It had to be frustrating. God had been so good to the people! He had blessed them in so many ways! But the worship was half-hearted, the offerings were disappointing. Most disturbingly, at least some of the religious leaders were leading the way in this! Instead of confronting it and taking people back to the truths of the Word, those religious leaders were interested in filling their own bellies.
And the spiritual apathy impacted the lives of the people! The poor struggled to find justice; partiality was shown to the rich, the well-connected. Divorce was prevalent, and easy! People were messing around with sexual immorality, dabbling in superstition/sorcery, and some even argued that it was pointless to serve the true God.
The most things change, the more they stay the same. We just talked through aspects of the book of Malachi, but it sounded oh-so-similar to the 21st century, didn’t it?
Let’s quickly remember the history. The grand days of David and Solomon were followed by the split kingdom. Then the Assyrians came. And then the Babylonians came. Jerusalem lay in ruins, God’s temple was destroyed. Things looked awful!
But God worked a miracle! He caused King Cyrus to allow some of the Israelites to come back to Judah, to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. Things like that just didn’t happen in Old Testament times! But God had caused it to happen.
So, wouldn’t we expect the people to be grateful? To be thankful? To worship God with all their hearts, to trust him completely? Of course!
Wouldn’t it be reasonable for God to expect such things from us, too? After all, we could argue that God has done even greater things for you and me. He’s brought us to know that Jesus is our Savior. He’s assured us that our sins are forgiven. He’s convinced us that he’s preparing a home in heaven for us. He’s blessed us with our daily bread. And grace upon grace, he’s even called us into public ministry!
And what does God get in return from us? Would he not properly expect to receive our whole-hearted devotion, our full focus? Would he not properly expect that we would give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord? Sure!
Does God get that from us? Does God get that from me? Oh how my own heart hurts as I answer that question honestly. Yours too?
Well, God sure wasn’t getting full devotion from the Israelites at the time of Malachi. The people were bringing crippled or diseased animals to sacrifice. God waxes sarcastic: “Try offering them to your governor. … Would he be pleased with you?” The priests – who should have been leading the way to the truth – were teaching falsely, were taking part in worshiping false gods, were distorting justice. The family lives of the people were, in general, a mess. In talking about husbands and wives, God asks, “Has not the Lord made them one?” and then urges the people to not break faith with their marriage partner. But many of them did so anyway! And, as if to add insult to injury, the people were saying that it was futile to serve the LORD! Would it have been fun to be a pastor then? Hmm. Maybe not so much!
And so it makes sense to us to hear what God says at the beginning of chapter 4: “‘Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘Not a root or a branch will be left to them.’” (Malachi 4:1 NIV) Those Old Testament people deserved to have God come in that way, with fire and judgment! And you I deserve that, too.
But then comes one of those wonderful little words, the word “but.” Yes, we deserve God’s punishment. Yes, Judgment Day could be a horrible day for us, indeed, should be. BUT! But what? But the one who’s coming on that day is Jesus. Yes, the same Jesus who died on the cross and rose from the dead, he’s the one who’s coming back on Judgment Day. The same Jesus who stretched out His hands and died for you, he’s coming back. Yes, that Savior Jesus, he’s coming back for you, dear pastor.
We hear thoughts to that point in the second verse of Malachi 4: “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.” (Malachi 4:2 NIV)
Have you ever stayed up for the entire night? Do you remember how it felt when the sunlight crested the horizon? Even though you’re exhausted, that rising sun brings you a burst of energy! It brings a whole new perspective, for you’re again able to see the world around you. Everything somehow looks better with the sun shining, doesn’t it? If you will, that sunlight “heals” you.
And so Jesus does for you and for me. He heals us where we really need to be healed! When we feel the pain of guilt because of sins committed in the (distant) past, he assures us, “Those sins – they’ve been paid for in full! They’re gone! Indeed, in my eyes you look perfect and holy!” He heals us. When we’re nervous or fearful, he says: “Surely I am with you always!” and, “The Mighty Lord is with us! The God of Jacob is our Fortress!” And he heals us. Most importantly, he takes our fears regarding death and the life to come – yes, even we pastors wrestle with those things at times, don’t we? – and he assures us that death has been defeated, that eternal life has been opened to us, that we will spend eternity with our God in heaven. All that is yours, pastor! All that is mine! His forgiving love shines it upon us! And it heals us!
And so as we consider the Last Day, we can look forward to it with excitement, like calves who are frolicking, like calves released from the stall. In my former congregation one of my members raised cattle, so I asked them about that phrase. They explained that after young calves have been penned up for awhile, when they are released, they will hop around with joy and abandon. In fact, sometimes several of them will tear around the field as fast as they can go. They’re free! And rejoicing in it!
God has set you free, my brother! He’s set you free forever and ever! Because of that, you get to think about the Last Day with joy and confidence. The Sun of Righteousness, Jesus, is coming back for you! He’s coming to give you the full blessings of what he’s won for you! Then, finally, there will be no more frustrations!
And until that day? May Jesus’ forgiving, healing, energizing love shine on you each and every day, as you guide your flock to better see Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness!