Malachi 3:1-3 (Second Sunday in Advent—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
December 6, 2009
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament Lesson from Malachi 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. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who 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.
“Where is the God of justice?” That’s what the people of Malachi’s day were asking. “Where is the God that promises justice for his people?” Perhaps we ask the same question ourselves. “Where is the God of justice?” The poor are oppressed. People do not always get justice in the courts. It seems like people can get away with about anything they like these days. There’s not always fairness in the legal system. There is not always justice given in our society. Students in school can walk all over their teachers with very little repercussions. Where is the justice in that? Employers can make the lives of their employees quite difficult if there is a personality conflict or they fear that the employee may actually be a better worker than the employer. Advancement in the company may be limited, simply because a person is seen as too “nice”. Where is the justice in that?
We live in a society, as did the people of Israel, who long for justice. We long for the right to be justified and the wrong to be punished. But it doesn’t always happen that way. Just watch a show like Law and Order. Those who have committed the crime often don’t pay the time. In our society, the wrong gets exalted and glorified, and the right gets downplayed as old-fashioned and very traditional. What are the big, popular video games? Titles like Grand Theft Auto grace our store shelves encouraging people, especially teens and young adults, to participate in a virtual world of deception and crime. Numerous movies, as well as video games, glorify inappropriate sexual conduct, murder, theft, drunkenness, and so on. But when it comes to upstanding, moral living, well that’s just out of date. Nobody lives that way anymore, do they? You can’t get away with being a “goody two shoes” in this day. You’ll get knocked around, pushed down, beaten up, and made fun of. You won’t make it very far in the world. As Billy Joel said, “Only the good die young.” You’ll always lag behind those who can get away with what they want because there isn’t any real justice in our world. Doesn’t that make you feel good?
And so, like the people of Israel, we ask “Where is the God of justice?” But perhaps we should think twice about what we’re asking. Do we really want the God of justice to appear? Do we really want the God of justice to come? What will he find when he comes? Will he find righteousness? Holiness? What will he find? No, not in other people, but in ourselves. What will he find in you and in me? In Luke 18 Jesus asked, “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:7-8) When the God of justice appears, what will he find?
God will find us exactly as we are—sinful and unclean. I know an individual who once took great exception to the phrase in our confession of sins that we are “poor miserable sinners.” I don’t know anyone who is thrilled with the idea of admitting that they are a poor miserable sinner. But it is reality. We are by nature, sinful, unclean, anti-God, enemies of God, and unholy. This is what God, the God of Justice, will find when he comes suddenly. This is what God will find when he comes among people: sin, corruption, selfishness, wickedness, lost, deception, and evil. As the God of justice, he must punish the sinner. The sinner cannot stand before the holy God. God’s justice demands that punishment be given to the sinner. The only punishment for sin is death. Where is the God of justice? I don’t think I really want to know. To have the God of justice find me as I am is frightening. It is terrifying. Yes, I want justice in this world, but I don’t want it from God against me. Because all I deserve is his wrath and displeasure, physical and eternal death. It would be perfectly right and perfectly just for God to punish me because I am a poor, miserable sinner. God would be doing justice according to his Word in punishing you and me for our sins. Yet, we read in our Old Testament lesson, “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.” How can we delight in the coming of the messenger of this covenant? Does not God call for justice? And does not this justice merit our eternal condemnation? Does not Malachi say, “But who can endure the day of his coming, able to stand when he appears?” What is going on here? “O Lord, how shall I meet You, how welcome You aright?”
How can a sinner welcome the Lord? Who can endure the day of his coming? We can welcome the Lord and we can endure the day of his coming because he firsts sends his messenger to prepare the way for his coming. The messenger of whom Malachi speaks is John the Baptist. He is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” John was the forerunner of the Lord, the one who came preparing the people to receive the very Messiah. His preparation was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John was the messenger who pointed out the sins of the people, who helped them to acknowledge their unholiness. John was the prophet, the messenger, who helped people see who they really are in their standing before God. He proclaimed God’s word of Law to show the people of their sin and their need for a Savior. When we realize we need a Savior, it is then that we begin to realize what the Lord’s coming among us is really all about.
John the Baptist was the messenger who came to prepare the way before Jesus Christ. God was not coming into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him. Jesus is the messenger of a new covenant. He chose to become incarnate, to enter our world of sin and corruption, in order to redeem us from the power of sin, Satan, and death. God chose to become one of us in order to save us. God’s justice demands our punishment. So God sent Jesus in our place to receive our punishment. Jesus died our death and suffered our condemnation. He endure the full punishment of God that should have been yours and mine. In Jesus death on a cross he refined us and he cleansed us from our sins. Malachi says that the coming Savior is like a refiner’s fire and like a fuller’s soap. Fire was used to remove impurities from metals. A fuller used soap made of lye to clean wool and make it white. Martin Luther wrote, “Christ is not merely the Purifier but also the purifying Agent. He is not only the Blacksmith but also the Fire; not only the Cleaner but also the Soap.”
Jesus Christ, very God of very God, true God and true Man, is the messenger of the new covenant in his blood that purifies and cleanses us from our sin. He makes us new creations. We are forgiven; we have eternal life. Because we stand cleansed in the blood of Jesus, because we wear the white robe of Christ’s own righteousness having been washed clean from our sins, we are guaranteed that we can endure the day of his coming and stand before him justified when he appears. God declares us “not guilty” of our sins because Jesus assumed the full punishment and penalty for them. Therefore, we do not need to fear his coming. We are justified, redeemed, and saved. We now are able to live lives of repentance and faith in service to our Lord and Savior.
Malachi talks about the Lord purifying the sons of Levi, refining them like gold and silver so that they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. The descendents of Levi were the priests in the Old Testament. It was their task to serve the Lord in his temple, to offer the sacrifices of God’s people, to offer prayers on behalf of God’s people. Through the cleansing work of Jesus our great High Priest we have become a part of his royal priesthood which replaces the priesthood of the Levites. We read in 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own close session, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” In and through Jesus Christ, God has created a people, his Church, who are genuinely righteous in faith and who now offer him spiritual sacrifices. In Romans 12:1 we read, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” 1 Peter 2:5 says that we are like living stones that are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
This is how you and I are able to meet our Lord when he comes again in great power and glory on the Last Day. We stand before him clothed in his own righteousness, purified and cleansed from all our sins by his holy, precious blood shed for us on the cross. We receive him as our only Savior from sin and death by God’s grace through faith. We serve him as we live our lives in his name and according to his Word offering our spiritual sacrifices of prayer, praise, and action. God calls you and me to be like John the Baptist, proclaiming the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. God sends you to prepare the way for his Son as people hear the Gospel from you, as you tell people about Jesus Christ who came into this world to save sinners by giving up his life into death on a cross. In this way, many are able to hear, and to know, and to come to faith in Jesus, receiving the justice of God through his saving work.
“Where is the God of justice?” He is ruling his kingdom in love and mercy from his heavenly throne, waiting for the day when he will return in all his majesty and glory to take his people, his Church, to be with him forever in the mansions he has prepared for us. As we wait his Coming Again, our God of justice uses you and me, his royal priesthood, to serve those in this world who are poor, oppressed, mistreated, or lonely. Our Lord uses us as his spokespeople, proclaiming the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ alone who is the world’s Savior. Through the hearing of his precious Gospel, in the eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins, we are continually refined and purified so that we may serve our God and Savior in righteousness and holiness all our days. By his grace, may the Lord lead many more to himself through the message of Jesus Christ crucified and risen so that they may be refined and purified by his blood, have the forgiveness of sins, and join us on the Last Day as those who endure, standing firm in faith when Jesus appears in glory. God grant it for Jesus sake. Amen.