|WHERE IS THE GOD OF JUSTICE?
Series: Questions People Ask - Part Four
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
March 3, 2002
Please turn with me to the Book of Malachi chapter two. This morning we’re continuing on in our series of messages from the Book of Malachi which we’ve entitled, “Questions People Ask.”
Malachi - the last book of the Old Testament - at it’s core it’s a beautiful love letter from God to His people. God calling out to His people - calling for them to trust Him with their lives. In Malachi there’s a dialogue between God and His people. During that dialogue there are a series of questions that the people ask God - questions that people today are asking God. As we’ve been going through Malachi we’ve been looking at these questions. This morning we’re coming to the fourth of these “Questions People Ask.”
If you’ve found Malachi - turn to chapter 2:17 - look with me at this fourth question. You have wearied the Lord with you words. Yet you say, “How have we wearied Him?” In that you say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them,” or, “Where is the God of justice?”
Before we go on - let’s pause here and understand this question “Where is the God of justice?” and how the question is being asked today.
For 70 years the Hebrews had lived in exile in Babylon - as slaves of the Babylonian and Persian Empires. Then - returning from exile - for eighty plus years the Hebrews had been living in their motherland. At the time Malachi is writing - about 400 years before the coming of Jesus Christ - there’s a small remnant of Hebrews - perhaps as many as 100,000 - living in Jerusalem. Under Ezra they had rebuilt the Temple. Under Nehemiah they had rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. Living conditions were poor. Many were discouraged.
Something else we need to know. The Hebrews were surrounded on all sides by enemies who would have loved to have seen them wiped out and never heard from again. Pagans - idol worshippers - those involved in every perverse sin imaginable - immersed in the occult - these were the enemies of the Hebrew people. While the Hebrews suffered and feared for their security - these enemies prospered.
The people of Malachi’s day looked at their enemies - and didn’t see God doing anything. They asked, “Why doesn’t God judge these people? Why doesn’t God wipe them out?” Looking at their own lives they wondered, “Maybe God doesn’t care? If He isn’t going to judge these pagans maybe this God of justice doesn’t care what we do with our lives?” The profound tragedy in the question is that the Hebrews knew what was right and what was wrong and they suppressed the truth in order to justify their own descent into sin. Their justification? “Where is the God of justice?”
Looking at the society we live in, the words right and wrong - for at least the last 10 to 20 years - have had very little meaning. It wouldn’t be hard to prove that the absolutes right and wrong have no meaning today. There’s a whole generation that has been raised without absolutes. Everything is relative. Perhaps the only absolute is “tolerance”.
Everyplace we turn we’re told that we must be tolerant - inclusive - open to the experiences and beliefs of others. “Truth is relative to how I experience life. Homosexuality is an experience which we must tolerate - be open to. One should not be so dogmatic as to define marriage as only being a monogynous relationship between one male and one female. The reality of someone’s personal faith journey should never be questioned. God is who I experience Him - or her - or it - to be.”
It is a profound tragedy when this “tolerant” attitude creeps into our lives as Christians as a way for us to justify how we live our lives before God.
Imagine, if I got up on a Sunday morning and encouraged us not to attend church. You could stay out later on Saturday night and not have to get up the next morning. Think about how much time and effort you could save if you just stayed home. It’s a sacrifice to come here. Stay home next Sunday and watch baseball. Or, maybe there’s some community or family event you could go to.
You should spend less time in prayer. If it feels good - if prayer helps you - then by all means go ahead and pray.
Bible study is an option. How can we really know absolute truth. We’re just looking at some ideas written by some men who died a long time ago - especially the Old Testament.
We should tolerate the sins of others. After all we’re all on a faith journey - at different places of spiritual growth and experience. Who are we to judge the actions of others or to say that what someone is doing is wrong?
If I started teaching that you’d probably start looking for a new pastor - and you should. But, as Christians we allow the philosophy of our society to creep into the way we live out our relationship with God.
Sports - money - family - work - personal pleasure. How many good “Christians” claim that it is hard to come to church - to give priority to God in their lives - to worship God and be in His presence - because Sunday is the only day they have to themselves - because distances are too far to drive. How many family commitments replace church on Sunday? - weddings - anniversaries - birthdays - often times planned and celebrated at a time which makes it impossible to come to church. How many activities of this world do we allow to crowd out our personal - individual - time with God. Using our own reasoning God’s truth becomes what we believe is truth - or fits our lives as a guideline. Sin is a non-issue. Accountability to God is irrelevant. Judgment is non-existent.
One of the most heart-pounding - nerve shattering - experiences is seeing a little red light in your rear view mirror and knowing that the police officer wants you to pull over. I can see that none of you have had this experience. We knew we we’re going to fast. We always drive just a little fast. But all that rationalization - the little games we play in our minds to excuse ourselves from sin - it all becomes worthless when judgment comes.
God’s answers His people. Look with me at Malachi 3:1: “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts."
400 years after this was written, it happened. John the Baptist proceeded Jesus. Jesus came into His Temple. With suddenness Jerusalem was turned upside down. A generation and our world was changed. That pattern will be repeated when Jesus returns - more forcefully - more powerfully - when Jesus returns as our judge. God’s answer is that God is doing something. Justice will come.
Going on - verse 2: “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in the former years. Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the Lord of hosts. “For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.”
That is a hard passage to hear. Let's understand what God is saying. There are three parts to God’s answer that are important for us to understand. The first part - in verses 2 an 3 - is the PROCESS OF GOD’S JUDGMENT.
Handel used these verses in his Messiah. We can hear this refrain in our minds, “And He shall purify - and He shall purify the sons of Levi that they may offer an offering unto the Lord, an offering in righteousness.”
A refiner takes silver or gold and holds it over the flame until it liquefies. If the metal could cry out it would scream in pain. That’s the process of removing - separating the sin from the sinner. Fuller’s soap is not the soft - sudsy - gentle on the hands - soap we use everyday. Fuller’s soap is a harsh combination of soda and bleach - clothes were submerged and trampled under foot. The process of purification will be a painful - a difficult and complete process of removing sin from our lives.
The question is asked, “Who can endure this? Who can stand when judgment comes?”
The second part of God’s answer comes in verses 4 and 5. It concerns the PEOPLE BEING JUDGED.
The prophet Nathan came to King David and he told David a story about a rich man who had a large flock of sheep. This rich man held a party and instead of killing one of his own sheep for the party he stole the sheep of a poor man - a lamb that this poor man had cared for and treated like a member of the family. The rich man took this poor man’s lamb and killed it and made “khorovadz” out of it. David became enraged and - even though stealing sheep wasn’t a capital crime - David called for this rich man to be put to death. Then Nathan said, “You are that man.” Because Nathan had been speaking of David’s sin with Bathsheba.
The people of Malachi's day were focused on the sins of their enemies. We want God to judge others. We see their sins. But, God begins with us. First, He begins with the sons of Levi - the priests. Purifying and refining so that their offering will be pure. Then in verse 5 there’s a list - those involved in the occult - those who were destroying families - liars and perjurers - the socially unjust - those who exploited others - those who have no respect for God. It is a comprehensive list covering all people in all the spheres of the community life.
God sees it all. God will deal with the sins of His people. That day of reckoning will come swiftly and no one will be able to object or say that God is unjust.
The third part of God’s answer is in verse 6 - the PURPOSE OF GOD’S JUDGMENT. “For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.”
In Malachi’s day, they asked "Where is the God of justice?” In David’s day the pagans asked, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:3) The enemies of Jeremiah said, “Where is the Word of the Lord?” (Jeremiah 17:15)
Peter addresses the same question - 2 Peter 3:3,4 - “In the last days, scoffers will come....saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’”
Jesus faced the scoffers daily during his ministry. And, they were there to taunt him at his trial and execution.
The scoffers followed the apostles during their ministry. In Peter’s day they were asking - “Didn't Jesus say He would rise again? Didn't He say - before He went away - that He would return? It's been 30 years. Where is He?" Almost two thousand years later we still hear the same mocking questions.
So here we are. It’s easy to wonder if maybe everyone else is right and we’ve got it wrong. Time will continue on just as it has - and God - if we choose to believe in Him - is really detached from all this. Maybe we can live our lives our own way.
Peter writes - 2 Peter 3:8-10: But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
God created time. Time is a tool in God’s hand. We’ll always be frustrated and disappointed - led to doubt God - if we expect God to act according to our time-frame - according to our expectations. How can we relate our understanding of time to someone who views 1,000 years with the brevity of 1 day - and 1 day with the fullness of 1,000 years?
Peter writes in verse 9 - “The Lord....is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” God uses intervals of time for His purposes.
God speaks through Malachi, “For I, the Lord, do not change - thousands of years may pass but My purpose and My plan does not change - therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.”
Even while held over the fires of purification God is patient towards us - holding us - watching over us - so that we are not consumed. It is God’s desire for His people to repent - to be purified of sin - to return to worship and honor Him with hearts completely surrendered to Him.
God is long-suffering toward rebellious mankind. The Bible says, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10) Men are “dead in their trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1) Everyone deserves hell and eternal separation from God. (Romans 6:23) When Jesus returns - that’s it. Judgment and Hell and eternal separation for those without Jesus.
God loves our family members and friends - our co-workers - who have not trusted Jesus. And He is patient - perhaps working through us - to share the Gospel and bring them to salvation.
“Where is the God of justice?” He is where He has always been. Aware of our sin - the sins against us - calling us to return to Him.
_______________________Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.