December 9, 2018 | “The Lord You are Seeking Will Come” • Malachi 3:1-4

Joe Mabel [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

Scripture Reading • Malachi 3:1-4 (NIV)

“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.

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. 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, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

 

When ancient Israel lived in exile, far away from their land … from their homes … their temple … and everything that was familiar, they had an expectation that if only they could get back home; then people would be faithful … they would be sure of God’s presence with them … the disobedience, rebellion, and corruption, that many people had found so troubling, and they were so certain, had caused their nation to fall apart … would be a thing of the past. 

If only they could get back … everything would be alright.

I would bet that we all have experienced our own “if only’s.” 

If only I was ____________ , then ____________ . 

If only I had ____________ , then ____________ .

If only

Maybe something happens and that “if only” moves from a hope to a reality … we move to that better place where we have always wanted to live … we are in that job or relationship we always wanted … we have whatever it is we have been convinced would be just what we need to make things better. And maybe things are different for a while. I’ve noticed, at least in my life, “if only” stuff is fleeting. Sooner or later I found myself not satisfied and stuck back in the same old rut, thinking “if only” all over again …

Malachi was written generations after many Israelites had been able to return home after their time in exile. The exile was over. They were back in the familiar place their ancestors had missed so badly … the temple had been rebuilt … the priests were leading worship, offering prayers and sacrifices to God … they could eat their own familiar food … celebrate their own holidays … speak their own language … pray to their own God … live in the ways their people always had, without feeling like they were swimming upstream against their culture … they were just where their ancestors had longed to be, but something still wasn’t quite right. 

They weren’t living into their part of the covenant God has established with them.

It was like this generation had forgotten all about the exile …

Malachi could see his people turning away from their relationship with God. 

He seemed especially troubled by what he saw from his religious leaders. The priests didn’t seem to be taking their responsibility all that seriously. 

Bruce Demarest, a Spiritual formation professor at Denver Seminary, writes, 

“When Malachi (whose name means ‘my messenger’) wrote, about 430 BC, the temple had been rebuilt, the sacrifices reinstituted, and Jerusalem’s walls restored. But after a generation or two [they] had forgotten the painful lessons of their captivity. Priests became corrupt, and the people became hard-hearted and cynical. God raised up Malachi to call priests and people back into relationship with himself … the hearts of the priests drifted from vital relationship with [God].Consequently, they offered unacceptable sacrifices, and their faithless teaching caused many to stumble.” (Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible, p. 1381).

I could see why Malachi would find this situation so troubling. 

For so long, so many people had hoped for a temple. They had longed for a place to offer their sacrifices … to worship and pray without risking their lives. So many people worked so hard to rebuild the temple. And now, this batch of priests seemed so reckless and nonchalant with their roles and responsibilities. They weren’t leading their people toward deeper and fuller relationship with God … they weren’t encouraging the people to give their best efforts into pursuing relationships with God. Malachi was concerned these leaders were leading their people in the opposite direction of God. 

Malachi can be really intense … he sees so much that seems far away from God’s desire and intention for his covenant people. He sees that the stakes are high.

Malachi calls the people to turn back toward God through a question and response conversation … he anticipates people’s questions and offers responses from God. The people question God’s love for them, but through Malachi God calls out, “I have loved you.” God asks why the people have disrespected him. The people don’t see how they could have disrespected God? God lays out his case. 

Malachi claim’s the people have wearied God. He imagines them responding, “How have we wearied God?” He argues that they have wearied God by getting God backwards, by saying, “All who do evil are good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by even having the gall to ask, “Where is the God of justice?” Malachi seems extremely troubled by his people’s attitudes toward God. But he is convinced God hasn’t abandoned them and is continuing to pursue them and continuing to call them back to covenant relationship. 

When people who don’t seem to care all that much about what justice looks like in their lives or in their communities ask, “Where is the God of justice?” Malachi, offers a prophetic response from God – (Malachi 3.1-4)

“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.

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. 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, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

If it sounds like judgement, I guess it is because it is judgement. 

But the appearance of the Lord isn’t destructive, vindictive, judgment for God’s people. It brings out the best that is in them. The fuller’s soap doesn’t destroy wool – it cleans and strengthens the wool … it makes the wool it’s best … it makes it stronger and more useful. The refiner’s fire doesn’t destroy the silver or gold, it purifies and brings out the best and most valuable part of it … 

God doesn’t threaten to turn his back on the people … God won’t abandon them … God will draw near and profoundly change them … so that no matter their circumstances … no matter their “if only’s” … they will live in relationship with God … and worship God with faithfulness. 

As we make our way through Advent, these four weeks leading up to Christmas, we remember Christ’s first coming in that manger in Bethlehem, and we anticipate and look forward to Christ’s return when he will establish God’s will and make all things right. It makes sense that Christians would see so much of Jesus in these verses from Malachi. The gospels insist John the Baptist is the messenger preparing the way for Jesus. We see Jesus as the Lord coming into the temple … the one who in love and goodness will refine us and shape us into the people God wants us to be. 

We have so many “if only’s” in our lives … so many ways we are impacted and shaped by our circumstances … sometimes they might change and things might work better for a while, but eventually we wind up in the same spot … wishing we could change our circumstances so that things could be different. 

Jesus, the one God sent to us to fully reveal his character and will to us, is capable of refining us like the fuller’s wool or the smith’s precious metal … if we open our hearts to Jesus and pursue Jesus … Jesus can change us so that no matter what our circumstances are … not matter what our “if only’s” are we can live in relationship with God, worshiping and serving God fully and faithfully wherever we are and whatever we are doing. 

SPCCBulletin12.09.2018

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