************ Sermon on Malachi 3:2 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on December 1, 2002

Malachi 2:17-3:5
Malachi 3:2
"He is Coming: Like a Refiner's Fire"

I overheard two women talking. One asked the other to lock up for her because she had to go to the doctor. "Oh, aren't you feeling well?" "I get this every Christmas," said the first lady. "All the food and parties and shopping becomes too much for me." Lots of people have this problem. I think of the new advertisement on TV about the hazards of Christmas: an overweight woman who ate too much at Christmas is standing on a talking scale and it says to her: "One at a time please." This reminds me of the Norman Rockwell print of a salesgirl, at the end of the last shopping day of a hectic Christmas season, slumped over the counter, gasping, "Who can stand another Christmas?"

Most adults can probably identify with this. Christmas often is such a busy and hectic time of the year: too much shopping, too much spending, too many parties, programs too numerous to count, too much sitting, too much eating and drinking, too little exercise and sleep. Yes, "who can stand another Christmas?"

Malachi, the prophet, asks a similar question: "who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?"

We all look forward to Christmas, but are we sure we want Christmas to come? We all look forward to Christmas, but can we stand another Christmas?
(Mal 3:2) But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?

I Where is God?
A The people of Malachi's day were tired of waiting for Christmas, what they called the Day of the Lord. Like impatient children they didn't want to wait anymore. How they looked forward to this day.

They looked forward to the Day of the Lord because then a king, the Messiah, would sit on David's throne forever. There would be endless prosperity. The wicked heathen would be punished. The Temple would be rebuilt and God would fill it with His glory. The deserts of Judah would blossom like a garden. The lame would walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, and the mute sing for joy. Israel would lie at the center of the earth and all nations, all kings, and all peoples would stream to Jerusalem to worship Israel's God. These were the promises of God to His people about the coming Day of the Lord and the Messiah.

During the days of Malachi the people suffered under foreign domination. Hopeless poverty prevailed throughout the land. Yes, the Temple had been rebuilt but there was no sign of God's glory within it. What made all this even worse is that evil-doers, like the neighboring heathen, were prosperous and free while God's people lived in poverty and under foreign domination. So no wonder they could hardly wait for Christmas, for the Day of the Lord, for the coming of the Messiah.

B The desperate circumstances they found themselves in as compared to the wicked heathen led the people to ask, "Where is ... God?" (2:17). They began to question God's providence, doubt His promises, and suspect His justice. They wondered if the Messiah would ever come; they doubted that the Day of the Lord would ever arrive; it seemed to them Christmas would never occur.

"Where is ... God? What has happened to the Messiah? When is Christmas coming? How many more candles to we need to light?" These are the questions of an impatient Israel.

C Using a strong figure of speech, Malachi states that the people of Judah have "wearied the Lord" (2:17) with their constant complaints. "Wearied" is how parents of young children can and often do feel after a long car trip especially if there is car sickness, fighting over toys, and a general restlessness about being confined so long with high whining voices. Wearied today we would say "sick and tired" or "fed up." It is true, of course, that "the everlasting God ... will not grow tired or weary" (Is 40:28) of our prayers and questions, but He does grow weary of our sin, and our evil does severely test His patience (Is 1:14; 43:24).

II The Lord is Coming
A As a mouthpiece of the Lord, Malachi tells the people God has not forgotten them, nor has He left them. For, the Day of the Lord and the Messiah are about to come; Christmas is almost here.

"Where is ... God?" The Lord God Himself answers this: "See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me" (3:1). "I am coming," says God, "but first the way must be prepared for me." "I am coming," says God, "but first you must get ready."

It was Isaiah the prophet who first told the people to get ready, to be prepared, for the Lord's coming:
(Is 40:3) A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.

The announcement of both Malachi and Isaiah depicts a most familiar scene in the ancient world: whenever a king was about to arrive at a town or village, messengers were sent ahead to tell the towns and villages to make the necessary preparations to receive their royal guest like sweeping the streets, weeding flower beds, fixing up holes & ruts, setting up a canopy. Likewise, the Messiah would be announced by a promised forerunner so that people can get ready for His arrival.

The New Testament identifies the herald as being John the Baptist. Jesus says about John the Baptist,
(Mt 11:10) This is the one about whom it is written, "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you."

B The work of this messenger is that of preparing the way before the Lord. His job is to make ready for Christmas. The forerunner's work, in the prophecy of Isaiah, is pictured as a highway building project:
(Is 40:4) Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. (cf Is 57:14; Is 62:10)
You can almost hear the giant earthmovers at work, can't you, leveling the road, filling in the ruts, removing the boulders and straightening its course in preparation for the arrival of earthly monarchs.

When applied to the Lord of glory, the forerunner's work is moral and spiritual. The crooked and rough places of our lives must be smoothed out. What Malachi has in mind is a spiritual housecleaning as the only proper preparation for Christmas, for the arrival of the Messiah. For this reason, John the Baptist preached, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." The Baptizer urged men to repent as preparation for Christmas, for the coming of the Messiah.

C "Where is ... God?" "I am coming," says God, "but first you must get ready." Christmas is almost here. And, any day now the Lord may come again. So we too, congregation, must prepare ourselves. How? The most important part of getting ready for Christmas is not putting up the lights, getting a tree, buying lots of presents for the kids or grandkids. The most important part of getting ready for Christmas is to repent and believe. Like the people of Israel, we must repent and engage in spiritual housecleaning so that we will be found ready and waiting as a bride prepared for her husband.

Will you be ready for Christmas this year, congregation? If Christ were to return again today or tomorrow will you be ready? Is your spiritual house in order? Have you repented of your sins and turned to Christ in faith and obedience? That's the only way to be ready for the Lord.

III The Refiner's Fire and Launderer's Soap
A The Day of the Lord is coming. The Messiah is almost here. Judah, as I already said, looked forward to this, to the Day of the Lord, the coming of the Messiah. They thought His appearance would mean the destruction of the Gentile nations and prosperity for themselves. "But," asks Malachi, "who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?"

Malachi asks this because far too many in Judah will not be ready for the Day of the Lord.

Christmas is almost here. Any day now the Lord may come again. "But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?"

Malachi asks this because far too many people will not be ready for Christmas this year. Many people are not prepared to meet Christ if He were to return today or tomorrow. And, some of these people are to be found even in the church.

"Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?" Behind this question lies the image of the judgment. God, in and through Christ, will search and examine people, to see if any are ready, to see if any are prepared: for Christmas, for the Day of the Lord, for the second coming.

B Malachi depicts this judging work of Christ to be like fire and soap:
(Mal 3:3) 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.
Christ, in other words, will use fire and soap to test whether His people are ready and prepared to meet Him.

The searching, examining, judging work of Christ is like fire and soap. What fire does in separating the slag or impurities from the metal and soap does in separating dirt from clothes, so will the judging work of Christ do separating the good and righteous from the evil and wicked.

Those who are truly God's people have nothing to fear from the fire and soap. In the same way as real metal has nothing to fear in the fire or clothing has no reason to dread soap, so the cleansing, purifying, judging work of Christ holds no threat for believers.

C When it comes to metal, the purpose of the refiner's fire is not to destroy but to purify. Also, the launderer's soap was applied not to destroy but to whiten cloth. In the same way, Christ's refining work in the life of the believer is meant not to destroy but to make pure and holy and whiter than snow.

The refiner of the Ancient World always knew when his work of refining was done, he always knew when all the slag and impurities were burnt away: when he could look into the open furnace or pot and see his image plainly reflected in the molten metal. As a refiner, Christ also knows when His purification work in us is done: when He can look at us and plainly see His image reflected back. That's His goal, you know to purify us until we are like Him. Then, our worship and our offerings will be acceptable in His sight (Mal 3:3-4; cf Rom 12:1 & Heb 13:15). Then, we can endure the day of His coming and stand when He appears.

D What is a refining, cleansing, purifying process for some will for others bring judgment and the eternal fires of damnation. I want you to note: we are either purified by the flame that is Christ or we are burned by that flame.

Remember, in the same way as the real metal has nothing to fear in the fire or the clothing have no reason to dread laundry soap, so the cleansing of Christ holds no threat for the believers. But pity the slag and the dirt: they have every reason to fear the fire and the soap. Likewise, the unbeliever has every reason to fear the cleansing, purifying, refining work of Christ. For them the fire and soap will be dreadful, and the furnace of affliction terrible. The Lord Almighty says,
(Mal 3:5) "So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me."
As in the case of metal or clothing, the slag and dirt must be removed. When the Lord comes He will function as both accuser and judge against the wicked.

"Where is ... God?" asked the people of Judah. "He is coming," says the prophet.

Yes, congregation, the Day of the Lord is coming. Another Christmas is almost here. Any day now the Lord may come again. But we had better be ready. "The Lord is coming," said John the Baptist.
(Mt 3:12) His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering the wheat into his barn and burning the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Are you ready? Will you be ready? Are you prepared to meet the Lord?
(Mal 3:2) Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?"

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