This morning we conclude our study in the Old Testament book of Malachi. I trust that you have been challenged as I have. As the last word from God before the birth of Jesus Christ, we saw how this ancient book is just as relevant to us today as it was to the nation of Israel. It is important for the church to spend time in the Old Testament. For me, it serves as a reminder of the holiness of God. Now many in these times attempt to dismiss the God of the Old Testament because they say he is characterized by nothing but rules and wrath. And this is erroneous on a number of levels. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. The God of the Old Testament is the same as in the New Testament. He has always demonstrated his mercy and grace to his people. And yet he is infinitely holy and must punish sin. His view toward sin in the New Testament has not changed. But we see his provision for this sin and the tremendous love he demonstrated by sending his Son to die in our place. This book of Malachi is a reminder of his holiness and his expectations of us to worship him properly.
You may have already noticed that in your Swordsmanship, the questions remain focused on Malachi. Before we move on and “close the book,” I would encourage us to consider the overall message from God through Malachi, answer the questions and apply this to our lives.
In our day I believe we have a propensity to try to formulize successes and failures in life. This takes different forms. When life goes well, we try to assess what we have done to get us to these places. And when things go awry, we try to align things in our favor once again. As Christians, some also try to discern God’s will in a similar fashion. We like to think that when things are going smoothly in any given pursuit, God has opened doors for circumstances to occur. Or conversely, if we meet any resistance in our paths, we determine that God must have closed the door on this pursuit.
But I am not convinced of this perspective and perhaps a bit skeptical as well. I might challenge such thinking by suggesting that sometimes following selfish desires or even distractions from the best things can come quite easily – and be interpreted as God’s “door opening.” And at other times, couldn’t God want to teach us about perseverance and commitment through a seemingly “closed” door?
And then we are confused when we see those who detest God prosper and Christians in some locations being killed and persecuted and living with nothing but the clothes on their backs. All these things leave us baffled and wonder where God is through all of this. The television preachers say that the Christian life is all about financial and health blessings and that we should walk around happy all the time. Is there any constant that can serve as our anchor to help us interpret these things? How do we make sense of all this?
I think that our text this morning will help us out a bit in this area. Please turn in your Bibles to Malachi 3.16. We will pick up the text there and finish the book at Malachi 4.6. READ.
The sermon title is somewhat of a paradox, “Decided Destiny.” And this is intentional. Through this text (and Scripture) you repeatedly see God’s actions and people’s responsibilities. All things are headed to an appointed end. And Malachi reminds his readers and us that one day God will set all things right.
Let’s begin by looking at our first point, Faithfulness and Folly. Verse 16 tells us that there were those who feared the Lord who began to speak with one another. In the midst of rampant rebellion and unfaithfulness, there were those who remained faithful to their God. Perhaps these were those spoken of in 1 Kings 19.18 1 “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” And alluded to in Romans 11, “4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.”
The Bible often speaks of those who are faithful to God as those who “fear” him. This may conjure up different ideas. Many rightly note that it involves having a “healthy respect” for God. And yet others would suggest that there should be no fear of God – as in “being afraid.” I would not quickly dismiss this, however. I would suggest that respect should be coupled with a “healthy fear.” Slight variation.
Let me try to relate how I came to more fully comprehend a fear of the Lord. The other night I was really wrestling in prayer over tough issues. I suppose this isn’t all that uncommon when you have to prepare a sermon dealing with the eternal punishment of the wicked. And I’m not sure if you have ever done this, but I also was praying that God would reveal the sin in my heart. That’s quite the undertaking, working through both of these issues in one prayer! In his grace, God continues to show me my selfish heart. I can’t escape it. It is there in all of us. And if you are brave enough to ask him to show you, I am fairly certain he will. It is quite recognizable. God called to mind any negative responses to my wife and children, my choices in life that confirm that I am most concerned with myself. It is in these moments, that I became more fully aware of the sinfulness of my heart.
Next, I contemplated the nature of God – namely his holiness. Have you considered lately the gap between God’s holiness and our sinfulness? I encourage you to do this often. Why? Only here do we begin to scratch the surface on grace. And then you begin to understand that it is only by the grace of God that you can be accepted by him and forgiven of your sin. Does this cause you to shutter a bit? One of our main problems is that we don’t think God is as holy as he is, or that we are as sinful as we really are. Allow a fresh sense of God’s grace to wash over you, to comfort you, to challenge you in your walk with God. This is a very powerful place to dwell.
Those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. What would this look like? If we all in this church were to regularly… consider…. deeply the holiness of God, our sinful hearts and his grace toward us, how would this change the way we talk to one another, about one another, for one another??? Zechariah 8:16 16 These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace.” In this case, it was in contrast to those who had spoken against God in the previous section.
Notice also that the Lord hears the words of both. Nothing escapes his listening ear. He has heard the complaints and accusations and he has heard the encouragement and edification that occurs with the faithful. Does this truth impact you today? Many of you have read the book “War of Words.” I can’t remember if it was in the book or the teaching videos, but Paul Tripp mentioned that our words are not our own. They belong to the King. The way that we talk greatly affects who we are as a church family – as it did the nation of Israel in the time of Malachi.
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. Does God have a short memory? Why did he mention a “book of remembrance?” Apparently, there are records kept in heaven. Not quite sure if this is a literal book or metaphorical. Moses refers to a book that God has written in Exodus 32.32. The Psalms refer to a book that records the days formed for us and a book of the living. Daniel speaks of a book that holds the names of those who will be delivered in the time of the Great Tribulation. And Revelation speaks of a book of life. And in this book of remembrance is a record of those who fear God and esteem his name. These do not profane his name nor underestimate him, but revere God. These are the faithful.
The second point is Day of Adjustment. There is repeated reference to a “day” in this passage. We see it first in verse 17 of chapter 3. We see it also in chapter 4, verse 1. This day is one we still anticipate when God will come in judgment of his creation.
Everything that we do in this life prepares us for the day. I mentioned at the outset that it is often difficult to discern the faithful from the faithless based on life circumstances. There will be believers who prosper in health and finances and some who will be poor and sick. There will be unbelievers who thrive in their sinfulness and those who suffer throughout their lives.
In addition to this, there are those who are indistinguishable. There are some who call themselves “Christians” and may be good at playing the part – but are not truly believers in Jesus Christ. There may be some that we misunderstand that will show themselves to have repented of sin and trusted in Jesus Christ. The same is true in the nation of Israel. There were many who rested solely in their national heritage and not their belief in God. And in the end, the distinction will be evident.
Isn’t it interesting that when we speak of God’s judgment, it brings with it negative connotations. And negative outcomes will certainly be the case for some as we shall see. I find it also ironic that a society that constantly calls out for justice does not truly understand what they plead for. And Christians can only cry out for the same based on the nature of grace. Without grace, all stand condemned.
Malachi records in 4.1 that the day is coming. And with the day comes the judgment on the wicked. He refers to those who are arrogant and evildoers. The arrogant are those who assert themselves as God and will not bend the knee to the King of Kings. Evildoers are those who reject the gospel of Jesus Christ. Listen to the words of the apostle Paul to the Thessalonians, “2 Thessalonians 1:7–10 “7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”
For those is reserved a day that is a burning fire that will consume them completely – and forever. This is a tough teaching for sure. None of us can comprehend eternal punishment. This again reverts back to our incomplete understandings of the holiness of God and our sinfulness. Allow this tough teaching to help motivate you to share the gospel with those who remain opposed to God.
But for the faithful, God’s coming in judgment is good news! It is at this time that God shall claim his own. Verse 17 tells us that God will make up his treasured possession and spare them as a man spares a son who serves him. One commentator makes this analogy, “The thought is that God’s people are jewels who are scattered and mired in the mud of this world. But at the end, he will find them all, put them into his treasure chest and will look upon them with pride and satisfaction.” In contrast to those who will be condemned, Daniel 12.3 states that “3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”
This is also true of the New Testament believer. Titus 2:13–14 states that Christians are “13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” And 1 Peter 2:9-10 adds “9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
Not only will God’s people be spared from wrath, but they will also reap the benefits of living a life to the glory of God. You probably know that to live as a Christian requires you to abstain from worldly pleasures. Peter continued his letter with these words, “11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” There is a cost to becoming a Christian. We are commanded to exercise restraint. I think that this sets us up for the illustration provided in Malachi 4.2 regarding the calves in the stall. In a sense, they are being restrained as well. The day will come when we will no longer feel the restraints from worldly pleasures and we will be free because there will no longer be temptation and desires within us to sin. Doesn’t that sound great?!?!
We live within this tension where we are free to serve and honor Christ and yet we continually battle against our sinful desires. In one sense, we are more joyful than ever before. And we are concurrently wrestling like we never have. There will come a day when our joy will be complete and we will experience life without the enticements of the world, our flesh, and the Enemy.
There will also be healing. The believer in Jesus Christ is often persecuted, ridiculed, and sometimes killed for their faith. But the sun of righteousness will provide healing for the broken and bruised Christian. I believe this to be fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ who is the light of the world. John 1:4–5 “4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 8:12 “12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
The ESV Study Bible notes include this note regarding the illustration: “Just as the sun drives away darkness and clouds, bringing light and joy, so the sun of righteousness will appear to dispel gloom, oppression, and injustice.” Isaiah 60.1-2 “1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.”
The Lord Jesus is our righteousness. Jeremiah 23:5–6 5 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”
And he will provide healing. You are probably familiar with Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53:5 “5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
And in verse 3, the faithful are promised that they will play a part in the punishment of the wicked. This may be a bit more difficult for us to comprehend. We would probably identify more fully if we were among the faithful believers in other countries where our families are ripped apart, raped and killed; where church buildings are burnt to the ground and people imprisoned and starved. In North America, we don’t know persecution from enemies. And I don’t think this stems from a sense of tolerance. I think that most believers don’t pose a threat to anyone. I am not referring to anything violent. I am speaking to our adaptation to our world. We are not unique enough in the way we live our lives. We are not bold enough to declare the gospel. We don’t even admonish and correct each other in our own churches. We don’t want to offend. And we become neutralized. We are ineffective for the cause of Christ. The Enemy needn’t be concerned with us. But for those whose lives are on the line daily, for those who have witnessed their wives and children taken and killed, they can more readily identify with verse 3.
But even more importantly, we should be motivated that God be glorified. And there are people throughout all of history who refuse to serve and honor him. They defame his name and live for his Adversary. On the day when God acts, he will deal with his enemies.
If we look back at verse 18, we shall see the distinction most clearly. On the day when the Lord Jesus returns, all will be exposed. Notice there is no middle ground. There is the righteous and the wicked. He elaborates by indicating that this is the same difference between the one who serves God and one who does not. Simple as that.
Until then, we coexist. So, in that sense, the bumper sticker is correct. You know the one I am referring to, right? All the religious symbols together…? As one friend questioned, “does this mean we all must agree?” The truth is we will all coexist for our time on this earth. But listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew 13:24–30 “24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ” And Matthew 3:12, “12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” God has set apart a Day of Adjustment where wrongs will be “righted,” believers will be healed and leap and tread on the wicked, and the Lord will separate the wheat and the chaff.
One writer puts it like this, “On that day, the debate about whether it is wise to serve God will cease forever. To the people of Malachi’s day, it often appeared that there was no point in being righteous. The line between the righteous and the wicked was so horribly blurred that it seemed as if one was as good as another. But eternity will bring clarity to all muddled situations, and it will be obvious that the righteous were wise. Like the people of Malachi’s generation, we sometimes envy the wicked, but no one will envy them in eternity.”
The last point is Remember and Repent. The book of Malachi begins with a look backward and ends with looks forward. The same is true even in the last three verses. In verse 4, he commands the people to remember the Law of Moses. For the people of Israel, God gave them the Ten Commandments that summarize what it is to honor God. The reference to Horeb is synonymous with Sinai where Moses met with God to receive them.
These laws provided the people with an understanding of the holiness of their God. They were to live by them to show themselves dedicated to God and different than the pagan nations. In this way, they would be a light to the nations. As you probably know, no one can keep all the Ten Commandments. And so God also provided temporal provisions that would atone (or pay) for their sins in order to keep them pure.
What is being commanded here is a return to the moral law of God. They had followed their own wicked ways and removed themselves from blessing from God. At the close of the letter God is telling them to return to the ways that were set out for them as his people. The term “remember” is more than a recollection, but combines a response with the understanding. It is even included in the Ten Commandments when they are commanded to “remember” the Sabbath. This implies not just thinking about it, but an action. Malachi was calling Judah to a lifestyle guided at all times not by human wisdom, ambition, or societal expectations but by the thoughtful application of God’s Word. They were called to be “unfashionable.” Charles Spurgeon writes regarding following the lead of others, “The great guide of the world is fashion and it’s god is respectability–two phantoms at which brave men laugh! How many of you look around on society to know what to do? You watch the general current and then float upon it! You study the popular breeze and shift your sails to suit it. True men do not so! You ask, “Is it fashionable? If it is fashionable, it must be done.” Fashion is the law of multitudes, but it is nothing more than the common consent of fools.”
Immediately following the return to the Law, he points to Christ. How? In between their present day and “that day” of judgment, God will send Elijah the prophet. Before the great and awesome day of the Lord, God sends an intermediary. But Elijah has already come… Yes and no. The Bible also indicates that an “Elijah-like” prophet will come. And this is fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist. The purpose of this prophet was to prepare the way for Jesus. And I think that is what Malachi is trying to get across.
Roger Ellsworth writes, “When people receive or reject the Lord Jesus Christ, they are passing judgement day verdict upon themselves. In preparing people for Jesus to be revealed to the nation of the Jews, John was preparing people for judgement day. Those who truly owned up to their sins would be looking for the Saviour. Those who went on in the pretence and hypocrisy of being good enough for God by their ‘religion’ would reject Jesus. That judgement stands for eternity.”
I see a strong connection between verses 4 and 6. In verse 4, the people are told to remember (and apply) the law. And in verse 6, the result will be stronger families. Do you remember the words of Deuteronomy? Deuteronomy 4:9–10 9 “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children— 10 how on the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’ Or how about Deuteronomy 6:4–7 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
Remember chapter 2? Malachi reminded the people of the sanctity of marriage and how this carries out God’s purposes in them. He writes, “and what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.” It is as God’s people are faithful to their responsibility to honor God’s ways and teach them to their children that we continue to be a light to the nations and bring him glory. We are to be “unfashionable” to the world and show them what it looks like when Jesus has changed us from the inside – out.
I hope that you have seen Jesus Christ in this text and in this book. The Old Testament points to him. This text makes it fairly clear. Jesus is the light of the world. He brings healing to the faithful. He is our provision in our failure to keep the law. He will separate the wheat from the chaff. Jesus is our righteousness. He is our only hope.
Our God is a holy God. He is the same God – Old and New Testament. He cannot wink at sin. It needs to be punished. And it has been. The God of the Old Testament is the one who planned to send his Son to pay the penalty we deserved to pay – to die our death. And the only way that we are saved the wrath to come is based on this provision. The distinction will be made clear on that day. Are you righteous or wicked? Do you serve the One True God or do you serve yourself? Let’s pray.