Malachi 2:17-3:5 The Grace of God Revealed
This week the people of Britain have been preparing to vote. There has been unprecedented levels of media attention in the polls. Popular support for some of the candidates in the last few days has reached fever pitch. Not just in Britain but around the world, millions and millions of ordinary people have been watching, speculating and cheering on the candidates.
What has impressed voters has been the honesty, the integrity, the complete lack of guile, the down to earth, no nonsense, approach of some of the candidates. For weeks I have been in no doubt whatsoever as to the outcome. I believe that if Susan Boyle had been standing as a candidate for the local elections or the European Parliament, instead of last night’s final of Britain’s Got Talent, she would win on Thursday with a huge landslide. Susan is a 48 year old church volunteer from West Lothian in Scotland. She lives at home with her cat Pebbles. Susan has been singing since she was 12 years old. She regularly attends her local church and helps them out however and whenever she can.
On Thursday, England goes to the Polls a second time this week. Turn out will probably be much lower than on Saturday night. It will be a referendum on our entire political system.
This is not a good time to be an MP. Melanie Philips wrote,
"There has never been anything like it. The political class is disgraced. Public fury is unassuaged. Revolution is in the air. Yet our MPs are still obdurately behaving true to discredited form. Some are taking refuge in self-pity, claiming they are being driven to the edge of nervous breakdowns or even contemplating suicide. Certainly, public shaming is a savage ordeal. But since this has occurred only because MPs hid shameful behaviour which has now been exposed, such an appeal to public sympathy just adds insult to injury… parliamentary democracy certainly has been undermined - not by those who have shone a light on the corruption of the system, but by those who have corrupted it.”
How do we change the system? Hold up our hands, shrug our shoulders, stay at home or cast a protest vote? No, that is the last thing we should do on Thursday. Only the extremists will benefit. I urge you to vote. But not in some Pavolvian way as you have always done. Do your homework and vote for the local and European candidates who demonstrate integrity, who can earn your respect and will act responsibly as your representatives. That is the democratic way to change the system. And there is more that MPs can do as well. One political leader has declared that in future, when his MP’s submit their expense claims, they will simultaneously publish them online so that anyone can see what they are claiming for. That is how you change the system. Transparency. Although I am not claiming expenses at the moment, I want you to know that you can ask the Church Wardens to see any of my expense claims over the past 12 years, at any time.
God holds each one of us accountable for our actions. In Malachi, these Sunday mornings, we have been examining six such disputes God had with his people:
1. A dispute about God’s love (1:2–5)
2. A dispute about God’s honour (1:6–2:9)
3. A dispute about Godly faithfulness (2:10–16)
Today we come to the fourth. A dispute about God’s justice (2:17-3:6). You see, the people of Malachi’s day were as frustrated as you may be over the lifestyle of your political leaders. 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 democracy as we know it – places like North Korea, Burma, Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, 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? Remember the opening words of this prophecy. “I have loved you and I do love you” (Malachi 1:2). God’s answer is much more radical than a change of parliamentary procedure. Much more radical than raising up a new political party, even one called the Christian Party. Much more radical even than a change of political system – capitalism, communism or socialism. 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 – a Saviour. 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)
1. 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 identifies this messenger as John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus Christ (Mt 11:10; Mk 1:2; Lk 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 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 judges 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 Christ are in view in verse 1, we already meet the returning Judge 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.
2. 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. 3 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, 4 and 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,
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 though if this refining work is painful. Don’t think it is strange when these trials come your way. Understand that God would only allow them for your good.
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.
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.
It is appropriate that today we celebrate Pentecost. The day the Lord sent his Holy Spirit to indwell and purify his Temple, the Church. The Holy Spirit was given to make us holy. To prepare us for heaven and the Day of the Lord.
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 by receiving 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.
This is the good news and the bad news of the gospel which God has entrusted to us to rescue others from the fire of hell.
“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18)
This fourth disputation closes with the grace of God.
“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 name Terry Anderson? Terry was the reporter held hostage in Lebanon for 2,454 days. He was 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 cell. 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.
May you find the grace of God today.
With grateful thanks to:
Phillip Jensen and Richard Pulley Burning Desire
David Baker, Malachi NIV Application Commentary
Steve Gaukroger, Hunger for Holiness
Ralph Smith Malachi: Word Bible Commentary
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
Wood, The Weariness of God