Malachi 2:17 – 3:5
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Malachi chapter two. We’re going to read together verses 17, through to the third chapter, verse five.
Let me give you a bit of a preface before we read to enhance your understanding of what we are reading. We are now in what we call the fourth disputation of Malachi with the people. We know that the Lord is a witness against adultery and other moral offenses and divorce and all this kind of thing. Now that they’ve returned to the promised land and the Temple had been rebuilt, many of the people were distressed because it looked like it was a failure of the prophetic promises of restored prosperity when they return – of international prominence and of wealth. Haggai spoke about this, Zechariah spoke about this – that these were the expectations.
They misunderstood them and now they were expecting to see this happening and it wasn’t happening. There were good reason for it, because Israel was experiencing only a continued social and a political oppression and economic hardship. They didn’t know why. But it got even worse, because it had been promised that God would return to Jerusalem and to His temple. We’re going to look at that this evening – to that temple, which He would again inhabit with his own Glorious presence as it formerly was. Since Moses’ tabernacle and Solomon’s temple were filled with the visible glory of God, the Shekinah glory, as soon as they were completed. The people were hoping that the same would happen with this rebuilt temple that they now had. Haggai promised that the rebuilt temple would be filled with an even greater measure of glory than was Solomon’s, but far from them enjoying this radiant glory, the temple of Malachi’s day was devoid of any visible manifestation of God. Just as many churches are today – despite the pomp and circumstance and even the worship team – or should I say the praise and worship team – because the praise is the fast songs and the worship they’re the slow songs. But it’s deprived of that glory of God that people were expecting. But it wouldn’t always be so, because Malachi promised, as we will see in our text tonight, that the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple; you’ll remember Simeon witnessed at least a partial fulfilment of that prophecy when he encountered in the temple the infant Jesus, who had come for the glory of His people Israel. The New Testament unfolds to us further fulfilment of that promise because only the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ would be, and ever can be, that greater Glory that they lacked.
That’s the background to it. As I read it to you, the title of my message, “the murmurers, the messenger and the Messiah”. We see these three things in the text – those who murmur, we see the messenger and we see the Messiah. Last week, we looked at the murmurers and I will recap that for you slightly so that we can keep the continuum into what follows, where I left off last week. But that’s the background to it. Now we read Malachi chapter two from verse 17 and on:
17You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied Him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and He delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”
1“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple; and the Messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, He is coming, says the LORD of hosts. 2But who can endure the day of His coming, and who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.
3He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. 4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
5“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear Me, says the LORD of hosts. (ESV)
This is the word of God.
- The Murmurers
We looked last week at that first part from verse 17 to the end of chapter two. We saw the murmurers – they were murmuring against the Lord. We saw their wearying of the Lord and their words to the Lord. We see that today as well in the world. Malachi prophesied in about 445 to 432 before Christ, during the time described for us in the books of Nehemiah and Ezra. After the return from Babylonian captivity, as had been prophesied centuries before by both Isaiah and Jeremiah, the people had grown spiritually lax. There was indifference to God’s Law among them, both the moral Law, as well as the ceremonial aspects of God’s Law. It was a time of “do your own thing”. That was the kind of time that they were in. We are only too familiar with that today as well, are we not? Calling that which is evil good is not a new thing. Even with our generation, when we consider the media today, it seems as if the more godless and immoral a person is the more esteem he gets in the media. Am I the only one who has noticed that? The grosser you are, the more glory. Divorce and the breakup of the family was a real problem in Malachi’s day – we read about it in chapter two, verses 14 to 16 – and the worshipers were often very worldly, offering God only the left-overs of what he had blessed them with. But even worse – I think in my thinking, this is even worse than all of that – they were just plain bored with spiritual things. In my thinking, there are few things that could be worse than just plainly being bored with spiritual things. While we have triviality entertaining us, we get bored with spiritual things – we live in a world where there is a great boredom with spiritual things. When that happens, we begin to murmur – we looked at the murmurers last week.
That question that they asked, “where is the God of justice?” It seems to be an indictment against God, charging God with having abandoned them. They were grumblers and murmurers – negative people, cynical people. You know, cynical people, they moan about everything. They make sure they see the dark cloud behind every silver lining. I know such people, I can get like that sometimes – my poor family, my children had to endure some of that – they will tell you. I heard a story once of a man who was sleeping, an old man who was sleeping and he had a big moustache and his grandchildren – and if you have a big moustache and you’re a grandfather be careful of this – they came up to him and they put some really foul smelling stuff on his moustache. He woke up and he said, “the rooms stinks”.
So he got up and walked out of the room into another room and still smelled it, and he said, “the house stinks”. He went outside and he said, “the world stinks”. Some people are like that – everything just stinks. They don’t realize that the real cause of the stench is right under their own noses. These murmurers in the time of Malachi, they were like that – cynical about anything – “Where is the God of justice?” Then when the Lord indicts them, they say “how have we wearied You?” The Lord says because you say “everyone who does evil as good in the sight of the Lord and the Lord delights in him”. We live in times where it’s really a curious thing. Isn’t it? That when those who neglect God suffer the consequences of their actions, they are so quick to blame God. I’ve heard that many times in my ministry – people who most neglect God murmur against Him the most.
Why is that so? It’s a curious thing that this is so. Who has abandoned who here in the text of Malachi? Is it God who abandoned them or is it they who abandoned God? To ask the question is to answer, because the Lord says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you”. I will give you good things. But yet they are murmuring. We looked at it last week – who has abandoned who – the correct answer is the same today as it was in Malachi’s day.
This chapter tells us the answer to the question, “where is the God of justice?” That’s what this passage tells us. When we ask the question, ‘where is the God of justice?’ this chapter will answer it for us. But you know what? The answer is a shocker. God gives a shocking answer. The Lord answers by saying, in effect, and I am loosely paraphrasing here now “You want me? I’m on my way. I’m coming personally. I’m going to walk your streets. I’m going to bring purity and truth. I’m going to visit My temple. Then I’m going to judge. But first I will send my messenger before me to clear my way”. That’s the essential message of Malachi 3:1-6. We are just like these people. “So where is the God of justice? I’m being treated unfairly! I so want the Lord to come and sort it all out.” We don’t realize when He comes I may be the first thing that He sorts out. It’s not an answer you would expect, is it. This chapter answers it to us. In the New Testament we find the answer to that question: The fulfilment of it in Jesus, our Lord and our God who came just in this manner that Malachi said He would.
- The Messenger
And so that’s something about the murmurers, and that leads us to talk about the messenger that we see in chapter three from verse one, because before He comes to do all these terrifying things that He says He’s coming to do, He says, “Behold, I send My messenger and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, He is coming says the Lord of hosts.” While the Lord will come to His temple suddenly, it won’t be without announcement. First, He’ll be heralded by His messenger, or His forerunner. The New Testament tells us clearly that the messenger’s name was John the Baptizer who preached and baptized in the wilderness and announced the coming of the Messiah at whom we will look later on – the coming of the Messiah and of His kingdom.
He was calling on all to repent and make ready. Isaiah predicted that in Isaiah 40:3-5 240 years before Malachi, Isaiah already said the same thing. The gospel announces to us that both of these ancient prophecies, Isaiah’s and Malachi’s, were fulfilled by John the Baptizer. You can go read it in Matthew chapter three and Matthew chapter 11 and Mark chapter one and Luke chapter one, and John chapter one. You can read about it in all those chapters. It’s John the Baptizer. The Messiah is also described by Malachi as the Messenger of the Covenant. This is certainly a fit description of the One who brought for us the Covenant of promise that Hebrews speaks about in Hebrews chapter eight.
“In these last days in which we live, God has spoken to us through his Son.”
So the messenger is John the Baptist. The Lord’s coming would be sudden, but it would not be surprising, because John the Baptist would come and announce it. He would speak about the Messiah of whom the text speaks next.
- The Messiah
(i) He said, “The Lord will come to His Temple, the Lord whom you seek.“
As we saw, they sought Him foolishly. They didn’t seek Him for the right reasons. They sought Him to come and serve them rather than so that they could serve Him, and to serve them in things that no person, no Christian, no fearer of God, ought to be want to be served. He says, “the Lord whom you seek will come suddenly to His temple.”
(ii) You and I remember that Jesus’ visits to the temple tended to be rather explosive to put it mildly, isn’t it? There was always trouble when Jesus went to church. Twice he drove out the money changers there, just as Malachi said he would – once at the beginning of his three-year ministry, and once at the end of it. Many of the confrontations that Jesus had with the priests, with the scribes, and the Pharisees took place in the temple, because they were the leaders of the people, setting bad examples to them. Toward the end of our Lord’s ministry, it was on temple grounds that the Lord levelled His strongest rebuke at them. Remember what He said – He called them hypocrites for their pride, their self-exultation – their narcissism, is the word today – their dishonesty, their inner corruption, their dark hearts and their rejection of the truth. He indicted them in His last appearance. Shortly after that, Jesus, after having issued all those rebukes – and isn’t it just like Him, this is your Lord – He faces them all. “This is who you are, you brood of Vipers, you hypocrites, you sons of the devil.” And He issues it as the Lord of glory in a way that makes people angry and make others cringe. He doesn’t walk away and dusts His palms and say, “Well, that took care of them”, then looks up His friends and tells them, “I told them didn’t I”. What does He do? It’s just like Jesus. He goes out and he weeps over the coming destruction of Jerusalem. He weeps over it, cries holy tears for what will be happening to them after having just told them that they deserve. He foretells the destruction of the temple by the Romans in Matthew chapter 24. That was fulfilled within that very generation to whom He said it, just as He said it. But He didn’t leave it at that.
(iii) He built another temple. He built a spiritual one. You know where that is? It’s you and I – this little place (CPBC), the many empty chairs in the capital of our country. He built that with us as living stones. We are his people – temple of God – as he dwells in us, by faith, Paul tells us in Ephesians 2. He comes to us with a purifying gospel as fulfilment of what Malachi says. He will purify things. He is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap. What he’s referring to is the purifying Gospel, and you need to know that the Gospel purifies. It is a purifying Gospel – He will sit as a smelter and a purifier of silver. What will He do? He’ll purify the sons of Levi, and he will refine them like gold and silver so that they may present to the Lord offerings of righteousness, which is a proper offering, an offering of righteousness (verse 3).
(iv) One of the reasons why Jesus so strongly rebuked these religious leaders of His day was because they were so corrupt. Does that sound familiar? The smallest child that I know probably knows the word corruption – and that there is a lot of it going on and it was no different in those days. They were corrupt. Their motives were self-serving and worse than that, their attitude towards other people was contemptible – the way they looked at other people. Do you see a bit of that in society today, how contemptible people are towards other people?
(v) Let me tell you something as a point of application: This social distancing is not helping – we are being cut off from one another. I don’t know about you, but I miss the hugs. I miss the closeness. I miss the fellowship. We cannot be like these religious leaders who treated people with contempt. One of the sages of ages past said to us, ‘when you cut a branch off a tree, you’re always cutting it off another branch, and when you cut it off another branch, you’re cutting it off the whole tree. It’s the same with humanity. If you cut yourself off from one other person, you cut yourself off from humanity as a whole.’
When you cut a branch off a tree, you’re always cutting it off another branch, and when you cut it off that other branch, you cut it off the whole tree. These leaders didn’t know that, they didn’t care about the people. I want to say to every minister in pastoral ministry. Brother, if all you want to do is preach on a Sunday – find another job! If you don’t love people, if you can’t see them and care about what you see, the ministry is not for you. You can rather sit with your iPad on your lap in the parking area at Pick ‘n Pay while your dear wife is shopping and try to catch up on the prep for Sunday. You can rather do that than miss one who is suffering.
(vi) These leaders didn’t know that they were treating the people with contempt in their corruption. This is what we see – I don’t mean to stir insurrection in you, but what worries me most about our leaders in the high echelons of power in our country, is not the money that they are taking, but what that shows me about how little they care about the people whom God has called them to serve. That’s worse than the money that you take – when you take it, you’re always taking it from someone who needs it. These leaders were like that – their attitude towards others was contemptible. God’s Law was never meant to be used the way the Pharisees were using it.
(vii) John passionately urged the people to clean up their act. You need to clean it up. Jesus continued that theme, emphasizing not only purity of action, but of thought as well. Who of us can forget history’s greatest statement on the value of truth:
“Know the truth and the truth will set you free.“
That’s what it does to you. When purification takes place, as the Lord says He comes to do in His temple, there must be division – there will be division. Jesus warned His disciples of that. Those who do evil are haters of the light, He said in John chapter three. From that day until this day, the world has made no secret of its ill will towards those who live by faith. Have you noticed that? There will be division – in this world you will have persecution. If you’re not being persecuted in some way, the possibility is that not too many people know that you’re a Christian. Gospel divides us from the world, but to walk in the light with Jesus is better than to walk with a world in darkness. When you walk with the Lord Jesus in the light, instead of with the world in the darkness, very often, you will not feel very good on this planet.
Some of you have heard my response. I’m sorry I give you a lecture when you ask me how I am. I know it irritates the living daylights out of some of you – I’ve seen it from above your masks – but somebody says, “how are you?” I tell them I’m melancholic and sad, and sorrow in my soul, but it’s for good reasons. It’s for good reasons. I’d rather feel bad for good reasons than feel good for bad ones. You should feel the same. That’s what happens when we see what it is that the Lord has come to purify. It’s better to walk in the light with Jesus than to walk with a world in darkness. Because if you walk with Jesus, do you know what it’s going to do for you if you walk with Him? It’s going to take you home. That’s what it’ll do for you. But if you walk with the world, it will lead to ruin, I guarantee you! The purifying Gospel is what Jesus would come to His temple with.
(viii) He will establish an acceptable offering of the new Jerusalem. He says to us in verse four: “then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord.” Even though the offerings made in Malachi’s day were unacceptable to the Lord, the Lord announced the coming of a day when he would once again accept the offering of Judah and Jerusalem. That day is now and the Judah and Jerusalem are God’s spiritual kingdom – the church, and He will accept our offering. Our Lord Jesus announced the beginning of a new era, “where true worshippers of God would worship neither in this mountain” He said, “nor in Jerusalem, but rather will worship Him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4). The place won’t be important. Spiritual Jerusalem or the Jerusalem above is the church, we learn from Galatians and Hebrews. And through Him then says the word, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God. That is the fruit of the lips that give thanks to His Name. Here’s how you do it too. Do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. He loves them, and you and I need to offer them.
(ix) We rejoice as spiritual Israel, the kingdom of His beloved son (Colossians 1:13). But not only will he come with a purifying gospel and establish an acceptable offering in the new Jerusalem, He will also come – and it is frightening – He will come with judgment. He says, “I will draw near to you for judgment and I’ll be a swift witness against the sorceress and the adulterous and those who don’t fear me”, says the Lord of hosts in verse five. You see Jesus’ mission was not to judge the world, but to save it. However judgment and condemnation became a consequence of not accepting his salvation. Physical Jerusalem would be destroyed for its refusal of the Messiah and Jesus pronounced dire consequences upon the Pharisees for what we can only call their faithless obstinacy. Several of his parables dealt with the fact that God would cast the unbelieving nation off. Final judgment is reserved for the final day. The word that Jesus spoke will be the standard of judgment. People that ask “Where is the God of justice?” Do you want to know the answer? We find the answer in Jesus of Nazareth – in Jesus of Calvary – in Jesus of glory. That’s where we find the answer, and in His Gospel, which would turn us into true worshipers, unlike the people in Malachi’s day.
So let me repeat to you once again, as it is my custom to do. That Gospel that you need to hear, that you need to head: two things happened in history according to two irrefutable witnesses that established two realities, it utters two promises, and it sets two requirements. What are the two things that happened? Jesus died and rose again.
Who were the two irrefutable witnesses? According to the Old Testament who said that would happen like that, and according to the New Testament who tells us that it did happen like that.
It established two glorious realities: He reigns as Lord and Saviour.
He utters to us two wonderful promises: forgiveness of sins and Eternal Life.
And He sets two requirements: you must repent, and you must believe.
You don’t want to be like the people in Malachi’s day – among the murmurers, who missed the messenger and the Messiah.
So let me close with the Gospel in one sentence. The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus died and rose again, according to the Old and New Testaments; He reigns as Lord and Saviour and He promises forgiveness of sins and Eternal Life to all those who repent and believe.