Malachi 4:1-6 (Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 28—Series C)
“The Day is Coming—Where Do You Stand?”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
November 17, 2019
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:
1For behold, the day is coming, burning like the oven, and all of the insolent ones and all of those who do wickedness will be stubble, and the coming day will set them ablaze, says Yahweh of hosts, which will not leave to them root and branches. 2And the sun of righteousness will rise for you who fear my name and healing is in its wings and you will go out and you will leap about like calves set free from a fattening stall. 3And you will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act, says Yahweh of hosts. 4Remember the instruction of Moses, my servant, the statutes and judgments which I commanded him at Horeb over all Israel. 5Behold, I am sending before you Elijah the prophet before the day of Yahweh comes, the great and awful day. 6He will turn the heart of the fathers toward their sons and the heart of the sons toward their fathers, lest I come and smite the land and utterly destroy it.
The “Day” is coming. It is a day both great and feared. That “Day” is the Day of Yahweh, “the Day of the Lord,” when God 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 and dust. (2) Those who fear the name of the Lord will receive healing in righteousness. When the Day of the Lord comes, where do you stand?
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 the oven, and all of the insolent ones and all of those who do wickedness will be stubble, and the coming day will set them ablaze, says Yahweh of hosts, which will not leave to them root and branches.” God’s judgment is total. The unbeliever will suffer the fiery wrath and condemnation of God. On the other hand, “The sun of righteousness will rise for you who fear my name and healing is in its wings and you will go out and you will leap about like calves set free from a fattening stall.” For the unbeliever who has been 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, where do you stand?
Malachi commands the people, “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 (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 delights 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 identified by our sinful nature and our sins as “arrogant,” counting ourselves above the Law, outside of 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’s judgment and wrath on the Day of the Lord. Our sins and transgressions merit for us nothing but eternal destruction.
Of course, God knows this. Because He is holy and just, all who sin must be punished. He cannot let anyone get away with even the smallest breach of His commands. Yet, He tells us, “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). The same God who is holy and just is also merciful and gracious. In order that we might acknowledge our sins and confess them before His throne of grace and mercy, God promised before the great and fearsome 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 be turned to the Lord for healing and salvation in expectation of His coming.
And so the Elijah who was to come, came. You know him as John the Baptist. It was Jesus, the 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 and the forgiveness of sins, a turning of heart and mind away from sin to the Lord’s mercy and grace in the promised Savior. 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).
Through the hearing of God’s Law, we see our sins and failures to keep His commandments as we should. We are told of God’s judgment against our sins. “All the arrogant and evildoers will be stubble.” Thus we are brought to our knees in fear of God’s wrath against us and eternal death. We kneel before the Lord and admit that we are justly condemned for our sins according to His holiness. 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, His Son, Jesus Christ. As the hymnwriter penned, “Nothing in my hand I bring; Simply to Thy cross I cling” (LSB :3).
You see, the Day of the Lord had its beginning at Calvary. There, God the Father poured out the fire of His anger and wrath against our sins upon His appointed substitute—Jesus. The Day came, burning like an oven, when God the Father punished all sin and sinners by subjecting Jesus to His full, blazing anger while Christ suffered condemnation on the cross. Jesus’ poured out His blood as He endured hell itself so that we could live without fear of God’s anger and eternal death in hell. Jesus was our substitute. He died 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 have been taken away. God’s wrath and anger is satisfied. It has been turned away from us and the entire world because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. God is fully pleased with His Son’s saving work on the cross. It is enough; once for all.
Now, because of Jesus’ death for us and His resurrection from the dead, 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 will rise for you who fear my name and healing is in its wings,” Malachi tells us, “and you will go out and you will leap about like calves set free from a fattening stall.” What a picture of the freedom that you and I have by grace through faith in Jesus our Savior. You and I were like calves, put into a fattening stall. There isn’t much room to move around, especially as the calf grows and is fattened. It is restricted in movement which causes the cow to become a prime, fattened piece of meat. How wonderful when the calf is released from that narrow enclosure! What joy at true freedom from not a very bright future!
Christ’s incarnation, birth, life, death, and resurrection have set us free from the “fattening stall” of death and the grave. Our “not very bright future” has been changed into a future with the brightness of the glory of God as our light and life. We have received Jesus’ own righteousness and His forgiveness won for us by His blood. When we do sin, with faith and trust in the healing and freedom that comes from the Father through Jesus as a gift, we confess to Him all our sins and iniquities and joyfully receive His forgiveness. 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. Salvation from sin, death, and hell is ours in Christ. We do not have to fear the coming Day of the Lord.
And that “Day” is coming. But we already know where we stand. We will be rejoicing and celebrating and running around like calves set free from the fattening stall. For on that Day, the Lord Jesus will come again and take us to be with Him in forever in a new creation. There is nothing to fear—your sins are forgiven. There is nothing to fear—Christ’s righteousness covers you. Stand firm in your baptismal faith and look forward to the Day of the Lord with faith and trust because you are free through Jesus, your Savior. Amen.