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The Coming of the Lord of Heaven's Armies

Please read Malachi 4 in your Bible. I used the NLT to prepare these remarks.

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

Five years ago, Mark Jerde wrote about Malachi 4:2 and posted it on his blog, “Lift Up Your Eyes! Jesus Is Coming Back!” He described the joy of a calf in this way: Imagine the exhilaration of an excited toddler, their high-spirited behavior, in an animal weighing perhaps 40 to 100 pounds, and capable of running perhaps 30 mph.”

“You can be trying to drive a herd of cows and calves, and all of a sudden, one of the calves will just start running. Others may join in and they go tearing off in the distance, running and jumping. I have seen a group running flat out straight away from me suddenly decide to change and the group, one by one, peel off at 90 degrees, then 90 degrees again, come running straight back in my direction. Their movements make no sense. They’re not supposed to. They’re just having fun.

“It can be a lot of fun to watch. Take the happiest, bounciest, bubbliest three year-old you have ever seen. Add the strength, grace and agility of Olympic-class high-hurdlers. Then add the complete abandon of someone who has never even had the thought of caring what others are thinking while he or she is dancing. This is the beginning of the excitement of calves released from a stall. God wants us to be happy and enjoy being happy!”

CONTEXT - Ironically, this picture of exuberant joy is attached to a warning of Judgment Day. We conclude our series on Malachi with this promise and warning that Judgment Day is coming. God’s people are to be encouraged by the promise of their salvation AND by the condemnation of the ungodly.

Judgment Day will be Justice Day.

1. The Lord will return to deal justice to the wicked. (1)

The LORD is the leader of HEAVEN’S ARMIES. The ARMIES are the race of angels. Some people are prejudiced against the image of the divine warrior, but it is scriptural and honest people don’t attempt to pick and choose which parts of the Bible they will believe and other parts to disbelieve.

The warning delivered on behalf of the Divine Warrior: “THE DAY OF JUDGMENT IS COMING, BURNING LIKE A FURNACE.” Fire is a biblical symbol of judgment, purification, and destruction; hence the references to BURNING and FURNACE. Previously in Malachi - 3:3 - FIRE was a symbol of refining. God promised to purify the priestly clan, the Levites, so they could ONCE AGAIN OFFER ACCEPTABLE SACRIFICES TO THE LORD. On Judgment Day, FIRE will be the means of destruction as water destroyed the earth in the flood of Noah. The time for refining will be over; it will be time for justice instead. The Old Testament references the Day of the Lord; it is equivalent to the Second Coming, especially in the sense that both of them lead to Judgment Day.

Justice includes the total destruction of the ARROGANT and WICKED. The word ARROGANT is unusual in the Old Testament, used only in Isaiah 13:11; Jeremiah 43:2; Malachi 3:15 and 4:1. Arrogance is an example of the unforgiven sins of those who reject God. Regarding their eternal fate, the emphasis is on complete destruction. They will be BURNED UP LIKE STRAW (stubble), the part of the grain that is useless, and CONSUMED - ROOTS, BRANCHES, AND ALL. Amos 2:9 uses a similar figure of speech to describe the destruction of the Amorites.

2. The Lord will return to deal justice to the godly. (2-3)

The LORD OF HEAVEN’S ARMIES is the SUN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. The fact that SUN is capitalized in some translations has led some to see this as descriptive of the Messiah. Taken in context, it makes more sense to see this figure as the LORD - as God - the leader of HEAVEN’S ARMIES. After all, the SUN is bright and it hangs in the heavens; God is glorious and reigns from heaven

Justice includes healing THOSE WHO FEAR His NAME. It is the complete victory of the godly over the ungodly.

ON THE DAY WHEN I ACT is a reference to Judgment Day (or as I call it, “Justice Day”). On this Day will God’s act to bring history to a close and this creation to its end. That Day will see two rewards for those who FEAR God.

First, the righteous will be healed and SET FREE. They will be like CALVES let out of the barn in Springtime, LEAPING WITH JOY.

Second, the righteous will TREAD UPON THE WICKED. Though this may feel a little bloodthirsty to us, God’s word approves our pleasure at seeing justice done to evildoers.

3. How to be among the godly. (2+4)

First, you must FEAR God’s name by remembering who God is. The Bible frequently counsels us, “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This means you cannot have a truly rational thought without first recognizing God is who He is and He will do what He wills. We cannot truly understand ourselves or our place in creation until we rightly understand our Creator.

Second, you are to OBEY His LAW. This is a matter of remembering who you are. As Malachi is the last Old Testament prophet, this is an obvious reference to the LAW OF MOSES; ALL THE DECREES AND REGULATIONS THAT I GAVE HIM ON MOUNT SINAI FOR ALL ISRAEL. As Christians, we are no longer bound to keep the ceremonial or civil portions of the Law of Moses, but we are to observe the moral teachings of the Law. Jesus said those who love Him will obey His commands. (John 14:23-24)

4. The Lord will prepare His people for His return. (5-6)

His return will be A GREAT AND DREADFUL DAY. It will be GREAT for God’s people, but DREADFUL for those who reject Him.

God promise to send a messenger ahead of that Day. His messenger will be ELIJAH. The fulfillment of this prophecy has been a matter of some speculation. Whether this is intended to be a prophecy that Elijah himself will come back from the dead or that someone like Elijah will come (John the Baptist - Matthew 11:14; 17:12; Mark 9:11-13; Luke 1:17) or that Elijah is one of the two witnesses in Revelation 11, who can say?

Here’s what we can say with certainty here in Malachi: this is the second prediction of a MESSENGER (3:1). The MESSENGER would predict the coming of the Messiah. The effect of his PREACHING will be to reconcile FATHERS and their CHILDREN. At least, that was supposed to be the result. The purpose of these family reconciliations is to prepare people for Judgment Day. It’s interesting to me that Malachi put stress on family relationships by using it as an example of the good things happening prior to Judgment Day. We tend to focus on the “bad news signs” like earthquakes and wars, but the whole truth is that as there will be an increase in wickedness in the Last Days, there will be a parallel increase in godliness.

The alternative to reconciliation is coming under the Lord’s CURSE. The Law and the Land were two things close to the heart of every Israelite. To say the LAND was CURSED was the same as saying the people were CURSED. Historically, verse six references the fact that the Jews had rejected God and had, as divine discipline, temporarily lost the Promised Land when they were conquered by the Babylonians. Then, after 70 years, God allowed them to return to the LAND and rebuild Jerusalem. Malachi is warning them that if they repeat the sins of their forefathers, they are in danger of losing the LAND a second time. This time, God will strike it with a CURSE.

Because the Jews disliked the negative ending of Malachi, they developed a tradition of rereading verse five after verse six. In this last chapter, Malachi set before the same alternatives Moses set before them prior to entering the Promised Land for the first time (Deuteronomy 30:19-20); they could love and obey God or they could reject and disobey Him. Either choice carried clearly stated consequences: life or death.

Judgment Day will be Justice Day.

I recognize the very idea of a day when God holds all people accountable for what they’ve done with the days of life He’s given them is hard to wrap one’s head around. The end of this universe and its replacement with a new and improved version is obviously a BIG thought. But God wants His people to think about that - a lot - and be prepared for it to happen today.

As we think about being prepared, let’s turn our thoughts to a hypothetical situation. Imagine you’re relaxing at home and your doorbell rings. When you open the door you see a young man who asks to come in to use your phone because his cell battery is dead. He holds up a dark screen as if to prove his point.

You don’t know this person; you don’t know his true intent. But you do know there’s no way you’re going to allow him to come into your home. So, you say, “No. You can’t come in. Get off my porch.” Before he can argue, you shut the door.

He is instantly angry. He begins swearing and threatening you. You reach for the phone to call 911 as he walks around your home, shouting that he is going to come back to rob you. He is going to come back and break in and steal everything. And then you see him walking away.

Now what do you do? How seriously do you take his threats? You could install a security system. You could buy a gun. You could replace the locks on the doors, put locks on the windows, call the police, buy a big watch dog and feed him raw meat. You could take his threats very seriously.

But one day passes into another and you do not see this punk again. The dog annoys you; he barks at everything. The police can offer little help. You can’t find ammunition for the gun or find time to go to the range to practice shooting it. You forget about the security system a time or two and accidentally set it off yourself.

Days turn into weeks. You’ve felt less and less like a prisoner in your own home. The fright from the gangster’s threats is almost laughable. He must’ve been high or drunk when he knocked at your door. He’s likely forgotten all about you and his threats feel like part of a distant past, not the immediate future.

The Apostle Paul warned Jesus’ coming would be like a “thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2; see also Revelation 16:15). This does not mean He will come with malicious intent. It does mean that the day and the hour of His coming is unknown and anyone who is not prepared for it to be today and now is not prepared at all.

In the example we just considered, the homeowner is most prepared when he feels most threatened. That’s not what Jesus wants for His disciples. He wants us to be equally prepared every day because every day we are looking to the Lord Jesus. We make our daily preparations in prayer, Scripture, witness, and service in part because we want to be ready for His Second Coming. We long to hear Jesus call us by name and welcome us into our “forever home” with Him. He may even let us take that big watch dog with us!

RESOURCES:

https://markjerde.wordpress.com/2017/07/29/leaping-like-calves-from-the-stall/ accessed on 29 April 22.

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, Malachi, Robert L. Alden

A sermon, “Return to Hope in the Return of the Lord,” Rev. Travis Peterson, Olney Southern Baptist Church, February 22, 2009

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