Getting ready for the Lord - Malachi 2:17 - 3:5
Well as I mentioned at the beginning of the service, a well known member of our church died on Wednesday and her funeral will be this Thur. And as a church of family, we will all have experiences of or know about other bereavements in recent months. On Thur, a very close friend of mine rang me to say that a 15-year old teenager in their congregation had just died of cancer; a bright young girl with a strong Christian faith and her whole life ahead of her.
But such tragedies are not uncommon. This week saw the conviction of the so-called Suffolk Strangler, Steve Wright. What kind of God permits someone to murder 5 young women in cold blood? And tragedies like these force us as Christians to ask ourselves some very painful questions. What is God like? If as the Bible tells us, He’s totally sovereign, that he’s totally in control of events, then why do bad things happen to good people? If God is all-powerful, then perhaps He’s not good after all. Maybe he’s become indifferent to evil and injustice? Or maybe He’s just gone away and so he doesn’t know what’s going on. Or may, given the evil and injustice that’s all around us, He’s not really there at all; maybe the Christian faith is just a crutch after all; a crutch that doesn’t hold us up when the going gets tough.
Is that you? You’ve gone through a tough time, and it’s caused you to doubt God’s character or even God’s existence. And if that is you, then you’re in good company. Because that’s exactly what God’s people in Malachi’s day were doing. God’s people were questioning His justice.
1. God’s people question His Justice (v17)
So turn with me if you would back to Mal 2:17 on p [891/ ] and look with me at the second half of v17:
"All who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and he is pleased with them" or "Where is the God of justice?"
This is what they were saying. If God exists, then he’s lost the plot. He’s turning a blind eye to the evil and injustice all around us. Otherwise, he’d be doing something, wouldn’t he?. Can’t He see the mess we’re in? Where is the God of justice? Either he’s done a bunk, or he’s not really just after all.
And you can understand why they’d reached that conclusion can't you? Remember the context. Remember the story-line of the whole Bible. Remember to get you’re copy of God’s Big Picture from the Book stall if you need help with that. Because it’s now a 100 years since God’s people had returned from exile in Babylon. God had sent them into exile because they’d constantly broken His covenant; they’d broken the 10 commandments again and again. And so off into exile they went for 80 years. But after the exile, their hopes were high. The prophet Haggai had promised them that the days were coming when the Lord would once again shaken the heavens and the earth. That the nation of Israel would once again be on top with the wealth of all the surrounding nations streaming into Jerusalem. A return to the glory days of King David and Solomon that is.
But the reality a 100 years later was very different. Israel wasn’t a sovereign nation. It was a small insignificant province within a federal superstate; federal taxation had a crippling effect on Judah’s economy and the surrounding nations had a deliberate policy of wanting to keep Judah down. Israel on top. Money and wealth flowing into Jerusalem like in the days of Solomon. Well it’s a joke isn’t it? How can we take these ancient words of God seriously any more? Where is the God of Justice?
God’s people were questioning God’s justice then. And by questioning Hs justice they were striking at the very heart of God. Because God is Just. Justice is part of the very being of God. So to question God’s justice is to question the very heart of God; to question the very character of God. To question that God’s knows what He’s doing and that he’s knows what’s best for us. Once again we’re back the very heart of sin. Back to the garden of Eden; the place where under pressure from Satan’s attacks, Eve doubted and then denied God’s word. And by doubting and denying God’s word, she was rebelling against the Lord God himself. Trying to take God’s place and decide what was right and wrong in her own mind. Not trusting in the Lord’s goodness and power and submitting to His gracious word. And that kind of rebellion against God is very serious.
Because as we see in the rest of v17 and in 3:1, the Lord is just and he will act to restore the honour of His name. Look back to the beginning of v17:
"You have wearied the LORD with your words."
Now the word wearied usually has the sense of physical exhaustion from hard work. But we know that the mighty Creator can’t get tired in that sense. No when God is said to be wearied in the Bible, is means that He’s totally exasperated by His people’s persistent sin and unbelief. Not a momentary lapse, but a constant day-by-day dripping tap kind of deliberate denial and unbelief of God’s clear word; His clear self-revelation in the Bible. God is Love. God is totally in control; and God is just; by definition. That’s who God is. He’s the Creator and we are His created beings. And so of course there will be things that we cant understand about him; there will be things that he hasn’t revealed to us.
"The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law." Moses says in Deut.
So we’re to cling to the things we do know about God; the things revealed in His word that is. Even when we have unanswered questions, we’re not to give up on the truths we do know. God is Love. He’s totally in control; and God is just.
"You have wearied the LORD with your words." Malachi told the Lord’s people of His day. You want me to come and judge the nations around you who are oppressing you. You look at the evil and injustice all around you and think I’ve lost the plot. How dare you attack the honour of my name like that? Because I am a God of justice and I’m going to prove it. I will act to restore the honour of my name which you’ve attacked with your wearisome words. Look with me at v3:
Mal 3:1 "See, 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.
I’m coming to sort out the mess; personally. I the Lord God, creator of the heavens and the earth, I’m going to visit my people. But before I come, I’ll send a messenger ahead of me to get things ready. The image is like a head of state sending some civil servants on ahead to get things ready for an important state visit. The red carpet needs to be ready and all that.
And notice that there are 2 messengers in this verse. The first messenger is the civil servant who’s going to get things ready. And the second is the Lord himself. When God comes to visit His people, he’s going to be a messenger of the covenant; the one who teaches the Bible and explains what it really means and puts it into practice himself. When He comes, there will be justice. Make no mistake about it. I know about the mess, says the Lord. I’ve not lost the plot or fallen asleep; I’ve got a very good reason for waiting, but I am coming; God is just and will act to restore the honour of His name when he visits His people.
So how did God fulfil this promise? Well listen to these opening verse from Mark’s gospel:
1The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.[a] 2It is written in Isaiah [and Mal] the prophet[s]: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way"[b]— 3"a voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' "[c] 4And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
The Lord would visit His people in the person of Jesus. God is just, and he would act to restore the honour of His name. And he did that by sending His only Son; the Lord JC. The man who is God himself. And Jesus was going to demonstrate God’s justice by sorting out the mess caused by sin.
But in the rest of the passage, we see that God’s justice is both good and bad news. Well good and bad news from our perspective that is. The people of Malachi’s day were looking at the injustices of the surrounding nations. This week, some people have been calling for the return of the death penalty for people like Steve Wright. And these things are a pattern. We want God to act. We want justice. We want that person or that mess over there sorted out. Then justice will be done and we’ll be satisfied.
But look back to the middle of v1. Where was the Lord coming first. The Temple; the very heart of Jerusalem; the very heart of His people. God starts with the very heart of His people and works outwards. He will get to the gentles nations; to non-Jews that us like you and me. But starts with His OC people: the Jews in Jerusalem. And we know from the Gospel accounts that Jesus did visit the temple: and it wasn’t a pretty sight was it? He exposed its sin and hypocrisy by driving out all those who were buying and selling; he overturned the tables of the money-changed. How dare you turn my Father’s house into a den of robbers. Get out. In the person of Jesus, the Lord was coming in Judgement; and he started with his people. That’s the point v5 is making at the end of the passage:
Mal 3:5 ""So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud labourers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me," says the LORD Almighty."
As we’ve come through the book of Malachi, we’ve seen that the people’s corporate worship was a farce. They were going through the motions of a church service, but their hearts weren’t in it. They were bringing dodgy worthless sacrifices and finding the whole thing a wearisome bore. Their attitude to church reflected their underlying attitude to God. Despite the outward appearances, they’d basically given up on God. And so they doubted what He'd has said about himself; that he was loving, all-powerful and totally just. And inevitably, their attitude to God and church spilled over into the rest of their lives. So last time, we saw that as a society they’d slipped into a culture of easy divorce.
And in today’s passage we’ve got another catalogue of moral and social sins. Sorcery, adultery and perjury. When a society drifts away from God, faithfulness in marriage and general truthfulness take a nose dive. A survey that was published this week revealed that 90% of people staying in hotel rooms in this country, nick something from the room. 90%. No-one’s looking. Certainly not God. He’s lost the plot remember. And when a society drifts away from the one true God, it doesn’t usually end up believing in nothing, no the vacuum’s filled with a whole load of other spirituality; within our City of Hull there’s virtually every kind of occult practices going on, and people think most of it’s perfectly OK; seminars to contact the dead; séances; tarot card reading the list goes on. And if you want to know more about a Christian response to all that, then come along to St John’s this evening. Sorcery. But it’s not just out there. The number of clergy caught with their hands in the collection plate is shocking. And a few years ago, our Archbishop’s become a druid. Sorcery, adultery and dishonesty.
And it’s the same with social sins: this week on question time Ruth Kelly, a government minister said that Britain was a civilised country. But is it? we’ve got a massive problem with home grown terrorists; we’ve got gangs of people importing East European children for the sex trade; we’ve got legitimate firms even here in Hull exploiting immigrants and paying them well under the minimum wage; and again it’s not just them out there. In our HG group this week, we were discussing whether it was right to buy 3 shirts for a £5 when they’re made in some Chinese sweat shop. Now the issues surrounding Fair Trade are complex, and we haven’t got time to go into them now; but the issue for us is this: if we’re indifferent to the economic and social injustice that may caused by the way we live our lives, then God will come near to us for Judgment. If we treat people made in God’s image with injustice, then it shows that we don’t fear the Lord as we should. That’s the point v5 is making.
And that’s the bad news. The God of justice is coming. And he’ll begin with the people of God. He’ll begin with us. But it gets worse. Look back to v2:
Mal 3:2 "But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?"
When the Lord comes in judgement, who will be able to stand their ground. Who can withstand the searching judgement of God in every part of their lives and not be found wanting? That’s the meaning of these words. And the implication is no one. Like anything in the path of those tornados that hit the mid-west of America a few weeks ago; none of us will escape a guilty verdict. And that’s the point. Compared to God’s perfect justice, we’re all going to be found wanting. We all deserve the coming judgment of v5. God is just, and he’s coming in Judgement. And the bad news is that none of us could stand up to that judgement. If it’s justice we’re after, then we’ll get it. Because God is just and he will act to restore the honour of his name.
That’s the bad news. But the good news is that as well as being completely just, God also made promises to His people; unconditional promises of never-ending love and protection in the opening verses of chapter 1. I have loved you; always have and always will. And I will keep my promise to bless and protect you. And part of the honour of God’s name is that he doesn’t flip flop like a dodgy politician. He doesn’t make promises and then wriggle out of them. God isn’t forgetful or arbitrary. As he puts it in v6:
Mal 3:6 "I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed."
So how can God be just and both judge sin and yet keep his promise to love, protect and not destroy His chosen people. How does God square that circle? How can God be consistent with both sides of His character at once? Because if he can’t, then His name still won’t be honoured. And the answer’s back in v2-4. Look with me at the middle of v2;
Mal 3:2b "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.
God still approaches His people with complete holiness. His character means that he can’t ignore their sin and filth; he can’t ignore the fact that every one of His people has broken His covenant. And so He’s always had a plan to purge their sin; to wash away their sin and guilt; like a patient silversmith who slowly burns away the dross and immunities in molten silver until it’s completely pure; God had a plan to deal justly with our guilt and sin; to make us clean and pure in his sight.
And it’s all wrapped up with the coming Messenger of the word we saw back in v1. The coming Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. Because although Jesus was a messenger, a teacher of God’s word that is, His main role was to die on the cross. To die in the place of His people taking the punishment His people deserved so that God’s justice could be maintained; sin must be paid for; the wages of sin are death; eternal death; but for His people, Jesus has died their death for them. His people can be justly forgiven because of what Jesus did for them on the cross.
But it doesn’t stop there; Because as forgiven people, Christians are then given the HS who continues to clean them up from the inside out It’s a process that will never be finished in this life. Only when we reach heaven will we be completely clean and pure. But for those in Christ, for those who have trusted in J's death for their forgiveness, there is no condemnation. For those in Christ, there is no longer any fear of eternal punishment, because Jesus has take the wrap for us on the cross. The cross is God's supreme act of honouring His name; because on the cross, God’s justice and mercy come together; justice in the judgment of sin; and mercy towards His chosen people, whom he’s promised to love and protect for ever. And for His people, that’s the Good news. God is just and he will act to honour His name. And for His people, that means he’ll honour His promise to take them though the coming judgment and bring them safely to the eternal new creation.
And so the crucial question is not whether God keeps His promises; no the crucial question is whether I am one of His people. If you question God’s justice like those in 2:17; if you don’t feel you deserve God’s judgement and simply ask God to sort out the dodgy people over there – if you show you don’t really fear the Lord for yourself, then you’ve demonstrated that you’re not really one of God’s people after all. And if that’s you, then you need to return to him in repentance and faith before it’s too late. None of us now how long we’ve got left. And after death it’s too late to change your mind. And that’s pray for the dead. Because after death your eternal destiny can’t be changed.
But for the Lord’s true people, he has cleansed and purified us with the blood of Jesus and given us the HS as a deposit guaranteeing what’s to come: a complete and just pardon and a truly blessed eternal life in the new creation. And if that’s you, then we shouldn’t be wearying the Lord with our complaints, but praising and thanking him for his goodness. So where do you stand? Well let’s reflect on that as we close. Let’s pray.
Lord God almighty, thank you that you are a God of justice as well as love. That you don’t just sweep evil and sin under the carpet, but you had a plan to deal with them. But thank you also for your plan of salvation that allows your people to be justly forgiven. Help us all to be part of that plan, and for those of us that are, we pray that you would continue to clean up our lives and make us more like Jesus. Amen.
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