Monday, February 23, 2015 5 comments

I Have Loved You

Malachi, chapter one, verse one:
The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.

The burden of the word of the Lord.

The words prepared me for a weight like lead to be poured from Malachi's scroll. A pause anticipated the next breath of the Almighty, the burden of the Lord. What is the sort of thing a Holy God says when the words He speaks hold a burden?

“I have loved you,” says the Lord.
I have loved you. These words didn't come like lead; they weren't the lighting one might brace for. They felt more like a heavy rain, like an unfettered gust that nearly undoes gravity when it hits you. Powerful and glorious.

The burden of the word of the

“I have loved you...”

I slid the leather bound pages closer, and pulled them
onto my lap as I curled up tighter on my hope chest, the book enveloped with my body as I hugged my legs closer and read again the words of the book that rested on my knees. I was mesmerized by the straightforward decree from the God who is so often an enigma. But even here there was still something more, something that made this statement complex and bittersweet; there was a burden. 

“I have loved you,” says the Lord.

This love is not the end, but the starting point. In a way, it's the summation of His following burden, the basis for the rest of what He had to say to His disobedient, half-hearted people. This is what makes the rest of the book matter, what gives it context - these are words of love. Love from a Father who chastens every son whom He loves. But what was the response of Israel toward this loving Father?

“I have loved you,” says the Lord.
“Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?’

Oh, Israel.

Oh, my own heart.

In what way has He loved us? In every way. But this was not a question to recall to mind the faithfulness of the God who chose, protected, set apart ... this was the callous retort of a people made of faithless dust, with wandering hearts, with forgetful pride. People like me. People like you.

“Your words have been harsh against Me,”
Says the Lord, 

“Yet you say,
‘What have we spoken against You?’
You have said,

‘It is useless to serve God;
What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance,
And that we have walked as mourners
Before the Lord of hosts?
So now we call the proud blessed,

For those who do wickedness are raised up;
They even tempt God and go free.’”

(Malachi 3:13-15)

I thought of how Jesus wept over Jerusalem, over the people who had ears, but would not hear. I wept now, too. This felt like a bitter ending to what could have been a love story. A tragedy of a beggar maid refusing the King who loved her. The words hurt to read. They hurt, because these are the children of Abraham - they should have been faithful.

I should be faithful.

But, even when we are faithless, still He is faithful. Still He is slow to anger. Still He abounds in lovingkindness.

“For I am the Lord, I do not change;
Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.

Yet from the days of your fathers
You have gone away from My ordinances
And have not kept them.
Return to Me, and I will return to you,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
(Malachi 3:6-7)

Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another,
And the Lord listened and heard them;
So a book of remembrance was written before Him
For those who fear the Lord
And who meditate on His name.
(Malachi 3:16)

is the remnant. God always holds a remnant, who together make the whole. The remnant knows His voice, and follows Him. The remnant returns, and is redeemed. The remnant loves because He first loved us.

“They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts,
“On the day that I make them My jewels.
And I will spare them
As a man spares his own son who serves him.”
(Malachi 3:17)

They shall be Mine. This is the pledge of the Father who has loved Israel, has loved His Church. This is the pledge of the God who remains faithful when we are faithless. This is the pledge of the One who has seen it all, and yet redeems. And how does He redeem?  

I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.

He spared His own people - His reckless, prodigal people - by not sparing His Son, His only Son, in whom He was well pleased. He has chosen, in His love and justice by Christ's death and resurrection, by Christ's blood, to see us as He sees Christ. Without spot or blemish. Joint heirs. Faithful. Beloved. His jewels.

“I have loved you,” says the Lord.

Oh, my God, yes ... yes, You have.