|WAITING FOR JUSTICE
Series: Waiting - Part Four
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 10, 2017
Will you stand and read together with me our text this morning from Malachi 2 - beginning at verse 17:
You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied Him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare 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. 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 fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord.
Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.
Let’s make sure we’re on the same page before we dive into this.
We’ve been looking at Malachi - which is the last book of the Old Testament. Which was written about 445 BC. God’s people have returned from 70 years of exile in Babylon - and things have not worked out they way they thought they we’re going to work out.
Which resonates. Someone said life is what happens to you between tweets. It just happens. And most often not the way we expect it to.
A quote attributed to John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Coming back from exile things have not gone as God’s people had expected.
God’s people are waiting on God to make good on His promises - made to Abraham - made about a coming king who’s going to sit on David’s throne ushering in a time of unprecedented lasting peace and prosperity when Jerusalem becomes the de facto spiritual and political capital of the world.
Which hasn’t happened yet. Not even close.
As we’ve been studying Malachi we’ve been looking at the ongoing “discussion” between God’s people and God about all their unfulfilled expectations. We’ve been looking at what amounts to a series of Q and A arguments - in which God is trying to help His people to get in sync with Him about what He’s doing and why.
[The Question] What we just read is “discussion” number 4. Which comes with the question: “Where is the God of justice?”
Let’s understand the question.
Returning from exile - at the time Malachi is writing - for eighty plus years or a small remnant of Hebrews - around 100,000 or so - has been living in Jerusalem.
The first wave of those who came back - with Zerubbabel and Jeshua - about 50,000 people - came back in 536 BC and worked at rebuilding the Temple. Which they’d begun and then stalled out on working at for 15 years. Stalled for the most part because they ran into massive opposition from people already living in the area. Finally, 20 years after they’d gotten back - and a ton opposition later - they finally finished the Temple.
Then in 457 BC a group of about 2,000 men returns with Ezra to revive worship in the Temple. Which also faces opposition. In 444 BC - another small group returns with Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem - and again encounters stiff opposition.
Key word being... “opposition.” They’ve got enemies that are constantly working against them. As it seems like is always the case when we’re trying to do what God has for us to do.
it seems like that’s pretty much life in general. Doesn’t it? Sometimes we
wonder where God is in all that.
The Hebrews were surrounded by people who hated them. People that saw the Hebrews - not as God’s people returning to what had been theirs - but they saw the returning Hebrews as a people taking away land that belong to those already living there. They hated the Hebrews and would have been really happy to see them totally wiped out and never heard from again.
The more things change… look at the Middle East today.
So, living conditions are poor. Many were discouraged. They’re surrounded by enemies. Enemies who were pagan - idol worshippers - involved in every perverse sin imaginable - immersed in the occult. These were the enemies of the Hebrew people. The pressure was on to cave in to the religion and culture around them. Many did.
And - key point - while the Hebrews suffered and feared for their security - these enemies seemingly prospered.
The people of Malachi’s day looked at their enemies - looked at their own lives - and didn’t see God doing anything about any of that. In fact, things just seemed to be getting worse for them and better for everyone else. They asked the question: “Where is the God of justice?”
“Where” meaning not here - at least not here the way we think God should be here.
Whatever call a referee makes at least half the people know it’s wrong. “Hey ref. I don’t know what game you’re watching but it ain’t this one.”
“Where” meaning God should step in and do something about their enemies. Some kind of pestilence or flood or something. A plague of locusts. And if God isn’t making the call the way we think God should be making the call then God and His justice is just messed up.
Let’s be clear. When we question God’s judgment we set ourselves up to be the judge. The standard of right and wrong becomes ours not God’s. Just like everyone in the stands disagreeing with the ref.
The profound tragedy is that the Hebrews knew God. They had history with God. They knew what was right and what was wrong - what God expected of them - because God had told them. And yet they’d made the choice - based on their own understanding and perspective of things - they’d chosen to hold themselves accountable to a standard of right and wrong - righteous and unrighteous - that was based on their understanding of things and not God’s - and to hold even God accountable to that standard.
Verse 17: Evil is good. Good is evil. Right is wrong. Wrong is right. It’s all a matter of perspective. Mine.
Looking at where and when we live life, we get this. Right and wrog have very little absolute meaning. Especially in recent years - at least in terms of community - right and wrong are based on common consensus. The lowering common denominator.
Individually - what we believe is truth is truth. My truth - the standards I live my life by. Don’t be so judgmental. Heard that? Meaning how I want to live my life is the standard of how I should live my life. So back off buckwheat.
It is a profound tragedy when that attitude creeps into our lives as Christians as a way for us to justify how we live our lives before God. When our words and attitudes and teachings and how we approach life become based on us - what makes sense to us - and not God.
It’s a very slippery slope. We can accommodate sin so long that after a while sin almost seems to be normal.
Using our own reasoning God’s truth becomes what we believe is truth - or what fits our lives as a guideline for how we do life. Marriage is whatever we can justify it to be. Worshiping God - serving God - commitment to Christ and His Church is about what’s convenient for us. Sin becomes an outdated non-issue. Accountability to God is optional.
Maybe the church in America has passed the tipping point. Certainly the church in America is in serious trouble because we’re focused on ourselves and not God who gives us life and purpose to our lives. We’re focused on ourselves and not our Savior. And seemingly a huge part of the church in America thinks that’s normal.
“Justice” - the standard isn’t us. It’s God. It’s not our perspective. It’s God’s holiness. That’s what we’re accountable to. What we’re judged by.
Verse 1 tells us that the attitudes and actions of God’s people were making God “weary.” Which is Scripture’s way of putting God’s actions and attitude - His response - into terms we can understand.
“Weary” meaning that God - with all that He was continually putting out for His people - God was tired of putting up with their attitude and sin. God really does care even if His people choose to ignore that He has been, is, and will be there.
[The Answer] God’s answers His people. Malachi 3:1: “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare 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 word from God was written, it happened. What we will look at when we get to Mark in January.
John the Baptist proceeded Jesus. Jesus came into His Temple. With suddenness Jerusalem was turned upside down. A generation and our world was changed.
Going on - verse 2 - God has questions: But who can endure the day of His coming, and who can stand when He appears?
Verse 2 is not a prophecy of a little baby born to humble parents - born into an occupied country - being surrounded by animals - as cute and warming as that may be. This isn’t a prophecy about a baby born as a servant - born to die at the hands of His creation.
Verse 2 is yet to come. The pattern in the prophecy will be repeated. On the future day when Jesus returns no one will be able to endure it - to remain standing - to stand against Him.
God - Jesus - King of kings and Lord of lords - the sovereign creator and potentate of His creation - Holy and righteous - the only one worthy to judge - coming powerfully - visibly - riding a white horse of war - dressed in the raiment of His exalted position - leading the hosts - the armies of heaven and by His word alone ending the foolishness of man. Jesus coming to judge and to dispense justice - to sift and to send - some to eternity with His Father - many to eternal damnation.
God’s answer is that God is doing something. Justice has been served - is being served - and it will come. And on that day what excuse will be given? Who will stand and argue against God - that God is absent and uncaring and unjust.
Verse 2 goes on - three things we need to see in God’s answer.
First: God’s Judgment is a Process:
For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord.
If you hear Handel’s Messiah in that you’re tracking. Together... “And He shall purify…” We’ll stop there.
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 - Bed and Bath soap we use everyday. Fuller’s soap is a harsh combination of soda and bleach. Clothes - being purified - were submerged and subjected to that.
The process of purification will be a painful - a difficult and complete process of removing sin from our lives.
“Who can endure this? Who can stand when judgment comes?”
Second: God’s Judgment is about People.
The prophet Nathan came to King David and he told David a story about a rich man who had a large flock of sheep. Remember this?
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 - killed it - made it into kebab.
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.
We want God to judge others. We see their sins. But, God begins with us. With His people. Purification is personal because God loves us.
First, He begins with the sons of Levi - the priests. Purifying and refining so that their offering - theirs and on behalf of the people - their offering will be pure according to God’s standard not theirs.
Then in verse 5 there’s a list - those involved in the occult - then those who were destroying families - then liars and perjurers - then the socially unjust - those who were exploited and oppressing others - then - bottom line - those who have no respect for God.
It’s a comprehensive list covering all people across the spectrum of 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.
Third: God’s Judgment comes with Purpose.
“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children 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 asked, “Where is the Word of the Lord?” (Jeremiah 17:15)
Jesus faced the scoffers daily during his ministry. And, they were there to taunt him at his trial and execution.
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. From outside the church. Even from within.
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 really should be living our lives by the brains God’s given us.
There’s something essential about this unchanging God of justice that we need to understand: Justice is Who God is and how God acts.
Meaning that God is always acting according to His holiness in relationship to Himself and His creation - us. He’s always acting with moral uprightness and honesty. God institutes laws - everything He’s commanded and expects of us - all that is righteous and comes with just rewards and penalties.
God is absolutely fair in all that - unchanging - because God does not change.
Meaning there is no way to slip a few bucks under the table and get God to go easy on us. God is not playing bait and switch with us. It is against Who God is for God to act unjust and God will always resist any act against Him that will violate His holiness.
Which is why we - in the hopelessness of our sin - our depraved sinful unworthiness - having nothing within us that’s worthy of God’s approval - which all of us have proven multiple times - we are in serious serious trouble before God. We all are born facing damnation and Hell. God is totally unchanging and just in treating us that way.
And yet we are not consumed. Why?
Reason being - all of Who God is and what God does is always happening at the same time.
Meaning that God is always omnipotent and omniscient and perfection and righteous and loving and gracious and merciful and just and on and on - all at the same time. Sometimes God exercises one attribute of Who He is more than another. But always God is acting in consistent unity with Who He is.
Point being hat if God is just He is also loving. So we are not consumed because there are times when God holds back on His acting in justice because God is acting more so in love and grace and mercy.
So, if God hasn’t toasted Israel’s enemies yet or if Jesus hasn’t come back yet - that doesn’t mean that God is not out there or that God doesn’t give a rip about what’s going on down here. It means that God is being gracious and loving towards us.
Peter goes on with that truth in 2 Peter 3:8: But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
We’re always going to be frustrated and disappointed - led to doubt God - if we expect God to act according to understanding in our perspective of time.
God has no beginning - no end. God sees and knows all things independent of time. God isn’t bound by time like we are. God created time. God uses time. How can we relate our understanding of time to God 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 not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
God speaks through Malachi, “For I, the Lord, do not change - Who God is What God is doing - what we’ve seen since January - that all doesn’t change. God is always on task. 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’re not consumed. It’s 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’s purpose in judgment - the loving boundaries He places on our lives - His process for His people - His purpose in that is bring us to repentance and trust in Him - because God loves us. Desires for us - not damnation and Hell - but Heaven and forever with Him.
2 Peter 3:10: But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”
When Jesus returns - that’s it. Judgment and
Hell and eternal separation for those without Jesus. But 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’s where He has always been. Aware of our sin - the sins against us - calling us to return to Him.
Processing all that…
On the night of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest - Jesus is leading the Passover meal with His disciples - applying parts of the meal to Himself - preparing His disciples for what will come. While the events and timing of that night are familiar to us - it is painfully obvious that on that night Jesus’ disciples had no clue what Jesus was talking about.
As the meal is finishing Jesus drops the bombshell that one of them will betray Him. Immediately there are questions and denials and a discussion about who would do such a thing. Then - strangely - somehow that discussion about loyalty to Jesus degrades into an argument as to who among them is the greatest. An argument focusing on self in comparison to others - even Jesus’ betrayer.
In the Messiah’s kingdom who will have greater recognition - greater stature - greater authority? Who will govern at Jesus’ right hand? Who will rule what cities? Who is more worthy - more justified in having that rank and title and privilege.
Jesus interrupts their “I’m greatest” argument to correct their view on the kingdom. To adjust their perspective. The kingdom of God operates very differently than the kingdoms of this world. Ruling and leading is about serving and being a servant.
And Jesus warns Peter that Satan has asked to “sift” Peter like one “sifts” wheat. To shake him to the core of who he is. To put his faith to the test as Satan tested Job. Afflicting Job for the sake of proving him unworthy.
Jesus tells Peter, “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Meaning Jesus saw Peter’s inevitable failure. Satan would sift Peter and Peter will fail the test. But Jesus - seeking to encourage Peter - Jesus tells Peter, after you fail - then when you recover - encourage your brothers.
But Peter… is Peter. Peter - very much engaged in the “who’s the greatest” argument - Peter boldly declares: “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death!”
That’s a powerful declaration. Maybe it even impressed the other disciples.
“Jesus. I’ll die for you. I want to go with you. It doesn’t matter what it costs. I’ll die.”
Jesus - not impressed - Jesus’ famous words [right?]: “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” [ouch]
Then Jesus - mercifully - returns to the ending of the meal - to His preparations to leave. They sing together. Then Jesus leads them out of the upper room and to the Garden of Gethsemane.
We know that in the garden - satisfied with a good meal and in the darkness of what was late at night - while Jesus prayed Peter the brave and the others slept.
Judas arrives - leading a crowd - a mob accompanying the chief priests - the temple guards - the senior leadership of the Temple. And while soldiers remain hidden in the shadows Judas goes through with his charade of a kiss. Jesus, now identified, the troops move in for the arrest.
- seeing that Jesus has no clue about what's really
going on - about how to deal with these people.
Peter - perhaps sensing that this was his moment to prove Jesus wrong - that Jesus’ accusations are unjust. That Peter’s faith will remain strong in this moment of sifting - of testing - Peter swings with his sword and slices off the ear of Malchus - the high priest’s servant.
Jesus rebukes Peter, “Put away your sword. You’re getting between Me and what My Father has for Me to do.” Your perspective of this - what’s right and what’s wrong - your perspective is wrong. Before they can tie up Jesus to lead Him away - Jesus restores Malchus’ ear.
As Peter follows - to his credit Peter loves Jesus too much to leave Him - but he’s too much of a coward - too fearful - so as Jesus is led way - Peter follows at a safe distance seeking a place where He can hide and watch. Jesus is led to the home of Caiaphas the high priest.
As Peter passes through the gate into the courtyard of the house he’s met by a servant girl who asks Peter, “You’re one of this man’s disciples, aren’t you?” Her question is almost casual - innocent. Not official.
There’s no reason to fear this girl. But he does. Peter - in fear - tries to blow her off: “Woman, I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”
It’s a startling transformation. Peter was prepared to lay down his life for Jesus and now he’s just trying to save his own hide. Living in self-focused fear - he’s carefully calculating his distance and place in the courtyard - when he’s caught off guard by the question. Denial number 1.
It’s a cold night. A charcoal fire is there in the courtyard. Gathered around it is a crowd made up of the slaves of the priest’s families - officers - temple police. Peter’s afraid. He’s self-confidence is gone. But He doesn’t want to leave. So He moves to sit next to the fire - to blend in - to get lost in the crowd - to hide and keep warm and watch what’s going on inside the house with Jesus.
Someone else - another servant - sees Peter - and makes the accusation. “You were one of them. I can tell by your accent.” Peter begins to curse - paint pealing - language. “I was not!” Denial number 2.
A hour goes by. Peter sits warming himself. Listening to the crowd’s perverse - blasphemous - talk. Their disgust with Jesus. He sits among enemies.
And Peter listens - watches Jesus being interrogated. The false accusations. The false testimony. The ridicule and hatred. The foredrawn conclusion of the interrogation.
After about a hour of this - one of the bystanders - one of Malchus’ relatives - meaning related to the guy who’s ear Peter cut off - he makes the accusation: “Didn’t I see you in the Garden with Him?”
Peter is exposed. This man knows. He was there. He saw me. Peter again begins to curse. Emphatically leaving no doubt. No uncertainty. Peter dramatically swears an oath invoking God: “With God as my witness, I don’t know the man.” Denial number 3.
While Peter is making his denial the rooster crows. And at that moment Jesus turns and looks directly at Peter.
The word in Greek is “emblepo” - meaning to look at something directly and with intention.
Their eyes lock. Peter meets the stare of his Master, Jesus. What passed between them we don’t know. But this purposeful lingering stare penetrates Peter to the core of who he is.
It’s recorded that Peter went out and wept bitterly. Wept bitterly is more than just wept. There’s a deeper intensity to that. Some versions translate it as “deeply grieving and distressed” - “painfully mourning grief” The Greek word describes the mournful wailing cry of those hopelessly grieving death.
Peter: “You are the Christ. I will die for you.” Peter - the greatest and most worthy of all the disciples. Peter proving his faith by swinging his sword - defending Jesus against all the sinful mob coming to arrest Jesus - Peter - faith gone - knowing his failure - breaks down sobbing uncontrollably.
Three days later - women coming to anoint the body of Jesus are confronted with the mystery of an empty tomb. They’re told by an angel to not be alarmed. That Jesus was crucified and that He has risen from death. He’s not here.
Mark records that the angel told the women to specifically: “Go tell his disciples and Peter...” (Mark 16:7)
When he hears - Peter runs to the tomb. Stooping down he enters in. What he sees there is beyond reason. Linen cloths lying empty. The face cloth that had been on Jesus’ head is lying separate from the other burial cloth. It’s folded neatly off to the side. Peter is reduced to silence and belief.
Something changed in Peter at the empty tomb. Peter who had failed Jesus so completely.
What would that be like - to stoop there staring at an empty tomb? Eyes moving over the linen and there’s no body. To have the reality of that slowly penetrate your heart. Jesus is alive. I’m not condemned. My sin - my failure is forgiven. Eternity with God is mine.
Because of what follows - we see that at the tomb something profoundly changed in Peter. Bravado becomes true bravery. Cowardice becomes true courage. Head knowledge and understanding becomes heart level faith and following. The basis of Peter’s life - how Peter sees his life - sees Himself in comparison to others - the bedrock foundation is not Peter but Jesus.
When we see the red light in our rear view mirror - what goes through our minds is generally not, “Oh goody, an opportunity of justice.” But self-justifying excuses and arguments - a desperate hoping for mercy and grace. Been there?
When we begin to understand God’s forgiveness of us - and His love and His grace and His mercy - all of which He is unchangingly - always at all times - when we come to trust the reality of His forgiveness - we begin to get past our self-focused - sin driven - skewed towards self sense of self-serving justice - and to trust God for His.
Life is not about what we do for God and what know about God and how righteous we may think we are and what we think about ourselves in comparison to others. But life is about God and what God has done for us through Christ’s work on the cross.
When we view justice through the lens of the holy God’s forgiving us we begin to process justice a whole lot differently.
practically - for when we head out there - when we view
justice through the lens of the holy God’s forgiving us
we begin to process what Jesus taught a whole lot
“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
“If anyone would sue you take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”
“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
“Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:38-45)
“Let him who is without sin… be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1,2)
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14,15)
This week. Out there. What would God’s perspective of justice look like in how you do life? In your marriage? At work? At school? In whatever relationship God gives you the opportunity to live for His glory?
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.