Thursday, October 21, 2010

Malachi 4: What do you expect from God? Healing?

Is it really worth it to follow Jesus? I mean, what difference does it really make? Would it not be better to hold some of the same beliefs, but just be less committed. You know a private Christian. Perhaps you could come to church at Christmas and Easter, but not really get involved: stay on the fringes. That kind of Christianity is at least considered respectable in many ways: Church for weddings, funerals and the like, but not fanatical; not obsessed by it; not really committed to a church, but just to private beliefs.
Perhaps I’m describing you, and you like it that way! You know that you don’t want to get sucked into the life of a church. You have enough to worry about without adding church to your list. And surely it wouldn’t make that much difference, would it?
It certainly makes a difference in all kinds of ways that are not particularly pleasant. I mean, there is certainly little public respect any more for being a Christian – particularly outside of Anglicanism.
So, why would anyone want to actually give their lives to the service of the Lord?
Does it really make any difference at all – it doesn’t sem to, does it?
Does it make any diference to anything that matters. Let’s face it: if we think of those marriage promises, “for better for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer” those who are committed to the Lord certainly don’t seem to be any richer or any healthier than those who aren’t are they… and isn’t it a matter of opinion whether they are any better off at all? Certainly some of the people who appear kindest and most loving people that I know are not Christians.
What difference does it really make?
What difference do you expect it to make… What do you expect from God?
There are those who would call themselves Christians who suggest that that is exactly what all Christians should expect…
John Wimber Power healing quote.
But it is not just those with little faith that suffer much. Often the most godly seem to suffer the most. It is those who speak up most for Christ who are most persecuted. It is seems to often be those who are most caring towards others who quietly suffer physically.
What then are we to do? Are we to be resigned to the fact that it is not worth it to serve the Lord, and retreat to a half-hearted faith at best? Or can we find true motivation for wholehearted and joyful service of the Lord?
It is not a new question.
450 years before Jesus came there were those asking exactly that question: it didn’t seem to be worth it: but Malachi reports not only their complaint, but also more than sufficient motivation to recognize that the Lord is indeed worth serving with all our heart and soul and mind and strength; far more in fact than if all was at stake were health, wealth and worldly happiness.
Seek a new solidarity (3:13-16)

Celebrate a new service (3:17-18)

See a new separation (4:1-4)

Seize a new certainty (4:5-6)

Seek a new solidarity (3:13-15)
13 “Your words have been hard (niv harsh[MPGS1] ) against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ 14 You have said, ‘It is vain [MPGS2] to serve [MPGS3] God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning [MPGS4] before [MPGS5] the Lord of hosts? 15 And now we call the arrogant[MPGS6]  blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test [MPGS7] and they escape.’”
16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The[MPGS8]  Lord paid attention [MPGS9] and heard them, and a book (niv scroll) of remembrance [MPGS10] was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.
The people who came back from exile knew their history. They knew that on the day that the Lord brought Israel out of slavery, it made a huge difference in this life whether or not people were faithful.
A whole generation had died in the wilderness because they had not put their trust in the Lord’s ability to bring them into the promised land.
On the day when they made an idol of a golden calf, 3000 died. When they had worshipped Baal at Peor, 24000 died from a plague.
By contrast, when the people trusted the Lord, he was with them in remarkable ways. He had brought them out of Egypt with 10 extraordinary miracles. He had parted the Red Sea for them. He had provided food from the sky and water from a rock. On one day the sun stood still miraculously until they achieved victory over an enemy.
A generation ago he had brought them back out of exile, though many of the unfaithful had either died or been scattered.
But now; now, it seemed to make so little difference. God didn’t reign down judgements on the ungodly; and he didn’t seem to bless the godly.
So, what was the point?
Well, the point was that the Lord had not changed: there was sufficient motivation for them to serve the Lord, and that was the Lord himself. He was worth serving.
And part of what they needed was just to have a group of people who would encourage each other: “Yes, the Lord does seem  to be working in ways htat we don’t understand. But he is the same Lord. He is still worth serving!” Why should we doubt him, just because he isn’t doing what we want… surely his plans must be better than our desires!
And so they were effectively renewing the covenant that the Lord had made with them at Sinai… or Horeb as it was called in that other great covenant renewal that had taken place in Deuteronomy.
Like a married couple whose marriage had gone stale, they reminded themselves of how great the Lord was and that he was worth serving.
If you are not a Christian, who do you gather around you to tell you what to think? You don’t let anyone tell you what to think, I assume… in what sense are you a product of your culture, and other influences?
Who do you listen to? What are your major influences?  
The BBC? Wikipedia?
Who do you trust to tell you the meaning of life? Your life is in their hands.How do you know they are trustworthy?   
If you are a Christian, who do you listen to?
Accountability relationships…    what is the area of your life where you are most likely to ast as if it is not worth serving the Lord. Your marriage? Your workplace? Your thoughtlife? Your prayerlife? Who knows about it? Who have you gathered around you to encourage you and hold you accountable?
If you are a child, do you realise that as you grow, you are hearing more and more voices, and not all of them have the same understanding of the world. Some voices are trying to sell you things that you don’t really need… what that toy you hadn’t even heard of, but as soon as you saw the advert, you thought that you NEED it… you don’t. I hope you have friends who are not Christians: but who is being more an influence on what you are living for: you on them, or them on you?
I hope that more and more we should be a church where we are such an encouragement to one another.
Baptists have particularly seen this as a central part of what it means to be a church; they have often had church covenants, summarizing the bible’s teaching on how we should live together as Christians, and encouraging one another to live in this way.
Let me read a section of such a covenant from a church I formerly belonged to.
We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

We will walk together in brotherly love, as becomes the members of a Christian Church, exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonish and entreat one another as occasion may require.

We will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, nor neglect to pray for ourselves and others.

We will endeavor to bring up such as may at any time be under our care, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and by a pure and loving example to seek the salvation of our family and friends.

We will rejoice at each other’s happiness and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows.[i]

Pray for the elders of this church as we seek to lead this congregation to have such a covenant.
Married couples: Realise that you are to renew your covenant vows not just at your 25th wedding anniversary… but daily…
For them it was a temporary covenant that for the large part failed, for they fell away form recognising their absolute need for grace.    
As a church, what does it mean for us to be those renewing our covenant with the Lord.
That is what we will do at the end of this service. The Lord’s supper is when we are reminded of the New covenant and its basis.
The function of the Lord’s supper as covenant renewal.
We are reminded that Christ is ultimate the one we are to gather around and listen to. We are reminded that we can only be heard by the Lord and accepted because of what Christ did.
In large part the renewal that came through those who gathered together in response to Malachi’s teaching was short lived.
There were for some centuries those who thought that they were carrying on the spirit of that group. They were determined that Moses’ law would indeed be upheld. But they left too little room for grace. They became a group that moved from encouraging obedience to trying to coerce others into obedience. In the end, that group, calling themselves the Pharisees would kill the one who would bring about the true fulfillment of all covenants.
Accountibility, and covenant renewal is only going to do us any good if we allow one another to speak God’s truth not just to our wills, but to our hearts; we cannot merely see obedience as a duty, but also as a delight.
2. Celebrate a new service (3:17-18)
17 “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession[MPGS11] , and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves [MPGS12] him. 18 Then once more you shall see [MPGS13] [MPGS14] the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.
The service the Lord requires of us is not the service of slaves, but of Sons.
The complaints had been wrong against the Lord, because they had thought that they were working for an immediate reward in the way that the hired worker wants his wages at the end of the week. But the Lord has a far greater service for his people. We are his children whose serve not for our wages, but because we have a share in the family business. And that business is all about displaying the glory of the Lord.
We serve not so that we can accumulate possessions on earth as our reward from the lord, we serve, because , as the Lord himself says in verse 17, being his treasured possession is our reward.
Think about heaven. What are you most looking forward to? The golden streets? Wondering what the fruit of the tree of life might taste like? Or being united to Christ? Can you imagine heaven without Christ there.
“If you could go to heaven; have spectacular sunsets, no more disease, no more depression, all the friends that have gone before you, all the toys that you’ve ever wanted and Jesus not be there, would that be OK? My fear is that many in our churches are saved on that basis. They love what Jesus has to offer. Hell is hot – no-one wants to go there. Guilt is a bad experience, so I would like not to have guilt feelings, so if he could help with that that would be fine. I’d like marriage to go better and the kids not to play up. And if Jesus can do that for me bring it on. And you don’t have to be born again to want that. You just have to be born again to want Jesus.
There was a sense in which the whole Old Testament people of God were YHWH’s son. (Hosea 11).
But this section shows us that there would be division. A division between those who were sons only in name, and those who bore the family resemblance, because they longed to love and serve their father.
BUT in the New Testament we are all truly sons.     
Do you see Christians as those slaving away for the Lord? Or as those who have found a new freedom. It is the service of the family business, not the service of the hired worker.
The most incredible thing is that our service would even be considered worthy of such a Lord. If we were only servants it would not be.
“I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him”
If you have a hired worker, if they don’t do the job right, they can do it again, or get no pay.
we are having some work done in the manse at the moment. The workmen are excellent. But if they were not, we’d ensure that the job was done in the way that they were contracted to before they’d get paid.
Is that how you think the Lord treats our service of him: sorry it’s not good enough – do it again. He would be right to do that. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords for he made the earth and everything that is in it. He deserves total and perfect service. But he spares us that; he takes delight in our feeble, mixed motives, flawed service. He is treats us as his children; his attitude to our service is like the mother who sits patiently with her 4 year old and listens to him try to read his first book. The words are very simple, yet th four year old stumbles over them, confusing his b’s and d’s. and yet there is delight on her face with every attempt that is being made, for she is treating him like her son.
How can the Great Lord accept such second-rate service?
Do you fear that your service will be unacceptable to the Lord, so you shrink back from serving? NO! it is by God’s mercy that your service is acceptable.
It is only if we are in Christ, who has already fully served the Lord on our behalf. We are not serving to earn his favour, it is because those who trust in Christ fully have his favor already that we are freed to serve him. So great a service is due such a great king, that the best of our good deeds have enough sin in them to send us to hell forever. Yet our flawed obedience is acceptable to our loving heavenly Father, because Christ has already paid the price for all the sin in it.
John calvin said of this verse:
We now see how these two things harmonise - that reward is promised to works, and that works themselves deserve nothing before God; for though God can justly reject them, he yet regards them as acceptable, because he forgives all their defects.[ii]

Because of Christ, every single joule of energy spent in service of the Lord is not wasted. It is not in vain! It is acceptable to the Lord as perfected by Christ.
Then, my brothers and sisters, our service of the Lord can indeed be not only a duty, but a delight, when we know that, because of Christ, he is delighted in us.
If you are not a Christian, the Lord is inviting you this morning to become his child.
You cannot come through you effort; but you can come through Christ’s. this is where the Pharisees got it so wrong. They thought that by keep hundred of rules the Lord would accept them as sons,and they failed to recognize that they could only be Sons by trusting in God’s one and only Son.         
Who are you serving today? Your career? Your marriage? Your real estate? Have any of them truly blessed you in the way that you hoped they might as you began with them. They are a blessing from the Lord; but they are not ultimate – they are gifts from him to point to him.
They will possess you, or the Lord will have you as His treasured possession.
See a new separation (4:1-4)
4:1  [3] “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven (furnace), when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.
The fact that there seems so little difference between the lot of the righteous and the wicked is, says the Lord, only a matter of time.
One day the difference could not be clearer or more stark.
Every good thing that we have in this world will be gone, if we do not have the one good thing that we all need.
The Lord will hold us all to account.
And then, only that which has been in the service of the Lord will remain. The rest will be burned up.
Then those who have feared the Lord will have nothing else to fear. For when they see him it will be their joy.
The very coming that for those who seemed to have everything is a day of weeping, for hose who seemed to have so little, but had Christ, will be a day of new freedom.
That day has already dawned.
It approached on that first Christmas, when the Sun of Righteousness himself was born.
It dawned as he died and rose from the dead.
It will reach its noonday strength when he returns, and every eye shall see him.
What will that day be for you?
A day of joy completed, even as Christmas is joy begun; or a day or joy ended, even as this world will be passing away?
Do you fear the Lord?
Perhaps you think it almost impertinent of me to ask you if you are ready for that day. Perhaps you think it is just a very private matter, that shouldn’t really be talked about too much in public, and you wish we could just get onto the next carol!
But it cannot be merely private. Faith is deepy personal, but not private; for it anticipates this most public of days; the day where every eye will see the Lord jesus in his return, and in his light, everything else will be revealed. He is the Sun of Righteousness. Perhaps today we feel we can hide from him. We will not be able to on that day. But today, he calls us not to hide from him, but to bask in his light, that we might welcome him with joy when he returns.
Will he really?
Perhaps our last reason for wondering if it is all worth it, is the question of whether that day will really ever come.  
Seize a new certainty (4:5-6)
5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” [5]

For the original hearers Moses was to look back, Elijah was to look forward. For us, both are looking back. John the Baptist was the one who was to prepare the people for the first coming of jesus.
Who will prepare you for the second coming?
The second Advent of Christ is as certain as the first.         
Perhaps you doubt it…
No, there is no doubt that Jesus will return. There is no doubt as to his verdict. It is as certain as the fact that he has already come.
What will Christmas mean to you this year?
Will it be for you a grasping at your own past? An attempt to recapture something of the magical feeling that you remember as a child? Will it be ablout trying to generate that feeling for your children?
Or will your Christmas be a time of great joy, for you rest in the certain assurance that when the Son of Righteousness returns in his full strength he will be meeting you as his treasured possession.


[ii] John Calvin, commentary on Malachi 3:18.

Malachi 3: what do expect from God? Justice?

What do you want from God? Justice?
“Justice without force is powerless; force without justice is tyrannical.” Blaise Pascal

Jimmy Carter: The sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world.

True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.
Perhaps the most repeated quotation about justice is anonymous. In fact it is almost certain that millions of people have come up with it quite independently of one another:
It’s not fair!
We know that to be the cry that we head from our children from as soon as they can string a three word sentence together.
It functions as a catch all phrase for whenever a child is unhappy with what they have, particularly when they are comparing it to what someone else has. A bigger slice of cake. A treat that they are not yet old enough to enjoy. Bedtime when it’s clear that the grownups are going to be up for a long while, and you imagine that they are going to have so much fun without you.
But it is not just the cry of a child is it? We have the same instinctive reaction of indignation at perceived injustice. Perhaps we no longer vocalize it – we have heard too many times as a child that it is only the cry of a spoilt child. But we feel it.
We feel it when we lose something that we love.
We feel it when our efforts come to nothing.
We feel it when evil prospers.
We’ve seen cries from a distraught family in the week whose son was tragically killed, and they feel that there will now be no justice.
Israel in the time of Malachi, in the 5th century BC in Jerusalem had a heavy sense of injustice. When they looked at other countries around them, they were pretty unimpressive. A small land; under the power of the mighty Persian empire, still having to pay tribute to the king of Persia – a kind of ancient near eastern political protection racket.
Compared to other times in Israel’s history it was unimpressive.
Though the temple had recently been rebuilt, it had nothing of the grandeur of the old temple under Solomon’s reign.
In Jerusalem there was no palace, for there was no king. Times were tough.
And there had been so much hope at the time of the return from exile that this would culminate in a golden age, surpassing even that of Davie and Solomon. For there had been prophecies that after the return from  exile there would be a new king, the Messiah, who would be a lord like no other lord that has reigned in Jerusalem.
All nations would bring tribute to HIM.
And the people were ready to cry out ot the Lord that the justice tha the Messiah would one day bring: that that day would be TODAY!!
Do you want God’s justice?
Are there things in this world, or in your life, that would make you feel, “Lord why do you let them get away with it! Where is your justice?”
Are you ready for him to answer that cry with his perfect justice?
To consider the Lord’s justice, and our true attitude towards it, Malachi 3 is going to ask us three searching questions.
Do you truly want God’s justice?
Do you truly love God’s justice?

1.       Do we truly want God’s justice?
17 You 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?”
3:1 “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. But 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. He 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. [1] Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
“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.
-          We demand it
Perhaps it seems strange for us that the plea for justice is something that wearies the Lord.
Look carefully at how justice is being demanded: Israel was claiming that there were only two possible explanations as to why they were not prospering as they hoped. Either God delighted in wickedness, because those who were more evil than them seemed to be better off that them, or God was just negligent… he was absent.
They were not humbly petitioning the Lord for justice: they were accusing him of injustice… “God is either wicked or indifferent” they seemed to be saying.
That is a strong accusation to make against God.
Do we make it? Do we accuse God of giving preferential treatment to the wicked, or of being indifferent towards justice in this world? Perhaps you do. Perhaps you are not a Christian, and one of the reasons that you find it hard to believe in the God of the bible is that this world doesn’t seem to square up with a God who claims to be perfect in his justice. This world just seems so unfair. And if god is both just and powerful, he could stop it! He could stop all the injustice in the world far more easily than you or I could slam our feet on the brake when we see someone step into the road.
Or perhaps you are a Christian. Do you accuse God of being indifferent or immoral. Perhaps not verbally: but do you ever feel overwhelmed by a sense of injustice: that someone you should have a better life than you do? That God should have sorted out some mess in your life some time ago, and he’s wrong not to.
Or do we ever just find ourselves grumbling? Isn’t grumbling a sign that we think somehow that our life is not fair, and that someone the just God has been negligent or absent?
We should take note from this morning’s passage that God is wearied by such complaining and grumbling.
He is like a parent who knows that at that moment the very best thing for the child is not to demand an explanation for every decision that has been made, but to trust their parent. And, as we saw last week, he is the perfect father whose decisions are always good. We may question in search of understanding; we may not accuse in demand of explanation.
God, of course, does not get tired. He is eternal. Nor does he get fractiously impatient: for him a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day.
His weariness is an expression of how he will act towards us. Perhaps it is time to stop being so patient, if patience is seen only as inactivity.
He is weary because the demands for justice were not an objective plea for God to act justly towards all. They were a self-interested demand that God act in their favour.
The fact that without exception human beings have cried out it’s not fair speaks both of the universal sense of justice that we have as human beings. But the way it is almost always used to demand our own rights rather than uphold the rights of others, shows that our sense of justice is very biased. We are happy to plead for justice when we feel we are in the right. We are indignant that our adversary is being harsh or legalistic when we are in the wrong.
Have you noticed how you are often most vehement in your blame of others when you are least sure that it wasn’t largely your fault?
God sees through it. He knows not just the words we speak to him, but the motives of the heart. He sees motivations in us that we don’t even see in ourselves.
As one commentator put it, ““sinners are invariably inconsistent. The thief is always outraged when someone steals from him. The liar is deeply offended when someone lies to her. The cheat deeply resents that she has been defrauded, and the murderer wants himself and his family to live in peace.”
We are so quick to see how others have wronged us, and we are incensed, but we are too often like Tony Soprano, or some other mafia boss, who is ruthless towards those who would seek to harm him, when he himself is quite happy to have people murdered.
As Paul writes in Romans chapter 2, “you therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someon else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are also condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things… and later in the same chapter: you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?”
As Pink Floyd sang, “when you point your finger ‘cos your plan fell through, you’ve got three more fingers pointing back at you.”
Do we really know what we are asking for if we are asking God to stop acting patiently towards evil, and bring everything to justice now? The fact is, that if our demands for justice were all met today, we would all be declared guilty before a holy.
-          We cannot stand under it
But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
Are you ready for the day when you will face the Lord? If your hope isn’t in the Lord Jesus Christ this morning... where is it? Is it that you will be able to stand before God’s judgement? Is it that you will have something clever to say in your defence... “You didn’t give me enough evidence!”
My friend all the biblical pictures of those who come unforgiven into the presence of Almighty God are terrifying.
People cry out to the mountains begging that they would fall on them, rather than face God. There will be no clever retort. We will be silenced before his holiness: his goodness: his righteous judgement.
Who can stand when he appears?
Is that what we are asking for? Do we really want this perfect God to come in judgment; or do we want the judgement of an idol that we control? Do we want the judgement of a God, where we can veto his judgement? Do we want a God that is like the genie that comes from Aladdin’s lamp? Awesome power, but only really to be used in the way that we would dictate?
If that is the God whom you want: a powerful, yet tame God, be careful before you appeal to the justice of the true and living God, for who can stand when he appears?
-          He will judge
In fact, the Lord would answer their prayers for justice on day, but not in the way that he supposed…
He delayed another 450 years. And even then, the answer was only partial: the full answer was still to come.
As we thought about earlier, Israel’s hopes for the coming of God in justice were focused on promised Messiah to come.
And the day on which he would come was called, “the day of the Lord”. You can read about it in many of the prophets. On that day the Messiah would come and vindicate his people, bring in a new age, and destroy God’s enemies. He would come in judgment and salvation.
But when that Messiah arrives, there was a surprise. We saw in our series in Mark’ gospel that Mark quotes Malachi 3:1… yet he stops there. The coming of the Lrod doesn’t result in the immediate judgment that was expected by so many. He would ome in salvation in his first coming, and judgment in his second coming. So, in one sense the day of the Lord was the first Christmas. The Lord had come to his people, to bring salvation. But in another sense the day of the Lord is yet to come.
God is still, 2500 years later, waiting patiently until he brings in his final judgment.
For one who wa wearied by the pleas of “It’s not fair” 2500 years ago, he has acted in extraordinary patience. Where would we be if the Lord had fully an finally answered previous generations pleas for justice now?
If you know the forgiveness of the Lord today, where would you be today if the Lord had come in judgment last year? 10 year ago? 20? 30? 40? 50? 60?
Our complaints that the Lord has allowed injudtice to prevail for so long, are complaints against the Lord’s patience that has brought us salvation.
If you don’t know the Lord, today is one more day when the Lord is being patient with you. He would have answered many people’s prayers if he had come in full and final judgment yesterday. Yet because of his patience, he has delayed one more day. There is no guarantee he will delay another.
Christmas is a wonderful thing to celebrate, because it shows for certain that God will answer all those prayers one day. The Messiah has come in salvation. It is therefore certain that he will soon come in judgment. He has done only half his promised work. He will complete it.
In fact, he is the only one who can. Did you notice the rather strange description of him here? The Lord God is speaking, and he is saying that the prophet (fulfilled in john the batpist) who would prepare the way for the messiah, is in fact the himself.
“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.”
He uses both “me” and “he” to describe this Lord. He both sends, and is the messenger, the one sent.
We see here that the Lord is in fact multipersonal: Father, Son and Spirit. And that the Messiah would be one of those persons. The son himself; sent by his Father to be the one who would bring about all his father’s purposes.
And as such he is absolutely just, He is the one who lives a just life; and is able to exercise justice for others.
Yet even in his first coming, though it wasn’t the final judgment; it was a time of refining. He showed up those who truly loved the Lord from those who didn’t;
He caused Israel to being the right offering by being the right offering that they would offer up.
And it is through that work of drawing people to himself that Jesus becomes a refiner, rather than merely a destroyer. He transforms messed up, sin-ridden people into those who would love him and live for him.
But it is a radically painful process. Refining silver isn’t at all like polishing silver. When you polish silver, the dirt and oxide is on the surface and is fairly easily removed with the right polish, and a bit of a scrub. But when silver needs refining, the impurities in silver are all mixed in. you can’t dust them off. You must put the silver over an incredibly hot furnace: silver melts at 961°C. Then the impurities will float to the top and burn off.
That kind of refining is not comfortable. Our sin is not something on the surface that is easily repented of. It defines who we are. To repent means undergoing an entire remaking… we are to be melted down and purified.
If we are to have Jesus as our Lord we really need to LOVE God’s justice…
2.       Do you truly love God’s justice?

Perhaps because God’s judgment is such a terrifying thing, perhaps you think that we are supposed to despise it, or be embarrassed about it, or just not really talk about it, because it is such bad news.
Well, no! Biblically, God’s judgment is fantastic news. It means that evil will not triumph. Its only bad news for us because we are evil. But god is unembarrassed about it. It is an aspect of his goodness, and we so rightly recognize whenever we feel that we have been treated unjustly and hope that there might be some justice one day.
If we don’t love God’s justice we are saying no to Jesus refining us. For, you know that I said that Jesus has not come in final judgment. That does not mean that Jesus didn’t come in judgment.
In fact, whenever someone puts their faith in Christ, there is a real sense in which judgment day has come early. For we are not leaving it to God to judge our sin on the Last day, we are asking the Lord to reveal sin in our lives today and put it to death today.
We are asking the Lord to melt us; to bring our sin to the surface, and to burn it off. That is a painful, heart-wrenching lifelong process.
And if that is not a process that you are involved with, then you may have a great deal of affection for Jesus Christ, but you are not a Christian. Bowing to Jesus as Lord is an invitation to be refined.
Why? Because we love painful processes?
No! Because we have come to love God’s justice, and we want to see his character reflected in our lives. We want to act in ways that display his character, and don’t weary him and anger him. We have come to recognize that we were designed to be silver, and painful though it be to get rid of the dross, we will undergo whatever the Lord would do to transform us.
It is often said that the Lord takes people as they are. And that is absolutely right as far as it goes. If you have not put your trust in Christ yet, don’t think that you somehow have to undergo some self-purification process in order to make yourself acceptable to him.
No, that is why Jesus came. Not one of us is acceptable, that is why Jesus died.
We come to Christ full of sin; but we also come asking to be purified. We come, acknowledging that when he is Lord there is no impurity that we would demand to hold onto, but invite him to melt us and reveal it to us, and though it be desperately painful, for our sin is our life, we will have him burn it off.
Do we realise that the Lord wants to do this not just in our lives as individuals, but also corporately, as a church? He takes Twynholm as he finds it, but he will not leave it that way. We belong to him, therefore we must invite him to refine us.
This means that we may not resort to a conservatism that says “We’ve always done it this way, so we have to keep on doing it this way.” No, how would we ever be refined if we insist that we continue to do everything the way we have always done it.
We shouldn’t just have change for change’s sake, but we should always be re-examining ourselves by the word of God to ask if there are ways in which we could be more faithful, wiser, more loving, more joyful, more honest, more pure, more generous, more welcoming, more God-honouring than we have been in the past.
The Protestant reformers understood this; they described the reformed churches as “Refomata semper reformanda est secundum verbum dei” “the church reformed is always reforming according to the word of God”
Pray that Twynholm would be such a church. Reformed the word, and always being reformed by it.
How can we tell if we are? How can we tell if we love God’s justice? Are we at war with the things that God hates among us?
“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.
Are we committed to waging war against the things that we find in our lives that the Lord judges here?
Sorcery: I don’t know if you’ve watched any of the bbc series “Merlin”. Hannah and I enjoy it – it’s very entertaining… but for a Christian, it obviously raises the question about sorcery: Merlin is a sorcerer, and both Arthur, and his Father, Uther Pendragon are against sorcery. Merlin is very much the hero of the series, and as an audience, we are led to think “If only Arthur and Uther knew the good that could come from sorcery they would be more nuanced in their opposition to it.”
Well, perhaps you are not tempted to sorcery (tarot / Jenkins Khan academy over the road). But perhaps you are tempted to the kind of arguments that would promote it not only in Camelot, but also in Israel. Surely, if good comes from it, it can’t be all that evil…
A little white lie that makes your wife’s face light up. Just a couple too many drinks or coarse jokes or immoral films that help me build better relationships with non-Christian friends.
Do we take God’s side against what he has clearly declared to be sin, or do we feel we are in a position to negotiate with him on behalf of our sin.
God alone knows all the consequences to our actions. He may in his great mercy to bring good out of evil, but that never justifies evil.
Note how much of what God is intent on judging here is prejudice and oppression. If we really want God’s justice, we will agents of his justice. We will be incensed not just when we are wronged, but when others, particularly those who don’t have a voice are oppressed.
-          Clothes on our back
When you come home from having bought a pair of jeans for you child for only £3, it’s tempting isn’t it to be concerned only with the deal that we got, and not the deal that the manufacturer got. Christians should be those who care about whether we are depriving workers of their wages by not caring about those who have worked for so long as they are out of sight.
One significant blow to the strength of the slave trade in the 18th century were the number of Christians and others in the UK who would refuse to buy, or even taste sugar that had been made with salve labour.
It would be great if someone would take it upon themselves as a personal project to educate us as a congregation as to how we could better care for those out of sight, yet oppressed.
This is why Christians are to be those who will speak up for other humans with no voice. On the 40th anniversary of the legalization of abortion Christians organized a march in Westminster. Only 1000 people turned up. Less than you would get to an average 2nd division football game.
Pray that this church, and the church in this land would be those who love god’s justice, and therefore seek to reflect it in ways that are costly to us.
3.       Do you truly trust God’s justice?
“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.
-          Our only hope is in God’s promise.
How is it that we are not swept away by this perfect and just God.
As we saw last week, it is because he is a promise making God. He had promised to bring a people to himself. He has made a covenant with us.
-          He promises not to consume his people
-          He has found a way
-          Justice personified in Christ.
-          Have you trusted that way
-          Where would they be without the promise-keeping God. It is only that God is their God and they are his people that gives them any hope that there will be at least a remnant who will stand. There would have been no return from Israel... think of the church... why do we think there remains a church in England... is it just down to sociological reasons? NO! God has been preserving his people, so that there might be a witness to his name.
-          Is it because we have been a hugely faithful church? NO!
-          What about Twynholm: why does it still exist? Is it because of the great men of the past!? NO!!! It is because he will have a witness to his name here.
-          How can you tell if you trust god in his faithfulness?
o   Where are you investing your life?
o   Finances: are you robbing GOD!!!!?!?!?!?!?!?

In Israel there were in fact 3 tithes. Two would be paid annually, and one every three years. Thus the tithes were in fact 23 1/3 %
And these were a strict law. By paying less than these tithes, they had broken the covenant.
But was God unreasonable asking for such a tithe? After all, times had been better. There was real poverty – and it seems that there was also something of a food shortage caused by a disease or a destructive parasite.
No! This is the God of miracles who has promised that he will provide for his people if they remain faithful to him. V11… Why would you not be faithful to me, my people; well, if we didn’t keep enough back, we were afraid some insects might mean that we’d be in real trouble if we obeyed you. What’s dominating your life, fear of insects, or trust in the Lord.
Perhaps it’s not a fear of a crop destroyer, but a fear that your pension is suddenly worth a lot less than it was last year, or that your job seems less secure, or that cost of living seems to keep increasing.
My friends, these are all reasons to trust God more with your life, not less. Generosity is a measure of our trust in the Lord.
It is easy for us as New Testament Christians to think that this section is irrelevant to us.
Wasn’t the tithe just part of the Old Testament Law. As an obligation, yes; but as a free gift it goes beyond it. Both Abraham and Jacob are recorded as giving a tuthe. Abraham, the father of the faithful gives a tithe to Melchizadek, the representative of Christ. Like the New Testament believer, he gave not out of obligation, but in faith; but there is at least a pattern, if not a law of giving 10%.
And that makes sense doesn’t it? Should there be greater generosity because we are obliged, or because we are free!?
In Israel, where the law was written on tablets of stone, and on scrolls, the law gave Israel a culture of generosity. They were to give away at least 23 1/3 percent of their earnings/. There were laws that would look crazy to an outsider: “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain!” What a razy law… you’ll just end up with less grain and one fat ox… but even in the way that Israel was to treat its animals there was to be generosity.
As new Testament Christians we don’t need the law to encourage us to be generous. We have the gospel.
What’s the least I can give????
NO! the gospel teaches us that we don’t have a God who gives the least he could rightly give, but the most! Praise God that he has not given us the lest he could rightly give, for then we would all be in hell already.
We may have been freed from the burden of the law, but the even better news for the Christian is that we are freed from the burden of a self-centered life.
Therefore if we are giving a smaller percentage than we would have been required to give under the law it is a time to examine our hearts…. Not to suddenly feel under compulsion – we are not to give under compulsion, but to ask ourselves why we wouldn’t give freely. In what ways do our lifestyles say that we are too attached to this world?
In what way do our lives say that we don’t trust in God’s provision?
-          We should live in ways that look entirely foolish to the world.
-          You think that the best way to secure your future is through planning exactly how much you think you will need, and giving god what you think you know you can afford...? what foolishness!! You think that you will be more blessed if you are less generous!?!?!?!? Who is the God you think that you worship...? He is refining us so that we will be more like him. What is the limit to his generosity?
-          Test me in this! If you are to test the Lord it is to be more generous, and see if your life gets worse...!
-          Note, the blessings promised for the Christian are not material blessings... there might be real material hardship! I remember a time when my parents shared with me that they were working on that year’s budget, and the only way they could continue to increase the percentage of their giving that year was to decide not to have a car as a family. We’d never been without a car... that isn’t the sort of thing people do, to go without a luxury they have come to depend upon. But you know, I remember alot from that year or two when we didn’t have a car. I remember the incredible commitment of my mother going to do the weekly shop for a family of 5 with a shopping trolley.
-          When you sit down and do your finances and plan how you intend to steward the Lord’s resources (it is all the Lord’s after all)... how do you work out how much you will give? Do you decide what you’d like to spend elsewhere, and then see what is left to the Lord, or do you decide the percentage you’d prayerfully like to give to the Lord this year, maybe up 1% or 2% or 5% from last year, and then plan how you will live of the rest.
-           The motivation isn’t guilt... it’s faith!!! Don’t give out of obligation. This is not the time when I’m thinking, “OK, what will be the most persuasive words that will end up with the maximum possible amount in the church coffers... Not at all. Money is not the bottom line at all; it is because it isn’t in our lives that we are freed to stop living for this world and invest in God’s kingdom.
-          Think what we could do as a church if 10% were thought of as the absolute bare minimum starting point, and that each year we prayed that the Lord would give us the faith to increase that percentage...
-          What kind of blessing would we see? I don’t know! Would the Lord use it to enable us to send more missionaries overseas? Would the Lord enable us to appoint some administrative staff? Perhaps the blessing of us all having less money to spend on ourselves and therefore living less like those around us, and it being evident to them that heaven is real and worth living for.
o   My friends, we should conclude.
Where is your trust today?
What evidence is there in your life that your trust is in Christ, and his eternal kingdom?
The Lord is a just God, but he is also generous.
He has been generous more than anywhere else in sending his son to die our death.
He has been generous in giving us time to come to repentance.
He is being generous in giving us days, and homes and finances to invest in his kingdom.
Do we really know this God? Do we want him? Do we love him? Do we trust him?
Let’s pray.
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