SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSONS
Commentary by Walter Albritton
August 26, 2007
Malachi Offers Us a Ray of Hope for the Judgment Day
Key Verse: See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple….But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? – Malachi 3:1-2
Most of us have sometimes dared to say, “If I were God I would do thus and so.” Usually such a pronouncement is about a problem we think God should fix. For example, I wonder why God does not allow lightning to strike the sexual perverts who molest and kill innocent children.
Such futile musing is not new. Since Adam and Eve people have felt they could run the world more effectively than God. So it was in the days of the prophet Malachi who served God about 500 years before Christ. Malachi’s fellow Israelites were even so cynical as to conclude that since evildoers were prospering, God must be pleased with them. They complained that there was no justice in the world.
Malachi, the prophet about whom almost nothing is known, responded to the complainers with a stern warning. God, Malachi said, is weary of “your words.” The prophet realized that God was tired of listening to his people complain and presume to know more about running the world that he did.
Then Malachi proceeded to tell the Israelites that their God did have a plan and in due time he would come – suddenly – and judge the world. Evildoers and the unfaithful will be burned up like stubble in the fire of an oven. Yet there is hope, Malachi insisted. When the Lord of hosts comes he will purify the faithful so that their offerings will be acceptable. Their names will be written in the “book of remembrance.”
While the entire Old Testament points toward the coming of the Messiah, it is Malachi who hears God saying, “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me (3:1). Five hundred years later the Gospels agree that John the Baptist is the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy (as well as Isaiah’s similar prophecy – 40:3-5).
Indeed John the Baptist assumes the role of this messenger when he declares, "I baptize you with water but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16).
When Malachi speaks of the final judgment of the world, he does not set a date. He says, in keeping with other biblical writers, that the day is coming when God will judge the world. Later the apostle Paul will say, in light of the coming of Christ, that one day “we shall all stand before God’s judgment seat (Romans 14:10).
Malachi poses a disturbing question regarding the judgment: “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? The answer seems obvious: “No one, Lord, no one; certainly not me.”
I have been a baptized believer for more than 65 years, but I shudder to think about being examined by the God who, before “a word is on my tongue,” knows it completely (Psalm 139:4)! Pure and holy are not words that describe me, yet I know God expects me to “be holy as he is holy.” Even in my own sight I am embarrassed by my own unholiness. The older I get, the more I ponder with regret the mountain of things I should have done but neglected to do to honor my Lord. When I consider the thoughts of my heart I understand why Paul called himself “the chief of sinners.”
Malachi does offer me a ray of hope. He explains that when God comes in judgment, he will refine us, or purify us, like gold and silver is purified. The “dross” or impurities will be removed. He will use his own kind of divine soap to cleanse the stains of wrongdoing from our lives. Later the New Testament will explain that it is the blood of Jesus that cleanses us and makes us white as snow. That is why, in the face of our sins, we can sing with joy:
What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
While I cannot purify or cleanse myself from sin, I can repent of my sins. Then God in his mercy can “take away” my sins. John the Baptist saw this shining truth when he looked at Jesus and said, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Here is a profound insight. Forgiveness means to “take away.” We see this first in Leviticus 16:20-22 where on the Day of Atonement the scapegoat was released into the wilderness after the high priest had placed on the goat’s head all the sins of the people. Their sins were “taken away” by the goat (known originally as the “escape goat” because it was allowed to escape into the wilderness).
Later the New Testament teaches us that the sacrifice of animals is no longer necessary. Jesus is the Lamb of God “slain from the foundation of the world.” The blood of the sacrificed goat symbolized the blood of Jesus shed on the cross for our sins.
In his crucifixion Jesus took our sins “away” from us, bearing them on the cross. As Peter says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). Praise God the Father! When he forgives our sins, he takes them away, making us literally free of them. David’s affirmation now takes on new meaning: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). Glory to God! The redeemed no longer need to wallow in their sins, plagued by paralyzing remorse over them. When we have been washed by the blood, our sins are gone! Hallelujah!
We dare not conclude our study of Malachi without at least a brief reference to the prophet’s famous comment about the “T” word, tithing. He puts this teaching down where the goats can get it. He asks, “Will a man rob God?” Yes, he says, answering his own question; the Israelites were robbing God “in tithes and offerings.” As someone has said, when Malachi talks about tithing, he touches the most sensitive nerve in the human body – the nerve that runs to the pocketbook!
Malachi does not mince words. By neglecting to give a tithe (ten per cent of their income) to the Lord, they had put themselves “under a curse.” So he says if you want God’s blessing instead of a curse, you must stop robbing God and start bringing “the whole tithe” into the storehouse of God.
Then there is this extraordinary invitation from God: “Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it” (3:10).
Some of us have discovered that by robbing God of the tithe of our income, we were also robbing ourselves of the blessings he has promised to pour out upon us. I must admit that was true of me for some years. I felt I could not afford to tithe; we needed the money for diapers and baby food. But finally my wife and I realized we could not afford not to tithe, so we began giving the tithe to the storehouse (the church). Since then God has blessed us beyond our wildest dreams. He opened the floodgates of heaven for us and we can testify that God keeps his promises!
Thank God for all the prophets – but especially Brother Malachi!