Text: Malachi 3:1-15
Mark Weathers, the pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Concord, North Carolina was asked to come to a 6th grade class and speak about different world religions when compared to Christianity.
He said, “The first thing I did was make my own ruler. I called it Mark’s Reliable Ruler. Inches were 3/4th the length of the standard inch, I showed the class my reliable ruler and got volunteers to measure various objects. One student used a standard ruler. I used my ruler, and when the measurements didn’t match, I began defending my ruler. The students at first didn’t understand, but as a I continued to hold to my position they got frustrated. One little girl blurted out, “But you can’t do that! It’s not the right ruler.” That’s when I knew they got it. When we make up our own standard and leave the standard God has established, all hell breaks loose.” 
And that’s exactly what’s happening in Malachi. They have abandoned the standard of worship and the standard of living that God has set for their lives, and now they’re completely dumbfounded as to why things are going badly for them.
“You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “All who do evil are good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” – Malachi 2:17, NRSV
As we said last week, they took the order that God established for their lives and they turned into a chaos of their own making, which is always what happens when we do the opposite of what God says. When we rebel against God we don’t establish a new order, instead we just create chaos. We don’t have the capacity within ourselves to create order, only God can do that.
This is what the priests did, and then when things went badly, they blamed God by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”
God is fairly logical. In the Pentateuch, God lays out His laws and commands and says, “Alright, this your order for living. If you do these things and follow these laws that I’ve set you’ll have life and blessing, but if you don’t, you’ll have death and curse.” And so, they break God’s laws and then point the finger at God.
- It’s like that meme going around on the Internet of the guy riding the bike, and while he’s riding his bike he puts a stick in the spoke of his bike, and then when he wrecks and hurts himself, he grabs his knee and starts cursing at the sky. This is what the priests have done. They’ve hurt themselves by dishonoring God.
And so God promises to send His messenger to prepare the way for Him. He’s coming and He’s going to purify the sons of Levi so that they will proper offerings.
So, as we walk through the text we have three ideas. We’re going to talk about Trusting in Christ’s Coming, Trusting in His Refining Power, and Trusting in God’s Promise for Blessing.
- And really all three of these ideas are operations of God’s grace toward us.
- He comes to us as the messenger of a covenant we don’t deserve to partake in.
- He refines us like silver even though we deserve to be consumed along with our sin and our dross,
- and God blesses us when we tithe in spite of the fact that we’ve robbed Him. He doesn’t continue beating us up for our robbery in the past.
Trusting in His Coming (v. 1-2)
“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap;” – Malachi 1:1-2, NRSV
If we look at verses 1 and 2 we see that there’s two messengers spoken of. There is “my messenger” and then there is “the messenger of the covenant.”
Now, here’s where we’re supposed to ask, “Whose the messenger and why is this important?” The first messenger, the forerunner we’ll call him, is a messenger of grace. Because he’s the one saying, “Listen, the king is coming so you should get ready.” This was common in these times. When a king would come, he would often send a messenger or two ahead to ready the people and prepare for the coming of the king.
So, who is the first messenger figure?
- For the primary audience, it’s Malachi. His name even means, “My messenger” or “God’s Messenger.” He’s God’s mailman. He doesn’t write the mail, he only delivers it.
- 400 years after Malachi, the messenger was John the Baptist. He was the forerunner of Christ. John the Baptist’s message was plain and simple.
- “In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
– Matthew 3:1-2, NRSV
- This wasn’t a call to repent in light of kingdom that will take 2,000+ years to get here this was a call to repent in light of a kingdom that you can reach out and touch.
- Jesus said, “if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom has come upon you.” (Luke 11:20) Then, earlier in Luke 10, Jesus says, “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (Luke 10:8-9)
- And so, Malachi’s message is for us, John the Baptist’s message is for us, and especially Jesus’ message is for us because it’s essentially all the same. “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, it’s within your grasp.” If you repent you’ll be refined and you’ll come forth as gold, but you don’t repent, if you remain stubborn and hard-hearted, you’ll be consumed, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
- And so today, in our day, we’re the messengers, and we’re proclaiming the coming of Christ who is the messenger of the covenant so that people can repent and in their repentance, they make themselves ready for His second coming.
- The goal of repentance is change. A change mind, a change of heart that leads to a change of attitude and behavior.
Trusting in His Refining Power (v. 3-6)
Back in verse 2, the question is asked, “Who can endure the day of His coming and who can stand when He appears?” And verses 3-6 stand as explanation of what will happen when He comes, but verse 2 is a rhetorical question because no one will be able to stand when He appears. And if you think you stand, beware lest you fall. That’s the warning the Apostle Paul would give in 1 Corinthians 10.
Let me be clear, that’s not to say that you can’t have assurance or certainty of your salvation, but your assurance and certainty can’t rest in you or in what you’ve done. It has rest somewhere else, namely on what Christ has done on your behalf. That’s where faith and repentance comes in.
- Once you’ve repented. Once you’ve changed your mind about who God is, and who you are in relation to Him. Once you’ve realized that you’ve been wrong about how you’ve been living, and you start on your journey with Christ, then you’re in Christ, you’re not just with Him, you’re in Him.
- When Moses was on Sinai and He asked to see God’s glory, God revealed His back to Moses and even then Moses had to stand within the cleft of a rock to keep from being consumed when God’s glory passed by God, and so it is on the day of the Lord when He appears we won’t be consumed because our life will be hidden in Christ. (Colossians 3:1-4)
Look at verses 3-6.
“he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. 5Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. 6For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.” – Malachi 3:3-6, NRSV
When we read this we’ve got ask, “What’s the goal?” What’s God’s end game? I think the answer to that question is in end of verse 3 and 4. God desires offerings in righteousness, and then when the priests begin to make offerings in righteousness those offerings will be pleasing to the Lord.
In chapter 1, we talked about how the priests were offering their lame, their blind, and their blemished animals to God, and what it all came down to is that their heart wasn’t in the worship. There was nothing wrong with the way God had ordered them to make sacrifices. There was nothing wrong with the traditions that had been passed down to them, it was them, it was their heart.
- I think we get this way sometimes. If people aren’t responding in worship the way we want, then we must think that there’s something wrong with the way we worship. So, we might change the music, we might change the way do church so that we can be more seeker friendly.
- Now, don’t think that it’s just ‘those people over there in that generic mega church down the road’ that does this. We may not be seeker friendly, but we’re in danger of getting in this mindset as well.
- Think about it in these terms… what’s the biggest objection to churches having communion every week? “Well, if you do it every week, then it will lose it’s meaning?” Really? We take up an offering every week and that hasn’t seemed to have lost its meaning.
- So, is it the tradition that’s really the problem or is it us? Of course, I’m just using that as an example. Tradition isn’t always the problem, but we like to point the finger at tradition because it’s easier for us to change external traditions than it is for us to confront internal sin and complacency.
- The reality of the situation is that often we have a sin problem, and we like to say that in baptism the old man was buried, but the truth is that he can swim awfully well for a dead guy.
And so we see that God’s fire does two things: it refines the righteous, but it also consumes the unrighteous.
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. 11Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” – 2 Peter 3:10-13, NRSV
If we’re going by what Peter says here along with what we read in Revelation then we know that when the day of the Lord comes there will be a fiery blaze of God’s glory that overshadows the whole earth, that’s when the world as we know it will be dissolved with heat, and those who rejected the Gospel, who followed the course of this world will experience the second death, an eternity in the lake of fire.
But then what will be left? Are just left with charred remains? No. Peter tells us that after the fire of God consumes and dissolves everything that has been affected by sin, it will leave behind a new heavens and a new earth. For the old heavens and old earth will have passed away.
- It’s both a consuming and refining fire.
And then finally in Malachi 3:6 there’s this statement – “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.” But I want you to notice what the King James says.
“For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”
– Malachi 3:6, KJV
God is saying, “I’ve got a plan for you! You deserve to be consumed. Your sin has earned you death, but instead, I’ve got a plan for you!” That’s grace! That’s free grace! They’ve backslid, and God tells them that He hasn’t changed His mind about them, and the evidence that God hasn’t changed His mind about them is the fact that they’re not consumed.
- The evidence that God hasn’t changed His mind about you is the fact that if you believe on Jesus then you’re no longer bearing the weight of God’s wrath on you!
- I’ve heard people say, “Once you backslide there’s no coming back!” That’s not what Hosea 14:4 says. God speaks through Hosea and says on no uncertain terms, “I will heal their backsliding.” Translated in the ESV it says, “I will heal their apostasy.” God freely and graciously heals His sons and daughters of backsliding and apostasy, and its by God’s graciousness that you are not consumed.
Trusting in His Promise for Blessing (v. 7-12)
“Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, “How shall we return?”
8Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings! 9You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me—the whole nation of you! 10Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts…” – Malachi 3:7-10, NRSV
As I said in our first sermon on Malachi, if you think this is simply about throwing your 10% in the offering plate, then you’re missing the big picture.
The goal behind tithes and offerings is so that there may be food in the storehouse for others to benefit from. God doesn’t need your money, He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He doesn’t need your crops. There is nothing that you could give to God that would add to His well-being. So, then why is God wanting us to tithe?
- Giving your tithes and offerings takes the focus off of us, and it’s for that very reason that God says that this is how the priests return to Him. Selfishness is what got them in their condition in the first, and it’s selflessness that will get them out.
In the Old Testament a tithe was a tenth of the produce of the land, consecrated and set apart for special purposes. And, in fact, there were three tithes in the Old Testament.
- The Levites weren’t given land so they weren’t expected to farm so they would take the tithe that was given to them, and then they would tithe to the priests off of that so that the priests could just work in the temple without worrying about whether or not they could provide for their families.
- Then there was another tithe taken for work in the temple.
- And there was a tithe taken at least every three years for the support of the marginalized and the needy in Israel. Ligon Duncan says, “scholars don’t know exactly how to put all these together but it is clear that at least 27% of the produce was mandated by God to be given back to the support of religion and worship in Israel. So the next time you’re tempted to complain about 10% plus offerings, remember that the mandate was a minimum of 27% in the Old Testament.” 
Finally, God says that if they will do this, if they will take the focus off of themselves. He will cause things to turn around for them.
“….see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. 11I will rebuke the locust for you, so that it will not destroy the produce of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not be barren, says the Lord of hosts. 12Then all nations will count you happy, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:10-12, NRSV
If you’ll quit being selfish, if you’ll realize that worship isn’t about you (because that’s what tithing is, tithing is a part of your worship), then God will bless you.
But then we have the response of the priests in verses 13-15.
“You have spoken harsh words against me, says the Lord. Yet you say, “How have we spoken against you?” 14You have said, “It is vain to serve God. What do we profit by keeping his command or by going about as mourners before the Lord of hosts? 15Now we count the arrogant happy; evildoers not only prosper, but when they put God to the test they escape.” – Malachi 3:13-15, NRSV
This is where we have a challenge before us. Are we going to be like the priests and look at the ills of the world around us, and say, “It is vain to serve God” or are we going to walk by faith, and not by sight, and trust that God is refining us and renewing the world around us?
God is in the process of making things right, and calling to account those who have been faithless, and the evidence that one day all things will be made right is the fact God raised His Son from the dead, and has given Him a name that is above every name. (Acts 4:12)
This morning we have to make a choice. Will we serve God by believing that He will provide for us out of the riches of His glory or will we scramble through life trying to keep all of our eggs in one basket trying to provide for ourselves?
Serving God isn’t in vain like these priests said, but serving yourself is.
I’m going to pray for us, and we’ll sing one more hymn. These altars are open. Don’t be afraid to come to the front or kneel at these altars if you need anything from God.
Heavenly Father, I’ve done all I can do. This is Your Word, and it’s Your Spirit’s work to apply it to our hearts and lives. We are convicted of our sins and our hearts are heavy. Let us feel Your love and forgiveness today. Let us know Your kindness and Your mercy. We ask You to take the burden of self-reliance off of us, and let us take up Your yoke and Your burden because Your yoke is easy and Your burden is light. In the name of Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
 “Messages.” Providence Presbyterian Church, http://www.ppcnet.net/messages/.
 “Robbing God.” First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi, 3 Nov. 2002, http://www.fpcjackson.org/resource-library/sermons/robbing-god.