Malachi 4:1-6 (26th Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
November 17, 2013
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 4:
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, 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. 4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. 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.”
The “Day” is coming. It is a day both great and feared. That “Day” is the Day of the Lord, when He will come to judge the living and the dead. God’s prophet Malachi, who spoke the Word of the Lord around 500 B.C., presents two results for people on the Day of the Lord. (1) The arrogant and evildoers will be burnt to ash. (2) Those who fear the name of the Lord will receive healing in righteousness. When the Day of the Lord comes, what will our fate be?
God’s judgment against sin and evil on the Last Day will be ultimate and final. That much Malachi makes clear. “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the arrogant and all the doers of evil will be stubble and set ablaze in the day which is coming, says the Lord of hosts, which will not leave for them a root or a branch.” God’s judgment is total. The sinner will suffer the fiery wrath and condemnation of God. On the other hand, “For them who fear my name the sun of righteousness will arise with healing in its wings. And you all will go out and leap like calves let out of their stall.” For the sinner who has turned from sin and evil and, because of the gift of saving faith, trusts in the name of the Lord, there is the blessedness of righteousness and everlasting life. When the Day of the Lord comes, what will our fate be?
Malachi suggests, even commands, the people to, “Remember the instruction of Moses.” Remembering is more than just calling it to mind. Remembering also involves doing. So, remember to do the instruction of Moses, the statutes and judgments and commands that the Lord gave to Moses on Mt. Horeb (also called Mt. Sinai.) In other words, remember always to do the Ten Commandments. If you do the Commandments, you will escape God’s wrath and punishment on the Day of the Lord.
But therein lies the problem. As the writer of Ecclesiastes tell us, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” (Eccl. 7:20) If you transgress even just one of God’s commands, you have not remembered to do His instruction. St. James records, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (James 2:10) And you and I know that we have failed in way more than one point. Our sinful nature revels in going against God’s commands, even looking for opportunities in which to do so. If God says don’t, our sinful nature says, “Let’s do it!” If God says do, our sinful nature says, “Forget it.”
We are then marked by our sinful nature and our sins are “arrogant,” counting ourselves above God’s commands. Each time we sin against God’s commandments we are found to be “evildoers” since all that God demands of us is good and perfect. That puts us square in the bull’s-eye of God judgment and wrath on the Day of the Lord. Our sins and transgressions merit for us nothing but eternal destruction.
And God knows this. In His holiness and justice all sinners must be punished. He cannot let us get away with even the smallest breach of His commands. Yet, “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” (Ezekiel 33:11) God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1Tim. 2:4) In order that we might be led to acknowledge our sins and confess them before His throne of grace and mercy, God promised before the great and terrible Day of the Lord to send Elijah the prophet. His work would be to announce God’s Word in order to bring about repentance in the hearts of people so that they might confess their sins and wickedness and turn to the Lord for healing and salvation.
And so the Elijah who was to come, came. You know him as John the Baptist. It was Jesus, the very Son of God, who said of him, “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” (Matt. 11:13-14) He is the one of whom Malachi spoke, the one who would come before the day of the Lord preaching repentance, a turning of heart and mind away from sin to the Lord’s mercy. As John’s father Zechariah prophesied, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79) And so “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4)
Through the preaching and the hearing of God’s Law, as even John proclaimed it, we are shown our sins and failures to keep His commandments as we should. We are told of God’s judgment against our sins. “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:9) Or, in the words of Malachi, “all the arrogant and evildoers will be stubble.” Thus we are brought to our knees in fear of eternal death and God’s wrath against us. We kneel before the Lord and confess that we are justly condemned for our sins. We claim no merit or worthiness in us, but cling solely to God’s promise of healing and salvation in the One whom He sent to be the world’s Savior, Jesus Christ.
You see, the Day of the Lord has its prelude, or even beginning, at Calvary. At the cross, God poured out the fire of His anger and wrath against our sins upon His appointed substitute—His Son, Jesus. The Day came, burning like an oven, when God punished sin and sinners by subjecting Jesus to His full anger and damnation while He suffered and bled on the cross. Jesus’ blood was shed on the cross so we could live without fear of God’s anger and punishment. Jesus was our substitute, dying for us on the cross so we might not see God as angry and wrathful, but as loving and kind. True, God was angry with us, but He is not anymore. Our sin and guilt had been taken away. God’s wrath and anger is satisfied. It has been turned away from the entire world because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. God is fully satisfied with Christ’s sacrifice. Jesus’ work on the cross is enough, once for all.
Now, because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, suffering God’s wrath and anger in our place, we stand forgiven of our sins. We are healed of our sin-disease through the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses us from all sin. As Jesus took our sins with Him to the cross and paid the full price for them, so He also gives to us His perfect righteousness in which we find our healing, the forgiveness of sins. “The sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings,” Malachi tells us. In contrast to the burning fire of judgment which Jesus endured for us, the heat of the sun’s rays warms believers with the healing message of God’s righteousness in Christ.
How wonderful that it is literally the Son’s (S-O-N’s) rays of grace and mercy and forgiveness and righteousness that bring us the healing from sin and death. We receive these rays of healing in the Gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection for us. We receive these rays of forgiveness and righteousness in the Sacraments—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. For in these means of grace Christ comes to us with His righteousness, His forgiveness, and His faith-strengthening Spirit. As we will sing not too long from now in the hymn “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of Peace! / Hail, the Sun of Righteousness! / Light and life to all He brings, / Ris’n with healing in His wings. / Mild He lays His glory by, / Born that man no more may die, / Born to raise the sons of earth, / Born to give them second birth.” (LSB 380)
Christ’s incarnation, birth, life, death and resurrection mean that we do not have to fear God’s wrath and anger when Jesus comes again on the Last Day. We have received Jesus’ own righteousness and His forgiveness won for us by His blood. God is not angry with us at our sins. And that is why when we do sin, with faith and trust in the healing that comes from God through Jesus as a gift, we confess to Him all our sins and iniquities and are assured that our sins stand forgiven. We have the healing that comes from Jesus’ cross and empty tomb. In the power of the Holy Spirit we live lives of repentance and faith in Him, assured that God loves us. We do not have to fear the coming Day of the Lord.
And that “Day” is coming. But we already know what our fate will be. We will be rejoicing and celebrating and running around like baby cows just let out into the pasture to play. For on that Day, the Lord will come and take us to be with Him in heaven forever. There is nothing to fear—our sins are forgiven. Christ’s righteousness covers us. Thanks be to God. Amen.