Where there is high trust, there are fewer questions. Conversely, where there is low trust, there are far more questions. In Malachi, the people’s questions become increasingly frequent and soon turn into accusations against God’s goodness. God’s response? A promise to send a messenger, who will bring both cleansing and judgment.
3:1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But 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. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
5 “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.
Questions are a part of every relationship. You ask questions; you answer questions. And I give you three categories regarding this. Category one is a healthy relationship, where there’s an exchange of questions. You know that a relationship is getting unhealthy, however, when there are a lot of questions. One question after another—cascading—and all of a sudden, it feels like you’re in a legal proceeding with a cross-examining attorney. Question after question after question.
Here’s what I’ve learned: When there is high trust, there are fewer questions. When there is low trust, there are far more questions. And what we’re seeing in Malachi is that they have some questions, but now that we’re getting a little further into the book—if you’ve got a Bible, go to chapter 2, verse 17—they’ve got a lot of questions, and those questions have turned into category three, accusations.
There’s a continuum there, and oftentimes it’s the motive of the heart. Sometimes about our relationship with one another, like our relationship with God, you’re like, “Well, I’ve got questions.” Well, that’s OK. “I’ve got a lot of questions.” Well, now you’re in more of a legal, judge, cross-examining-attorney position where I need to answer to you and you’re going to overwhelm me with your never-ending series of questions.
Wow, these questions have now morphed and turned into accusations against me. They’re more the rhetorical kind of questions that they’re not even seeking an answer to; they’re making a statement from. We do this as well. So, you look at somebody, you say, “Why are you so stupid?” That’s not really a question, right? It’s an accusation. It’s not like, “Help me understand why you’re stupid.” It’s not category one. “Why are you stupid? Why are you always stupid? Why are you stupid like your mom? Why are you stupid like your dad?” Whoa, there’s a lot of questions there. None of them are really joy-filled. And what they ultimately are are accusations. “You’re a horrible person. You’re a dumb person. You’re a person who is not valuable or not worthy of dignity and respect.” It’s accusations.
So, as we’re in Malachi, here’s what you need to know: God reveals himself in the book repeatedly as a loving Father, and he’s speaking to his sons and daughters. And at first, if you’re reading the book, you’re like, “Well, they’ve got a few questions.” Then you’re like, “Actually, no, they’ve got a lot of questions. These are accusations against the goodness of God.”
We’re going to examine more of their accusations in the form of questions today, but thus far in the book, they’ve asked stuff like, “How have you loved us?” That’s not a question; that’s an accusation. That’s like if I sat down at the dinner table with my five kids, and the first question was, “How have you ever loved us?” OK, we have a problem in our relationship.
One question that they ask early in the book is “How have we despised your name?” Another question is, “How have we polluted you?” You almost get the image of God the Father sitting at the dinner table, there’s all the kids, and they’re just declaring war on Dad, and they’ve got a bunch of accusations in the form of questions.
Well, how’s Dad going to respond to all this? What’s he going to do with these kids who are not being very fair to him? He’s going to respond to them clearly with authority but also lovingly. And the banner that flies over the whole book is, early on in chapter 1, right around verse 2, he says, “I have loved you.” So, he has a fatherly tone, but it’s an affectionate tone. Though it’s still a firm tone, it’s an inviting tone. It’s not a condemning tone.
He starts by saying something that’s actually kind of funny in Malachi 2:17. We learn about the God who is the tired God, which is kind of funny because one of God’s attributes is he is omnipotent, all-powerful, and tired. You know you’ve worn God out when God is like, “I am inexhaustible and exhausted.” That tells you about the kind of people that he is dealing with and the kind of people that we can be.
Here’s how it goes, Malachi 2:17, “You have wearied the Lord.” God says, “I’m tired.” And he’s speaking here metaphorically, a little bit of hyperbole. “With your words.” Any of you have a relationship like that?
Some of you are like, “I do, Pastor Mark—with you. Wearied by all the words, so many words.” OK, good, glad to have you. What he’s talking about here is a relationship where the person just can’t let it go, won’t let it go. “We need to talk about it again. We’re going to bring it up in a different way. I know I said it was settled, but it’s not settled. We’re going to circle back around again and again and again. Hey, get some more gas, another trip around the cul-de-sac of that issue.”
God’s like, “We have talked about this a lot, and you won’t stop talking about it.” “You’ve wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, ‘How have we wearied him?’ Do you see the irony here? You don’t stop talking, and you’re making me exhausted.” “Well, how have we talked to you?” Like, “Well, the example would be now. I tell you you talk too much and your answer is to talk about it.”
OK, you didn’t think that was funny. It’s because we’re like this, OK? “By saying, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.’ Or by asking”—here’s their other question, “‘Where is the God of justice?’” I mean, do you see this one verse? “How have we wearied you? Where is the God of justice?” Just one question after another just rolling right in.
Let’s not read this religiously. Let’s read this repentantly. To read it religiously is to say this is an interesting historical examination of how people in the past used to relate to God, and it’s really sad that they acted like that, and thankfully we’re not like that. Or we can read it repentantly and say, “That’s how I am. That’s how I am.” This isn’t just what used to happen; this is what always happens. This is not just how people used to act; this is how people still act.
Let me ask you this: If you could ask God some questions, how long would the list be? Some of you are like, “I have a very long list.” Welcome to Malachi. And what would the questions be? You say, “Oh, I know.” And if many of them are around the goodness of God with issues in your life—“God, why do you bless them and not me? And why is it hard for me and not them? And why did you not show up? And why did you not protect me from this? And why did you allow this to happen to me? And why is it difficult for me?” If it’s a lot of those, “I question your goodness, God. I sit on a throne; you sit on the bench. I ask you questions, you give me answers, and I sit in authority over you.” Welcome to Malachi. We’ve all been there.
Some of you are there today; some of you will be there tomorrow. We’ve all been there yesterday. Me, too. I was reading this like, “Oh yeah. Man, when I’m hurting, when I’m frustrated, when I’m struggling, the questions that I would ask God—” And sometimes we’d say, “Well, I don’t ask them; I just think them.” God knows your heart. Aren’t you glad he didn’t write what he overheard in your heart down in a book for everybody else to talk about?
That’s what’s going on in Malachi. It says earlier, God’s like, “I know your thoughts and I hear your conversations.” You’re like, “Really? Man, if he knows my thoughts and writes it down in the book, and 2,500 years later, people get to talk about it.”
See, God hasn’t done that to us, but God did that to them, and we can learn because we’re like them. But God overhears our hearts, and God overhears our conversations, and truth be told, you and me both, when we’re struggling, when we’re hurting, when we’re suffering, when it’s hard, when we’re frustrated, when we’re exhausted, we question the goodness of God. We can have questions about God that turn into accusations about God.
For them, this was a hard time. Economically, things were bad. Politically, the nation was struggling. Morally, spiritually, it was in decline, and God’s people were in a difficult place. And these are hurting people, these are frustrated people, these are wounded people who are lashing out at God. This, this, this is how we respond oftentimes to similar circumstances. This is how I respond sometimes to similar circumstances.
So, for this text to be helpful to us, let’s all put our voices in the choir of Malachi and say, “I’ve thought the same things. I’ve said the same things. I’ve been the same way, or maybe I am today.”
Here’s their tactic, they’re having a fight with God, OK? Now, when we have a fight with a person, usually it’s not a physical fight. It’s an emotional fight, it’s a verbal fight, it’s a spiritual fight, it’s a mental fight. They’re having that kind of fight with God.
To use an analogy from real fighting—some of you know I’m a fight fan. I’ve liked mixed marital arts since the early days of the UFC, the old Pride days, and stuff. And really, when it comes to the stand up game of a competition of a fight, there’s two ways to go about it. Some guys have a lot of power and so their goal is to knock you out. And you can tell, these guys’ whole tactic is stuff the takedown, stay on your feet, load up, and wait for the shot. Usually it’s an overhand right, knock the guy out because you’ve got the power to do that.
For the guys who don’t have that kind of power, their plan is, “I can’t knock you out, so I need to wear you out.” And it’s not a knockout blow, it’s jab, jab, jab, jab, jab, jab, jab. Good cardio, good gas tank, need to go the distance, going to grind out a win. “I’m going to wear you out, wear you down, and then my hand will get raised in the end because I can go longer than you.”
When it comes to fights, some people are knock-you-out, some people are wear you out. Some people are just waiting for the kill shot, “Boom, I said it, you’re out.” Others are like, “Yeah, I just kind of hang in there until they’re exhausted and quit.” So it is in our relationship with God. They can’t knock him out, so they’re trying to wear him out. Accusation, accusation, question, question, issue, issue, confrontation, confrontation. “You guys join it. More people, let’s all jab God, let’s all jab God.”
God’s using a bit of hyperbole saying, “Yeah, you guys are wearing me out.” The inexhaustible God is getting exhausted. He’s using some hyperbole. But how many of you really are at a place where your goal is not to change, not to repent, not to let God win. You’re going to hang in there because you’re relentless. And let me say this: being relentless is great if it’s for the right thing. Just being relentless can be a bad thing if you’re relentless for the wrong thing. I’m relentless.
There’s a good side to that—I’ll use myself as an example—to where in my marriage or in my ministry, hang in there, get into the latter rounds. I’m not going to tap out. I’m not going to give up. But Grace would tell you that that same resiliency is very complicated when I’m wrong, because I will hang in there and I’m wrong. I don’t want you to be a person that has no resiliency, but I want you to be a person that has resiliency about the right things. And what these people have decided is that they’re resilient for the right thing, and they need a voice like Malachi to come in and say, “Actually, you’re not.”
This is where wise counsel is so helpful and important. Who speaks into your life? Who has authority over you? Who are your ears opened to? And if they come along and say, “You know what? You need to give up. You need to tap out. You need to quit on that because you’re wrong. You’re fighting for the wrong thing. And the resiliency is a great thing, but when it’s resiliency for the wrong thing, that’s a dangerous thing.”
They’ve got two accusations that they begin with against God. The first is that God is evil and we are good. You say, “How do they get to this point?” Well, this is where religious people get, this is where hurt people get, this is where unforgiving, bitter people get, this is where self-righteous people get. “Because I’m a good person, or because I’ve suffered, because I’ve been through a lot, because I’m hurting, because it’s an emotional day, I’m a good person and I’m struggling because of those bad people. And God, if you’re letting them do what they do, you must be bad, too. I’m good, they’re bad. If you’re not dealing with them, then you’re bad.”
You see this? Now we’ve inverted the universe, kind of a big thing. No longer is God on the throne judging us, we’re on a throne judging him. How many of us emotionally have been there? “God, that’s wrong. You shouldn’t have allowed that to happen. You should have intervened. You should have stopped them. You should have done something. You should have said something. God is evil; I am good.” And today, there are still people who take this position.
I get it all the time when I do media interviews. The media will want to go to the Bible, like, “Let’s talk about all the things that God did wrong.” “Oh really, like what?” “Well, he flooded the earth in the days of Noah. That was bad. And he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. That was evil. He doesn’t accept worship from all religions. You have to be saved through Jesus. That seems very narrow. What he said to do to the Canaanites, that was despicable. Oh, and he wants to tell you whom you can love, not love, marry, and not marry. Yeah, there’s some stuff in there, God sure got it wrong. He’s evil; we’re good. He’s intolerant; we’re tolerant. He’s unloving; we’re loving.”
This still happens today, correct? Sometimes by God’s people who are hurting, sometimes by people who are enemies of God.
Their second accusation is, “Where is the God of justice?” We’ve all been here. Some catastrophe comes into your life, something horrifying, or somebody you love is victimized in a horrific way. “OK God, you know all, you have power, you can do whatever you want, and you didn’t do anything. Where is—where’s the God of justice? Why don’t you show up and do something?”
We’ve all been there. Usually it’s when we’re hurting, we’re very emotional, or someone we love is hurting and very emotional. And what they’re doing—and this is what hurt people do, this is what religious people do, and this is really what hurt religious people do. “I’m good; they’re bad. They hurt me—show up now and crush them.” God’s like, “You know what’s interesting? They were praying too, and they said, ‘They’re good, you’re bad, and that I should crush you right now.’ You’re both asking for the same thing.”
We truly don’t want God to deal justly with everyone right now. Please don’t pray that prayer. “Lord, give everyone what they deserve right now.” Because we’re all sinners, we all deserve it, and if God was going to deal justly with everyone, he would send everyone to hell.
See, God is just and God is loving, and what happens is it says early on, “I have loved you,” and here it says, “Where’s the God of justice?” So, when we sin, we want God’s love. When they sin, we want God’s justice. You get that? We call that hypocrisy. “You hurt me—justice. I hurt you—love.” They’re doing the same thing. And because God is loving and just, our sin makes it complicated.
It’s not exactly like this, but it’s kind of like this: a person has cancer, and the cancer cells have attached themselves to the person’s body. This is kind of the analogy that the church father Augustine uses regarding sin. It says sin is not a thing; it’s the corruption of a thing that God made good. It’s a privation. So, rust requires metal, right? Cancer requires a living person. It’s a corruption; it’s a privation of what God made good. It’s not a thing unto itself, it’s a parasite that feeds off of a good thing. Well, it’s kind of like that.
So, if all the cancer patients—and some of you are cancer patients right now. If all the cancer patients went to the medical industry and said, “Whatever it takes, all cancer needs to die right now. Kill it all.” The answer is, “Kill everybody with cancer.” You’re like, “Well, no, that’s not what I want. I want the cancer to die and the people to live.” Well, that’s going to take a great physician to separate the cancer from the person so that the cancer would die and the person would live.
The Bible says that God is a great physician, and that sin infects all of our being, and that when we get impatient and we want him to deal with everybody and everything right now, we think that God is slow. And the Bible says, Peter says, that God is not slow, that he’s patient, that he’s saving these people, and working on these people. And he’s separating the sin from the sinner so that the sin can die and the sinner can live.
Sometimes, in the middle, when we’re hurting, when we’re suffering, when we’re frustrated, we want it all done right now. It’s like somebody on the table cussing out the doctor who’s trying to save their life. I don’t want to minimize suffering, hurting people. Theologically, philosophically, it’s called the problem of evil. How do we reconcile the goodness of God with the evil on the earth? There’s a lot of answers. If you want to study it, look for something called Theodicy. But let me give you what I think are the four most popular options in our day, briefly.
Atheism says there is no God. It is what it is. God’s not involved in evil because there’s no God. Deism says, well, there is a God, but he’s far, far away. He’s inactive, he’s distant, he’s an absentee landlord. He’s like your dad who walked out on you when you were a kid, and you don’t know even know if he’s alive, or where he lives, or what he’s doing because he has nothing to do with your life. You’re on your own.
Monism says that God is both good and evil. This is a lot of eastern religion, the yin and the yang, black and white, God is good and evil. So, the good and evil we see in the world is a reflection of the character of God. He’s good and evil, which is scary because when evil happens, would you run to God? Why would you run to God who’s evil?
Then there’s Christianity that says God is good, and he’s not done with evil. He’s not done yet. We’re in the middle of history. It’s like we’re halfway through a film. We’re predicting the end wrongly and then cussing out the director as we exit the theater. And they’ve got a lot of questions. They’ve got a lot of questions. They’ve got a list of accusations.
God has one answer. Jesus is the answer. “God, we want to talk about our suffering, and those people, and the hurting, and the politics, and the finances, and the morality, and the bad pastors, and the issues.” God’s like, “I want to talk about Jesus.” When someone is hurting, when someone is struggling, when someone is suffering, when they become absolutely concerned with themselves, every time you see them, all they want to talk about is, “What I’m going through, and how I’m feeling, and what I’m doing,” you’re like, “I love you, and I love you so much I’m going to change the subject.”
Because the answer to the questions is always the same, and his name is Jesus. This is not trite; this is true. “How have you loved us?” For one of their questions, the answer is Jesus. “Where’s the God of justice?” Hanging on the cross. His name is Jesus. Their questions are all answered in Jesus. Hear me in this: most of your questions will not get answered in this life.
Many of your questions about suffering, injustice, and evil, the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13 that, “Now we see in part, we know in part, and when we see the face of Jesus, we’ll know as we’re fully known.” Until we get to the kingdom of God, there’s going to be things that we don’t know. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t an answer, but there’s not an answer that is revealed to us yet.
So God redirects the conversation toward Jesus, as he is for us today. I want to redirect the conversation toward Jesus because that’s God’s answer to your question, whatever your question might be. Malachi 3:1, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.”
So twice, your God says, “Behold, behold.” It’s like, “Hey, don’t miss this. Pay attention. This is really important. Highlight this, underline this, grab this, cling to this. This is life raft for you to climb into. This is a life preserver for you to hold onto. The storm is raging, here you go. Grab this.”
He starts talking about Jesus 400 years before Jesus would even come. And here’s what they wanted: answers. And here’s what God gives: presence. God won’t answer all of your questions in this life, but his answer to your questions is his presence in your life. The Bible says that he’ll never leave us, he’ll never forsake us. He’ll be with us always until the end of the age.
The number one command in the Bible, about 150 times, the Bible says, “Fear not,” and right around it, somewhere in the text, almost every time that I’ve examined it, says, “For I am with you.” Not, “Because I have an answer for you,” but, “Because I’m there with you.” The answer to our questions is the presence of God.
The only thing worse than suffering is suffering alone. Sometimes you need a counselor; most of the time you need a comforter. And God says, “I’m going to come and be with you. I’m going to come and be with you.” Who is coming? What’s it say? Who is coming? “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.” So, we’ve got the temple. It’s his temple. Who’s coming to the temple? The Lord is coming to his temple. So, the Creator’s entering into creation, that God’s going to become a man.
Here’s what’s important: other religions teach that we ascend up to God through our reincarnation, paying off our karmic debt, through our good works, through our obedience to God, that we ascend. No, no, the Bible doesn’t teach that at all. The Bible teaches that God descends, that God condescends down to us. This is what we celebrate every Christmas where we say that Jesus is Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” Malachi’s telling us the Christmas story, Mars Hill. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. It’s Immanuel, God with us. God’s come down to be with us. So, who’s coming? It’s the Lord. Ultimately, we know that’s the Lord Jesus Christ.
Where’s he coming to? A lot of clues here. Where’s he coming to? “Will suddenly come to his temple”—this magnificent house for God. It was high and exalted. It was the place of the Lord. It was the center of worship, teaching, and adoration. And it was the connecting point between heaven and earth. God’s presence was in the temple and God’s people would come to the temple to be near to God’s presence. It says that the Lord is coming to his temple, and all of this is foreshadowing Jesus.
The whole point of the temple was to get people ready for Jesus. You’d repent of your sin, you’d bring your sacrifice, blood would be shed, a priest would intercede for you so that forgiveness could be granted and you could have access to the presence of God, all of which foreshadow Jesus—the temple, the presence of God, the priest who offers the sacrifice, the sacrifice who lays down his life and gives us his blood for the remission of our sins. Jesus is the connecting point between heaven and earth. He’s the mediator between us and God.
The whole point of the temple was to get people ready for Jesus, and when Jesus comes, he goes to the temple to fulfill the entire purpose of the ministry of the temple. Who’s coming? Jesus. Where’s he coming? To his temple. How will we know it’s him? Because there’s false christs, false messiahs, false saviors, false teachers. A lot of guys are going to show up and say, “I’m the one.”
How do we know it’s the real one? That’s the question. “I will send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” God’s saying, “When I come, you’re going to know it’s me because I’m sending a guy out ahead.”
Think of it like this: How many of you watch the holiday parades on TV, OK? How many of you men? You can admit it publicly: you watch the holiday parade, the singing, the dancing, the floats, the balloons. How many of you watched that? OK, I didn’t, but if you did, OK—no, actually the kids had it on, I caught part of it.
Here’s how the parade works. How do you know that the parade is started and that the special guest is coming soon? How do you know? There’s a grand marshall at the front of the parade. All right, so the cameras come on, everybody comes out. Are we started? Are we waiting? Is the special guest coming? Are they on their way? They must be, here comes the grand marshall leading the parade.
Then the grand finale at the end of the parade is who, at least on TV? It’s Santa. It’s Santa. What he’s saying here is that John the Baptizer is the grand marshall. The parade comes to town and everybody’s out to see it, and the unveiling is the special guest in the end, Jesus Christ, Immanuel, “God with us,” the Lord coming to his temple. And we know this is John the Baptizer, Jesus’ cousin. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all four gospels point back to Malachi 3:1. They all say it’s John. Jesus, in Matthew 11:10, says it’s John.
Here’s what he says. Jesus says, “This is he of whom it is written.” He goes back to Malachi 3:1. Some people say, “I believe the New Testament but not the Old.” The New Testament keeps quoting the Old Testament because they go together. “This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater”—huge statement by Jesus—“than John the Baptist.”
Now, we know Jesus is in a category unto himself. He’s not just a good man; he’s the God-man. But of mere mortal men like you and I, the greatest man in the history of the world is John the Baptist. That’s a huge statement. What that means is every year when Time Magazine does “Person of the Year,” it should always be John. Every single year, it should be John. “Yeah, the committee thought maybe this guy, but Jesus said John, so John won again.”
John’s the greatest man who’s ever lived in the history of the world. Why was he great? Well, he was raised by spirit-filled parents. He gave his life and service to the Lord. He was Jesus’ cousin. He loved and served Jesus, and he was a messenger. That’s what he says: “I will send my messenger.” Malachi, his name literally means, “My messenger.” Four hundred years later comes the last Old Testament prophet, John the Baptizer, “My messenger.” These are spokesmen, prophets, preachers, proclaimers on behalf of God. John preaches repentance of sin.
“The Lord is coming, repent of sin, and prepare for him,” and people repent. And John is a bit of a rock star. He’s a young, wild eyed, crazy, very rural, steady diet of bugs and honey. He’s quite a character, this guy. He walks out of the woods screaming and yelling, and people get saved. It’s like mass revival. It’s like Easter every day. And they’re coming forward to get baptized, and John’s baptizing people, preparing people for the coming, unveiling of his cousin, Jesus.
At this point, hardly anybody knows about Jesus. He hasn’t been preaching, teaching, doing miracles. He’s been doing carpentry business with his adoptive father, Joseph. And then Jesus shows up to be baptized by John. And John says, “I can’t baptize you. I’m not even worthy to untie your sandals. You are great and I am not.” Part of John’s greatness was his humility, his devotion to Jesus, and his willingness to make it all about Jesus.
Later on, John would say, “I must decrease, he must increase.” What he’s saying is, “It’s not about me, it’s all about Jesus.” And John had quite a thing going. Crowds loved this guy. And as soon as he baptized Jesus, it was to fulfill his ministry. His ministry at that point was concluded. It’s like track where a runner hands the baton to the next runner, and their leg is done, and now it’s off to the next runner. Well, John handed his ministry to Jesus. All the people that were following John, they’re now following Jesus.
Some of Jesus’ first disciples, they were followers of John. And John says, “I give all the people, I give all the glory, I give all the opportunity to Jesus. I’m going to go stand over here on the sidelines. My race is done.” They behead him, he dies and goes away, and then Jesus moves the kingdom of God forward. He’s the greatest man who’s ever lived because he made Jesus’ name great, and Jesus made his name great. Hear me in this. Those who seek to make their name great never end up with a great name. For those who seek to make Jesus’ name great, he makes their name great.
That’s what he does with John. Who is coming? The Lord. Where is he coming? To the temple. How will we know it’s him? John the Baptizer will be the grand marshall leading the parade. When will he come? This is significant. There’s a clue here in the Scripture. “He will come to his temple.” If you went to Israel today, you would not find a temple because it was destroyed. It does not exist. There’s no priest; there’s no sacrifices. The Holy of Holies is gone. God’s presence is unleashed. The Holy Spirit’s at work in the whole earth. God makes us into a temple of his Spirit as he dwells in believers. Everything’s fulfilled in Christ. And if you go to the temple, it’s not there.
Now, here’s the point: God wanted to make sure that the way we used to worship him is no longer the way we worship him. We don’t go to the temple, we go to Jesus. We don’t go to a priest, we go to the great High Priest. We don’t offer a sacrifice; we have faith in the sacrifice of Jesus. God made it certain that we couldn’t worship him in the future as we did in the past. That was all to prepare us for the coming of Jesus, and once he fulfilled all righteousness, there was no need for the temple anymore.
My question to you is this: when was the temple destroyed? Do you know? A.D. 70—Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, ascension back into heaven, and then the temple is destroyed. If you ask a Jewish friend, “What are you waiting for?” “We’re waiting for Messiah to come, and set up the kingdom, and usher in peace.” You missed him. Malachi promised in your Scriptures and ours that the Lord would come to where? His temple.
If the Lord came today, could he go to the temple? No, there hasn’t been a temple since A.D. 70 I had the privilege of going to Israel a few years ago, my family, and I, and some of the folks in the church. We took some video footage. I’ll show you all that’s left. It’s just an archeological dig. It’s a ruins. There used to be a temple; there’s now a hole.
Some of you say, “Oh, I see something in tact.” Yeah, a Muslim mosque. What’s left of the temple is an archeological dig and a wall where people come to put their prayer requests in, women on the right, men on the left. That’s all that’s left. The Holy of Holies is now wherever the Holy Spirit is. “God does not live in temples built my human hands,” Paul tells the Athenians. Did you notice some of the people were walking away backwards? They believe that God’s presence is in the wall, and they don’t want to turn their back on the wall because that would be turning your back on the Lord. We don’t believe that.
We believe that to get close to God, you don’t go to a place, you go to a person named Jesus, that the connecting point between heaven and earth is not a wall, right, it’s a risen Savior. So, historically, we’ve got all the facts we need to know. Who’s coming? The Lord. Where? To his temple. How? By the preparation of John the Baptizer. When? Before A.D. 70.
Now, all of this is in your Bible, and there are three things I want to tell you about the Bible.
Number one, the Bible’s from God. This is the book that God wrote. One of the ways we know that is something called prophecy, that in the Old Testament in particular, 25 percent of the time what is written is prophetic in nature, telling the future, oftentimes in great detail. Only God knows the future, only God rules over the future, only God can bring the future into reality. I mean, just in this one verse, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, the temple, the new covenant of salvation, before A.D. 70. That’s a lot for one verse, would you give me that?
For those of you who would say, “This is not the book that God wrote,” then I would push the burden of proof to you and ask, “Then who wrote this?” This was written 400 years before it happened. If I told you in 400 years who was running for president, where they were born, and who their running mate would be, and I nailed it, that would be amazing. This prophecy is more amazing than that. There are other prophecies in the Bible saying he would be born in Bethlehem, that his mother would be a virgin. Lots of details, really narrows down the list of potential Savior candidates. This is the book that God wrote.
Number two, this book is the only book that God wrote. It’s unique. Some of you have wrongly been taught, “Oh, there are different religions, and they all have different books, but they all basically teach the same thing.” The only people who say that are people who have not read the books. They’ll say, “Well, it tells you how to be a good person. It gives you basic, moral values.” No, it doesn’t. The other religions do not have, as part of their, quote unquote, “sacred writings,” prophecy. It’s not there. The only place you’ll find stuff like this is in the Bible because this alone is the book that God wrote.
I’m telling you this because bedrock at Mars Hill is we believe the Bible is the book that God wrote, and we base everything on that conviction. We begin with that assumption. And I didn’t always believe that, and perhaps you don’t. But I was in college and I thought, “Well, I think all religions basically teach the same thing, so I’m going to examine all the religions, and look at their sacred texts, and find what I learn.” And the prophecy in the Bible absolutely convinced me this is the book that God wrote. And I couldn’t find prophecy like that in any other religion.
Number one, this is the book that God wrote. Number two, it’s the only book that God wrote. It’s utterly unique. Number three, it’s all about Jesus. It’s all about Jesus. The point of the whole Bible—all the concepts, themes, directions, stories, and trajectories—is about Jesus.
Here, we see it in Malachi. It’s God’s final word. He’s not going to speak again for 400 years. Last book of the Bible, leaning into the end, right? We’re near the end of the book. What’s God talking about? He’s getting everybody together. He’s like, “I know you’re all hurting. I know you’re all poor. I know it’s a rough day. I know you’re all frustrated. I know you all wonder what I’m doing. I know exactly what I’m doing. Let’s talk about Jesus. There’s hope for you. There’s forgiveness for you. There’s provision for you. There’s love for you. There’s answers for you and it’s all in Jesus. Let’s talk about Jesus.”
This is the book that God wrote, it’s the only book that God wrote, and it’s all about Jesus. If Mars Hill can’t amen that, I need a new job. Yes or no, you believe this? Amen? OK, and if you’re here—if you’re here and you’re saying, “I don’t know if I believe that,” then follow the truth wherever it leads, and you’ll end up believing the Bible and receiving Jesus. Study it for yourself. Study it for yourself. It changed my life, and it’s why I love teaching.
So, what God has done—they’re suffering in the present, hurting in the present, struggling in the present, frustrated in the present, and God starts looking into the future about the legacy they’ll live, not just the suffering that they’re enduring. So, he takes them to the first coming of Jesus, “He’s coming.”
Then he moves further to the second coming of Jesus. Malachi’s got quite a horizon. He’s saying, “Well, in 400 years, Jesus is going to come, and then he’s going to come again”—first and second coming. We’ve been waiting 2,000 years since his first coming for his second coming. God opens Malachi’s understanding to get a very long view of history. Here’s what he has to say: Malachi 3:2–5, “But who can endure the day of his coming.”
See, God’s got questions, too. Malachi’s got questions, too. But they’re not questions that accuse God, they’re questions that accuse others who accuse God. “Who can endure the day of his coming”—that’s the second coming of Jesus—“and who can stand when he appears?” This issue of a fight—there’s nobody who’s going to be able to plant their back foot, stiffen their neck, hold their chin out when Jesus comes again, and be OK.
Nobody’s going to win that fight. “For he is like a refiner’s fire, like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi”—those are religious leaders, like pastors—“and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem”—that’s God’s people—“will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. Then I will draw near to you for judgment.”
Jesus’ first coming was for salvation. His second coming will be for damnation. “I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, those who swear falsely, those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner”—or the visitor—“and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.”
He talks about Jesus’ first coming for his people and Jesus’ second coming for his enemies, and you’ve got a decision to make, whether you’re one of his people or one of his enemies. And he gives us two ways that he relates to his people and one way that he relates to his enemies, and he uses two images that are timeless.
The first is that Jesus is like a cleaner. How many of you are sort of clean freaks a little bit? You carry—what do you carry? Ladies, what do you carry in your purse? Hand sanitizer, just to make sure. What’s in your car? More hand sanitizer, OK? What’s at your house by all the sinks? A lot of soap, plenty of soap, soap and back up soap, OK? We use a lot of soap.
How many of you guys, right, you took a shower today? We’re all grateful. You should take another one tomorrow, right? We use a lot of soap. We use shampoo for our hair. We use soap for our body. We have a different kind of soap for our dishes. We have a different kind of soap for our laundry. We should. Don’t be like the guy I know who put the laundry soap in the dishwasher. It was exciting and messy. We have soap to wash our car. We have soap to wash our floor. We have soap to wash our dishes. We have soap to sanitize our countertops. We use a lot of different kinds of soap.
How many of you have realized if you clean something, you’re going to have to clean it again? You don’t say, “Well, I did the dishes once. Glad that’s checked off my bucket list.” You’re like, “What? They’re dirty again?” Yeah. What he’s saying is this, that Jesus works with us like that.
So, every time you’re mopping the floor, every time you’re doing the laundry, every time you’re cleaning the car, every time you’re doing the dishes, every time you’re washing your hands, for a moment, stop and say, “Oh, and Jesus does this with me.” And don’t feel devastated because, “Oh, he already cleaned this up and then I made the mess again. I went back and did the same old thing.”
Well, just like you doing the dishes every day, sometimes he’s still cleaning up the same parts of your life. And what happens when we sin is that, legally, we’re guilty, but practically, we’re dirty. And some people know that they’re forgiven, but they still feel dirty. The Old Testament’s going to use a dozen plus words: defiled, unclean, dirty. It uses this language.
How many of you, right now, there’s sin in your past, something you’ve done, and you just feel really gross about it, you feel very dirty about it? It’s like, “I know Jesus forgives me, but it’s still part of my identity. I’m haunted by it. It was gross. I can’t believe I did that.”
How many of you, it’s not just sin you’ve committed, but sin that’s been committed against you? Every woman I’ve ever spoken to who was a sexual assault victim, one of the first things she does after her assault is what? Take a shower because she feels defiled. And Jesus cleans all the way down to the depths of the soul. Jesus doesn’t just forgive us of our sin, he cleanses us from our unrighteousness.
That’s what 1 John says: “If we confess our sins, he’s faithful and just to forgive us our sins”—deals with our guilt—”and cleanses us of all of our unrighteousness”—deals with our filth. Here me in this: you’re not just forgiven and dirty, you’re forgiven and clean. That’s huge. And you go live a clean life because you’ve already been made a clean person in Christ. At the cross, all of our filth went to Jesus and all of his righteousness came to us. “God made him who knew no sin to become sin.” Jesus took it all, and he’s still cleaning us up and working on us. And the way that the Bible denotes this is that God’s people get to wear white.
So, in the Old Testament, when they go to meet with the Lord, they literally would go through a ceremonial washing, put on white, and say, “You know what? When I stand before God, he sees me as clean.” It says in Revelation that at the end of history, there’ll be a great wedding, and the church will be like a bride, and Jesus will be like a groom. And ladies, what color does the church wear? White. Because she’s without sin? Not this church. Not any church. But because God sees her through the finished work of Jesus.
I’ve had women ask this over the years. “Pastor Mark, I’ve done some things that I regret and I’m ashamed of, and I’m going to be married. Somebody in my family said I shouldn’t wear white.” I had a single mother say this one time. “I was sleeping around, got pregnant, single mother. Now I’m getting married, everybody knows I’ve got a kid, and there’s some stuff I’ve done I regret. Pastor Mark, do I get to wear white?” What’s the answer? Yes, and it comes from Jesus. He’s the one who hands you the white gown. All who are in Christ are forgiven and clean, made righteous. So, the first image is that Jesus is like soap. He cleans us up. It’s probably an analogy that a lot of you ladies like.
He’s then got one for the guys, a metalworker, a miner. Any of you guys watch any of those mining shows? You guys like those? I do. Like, guys are going to get equipment, go out into the wilderness, and come back with gold. That’s amazing. I want to watch that because I’ve been out in the wilderness, I’ve never come back with gold. How do you do that? That’s pretty amazing.
So, he uses the language here. Jesus cleans us and he also is not only like a cleanser, but he’s like a metalworker. And the way it would work in that day is that you would go out and you would pan, or dig, or sluice, or however it worked, and you would get—it mentions it here—your gold or your silver, your precious, precious metals. But, the problem is they’re not pure. There’s a lot of impurities in them. They’re commingled with a lot of other things that are not valuable or precious.
So, you need to separate that which is precious from that which is not. How do you do that? How do you separate like that? The answer is heat. So, he’s going to talk about a refiner’s fire. You get a lot of heat from the flame, you put the metal over it, and the metal melts if you get the high enough temperature. And then what would happen is the precious metal would fall to the bottom and the impurities would rise to the top. And then, the owner would skim all the impurities off the top so that the metal became more precious, more valuable, more perfect.
According to some, they would say that when this process would begin and all of the contaminants were in that which was precious, the owner would look down and they couldn’t see their reflection because it was clouded and muddied. But as they would heat and clean, and heat and clean, and heat and clean, and this process would happen over and over and over, they would know that they were getting to pure and precious because they could see their reflection in the silver or gold.
What he’s saying is Jesus is like that, that in your life and in my life, there are character problems, sins, bad habits, false teaching, erroneous conclusions, and self-righteous assumptions. There’s a lot of dross in there, and the only way the Lord Jesus can get it out is through heat. And most of us don’t like living over the flame because it hurts. It’s very uncomfortable and painful, and then what surfaces is shameful. “That’s who—oh, that’s what I think? That’s what I do? That—oh man. I don’t want people to see that. Like, keep that down at the bottom. Don’t let that rise up to the top.”
What happens then is some of us want to be pure, and we want to be precious, we just don’t want pain and we don’t like heat. And there’s always a lot of teachers going around saying, “There’s a way to be precious without the heat.” Those are called false teachers. There’s no way to be purified without the heat.
Sometimes, this is heat you caused. You did something, made your own life pretty hard, and God’s going to use it. Sometimes, somebody else sinned against you, and they brought the heat. Sometimes, Satan just attacked you and he brought the heat. And the times that I have failed, the times that I’ve not responded rightly, or times that I was more worried about where the heat came from than what I was going to do with it.
That’s exactly what’s going on here in Malachi. And they’ve got a lot of “why” questions. “Why God? Why me? Why this? Why that? Why them? Why now? Why, why, why?” How many of you, right now, heat, you’re over it. Financial heat, emotional heat, spiritual heat, relational heat, physical heat. You say, “This is painful. What’s under my life right now, I would like to move away from, but God’s got me there and I can’t go anywhere.”
Their mistake was, “It hurts; he doesn’t love me.” That’s not true. Just because it hurts doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you. Just because it hurts doesn’t mean he’s not good. You will not get all the “why” questions answered in this life. Don’t start accusing God and questioning his character. Don’t try to live your life to avoid all heat because you will not become more precious and valuable. The Lord Jesus wants to look down on you and see his reflection in your character, and to get there is going to be some heat and cleanings. Now, I tell you this, I love this text because I really need it.
See, in God’s grace, I get to teach the Bible, and I love what I do. And every week, it’s like, “OK Lord, I want to honor you and I want to help the people.” And God’s so gracious that the text also applies to me and I get a bonus out of it. I don’t need to gossip or make this all about me, but let me just say, recently, it’s been a little hot, a little heat. I’m not a big fan of it. Given a choice, I would have had something else, but what God’s teaching me, and God’s teaching them, and what I hope God can help us all to learn is to stop asking the, “Why, why, why?” and to start asking the, “How are you going to use this? What in my character do you need to change? How am I going to become more like Jesus? What do you have for my future?”
See, God is trying to get the imperfections and the impurities out of your character and mine so that he would get more glory and we would be prepared for our future. See, they hear, “Jesus is coming.” It doesn’t say quite yet, “And it’ll be 400 years.” But he wants them to have character that is refined through fire to teach their children, and their children’s children, and their children’s children, so that when Jesus does come, there would be people waiting for him. They’d be all lined up along the parade route, “He’s here.”
You and I are waiting for the second coming of Jesus. We’re in the time between the times. And our life, for those of us who are believers, is in part about enduring the heat to have our character refined so that we’re more like Jesus, and when he comes back, we’re more precious and pure because we’ve received his painful work in our life as an act of love. Do you get that? As an act of love.
I don’t know about you, if you’re like me, when it hurts I wonder if God loves me, and here in Malachi he’s saying he surely does. It’s easy to remember that on the other side when you look back and you show the good that God used out of difficult circumstances. It’s hard to remember that when you’re in the midst of it, and that’s where we want friends and Bible teachers to walk with us along the way.
That’s what Malachi’s doing for them and that’s what I want you to do for one another. How does God deal with his people at the first coming of Jesus? Well, it’s like a cleaner and a metalworker.
How does God deal with his enemies at his second coming of Jesus? As a judge. As a judge. Jesus came the first time for salvation, coming the second time for damnation. And it says in particular that nobody is getting away with anything, all right? Do not be deceived. God will not be mocked. We all reap what we sow.
Hear me in this, non-Christian. You are in grave, great, imminent danger. You may think that God is someone he’s not. You may think that you’re getting away with something you’re not. I mean, just, “Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?” He’s trying to get our attention and keep it. He says he’s going to deal with seven kinds of people.
Sorcerers, these are people who try to manipulate God. They want to use God to get the ends they want. Christianity says God is sovereign, gives us commands. Paganism, sorcery says we’re sovereign, we can make God do what we want God to do. You can’t control God. You can’t manipulate God. You can’t cajole God. You can’t force an outcome that you want by pressing his hand. That’s sorcery. Most religious teaching is sorcery, how to get God to give you what you want.
Adulterers, the sexually immoral, nobody’s getting away with anything. False witnesses, those who lie and don’t tell the truth. Those who oppress the poor and take advantage of those without means. Those who take advantage of widows, and orphans, and single mothers, and those who are more vulnerable. Those who take advantage of outsiders, visitors to our country, those who have just moved here, those who don’t know the language, and the customs, and the laws, and who’s trustworthy and who’s not, and take advantage of those who are to be welcomed and not abused.
Number seven, He says, “It all comes from not fearing me. There’s no respect, there’s no regard, there’s no honor. There’s not listening to me, there’s arguing with me. There’s not obeying me, there’s fighting me. There’s not revering me, there’s rebelling and reviling against me.” It’s all about the fear of the Lord.
Some of you are going to hell, and the fire you will experience is not a fire of refinement, not a fire that makes you better. It’s a fire of judgment that causes you misery forever. We’re all going to sit over a flame. We do it now in the love of God to become more like Jesus, or we do it forever under the wrath of Jesus. Jesus came in humility; he’s coming again in glory. He came as a Savior the first time; he comes as a Judge the second time. He came to save us from eternal fire the first time; he’s coming to light the eternal fire the second time. Friends, we live in the time between the times. God is not slow; God is patient. God is not wanting people to perish, but all to come to eternal life, and he’s inviting you to turn from sin and to trust in him.
Their question is, “Where is the God of justice?” Justice comes for all in one of two places: at the cross of Jesus or the white throne of Jesus. When Jesus came the first time, he went to the cross to die in our place for our sins as our substitute. There’s the justice and the love of God kissing on the cross of Jesus.
For those who reject that, justice comes at the white throne, the second coming of Jesus, where the dead will rise, and stand before him, and he will sentence them to their eternal fate. Justice comes. When they ask, “Where is the God of justice?” His name is Jesus. I would beg you to give him your sin and receive his salvation today so that your day of judgment would be at the cross of Jesus, not at the white throne of Jesus, that you would be forgiven by Jesus and not condemned by Jesus. And for those of us who are believers, I promise you this. The most painful things, even if they are not from the Lord, they’re used by the Lord to make us more like the Lord.
Father God, thank you for giving me an opportunity to open your Word. This is an amazing Word. It’s a timeless Word so it’s always a timely Word. Father, I thank you in your grace that this is a really helpful Word for me, and I pray with a father’s heart that it would be helpful to your sons and daughters. I pray you would allow us to take all of our questions and find our answer in Jesus in whose name we pray, amen.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.