushed the seat back. But sometimes, we park our ’92 Toyota Camry in that spot. And you know something? I don’t think twice about flinging the door open. Why? Well, I’ve had that 20 year-old car for 10 years. Familiarity, as they say, has bred contempt. 

But how unfortunate that such has been true of the acts of worship in a Christian’s life. Many of you can think back to a time—maybe when you were first saved—when Christianity was just so thrilling to you. You had come to grips with the reality and the depth of your own sin and the unspeakable majesty of God’s holiness, and you knew that because of what Christ had done on the cross God had forgiven all your sin. And fellowship with Jesus was so sweet. It was like He was your best friend in the world and didn’t leave your side all day. You couldn’t wait to carve out some time in your schedule to be alone with Him—in reading and meditating on Scripture, in pouring out your heart to Him in prayer. Coming to church to worship God and fellowship with other believers was the highlight of your week. And evangelism? It seems like you told everybody you came in contact with this wonderful message of grace and salvation that you had just experienced in your life. Indeed, there are few things more encouraging than a young believer’s zeal for Christ. 

But after some time passes—and you know how this goes—Bible reading, and prayer, and church attendance, and evangelism—it kind of becomes familiar. What was once such a joy, such a privilege, such a thrill in our own hearts—starts to become burdensome, even wearisome. The Bible starts to look thicker and thicker, and our Bible-reading plans always seem to have us in the consecration laws in Leviticus, or the genealogies in 1 Chronicles. We reduce prayer to quick requests when things go wrong, and praying for ten minutes seems like an hour. Attending church just gets to be another appointment on your calendar that forces you to wake up early on Sunday. And if we’re not careful, even listening to sermons becomes little more than an academic exercise. All of these activities cease to be worshipful experiences, and we just go through the motions. In many ways, familiarity—even with these most wonderful, glorious responsibilities—can breed contempt. 

Well, a similar thing was happening with the priests of Israel in the day of the prophet Malachi. The Book of Malachi, along with the Books of Haggai and Zechariah, belongs to a subset of the Minor Prophets known as the post-exilic prophets. They’re called, “post-exilic,” because all three prophets engaged in their prophetic ministry after Judah’s return from the Babylonian exile in approximately the year 538 BC. Malachi prophesied in between 434 and 424 BC—just over 100 years after Judah’s return. 

But only about 20 years after the return from Babylon, God sent Haggai and Zechariah to speak His word to Israel. And by and large their message was one of great promise and encouragement. In fact, turn two books to the left to the prophet Haggai for just a minute. In Haggai chapter 1 verse 8, the prophet Haggai commands Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple of Yahweh, in place of Solomon’s temple that was razed to the ground by the Babylonians. Yahweh Himself said, “Rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified” (Hag 1:8). And so Israel went to work on rebuilding the temple. And Ezra tells us, in Ezra chapter 3 verses 10 and 11, that when the foundation was laid everyone sang praises and gave thanks to God. 

But Ezra also tells us in Ezra chapter 3 that “the old men who had seen the first temple wept with a loud voice.” The young people were shouting for joy, but the older men were weeping so loud that the people couldn’t distinguish the shouts of celebration from the cries of mourning. Haggai explains why that was the case, in chapter 2 verse 3, as Yahweh addresses Israel. He says, “Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison?” And so it was plain that the temple of Zerubbabel paled in comparison to the splendor and the beauty of Solomon’s temple. And the distinction between the glory days of the united monarchy under David and Solomon and the little rag-tag tribe of survivors from captivity reminded the nation that they certainly were not what they used to be. 

But Yahweh went on to promise through Haggai, chapter 2 verse 6: “Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory. … The latter glory of this house,” verse 9, “will be greater than the former…and in this place I will give peace.” Shalom. Deliverance, prosperity, wholeness, security. 

And the prophet Zechariah brings this same message of hope for the triumph of Jerusalem. Especially in Zechariah chapter 8, Yahweh declares that He will be exceedingly jealous for the City of David. Take a look at what it says in Zechariah chapter 8 verse 4: “Thus says Yahweh of hosts, ‘Old men and old women will again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each man with his staff in his hand because of age. And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets.’” Skip to verse 7: “Thus says Yahweh of Hosts, ‘Behold, I am going to save My people from the land of the east and from the land of the west; and I will bring them back and they will live in the midst of Jerusalem; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God in truth and righteousness.” 

Well, in Malachi’s day, it had been about 80 years since God had given those promises to Israel, and they saw no such Messianic renovation. In fact, do you remember the way the shekinah glory of Yahweh filled the Tabernacle when they had completed it in Exodus 40? And in the same way, in 1 Kings 8, it filled Solomon’s temple when it was finished? It was a way of signifying that God had come to be present in that place—that He was with His people. But Malachi 3:1 speaks of a day when Yahweh will come to His temple, in the future, which implies that He had not taken up residence there in Zerubbabel’s temple. And so on the heels of all of these promises of restoration, Israel began to wonder where God was, and when He was going to fulfill all these magnificent promises. 

And after years and years of waiting, and hoping, both the priests and the people became disillusioned. Sure, they still went about their religious business. They celebrated the feasts and offered the sacrifices. But the mundanity of the routine with little fanfare led them to become familiar and bored with the worship of Yahweh. Their hearts became hardened, and the temple service became little more than going through the motions. In their case, familiarity did indeed breed contempt. 

And so God sent the prophet Malachi to rebuke Israel for their sinfulness. We see him address issues such as widespread divorce (2:13–16), social injustice (3:5), and withholding their tithes and offerings from Yahweh (3:8–12). But among all these problems, Malachi spends almost two whole chapters indicting the priests for their worthless, corrupt worship practices. 

And as we consider Yahweh’s word to Israel through the prophet Malachi this morning, I want to highlight three marks of worthless worship—three marks, or three characteristics of unworthy worship. And my hope is that as we see these marks of worthless worship in the religious activity of the priests of Israel, we might be able to (a) detect the presence of worthless worship in our own lives, (b) put it to death by the power of the Spirit, and (c) worship God in Spirit and truth.


I. Disrespectful Disputation 

That first mark, or characteristic, of worthless worship is their disrespectful disputation. We see this immediately in verses 6 and 7: “‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?’ says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise My name. But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’ You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’” 

This is not a submissive request for information. It is a bitter contentiousness and disbelief that is rooted in self-righteousness. And it characterizes the people’s attitude throughout the whole book. 

In chapter 1 verse 2, right at the very beginning of the book, God declares His love for them. And their immediate response is, “How have you loved us?! Look at us! We’re reduced to a 20-mile by 30-mile strip of land! We don’t see any glory in the temple like our fathers did in Solomon’s day! How have you loved us?!” In chapter 2 verse 13, God tells them that He doesn’t accept their offerings, and their response, verse 14 is, “For what reason does the Lord not accept our offerings?” Verse 17: God says, “You have wearied the Lord with your words.” And they don’t miss a beat: “How have we wearied Him?” Chapter 3 verse 8, God says, “You’re robbing Me!” They say, “How have we robbed You?” Verse 13, “Your words have been arrogant against Me.” They say, “What have we spoken against You?”

Throughout the whole book, their default response to God’s rebuke is not the response of true worshipers. The sacrifices of God, David tells us in Psalm 51, are a broken spirit and a contrite heart. But this is not a humble, contrite submission. This is not the kind of self-examination and brokenhearted repentance that characterize those who are all too acquainted with their own sinfulness and weakness, who desperately want to be rid of sin in their own lives. No, this is the response of those who trust in themselves to be righteous. These are the kind of people who are shocked to learn that they could be doing something wrong. 

This is a tell-tale sign of self-righteousness. When a self-righteous person is criticized about their worship practices, they take personal offense, because their worship is about them. This is the response of self-righteousness. A true worshiper hears this kind of rebuke and is genuinely concerned. He listens to the reproof of wisdom because he wants his worship to be pure, he wants his worship to be about God. “Thank you so much for pointing that out to me. I want to be careful to worship God in the way He has prescribed, and so I appreciate your exhortation.” That’s the response of a humble worshiper. But when the self-righteous are personally offended when they’re rebuked, they reveal that their religious activity is more about themselves than anything else. 

And given the historical context of Malachi, I think that’s exactly what’s going on here. “What do you mean we’ve despised Your name? How have we defiled Your altar? We keep bringing sacrifices! We keep this temple thing going! We’re actually keeping our end of the bargain, but where are You? Where’s the restoration You promised? Where’s the glory You promised?” 

These priests figured they were righteous—that they were doing all the right things. But the righteous don’t arrogantly defend themselves when God criticizes. The righteous person, always aware of his own weakness and proneness to wander, humbly and thankfully receives correction based upon the Word of God. 

Friends, let me ask you: how do you do in this area? If someone confronts you about your worship practices—which is to say, about any part of your life since every part of your life is worship in the presence of God—when someone addresses your sin, is your default reaction immediately to defend yourself? whether out loud or just in your heart? Now, I’m not saying that we all need to be captive to the consciences of the most sensitive legalist among us who happens to have a pet peeve and an axe to grind. But when other believers, who love the Lord and who love you, come to you and address something in your life, for God’s glory and for your benefit, what is your response? 

One area that’s been on my mind in these past months is the importance of having everyone in GraceLife involved in a Bible study. Having a small group of 15 to 30 people that are aware of both your weaknesses, so they can serve you, and your strengths, so you can serve them is an essential part of being the body of Christ. Having a qualified man or team of men caring for your souls as undershepherds is the best way that Phil and I know how to faithfully shepherd such a large the flock. What’s your response to hearing that? A: “Hey, listen, I go to church! Every Sunday! I even go to Fellowship Group!” B: “Well, yes, I understand, but nobody knows who you are—nobody’s involved in your life—you’re not accountable to anyone.”  A: “I read my Bible. I pray. I even tithe!” If that’s your attitude—if your response to correction is to list off all of the religious activity you’re involved in as a way of defending yourself—it may be that your acts of “worship” are more about yourself than about giving God what He is worthy of.


II. Empty Formalism 

Certainly that was the case for the priests of Malachi’s day, and their worthless worship was marked by a disrespectful disputation

But the second mark, or characteristic, of worthless worship is empty formalism. Unworthy worship is marked by a disrespectful disputation, number one, and number two, by an empty formalism. Take a look at the end of verse 6: “‘How have we despised Your name?’ You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’ In that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is to be despised.’ But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil?” And He repeats this charge again in verse 13: “And you bring what was taken by robbery and what is lame or sick. … Should I receive that from your hand?” 

The Levitical Law was clear. Acceptable sacrifices to Yahweh were to be blemishless, without defect. Leviticus 22:19 says, “For you to be accepted—it must be…without defect. … Whatever has a defect you shall not offer, for it will not be accepted for you. When a man offers a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord to fulfill a special vow or for a freewill offering, of the herd or of the flock, it must be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no defect in it. Those that are blind or fractured or maimed or having a running sore or eczema or scabs, you shall not offer to Yahweh.” 

And yet that was exactly what they were doing. And take this in: These were the priests! Whose responsibility it was to protect the holiness of Yahweh’s sanctuary! Yet they offered the blind, the sick, the lame. They offered God the worst rather than the best. They offered what would cost them the least. They weren’t like David. Remember what David said at the end of 2 Samuel? David wanted to offer sacrifices to Yahweh so that He would heal them from the plague, so he went to buy a suitable animal. But the man said, “You’re the king! You can have whatever you want for free!” But David refused. He said, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing.” 

These priests didn’t get that. They had no category for that kind of selfless, sacrificial thinking. They didn’t see anything wrong with accepting and offering defective animals. I mean, they were gonna get burned anyway, right? And besides, the sacrifices were being offered, weren’t they? The ritual was being performed. You see? The reason they were OK with offering blemished sacrifices was because the whole task was nothing but an external duty; it was just empty formalism. If their hearts were in it, they would have gladly desired to give God the best. But unlike Mary, who in loving adoration anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume worth a year’s wages, they were more like Judas, the hypocrite, who complained that that perfume could have been sold for quite a profit (John 12:3–5). 

Now, you say, “Mike, you’re talking about animal sacrifices and priests and altars. We don’t do any of that stuff anymore. How is this relevant to me?”  Well, you’re right: We do know that the sacrificial system of Israel has been made obsolete. The perfect sacrifice—the spotless Passover Lamb—has been offered in the person of Jesus Christ, and so no further sacrifice is necessary. 

But there’s something you need to know about the way the New Testament speaks about your life as a follower of Jesus Christ. Let’s look at a few passages. Turn first to Romans chapter 12. What we’re going to see from these passages is that the New Testament describes our entire lives as a sacrificial offering of worship to God. 

Romans 12, verse 1:  “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” This is the language of the priestly temple ministry. Christians offer sacrifice. But it’s not animal sacrifice. Our entire lives are to be offered as a holy and acceptable sacrifice to God. 

Turn over to Hebrews 13:15–16: “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Our praise, and our thanksgiving—our deeds of love and generosity to others—all of these things are described as sacrifices, as if we were priests ministering in the Holy Place. 

And 1 Peter 2:5 explains why the New Testament speaks this way. Peter says that we are living stones, “being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, [Why? For what purpose?] to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 

As Christians, our entire life is a priestly ministry. The way we live, the way we serve, the way we obey or disobey, is like the offering of spiritual sacrifices to God. Hebrews 10:19 and 20 tell us that Jesus’ flesh was like the veil of the temple that separated Israel from God’s presence in the Holy Place. And because we are united to Him by faith, it says, “We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus.” As a kingdom of priests, Christians live every day in the Holy Place—we live every day in the very presence of God! 

And as awesome as that is, it should strike a bit of fear and trepidation into our hearts as well! People died for failing to properly revere God while ministering in the Holy Place. And if we take honest stock of our own lives, it’s not long before we realize that we fail in just the same way the priests of Israel did. We don’t give God what He is worthy of. We don’t give Him our best. The spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer take a backseat to the other things going on in our lives, things that seem more important. We give God our leftovers—especially the leftovers of our time. We “do our devotions” in our spare time, if we can squeeze them in at all, but we seem to have plenty of time for the TV, for the computer, for movies. 

Yahweh tells the priests in Malachi chapter 1 verse 8 that not even their governor would accept such sacrifices as payment of taxes. And I think that applies to us in a big way. We offer to God what we would never dream of offering to our secular employers. Which of us would ever think of going into work a few hours late on Monday morning because we didn’t get enough sleep the night before? But how many times have we skipped the early service—or church all together!—because Saturday was a late night?  We wouldn’t treat our jobs that way, or our schoolwork that way. Yet we can treat Jesus that way. 

And then even when we get to church, we’re not always fully there. We let the routine of the order of worship lull us into mindless ritual, as if just being physically present is enough. But true worship—true, acceptable sacrifices of worship to God—requires intentionality and focus. We’ve sung some songs so many times that, unless we’re careful, our minds can begin to wander even as we’re singing—even as we’re carrying a tune and vocalizing the proper words, we can be thinking about lunch, or where we need to be after the service. On some days, we’re so tired that we long for congregational prayer time just so we can lean forward, put our heads down, and rest our eyes. But our worship in prayer and our worship in song should have all of our hearts and our minds engaged. We should be singing from our hearts as if we were in the presence of the Lord Jesus Himself. In prayer, we should be closely following the one who is praying, making his words our own as we call out to God in praise, in confession, in thanksgiving, and in supplication. 

Even in the special music and the instrumental music—when the orchestra is playing the melody to, “I Sing the Mighty Power of God,” it’s not a concert where we get to sit back, relax, enjoy the show, and thumb through Grace Today. It’s an opportunity for us to consciously worship God for giving such wonderful gifts and talents to human beings, that such beautiful and pleasant music can be enjoyed. These musicians have been blessed beyond measure, and they’re using their talents in the greatest enterprise that one could engage in: the worship of almighty God. Let’s be sure to join them in that! And of course, the height of our corporate worship on Sunday mornings is when we hear from God Himself in the preaching of the Word. Our responsibility isn’t simply to endure an hour-long sermon; our responsibility is to key in our minds to what the preacher is saying, so that our affections would be informed by truth, and would overflow in adoration and worship of God. 

Matthew Henry applies this so well. Meditating on what it would mean for a Christian to bring unworthy sacrifices, he says, “If we worship God ignorantly, and without understanding, we bring the blind for sacrifice; if we do it carelessly—if we are cold, dull, and dead in it—we bring the sick; if we rest in the bodily exercise, and do not make heart-work of it, we bring the lame; and if we suffer vain thoughts and distractions to lodge within us, we bring the torn.” 

If we’re not careful, friends, all of our Bible reading, all of our church attendance, all of our fellowship activities, can become little more than going through the motions—little more than the empty formalism of the priests of Malachi’s day.  

And what is God’s response to this empty formalism? Verse 10: “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar!” “Keep your offering! If you can’t give Me what’s in your heart, I don’t want what’s in your hand.” 

God gets so fed up with their shallow and casual approach to worship that He’d rather the temple worship be closed down! The language of “shutting the gates” of the temple is reminiscent of King Ahaz, that wicked king of Israel who, as it says in 2 Chronicles 28:24, “closed the doors of the house of the LORD and made altars for himself in every corner of Jerusalem.” The language here is very similar, and it’s possible that Malachi may be referring to that time. Saying, in effect, “This kind of empty formalism, this kind of going through the motions of the temple service and sacrificial worship—this is no better than blatant, brazen idolatry.” One commentator summarizes it by saying, “This verse expresses the thought that a closed temple, however terrible this may be, is preferable to the perpetuating of worthless worship. A worship that does not acknowledge and honor God is worse than no worship at all.” 

And God has revealed what He thinks of empty ritualism before. Amos 5, Hosea 6, Psalm 50. But what sticks out most to me is Isaiah 1:11–15, where God says to Israel, “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me? … I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer.” 

And in the same way He told the people of Isaiah’s day that He took no pleasure in their sacrifices, He looks at the priests in Malachi 1:10 and says, “I take no pleasure in you.” What a statement! Could you imagine hearing those words? “I take no pleasure in you”? 

Friends, I know that, as followers of Jesus Christ, perhaps one of your greatest desires is to hear those blessed words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.” For me, on some days, the desire to hear those words and to experience the reality that they promise singlehandedly fuels my devotion. Don’t you long to hear those words? Then just the thought of the God we desire to serve, the God who sees to the depths of your heart, the God who is sure to know you accurately, as you truly are, looking at you with the piercing eye of omniscience, and saying, “I have no pleasure in you.” Oh, just the thought of that should drive you to soul-searching confession and repentance, and to the faithfulness blood-earnest devotion that our God is worthy of. 

The Lord Jesus Christ is worthy of more than leftovers. The lofty and exalted God of the universe does not accept the lame, and the blind, and the sick, and the half-hearted, and the begrudging.  Determine to put to death any such empty formalism that might be lingering in your life, and commit yourself by the grace of God to worship Him and serve Him in spirit and truth.


III. Contempt for the Duty 

Well, not only is unworthy worship marked by a disrespectful disputation and by an empty formalism. The third characteristic of worthless worship is contempt for the duty. Take a look at verse 12. He repeats what he mentioned already in verse 7, and then adds to it. He says, “You are profaning it, in that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is defiled, and as for its fruit, its food is to be despised.’ You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!’ And you disdainfully sniff at it.” 

That term “disdainfully sniff,” as the NASB puts it—the ESV renders it “snort”—translates the Hebrew word naphach. It means “to sniff or snort with contempt” (BDB). It’s like having your arm twisted into doing something you don’t want to do, and voicing your disgust. Those of you who have kids hear this all the time: “Ugh… alllllll riiiight.” 

Commentator Theodore Laetsch dramatizes the thoughts of the priests on the basis of this verse. He says, speaking as the priests, “The ‘fruit’—the food, the grain, the living we get from our job; the ‘bread’—the food we receive for our service at the altar: how contemptible it is! What the people can’t sell, what they refuse to eat, all the sick, old, defective animals are palmed off on us, and the best parts—the fat—must be offered on the altar, while we get what’s left! And what a weariness to stand all day long and be ready whenever someone feels like bringing his sacrifice! To slay it, and skin it, and gut it, and cut it up—a filthy and bloody job! And what do we get out of it? A few pieces of tough meat, unfit for food!” I think that captures their attitude pretty well. That kind of insolent, complaining, bitter, contempt. 

But oh, don’t we say that all the time? If not out loud maybe just in our hearts? “My how tiresome the work of the Lord is!” Coming to church early can be tiresome. Going to mid-week Bible studies takes away from the rest we think we need after a long, hard, stressful week of work. Just think about how many times you might have skipped your daily morning worship time so you could sleep just a bit longer. And think about evangelism! I don’t know that there’s a greater feeling of satisfaction and joy than when I’m proclaiming the Gospel to someone who stands in need of eternal life! And yet how easy it is to be embarrassed, diffident, and hesitant in regards to that joyful duty. In all these things—church, Bible study, prayer, Bible reading, evangelism—these are such wonderful privileges we enjoy! And yet there are days when we say to ourselves, “My how tiresome it is,” and we disdainfully sniff at them. 

And when we react with such attitudes, what are we communicating about a life committed to following Christ? We say with our actions what the priests said with theirs: “The table of the Lord is to be despised” (Mal 1:7). But, as 1 John 5:3 says, God’s commandments are not burdensome. And as a kingdom of priests—people who minister to each other as the body of Christ, and to those in the unbelieving world—Christians must communicate by our attitude, our speech, and our actions that the worship and service of the Lord God is delightful. That’s how we stimulate one another on to love and good deeds! We say with David, Psalm 27:4, that the one thing I want is to behold the beauty of the Lord and to be about His ministry in His temple! And then we live like that’s true! See, no Christian lives or dies to himself, brothers and sisters. We are members of one another, and each member’s spiritual health affects the health of the spiritual body. I’ve heard John MacArthur say that the church is only as strong as its weakest member. And that’s true. 

And it’s true that a life of Christian service isn’t easy. There will be sighs as we seek to be faithful ministers of the Gospel. But may those many sighs be the soul’s panting for God as a deer for the water brooks, rather than the wearied, disgusted grunts of a discontented hireling, with no true concern for the sheep.


The Source of Worthless Worship 

And so these are the characteristics of worthless worship: (a) disrespectful disputation, (b) empty formalism, and (c) contempt for the duty. And I hope our going through them and seeing them in Israel’s bad example will help us in identifying such marks of unworthy worship in our own lives. 

But once we find and recognize it in our lives, we need to get rid of it. We need to put the deeds and attitudes of unworthy worship to death. But in order to do that—and in order to do that at the root, not just pick the fruit off the tree so it grows back, but to lay the ax at the root of the tree—we need to understand what causes worthless worship. We’ve seen the characteristics of worthless worship, but what is its source? Where does it come from? 

And we’ve already seen it as we’ve gone through the passage. The source, or the origin, of worthless worship is a failure to properly esteem God’s glory and honor His name

Notice that at the heart of Yahweh’s rejection of the priests’ sacrifices is His zeal for His own name. The end of verse 10 summarizes, “nor will I accept an offering from you.” Then He says, verse 11: “For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations.” 

That word for tells us that the basis, or the ground, of reverent worship is God’s own regard for His name. This is why the sacrificial laws were as they were. Not just because God is some arbitrary, capricious megalomaniac! Some narcissistic puppeteer who likes to make people jump through hoops! But because He is worthy of perfection! He is worthy of blemishlessness! 

See? God’s purpose defines our purpose. God esteems His name and His glory above everything in the world, and therefore His people must esteem His name and His glory above everything in the world. His intention that His name be magnified through all the earth is the reason that you and I must worship Him purely. 

God demands that He be treated in a way that is consistent with His own character. That’s what He’s been saying to the priests the whole time. Look back at verse 6. He says, “If I am a father, where is My honor?” “Honor” is the Hebrew word, kavod. It means glory, weight, gravity. He goes on to say that the priests despise His name. “Despise” there is bazah, and it means “to regard lightly.” This is the word that’s used in Genesis 25:34 when it says the Esau despised his birthright. The idea is that Esau regarded his birthright so lightly that he sold it to Jacob for a meal. He thought it a light thing, an insignificant thing. He didn’t at all perceive the weight of it. “Sure, you can have my birthright! Just give me the food!” 

The priests were doing this very thing with God. Rather than regarding Him as weighty and worthy of reverential awe and pure worship, they treated Him as if He were insignificant and common. They didn’t think twice about speaking to Him flippantly, about offering unworthy sacrifices, and about complaining about the duty of His temple service, which was a privilege that propitiated the wrath of God against their sins. In fact, Yahweh even identifies Himself with His altar. The way you feel about the worship of God is the way you feel about God. And so the way you treat the worship of God is the way you treat God—the way you treat His name

He asserts in verse 11 that His name will be great among the nations. “But you,”—My name will be great among the nations, but you, My people, and more than that! My priests!— “But you,” verse 12, “you are profaning it, in that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is defiled.’” “You profane My name by profaning my table.” See, how one treats the worship of God is how one treats God. At its heart, worthless worship shows contempt for God’s name. It is God Himself that the priests despise. 



And the same thing is true for us. As John MacArthur always says: people live out their theology. Your actions are shaped by what you believe about God. You will always act in line with what you believe. And if a sober survey of your life tells you that you’re engaging in unworthy worship—if you detect in your heart disrespectful disputation when you’re confronted with sin, if you see that there’s empty formalism in your religious activity in all the goings-on of church life, and if you discern a contempt for your duty as a priest of the most high God, as a minister of the New Covenantthe answer isn’t to grit your teeth, try harder, pray longer, read earlier, or attend church more often. The answer is to saturate the eyes of your heart with the vision of the glory of God revealed in the face of Christ. Our worship will not be worthy because we got our act together. Our worship will be worthy because we are united to Jesus Christ, the Holy One, who worshiped God perfectly in spirit and truth, and by virtue of our God-granted faith in Him, God will count Jesus’ righteousness to be our own. 

If the source of worthless worship is regarding God’s name too lightly, we need to cultivate our affections to love the glory of God! To behold the beauty of His majesty! This is where the war against sin must be waged: at the level of spiritual sight—of regard for God’s name. Go to battle with your sin, fighting to get a more exalted view of God, to cultivate a deeper appreciation for the honor of His name. Because that is the source of worthy worship. 

And of course that glory is nowhere more wondrously displayed than in the cross of Jesus Christ. And friends if there are any of you here today who have discerned that all your religious activity has amounted to nothing more than worthless worship, I invite you to look to the One who lived a life of worship that was perfectly consistent with the honor of God’s name—to the Lamb of God who offered His body as the once-for-all, sufficient sacrifice, and who poured out His blood to satisfy the Father’s wrath against sinners, and who rose again triumphant over death, powerful to forgive the sins of all who turn from their sin and trust in Him alone for righteousness and acceptance before God. 

Look to Jesus, and be saved, all the ends of the earth. For Christ is God, and there is no other (cf. Isa 45:22).