God Refines | Malachi 2.17-3.5 (Marysville)
October 20, 2013 Series: Malachi | Rhetorical God
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Malachi 2:17–3:5
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 “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. 2 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. 3 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. 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.
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.
Intro: Responding to God
The prophecy of Malachi is largely a condemnation on the false worship of the Israelites. Instead of following the prescribed laws about sacrifices, the people bring lame unlawful offerings to the temple and profane the name of God. Instead of teaching the law and confronting the people in their lawlessness, the priests bring these lame sacrifices to the altar and profane the table of God. All of Israel, instead of loving their first wives, divorce them, marry foreign wives, and profane the sanctuary of God. All of these things were part of God’s covenant with His people. His covenant was the divine agreement that defined their relationship—including promises of blessing for obedience and promises of cursing for disobedience. They deny God’s promises to bless and cease to love Him; and they deny God’s promise to curse and cease to fear Him. Disbelief in God’s promises will always lead to disobedience; and disobedience will always lead to broken relationship. Our obedience does not ever dictate our relationship with God; but it always reflects it.
Worship is an appropriate response to who God is and what He has done. But the Israelites stop worshipping God because they don’t like who God is because they do not like what God has done. Paul says that their example is supposed to build our faith. So, from the Israelite example, I want us to consider: How we could respond when God is SILENT; how we must respond when God is NOT FAIR; How we should respond when God is ANGRY.
#1 How could we respond when God is SILENT
How could we respond when God is Silent? God isn’t like a junior high girl with unlimited texting…He has long silences. Up until Malachi, God had been relatively silent for 100 years. The last thing God had said was that Israel would one day experience blessing. Of course, he never said when, or how, exactly this would occur. So when they did not experience “prosperity” in the time and way they anticipated they began to doubt whether God really meant what He said about removing wickedness and restoring peace. As we saw with our first parents in the garden, Adam and Eve, what begins with doubt about WHAT GOD HAS SAID always ends with lies about WHO GOD IS (Begins with Did God really say?” and ends with “God is an unloving liar, a cosmic kill joy who doesn’t want you to enjoy life.)
From Israel’s perspective, God has not done what He said—he hasn’t held up his part of the agreement. Their despair over what they don’t have is made worse because they think they’ve held up their side—that they have earned prosperity by living “RIGHTLY” (unlike the rest of the world that lives ‘wrong’). As the first half of this prophecy has revealed, they are delusional and blind to their own sin. Whenever someone does not experience contentment, it is rare that they will naturally look inward to find the problem. Most wrongly believe that their discontentment an external problem; if I had more of something, less of something, or just a different something, then everything would be better. Overwhelmed by an absence of blessing, the Israelites are blind to their own broken relationship with God. They have become victims. And victims are notorious for hiding, minimizing, or ignoring their sin. Where there should be confessing of their own sin, there is only complaining about everyone else’s sin. As our first parents proved, refusing to take the blame for our sin will eventually lead us to blame God for our problems.
Israel looks out at the evil world prospering around them, a world not even trying to do right (like they supposedly are), and begins to complain about the fact that God is silently doing nothing---even approving of it. God says he has grown TIRED of listening to their words, not because he’s an impatient Father, but because their complaints about what God has not done are actually false accusations about who God is. Without doubt, God is not afraid of our questions, but He is not pleased with our complaints. Not only do they refuse to take responsibility for their own sin, they blame God for the sin in the world. They judge God’s silence to mean two different things: FIRST, since God is allowing evil people to prosper God must delight in evil. He must enjoy adulterers, appreciate liars, celebrate oppressors, and adore the thieves. AND SECOND, if God is unwilling to punish the evildoers, God must not be just. If God is judge, why isn’t he executing judgment? If God is Holy and really hates evil, then He should break the silence, stop all of the oppression, fix all of the problems, and punish the evildoers immediately!
Of course, we are always much more demanding for God’s immediate judgment on the evil of the world than we are for His judgment on our own. For that we are the ones who are usually silent. Israel responds to God’s silence with accusations because their relationship with God is broken. When you are in a healthy relationship with someone, you don’t assume silence to be a bad thing. It’s only when the relationship is unhealthy (usually due to your own sin) that you begin to make accusations and point fingers.
#2 How we must respond when God is NOT FAIR
How we must respond when God is NOT FAIR? In His grace, God confronts both the lies about who Israel things He is. And in doing so, He reveals Himself to be a God who is not fair. That might seem like a strange thing to say about God, or even a bad thing to say about God, but it is exactly what we need Him to be. Israel is evil. They have profaned His name, they have profaned His table, and they have profaned His sanctuary. In verse 10, of chapter 1, God tells them directly: I have no pleasure in you. And if there is any confusion as to how God sees His people or their worship, He gives them a clear picture of his disgust by wiping the poop of their sacrifices on their faces! Yet, Israel wonders aloud if God delights in sin...because he seems like it doesn’t bother Him! False worship that declares sin to be no big deal bothers God. And to prove that He does not delight in evil and that He is just, He tells Israel that He is coming. In essence God says, “You want me to punish sin…ok….I’m coming…and I’m coming for yours first.”
But God is not fair, meaning, His judgment has a different purpose for and effect on His people than it does with the told world. While the judgment of God results in condemnation of the world, the judgment of God results in redemption for His people. God says that He is going to send a messenger to prepare the way. God has sent messengers, even Malachi is a messenger, but this messenger is different—he is the last one before the end. This messenger is not coming to declare a new message, but to give warning and to clear a path for the King who is coming—the LORD himself. The Lord is coming, and the first thing he is going to remove the impurities and refine His people. The Lord is coming to cleanse His people of their sin. The Lord is coming to purify His people and MAKE THEM INTO righteous worshippers. He is not coming to tell them what to do, rather, He is coming to do it for them. Before the judge destroys all evil in the world, He destroys the evil in the hearts of his people. God asks rhetorically: Who can stand His Wrath? Who can endure His Wrath? The answer is no one. There are none who are good. There are none who are purse. All fall short of God’s standard, all are guilty, all deserve to die. The only way anyone can endure is to receive God’s grace.
God’s vows to His children were made based on His own faithfulness, not ours. The only reason His people are not destroyed is that God is not fair—he doesn’t give us what we deserve. The only right response to God’s “unfairness” is gratitude. Making His people clean is a gloriously painful process that occurred with the death of Jesus Christ. Removing our sin is painful for us, but NOT before it was painful for Him. John the Baptist was the messenger that prepared the way, and Jesus was the King who came and died. Through believing that he died in my place, Jesus does more than cleanse me, He makes it possible for me to make perfect sacrifices. To quote an Acts 29 brother of mine, “My justification is not only my hope of standing before God, but it is also the hope of my works standing before God. He not only accepts me, but he accepts my works and delights in them, however deformed they are, for Christ perfects it all.”
Through faith, we died with Christ. And when we die with Christ, we are made positionally pure in the Lord before the Judge for eternity. But we also find that the painful refinement process on earth is one that lasts a lifetime. The cross changes HOW WE LOOK, because it changes WHAT WE LOOK AT. It is not enough to see our sin cleansed by the sacrifice of Jesus, we must also see our sin as the reason He is on the cross in the first place. And as the gospel goes deeper and deeper into our hearts, we become as clean on the outside as we already are on the inside—we become in practice what we are in position. 2 Corinthians 3.18 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
#3 How we should respond when God is ANGRY
Finally, How we should response when God is Angry. If the cross is a declaration of innocence for those who fear God enough to believe, it is a declaration of guilt for those who do not fear God and do not believe. God has a long wick…but because God is JUST, He does get angry. God describes Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:. 6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
The “THEN” of verse 5 has not yet come—the day of Judgment—but it will come when Jesus returns. For His people, Jesus is a witness for the defense. For those who are not His people, Jesus is a witness for the prosecution. And by the time Jesus arrives, the trial is over and the judgment is swift. This can easily lead us to stand afar from the world with pride, instead of dwelling in it with love. We will be tempted to act as judge. The job is already taken.
The reality of God’s anger with the world should not lead us to pride, but humility, because in the judgment of the world, we see the judgment we deserve.
- Knowing that God is angry and that there is a coming judgment of the world helps me to know that God’s silence is not indifference—it should lead me to faith.
- Knowing that God is angry and there is a coming judgment of the world helps me to know that what feels like judgment now is refinement—it should lead me to grow and worship, even in pain.
- Knowing that God is angry and that there is a coming judgment of the world helps me to restrain my own indifference—it should lead me to mission.
Conclusion in Christ.
God answers Israel’s accusations by telling them, He was coming to prove they were wrong…in person. And he did come. God broke the silence with Jesus. This is the last word that He has spoken, but it is not the last word He will speak. Jesus is coming again. His crucifixion proves that the evil of this world disgusts Him, and that He is willing to give pay the ultimate price to make it right. Don’t mistake his silence for approval, or his slowness for indifference. He sees. He knows. He cares. For the Christian, know that one day He will make all things right. And for the Non-Christian, know that the day will come suddenly—today is your day to turn from your sin and turn toward Jesus. Believe and experience God as loving Father for if you don’t, you will experience Him as a wrathful Judge He will witnesses for his children, and He will witnesses against his enemies. I want God as a witness for my defense, not as a witness for my prosecution
The cross shows you that your sin is so evil that its eradication requires the death of God’s son; but the cross shows you God loves you so much that he willingly sacrifices His Son. God has spoken, and what He has said through His Son should SILENCE everyone. Until you see that someone innocent took your guilt, became a victim for you, you will continue to accuse God and play the victim—you will always have something to complain about.
But once you see the cross as the place where the judge, after justly declaring you guilty, took off his robe, stepped down from the bench, took your place as the accused, and was executed in your place—you will realize you have nothing to complain about.
. 2 Peter 3:8–13 8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells..