Malachi 4:1-2 (ESV)
The Great Day of the Lord
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.
There is an old expression which says, “The only things certain in life are … death and taxes.” Well, as much as we probably won’t like it, let’s add one more thing to the list of certain thing in life. Let’s add … deadlines.
Deadlines … we all have them. We all have that specific time out there when something must be completed by or there will be consequences. Whether it is an assignment at school, a project at work, a bill which needs to be paid, an item for the church newsletter (which is overdue if you still have something), or an RSVP to a wedding or some other big event … pretty much everything we do has a deadline attached to it.
That word “deadline” is an interesting one. According to Webster’s Dictionary, not only is a deadline the date or time before which something must be done, but it is also defined as a line drawn within or around a prison that a prisoner passes at the risk of being shot. In a very literal sense, the line within or around the prison was an actual dead line.
Over time, the word has taken on a more figurative meaning. I don’t think anyone is in fear of getting shot if they didn’t finish their homework, or complete a project at work, or turn in something for the church newsletter, or for not sending in an RSVP on time. However, … there is a very real and serious deadline which the Bible describes for us this morning. The deadline found in Scripture is one that no one, absolutely no one will be able to avoid. It is a deadline which marks the final day of time. It marks the day when the world as we know it will cease to exist. It marks the day when all people will stand before Jesus for judgment. This deadline is one which we need to be ready for because it’s coming. It’s coming and when it does come, it comes with eternal consequences.
Malachi, an Old Testament prophet, describes for us in the first two verses of our Old Testament lesson this deadline which awaits everyone. But before we get into this deadline, let’s take a look at Malachi. Malachi is one of many Old Testament prophets. Prophets are people who were called directly by God to speak God’s Word to God’s people. Even though there were numerous prophets called to speak God’s Word at different times in history … they all proclaimed relatively the same threefold message.
First, prophets repeated called people to recognize the sinful things they were doing. God’s prophets acted like a mirror. They would use God’s Law to reveal the sins of the people, to reveal what it was that they were doing which was contrary to God’s Word. After the sin was revealed and the people recognized it, they would feel condemned, feel guilty for what they have done. The prophets would then go on to warn them that if they didn’t repent, if they didn’t change their sinful ways, they would rightly and justly receive God’s eternal punishment.
Secondly, God’s prophets pointed God’s people to the promised Messiah. By getting the people to look in the mirror and see that they were acting contrary to God’s Word, the people would realize that they needed help. Recognizing their sin, the people knew that needed to be rescued from the eternal punishment which awaited them. In other words, through the prophet’s preaching and teaching, the prophet would direct the people to the promised Messiah who would come and rescue them from the punishment of sin.
The third thing prophet’s proclaimed about was the end of the world. They would tell the people about the day of the LORD, the day when God will come and execute judgment upon the fallen creation. On that day, God determines if a person will spend eternity with Him or will they be eternally separated from Him. When you stop to think about it … all three of these things which the prophets proclaim go hand in hand with one another. When you recognize your sin, you should realize that you are not ready to stand before God on Judgment Day. And because you are not ready to stand before God on Judgment Day, you realize how badly you need that promised Savior, that one person who will rescue you from the punishment that you deserve to face from God on Judgment Day. Quite fittingly, this is what you find Malachi writing about in these closing verses of the last chapter of the last book of the Old Testament. So let’s look at the first two verses of our Old Testament lesson this morning where the LORD Almighty describes the approaching deadline.
The LORD Almighty says, “Surely the day is coming” (Malachi 4:1). There is no beating around the bush here. There is no denying it, a singular event is coming. But what is this event going to be like, you ask. Well the Lord says that, “it will burn like a furnace” (4:1). For those of you who are always cold, this isn’t something for you to get excited about. This description of burning like a furnace is really like an inferno which completely consumes everything and everyone which stands in its path. If you want a visual of this, think of the massive forest fires in California. Anything in the path of those fires is burned and the only thing remaining is complete devastation and destruction.
So who stands in the path of this blazing inferno on that last day? The Lord says this, “All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire” (4:1). Phew, glad I didn’t see my name on that list anywhere. Glad that no one here is arrogant and that no one here has ever done anything evil in their life. Okay, maybe if we look beyond the surface we might have been arrogant a couple of times or done one or two things evil in our life, but you know, there are worse people out there than you and I right?
But did you notice what the verse does not say? It doesn’t say that “the REALLY arrogant” or “The SUPER NOTORIOUSLY BAD people” are the ones who will be burned to a stubble. No, instead it said all the arrogant and every evildoer. There is no degree of arrogance or evil listed in this verse. You are no better than your neighbor who picks up his Sunday paper in his pajamas as you return home from church. You are no better than the person on the news who is arrested for beating their spouse or children nor are you any better than the gang member who murdered or robbed someone. You are no better than that kid in the row next to you who cheated to pass the test you studied hard for and struggled with. The arrogant and the evildoer is not everyone else … the arrogant and evildoer is you and me.
You and I, we rightly deserve to face the consuming fire which is coming on the last day. The punishment of being burned is not just a temporary thing either, it isn’t just a slight slap on the wrist and then go on your merry little way. This consuming fire is an eternal earth scorcher as the Lord says, “Not a root or branch will be left to them” (4:1). Usually after a massive forest fire, new sprouts quickly begin to grow. In the middle of the devastating aftermath, new life and hope begin to poke through the ash. Not here. For those who face the devastating fire … there is no hope or life afterward. The punishment handed down is final, it is eternal. The judgment is a dead line, a point of no return.
As terrifying as this dead line is … it doesn’t have to be. Actually, for you … it’s not! For you, this last deadline is changing. It isn’t a day of death and destruction but instead a day of life and longevity. The Lord this morning says to you, “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall” (4:2). From total annihilation on the last day to frolicking around like a well-fed calf, now that’s a switch. And it is a switch which you receive because you know the name of the Lord. This is the powerful and awesome name that the apostle Peter, quoting from a different Old Testament prophet named Joel says, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:32/Acts 2:21). Paul states in Philippians two “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:10-11). The name of the Lord Jesus announces rescue from the eternal punishment that all sinners, sinners like you and me, deserve.
But how? There has to be some mistake because I’ve seen my arrogance and I’ve seen the evil that I have done even though I try not to.
No, there’s no mistake. There’s no mistake because you bask in what the LORD calls, “the sun of righteousness” (Malachi 4:2). Think about the rays of the sun which you might occasionally see in the upcoming months. The rays emanate from the sun and you soak up the sun’s warmth. You are recipients of what the sun produces. The same thing applies with God. Because you revere the name of Jesus, because of the sacrificial acts of Jesus, the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus … forgiveness is given to you. The disciple John says that “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Out of Jesus’ amazing love, you have been cleansed so that when the deadline of Jesus’ return comes due … you can stand before Jesus and not face the consuming fire of his judgment because he already faced it for you on the cross.
Whenever that last day comes, when you and I stand with all people of all time before Jesus as our judge, we can stand confidently. We can stand confidently for Jesus, “the sun of righteousness,” has changed this deadline into our lifeline. He has changed it to a day on which our Savior will give to us the fullness of the life he came to win for us. What a day that is to look forward too! Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.