This morning we came to the end of Paul’s second letter to Timothy and we studied together Paul’s last written words. This evening we’ve come to the end of the book of Malachi, which is also the end of the Old Testament. And the Old Testament ends with the announcement that the day of the Lord is coming. That is, the Lord is coming.
For Malachi, the coming of the Lord was a future event. He was waiting for the Lord to come to condemn God’s enemies and to save his people. For us, the coming of the Lord is past, because Christ the Lord has come and he came to give his life as a ransom to pay for all that we have done wrong and to deliver us from our sin and misery and to give us the hope of everlasting life in that new and better world to come. For us, the coming of the Lord is past. But it’s also future, isn’t it? Christ has already come in the past and he came in humility and weakness to save his people by his death on the cross. But Christ will come again in the future and he will come in glory and with power to punish his enemies and to bring his people into the new heavens and earth where they will live with the Lord forever and forever in perfect peace and rest. Malachi anticipated the coming of the Lord. And the Lord has come and the Lord is coming again. And since he is coming again, we need to be ready for him. And we get ready for his coming by turning from our sins in repentance and by asking God to forgive us our sins for the sake of Christ who died for sinners.
And we need God’s forgiveness, don’t we? We need God’s forgiveness, because, like God’s people in the past, we are sinners and we sin against him every day and we fall short of doing his will.
Like the Israelites, we fail to appreciate God’s love. That was God’s first complaint in this book, wasn’t it? The people of Israel doubted God’s love for them. They asked, ‘How have you loved us?’ And haven’t we sometimes doubted his love for us? When things are not going well for us, when life is hard, when it’s getting on top of us, we question his love for us.
And like the Israelites, we don’t honour him the way that we should. That was God’s second complaint in this book. The priests did not bring him the best animals for sacrifice, but the worst. Their attitude seemed to be that it didn’t matter what they brought, because God does not matter. And how often is our worship of the Lord less that whole-hearted? How often have we regarded worshipping the Lord and serving the Lord as a burden and not a delight?
And like the Israelites, we fall short of doing God’s will when it comes to married life. That was God’s third complaint in this book. Instead of marrying believers, the men were marrying unbelievers even though the Lord forbade it. And instead of remaining faithful to the wife of their youth, the men were divorcing their wives, when the will of the Lord was for them to remain married. And we too fall short of doing God’s will when it comes to marriage and family life, because none of us loves the members of our family the way that we should. None of us loves one another with a perfect love.
And like the Israelites, we question the justice of God. Where is the God of justice? That’s what they were saying. Why won’t he come and stop the wicked? Does he not care? That was the Lord’s fourth complaint. And the fifth complaint was about robbing God. They were robbing God by not bringing him their tithes and offerings to support the work of the priests and Levites. And we rob the Lord whenever we’re selfish with our money and possessions and are not generous with what he has given us.
The Israelites sinned against the Lord. And so do we, because we break his laws and we fall short of doing his will. And the reason we sin is because we’re sinners. We’re sinners by birth. And therefore disobeying the Lord and falling short of doing his will come naturally to us. Even after we’ve been converted to faith in Christ, we continue to sin; and everyday we must battle against it, because that natural inclination to sin remains in us.
And that’s why we need a Saviour. And the good news is that the Lord our God is gracious and merciful and he’s slow to anger and he’s abounding in steadfast love. And he therefore sent his only Begotten Son into the world as one of us to give up his life to pay for our sins and shortcoming and to shed his blood to cleanse us from our guilt. And by believing in him, we are pardoned by God for all that we have done wrong and we receive the hope of eternal life in God’s presence. And we also receive the gift of his Spirit to help us to fight against sin and to do God’s will here on earth while we wait for the Saviour to come again. And so, we need a Saviour. And thanks be to God who has given us a Saviour. And through the prophet Malachi, the Lord announced to his sinful people in the past, the coming of the Saviour into the world.
Today we come to God’s sixth complaint. And in the course of making this complaint, he speaks of the distinction which exists in the world between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve the Lord and those who do not. Whereas God regards the righteous as his treasured possession, he will regard the wicked as stubble to be burned. And so, let’s turn to verse 13 of chapter 3.
The Lord complains that the people have been saying harsh things about him. The people don’t understand what he means by this; and so, they ask for clarification: ‘What have we said against you?’ And so the Lord explains. They’ve been saying that it’s futile to serve God. It’s a waste of time and effort. It does no good. There’s no value in it or benefit in serving him. So, what did we gain by carrying out his requirements? What did we gain by going about like mourners? Going about like mourners perhaps refers to grieving for their sins. So, what good has it done us when we try to obey the Lord and to walk in his ways? And what good has it done us when we confess our sins and mourn for them? We haven’t got anything from it. Our life is no better than those who do not believe and do not obey. In fact, the arrogant are the ones who are blessed. When they mention ‘the arrogant’, they’re referring to the wicked. Instead of humbly bowing before the Lord, the wicked proudly resist him. They refuse to serve him. And it seems to the Lord’s people that the wicked are the ones who are blessed.
I quoted from Psalm 73 this morning and that psalm fits here as well. God’s people are looking at the prosperity of the wicked who have no struggles and their bodies are healthy and strong and they’re free from the burdens common to man and they’re not plagued by human ills. Their lives are good and successful, whereas our lives are miserable in comparison. So, what good is serving the Lord? What’s the point? God has let us down by not blessing us. That’s their complaint about the Lord. Evildoers are prospering. Those who challenge the Lord, who test him, escape. Serving the Lord is a waste of time.
And certainly we can look around the world and see how the wicked often prosper and do well, whereas God’s people are often persecuted and oppressed. Those who don’t believe often seem to lead care-free lives and they’ve not troubled by a guilty conscience and they can do whatever they please; and whatever they please, they do. Life seems great for them. And perhaps believers can sometimes look on them with envy and perhaps we sometimes wish we could live like that and not be bothered with serving the Lord and keeping ourselves from evil. Christian young people look at their unbelieving friends who seem to have such a great time at the weekend, whereas believers often seem to miss out on so much fun. Is God being mean to us? Is he a killjoy? What good does it do us to serve him? What benefit do we get from walking in his ways? Do you ever think that way?
That’s what people were saying in Malachi’s day. But then in verse 16, Malachi refers to those who feared the Lord. So, among the Israelites who were complaining about the Lord and looking with envy on the wicked, was this smaller group of people who feared the Lord in the sense that they honoured the Lord and they refused to say anything to dishonour him. This morning I mentioned the Israelites in the wilderness who complained about the Lord and who wanted to return to Egypt. Why has God brought us into this wilderness to die? He doesn’t love us. He’s being mean to us. We would be better off if we returned to Egypt. That’s what many of them were saying. But there was a smaller group who remained faithful and who trusted that the Lord is good and he will do all that he promised and he will bring them into the Promised Land. The others were not afraid to speak out against the Lord, but a few faithful ones continued to trust in him. And that’s what we have here. The majority are complaining about the Lord, but a few faithful ones continued to trust in him.
And they spoke to one another. We don’t know what they said, but presumably they encouraged one another to remain faithful and to trust in the Lord and not to turn away from him or to complain. And whatever they said, the Lord listened and heard them. And we’re told that a scroll of remembrance was written in God’s presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honoured his name. The commentators discuss whether this book was about them or whether it was for them. If it was for them, then it was a book for them to use. It might have been a book containing God’s instructions to them and his promises for them. In that case, it was a book for their instruction and encouragement. Whenever they were hard-pressed and troubled, they could turn to this book of remembrance to remind them once again of God’s promises to them. And so, it would encourage them to persevere. Or perhaps it was a book about them. Kings in ancient times would keep a record of the good things their servants had done. And therefore it was a record of the faithful deeds of the king’s servants. And perhaps Malachi is saying that God will remember these people who remained faithful to him and who continued to honour his name when everyone else was doubting him. And perhaps that’s the point. Most of the people were saying that it’s futile to serve the Lord. What good does it do? When we obey him, he doesn’t notice. But the Lord has this book of remembrance to reassure his faithful people that he does see what they do for him and he does take note of it and while no one else may notice the things you do and what you suffer because of the Lord, he takes note of it. It’s recorded in his book, in his memory. We may be despised and disregarded by an unbelieving world, but the Lord pays attention to what his people have done in his name.
And look what the Lord goes on to say about those faithful few who continued to honour him. ‘They will be mine’, he says. They will be ‘my treasured possession’. That recalls the words of the Lord to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai when he promised to be their God and to make them his treasured possession. It meant that he would take care of them and protect them, because that’s what we do with a treasured possession. There’s something which is precious to us. And because it’s precious, we take care of it. If we’re moving house, we wrap it carefully and we take it with us, instead of leaving it for the removal men. We don’t let it out of our sight. It’s ours and we want to keep it safe. And that’s how the Lord regards his people. They are his treasured possession. We belong to him and he promises to keep us safe and to protect us.
‘I will spare them’, he says in verse 17, ‘just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him.’ When the time comes for the Lord to judge the world, he will spare his people who trust in him. They will not suffer the punishment to come, because the Lord will have compassion on them and will show them mercy. And therefore on that day, when God comes to judge the world, you will again see a distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not. Remember the Lord’s parable of the wheat and the weeds? A farmer planted good seed in his field. But in the night, his enemy came along and sowed bad seed. And after a while, his servants noticed that among the wheat that was growing in the field were all these weeds. ‘Where did the weeds come from?’ they wanted to know. But the farmer knew it was his enemy who sowed the bad seed. ‘Shall we remove the weeds?’ his servants asked. And the farmer told them not to. Let the wheat and the weeds grow side by side for now. But when it’s time for the harvest, that’s when the weeds will be destroyed. And the Lord told that parable to explain that for now the righteous and the wicked live side by side. Those who believe and those who do not believe live side by side. And God cares for both of them. He provides for them. He sends the sun and the rain on the righteous and the wicked. He is good to all. And sometimes, for now, his people may suffer, while the wicked may prosper. But the day is coming, when the Lord will make clear the distinction that exists between his people and those who are not his people. He will make clear the distinction between the righteous and the wicked. The day is coming when the wicked will be condemned and punished whereas the righteous will be spared. As the psalmist says in Psalm 73, God has placed the wicked on slippery ground. They do not realise it, but the day is coming when he will cast them down to ruin. And suddenly they will be destroyed.
And the Lord goes on to speak about that day in verses 1 to 3 of chapter 4. It is coming. And it will burn like a furnace.
I was talking recently to someone who used to work in the gasworks and he talked about furnaces where they used to burn coal and how the walls of the furnaces would become so hot that they’re would glow red with the heat. And that’s the image the Lord gives us here. And all the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble. He’s picturing what is left in the field after the crops have been harvested. The only thing left is stubble. And like stubble, the wicked will be burned and destroyed. And nothing will be left of the wicked: not a root or a branch, but they will be totally destroyed. It’s an image, of course. It’s a picture which conveys for us the punishment of the wicked and the suffering they will endure when the Lord comes to judge the world. Right now, it may seem they are blessed. Right now, it seems they live a carefree life, a life of pleasure. But the day will come when God will judge them for what they have done wrong and there will be no escape from his wrath on that day.
‘But’, Malachi adds in verse 2, ‘But for you who revere my name….’ So, he’s contrasting the righteous and the wicked, those who serve the Lord and those who do not. The wicked will be punished. But for you who honour my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wing. Think of the run rising in the sky, and the rays of light are like wings, stretching out on either side of the sun. And the rising of the sun means a new day has dawned, when God will put right all that has gone wrong in the world and when his people will be vindicated and it will be clear that they were right to trust in him. For so long, the wicked were prospering and the righteous were struggling. But the day is coming when everything will be changed and put right. And God’s people, who suffered so much, who endured so much, who were persecuted and oppressed, will be healed and all their sorrow and sadness and all their disappointments and troubles will be forgotten. And they will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. For now, we are confined by our troubles. But the day is coming when every trouble will be removed and we’ll jump for joy. This recalls the image from Psalm 103 of how our youth will be renewed so that we’ll soar like an eagle. Our souls and bodies will be renewed and we’ll jump and leap like a young calf.
And Malachi continues by saying God’s people will trample down the wicked. And so, he’s anticipating a complete reversal. In this life, the wicked trample over God’s people who are persecuted and oppressed. In this life, the wicked rule and reign, while God’s people often suffer. But the day is coming, when the wicked will be humbled and God’s people will be exalted. The image of ashes on the sole of your feet again conveys the idea that God’s people will be triumphant and God’s enemies will be like ash that is trampled under foot.
But this is not something the righteous are to do. Malachi is not telling God’s people to rise up against the wicked and to make war on them. Look at the end of verse 3. This is something that God will do. He will bring about these things. He will do these things. God’s people are called to love their enemies and to do good to them. As far as it depends on them, they’re to live at peace with everyone. But there is a day coming when the Lord will judge the world and will destroy the wicked for what all they have done.
And so, for the righteous, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings and they will leap for joy. But for the wicked, the coming of the Lord will burn like a furnace and they will be destroyed.
But here’s the thing. All of us have sinned. All of us have come short of the glory of God. We all, like sheep, have gone astray and each one has turned to his own way. There is no one who is righteous, not even one. Isn’t that what the Bible teaches us plainly? And even our best deeds are spoiled by sin and every day we all sin against the Lord in thought and word and deed and we fall short of doing his will. And therefore, we all deserve to be condemned by God. We all deserve to be sent out of his presence to be punished. That’s what we all deserve, because there is no one righteous, not even one.
But the good news is that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son so that whoever believes in him will not perish, but will have everlasting life. God sent his Son into the world as one of us; and, in our place, he suffered the wrath of God and he bore the punishment we deserve. The fire of God’s wrath burned against him and he took the blame for all that we have done wrong. In order for us to be spared the wrath to come, Christ was not spared. And the punishment that we deserve for a lifetime of sin and rebellion was placed on him and he was pierced for our transgressions. And by faith in him, we are pardoned by God for all that we have ever done wrong. Our guilt is washed away by his blood, which is like an ever-flowing stream which can never be exhausted but which washes away every stain of sin. And not only are we pardoned, but we who are guilty and who deserve to be condemned are declared righteous in the sight of God whenever we believe in his Son. We have no righteousness of our own, because we’re always doing what is wrong. But by faith we receive Christ’s righteousness, his perfect obedience. And so, though we may have done everything wrong, God treats us as if we have done everything right.
And that means that those who believe in Christ the Saviour need not fear the day of judgment, because on that day, all who have trusted in Christ will be declared right with God. And instead of suffering the fire of God’s wrath, we’ll be brought in to eat from the Tree of Life and to drink from the Water of Life.
And look how the book of Malachi ends. Look how the Old Testament ends. We’re asked to remember something. Remember the law of Moses. The law of Moses reveals to us God’s will for our lives. But the law of Moses also exposes our sin and our need of a Saviour. And then we’re asked to look forward to something. We’re asked to look forward to the coming of Elijah, because the coming of Elijah will signal the coming of the Lord. And we know from the New Testament, that Malachi’s prophecy regarding the coming of Elijah was fulfilled by John the Baptist. John was not Elijah re-incarnated. But in Luke 1, the angel who appeared to John’s father said that John will go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children. And in Matthew 11, the Lord Jesus said that Elijah has already come, because John is the Elijah who was to come. The coming of John was the fulfilment of Malachi’s prophecy.
And John came to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord, who came the first time to give up his life to pay for your sins and to make peace for you with God. And he will come a second time. And when he comes again, it will be a day of darkness for those who did not believe in him. But his coming will be like the rising of the sun for those who believe. It will be the dawning of a new day. A day of righteousness, when all that is wrong will be put right. A day of healing, when God will wipe the tears from your eyes. A day of joy when God’s people will leap like calves. It will be a day like no other day. And it will be a day that will never end.