The final book of the Old Testament shows us how history will end—with questions for, objections to, and quarrels with God. But as it was in Malachi’s day, God will get the final say. Topics explored in this sermon include heaven and hell, the Bible, repentance, and men.
4:1 “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. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.
4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.
5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
God always gets the last word. God alone gets the last word. The way that the Old Testament ends is the way that history ends and in the Book of Malachi, which is the last book of the Old Testament, they have had a long list of questions for and objections to God.
Here’s a few of them, “How have you loved us? How have we despised your name? How have we polluted you? How have we wearied him? Where is the God of justice? How have we robbed you? How have we spoken against you?” Lots of questions for God, lots of conversations with God, lots of accusations and lots of arguments toward God. And the book ends, Malachi ends, the Old Testament ends. God’s final word for four hundred years is that God gets the last word. God gets the final say.
This shows us how history will end. In the meantime, we will live in the midst of a culture that has objections to and quarrels with God, but in the end, God always gets the last word. God gets the final say. And if you’d find this place in your Bibles, we could study it together.
It’s Malachi 4:1–6. We’re not gonna hear God’s final word for four hundred years. This is the closing of the Old Testament, anticipating the coming of Jesus. God’s got four things on his mind, heaven and hell, the Bible, repentance and men. So I’m pretty fired up. These are my four favorite things that are not foods. I’m really excited to talk about these things: heaven and hell, the Bible, repentance of sin and men.
That’s God’s final word to all of human history. It’s God speaking to us as well in our own day. So he starts by talking about heaven and hell. Malachi 4:1–3, “For behold”—and that’s God’s way of getting our attention so, hey, pay attention—“the day is coming, burning like an oven”—you’re gonna hear this language of hell—“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. But for you who fear my name”—so here’s another category of people—“But for you who fear my name”—these are God’s people—“the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.”
He’s speaking here about the day, the Day of the Lord. This is one of the big themes of the prophets in the Old Testament. They’re leaning forward into something called the Day of the Lord, and the Day of the Lord is a succession of days and events through history that all culminate in the Last Day. The Last Day is the Day of Judgment.
It’s ultimately regarding the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the judgment of all people into their eternal fate, reward in God’s presence or punishment in the presence of Jesus. Everyone will give an account to the Lord Jesus Christ. Everyone will bow their head and bend their knee to the Lord Jesus Christ, some for eternal salvation, others for eternal damnation, and that’s what the Old Testament means speaking of the Day of the Lord. And so the Day of the Lord is the best day for the believer and the worst day for the unbeliever. It’s two sides of the same proverbial coin.
If you are here and you are not a Christian, I need you to know this: you are going to hell. You’re going to hell. You might say, “That’s not a very loving thing to say.” Here’s the good news: you don’t have to go to hell. The bad news is right now if you don’t know the Lord Jesus Christ, if you’ve not turned from sin and trusted in him, your eternal fate is now destined for hell, the conscious, painful torments of hell.
The reason that God is so emphatic about this throughout Scripture but particularly here in Malachi is, we get so preoccupied with the present that we forget to anticipate the eternal. God here is gonna have his final word for four hundred years, and what he wants people to know is that sin won’t continue forever, that life as we know it doesn’t continue forever, that there’s a day coming when everything changes, and life as we know it comes to an end, and the eternal life that is set before us comes—it comes for us. So he likens hell to a fire, to burning. He using this language, “Burning like an oven and also ablaze.” He’s talking here about conscious torment.
Now, some of you will say, “Well, this is the God of the Old Testament, and God of the Old Testament is pretty intense. Then Jesus comes, Jesus is really sweet, really nice.” Jesus talks of hell more than anyone else in the whole Bible. More than anyone in the whole Bible, Jesus talks about hell and he uses this same language, burning like an oven, ablaze, fiery flame, painful torment. Jesus uses this same language to capture our imaginations and to create a sense of urgency in us that we want to avoid that kind of eternal punishment that awaits us if we do not come to know him.
Some will use this language to speak of something called annihilationism, and that is that after you die, you cease to exist, that your suffering goes for a while, and then it comes to an end. Well, the burning that is spoken of here is not like the burning that you and I would experience. If you and I put a log on a fire, we put a fire in our hearth, eventually it burns out.
The burning in hell is not like that. The burning in hell is a supernatural burning. It’s something that is inexplicable because it’s something that’s eternal. So speaking of this same thing at the end of Isaiah, it’s interesting that Malachi closes by talking about hell, and Isaiah closes talking about hell because God always wants us to be thinking about the eternal and whether or not we’re going to be with him or against him. But Isaiah 66:24 says it this way: “Their fire shall not quenched.” The fires of hell never go out. The burning and the suffering—it is eternal, it is unyielding, it is unending.
Now, we live in a day when I’m not supposed to say that, but because I love you, I have to say that. And I want to warn you to consider your eternal fate, whether or not you have turned from sin and trusted in Jesus or if you were destined for that kind of eternity. Because we love you, we don’t want that for you.
But you need to know this: no one is getting away with anything. He says that they will burn like stubble. It’s almost like all of human history is getting stacked up like cordwood for an eternal burning.
I was thinking about this recently. I was out on my woodpile swinging my ax because my son Gideon and I love to make fires in the hearth during the course of the winter. It warms up the house. We love to hang out there together. And as I’m chopping wood and stacking it with my son, I thought, this is an interesting metaphor that the Bible uses for humanity, that people who are sinning are not getting away with anything.
They feel like they are—“I’m not on fire. I’m not burning. Nothing’s happening to me. I’m getting away with it.” No, you’re not. You’re being stacked up like cordwood with your mom, your dad, your brother, your sister, your aunt, your uncle, your cousin, your boyfriend, and your girlfriend—all getting stacked up like cordwood, getting away with nothing, just waiting for the day when God’s patience comes to an end. He’s got a long wick, but it doesn’t endure forever. There’s a day when his patience comes to an end. There’s a day when he sets humanity on fire for sinning against him and rebelling against him, and the time between today and that time is a season of patience.
Here’s the truth: we don’t know how long that season is. So I would encourage you with a sense of urgency to consider your own fate. We live in a day when you’re not supposed to hear that. We’re to say that you’re basically good. All religions are basically the same and the only thing you need to do to go to heaven is die.
Then what we say is things like “Well, we know they’re in a better place because they died.” It takes more than your death to go to a better place. It takes the death of Jesus in your place to go to a better place. So he starts with hell. Does he have your attention? He should. And then he talks about heaven.
See, for the non-Christian, this life is as close to heaven as they ever get. For the Christian, this is as close to hell as we ever get. Upon dying, it gets worse for the non-Christian. It gets better for the Christian. So he not only speaks of hell, he also speaks of heaven, and what I find curious is this, most Americans don’t believe in hell, but they do believe in heaven. We don’t want to think that there will be judgment, but we do want to think that there will be mercy.
Well, there is judgment from Jesus Christ and there’s mercy in Jesus Christ, and here as he’s leaning four hundred years into the future regarding the coming of Jesus Christ. He’s talking about whether or not we will eternally be with him in mercy or with him in justice. And I love the language he uses of heaven.
Let me say this: we have done a terrible job as Christians talking about heaven to the degree where it’s not even exciting or interesting. You would never market a vacation destination the way we have marketed heaven. You’d never do it because nobody would ever buy a ticket.
I’ve said it before, but, you know, the picture that most people have is you die and become like a fat baby wearing a diaper, sitting on a cloud with small wings that really aren’t good for any long journey. And, you know, maybe curly hair playing what instrument? A harp. Like, who’s in—like what 13-year-old boy right now is like, “I want to rock the harp, you know, and I want to rock it forever in a diaper”?
I mean you could see why it’s a real hard sales pitch to get men really fired up for this eternal vision. You’re like, “Really? Are you sure it’s not hell I’m wearing a diaper playing a harp? You sure it’s heaven because that sounds like hell to me.” How many of you men you go, “Yeah, it sounds like hell”? Hell to me would be eternal diaper-wearing harp playing me, OK? That’s not the biblical picture of heaven.
And some of you think that heaven is just an eternal ethereal state where our body goes into the ground and our soul goes to be with the Lord. Well, that’s an intermediate state but the eternal state is where the soul comes back into the body, and the body is risen from death. Jesus was risen from death and our bodies will be risen from death like that, and the curse will be lifted. There’ll be a new heaven, new earth, New Jerusalem.
We talk about this and my kids ask me questions like, “Dad, can we go swimming in heaven?” Sure. “Can we throw the ball around in heaven? Can we climb trees in heaven? Can we wrestle in heaven?” Yes, you can do everything in heaven except for sin and experiencing the consequences of sin with things like disease and death, yeah.
Our picture of heaven should be what this earth was intended to be before sin invaded it and corrupted it. We need a bigger grander more biblical understanding of the kingdom of God, the eternal kingdom of God. And he uses two analogies that are, I think, very beautiful sunshine.
Because I live in Seattle, I find this one particularly appealing. This is the time of the year where it’s dark all day, every day for months. You couldn’t tell when the sun came up or when it came down unless you check your phone. That’s the only way you can know when sun up and sun down is because if you look out your window it’s all the same. It’s dark all day. We’re so far north, it’s dark all day. And even if there is a bit of sun, the clouds obscure it. It’s dark. Some who will hear this live in places that are not Seattle, the last shall be first. You’ll live in Seattle in heaven and the first shall be last. And I’ll live in southern California. Until then, I live in Seattle.
I’ll be honest with you, about every February, March, I start getting really depressed. I can’t go outside. It’s always dark. It’s always raining. The days are short. The kids are starting to go nuts. My boys are getting cabin fever, it’s hard. What he says is that heaven will be like the sunshine of a new day. Think after a long, cold, hard, dark winter, you get that first day, the sun comes out. It’s warm. And if you’re living in southern California and hearing this, imagine, OK? You live in a place like this. There’s a reason why people take their vacations in sunny places. There’s a reason why during the winter, people go to places like Phoenix and Orange County, the sunshine. It’s hopeful. It’s life giving. It’s healing. I could still remember many times after a long, cold, hard, dark winter, when you get one exceptional day. It’s warm out. The sun’s out. What I like to do is just go outside and just stand there. “Thank you, Lord.” And I always quote Ecclesiastes which says, “Light is sweet and it pleases the eye to see the sun.”
He says that heaven will be like that and our glorified, resurrected, perfected bodies, it will be like the sunshine of a new day. And if you read Revelation it says that we won’t have the sun, that actually all the light that will emanate through the new creation will be the unveiled glory of Jesus Christ. So we won’t even need the sun because we’ll have the Son of God. I mean it’s mind-bending, it’s breathtaking.
He also says that that day will come with healing, with healing. Doesn’t that sound great? No more doctors. No more hospitals. No more surgeons. No more chemotherapy. No more hospice. No more physical therapy. No more wheelchairs. No more canes. No more walkers. No more prescriptions. It’s almost hard to conceive of that world. Sin brings death. And because Jesus conquers death, he brings life. Healing, healing, spiritual healing, emotional healing, physical healing in totality for all of God’s people forever.
You know, this January it will be a year since Gracie’s dad died. This will be the first Christmas for us without Grandpa Gibb. He loved Jesus. He was a pastor for forty some years. We rejoice that he knew the Lord Jesus and we’ll have a reunion with him. He lived into his eighties but as he got older, his health was waning. I remember when the kids were little, he’d jump in the pool and play ball and swim and go bike riding.
As he got older, he’d watch them do those things but he himself would not do those things. It came down to where he would have a hard time even walking from his car to my son’s baseball games because he would have shortness of breath and be winded. And then the final Christmas as his life energy was winding down, he pretty much sat in the chair, didn’t say or do a lot, and we could tell he was very fatigued and he died shortly thereafter. The Bible says in the kingdom of God there will be healing, no more sickness, no more suffering, no more death.
Then he says that it will be like calves leaping from a stall. Kind of get that picture after a long, cold, hard, winter, springtime comes, an animal is born. It’s young and alive and vibrant and excited, but it’s been pent up in a stall. And finally the stall is open and the animal is allowed to run free, how excited they are.
I didn’t understand this till we got a dog. We did get a dog so. We got a German shepherd, a nice dog. A family got rid of the dog, we got the dog, nice dog. I notice when we’re gone during the day if the dog has to go in a crate or a kennel, we come home, guess what the dog does. The dog still got quite a bit of puppy in her. She freaks out.
First thing I can tell is she stretches. As soon as we start driving up, she starts stretching. I won’t stretch for you because I can’t stretch. This is about as flexible as I am, but the dog really stretches out, and you can just tell the dog’s getting ready to be free. Then the tail starting wagging and as soon as we come up, the dog starts jumping and I won’t jump because I can’t. But the dog starts jumping. We open the door, what does the dog do? Leaps, runs. Last time literally, I’m not even kidding, seventeen circles around me. You know why? The dog was so happy to be free, tail wagging, super excited.
God says that we’ll be like that at the resurrection of the dead. Finally out of the tomb, finally out of the coffin, finally out of the cursed, fallen body. Finally into the state that God intended when he made all things very good before sin made everything very bad. What amazing imagery. It’s the Day of the Lord. Every day that you live between now and then is in preparation for that day.
What will that day be like for you when the Lord Jesus comes back, when he calls you out of his grave as he came out of his grave? Are you going to hell? Are you going to heaven? Are you going to suffer forever or be blessed forever? Will you be like one who is living in a never-ending blazing furnace or like one who is healed with sunshine on their face and joy in their heart and a sweetness in their step?
If you’ve not turned from sin and trusted in Jesus Christ who is God become a man, lived without sin, died on the cross in your place for your sins and rose as your Savior, then you are destined for hell instead of heaven.
It’s interesting because a lot of people don’t even think about these things, particularly young people say things like, “That’s a long ways away; I’ll get to it later.” You do not know when your day of death is coming, and you should not presume upon God’s grace. There should be a sense of urgency but if God is laying out this opportunity, hell or heaven, damnation or salvation, you should turn from sin and trust in Jesus right now and the rest of your days live in light of that day, the great day, the Day of the Lord.
He starts with heaven and hell and then he proceeds to the law and the prophets. Again, this is God’s final word for four hundred years. Malachi 4:4–5, “Remember the law of my service Moses.” OK, we just dealt with this in the Ten Commandments.
That’s what he’s going back to is the writings of Moses, which are the first five books of the Old Testament. The statutes and rules, there’s 614 of them in the first five books of the Old Testament. “I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord.” So here he’s talking about the law, Moses and the prophets, Elijah. The law is Moses and the prophets is typified by Elijah.
So what the law does is the law is God’s Word, and it is God giving us his standard. God is holy, God is righteous, God is good. God writes down, “This is why I made you and this is how you were supposed to live and if you disobey my law, my rules, then you’re in sin.” First John says it this way that the breaking of the law is sin.
So the law sets the standard. We judge ourselves by his standard. At any point that we fall short of his standard, it’s sin. This leads to condemnation. This leads to judgment. This leads to death. What do we do? Well, then the prophets come and they tell us to turn from our sin and trust in the Lord. They tell us that we have disobeyed the Lord, but the Lord is coming as Jesus Christ to save us.
So we should trust in him and give our sin to him so that he will pay the penalty that we should have instead paid and that’ll be God’s mercy and grace and then his justice and his love will kiss at the cross where Jesus dies in our place because Jesus fulfills the law, never sins at all, goes to the cross for all of us lawbreakers so that he might die in our place that we might live with his righteousness.
And so the prophets are always preaching repentance. Turn from sin, trust in Jesus. You’re headed toward hell. You’re living in the path of God’s wrath. So turn around and run to Jesus. That’s the point and the message of the prophets.
He mentions Moses and he mentions Elijah. Elijah’s one of the towering prophetic figures of the Old Testament. He’s an amazing guy. He’s a guy who actually didn’t die. There’s only two guys in the Old Testament who didn’t die, Enoch and Elijah. Elijah preaches publicly. He goes up against the prophets of Baal. He’s actually got a sense of humor. He holds his ground under intense scrutiny and opposition. And unlike most prophets that were killed, he doesn’t die. God sends a limo for him, a chariot, and takes him up to heaven and there goes Elijah. So today Elijah’s apparently in the presence of the Lord. And what God says here at the end of Malachi is, “I’m sending Elijah.”
So it’s gonna be four hundred years, and the next thing God says is, “Wait for Elijah. Wait for Elijah.” So even to this day devout Jewish people when they celebrate certain festivals, they will include Elijah. They’ll go check the door to see if Elijah’s here. It’s part of their routine, they’re still waiting for Elijah. God says, “I’m sending Elijah.” So let’s talk a little bit about Elijah. You want to talk about Elijah? Yeah, we got nothing else to do. You drove all the way here. All right, we’ll talk about Elijah. Elijah’s an amazing guy.
Now, let me say this: how many of you have heard that Elijah was reincarnated in John the Baptizer, John the Baptizer? OK, what happens is it’s promised that Elijah will come. Four hundred years later, John the Baptizer comes and I’ll show you in a minute how there’s connection between Elijah and John the Baptizer and those who believe in reincarnation. We don’t, the Bible doesn’t.
The Bible says in Hebrews 9:27, “It’s appointed once for a man to die then judgment.” You die once and get judged. You don’t die and reincarnate and die and reincarnate. But those who want to try and stuff unbiblical reincarnation teaching in the Bible, their favorite spot to go is Elijah and John the Baptizer.
Let’s unpack that. So four hundred years go by. John the Baptizer shows up, and he’s preaching repentance of sin and preparing the way for the coming of the Lord just like Malachi 3 and 4 promised. So then Jesus says this in Matthew 11:13 and 14, “For all the prophets and the law”—all right, so prophets, that includes Elijah. Law, there’s Moses. We’re back to Malachi 4, “prophesied until John,” that’s John the Baptizer. “And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.”
The promise was made, Jesus is coming but before he comes, look for Elijah. John the Baptizer shows up and then Jesus shows up and everybody’s like, “OK, Jesus is here, but where’s Elijah?” Jesus’ answer is, “Elijah is John.” Was that reincarnation? What is that? You see where they get the concept of reincarnation? John 1:21, the Gospel of John, “And they asked John, “John the Baptizer, what then? Are you Elijah?” He says, “I am not.” Anyone else confused yet?
See, my goal is to make you confused and then resolve it so you feel like it was really worth your time. So how am I doing? Are you confused yet? Jesus says he’s Elijah. They go to John, “Are you Elijah?” He’s like, “I’m not Elijah.” Well, is he Elijah or not Elijah? We’re gonna need more Bible to untangle this knot. Here we go. Luke 1:17, he, John the Baptizer, “will go before him, Jesus, in the spirit and power of”—who? “Elijah. To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.” Right there he’s quoting Malachi, the very text that we’re in today.
So here’s how it worked: Elijah was a prophet filled with the Holy Spirit. He had a successor, a guy named Elisha. You remember what Elisha asked for? “Let me have your spirit.” So Elisha received the Holy Spirit, God the Holy Spirit, and his empowering for life in ministry like Elijah did. So the Holy Spirit worked through Elijah and then he works through Elisha like he worked through Elijah, and then the Holy Spirit shows up and works through John the way he worked through Elijah.
It’s different men, but it’s the same power of the Holy Spirit working through them anointing and appointing them for similar prophetic ministry to preach and to call people to repentance of sin and receiving of Jesus. You get that? So that’s why he says, “In the spirit and power of Elijah.” So Elijah’s one guy, John’s another guy. They’re two different guys, but the Holy Spirit is working through them quite similarly. So ultimately John dies. They behead him.
Here’s what happens, Luke 9:30, Jesus goes up on a mountain, and who shows up? Right, I told you Elijah didn’t die. He went up to heaven. Luke 9:30, “And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah.” What a day that was. Jesus takes a couple disciples up on a mountain. They’re all hanging out. “What are you doing today, Jesus?” “We got a meeting.” “OK, cool, who’s gonna join us?” “Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets.”
So apparently then Elijah comes down from heaven for a little meeting because he didn’t die. He went to heaven, he came down for a little trip, apparently went back up to heaven. Is Elijah coming back? I think he might be. It’s in Revelation 11. I think it’s verse 3 through—got it in my notes here, 14. I won’t read the whole thing, but the story is that at the end of time—see, Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament and prepares us for the coming of Jesus.
Revelation is the last book of the New Testament preparing us for the second coming of Jesus. And what it says in Revelation 11 is that two guys are gonna show up and preach. And it doesn’t tell us it’s Elijah, but it says it’s a guy who can shut the heavens so that it doesn’t rain. There’s only one guy in the whole Bible who’s got that on his resume. “I can make it not rain,” Elijah. He actually did that.
It tells us in James 5:17 that he prayed and it didn’t rain for six months. And when he prayed again, it started raining again. So many commentators think that before Jesus comes a second time, Elijah will actually come.
So before Jesus came the first time, the Holy Spirit empowered John the Baptizer to continue the ministry of Elijah. Elijah has not died yet. It seems to me most likely that before Jesus comes a second time, what we’re waiting for, Elijah’s gonna come back and preach, and then they’re gonna kill him. The reason he hasn’t died yet is it’s not his time to die. It says that he’ll come back and preach and they’re gonna kill him, Revelation 11. Then it says they’re gonna throw a party. It’s gonna be like a holiday, and then he’s gonna rise from the dead, and then the end will come and judgment and justice will come.
But Elijah is typified as one of the great prophets because he preached repentance, even though his life was in danger and he God spared his life. Apparently this guy, perhaps, I don’t want to go out to the end of the limb, but it seems like he loves the Lord enough, according to Revelation 11, that he’s gonna come back again. Right now Elijah’s in heaven.
Kind of like this: think about the most fearless guy on a football team, all right, and he’s on the sidelines next to the coach and he knows his job is to go in and die. “Coach, is it time yet? Is it time yet?” “It’s not time.” “Put me in, coach.” “Not yet.” That’s Elijah. “Hey, the earth is getting darker, is it time for you to come back, Jesus? When it’s time, send me in. I’m gonna go preach, and they’re gonna murder me, and I’m gonna tell them about you.”
Elijah’s a fearless man. The only way you become a fearless man is when you’re filled with the Holy Spirit. This man Elijah is amazing and what God is wanting is for all of his men to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to have courage like Elijah. And it takes a lot of courage to speak out against sin.
Let me say this: this is what the prophets do, and this is what Elijah did, and this is what I think Elijah will be doing in the end: preaching the repentance of sin. You and I, we are to practice repentance. We are to see the sin in our own life and then we are to preach repentance inviting others to repent of their sin. If we preach repentance but don’t practice it, we’re hypocrites. If we don’t preach or practice repentance, we’re heretics. We are to be honest about the sin in our own life and be honest with others about the sin in their life. We are to turn from our sin and to implore others to turn from their sin.
But what happens when we do that is we’re met with the same kind of reaction that Elijah and John experienced. The call to repentance is always met with resistance, OK? The call to repentance is always met with resistance. That’s why most of the prophets died young. That’s why a guy like Elijah had to be taken off the scene of history and then sent again.
When it comes to repentance, we need to repent of our rebellion and our religion. For some of you, the sin that God wants to deal with is rebellion. You’re just living an open, defiant life. You call it tolerance, diversity, pluralism, enlightenment, spirituality, being true to yourself. You’ve got all kinds of bumper sticker justifications, but your real issue is rebellion. You’re not doing what the law of God says. You’re doing what you say you should do. You’ve become a law unto yourself.
In addition, we need to repent of our religion. Religion is where we don’t see our sin, we only see their sin. It’s where we want people to change, but we don’t want to change, where we don’t want to be humble, we want to be proud. We don’t want to be under God’s authority; we want to exercise authority like we’re God telling everyone else what to do and making and enforcing rules that God never made.
When Jesus came, he certainly met resistance from rebellious people, but some of the strongest resistance that he met was from religious people. And the prophets stand up, and they preach against rebellion and religion. To say it in our terms, they preach against the left and the right. Usually what happens is, the left preaches against the right, the right preaches against the left, and the prophet preaches against them both.
What do you think that means for the prophet? They get shot by the left and the right; that’s why rebellious people and religious people came together to murder Jesus. They don’t come together for anything, but they come together to murder Jesus. And Elijah’s a man who preaches repentance and it’s met with resistance.
Today, let me say that the headwind that we’re up against culture that I get into this a little bit in A Call To Resurgence is that today repentance is not a virtue, tolerance is. And in our culture, tolerance is the highest virtue. I’m working on a series and book for next fall, but a research firm was hired, 900,000 phone calls were made, 72,000ish people were spoken to, a sample size of 1,000 people were interviewed. What’s your primary objection to Christianity? This is all research that we’re working on.
They said, “Our primary objection to Christianity is intolerance,” that God’s not OK with everyone, that God’s not OK with everything. The highest virtue in the Bible is not tolerance, but repentance, and the truth is that God starts with tolerance and he works toward repentance. You come to Jesus just as you are and change. You come to Jesus as you are, but you don’t stay as you were.
God is tolerant in that he welcomes us to his Son as we are, but he expects repentance so that we change by his grace, and repentance is always met with resistance. That’s the story of the prophets. That’s the story of Elijah. That’s the story of John the Baptizer. Heaven and hell, the Bible, repentance and God’s final Word for four hundred years is for the men, and he knows that the legacy rises or falls with the men. Will they love the Lord? Will they love their wives? Will they love their kids? Will their raise their kids to marry women who love the Lord? Will they raise their grandchildren to know and love and serve the Lord?
Now, when I preach about men, immediately there are some women who get offended. Don’t. Don’t infer anything. If I’m talking to the men and about the men, it doesn’t mean that I don’t love or want to exclude the women. It just means in this particular verse, it’s talking about men, not just men, but fathers, fathers, fathers and children. Malachi 4:6, the last Word of the Old Testament, God’s final Word for four hundred years. It’s like he’s grabbing the men by the shirt, “Guys, listen to me. Pay attention to this. Don’t forget.”
“And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” Some of your translations will say, “curse.” I think they translated it best there. It says a culture is ruined, a people is ruined, a legacy is ruined, a heritage is ruined. It’s all destruction if the dad’s don’t love their kids and the kids don’t love their dads. This is incredibly timely, amen?
You look at all the social problems, the ails and the evils, God says, “I got an answer, dad.” Dad can do what institutions and governments and organizations cannot do. The family is the first government. The father is the first leader. God holds the men responsible for their family for their legacy. The number-one thing that is needed for social change is men to love their own children to be good fathers and for children to honor, listen to, obey, love their dad. Is this still an issue, issue in your life?
How many of you would have been nice to have a dad, let alone a dad whose heart was for you? When he’s talking about heart, he’s talking about the control center, the seat, the sum, the center of who we are.
The Bible speaks of the heart more than nine hundred times. “Out of the overflow of the heart comes life,” Proverbs says in a variety of ways. Well, let’s unpack this, how will a father’s heart change by the power of the Holy Spirit? How will a child’s heart toward their father change by the power of the Holy Spirit? How do you know that the Holy Spirit is at work?
Here’s the big idea, look at the men. If you see different kinds of men in the church than you see in the culture, you know that the Holy Spirit is at work in the men and the men are yielding to the Holy Spirit. How do you know that the Holy Spirit is at work in children?
See how they respond and react to their father. One of the evidences of the work of the Holy Spirit is the condition and nature of the family, particularly the relationship between the father and the children. So let me unpack this, OK? This is the big idea of legacy. It starts with fathers and faith flows through generations of the family. Well, it starts with the fact that God is a father. He’s already told us this in Malachi 1, “I’m a Father.” Told us this in Malachi 2, “I’m your Father.” God is a Father. God is the Father.
Even when it says that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God, it’s using this familial language. When Jesus teaches us to pray “Our Father,” he’s teaching us that God is our Father and we approach him like sons and daughters, his children.
So for you and me, it all starts with not looking at our earthly father and then making a determination if fathers are good or bad or necessary or not necessary or helpful or harmful but looking up and saying, “OK, let’s start with God the Father, the first member of the Trinity, what’s he like, what’s he say, what’s he do?” And then to look at earthly fathers and ask, “How can they by the power of the Holy Spirit become more like their Heavenly Father?”
Some of you didn’t even have a father and the God in the Bible in Psalms says that he’s even a Father to the fatherless. There’s good news for you. Now, one of my goals at Mars Hill is that the men would all have a father’s heart, the Father’s heart. I’ve got a little free e-book you can find, “Pastor Dad.” It gets into some of the particulars, but let me just speak to you men along the continuum of life stages. Developing a father’s heart starts by knowing God as Father. You can’t become a father, like the Father, unless you know the Father.
So it starts with coming to know God as Father. Yes, we know the Holy Spirit and want to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Yes, we love the Lord Jesus and we want to become like the Lord Jesus, but sometimes the member of the Trinity who is overlooked is God the Father, one God, three persons, Father, Son, Spirit. It’s coming to know God as Father, talking to God as Father, relying on God as Father as early as possible in your life.
Then as you grow as a young man, it’s allowing the Father to cultivate the father’s heart in you. And you don’t just get a father’s heart when you get a child. You get a father’s heart when you become the Father’s child. Practically what this means is, you grow up to honor your Heavenly Father, to honor your earthly father, to obey your earthly father and to forgive your earthly father because your earthly father is sinful and will err.
Some of you are bitter against your father and the father wound is a deep one. And let me say this, that the sin that lived in your father will live in you through bitterness. The things that you’re most frustrated about regarding your father, if you don’t forgive him, those things will live in you.
And so when you forgive your father, you’re not letting him get away with anything. You’re releasing yourself from becoming like him so that you can become more like your Heavenly Father.
Some of you have a lot that you need to forgive your father for, and some of you just need to give your dad grace. He wasn’t perfect, but neither were you as the child. It’s learning to honor your father. It’s learning to forgive your father, and it’s learning to lean on God as Father.
As you proceed, I would say all of you but particularly you men, always seek older, godly men for wisdom, for counsel. Sometimes this is their instruction, oftentimes it’s their example. What this means is if you’re a 10-year-old boy, look for a godly 16-year-old boy. If you’re a godly kid in high school, get to know some guys in college who love the Lord. If you’re a guy in college, get to know some guys who are in the marketplace and love the Lord. If you’re a single guy, get to know a young, married guy who loves the Lord and shadow them and learn from them. And always be leaning into the next season of life learning as much as you can. That’s how you cultivate and develop a father’s heart.
What this means as well, I’ll give you something else very practically, serve younger people, children. If you’re the big brother, don’t pick on the little one, protect the little one. That’s the father’s heart. All right, if you’re the kid at school, don’t be the bully, be the kid who stands up to the bully. That’s the father’s heart. I even tell guys, man, work in the nursery with the little kids. It’s the best place for college guys. Develop, cultivate a father’s heart. Be seeking those who are in life stages ahead of you to learn from and those who are in life stages behind you to invest in.
One of the first things I did as a new Christian is I volunteered in the nursery at the church. Some of you know this story. I worked with all the little kids. I wanted to have a father’s heart, and I wanted to practice on somebody else’s kids before I got my own, all right? Today we’ve got a situation where you can be a young man who is never around a child until your wife births one. It’s good to have involvement with children before you get one by serving and loving and investing and getting to know families and participating in the stages of life.
What we’ve done is we’ve really segmented the stages of life so that children don’t know teenagers, and teenagers don’t know college students, and college students don’t know singles, and singles don’t know young marrieds, and young marrieds don’t know older marrieds. And all of that in the family of God can be obliterated through community and relationship. Some of the most influential people in my children’s lives are older people who love the Lord, that are in seasons ahead of them that they’ve learned from.
And some of the biggest deposits my children have made are in the lives of younger children seeking to be loving toward them. They may not yet be fathers, but they’re cultivating the father’s heart. Does that make sense? I would tell you young men as well, I say it all the time, but don’t waste your time on adolescence. It used to be that you were a boy and then you were a man and now you’re an adolescent until you’re about thirty, and those are wasted years, not invested years. Those are shameful years, not joyful years. Don’t be like the fool’s parade, trying to work as little as you can, get away with as much as you can, date as often as you can, drink what you can, smoke what you can, sleep where you can. All of that is folly. All of that is rebellion. That’s not the Father’s heart for his sons.
Don’t waste those years, invest those years. If you invest those years, you’ll be out ahead of the rest of the fool’s parade that’s drunk at the starting line not paying any attention that the race is well underway.
In addition for you men, you don’t want to just marry a woman who’s a good time but with whom you can make a good legacy. It means if you have a father’s heart, when you’re going to court a woman or marry a woman, you’re not just thinking, “Oh, she’s a good time.” You’re thinking, “With her I can make a good legacy.”
You have to factor into your consideration, will she be not only a good wife and friend and love Jesus and worship God, will she also be a good mother? I cannot tell you how grateful I am, now that I have five kids, that Grace is their mother. I praise God. She is devoted. She is focused. She is hard working. She is faithful. She loves the Lord. She loves the kids. I could not fathom what life would look like had she not been the one that God chose for me.
Men, the most important decision you make is who’s your God. The second most important decision is who you marry, and that decision has generations of implication, it just does, for good or bad. And I always say, but some of you guys are like, “She’s hot.” So is hell. Rethink your plan. Right, rethink your plan. Rethink your plan.
So you’re looking not just for a girlfriend, but a grandmother eventually. And then look forward to being a dad. Look forward to being a dad. Yes, it’s complicating. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s exhausting. So is everything that matters. I can remember as a little boy, I looked forward to being a dad, I really did. Every time Grace got pregnant, I was so excited. Yay, baby’s on the way! There’s a joyful enthusiasm.
One of the things I love at Mars Hill—and it’s been happening now for seventeen years—is when a guy’s wife gets pregnant and he runs up to me, “Pastor Mark, I want to tell you something,” I always know what it is. They’re smiling, they’re excited. “We’re pregnant.” They always say, “We’re pregnant.” I’m like, “No, she’s pregnant.”
But I love the fact that the men are excited that a baby is on the way because in a lot of places, they walk up to their buddies and they’re like, “Oh, my gosh, my girlfriend’s pregnant.” I love it when a husband runs up and says, “My wife is pregnant!” Yes, because children are a blessing, and they’re a blessing to be celebrated.
Whether this is through birth, adoption, foster care, or whatever the Father would have for you, I want you to look forward to that. I want you to be excited about that. I want you to rejoice in that. If we want to be a place where mothers and fathers are honored and where children are considered a blessing, it’s a big part of what the Bible teaches and it’s a big way that we live countercultural lives to the culture of death, folly, selfishness, and rebellion. We honor marriage and men and children and that’s the way God wants it. That’s the Father’s heart.
In addition, I would then say if God should give you an opportunity, don’t ever quit being the father. One of the great lies the enemy has told our culture is, “Well, when they’re eighteen, they’re adults, they’re on their own.” No, they’re not. They need you more than ever. Where are they gonna go to college? Who are they gonna date? Who are they gonna marry? What are they gonna choose for a career? What are they gonna do with their finances? So many massive decisions are made. They need their parents. They need their father.
You never stop being a father. When your kids are little, they need you differently than when they’re in the teen years and when they’re grown, they need you still in an entirely different way. But you never stop needing your father and so fathers, don’t quit. Perseverance is a big theme in the Bible. Even if it’s a hard season, continue to be the father. Continue to love, continue to pursue, continue to pray, continue to invest.
See, our fathers like that and let’s just be honest and say, we’ve all sent our Heavenly Father through some pretty rough seasons. We’ve not been the best kids. We’ve really made certain seasons very difficult and complicated for him, and he never stops loving. He never stops caring. He never stops pursuing. He never stops forgiving because that’s the Father heart of God. And if the Father heart of God lives in you men, you will persevere. You will overcome, you will endure by the power of the Holy Spirit because that’s the Father’s heart.
One of the ways that kids know that they have their father’s heart is whether or not their father hangs in there on the worst days. It’s easy to have a father’s heart on the best days. “Oh, my son hit a grand slam to win the tournament in the little league. Oh, my daughter got most likely to succeed. Yes, I have a father’s heart. Oh, my kid struck out and flunked. Well, I still have a father’s heart.”
See, the Father’s heart toward us is not predicated on our performance, and our father’s heart toward our children cannot be predicated on their performance. We don’t labor for his heart, we labor from his heart. And his heart loves us, and his heart receives us, and his heart encourages us, and his heart is inclined toward us. And to have the father’s heart is to parent out of the way that the Father parents us. And a father’s heart really shows up oftentimes in simple things, in unplanned ways. I mean I think about it.
I’ll share a couple stories, my Grandpa George had a father’s heart. I talked about him for years. He died when I was ten. I really loved him, but all my memories of him were good. He was a loving man. He was a kind man. He was a generous man. He was a joyful man. He rode in his old, brown Buick, all grandpas are supposed to have one. He kept a bag of Tootsie Roll lollipops in the glove box, the ones with the chocolate center, and he’d take you to go run errands and go to the hardware store and go do stuff.
I’ll never forget one day he says, “Mark, I just like having you with me,” and he smiled. Great. “And here’s a sucker, I keep a whole bag in the glove box.” Great. That’s the father’s heart. He just liked being with his grandkids, and he liked giving them gifts. My grandpa had a rule, he lived on a cul-de-sac and that is “If the ice-cream man comes, all the kids in the neighborhood run out and get what they want and I’ll pay for it.” That’s the father’s heart.
I remember one time I was one of the first kids at the ice-cream truck and all the other kids in the neighborhood run around. And I got mine and I turned around, my grandpa’s walking with this huge smile on his face, and he was gonna pick up ice cream for all the kids in the neighborhood. That’s the father’s heart. He liked seeing the kids happy, having fun, making memories.
I grew up in a neighborhood where there were very few fathers, right down in Sea-Tac by the airport, very few fathers. In fact, I was thinking about it, I can’t think of any friends of mine that I hung out with or played ball with in my immediate neighborhood that had a father. I’m the only kid I remember who had a father. I’m sure there was a father somewhere, but I don’t remember them. They were an endangered species where I grew up. My mom stayed home to raise five kids. My dad would go to work hanging sheetrock as a union dry waller until he broke his back feeding his family. I remember I played some sports. I played a little soccer, played a little basketball, played a little football, but what I really liked was baseball.
And so I told my dad, “I’m gonna play baseball.” Well, the problem was they didn’t have a coach because there were no fathers. And all the kids that were trying out for this team, none of them had a dad. I remember they asked, “OK, do any of you guys have a dad who can coach this team?” Nobody had a dad. I was like, “Well, I got a dad, but he’s never played baseball.” At least I got a dad so I go home, “Dad, we need a coach. There’s no dads.”
My dad’s like, “I’ll coach. What’s baseball?” My dad never played—I don’t think he ever had a glove on his hand. So my dad tries to figure out baseball so he can coach my team. That’s the father’s heart. My team was almost exclusively our little league team; we’re like the Bad News Bears, fatherless kids, no dad. They showed up for practice with no glove. There’s no dad around to buy them a glove, no cleats.
Next thing I know my dad’s going to secondhand stores and Goodwills. We’re a poor family, working-class family, and next thing I know my dad’s bringing home lots of different baseball gloves and there was a big pile of them somewhere in the house. I was like, “What’s that, dad?” He said, “Well, I’m buying a lot of gloves because those kids don’t have gloves and they want to be on the team, and nobody’s gonna buy them a glove and they need a glove.” That’s the father’s heart.
I remember feeling so proud of my dad in that moment. Man, I got a dad. And the kids come over to my house to eat. There were kids in my neighborhood who were hungry and they knew, you go to Mark’s house and his dad’s got food. He’ll feed ya. And my mom took care of all the kids in the neighborhood. I’ll never forget, winter would come—we were a poor family—and my mom and dad would buy a bunch of extra coats for the kids. I remember one year I was like, why do—we’d buy them at the Sears Surplus. “Why are we getting more coats?” “Because a lot of the kids don’t have a dad and a lot of the kids don’t have a coat. So when they come over if they don’t have a coat, we’re gonna give them a coat, and we’re gonna give them food and we’re gonna give them a baseball glove,” because that’s the father’s heart.
Men, I need you to have a father’s heart. Mars Hill doesn’t work if you don’t have a father’s heart, a father’s heart for your own children saying, “You know what? “I don’t need the police. I don’t need the legal system. “I don’t need the judges to take care of my kids. I’ll take care of that.”
I need you men to have the father’s heart, not only for your family, but our church family. The only way what we’re doing succeeds is if the men have the father’s heart. Usually in a church, it’s primarily women and children, and they’ve already got the Father’s heart, what’s missing is all the fathers.
One of the things that captivated me in Bible study in this past year is the fact that a father’s heart is for the family and the church family. That’s why we call Abraham our father in the faith. You see this fatherly language in Proverbs where he says, “My son, my son, my son, listen to me, hear me,” and he’s teaching very practically. You see this as well with Paul who says, “Timothy is my son and Titus is my son and Manasseh is my son.” They weren’t his biological children, but they were his spiritual offspring. He says in 1 Corinthians 4:15, he says, “You have many teachers, but don’t have many fathers.”
You can get a lot of podcasts, but it’s hard to have a dad, a spiritual father to teach you and train you and help you. John is an old man. He writes 1, 2, and 3 John to the church and he says, “You’re my dear children,” very fatherly language. In the early church they would talk about the church fathers. The qualifications of an elder, 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, include the fact that he’s a good father because a lot of what you learn about spiritual leadership in the church is learned through parental leadership in the home. Raising your kids, you learn some stuff to spiritually invest in others, particularly those who didn’t have fathers.
Let me just say this, I think—well, I know, I know for a fact that Malachi ends perfectly because it’s God’s word and God’s final word, and God’s final word to the men is you’re very important. You’re very needed. The Father is calling forth fathers, that the Father is calling forth fathers.
Friends, what we’re dealing with is an unfathered generation. Women have no idea what to look for in a man because they didn’t have a man in their life who is worth anything. We’re dealing with a bunch of young men who have no clue what it means to be a grown man and so they take their cues from violence. They take their cues from pornography. They take their cues from advertising and marketing, and it’s all foolishness and leads to generations of abortion, death, folly, rape, addiction, and consumption. And the Father’s heart is, “No. No more.”
The answer is the Father’s heart living in men that they would have the Father’s heart and that they would be fathers at home, and they would be fathers at church, and that they would father, not only their children, but their spiritual children, and that they would father well so that they would leave a different legacy by the grace of God, a legacy that reflects the love and the affection and the investment of God the Father in them and through them.
And so God’s final word and God’s answer is more men with a father’s heart. You men are very needed for what God is calling us to. You need to have the Father’s heart. What’s gonna happen to the women? What’s gonna happen to the children if you don’t have the Father’s heart is devastating. We’ve had enough of it. And by the grace of God, we need a new kind of man to create a new kind of legacy. I’ll leave it at that.
This one is deep in the roots for me. When I was nineteen God said, “Marry Grace, preach the Bible, train men, plant churches.” Thank you men for being a part of that. I know you will rise to the challenge by the grace of God. Some of you already have and we want to honor you as fathers, and some of you will and we look forward to honoring you as fathers.
This is an opportunity for you to respond, to turn from sin and to trust in Jesus, to escape hell and to enjoy heaven. We respond by taking our tithes and offerings. We respond as well by partaking of Communion.
As they’re collecting the offering, I’ll explain that Communion is really an act of repentance. It’s obeying the prophetic call that comes through men like Elijah saying, “I am a sinner and I need a Savior. I am estranged from my father and I need a mediator, and his name is Jesus. He’s obeyed all of Moses’ demands in the law and he has died in my place for my sins, and so I turn from sin, trust in him, and I receive this gift of eternal life, adoption into the family of my Heavenly Father.”
We show all of that in Communion. I want you to take Communion together if you’re a family with your children, with your spouse, and I want you men to lead. And I want you to men to set an example. And lastly, I would encourage you to be reading ahead and praying.
Here’s where we’re going next, this concludes Malachi, now we’re getting into the Book of James. The Book of James kicks off next week. I’m super fired up about it. It’s a book of the Bible I’ve never preached, and it’s written by Jesus’ little brother, Jesus’ bold little brother.
No one would have insights regarding Jesus like the guy who grew up probably sharing a bedroom with him. Any of you have a sibling you shared a bedroom with as a kid? I have two brothers, two sisters. When I was little for the first years, us three boys lived in a very small little room, and there was bunk beds and beds and they were close enough together that I could reach over and punch my brother. How do I know? Because I punched my brother, OK? We were that close. It was a very small room.
Jesus grew up in a poor family. Jesus had brothers and sisters, and they grew up to worship him as God. James thought he was crazy when Jesus was saying he was God and then when we saw Jesus risen from death, he started worshiping his own brother as God, and became a pastor, and wrote a book of the Bible about his big brother Jesus who happened to be Lord God Savior, Creator, Messiah, King, and Christ. Nobody knows Jesus in the ways that James would have known him. All right, nobody knows someone as well as their little brother.
So I’m really excited next week and would encourage you to be in prayer as we get ready to study the Book of James, Jesus’ bold little brother. You fired up about that or is it just me? I’m super fired up. So if you want to read ahead, that’s where we’re going.
Let me pray so we can respond. Father God, I thank you that we get to call you Father. God, I thank you that you’re not a force, you’re a Father. Lord God, I thank you that of all the names you could have chosen by which to reveal yourself, Father was the name on the lips of the Lord Jesus, our Father who art in heaven. Lord God, I thank you that you are our Father by grace. I thank you for the opportunity you’ve given us through our big brother Jesus to be adopted into the family as your sons and daughters.
Lord God, I thank you that when you close the Old Testament, your final word was to men and that you were calling them by the power of the Holy Spirit to have the Father’s heart. Lord God, I pray for the men at Mars Hill. I thank you for the men who do have the Father’s heart. I thank you for the many men who have the Father’s heart. They’re not perfect and neither am I. They’ve got stuff to learn and so do I, but they have the Father’s heart.
Lord God, I pray for those men who do not yet have the Father’s heart. I pray that right now through the presence and the power and the person of the Holy Spirit that the Father’s heart would be awakened in their heart, that his desires would be their desires, that his affection would be their affection, that his devotion would be their devotion.
God, I pray for the women at Mars Hill Church that if and when they marry, they would marry a man with a father’s heart. I pray for the children at Mars Hill Church that as they are raised, that they be raised by men with a father’s heart.
I pray, Lord God, that you would allow us to father our physical and spiritual children, those who are born into our family and those are born again into our church family. And God, we have no plan B. The Holy Spirit working through the men with a father’s heart, that’s the only plan we’ve got.
And so please give us the grace to lean into that vision for the rest of our lives together as your men. In Jesus good name, amen.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.