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Return to God or Face His Justice

Please read Malachi 2:17-3:5 in your Bible. I used the NLT to prepare these remarks.

https://www.behance.net/gallery/110813615/Sermon-Illustrations-2022

Paul wrote to encourage the believers in the Macedonian city of Thessalonica. They’d faced PERSECUTIONS and HARDSHIPS with their faith intact (2 Thessalonians 1:4-5). One of the things Paul did to strengthen their faith was to give them a vision of how their faith and perseverance would be rewarded at the end of time, on Judgment Day. AND GOD WILL PROVIDE REST FOR YOU WHO ARE BEING PERSECUTED AND ALSO FOR US WHEN THE LORD JESUS APPEARS FROM HEAVEN. HE WILL COME WITH HIS MIGHTY ANGELS, IN FLAMING FIRE, BRINGING JUDGMENT ON THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW GOD AND ON THOSE WHO REFUSE TO OBEY THE GOOD NEWS OF OUR LORD JESUS. THEY WILL BE PUNISHED WITH ETERNAL DESTRUCTION; FOREVER SEPARATED FROM THE LORD AND FORM HIS GLORIOUS POWER. WHEN HE COMES ON THAT DAY, HE WILL RECEIVE GLORY FROM HIS HOLY PEOPLE - PRAISE FORM ALL YOU WHO BELIEVE. AND THIS INCLUDES YOU, FOR YOU BELIEVED WHAT WE TOLD YOU ABOUT HIM. (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10)

These verses present both halves of the hope that God offers, a divinely approved motive for us to be saved and for us to witness to others, so they might be saved too. Our desire to be in heaven with God AND to avoid being cast in hell apart from Him are two excellent reasons to have faith and follow Jesus.

The very good news is that heaven is ours as a gift of God’s grace. We can’t earn it, and once it is bestowed, we can’t lose it, such is the great grace of God. In this good news, we see that justice is an essential part of true love. God’s love is not watered down; not all people are saved. His justice will be realized in one stroke. On Judgment Day, God will reward the righteous and punish the wicked. Every one of us will receive what we wanted all our lives; either to be with God or be apart from Him.

Repent! When God’s justice appears, there is no other hope.

1. How is it possible to “weary” the Lord? (17)

Here is another of the exchange of rhetorical question and answer that Malachi used so often to make his point. In this instance, we know God is all-powerful, so he can’t actually be WEARIED; this is a figure of speech.

What was “wearying” was the people complaining about a lack of JUSTICE. This was their perception, of course, not the reality. They said God gave GOOD things to EVIL people. In this world EVIL people will appear to prosper. It is a problem people of faith have struggled to understand. The truth is that God’s justice will be completed on Judgment Day. Until then, we have to trust God; it is an act of faith.

The Jews expected JUSTICE to be something that benefitted them. They believed even their blemished sacrifices (chapter one) merited God’s favor. Their complaints about God in Malachi seem to be along this hypocritical line; “We’re checking off all our boxes and we’re not seeing any benefit from it.” They had an immature view of how a relationship with God works. They thought their sacrifices as buying God’s favor. That is simply not what the Bible promises. That ius actually idolatry. Our relationship with God is more personal than that. We offer our sacrifices in the world, but we may not see any worldly reward from them. If you have faith, you believe that heavenly rewards are far superior.

2. God’s messenger will bring justice to the earth. (1-4)

God’s answer to their insulting question “WHERE IS THE GOD OF JUSTICE?” (2:17) begins in 3:1. God will send a MESSENGER who will warn them Judgment Day is coming. The answer is a person!

The messenger’s mission is to PREPARE THE WAY BEFORE God. While this sounds like the messenger’s job is to make God’s entrance easier, the real purpose is to PREPARE the people for God’s coming. The MESSENGER will give them warning to repent, for God will come as their Judge. They will have no hope of a favorable judgment without repenting first. After the WAY is prepared, the GOD OF JUSTICE will SUDDENLY COME TO HIS TEMPLE.

The word EAGERLY in verse one is a little sarcastic. In their current condition they would not EAGERLY look for the Lord’s MESSENGER as He will confront their sin. In fact, they will not be able to ENDURE the day of His coming or STAND in His presence (2).

On Judgment Day, the messenger’s mission changes from warning the people to subjecting them to the intense fire of God’s punishment (2-3). Be warned: only the truly faithful will be able to ENDURE the appearing of the MESSENGER. Only those whose hearts are pure will be able to STAND AND FACE HIM when he comes.

Malachi offered two images of reformation through repentance: FIRE and SOAP. These are symbols of God’s punishment of the wicked and His purification of the righteous.

In the Bible, FIRE is a symbol of God’s judgment, resulting in either destruction or purification. By fire the wicked are destroyed (eternally separated from God) and the godly are purified so they can enter God’s presence for all eternity.

Fire as purification is how Paul used the symbol of fire in 1 Corinthians 3:13-15. BUT ON JUDGMENT DAY, FIRE WILL REVEAL WHAT KIND OF WORK EACH BUILDER HAS DONE. THE FIRE WILL SHOW IF A PERSON’S WORK HAS ANY VALUE. IF THE WORK SURVIVES, THAT BUILDER WILL RECEIVE A REWARD. BUT IF THE WORK IS BURNED UP, THE BUILDER WILL SUFFER GREAT LOSS. THE BUILDER WILL BE SAVED, BUT LIKE SOMEONE BARELY ESCAPING THROUGH A WALL OF FLAMES.

Intense heat is used to refine metal; it took ore and refined it by melting it. The base material was removed, purifying the metal, making it more valuable. To emphasize this, Malachi referred to a BLAZING FIRE.

The other symbol was A STRONG SOAP THAT BLEACHES CLOTHES. White clothes are a biblical symbol of purity. God removes the sin-stains from His people.

The purpose of the FIRE and SOAP is to purify God’s people so they can ONCE AGAIN OFFER ACCEPTABLE SACRIFICES TO THE LORD (3). God WILL ACCEPT their OFFERINGS as He once accepted the worship of the people of Judah in the temple in Jerusalem. Since these verses just after Judgment Day, I don’t believe they predict a return to the Old Testament system of animal sacrifices. Instead, they promise of perfected people worshiping God in heaven.

3. Only God’s standard of justice matters. (5)

In contrast to the ironic eagerness of the people in verse one, here in verse five THE LORD OF HEAVEN’S ARMIES declares He is EAGER TO WITNESS AGAINST unrepentant sinners, condemning them. What’s offered here is a representative list of wicked people, not an exhaustive list.

- SORCERERS work with the devil and his demons to spread lies and encourage evil deeds. They represent spiritually unfaithful people.

- ADULTERERS represent sexually unfaithful people. They violate the covenant of marriage that was held forth as a virtue - an act of faithfulness - in the previous section.

- LIARS are verbally unfaithful. They deliberately misrepresent the truth as a means of personal gain but symbolize all sins of the tongue.

- Socially unfaithful people CHEAT, OPPRESS, and deny JUSTICE to vulnerable people like workers, widows, orphans, and foreigners. They break or misuse civilized systems for personal advantage.

The problem with all of them is that they DO NOT FEAR God. They do not have faith and are not at all concerned that Judgment Day is coming, and it will result in their condemnation.

Repent! When God’s justice appears, there is no other hope.

Judgment Day will be a final division of humanity. Those who have believed in God’s word and have therefore repented and been forgiven, will be separated from those who refuse to believe and remain in their sins.

For God’s people, the BLAZING FIRE Malachi foresaw will refine away all impurities. The STRONG SOAP he wrote about will clean away any lingering ungodliness. Being refined and cleansed, God’s people will be welcomed to heaven. That part of our theology is easy to understand.

On the other hand, the outcome of unbelievers is the subject of some discussion. I have, for years, believed in “Annihilationism” the belief that the FIRE of Judgment Day will consume those who died with their sins not forgiven, being self-condemned. They will be left on the Old Earth and consumed in the fire that destroys this present creation.

However, in recent months, I’ve been hearing from the Lord passages that indicate the unsaved do exist for eternity and worse, are in a state of torment because they are separated from God at Judgment Day and thrown into the LAKE OF FIRE. This position is called “Eternal Conscious Torment” and is more obviously in line with the literal meaning of Scripture.

The problem is, neither position can be proven convincingly with the evidence the Bible provides. It’s not a major doctrine, so this is not a major problem. What’s important about Judgment Day is the division of humanity into the ”haves and have-nots.” Those who have God will live with Him forever. Those who do not have God will be excluded from His presence.

We should not believe anything that will diminish the horror of sin and the eternal horror of hell. This is an awful mistake because “dumbing down” sin and hell diminish the fear of God which the Bible clearly identifies as the beginning of wisdom.

What we also lose in a reduced vision of the penalty of sin being “eternal death” is a suitable motive for seeking God, fear of eternal condemnation. The deadly consequence of sin is meant to serve as a motive to seek God. According to the Bible, both fear of punishment and desire for reward are acceptable reasons to believe, repent, and be saved. These are sensible, not selfish motives.

However, knowing these things should also supply us with a motive for sharing our faith. We must have a view of the seriousness of sin illuminated by the fiery end of unbelievers who face God unrefined and unclean, condemned by their own choice. For others as for ourselves, both the sweet scent of heaven and the sulphureous stench of hell should motivate us to receive God’s gift of salvation and follow Him all our days of this life.


RESOURCES:

“Return to Faith in God’s Justice,” a sermon by Rev. Travis Peterson, delivered on February 8, 2009, at Olney Southern Baptist Church, Olney, IL.

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