Saturday, November 13, 2010

Malachi 4.1-6 - Sermon for 11/14/10 - Guess Who’s Coming?

Let us pray.
Lord, open our hearts and minds to hear from your word. Purify my thoughts. Use my words according to your great mercy and love. Shine through this proclamation of your word as you cleanse and illuminate our lives.  Amen.

When we expect someone to come over we usually make some preparations. Maybe we're having guests for dinner. Maybe we have some sort of a planned agenda. In our household we've had many times when a group of homeschoolers has come to study something, a group of church elders has come for a meeting, or a Bible study group has met in our living room. Sometimes we have friends who just drop by. While we can only prepare so much for unexpected visitors, we normally do rather a lot of preparation for other occasions. We'll make sure we have the right kind of foods and drinks, the right number of places at the table or chairs in the living room, we'll adjust the temperature in the house a little bit to suit our guests' preferences, and we will clear some other things off our schedule.

The Bible talks about a time when the Lord himself will be returning. He's not coming for dinner or for a meeting. He isn't coming to discuss ancient Greek drama in the living room. He isn't coming to hang out in the garage and see if we can resurrect an old pickup truck, either. He is coming to bring God's judgment on the sinful world and to rescue his people from their bondage. These are serious words. It is a serious situation. There will be no pleasantries. Jesus is not going to knock on the door and see if anyone answers. Not at all. He's going to bring swift and decisive judgment with him.

The prophet Malachi gets right to the point. See how verses 1 and 3 bring the message of judgment, while verses 2 and 4-6 bring God's hope? In our reading from Luke's Gospel we have a little more detail, provided by Jesus, the one who will come. In 2 Thessalonians we find what kind of life we should lead as we wait for the coming judgment. We look today at our passage from Malachi chapter 4.

What is God's attitude toward "the arrogant and all evildoers"? These are the people who are called "the wicked" in verse 3. Our society doesn't really like these words. Maybe because some Christians have bandied the idea of evil and sin around in an irresponsible way our secular society doesn't like to hear those words. Yet there are some people out there who call themselves Christians, maybe they are Christians, spending their time and effort making blanket condemnations of evil. These are the kind of people who go to military funerals and say the soldiers died because the United States approves of various types of sin. These are the kind of people who say it's wrong to kill so they blow up abortion clinics. These are the kind of people who call everyone who doesn't agree with them lockstep "wicked" and pronounce God's condemnation on them.

I'm afraid once we look into the Scripture we need to actually go a little farther than those people do, but we do it in a way that is decidedly different. I look at this passage and I see God's condemnation on arrogant people, evildoers, wicked people. I look at Romans chapter 3 and see that we are all sinners, we are all evildoers. I look at Romans chapter 8 and see our desire to think too highly of ourselves. I see the apostle Paul call himself the "chief of sinners" in 1 Timothy 1. You don't have to look at the Bible too closely to see that it calls you a sinner. You don't have to dig in too far to see that you are wicked. You don't have to know any Greek or Hebrew to understand that the Bible condemns you and me as wicked, evil, arrogant sinners. Maybe we need to be the people who go to military funerals and tell people that we are all people for whom Jesus died because we all needed his life. Maybe we need to be the people who go to abortion clinics and tell people that we are murderers in our hearts and that Jesus came to bring us forgiveness and life. Maybe we need to be the people who study all we can about the Bible and theology and confirm in our hearts and with our mouths that Jesus loves us, that we were once sinners, but that Jesus has proclaimed us righteous and holy through no merit of our own. I wonder what our society will do with us if we present ourselves and the concept of biblical grace that way?

Yes, we are the wicked evildoers our Lord is talking about in this passage. At least we are some of them. So let's look at our passage some more and see who is coming. God is coming in judgment. He is going to treat the wicked of this world like stubble, that which is not really good for anything except to plow under or burn off. It's dried up, dead plant matter. And God is coming with a blazing torch, ready to set it on fire. It will all be burned up, being reduced to ash, something with a few more redeeming qualities than stubble, but certainly not a cash crop or something you'd feed your livestock. God's judgment is against the arrogant evildoers. His judgment is against the wicked. Far from hating sin and loving the sinner, God is steadfastly opposed to the sinner along with his sin. It is the sinner and his sin alike who will spend eternity in terror and separation from God. Make no mistake of it. Our God hates sin. Our God pours out his wrath on sinners.

So what hope do we have? We have condemned ourselves as sinners. It sounds very much like we are doomed.  But there's a word in Scripture we have to love. It's the word "but."  Look at the start of verse 2.  That lovely word "but" changes our direction. It turns the entire picture on its head. Through none of our own labor, through no righteousness of our own, merely through fearing the name, the person, the righteous being of our God, "the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings."  This is no destructive blazing hot sun that parches and kills. This is the warm gentle sun of early Spring, this is the nourishing sun that brings to life. This is the sun that brings healing. The difference between destruction and life is belief on the name of the Lord.

What moves us to believe on the Lord? In verse 4 we read of God's word given through Moses. The Scripture proclaims the true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Scripture proclaims God's loving care for his people. The Scripture proclaims God's mercy despite his people's rejection of his word. The Scripture proclaims God's patience with his people.

What else moves us to believe on the Lord? In verse 5 we see that God is sending his messenger, Elijah, whom Jesus identified with John the Baptizer, to herald the coming of the Lord. God is drawing attention to sin and righteousness.  He is drawing attention to the regenerative nature of repentance and belief, the regeneration of the washing of water in baptism, the impartation of the Holy Spirit according to God's promise, and the sustaining work of the faithful proclamation of Scripture. It is all there. We can see it everywhere in the Gospels. God is working to restore man to a positive relationship with himself, by sending Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord, who gives his life as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world. He has a forerunner, who draws attention off our own obedience to the Law and focuses our attention on Jesus, the Lord who is our righteousness.

What else moves us to believe on the Lord? By the Holy Spirit, God promises in verse 6 that he will turn us to belief himself. This verse is one of the hallmark verses of the school where I teach. We see Christian schooling as one of the means God can use to "turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers." And all this happens in the context of the fathers whose hearts are turned to their Lord and Savior.

There's one other point that I want to make from this passage. Look at our Lord's concern. Does the Lord desire to destroy the wicked? Does the Lord desire to burn up the evildoers along with their sin? Not at all. Being the holy God he cannot allow evil to reign indefinitely. Yet his steadfast desire is to restore people to a loving and faithful relationship with him. He does not wish to strike the land. He does not wish to destroy anyone. Yet the soul who sins must die. And within God's mercy for his people, those who believe on his name, it is necessary that he separate his faithful from those who would hate, despise, and destroy them.

Our Lord does not have a private will. He has only his public will, which is that all should believe and turn to him in repentance and faith, realizing that he has himself paid the penalty for their sin. This is the will of God, your deliverance and my deliverance. His will is accomplished as the Sun of Righteousness rises and grants of forgiveness and healing. May the Sun shine on us.

Let us pray.
Our Lord, we confess our faithlessness. We confess that we are evildoers and that we deserve nothing but your eternal punishment. Thank you for reminding us that there is indeed a Gospel, that Jesus has come and that he takes our sin upon himself, replacing it with his righteousness which he places on us. May we rise, clothed with righteousness, to follow our Lord as he gathers his people to himself on that final day.  Amen.

Dave Spotts
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1 comment:

Woman of the House said...

Excellent law and gospel sermon!

(Are you going to sing "Shine, Jesus, Shine"? ;-) )