Much of the news this week has focused on the murder of James Foley, the American journalist killed by IS in Syria. The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that about 20 journalists are missing in Syria. Many of them are believed to be held by Isis.
They have made the news because they are British and American. But the fate of the hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced peoples of Iraq and Syria who make up the minorities, the Alawites, Shia’s, Kurds, Yazidis and Christians has been less well documented.
On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that a broad array of countries must unite to stamp out the “cancer” of the Islamic State group. Describing its “acts of sheer evil,” Kerry said the Islamic State group has “demonstrated the ability to seize and hold more territory than any other terrorist organization, in a strategic region that borders Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and is perilously close to Israel.”
That is one reason why on Friday the UK’s terror threat level has also been raised from “substantial” to “severe” or “highly likely” for the first time since 2010.
The people of Malachi’s day were as frustrated as you may be over the lack of justice in our world. They were troubled by the corruption of their day, they were irritated by the inequalities, they were perturbed by the injustices they saw all around them. And they began to question whether God really cared. They blamed God for their suffering. They questioned God’s integrity. They even went as far as to accuse God of tolerating injustice. What did they say?
“All who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and he is pleased with them” … “Where is the God of justice?” (Malachi 2:17).
No wonder Malachi says “You have wearied the Lord with your words.” George Bernard Shaw once said “Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.” When we widen our horizon and think about the news stories this week of people in countries longing for a change of government, who do not enjoy freedom and democracy, peace and security, as we know it – places like North Korea, Burma, Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, we can empathize perhaps with those who are frustrated, who ask “Where is the God of justice?” (Malachi 2:17). What answer does the Lord provide in this dispute?
The opening words of Malachi’s prophecy are intended to comfort and reassure. “I have loved you” (Malachi 1:2). God’s answer is much more radical than a change of government. Much more radical even than a change of political system – capitalism, communism, socialism or even Islamic extremism. Something much more radical. He is coming himself to deal with the injustices of our world. He is coming to deal with all those who set themselves up as gods, who think they are above the law or immune from justice. During his incarceration in a Soviet Gulag prison, Alexander Solzhenitsyn came to this realisation:
“…. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil. …. If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
As Rico Tice says, “The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.”
That is why God has provided what we need most – not a general, not a politician, but a Saviour. In this last book of the Hebrew canon, and the last in our series Christ in all the Scriptures, Malachi introduces us to the grace of God personified in Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Grace has provided a Saviour (Malachi 3:1)
Grace is purifying his Saints (Malachi 3:2-4)
Grace will judge all Sinners (Malachi 3:5-6)
Grace Has Provided a Saviour
“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. (Malachi 3:1)
Instead of simply sending an asteroid to wipe out the earth, God sent a messenger to prepare the people for his personal coming. That is grace. “My messenger,” who “will prepare the way,” is distinguished from the divine Lord of hosts, who is the speaker and to whom the pronouns “I,” “my,” and “me” refer.
So the messenger is someone different from the Lord of hosts. The play on Malachi’s name (malaki means messenger) also suggests that his own prophecy was intended to foreshadow the work of this promised messenger. The New Testament clearly identifies this messenger as John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus Christ (Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27).
The Lord did indeed come to his Temple, at the beginning of his ministry (John 2:13-24), for all the major festivals (John 7:37; Luke 21:37), then most notably he came in the last week of his life (Matthew 21:12-16).
In the Old Testament, the temple was a place for the people to meet with God, to worship God. So God comes to them, here at the place of meeting. The phrase “whom you desire” is significant: Even in their sin the people longed for deliverance through the Messiah. There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of everyone that only God can fill. So Malachi asks rhetorically, verse 2, “Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?” (Malachi 3:2).
The answer is obviously – “no one”. That is because the Lord is performing two complementary works: he is purifying sinners who acknowledge him (3:2-4) and he will judge those who repudiate him (3:5). Vindication and exoneration for the righteous but condemnation and punishment for the wicked. Like most OT prophets, Malachi, in his picture of the coming Christ, merges the two. So while the birth and earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus are in view in verse 1, we already meet the returning Lord Jesus in verse 2. The “Day of the Lord” is any day God steps into history to do a special work, whether of deliverance or judgement. This passage speaks of both. Let us consider each. Grace has provided a Saviour.
Grace is Purifying His Saints
“But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.” (Malachi 3:2-4)
God has a wonderful plan for your life. He wants to make you like Jesus. The Bible speaks of God many times as a workman – as a potter at a wheel, the owner of a vineyard, a farmer, a fisherman and here as a smelter of ore. God is in the foundry. He pulls on his overalls, of heavy denim to protect him when the molten metal splashes. He has a facemask to protect his eyes. And he is stoking the fire, fanning the roaring flames under the smelting pot to raise the temperature to over a thousand degrees. The pot heats up and into it he dumps the ore. The ore is you and me. And there, in the burning pot, we melt. And up to the top floats all the slag – all the bad stuff. And God skims it off with a ladle. A little at a time until its all gone. And what is left? Pure gold! Beautiful, shining, the bright yellow colour that is unmistakable – precious, perfect gold – 24 carat.
When does the smelter know the gold or solver is pure? When he can see his image in it. God’s plan and purpose is to transform us into the image of his son.
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:29).
The illustrations of this purifying work, the refiner’s fire and fullers’ soap, stress both its thoroughness and its severity. The heat of the refiner’s fire is intense in order to separate the dross from the molten pure metal.
This work is all of grace, it is God’s initiative but it also requires our cooperation. In Paul’s letter to Titus, God explains this. We read:
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14)
Jesus died on the cross to save us from the penalty of all sin. He sent his Holy Spirit to purify us of all sin, so that when he returns we might be saved from the presence of all sin. It is His will that we become pure – but it won’t happen unless we cooperate. That’s why the Bible says,
“For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” (1 Thessalonians 4:7)
“Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)
“Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8)
Don’t be surprised therefore at the headlines in the newspapers. Don’t think it is strange when these trials come our way. Don’t be discouraged if God’s refining work may be painful in the short term. Understand that God would only allow them for your good.
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13)
This is what Malachi is describing:
“He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness,” (Malachi 3:3)
The results are worth it. You know Gold is extremely malleable – that means it can be worked easily; changed if you will. Gold is so malleable that a single ounce can easily be beaten or hammered to a thickness of 0.000013 cm (0.000005 inch – or 1/282,000th of an inch thick). That is enough for one ounce of gold to cover a hundred square feet. And gold is so ductile (able to be stretched) that one ounce can be drawn into a fine wire 100 kilometers (62 miles) in length.
Can we put ourselves in the hands of God and be that malleable, that ductile? There he stands, in overalls, heating the smelter, ready to purify us and make some beautiful thing out of us. Remember God has a plan for your life. He has a purpose for your life. He wants you to be holy. He wants you to be pure. He wants you to be Christ-like. He has a plan to make us holy and of great influence in the lives of others.
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
By God’s grace and through faith in Christ, we are cleansed of our sin and are being transformed into the image of his Son. The Lord describes this work in his letter to the Corinthians:
“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (1 Corinthians 3:11-16)
Grace has provided a Saviour.
Grace is purifying his Saints.
Grace will Judge all Sinners
“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty. “I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” (Malachi 3:5-6)
This is the terrifying prospect for those who presume to criticise God for the injustices of this world. For those who mistreat other people created in God’s image. For those who refuse to be separated from their sin, repent and trust in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. For the fire that refines is also the same fire that destroys. As C.S. Lewis said, “Hell is God’s very best for those who reject his son.”
Grace has provided a Saviour.
Grace is purifying his Saints.
Grace will judge all Sinners.
“I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” (Malachi 3:6).
Here yet again we encounter the grace of God.
‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways” (Ezekiel 33:11).
If you are in any doubt what so ever today that God is purifying you as his child and that one day you fear he punish you as a sinner, turn to him now in repentance and faith. Receive his Son as your Lord and Saviour. Recognise that God in his grace has provided a Saviour, that God in his grace is purifying his saints, and that God in his grace will judge all sinners. Remember, if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9).
Do you remember the story of Terry Anderson the American journalist working for Associated Press? On March 16, 1985, Terry had just finished a tennis game when he was abducted from the street in Beirut, placed in the trunk of car, and taken to a secret location where he was held captive for the next six years and nine months.
He had been raised a nominal Christian. During his captivity, however, he was given a Bible. He said that Bible came to him as a gift from heaven. He read. He pondered his life. He had lots of time to ponder his life – 2,454 days. He looked back and found many things that brought him shame. In his mind, he began composing a litany of confession.
As time went by, he gradually learned about other American hostages confined in cells around his own. He found out one was a priest – Father Jenco. He asked if he could confess to the priest, and his wish was granted. They were brought together and their blindfolds were removed. Terry Anderson at last began his recitation of all he had done wrong in his life. When he finished, they were both in tears.
Father Jenco laid his right hand on Anderson’s head and said, “In the name of a gentle, loving God, you are forgiven.” Anderson’s faith grew deeper and deeper through his long captivity, but his first formal step back was his confession. In the darkness of captivity and abandonment, Terry Anderson turned back and found the grace of God. What ever is holding you captive today, may you experience the grace of God today.
With grateful thanks to:
I am also grateful to the following pastors whose sermons are accessible from Sermon Central
Greg Ebie, The Refining Fire of God
Paul George, God’s Love
Andy Grossman, The Refiner’s Fire
Fred Mueller, The Refiner’s Fire
Kenneth Trent, Wearying God with our words
Ed Wood, The Weariness of God