A few years ago, a friend of mine came by unannounced. She seemed disappointed when she came through the door. We were good enough friends that she could tell me: “I was hoping to catch you with your house dirty.” This was before I had three kids, a dog, and a cat (and a husband). Now, if you are coming to my house, I prefer at least three days’ notice so I can get the beds made and the dishes out of the sink.
What if Jesus came by unannounced?
If Jesus were coming back today, what would you to clean up? Is your spiritual house in order?
Because I have news for you…Jesus is coming today. Today we finally begin the New Testament. So this is another opportunity for those who have fallen behind. You have an opportunity to return to the Bible in a year project, and read the entire New Testament this fall.
We have been longing for Christ, as we read through Leviticus, and Chronicles, and Jeremiah.
When we read of God’s judgment, when we read God’s exacting law, we longed for Christ, God coming with love and grace to save us, to be merciful unto us. But there can be no mercy without judgment.
There can be no grace without law. There can be no salvation without sacrifice. And there can be no redemption without repentance. We want Christ to come as the baby in a manger; as the feeder of the five thousand; as the loving Messiah who took children on his knee. But do we want the Christ who made a whip and cast moneychangers out of the Temple?
Do we long for the coming of the Christ who said if your eye causes you to sin, cut it out; if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off?
Because Christ came to reveal God’s judgment, just as he will come again to judge you and me.
Malachi 3:5 tells us what God will find when he comes:
“I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers,
Perhaps you don’t practice sorcery. But the real problem with sorcery is trusting in any power other than God to deliver you. Do you believe in good luck? Do you place your faith in a politician or a talk show host? Do you believe medical science can save you, a new drug, a miracle treatment? Christ is coming to judge you and me.
against the adulterers,
Christ said that even to look at another person with lustful intent was the same as committing the sin of adultery. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I would venture to guess that no one above the age of fifteen has a stone to throw. Christ is coming to judge you and me.
against those who swear falsely,
Ever lie? Ever stretch the truth when telling a story to make yourself look better? Ever tell a half-truth because it sounded better than the full story? Christ is coming to judge you and me.
against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages,
Ever buy anything made in China? That worker most likely made a dollar a day. But if we were to buy products from workers paid a living wage, well, we wouldn’t be able to buy as much stuff. And what we want, what we need, is more stuff. Isn’t it? Christ is coming to judge you and me.
the widow and the orphan,
Ever ignore people who are weak or poor because they can’t do as much for you as the rich and powerful? Ever turn away from the kids in foster care who need a loving home, saying, somebody else can help? Ever fail to visit the elderly who need someone to care? Christ is coming to judge you and me.
against those who thrust aside the alien,
All the Republicans, who really liked it when I was condemning adultery, are unhappy now. God says we need to treat newcomers and strangers in the land with the care and love we would show to Christ himself. Christ is coming to judge you and me.
Malachi 3:2 says “who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?”
Who indeed? Christ is coming to judge you and me.
Malachi 3:1 tells us: See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me.
When we come to the Gospels, we come seeking the love of Christ, but we are hit with John the Baptist, who uses these very words from Malachi…prepare the way. “My messenger” is the meaning of the word “Malachi.” He brought a message for the priests and the people of the returned nation of Israel, who were falling into their old bad habits of sin. But Christians believe Malachi saw beyond his own time to the coming day. Malachi 3:1 says,
Malachi 3:1 cont. and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.
We hear that God himself is coming to his temple. We believe this prophecy refers to Christ, whose presence will fill not only the temple, when he comes in person to purify God’s house, but the personal temple of every person who receives him. So we see the prophecy: first a messenger shouting “prepare the way,” then God himself will come to the people.
Malachi 3:1 The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.
Christ is coming both to judge and to bring delight, to bring joy.
Malachi 3:2-3 For he is like a refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendents of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.
John the Baptist said, I baptize you with water, but he will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit.
A refiner’s fire takes gold and silver and removes all the impurities so that it could shine like it was meant to shine.
You see, all the sin you are holding onto, all the bad habits and tired ways of being, they are preventing you from shining the way you are meant to shine.
But the process of refinement is not easy for the gold; it requires going through the fire.
Recently I went running with Diana, and she wanted to stop every time her chest or her belly hurt. I had to explain to her that when you run, you’re working your heart and lungs more than they’ve ever been worked, and it hurts. You get cramps, and sometimes your chest feels a rawness, a tightness, even in your throat there’s a rawness just from breathing so fast and so hard. But you can’t just stop and walk when you cramp up, because the cramp will start right back up again as soon as you start running.
The only way to get rid of the pain is to go through it, expand your heart and lungs greater than they were before, and get stronger.
Spiritually, it’s the same concept. When we become stronger, it hurts.
The experiences that purify us—experiencing pain and loss, going through doubt and fear, turning away from sinful habits, reading the Bible in a year—they are sometimes painful experiences. But they are refining you like gold.
The only thing you will take into heaven is your character; not your wealth, not your prized possessions, not even your body. So God is interested in refining you, in making you shine the way you were meant to shine.
But even with all our hard work, we know we won’t be perfectly shining on that day. We won’t go through all the purification we need to do. We will fail to become everything God wants.
Thanks be to God, that God takes on the worst of the purifying pain unto himself.
Malachi 3:4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
We believe that the offering that is pleasing to the Lord is not the animals people brought to the Temple. Because nothing changed following the prophecies of Malachi. People kept bringing their imperfect offerings, their half-hearted attempts at purification. What happened was that, in the fullness of time, God came to bring a perfect offering, an offering pleasing to the Lord; Christ. And he purified us not through our own actions or offerings, but by his blood; by his work on the cross, which cleansed us from sin beyond our own power, even beyond our own belief.
The entire Gospel, then, is laid out for us in these verses in Malachi, written five hundred years before Christ; from John the Baptist to the cross and the empty tomb, it is all here.
Malachi probably went to his grave doubting the Word that God gave him, because he never got to see Christ in the flesh, and know that, five hundred years later, his words would be fulfilled in a greater way than he even dreamed possible.
But we know what he could not. In the same way, you and I might doubt the work we are doing. We might doubt the message of God’s return.
We might doubt that company really is coming, that Christ will come to restore and redeem this messed-up world. But what if Malachi had doubted himself so much that he never did God’s work?
Do the work God has given you. Tidy up. Get ready. Because one day it will become as clear to our spiritual descendants as it is to us, reading Malachi over two thousand years later: God has a greater plan. He is looking beyond our small situation to the work of centuries.
Company’s coming. So get your house in order.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.