|WAITING FOR RELEASE
Series: Waiting - Part Six
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 24, 2017
Would you stand with me as we read together Gods’ word - what is the first part of our text for this morning - Malachi 3:13-18:
“Your words have been hard against Me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against You?’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping His charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’”
Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before Him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed His name. “They shall be Mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up My treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.
As we’ve been studying Malachi - we’ve been seeing that Malachi is a series of discussions between God and God’s people in which God is helping His people to get back in sync with Him and to trust Him for what He’s doing and why. Essentially Malachi is a love letter with God reaching out to His people - calling them back to Him.
In the way books of the Hebrew Bible are arranged - first to last - Chronicles comes as the end of that arrangement. Nehemiah records the last history of the Hebrew Bible. Malachi and discussion six is the last prophesy until the birth of Jesus. So this is the Christmas Eve cliff hanger.
The discussion begins in verse 13 with God speaking to His people: “Your words have been hard against Me, says the Lord.
“Hard” meaning “harsh.” God’s people have been speaking harshly about God. Talking trash about God. Super critical. Disrespectful. Just plain wrong.
God says, “Your words have been hard against Me.”
God’s people respond: “How have we spoken against You?” How have we been “harsh”?
To understand the discussion - God’s point and the people’s question - we need understand where God’s people are coming from.
You’ll notice in the verses we’ve read that there are two groups of people that are being described for us.
Group One is described in these first 3 verses.
They’ve come to that conclusion by observing what they see going on around them. Those who don’t keep God’s law - the arrogant and the evildoers - seemingly they’re getting blessed. They’re prospering. Whatever messed up attitude they may have about God - God seemingly let’s them get away with their attitude and actions towards Him.
We’ve seen this as we’ve been going through Malachi. God’s people have come back to Jerusalem. They’re living in the ruins of what was Jerusalem the city of David. A shell of its former glory. Regardless of the opposition they’ve rebuilt the Temple. They’re doing the worship God sacrifices thing. They’re rebuilding the walls of the city.
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.
God’s people were looking at those circumstances - which admittedly weren’t so good - which actually were pretty messed up. And they were looking at themselves - and thinking that they were trying to obey God in the midst of all that - and looking at what they were up against and they’d concluded that the righteous suffered and the wicked flourished - meaning that when it came down to it God really didn’t care. So what was the point of living righteous?
Doesn’t it seem like people who are doing just about anything but following God - and even those who are against God - way too often they seem to be doing just fine. Seemingly the wicked are doing at least as good - if not better - than the righteous. The reason that seems to be true is because - on a surface level - it is true.
The flip side - where the rubber meets the road for us - what’s hard about that for us is that it seems like while the “wicked” are doing quite well the righteous are usually getting hammered. Which is also probably true.
So Group One - they’re looking at their circumstances - which are not good - looking at their enemies that are doing quite well, thank you - and they’ve come to the conclusion - that God is detached from all that - doesn’t really care - doesn’t really love them - so it’s a waste of time and effort - it’s vain - to serve God.
Calling the arrogant blessed was their way of saying that maybe it was better to go through life doing the token God thing at the Temple but overall following along with what the world was doing. That’s just how things work in the real world.
Group Two is described in the next 3 verses. Same set of circumstances. Same enemies prospering around them. Same expectations of God - waiting for God to fulfill His promises.
But Group Two is described as those who “feared the Lord.” “Fear” meaning “reverence.” And we’re told that they “esteemed” God. They valued God for Who He is and what He does. They we’re counting on God to come through on His promises. Because that’s what the Sovereign God of the Covenant does. It’s Who He is. It’s how He acts.
Despite the circumstances, Group Two was staying focused on God - on giving God the honor and worship and faithful obedience that was due Him.
Verse 16 tells us that Group Two comes together to speak with each other. They gathered together to draw strengthen and to encourage each other. To keep themselves focused on God in the midst of their circumstances.
If we were living in a spiritually dead towards God culture… “If” - just saying. If we were living in a spiritually dead towards God culture that was being used by our adversary Satan to influence us away from God - to distract us and discourage us and lead us away from faithfully obeying God.
If we were living in a culture where people have very little use for God and those who say they have some insight on God or spirituality are actually really confused about God.
If we were living in a culture like that - over time - maybe very slowly - but over time wouldn’t it be possible over time to accommodate some of that culture for ourselves and our own way of thinking and doing and maybe not even realize it?
There’s a significant danger in that for us. We can accommodate sin in our lives for so long that after a while it almost seems normal. Culture can replace Christ as to what guides our lives.
These people - Group Two - realized that needed each other. We need each other. Which is why we need to come together - to reinforce each other - to build each other up - to strengthen and encourage each other - to hold each other accountable - to keep each other focused on God and faithfully and obediently following Him.
Because Group Two is fearing and esteeming God and desiring to keep on doing that regardless of their circumstances - God uses Malachi to give us insight into some things about Group Two that are not surface level obvious. But God wants us to know about how He - God - views Group Two.
Verse 16: “A book of remembrance was written before God.”
The idea of “a book of remembrance” is found in many places in Scripture - God keeping a record of who His people are.
In Isaiah 49:16, God says, “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands” - a beautiful picture of God’s relationship with His people, a place of healing, safety, security, and blessing.
The ultimate book of remembrance is the Book of Life - found in Revelation 20 - the record of all those who have come to salvation in Jesus Christ - those who will spend eternity with God. (Revelation 20:11-15)
Verse 17 says: “They shall be Mine…” Emphasis “Mine.”
“They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “in the day when I make up My treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.”
A treasured possession is a possession that we... treasure. What is unique and valuable. If we are in Christ - saved by grace through faith - you are God’s treasured possession. God chooses us to be His treasured possession and God is not going to let you go.
God says that He will spare His people like a man will spare His own faithful son. “Spare” - the Hebrew word means that God will have concern for His people. God will have compassion and mercy and pity on His people - as if they are His own son.
We’ve been seeing that truth as we’ve been working through the Old Testament - the Old Covenant - since Genesis and the Fall.
Remember the Abrahamic Covenant? Three parts: Land - to dwell in with God. Seed - meaning descendants. And blessing. God covenants to bless His people - that He chose - covenants to bless them with a land to dwell on with Him and to use them to be a blessing to the nations - even us.
We’ve seen God Who is relentless and purposeful in His commitment to do what He has covenanted to do. Despite the attitudes and actions of His people - God goes on loving on His people. God doesn’t change. God’s purpose and plan for history doesn’t change. It’s grounded in Who God is and what God does.
In John 10 Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”
In Greek it’s a double negative: “They shall not never perish.” “Ain’t gonna happen.”
Jesus goes on: “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:27-29)
We’re in the Son’s hand and the Father’s hand envelops the Son’s hand. How secure is that? Nothing and no one is going to pry us out of there. God is holding us tight because - in Christ - we’re His treasured possession. In the midst of our circumstances God is compassionate and merciful towards us - sparing us.
Malachi 3:18 tells us that there are distinct differences between Group One and Group Two. Some of those differences are easily seen in the attitudes and actions of the two groups. They were obvious in Malachi’s day. Obvious to people watching these two groups. But, some of those differences are not as easily seen. They will be seen. But they’re distinctions based on what God has chosen to do for His people.
Same circumstances - two distinct groups - two very different responses.
Group One has looked at their circumstances and chosen to trust their understanding of all that - their perspective and observations. A response to their circumstances that has led them over time to the point where they’re speaking against God and they don’t even realize it.
Group Two has looked at the same circumstances and chosen to fear and esteem God - to circle the wagons and trust God together.
Of the two groups we’re told that Group Two - even though outward circumstances might lead someone to question the reality of this - we’re told that Group Two is God’s treasured possession that God will spare them. Meaning that what Group Two is trusting God for is the reality of how God really has God has chosen to treat them.
In our trying to understand what’s going on behind the discussion and the question being asked - where God’s people are coming from - it really isn’t about the circumstances so much as a choice to - at the heart level - our choice to trust God - Who He is and what He’s said He will do.
In the midst of whatever we’re going through in life - do we really fear God, or not? How greatly do we esteem God, or not?
That’s the distinction between these two groups. That’s what God is looking at. At the heart level who really are His people?
These next 6 verses are God’s answer - what He wants His people to grab on to in the midst of their circumstances and their conclusions and questions.
Would you stand if you’re able and let’s read this next section of God’s word together:
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
God’s answer can be divided into two sections. Section number one focuses on “The Day”
Verse 19 begins “For Behold” “Behold” in Hebrew is a powerful - forceful - word. In modern English it carries the idea “Shut up!” Just stop what you’re doing. This is important. Be silent. Engage your brain and listen. Focus.
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.
“The Day” is “The Day of the Lord” - the day of God’s coming judgment.
The prophet Joel writes: “For the day of the Lord is near; and it will come as destruction from the Almighty. The day of the Lord is indeed great and very awesome, and who can endure it?” (Joel 1:15; 2:11b NASB)
Isaiah writes: “For the Lord of hosts will have a day of reckoning against everyone who is proud and loft and against everyone who is lifted up, that he may be abased. Behold the day of the Lord is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; and He will exterminate its sinners from it.” (Isaiah 2:12; 13:9 NASB)
Zephaniah writes: “A day of wrath is that day, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and battle cry.” (Zephaniah 1:15,16a NASB)
Jesus told His disciples: “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.” (Matthew 24:21 NASB)
The Day of The Lord is not a single 24 hour day that we can enter into our phone or tap into our tablet. It’s an extended period of future time covering a number of events - beginning at the return of Jesus - continuing over a period of 7 years - often referred to as the Tribulation - and perhaps continuing on for another thousand years - into what has been called the Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ here on earth.
It’s still night and we’re still living in the darkness and circumstances of today. But the day is coming. The emphasis is that God will act. He will bring judgment.
The Bible teaches that those who enter into that day without a personal - saving - relationship with Jesus will enter into that day as time of judgement leading to eternal punishment - eternal torment - eternal separation from God. They’ll become like dried empty chaff - stubble - leftovers from the harvest - and they will burn - be set ablaze - forever.
For anyone that should be an attention getting sobering reality. If we’re not “in Christ” that’s terrifying. “For behold, the day is coming…”
Verse 2: But for you who fear My name - Group Two - the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.”
Some translations capitalize the word “Sun.” Which has led to the idea that the “Sun” is Jesus. Which is true - meaning that in a very real sense all this is still referring to the second return of Jesus. But the play on words S-U-N and S-O-N exists in English not Hebrew. “Sun” in Hebrew means... “sun.” Like the sun rising in the east.
The imagery is that the same sun that rises with such intense heat that it sets the evildoers ablaze is the same sun which rises and brings healing to the righteous.
In The Chronicles of Narnia were told that in Narnia “...it is always winter and never Christmas.” There is an unfulfilled longing and hopelessness in that. The grey and cold and dead of winter that continues without end.
But when the sun rises at the end of winter we can feel and welcome its warmth. Its healing of the death of winter. The renewing of life. Snow melts. Things dry out. Sap flows. Trees turn green. Buds pop. Flowers bloom. Fruit begins to grow. Warmth penetrates to the bones.
Another image: You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall
There’s an invigorated joy in that. A young calf released to exercise its legs - unrestrained - free for the first time. Bounding and leaping with joyful abandon.
And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.
To tread down has the imagery of treading grapes to make wine. Same word in Hebrew. It has the idea of crushing the grapes under foot.
The idea behind the imagery is that justice - God’s justice - will take place. Circumstances that seemed so wrong - what was endured for all of history - the wicked continually trampling on the righteous - what was wrong - God will make right. The oppression by the wicked will cease.
So God’s people - Group Two - will be victorious - will be blessed beyond anything they could possible imagine. And, that blessing will go on throughout eternity.
Same circumstance - “the day” - two groups - two different results. The distinction between the two groups is how God chooses to respond to their attitude towards Him.
The second part of God’s answer are Instructions For Waiting. What to do while waiting - at least for the next 400 plus years.
First: Remember The Law. Verse 4: “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.
To remember means to keep that memory in the forefront of our thinking. Active memory. Remembering is constant - a day-by-day - moment-by-moment - we need to make a conscious effort and take steps - to keep this in the forefront of our thinking.
The Law of Moses is… the Law of Moses - the statutes and rules and commands that God gave to His people. What God delivered to His people through Moses at Horeb. Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai.
Where God’s people arrive at after God - who has chosen them to be a people - God who has chosen to deliver them from Egypt by taking out Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt. God’s people arrive at Mount Sinai.
The imagery of that is legendary. Passed down through the generations and known to Malachi’s readers. The imagery of Moses on the Mountain with God. With all the of the pyrotechnics - the lightening - the booming thunder - what was totally terrifying.
And God’s people down below - staying back at a safe distance because they were told if they touched the mountain they would die. God’s people who had to wash and clean themselves - to totally consecrate themselves to God - before they could even watch at a safe distance.
God’s people - at Horeb - watching a manifestation of the unimaginable awesomeness of God on display. Watching as God dictates the terms of His covenant - as God gives His law to Moses to give to His people.
Meaning that all those regulations like “Don’t touch that” and “Don’t eat that” and on which days and in which places to do this and that. And what to wear and when and how to wear it. And all those instructions about heaving this and waving that and what and when to heave and what and when to wave. And how to kill birds. And what to do with the blood and what not to do with the blood. And what God said about what to do when we sin - what to offer and how to offer it. And on and on.
All those statutes and rules and commands are there to help us to process at the heart level the reality of Who God is and our inadequacy to live anything close to what God requires of us.
God our Creator - Who created and holds together the atoms of our existence. God Who is beyond our comprehension and we would have no clue about except that God created us and enabled us to have some small concept of Who He is. God Who is holy. God Who is morally pure.
And we are not.
The Law - the written down specifications of the character of God - proves that we are totally inadequate - total failures - at living anything like the absolute holiness of God. We live totally depraved. We are sinners who go right on sinning. There is nothing within us that is worthy of God’s attention - God’s love - nothing worthy of God acting on our behalf. Nothing.
It is God Who has chosen you. God Who chose to reveal Himself to us. God Who chooses to treasure us and to be gracious to us and to have mercy and compassion on us. Even to save us from eternal punishment and give to us eternity with Him through Christ’s work on the cross.
Instruction Number two is to Wait For The Prophet.
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
We know that the prophet is John the Baptist. When the angel Gabriel announced to John’s father Zechariah what John’s ministry would be like - Zechariah was told that John would come in “the spirit and power of Elijah.” John the Baptist himself refers to Malachi describing his ministry. Jesus identifies the ministry of Elijah with John the Baptist. (Luke 1:17; John 3:28; Matthew 11:10)
After 400 plus years of waiting John is the renewal of the God speaking through His prophets. John who called God’s people to repentance - to change their hearts towards God. To be heart level ready for what God is doing - for what God will do.
Malachi tells us that the ministry of John the Baptist - Elijah - would change hearts. Unless hearts change God will curse the land. Somehow the ministry of the prophet would rectify the divide between God and man that the Law exposed.
John announced: “Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
That was the purpose of the prophet. John’s purpose - to point people to Jesus. Wait for the prophet to point us to Jesus.
Only Jesus can change hearts. Only Jesus can bridge the uncrossable chasm between sinful man and the Holy God.
God looking forward in history from Malachi to Jesus - for 400 or so years - politically - religiously - culturally - economically - there’s 400 years of oppression and persecution and turmoil and uncertainty. First from the Greeks - then from within - then the Romans. 400 plus years of circumstances - where God’s people are waiting for God to do what God said God would do. And wondering why He hadn’t.
And here God is - in Malachi - focusing His people - not on the circumstances - but on Him. On what He - God - is doing and will do to rectify - to redeem His people - to restore His people to Himself. What God has been doing since Genesis and the Fall - through real people in real places in real time - through the “it is finished” work of Jesus on the cross - what we who are - saved by God’s grace through faith - what we will experience together on “the day” when we enter into eternity with God.
Group One looks at their circumstances and concludes - in the midst of all this - God is so not worth our trust and obedience.
God’s answer is a future history lesson focused on Who He is and what He is doing. And God’s answer comes complete with instructions on how to stay focused - not on our circumstances - but on Him.
Gods’ answer isn’t a quick fix - easy answer - self-help program about what to do in adverse circumstances. What often times well-meaning people reduce Christianity down to.
When we look at our circumstances - maybe see the righteous suffering and the unrighteous flourishing - we can look at our lives and question if God is really paying attention. “Why is life so good for them and my life stinks.” In the stuff of our lives we don’t need sugar coated religious wishful thinking and worn out answers - we need God.
God’s answer is to look to Him - to grab the big picture of Who He is and what He is doing in His creation. Which includes us and our separation from Him - but isn’t all about us and our circumstances - but about God choosing to work to bring to righteousness what is unrighteous - which is about God and what God is doing in His creation for His glory alone.
Processing all that…
In Philippians - when Paul writes about Jesus’ incarnation - His birth - Jesus’ willful choosing to set aside His divine attributes to make Himself nothing - taking on the form of a servant - a slave - being born in the circumstances of the small town of Bethlehem - born to humble parents living in an occupied country - humbling Himself in obedience to the will of the Father - humbling Himself to the point of death - even death on the cross. Taking on Himself the full force of God’s wrath against our sin and experiencing the rejection of God which should have been ours. Jesus that God highly exalted - raised and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.
Do you remember how all of that ends? The purpose of all that? “So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10,11)
Jesus born in Bethlehem is about God - not us. The work of the Son on the cross is about God - not us. It is what God chooses to do for us. But it isn’t about us. We would miss so much of what God has for us if we fell into the trap of thinking that all that is about us and fail to be overwhelmed with the unimaginable magnificence of God - God Who is at work for His glory.
Going through life focused on us and our circumstances is always going to leave us wallowing in depression and anger and hopelessness and anxiety and despair and jealousy and addiction and rivalry and division. Keeping us in bondage to our own inadequacy and failure. Even living as the world around us lives wondering if serving God is really worth it.
Going through life focused on God - Who He is - what He is doing - will always release us to experience the joy of His presence - His peace and power in our lives - His love and to live in love - and patience - kindness - gentleness - contentment - self-control - hope - even faithful obedience knowing that serving Him is always worth it.
He alone is worthy. To God alone be the Glory.
Question: In the circumstances of your life are you a Group One person or a Group Two person. Heart level - be honest in how you answer - question are you focused on God - committed to faithfully obeying Him - or is your focus someplace else?
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.