Which Way Will We Go? // Malachi 3:16-4:6

MALACHI 4

Text: Malachi 3:16-4:6

Introduction

As I was reading over the text in preparation for this message, the words of Jason Upton’s song, “The King’s Way” kept coming to my mind:

“There is a road/That leads to peace that leads to life/But few will follow
We’re at the crossroad/Which way will we go”

This is where the title for this morning’s sermon comes from, and then the chorus says this:

“There is not today a more holy way/Than the steps that lead me to the cross
Where my will can’t be the priority/And these crowns I’ve gained I count as loss
When I hear the Spirit say/That this is the true King’s way”

As we come to the close of Malachi, God gives us another sign of grace by giving us an opportunity to aim for a higher standard of living. The priests have broken God’s commands, they have brought him blemished offerings, they have robbed and stolen from Him. Then finally God tells us in our passage the reward for the righteous and wrath for the wicked, but God doesn’t leave us there. He says, remember the law of Moses, and then he says, “I will send Elijah and he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”

So God says, “Here’s what the end is going to look like, but before it all comes to a head, I’m going to send you a messenger and he’s going to preach repentance so that you’ll have an opportunity to repent.”

With that being said, we’re going to look at the text under three headings: the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, the reward for the righteous and the wicked, and then the invitation from Malachi to remember the law.

The Distinction (3:16-18)

“Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name. 17“They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them
as a man spares his own son who serves him.” 18Then you shall again discern
between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.” – Malachi 3:16-18, NKJV

As I read this text, the main idea that I see here is verse 18. God wants there to be division between the righteous and the wicked. Is it because God Himself can’t tell the difference? No, He intimately knows those who are His and those who are not.

According to Isaiah 49:16, God has His people inscribed on the palms of His hands. God is intimately aware of who His people are. So, it’s not for God’s knowledge that there needs to be a difference, it’s for the world’s.

  • We are witnesses to the world of the love and the holiness of God, and when we are selfish like these priests have been it blurs the lines.

  • Think about all the things they’ve done: they dishonored God with their offerings by bringing him lame and blemished offerings that they wouldn’t even serve to their governor, they’ve despised God’s name, they’ve broken covenant with each other, and they’ve robbed from God.

  • As I said last week, it was selfishness that got them into this mess and it will be selflessness that gets them out.

Up to this point, the line between the righteous and the wicked have been blurred, but now that God is acting in judgement, and calling His people to repentance, we will be able to see which is which.

  • When we don’t live consistent with our calling as Christians, when we don’t live consistent with our baptism then we blur the lines, and we destroy the distinction that the world needs to see so that they can see that there’s a difference between the people of God, and everybody else.

So, What’s the standard to tell between the righteous and the wicked. Go back to Malachi 3:5. As you’re looking back to that verse I want you to think about this: every time you see a negative command like a “you shall not do x” then there’s always a positive inverse. For example, when the Apostle Paul says “Let him who stole steal no more” he follows it up with the positive inverse which is, “instead let him work so that he has what he needs.” (Ephesians 4:28)

So, as we look at Malachi 3:5, we’re going to think about the positive inverse of these things:

“And I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against sorcerers,
against adulterers, against perjurers, against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, and against those who turn away an alien— because they do not fear Me,” says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:5, NKJV

Sorcerers – We have this image of what an actual sorcerer might look like. Someone dressed in all black, maybe wearing a funny hat, maybe he’s got a wand or something… but after all what’s a sorcerer? It’s someone that believes they can have a source of power outside of God.

  • To us, power is purpose. It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning. So, where does your purpose come from? Rick Warren wrote a book called, “The Purpose-Driven Life” and then he wrote another one called, “What on Earth Am I Here For?” I haven’t read either one of them. I’ve heard good reviews and I’ve heard bad reviews so I don’t know, but even with just those titles to those books Warren was on to something.

  • There’s something that drives and empowers everyone, and your drive, your purpose, and your power are not derived from your identity in Christ, then you’re not better than a sorcerer because you’re trying to seek fulfillment outside of God, and it will never work.

Adulterers – On the surface, I’m confident that no one here would fall into that category, but Jesus said that if you look upon a woman with lust in your heart, you’ve already committed adultery. That brings it close to home now doesn’t it?

Why is God bringing judgement on adulterers? It’s because they’re not content with the circumstances that God has placed them in. God has given them a wife, and a family because, as Malachi 2:15 says, God desires godly offspring, and yet, when someone goes out and neglects their covenant vows they show their discontent with the good things that God has given them, and it’s not just their discontent with those things either, but they also show their discontent with God.

  • Ultimately, that’s why we sin. Regardless of any sin we commit, big or small, sin of omission or sin or commission, we sin because we’re not content with the boundaries that God has set for our lives and we think we’ll be free if we escape those boundaries, but really we end up enslaving ourselves.

Purgerors – These are people who don’t value truth. So ask yourself, “Do I prefer the truth over lies.” Last Sunday night we watched a video where Ray Comfort talked to random people on the street in an effort to evangelize to them, and he asked several of them, “Have you ever told a lie?” and the majority of them had said that they had. I mentioned earlier that if you’re a believer, and you live as if you’re not, then you’re living a lie.

  • In Psalm 51:6, David acknowledges that God desires “truth in the inward parts.” In 2 Thessalonians 2:10, the Apostle Paul speaks against those who do not love the truth so the positive inverse is that we should love the truth.

  • As Christians we should love the truth and value what is true even if it’s hard for us to accept. Truth is real, truth is tangible. You can hold on to what is true, but lies vanish and they disappear.

Then finally, notice the last group of people that Malachi 3:5 addresses: “those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, and against those who turn away an alien— because they do not fear Me,” says the Lord of hosts.”

There’s four groups of people mentioned, the widows, the orphans, the foreigners, the workers.

Basically, this comes down to how you treat people who are not as privileged as you are. Most of us are working class citizens and we like the idea of helping widows and orphans, but what about foreigners?

  • Do you see people who come over here from other countries made in the image of God or do you see them as some insect that needs to be exterminated?

“How I treat a brother or a sister from day to day, how I react to the sin scared wino in the street, how I respond to the interruptions of people I dislike, how I deal with normal people in their normal confusion on a normal day may be a better indication of my reverence for life than the anti-abortion sticker on the bumper of my car.” – Brennan Manning

Think about the logic of the Apostle James. In James 1:27, he says that pure and true religion is to care for widows and orphans, and then he devotes the first part of chapter 2 to not mistreating those who are poorer in your community, and then he defends the idea that faith without works is dead.

So, what are the works that prove that your faith isn’t dead? Is little pinty-anty things like not cursing if you hit your hand with a hammer or is it feeding someone who is hungry? Is it not smoking or is allowing someone who is hard of hearing to have your seat on the front row?

The logic of James is this: if your faith is legitimate, then it will be expressed in how you treat people who also share the image of God.

  • Your faith isn’t determined by what party you vote for, but rather by how much patience you have for the elderly man in front of you at the gas station who has to have the cashier fill out his check for his gas because he can’t read.

That’s where the distinction lies between the righteous and the wicked, and when we faith to live out our faith then blur the lines.

The Reward (4:1-3)

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” says the Lord of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch. 2But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves. 3You shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this,” says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 4:1-3, NKJV

Society tries to tell us that it’s not politically correct to label people or categorize them, but the reality of the situation is that they’re already labeled or categorized by God based on whether or not they’ve repented and believed the Gospel.

There are those fear God and revere His name, but then there are those who don’t. There is no middle or neutral ground.

When Jesus was hanging on the cross, bearing the sins of the world upon Himself, He Himself hung there at the perfect spotless lamb of God who had become sin, He had become shame, He had become guilt, and in that moment He stood in the divide between those honor and serve God, and those who do not, and this was represented perfectly by the fact that on one side a man who had nothing to offer yet all he asked was that Jesus remember Him when He came into His kingdom, and yet on the other side was man who wanted Jesus to just shut up.

And so, Jesus being very God of very God, as one confession said; Jesus being God incarnate, taking the sins of the world on Himself has the right to cast judgement on those, like the one thief wanted Him to just shut up.

The Reward for the Repentant is God remembers them. The penitent thief asked that Christ remember Him when He came into His kingdom, and we just read in Malachi 3:16-17 that God remembers those who fear Him and revere His name. This very last act of His life was one of fear and reverence for Christ as the Living God, and Jesus remembered Him because He promised, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” And so on that day when God makes up His jewels, the thief will be there, but will we?

Another reward for the repentant is that they will be the ones that go forth and prosper as stall-fed calves, and they will be the ones who inherit the earth, and according to our passage, “trample the wicked.”

I think one commentator explained this beautifully when he talked about the picture that’s being painted in Malachi 4:1-3.

“God’s action in destroying the wicked in the day of judgment is pictured in the illustration of a farmer burning off his field after he has harvested his grain. The righteous are likened to the farmer’s calves, which were previously tied up in the dark stalls but are now set free. They burst forth to go leaping and skipping over the recently burnt-off fields. As the sun shines down upon them it brings healing and vigour into their lives of newfound joy and freedom (4:1-3).”[1]

This is an eschatological picture. This is what life will look like when Jesus comes back and makes all things right, and completely unravels all the evil and wickedness in the world.

The Reward for the Rebellious is that they will be the ones who will be trampled on. They will be the ones who will become ash and stubble.

There is coming a day where God will separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff, and that’s when the real distinction will be made, and it’s up to God to make that kind of distinction, not us. We’re too biased and subjective to make those kinds of decisions. God’s judgement is always fair and judicial. Ours isn’t.

The Invitation (4:4-6)

But, here’s the good news, like any good preacher Malachi doesn’t just leave us with judgement. He presents us with a solution to the problem. The problem is that our sin and rebellion have separated us from God, but what’s the solution?

“Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. 5Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 6And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.” – Malachi 4:4-6, NKJV

In this last group of verses beginning at verse 4, Malachi says, “remember the law of Moses.”

  • This is where it’s important to understand that Christ didn’t come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. If Christ did away with the law, then we can just ignore this part of Scripture and go on with our lives.

  • Since Christ fulfills the law, then Malachi is actually pointing us to Christ.

“But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

37Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:34-40, NKJV

Telling us to remember the law points us to Christ as the Lawgiver, and to the summary of every law that was ever given – love God, and love your neighbor.

This is where the priests in Malachi failed. They failed to love God by dishonoring Him, showing contempt for His table, and profaning His name, then they failed to love each other by breaking covenant with one another, lying to each other, and divorcing their wives for pagan women.

So, when we remember the law we’re not going back to the judicial laws or the ceremonial laws, we’re remembering that we have a responsibility to love God, and love each other. And when we actually love God, and love each other rightly, we’re doing what the priests were not doing.

The next thing God says is in verse 5 – “I will send you Elijah the Prophet.”

What does Elijah do? He proclaims the word of God. Now, we know in the New Testament that this was fulfilled with the coming of John the Baptist.

  • Elijah and John the Baptist both stood before political leaders and held them accountable to God’s moral law.

  • Both of them were forerunners: Elijah was the forerunner of Elisha, John the Baptist is the Forerunner of Christ.

  • Both of them were discouraged: Elijah wanted to die when Jezebel came up against him. John the Baptist was in prison and questioned whether or not Jesus was really the Messiah or if he should look for another.

  • In discouragement both were encouraged: God sent an angel to Elijah to feed him and encourage him. Jesus said there was none born of woman greater than John the Baptist.

The similarities could go on, but if we’re reading this last part of Malachi, what’s the practical meaning for us, now in the 21st century?

Elijah represents the word of God proclaimed and applied. And according to this prophecy in verse 6, “he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, the hearts of children to their fathers.”

When the word of God is rightly applied to someone’s life it not only heals them internally and spiritually, but that internal healing manifests itself in restored relationships. When you see that God’s love for you is personal and that He is willing to forgive Your sin that you can be in relationship with Him, then that should motivate us to forgive the sins of others.

  • God doesn’t just ignore our wounds, He addresses them with the healing power of His word. That’s why Psalm 107:20 speaks of God acting on behalf of the children of Israel and it says, “He sent forth His word and healed them.”

Have you ever poured alcohol into a wound? You know how badly it stings? It stings because it’s working. Two illustrations come to mind:

  1. My stepdad is gone to be with Jesus now, but years ago I remember him telling me about living in Iowa and they would get 2 to 3 feet of snow and all the kids would get together and go sledding. Well, he gets on this sled that they had just threw together and made out of some old scrap metal, and as he going down hill picks up speed and he sees that he’s about to go into a fence, but he couldn’t turn it in time, and to make matters worse, the sled had hit a rock that was covered up by the snow so the sled hits the rock, and it threw him into this barbed wire fence.

    He’s got a few cuts and scrapes, so he thought he was okay until he looked down and noticed that a hunk of flesh had about 7 inches long had been ripped from his calf. The kids put him on the sled because he couldn’t walk, and they pulled back to his house.

    The nearest doctor was 20 miles away in town and there was no way they could get to the hospital or that a doctor could get to them in that snow so his dad did the only thing he knew to do, he gave him rag to bite, and said, “Boy, I’m not gonna lie to you, this is gonna hurt.” and then he pulls out a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey and poured it in that gash.

    My stepdad said that it was worst pain he ever felt in his life, but he knew that if he didn’t go through it, then he probably would’ve gotten an infection and died.

  2. Good Will Hunting. It’s about a kid that’s been abused and Robin Williams is playing as his therapist, and as they’re speaking about all his relationships that have gone wrong, and how his dad abused him, his therapist says, “It’s not your fault,” and first he responds cooly and collectively, but his therapist keeps saying it over and over again, “It’s not your fault, it’s not your fault.”

    Finally, the kid breaks down and starts balling because the wound was opened up and someone finally applied some medicine to where it really hurt.

If you’ve taken nothing else from Malachi, I want you to understand this: God always pours His word directly into your wounds for the purpose of healing you, even if those wounds are self-inflicted. That’s why God says in Hosea 14:4, “I will heal their backsliding.”

I’m going to pray for us this morning, and if you need healing, God is waiting to heal you. It doesn’t matter if the wound is physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. God is in the business putting broken people back together.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, Your Word is a lamp to our feet, and a light to our path, it shows us where we are, and where we’re going. Your Word is sharper than any two edged dividing asunder between the marrow and the bone and even the soul and the spirit. Father, this morning I ask that You take Your Word and heal us with it. Apply the medicine where it hurts, and let us leave this place changed by Your love, Your goodness, and Your mercy. In the name of Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.


[1] Flemming, Donald C. “Commentary on Malachi 4:4”. “Bridgeway Bible Commentary”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/malachi-4.html. 2005.