Sortable Messages

 

I’d like to begin this morning by reading the text. Today we’ll be in Malachi 3:13-4:6.

Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve god. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’ ”

Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.

For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, 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. 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. 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.

Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.”

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 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.”

Now I don’t know how familiar all of you are with Malachi and its context. Hopefully you all have had the chance to hear at least some of the other sermons in this series given by my fellow interns. I have certainly been edified by them, and I hope you have been as well. But whether you’ve been following this series or not, let me give you a little context. The prophet Malachi preached to the people of God who had returned from exile in Babylon. The temple had been rebuilt, and there was a Persian governor over them at the time. At first glance, it might seem like we have very little in common with the people Malachi prophesied to, but I would argue that we have far more in common with them than we might think. Like the people of Malachi’s day, we are a people who look both backwards and forwards. We look both to the past of what God has done, and we look to the future for what God is going to do. Not only this, but it seems that many of the problems of Malachi’s day are still our problems too.

Let’s think about what’s happened in this book up to this passage. So far, every word of God has been contradicted or questioned by God’s people. 5 times already, God has spoken, the people have doubted God’s words, and God has answered them. It would appear that there is something wrong in the hearts of God’s people. This is not a people characterized by holiness or love for God. This is a people that is unconscious of their many sins, and whose automatic response to God is to disbelieve Him, to question Him, and to contradict him. Now some of you might think I’m being too harsh on them just based on this passage, but let’s look at verses 13 through 15 again:

Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’ ”

Looking at this passage alone, we should recognize something is wrong with their hearts here, but look back at Malachi chapter 2, verse 17:

You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”

They’re basically making the same complaint here as they did in chapter 2! Once already, the people have been called out for their arrogance and for speaking against God, and God has already made a defense against these claims. But here in chapter 3, we find the people doing the same thing again! So before we launch into the text, I want to draw your attention to the fact that this is not a people that is wholeheartedly devoted to God. This is a lukewarm people. This is not a people that is seeking to walk with God. This is a people that isn’t even looking for God. This is a people that even in the face of God’s own words, still persists in their own foolish thoughts and ways. They doubt Gods words, they doubt God’s justice, they doubt God’s goodness, and they doubt God’s love for His people. And this repetition of the same failure even in the face of God’s own words to them seems almost too ridiculous to be true, until we look to our own hearts and find that we do the same thing far, far too often. I would assume that right now most of us in this room are doubting God’s words to us in some way or another. Perhaps this week, as you follow the news, suffer through sickness or even have just been trying to balance your checkbook, you’ve wondered if God really is in control like He’s promised. Perhaps this week you’ve been wondering at God’s justice as you’re mistreated at your job, or see wicked people preferred or even promoted over you. Perhaps this week you are bent low under the weight of sin and condemnation and just can’t bring yourself to believe in God’s grace to those in Christ; you’re here in church today but feel like you don’t belong here, and doubt if you are really one of God’s children. Perhaps, today, you are suffering under the weight of tragedy, and it’s just hard to believe that God is speaking the truth when he says that he loves you, and that he’s working all things for your good. I could multiply examples, but instead, I’ll just say this. For those of you who find yourself, consciously or even unconsciously, doubting God’s words to you in some way or another, the Holy Spirit wants to speak to you, today, through this text. Let him. Let the Holy Spirit work the truths in this text into your heart. What are these truths? I think it’s this: Although God’s Justice is not always easily seen or understood, and there are days when we feel like our faith is all for nothing, there is a day coming when God’s justice will not only be seen, but be understood. There is a day coming when the wicked shall be destroyed and the faithful will be set free from this world’s bondage. In Christ, we have seen God’s goodness, justice, and boundless love for us. And when Christ returns, God’s goodness and love towards us will be fully realized. This is our glorious hope in Christ, and it is a hope that calls for spiritual preparation. God’s Goodness, Justice, and Love are an unchanging reality, so let us be unwavering in our response towards Him.

So let’s keep moving through this text. As we’ve seen in verses 13 through 15, God speaks of what the people are doing wrong, and of course, they deny it and contradict God. Again. And not for the first time, God has called them out for doubting His justice, His goodness, and His love for His people. But look at what happens next, because it’s a part of God’s larger answer:

3:16 – 18 – Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.

So let’s talk about this text here. First we have a mention of “Those who feared the Lord.” Now even among the people who have returned to Israel after the exile, we find two groups of people, those who fear the Lord and those who don’t. Often in Scripture, fearing the Lord could be synonymous with those obedient to God or those who are devoted to God. For Israel as a whole, amidst the Jews that have returned to Jerusalem, it seems that the exile was finally sufficient discipline for Israel to put away it’s idolatry and some of its other more flagrant sins, but as a whole we still find a largely lukewarm and undevoted people. Yet in the midst of these people, we do find a remnant. We find that there are still those who fear the Lord. And when God speaks, they speak to one another. Now if you’re like me this verse might have thrown you at first. Reading right along you might have expected it to say something like the people cried out to God, or that they cried out in repentance or something like that. But what we find is that they just speak to one another. I think this is best understood in contrast to verses 13 through 15. I think in verses 13 and 15, Israel as a whole is gossiping to one another about God. I think they were using their speech with one another as a means to complain and even to discourage one another from doing good. And I don’t think that those who feared the Lord were participating in this. Instead, I think they used the opportunity to encourage one another. I think this is implied by the effect, because what’s the result of their speaking to one another? God pays attention, and He is pleased. Let’s just take a moment to think about that for a second. God paid attention. Now I think most Christians learn pretty early on that God knows everything, and you could argue that he’s “paying attention” to everything all the time. But I think we often struggle to think of it ever working for our good. I think of it like this. When I was growing up, it seemed like my mom had eyes in the back of her head. I can’t think of a single time that I did something wrong as a child that I did not get caught. And I’m sure that there were times when it felt like my mother’s supernatural ability was only employed when I was misbehaving, and never when I was doing something good! Now of course, that’s not true. I’m sure my mother encouraged me far more than she ever rebuked me, but in the moment it can be easy to feel discouraged. I feel like we often think of God in this way. But like Lee has said before, God is not watching you intently in order to catch you. He’s not waiting for you to mess up. God is not disgusted with you, one inch away from casting you off and being done with you. For those of us who are in Christ, even though God knows your every thought and deed, He still loves you and desires your good. Now does God see us sin as well? Of course. He knows our every thought and deed; how could he not? But sometimes, our sins are so much easier to see than God’s love for us. And God does love us, and as we’ll see in a moment his attention is employed for our good. Which brings me to my first point:

1. Because God listens intently and remembers those who honor Him, we should trust in
His goodness.

Malachi makes it a point to show us that when we are doing what God has asked and empowered us to do, he pays attention! And He remembers it! In this particular case, God is so pleased that He has them written down in His book of remembrance. But what is this book? This is the only place where the book of remembrance is mentioned in the scriptures. The Hebrew word for remembrance here, zikkdron, is uncommon, usually only found where the importance of remembering something is emphasized. In addition, the word usually means not only to keep a record in mind but to act on what is being remembered. I think the best way to think about the book of remembrance is to line it up with the book of life. We see the book of life all throughout the New Testament as a record of the righteous that are to inherit eternal life. The book of remembrance may or may not be the same thing, but it’s at least very similar. We know this because of the clues we find in the following phrase, in which God says “They shall be mine, in the day when I make up my treasured possession.” This is helpful in understanding the purpose of the book of remembrance because we have several parallels for God’s treasured possession. The first place we find it is in Exodus 19:5, at the covenant ceremony at Sinai. In this ceremony, God tells the people that if they will indeed obey His voice and keep His covenant, they shall be His treasured possession among all the peoples (who of course are also his possession, because all the earth is his). As we trace the development of God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants, we come to understand that this treasured possession is essentially the same as those written in the book of life: the righteous that are to inherit eternal life. So here, when God says He will remember them, He is saying that these are the people He will deliver. God is promising to spare them when judgment comes, for He has compassion on them as sons who serve him faithfully. Furthermore, he’s telling us here that there’s no way he’s going to forget, because He’s got it all written down! By describing His remembrance as a written book, he is showing us the permanence of his attention and his intention. God has a record of all who are under his special care and guardianship, and He will deliver them from this world of sin so that they might be with Him. So how do we know that we can trust God? Because God listens intently and remembers those who honor Him, we should trust in His goodness. When all you can think of is your sin, God looks at those who fear His name and says “they shall be mine.” God has determined it and God Almighty, El Shaddai, will not be impeded. If you fear his name and put your hope in Christ, you will be spared, you will be a part of his treasured possession. So let us follow the example of those who feared the Lord in Malachi’s day! Let us exhort one another! Speak with one another! Encourage one another in the mighty truths of scripture! We should take every opportunity to remind one another that God will cause His saints to persevere, and encourage one another with the goodness of the Lord. Let us love God by loving one another, for He is pleased when we exhort one another.

But let’s keep moving through the text. In verses 17 and 18, God begins to answer more fully these accusations against him. God says that the day is coming when he will reap his treasured possession, and on that day, this doubting people will once again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked. This leads me to my second point:

2. Because God will set every wrong right, we should trust in His goodness.

Let’s read verses 1 through 3:

For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, 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. 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. 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.

So what is this day that’s coming? In verse 5, it’s referred to as the great and awesome day of the Lord, and every time we read about the day of the Lord in the Bible, it’s referring to that last day, the final Judgment. And every man or woman who through their arrogance has attempted to usurp God’s throne and consequently done evil, sinning against God and everyone around them, they will all be like stubble before this day. They’ll be like stubble, which is useless for anything but burning, and they will be completely destroyed. Notice the parallel here. In the initial complaint, the people say that the arrogant are blessed and that the evildoer prospers, but what does God say? God says that as far as the arrogant and the evildoer are concerned, neither root nor branch will escape; the wicked will be utterly destroyed, and without exception. When God sets everything right, evil will be no more.

But for those who fear the name of the Lord, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. Now I’ll ask the question probably most of you are wondering – what on earth does that mean? Well let’s take it a piece at a time. First, the grammar here for sun of righteousness means that it is a sun that’s nature is righteousness, a sun that reveals righteousness, and a sun that produces righteousness on all that it shines upon. Righteousness is its nature, righteousness is what it reveals, and righteousness is what it produces. Second, we see that this sun rises. And what does a sunrise symbolize if not the dawning of a new day? Third, it says that it shall bring healing in its wings. The wings of the sun are its rays, the light that comes forth from it and warms everything it touches. And in this case, everywhere those rays touch it will bring healing. And this healing is not just physical, though it includes that. I think it also includes spiritual healing. So when we put this all together, what do we think now? What is this sun of righteousness? I think it’s a metaphor for the one who has also been called the star out of Jacob, the Great Light, and the Light of the Gentiles. This sun is the s-o-n Son of Man, Jesus Christ the Messiah, and this new day will be the new creation. For when Christ comes again, a new day will most certainly have dawned. And oh how we should long for that beautiful sunrise, because when that new day dawns, we will be healed. We will be glorified, free from the corruption of this world as all things are made new. No more pain. No more sickness. No more death. Our sanctification complete, saved to sin no more. God will set things right.

So now let me ask you a question. When you think of this reality, and of the joy you’ll feel in the new creation, is the first thing that comes to mind an image of a calf leaping from the stall? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say probably not. To be honest, before studying this text, that image wouldn’t have done much for me. But while I was studying this text, I learned something interesting about the English language. It turns out the phrase “leaping like calves” used to be translated using an old word called “gamboling.” Which is just a fun word. Rolls off the tongue. “Gambowling.” And if I can let you in on a little secret, it’s actually pronounced “gambling.” But don’t tell the elders. We’ll all just pronounce it as “gambowling” and it can be our little secret. But what does it mean to gambol? Have any of you ever seen a video of a puppy playing in the snow for the first time? Or seen the classic viral video of a baby elephant’s first day at the beach? To gambol is to run and jump about playfully, it’s like frolicking but with greater joy and purpose. The image here is an image of the sheer joy and wonder of an animal or even a child in the snow, at a beach, a playground or a park. It is the sense of childlike wonder and joy in ourselves and our surroundings that we seem to lose as we get older and as the cares and the pains of this world start to weigh us down. Indeed, I think God recognizes this loss when verse 2 says that we will go out. This language is meant to make us think of being set free from bondage, which makes it a fitting phrase because that’s exactly what’s going to happen! Paul tells us in Romans 8 that creation has been subjected to futility and bondage, but a day is coming when the birth pangs will cease and we will be free. And not only that, but Paul tells us that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed. Our suffering can seem unbearable now, but this image of gamboling is meant to show us that when Christ comes again and makes all things new, we won’t drag ourselves to our feet and shuffle around, covered in wounds and bowed down with the weight of what we’ve suffered. We’ll leap like calves just let out of the stall! Like puppies in the snow or a baby elephant at the beach, with a sense of child-like wonder and joy that some of us haven’t experienced since we were children. Our joy and wonder will be greater than anything we’ve seen, experienced, or can even imagine in this life, and a happiness awaits us that is so great it might as well be unaware of whatever sufferings have come previously. God will set everything right. Trust in His goodness.

I hope this text has been encouraging to you so far, but some of you might be sensing some tension. Because the promises of God for those who love Him are amazing, but if we examine our lives we might feel like we identify more with the contrary people in verses 13 through 15 than with those who fear the Lord. With all the wrong we’ve done, shouldn’t we be among those trampled ashes? So often we doubt God’s words to us, we doubt His goodness and His love for us, that it would seem arrogant and foolish to assume ourselves among those described as fearing the Lord. And consequently, if these were God’s last words to us, this passage may not actually be all that encouraging to us. Look at verse 4:

Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.”

As God is wrapping up, in His final words to the people he gives them a command. It’s a command to “remember”, which means to act out the law. Let’s look at this command in its context, here at the end of the Old Testament. What has preceded this command? Well from Mount Horeb or Mount Sinai onward, we find God continuously telling His people to listen and obey, so that He might bless them, and we find the people continuously failing. So this command to follow the law is not the encouragement we’re looking for, because it’s not naturally in our hearts to follow God. If this command was all on its own, we would still be lost!

But God’s final word is yet to come. Next look at verses 5 through 6:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 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.”

God not only gives an instruction; He gives a provision. Obey the word of God, and Elijah will unite the people in the covenant. This book ends with a command to obey, which we can’t keep, followed by a promise to turn hearts before the day of final judgment comes, to prevent utter destruction.

But what does it mean that God will send Elijah the prophet, and what is all this about turning the hearts of fathers to their children and vice versa? Now there’s a lot of discussion on that point, but let me build a case for how I think we are to read this. First, we know from Matthew 17:11-13 and its parallels that John the Baptist is the one who came in the spirit and power of Elijah as prophesied here. But what does it mean for him to turn the hearts of fathers and their children? Could this be a work of the spirit in the hearts of the people so that they keep the Law of Moses, including honoring their parents and showing love to one another? Could it be speaking of a time between now and the final day, where Elijah is one of the two witnesses in revelation come to prepare the church for Christ’s return? Yet some others have argued that this is referencing Israel returning to historic faith, the faith of the patriarchs. So how do we take this? Luke 1:16-17, which reiterates this prophesy but in overt relation to John the Baptist is very helpful here. Luke 1:16-17 says:

And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

The primary focus of this final prophetic word to Israel is that a man, who we now know to be John the Baptist, will be used by the Spirit to transform the hearts of the people so that they might be ready for the day that was still in the coming all those years ago. It would make sense then, that as their hearts are transformed by the power of the Spirit, the people naturally will act differently towards one another and towards God. John the Baptist was sent to prepare a people for the coming of the Lord. And the Lord has come, which brings me to my final point:

3. Because God has made a way for us to be among the righteous, we should trust in His
goodness.

God’s final word was not Malachi 4:6. God’s final word was Christ. God, from the moment Adam sinned in the garden, has seen how helpless we are. He knew that there was no way we could work our way back into relationship with Him. And because God is a just God, and we cannot help but be wicked people, we deserve death and eternal separation from Him. And God will give what is deserved. The great and awesome day of the Lord has been a long time coming. But God, in His love, in order to save his people while remaining Just, took on flesh, lived the perfect life, and bore our sin that we might be free, that we might have relationship with God once again. And now, for those of us who are in Christ, we have Christ’s righteousness. So you see, it really is good news that God will remember righteousness, because when He looks at us, He sees Christ’s righteousness.

Now perhaps some of you still find your hearts cold or resistant to this truth, or at least find yourself unresponsive. Maybe you hear it, and you assent to it, but your heart is still aching with the suffering of this life and it can be so hard to trust. We know this world is broken, we know God will redeem it, but the pain is here now. It hurts now. And I won’t belittle anyone’s grief or suffering with a pat answer to the laments that may be in your heart. But I want you to know this. You are not alone. God Himself has experienced the pain and corruption we experience. G.K. Chesterton wrote a short novel called The Man Who Was Thursday at a time in his life when he was struggling with depression and faith and understanding the goodness of God in light of the world around him. At the end of the book, there is a confrontation between a belligerent-anarchist-atheist-type and God. The atheist, who I think is simultaneously representing Satan as well as all of human rebellion, challenges the authority of God and His elect, saying that they have no right to rule because they do not know what it means to be oppressed, to be persecuted, to suffer the reign of another. God’s elect are, of course, very quick to point out how they have suffered and how well they understand the human condition the atheist has described; a life of pain and toil, a life of dust to dust, but even as they speak, they begin to turn towards God and wonder aloud, has God himself suffered as they have, even as he’s ordained their suffering? To which God in turn gives a sad, slow smile and replies “can you drink the cup that I drink?” We do not have a distant God, arbitrary and cold that fulfills certain philosophical ideals of justice. Our God took on our humanity, suffered as we suffer, experienced all the pain and corruption we experience, and then went even further, and bore all our guilt, our shame, our sin, that we might be with Him. The God who created the sun, moon and stars let lowly soldiers hold and nail Him down to a cross so that He might save them. And the God who would go through all this out of love for you is a God who you should trust. God does not need to do more to earn your trust!

Malachi knew as he prophesied to the people of God that at their heart, there must lie a deep, radical, and overwhelming conviction that God loves them, and this is still true for us today. Without this at heart, we are lost. So praise God that for those of us who are in Christ, God transforms our hearts, just like he did in the first century through John the Baptist, and praise God that He brings us to the conviction that He really does love us, and He really is working all things for our good. And the day is fast coming, when our faith will be sight. The day is coming when God’s goodness and love towards us will be fully felt. 1 John 3 says that when Christ appears, we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself, as Christ is pure. So let us purify ourselves through hoping in Christ and His return. Through the empowerment of the Spirit and because of what Christ has already done, let us live righteously in obedience to the Scriptures, faithfully looking forward to the day where our faith will be sight.

Christ has come, and He overcame the world. And after all Christ went through, God Almighty will not see His plans thwarted. God will cause His saints to persevere. Because God has made a way for you to be among the righteous, because he will cause you to persevere, trust in His love for you. Trust in His goodness. And for those of you who do not know Christ, and who do not bow the knee to Him, I urge you, repent. Place your faith in Christ, acknowledge His Lordship, and you will be saved.