Sermon on Malachi 3:1-4
Second Sunday of Advent
Prepare for the Lord’s Coming
Text: Malachi 3:1-4
“Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” Scandal Rocks the Church Again! Materialism Out of Control as Stimulus Plans Throw Away Money! Divorce Rates Hit All-Time High as Marriage is Devalued! Are these headlines ripped from the Daytona News Journal or USA Today? They’re not, but they probably could be because those fictional headlines are representative of the many real problems happening in America these days.
But church scandals, materialism, and marriage problems are not anything new. These involve sins that have been running prevalent for ages. In fact, 2500 years ago the Israelites struggled mightily with these very sins, along with many others. That’s why God sent to them his last Old Testament prophet, Malachi. In short, this was Malachi’s message to Israel: “Repent, because the Lord is coming!” This message reminds us of someone else, another messenger sent from God to prepare his people, someone whom Malachi even prophesied would come. Listen to verse 1: “See, I will send my messenger before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come.” In this verse Malachi prophesies that God would send a messenger to prepare the way for a greater messenger. From the rest of Scripture we certainly know what Malachi was talking about—John the Baptist, a messenger, would come to prepare the way for a greater messenger, Jesus.
Now, 2500 years after Malachi and 2000 years after John the Baptist, the message which these men of God proclaimed still holds true for us as we wait for the Lord’s second Advent (coming) on Judgment Day. So today let’s take a closer look at the message Malachi and John the Baptist proclaimed which will help us
Prepare for the Lord’s Coming!
1. Repenting of Sin
2. Rejoicing in Salvation
3. Reacting with Sacrifices
The spiritual state of Israel at the time of Malachi was truly despicable. God had set Israel apart to be his special people and time after time God showered them with love, mercy, and protection. He brought them out of Egypt to the Promised Land. He blessed them and allowed them to flourish under kings like David and Solomon. Even when God permitted them to be led off into captivity, God eventually brought them back to rebuild their homeland.
But despite all of his love to Israel, God was far from first place in their hearts. In his book, Malachi records several admonitions from the Lord about Israel’s sins. It started with the Levites—the special people God had set apart to be priests and lead in worship. Listen to what God says to them: “But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ You place defiled food on my altar . . . I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not set your heart to honor me . . . you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble.” Strong words from the Lord against these priests who led the Israelites astray. But the Lord was angered by the sins of the people too. Here’s more rebuke: “The Lord is acting as a witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant . . . Has not the Lord made them one? . . . do not break faith with the wife of your youth . . . I hate divorce.” Clearly God was not happy with their marriage practices.
There was one other major sin that God addressed through Malachi. The Lord says, “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.” Apparently, the Israelites were holding back in their offerings. They were giving to God neither from their heart nor the best of what they had.
Can you believe they committed such outrageous sins? God had been so merciful to them, yet they sinned so grievously! But before we point accusatory fingers at those Israelites, maybe we should examine our own lives under the microscope of God’s laws and requirements.
God said that he would curse the Levites because of how they were leading the Israelites in worship. Do you think God would ever be this upset with your worship life? Well, what does God demand? He wants us to want to come to worship. He does not want us to give up gathering together. But sometimes it can become habit and part of our way of life to find excuses why we don’t need to come to church. I have heard everything from, “I’m not coming to church because I’m just a little under the weather,” to “I’m going to work instead,” to “I just can’t sit still that long,” to “It’s my birthday or our anniversary, so we’re taking a week off.” What would God think about the reasons given for missing worship? Would he say that every effort was made to honor him? Would he see that he is first in our hearts? Or what he find that the reasons we give are just excuses that make us feel better because we know we really should be in church. Of course, church is not the only way to worship God. We make all kinds of excuses about reading and studying his Word, or honoring him in other ways in our lives.
God was also angry with the marriage practices of the Israelites. Again, let’s think about what God demands of us. He says in his word that husband and wife are to love each other and then part only at death. God says the he wants us to be pure. God says that among us should not even be a hint of sexual immorality. I’m guessing we would be hard pressed to find one of us that has not fought or been angry with our spouse. I’m guessing it would be difficult to find one person—married or single—that has not been involved with sexual immorality (if not in actions then at least in thoughts). Again, we have sinned and earned God’s anger.
Then God addressed the Israelites’ offerings. God demands of us offerings which are from the heart, our first and our best, and offerings given freely. That means that if we have ever given back to the Lord reluctantly, unwillingly, or skimpily, then we have sinned and angered our God
So what could God’s messengers possibly say to such sinners as the Israelites, or to such sinners like us? Listen to Malachi first: “Who can endure the day of [the Lord’s] coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” The answer to these rhetorical questions? No one! No one will be able to endure Jesus’ 2nd coming. No one will be able to stand before the Lord on Judgment Day, because he will in fact be like a refiner, or a blacksmith—looking for any impurities to burn up. He will be like a launderer’s soap looking for any dirt or filth on us to get rid of. And shamefully for us, that’s all Jesus would find—impurities and filth, or as he calls it, sin.
John the Baptist echoes this message. In the Gospel he said, “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” That’s right. Every tree, every person, that sins and thus does not have good fruit will be cut down by the Lord and thrown into the fires of hell. Malachi and John the Baptist’s message rings loud and clear: Prepare for the Lord’s Coming, and that means repenting of your sin!
I would assume that most of you, like me, know very little about being a goldsmith or silversmith. But though few or none of us have ever worked with these metals before, we know what makes them good. If you want to buy a ring for your sweetie, or a necklace for your mother-in-law, you want good gold or silver. You don’t want your precious metals to have any flaws or impurities. On the other hand, I would guess though that most of us know how to do the laundry. And similar to your gold or silver you don’t want any dirt or impurities in your laundry. After all, what value is anything if it is flawed or dirty?
So what value does that give to us—flawed and dirtied by our sin? And here’s the worst part—just like your gold and silver or your laundry couldn’t, you and I can’t do anything about our sinful filth. There is nothing we can do on our own to improve our own quality or earn God’s favor by becoming pure in his sight.
However, you could take action upon your dirty objects and make them pure and clean. You can refine and purify gold and silver; you can wash dirty laundry. Praise God, for he has done the same for us. Listen to Malachi’s words, “[God] will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.” Though the Levites were sinful and dirty, God says he would refine them. This also includes the rest of the Israelites, as well as you and me.
God has refined us, and he has done so through that greater messenger of the covenant Malachi foretells—his own Son, Jesus. Just as you might use fire to heat up and refine gold or silver, so also were we refined through Jesus. You see, Jesus suffered fire for us. But he didn’t suffer a mere fire of over 1000 degrees (what it would take to melt gold or silver). No, Jesus suffered flames far worse. On the cross he endured all the flames of eternity in hell—the punishment you and I deserve because of our sin. Through Jesus’ innocent life and death, God has in fact refined us and made us pure in his sight. He has purified us of all sin. A different John, John the apostle, also said this: “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin.” Not only did Jesus refine us, but he also washed us. He washed us clean in his blood, wiping away all our sin! It is just as John the Baptist proclaimed—seeing Jesus approaching John exclaimed, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
The message of Malachi and John helps us to be ready for God’s coming. They tell us today, Prepare for the Lord’s Coming by Rejoicing in Your Salvation! Though dirtied and filled with sin, God has purified us and washed us clean through Jesus. Repent of your sin, but then rejoice that you have been forgiven!
Every single week for the four years that I was in college, my grandmother would pick up my laundry, take it to her house, and wash it for me. Every week, no matter how much or how dirty it was, she always graciously washed it and returned it to me fresh, clean, good as new and sometimes even with a few cookies in the bag! I tried my hardest to do everything I could to show her thanks for her love and great gift of free laundry service.
Similar, but far greater, is our reaction to our God. He has lovingly and graciously refined and purified us and washed us clean from all sin. He has given to us the great and free gift of eternal life. Now, we have the opportunity to react with lives of love for God. This is what Malachi says would happen among believers, “Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.” Malachi is saying that because believers have been purified through Jesus’ blood they now can bring him offerings and sacrifices that will please him. This will be like “the good old days” Malachi says, like when Moses or David were alive and Israel was at a spiritual peak. John the Baptist put it more simply and practically in the gospel today. He said, “Produce fruit.” Then he gave examples: if you have two tunics, share; if you are a tax collector, don’t cheat; if you are a soldier, don’t abuse your power.
In other words, react to God’s forgiveness with sacrifices of love. We may not have always worshiped wholeheartedly. We might have abused God’s gift of marriage in one way or another. We could have given poor offerings to the Lord. We may have sinned in countless ways. But we have been purified and washed clean of those sins, and that forgiveness gives us a new life to live for God. That forgiveness empowers us so we love coming to church. It motivates to want to uphold God’s intentions for men and women in marriage. That forgiveness leads us to give joyful offerings to the Lord in thanks. Today we hear Malachi and John the Baptist’s message. It helps us Prepare for the Lord’s Coming by reacting to his gift of salvation with sacrifices of love and thanks to him.
Things have not changed much since the days of Malachi or John the Baptist. Our world is still filled with sin. The devil is still on the prowl seeking someone to devour. That’s why we carefully listen to Malachi and John’s Advent message. They help us to prepare for the Lord’s return on Judgment day by reminding us to repent of our sin, rejoice in our salvation, and then react with sacrifices of love and thanks. By preparing for the Lord’s return in that way, soon enough Jesus will return and we will see what he has prepared for us in heaven.