Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Malachi 3:1-6 Look! I am sending my messenger! He will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord, whom you are seeking, will come to his temple! The Messenger of the Covenant, in whom you delight, will surely come, says the Lord of Armies. 2But who can endure the day when he comes? Who will remain standing when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire, like launderers bleach! 3He will be seated like a refiner and a purifier of silver. He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and like silver. They will belong to the Lord and bring him an offering in righteousness. 4Judah and Jerusalem’s offerings will be pleasing to the Lord as they were in the days of old, in years long ago. 5I will approach you to judge you. I will be quick to give testimony against those who practice occult arts, those who commit adultery, those who swear false oaths, those who cheat workers out of their wages, those who wrong a widow and a fatherless child, those who turn away a resident alien—all those who do not fear me, says the Lord of Armies. 6Certainly I, the Lord, do not change. That is why you, sons of Jacob, have not come to an end. (EHV)
The Messenger of the Covenant comes for you.
Dear fellow redeemed,
Do you like surprises? How about surprise visitors? Years ago, my Mom’s uncle and aunt liked to visit their relatives on Sunday afternoons. They didn’t wait for an invitation, and they often didn’t bother to let their target know they were coming. Eventually, we all knew that this couple would be coming to visit, but no one knew which family they would choose to visit on any particular Sunday. They would just show up at your door and expect to enjoy the afternoon with you, and being family, a good time was had by all.
But, what if the unannounced visitor would be someone less friendly, an IRS agent seeking to arrest you for tax evasion, the sheriff coming to put you in prison for some long-forgotten crime, or a bank examiner come to repossess all you own to cover an old debt. That day wouldn’t feel pleasant at all. So, dear friends, are your prepared for when The Messenger of the Covenant comes for you?
In our sermon text, the prophet forecasts a number of messengers God would send to His people, but he doesn’t say exactly when they would show. Of course, we know today that several of those visitors have already made their appearance, yet One is still to come. Like so many prophecies, this one is like looking at a mountain range from a distance, where there is often another mountain behind what you first see. Therefore, this morning, I would like to walk with you through this text one mountain peak at a time.
Through Malachi, the Lord told Judah, “Look! I am sending my messenger! He will prepare the way before me.” Looking back, it is easy to recognize that this is one of the prophecies that refer to John the Baptist. John went ahead of Jesus preaching a message of repentance to prepare the people for the arrival of the promised Messiah. Vast crowds flocked to see John, and many people did repent. John became famous for baptizing countless repentant souls with his baptism of repentance, and the Lord Jesus, too, came to John for baptism putting Himself under all the law that was condemning us.
In our second verse, the prophet reported, “Then suddenly the Lord, whom you are seeking, will come to his temple! The Messenger of the Covenant, in whom you delight, will surely come, says the Lord of Armies.” This Messenger of the Covenant has certainly already come to this world in the person of Christ Jesus. The Children of Israel had been waiting for this Promised One since the promise was first given to Abraham. For around two thousand years, many of the Israelites watched impatiently for the Messiah, but still, just as Malachi had warned, His arrival came as a surprise. Imagine! Knowing someone is coming for a visit, and yet, when he finally arrives, you are caught completely off guard, but that’s what this prophecy foretold, and that’s what happened.
How did that play out in Israel? Certainly, Mary and Joseph were taken by surprise when the announcement came that they would serve as the parents of the Messiah. The shepherds in the field were caught by surprise when the angel hosts sang the news of Jesus’ birth. Many of the people who met Jesus and heard Him preach were caught off guard, and even John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus asking, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2-10) The priests and Levites, the Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t know what to make of Jesus. Even though they knew all the signs the prophets had foretold and saw Jesus fulfilling those signs to show that He was, indeed, the Messiah, they still couldn’t believe He was the One. So, the whole nation of Judah was looking for the Savior. The people longed to see Messiah come, and yet, when God’s Son was finally walking among them, He took them completely by surprise.
We come now to a mountain peak that should make us all sit up and take notice. The prophet said, “But who can endure the day when he comes? Who will remain standing when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire, like launderers bleach!” As we look forward to celebrating Jesus’ birth, understand that we should also be looking forward to His return to this world as our Judge. And as the prophet asks, “Who can endure the day?”, we certainly must admit that we are not pure enough to stand in the presence of the holy Judge. If you and I have to stand in all our faults and imperfections before the perfectly holy God who created us, His holiness would immediately destroy us just as Moses was told, "you cannot see My face, for no one may see Me and live." (Exodus 33:20)
Still, there is comfort here. The prophet spoke of a refiner’s fire. That fire has one purpose, to remove or destroy all impurities from the metal. This pictures the Lord’s judgment on the day He sifts the tares from the wheat and throws the useless into the eternal fires of hell. However, the prophet also speaks of the launderer’s soap. So, is this Judgment Day, or is it the work that Christ first came to do? In the distant vision, those peaks blended together.
Truly, this passage speaks of Jesus’ work of purifying all the people of the world. God’s merciful plan had always been to send His Son to live in perfect obedience to His will on behalf of all of us sinners, and then God would place His judgment upon His own Son for the sins of the world. That purifying, refining work is what was seen at the hill called Golgotha. The wrath of God, that refining fire, was poured out on Jesus for all the guilt we carry. And with His death on the cross, Jesus cleansed all people from their sin, making Jesus the Refiner’s fire and the launderer’s bleach. Furthermore, Jesus put that refining fire and launderer’s bleach to work in you as you were put to death in your Baptism and raised to new life purified of all sin with faith in Christ Jesus.
The prophet wrote, “He will be seated like a refiner and a purifier of silver. He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and like silver.” To understand this prophecy we look to the words of Peter in his first epistle, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) The priests of Israel came from the tribe of Levi. The new “sons of Levi” are all those people Christ has purified with His life and purchased with His blood to be an offering of righteousness by faith.
My friends, through faith in Jesus, you and I have been made part of this “royal priesthood,” often called the priesthood of all believers. For what purpose? Malachi tells us, “They will belong to the Lord and bring him an offering in righteousness.” The Old Testament priests, who all came from the tribe of Levi, offered up sacrifice after sacrifice for the sins of the people. Those sacrifices served one purpose, to point the people toward the final sacrifice of God’s Son, to show them that their sins would be covered forever when the Messiah shed His own blood in payment for their sins.
As New Testament priests, we also offer up offerings to the Lord, but we no longer need to offer up a bloody sacrifice. Rather, our offerings are the lives we live for the Lord. We don’t offer our lives in payment for sin, because that debt was paid in full for us by Christ on the cross. But, the lives of faithful believers become thank offerings made in Christ’s righteousness, and as we live in Christ’s righteousness, our Lord promises through His messenger, “Judah and Jerusalem’s offerings will be pleasing to the Lord as they were in the days of old, in years long ago.” When Israel was faithful, God accepted their offerings as a pleasant aroma in His nostrils. King David wrote, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17) Likewise, our pleasant offerings are lives confessing our sinfulness before God and trusting in the forgiveness and salvation that Jesus has won for us all, and dressed in His righteousness, we reflect His holiness in this sinful world.
The next mountain peak shows us that Jesus will return to judge this world. God proclaimed “I will approach you to judge you. I will be quick to give testimony against those who practice occult arts, those who commit adultery, those who swear false oaths, those who cheat workers out of their wages, those who wrong a widow and a fatherless child, those who turn away a resident alien—all those who do not fear me, says the Lord of Armies.” The people accused of doing these wicked things are all those who reject Christ and the forgiveness He gives. They are people who don’t fear God’s wrath, and thus despise His salvation, people who deny God His rightful authority, or deny His just hatred of all sin, or perhaps imagine that God’s love will require Him to accept even the impenitent. Yet, through Malachi, here, God tells us that He will be swift to bear witness against those false, insulting sinners. The One who died to pay for their sins will hasten to judge the defiant and condemn them to the punishment that all the wicked deserve.
A few moments ago, we all confessed that we have sinned against God. If you and I had to bear the burden of our sins on Judgment Day, we would certainly be among those defiant ones condemned to eternal punishment. Yet, we have a sure and certain hope, for our heavenly Father has declared, “Certainly I, the Lord, do not change. That is why you, sons of Jacob, have not come to an end.” Our God has never changed, and He never will. In the Garden of Eden, He promised to send a Savior to crush the devil’s head. Sin would be punished and God’s people be set free. Time and again, God had His prophets repeat His promise. The prophet Malachi was the last in that long line. One more time God graciously foretold a coming Redeemer for the Children of Israel and Savior for the nations.
You see, our Lord never changes. He always hates sin, and He always loves His dear children. God poured out His righteous hatred for the sins of the world on Jesus when He who had no sin became sin for us as He was nailed to that cross of death. All along, that was God’s plan to make sinners like you and me right, again, with Him. God’s justice caused Him to punish all sin. His love made Him take that punishment for you and me. Because we are sinners, we couldn’t return to God, therefore, He came to us. We couldn’t make ourselves holy, so through faith, God gives Christ’s holiness to each person who believes and trusts in Him, and today, as believers in Christ Jesus, God counts us in the category, “sons of Jacob,” and makes us members of His royal priesthood.
When God gave Malachi this prophecy of the Savior’s coming, He included the promise that our risen and ascended Savior would one day return as our Judge. Are you ready for Jesus’ surprise return as your Judge on Judgment Day? We are ready when we live in contrite repentance for our sins and continual trust in Jesus for forgiveness full and free. We are ready when we live our lives as daily thank offerings to the Lord. We are ready when we live in Christ’s righteousness and as His priests reflect His holiness to the world around us. We are ready when, like John the Baptist, we set aside our own wants and needs in order to tell our friends and neighbors to repent for the King of Glory is coming soon.
Dear friends, in His unchanging mercy and love, God has not destroyed us for our sins, but rather, He took our punishment upon Himself so that we could have eternal life with Him. Rejoice in that Good News. We now live as His priests, offering up the holiness of Christ who washed us clean in His own blood. We live to shout continually to those around us, The Messenger of the Covenant comes for you. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto everlasting life. Amen.