““Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’ ” Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. “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. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. ” (Malachi 3:13–18, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Malachi had a tough job as a prophet. Church attendance was at an all time low. People just didn’t seem to give congregational activities much priority. Lot’s of people only showed up for those twice a year special services. The church was broke. Pastors all around were doing and saying things that were completely against God’s Word. Marriage was mocked. Young couples were hooking up left and right. Shacking up was becoming the common way to live. Folks didn’t care about the poor and hurting. Oh they did what they had to do, the token gift to show that they cared, but their hearts were far from caring. It was pretty obvious too, that there was profit in neglecting the things of God. Evil people were doing well. Outspoken critics of God had the public ear, and God’s faithful people were mocked for being old fashioned, and ignorant. It was easy for a church go-er to get discouraged. God promised that he would take care but it didn’t seem to be happening. You’d often hear church folks saying and thinking things like:
‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’
One poet captures the sense very well:
They say there's a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it's better but I say it ain't
I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
the sinners are much more fun...
you know that only the good die young (Billy Joel, Only the Good Die Young, 1977)
Malachi had it tough. But then again so do we. Kind of amazing how things come around, isn’t it? It’s enough to make you wonder what difference it really makes. People all around us live as if there is nothing to fear from God and they’re doing well. There’s no lightning bolts out of heaven striking them dead when they out right mock God and faith. Not only do they get away with the fun stuff but they even seem to be rewarded. Does God really care how I act? Does it really matter to him if I cheat a little here and there on the commandments? I’ll go to church when there’s nothing else more important going on. After all God forgives sin, isn’t that the point of church? Maybe I can get away with not speaking out against sin and making my neighbors angry. What’s the point in looking like a backwoods hick who doesn’t have the brains to realize the way the world really works? Maybe I can have my cake and eat it too. Maybe I can just fit into what ever is popular right now. After all I believe in Jesus and that’s what’s important, right?
“It is vain to serve God.” That’s what Malachi’s people said. That’s what we are tempted to say and think. There’s a problem here. Do you remember that one?
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.
You might think that the second command doesn’t apply to you because you’re good at holding your tongue. You don’t curse or swear. Hey it’s not just using OMG that’s a problem here. It’s murmuring against God, doubting his promises. You use God’s name incorrectly when you wondering “What’s in it for me?” Especially in the face of all that’s going on out there. Living as a Christian means showing the truth about who God is. When we start thinking this way we are being self serving, instead of neighbor serving. When we think this way its easy to get lazy and indifferent. It’s easy to overlook what God calls sin, especially in us. It’s our sin taking control again. It is unfaithfulness, doubting God’s promises again. All of the sudden you are in the camp of people who are speaking wrongly about God. You want others to be destroyed, but your thoughts and actions deserve the same punishment from God. That’s the real problem isn’t it? Anytime you start to focus on the sins of other people, you really ought to turn your condemnation back on yourself. It is perfectly right to think that God should punish sin. Just remember that your sin is front and center. You should first be concerned about that. If you can’t even keep God’s second commandment perfectly hell is your reward. Lord, have mercy!
Well, he does have mercy. There is a difference between the righteous and the wicked, those who serve God and those who serve themselves. But, it’s not what we so easily think. It’s not about doing. It’s about “fearing.” Look there at Malachi’s text. Everything turns around for those who fear the Lord and esteem his name. That’s another way to say those who live in repentant faith. To fear the Lord is to know God’s just judgment against sin and make it personal. It’s my sin that condemns me. Yet, we trust that God has taken care of our sin in Jesus Christ. It is our faith in God’s sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for the forgiveness of sin that saves us from his condemnation. It’s there in the text too.
“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.
This is Jesus on the cross. I know what it looks like. Jesus obeyed God and where did it get him. Crucified, dead and buried. Naked, mocked, beaten bloody on a cross. He certainly isn’t spared any of that. And yet that is Jesus’ service. That is God’s love out in all of its naked glory. Here is where God really shows the difference between good and evil, righteousness and wickedness. Here is where the great exchange takes place. A Jesus mocked, beaten, humiliated, and crucified serves God perfectly. Here perfect Jesus takes on our sin and receives our punishment. Here God takes Jesus’ perfect life and gives it to us. God, the Father, spares not his own Son so that we who are so often unfaithful are spared. We who murmur against God and doubt his anger and resolve to punish sin to its fullest. We who ignore the needs of our neighbors in both body and soul. We who so often fail to speak the truth when a sinful world says sin is right. We who pretend that there is nothing special about God’s presence in this place. We who so quickly point to the sin of others ignoring the logs in our own eye. We hear Jesus’ words from the cross. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).
These words of forgiveness are spoken to all, for all. It is the fear of the Lord that receives them in repentant faith. The repentant sinner receives the gift of forgiveness with joy, firmly holding on to Jesus. Do you want an example? It’s right there in the Gospel for today.
“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him… (Luke 23:39–43, ESV)
My dear Christian brothers and sisters the same Jesus Christ, from the cross says those words to you:
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
You are mine. You are my special possession. Your name is written in the book of life. You are forgiven of all your sin. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.