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Malachi 3:13-4:6: The Day of Distinction Print E-mail
Sunday, 30 May 2010

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Do you ever feel like your service to the Lord is in vain?  Do you ever stop and think: ‘You know, there is no real difference between my life as a believer and the lives of others.  The rain falls on me just like it falls on them.  Everybody faces difficulties and hardships.  So why then do I even bother with trying to serve the Lord?’  Maybe we never get that far in our thinking, but if we are honest, we often wonder why there is not a more clear distinction between the righteous and the wicked.  Perhaps we struggle with all of the hardships that we see faithful followers of Christ facing.  We waver like the psalmist: All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.  For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning (Psalm 73:13-14).  Surely, we conclude, we have served the Lord in vain.

How do we deal with such questions and doubt?  How do we answer the charge that there is no distinction between the righteous and the wicked?  We do what the psalmist did in Psalm 73, namely we consider the end (see v. 16-28).  We remind ourselves that a day of distinction is coming.  This is the answer that we are given in the sixth and final disputation in Malachi.  We have already seen in the fourth disputation that some in Malachi’s day were questioning God’s justice based on the fact that the wicked were prospering (see 2:17).  Malachi returns to this issue in the final disputation. 

Look at 3:13-15.  The people have been speaking against the Lord.  What exactly have they been saying?  It is vain to serve God.  We have argued before based on what is said in the text that these people have moved beyond just struggling.  They are not just asking questions, they have made conclusions and have determined to live their lives based on their judgments.  They state: And now we call the arrogant blessed.  Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.  They have decided that serving the Lord is pointless.  They see no profit in keeping His commands and so they refuse to do it.

How then will the Lord respond to such accusations?  Is it really vain to serve the Lord?  No, the Lord reminds them (and us) that a day of distinction is coming.  Look at verse 18.  On that day, there will be a clear difference between the righteous and the wicked.  It is this difference that should encourage us to fear and serve the Lord.  So then, what does the Lord tell us through Malachi will happen to those who fear and serve the Lord and those who do not?

Those who do not fear and serve the Lord will be judged.

Malachi has already told us of the coming fires of purification (see 3:1-5).  In our passage this morning he speaks of the coming fires of judgment, which will come to destroy.  Look at 4:1a.  The arrogant and evildoers, who many were calling blessed (3:15), will on that Day be stubble.  They will be fuel to the fire.  And lest some think that they will rise again to power, as often happened with Israel’s enemies and the temporal judgments, the Lord makes it clear that this judgment will be final.  Look at 4:1b and 3.  The coming judgment will not be like the temporary judgments that came and went.  Israel had watched in terror as many of the nations had fallen and then risen back to power.  Of course, even in their own history, they had gone through such judgments and survived as a people.  Yet, the Lord is making it clear that all of these judgments were just a small of taste of the one that is to come.  It will be final.  There will be no recovering from this judgment.  Once it comes there will be no escaping.

How many times do we see these warnings about judgment in the prophets?  Why are so many passages devoted to this theme?  First, lest we forget just how terrible the coming judgment will be, the Lord warns us over and over again.  All of these passages issue a clear warning for the coming Day.  Second, in light of the first reason, we must say that such warnings are a display of God’s grace.  He does not leave us in the dark about what is to come.  We do not have to sit around and wonder about what will happen to the wicked, to all those who refuse to fear and serve the Lord.  No, their fate is painfully clear.  Thus, these warnings should cause us to do everything we can to be certain that we are not numbered among God’s enemies on that Day.  The truth of coming judgment should cause us to fear and serve the Lord.

Yet, there is more than just escape from judgment that is promised to those who serve the Lord…

Those who do fear and serve the Lord will be saved.

In one sense, this is the message of the Bible.  God created us, we sinned and rebelled, He sent Christ to pay for our sins so that any who turn from their sins and trust in the Lord will be saved.  Throughout the Bible we are pointed to this message over and over again.  What does this passage in Malachi teach us about the coming salvation of those who fear and serve the Lord?

First, and foremost, we see that they will be His treasured possession.  Look at 3:16-17.  It seems that not all in Malachi’s day were giving in to their doubts and questions.  Rather, they remained faithful to the Lord.  They feared the Lord and esteemed his name.  So what will happen to these people?  The Lord does not leave us in the dark about their future either.  He tells us: 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.  ‘They shall be mine.’  What an amazing promise!!  All who fear the Lord and serve Him will be a part of His treasured possession.  He will be their God and they shall be His people, His treasured people. 

It is hard for us to actually comprehend the weight of what is being said here.  God will treasure those who fear Him.  All of love and mercy and kindness and grace will be lavished upon them.  It is humbling and overwhelming to think on such thoughts.  Likewise, it is thoughts like this that should encourage us to stand fast in the face of despair and doubt.  Things may be hard for a time, but a Day is coming when the Lord will make it clear that all who fear Him are His treasured people.  This is the greatest promise that we could ever be given.  All of the other promises that are mentioned in the text are just another part of this grand promise.  We shall be His.  What else does this involve?  The Lord answers as the text continues.

Second, those who fear and serve the Lord will be righteous, or completely righteous.  Look at 4:2a.  What is meant by the phrase: the sun of righteousness will rise.  The emphasis in the original is on the righteousness that will come for those who fear the name of the Lord.  The image of a sun shining forth its light is used to describe the righteousness that is given to those who serve the Lord.  It will shine forth in every direction.  It will be complete.  We are told in the New Testament that all of those who trust in Christ will be perfectly righteous on the Day of His return.  We call this ‘glorification.’  We will not just be declared righteous (justification) or becoming righteous (sanctification), but we will actually be righteous (glorification).  This is what Christ has purchased for us at Calvary.  He secured our righteousness so that we might be justified, sanctified, and on that Day, glorified.  This is part of being God’s treasured possession.  He will not leave us in our sins, but has sent us Christ for our complete salvation.  All of those who trust in Christ (fear and serve the Lord) will be righteous on that Day.

Third, those who fear and serve the Lord will be healed on that Day.  Look at 4:2a again.  The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.  It seems that this refers to both physical and spiritual healing.  Paul tells us of the new bodies that we will receive (see 1 Corinthians 15).  We may not be healthy throughout this life.  We may have diseases like Diabetes or Cancer.  We may battle with sin and strife.  But there is coming a Day of healing for all of those who fear the Lord and serve Him.

Fourth, that Day will be a day of great rejoicing for those who fear and serve the Lord.  Look at 4:2b.  What an odd image!  Yet, for those in Malachi’s day it surely was a picture of great rejoicing.  When a calf was released from the stall or lead to feed (depending on the translation), they would jump and leap for joy.  Their excitement caused them to literally jump for joy.  Although it is an odd picture for us, the truth remains.  The great Day of the Lord will be a day of incredible rejoicing for those who fear the Lord.  The joy will flood over us and wash away all of these days of difficulty and hardship.  As God’s treasured possession, we will enjoy Him forever.

Fifth, and finally, those who fear and serve the Lord will have victory on that Day.  Look at 4:3.  The enemies of the Lord will be cast down forever.  Of course, we need to be careful here.  I recently read a novel that involved one of its characters quoting this verse as motivation for their action of a burning someone that they believed was the Antichrist.  Obviously, that is a complete misunderstanding of this verse (and others like it).  No, it is the Lord who will judge His enemies and their punishment will be just.  We can take hope in the fact that He will right all of the wrongs and give victory to His people.

The book of Malachi closes with three final verses, one looking back and the other two looking forward.  Look at 4:4.  This verse is a short summary of everything that Malachi has been saying in His book.  The people need to trust in the Lord and serve Him by keeping the law of Moses.  They need to return to the Lord in true obedience and true worship.  The final two verses then look to the future.  Look at 4:5-6.  Once again Malachi tells us of the coming of John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord.  He will be like Elijah and will call the people to turn their hearts, just as John preached a message of repentance and returning to the Lord. 

All of this prepares us for the coming of Christ.  We must be ready for the coming Day of distinction and the only way to do it is to make certain that we are numbered among those who fear and serve the Lord.  This begins by turning from our sins and trusting in the work of Christ.  As we await His return for His people, may we be encouraged by the promises of this passage to hold fast.  Through faith in Christ we are a part of His treasured possession.  He has promised us complete righteousness, healing, joy, and victory.  May we keep these promises for the coming Day ever before us so that we can faithfully follow after our Savior.  May we know that fearing and serving the Lord is never in vain.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 09 June 2010 )

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