Monday, December 10, 2012

Sermon on Malachi 3:1-7b, 2nd Sunday in Advent, "Messenger of the Covenant"

·         Would you accuse God of injustice? A fearful proposition, to lay that charge at God’s feet—yet this is just what the people had done in Malachi 2:17. Malachi wrote: “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 accused Him of leaving the wicked unpunished, and that evildoers were prospering. Their question “Where is the God of justice?” Is tantamount to them saying, “God, what are you going to do about all this evil that is going on? Are you going to prove yourself just and judge them, or will they continue to escape?”
·         Malachi 3 is God’s response to this charge. Malachi, the last prophet, ~430 BC records God’s response. Watch what I will do—I’m sending my messenger to prepare my way. God’s saying, “I’m coming on the scene. I’m going to handle this myself.” God was going to get up close and personal with the world of injustice. He says, “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple, and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, He is coming, says the Lord of hosts.”
·         John the Baptist was the first messenger who prepared the way, as we read about him in our Gospel reading (Luke 3). A prophet in the same line as Malachi and the OT, but 400 years later. But the greater One coming after him, the “messenger of the covenant”—the Lord Himself was coming to the Temple. Jesus is that messenger of the covenant. He would come to speak and proclaim the new covenant that God made with His people. Jesus would be the One to make a new covenant in His blood, for the forgiveness of our sins.
·         “Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when He appears?” Both John the Baptist as Jesus’ forerunner, and then Jesus after him, were undeniably fiery at times. They traveled and preached on that same kingdom path of repentance and forgiveness. Jesus’ piercing knowledge of men’s hearts and full embrace of God’s truth is a fiery test of our thoughts, words, and deeds. Hypocrisy and false religion lay bare and exposed before Him. When in fulfillment of this prophecy, the Lord came to His Temple, what did Jesus do there? He overturned moneychangers’ tables and drove animals out with a whip, as He cleansed God’s house of prayer. Verses 3-4 of our reading talk about Him refining and purifying the sons of Levi—that is the priests who served in the Temple. He came to reform and purify the Temple—ultimately even to supersede the Temple, when He became the final perfect sacrifice for sin. His zeal to cleanse the Temple shocked those who assumed that naturally God was pleased with their Temple worship.
·         But Jesus turns on this blazing heat of testing and trial, not for the purpose of destroying, but as the metaphor of refining silver or gold suggests, to purge away the dross. Theme in OT: refining. Dross as the worthless impurities or waste, removed at high heat—successive purifications by fire make the precious metal purer. Dross, sin, rebellion, stubbornness. Furnace or heat is afflictions, sufferings, trial. Experiencing them may even tempt us again to accuse God of injustice. But would we rather remain as “impure metal” contaminated with the dross of our sins? Jeremiah 6 gives a picture of what that would be like, and that the if our dross is not purged away, that spells rejection for us.
·         But God purifies and refines us not to destroy us, not because He hates us, and most certainly not because He is unjust—but rather that we might be purified before Him. He disciplines and chastises us because He is treating us as sons.
·         How else does God answer the charge of injustice? He warns in verse 5 that He will draw near to us for judgment, and that He would be a swift witness against those who practice magic and witchcraft, the adulterers, the liars, those who oppress their workers and hold back their wages, or who oppress the widows, the orphans, or the foreigners who lived among them. All these sins were alive and well in Malachi’s day in Israel, and many of them are alive and well in our day. God warns that He Himself will judge—He doesn’t need any eyewitnesses to our sin, because He alone knows every man’s heart and sees all we do—He has no need of anyone to bear witness to Him about what is in man (John 2:24-25).
·         The point He makes is that those who commit these sins live with no fear of God. They are either oblivious to or scornful of God’s judgment. When people openly commit sin and wickedness with no fear of God, then they should rightly fear His judgment.  Psalm 119:119-120 says: “All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross, therefore I love your testimonies. My flesh trembles for fear of you, and I am afraid of your judgments.” The righteous person rightly fears God, knowing that sin and wickedness, like dross, will never have any place before God. A proper sense of the fear of God can keep our feet from walking on the path of wickedness.
·         As God’s messenger of the covenant, Jesus Christ, came to earth, He got up close and personal with our sin, our dross, our injustice. He suffered the injustice of brutal and careless men who cared nothing for justice, but only for the favor of the mobs. He suffered the injustice of having ungodly Roman rulers declare Him innocent, while the high priests and religious ruling council condemned Him to death. His eyes were witness to human cruelty, forsakenness, and abandonment. And to crown it all, He was crowned with thorns in mockery of His kingship—in mockery of the rule He came to bring. The rule of God’s kingdom, which is founded on justice and righteousness. And yet we would call God unjust? To think that Jesus endured and witnessed these very injustices, so that He might break the power of sin and injustice over us! That He might shatter the thrall that sin held over us, so that we might enter His freedom, righteousness, and life.
·         That in His precious ransom of His suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus was fashioning in us the new person in Christ Jesus—the redeemed YOU, who are now of priceless worth to Him. That by virtue of His death on the cross, Jesus, the messenger of the covenant, was making you the worthy silver or gold that He seeks and desires to keep. That His refining, the trials and testing, the afflictions you endure in this life, are not meant to destroy you, but to refine you for His keeping!
·         The astonishment and surprise is that when all is said and done—when we’ve been guilty of charging God with unfairness, or neglecting to judge evil—while all the while we’re guilty of injustice ourselves and committing so much sin; or that when all the sin and wickedness of mankind is laid bare before His judgment—that God provides grace and deliverance to those who return to Him. That He does not “not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10). But rather He declares (Mal. 3:6) “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” The astonishment and surprise is God’s grace and mercy in the face of our ungratefulness and disobedience. Of our repeated turning away from God’s commands. That He will not consume us. Everything we should expect and deserve would be punishment—but instead He offers us grace. Why? Because He is unchanging. What does that have to do with God’s grace? The OT repeats the refrain over and over, that the Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. God’s heart and character is both of holiness and justice, but also of love and compassion. As the book of Lamentations records, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:22-23). From this unfathomable love and ever-new mercy, God does not consume us. It says “therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” God speaks to us as Father to His children. His deep and unfathomable love for us flows from His fatherhood to us—and while a father disciplines those whom He loves, He will also receive us and spare us. For His love and acceptance, for His grace and compassion we live and hope each day, as we wait for the full revelation of His justice and peace, on the day when His kingdom will come uncloaked, and His rule will be eternal and unchallenged, and filled with everlasting peace. In His most Holy Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

1.      Malachi 3:1-7 (and following) is God’s response to the question posed by the people in 2:17, accusing God of favoring the evil, or allowing them to escape punishment, and asking “Where is the God of justice (judgment)”? How does the “messenger of the covenant” whom God sends, deal with this apparent injustice?

2.      Verse 1 speaks of “my messenger who will prepare the way before me”, then also of the “messenger of the covenant.” Who is this first messenger? Luke 3:2-6; Isaiah 40:3-5. Who is the “messenger of the covenant”? John 1:23-27. When did “the Lord whom you seek…suddenly come to his temple?” Luke 2:22-38; John 2:13-22; cf. Haggai 2:6-9 (compare Bible translations on verse 7).

3.      What would make His arrival (and also His messenger’s) hard to bear? Luke 3:7-9; Matthew 23. How are we “refined and purified” by fire? Why does God purge away our “dross”? What is His goal? Psalm 119:118-120; Isaiah 1:21-26; Titus 2:11-14. How does God Himself make us the very “precious metal” that is of worth to him? Revelation 3:17-19; contrast to Jeremiah 6:27-30. Why is it worth it to us to stand the test of the fire, trials, and afflictions? Revelation 3:18-22

4.      Why does a proper knowledge and fear of God’s judgment help to turn us away from sinning? Read Malachi 3:5; Prov. 1:15-16; Isaiah 59:7-8.

5.      Why does God’s unchanging nature (immutability) provide us the grace that spares us from being consumed because of our sins? Malachi 3:6; Lamentations 3:22-27; Psalm 102:27-28; Numbers 23:19; Isaiah 54:10. How is it also a warning to the wicked? John 3:34. 

No comments: