26th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 28 – C)
November 13, 2016
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Old Testament reading, which was read a few minutes ago.
I don’t think any of you will argue with me when I say that no one likes bad news. Bad news by its very definition is bad, so it’s unwanted. We’d like to think we can avoid bad news, but we can’t. You’re going to hear things you don’t want to hear, say for example, Tuesday’s election results. Nor can you change bad news by pretending it isn’t bad. In one of my all-time favorite movies, Robin Hood Men in Tights, Prince John instructs the Sheriff of Rottingham to tell him the bad news in a good way. Of course, it doesn’t work because smiling and laughing doesn’t change the nature of the bad news.
Interestingly though this is exactly what some people have tried to do with our text from the book of Malachi. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek a couple hundred years before Jesus, the translators changed the order of the verses so the book wouldn’t end with a curse. Did it work? Obviously not, because the bad news is still bad.
There’s a saying I’m sure you’re all familiar which declares, “Crime doesn’t pay” and God repeatedly says in the book of Proverbs that the wicked will not succeed, but do we agree this? Not always. It seems like those Malachi calls the arrogant and the evil seem to get away with anything. We Christians are God’s people and you’d think we’d have it easier, but it’s the unbelievers who seem to be prospering. Things are going good for a lot of them and there doesn’t seem to be any backlash for the sins they’re so openly committing. It’s easy to whine “It’s not fair” like I’m back to being a kid when I was punished for breaking a rule but my younger sister seemed to get off scot-free. It doesn’t seem right, does it?
Malachi, which means “God’s messenger”, says that appearances are deceiving, and what we see and think isn’t necessarily the truth. He says, “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.” God sees the evil and unbelief that is so prevalent in our world and He promises that He will deal with it accordingly. There don’t appear to be consequences for those who have rejected God, and yet God says there are. These words give us hope because they promise that, in the end, we’ll be the ones who are rewarded and blessed, even if we don’t see it now. The return of Jesus to judge the living and the dead is bad news, but only for those who don’t believe or just pretend to believe.
Honestly speaking though, do we give the return of Christ the proper respect that we should? Is this something we even think about? When we hear readings like this from Malachi we sure should because if we’re living as if Judgment Day is a fairytale we will be shocked when it happens. Far too many Christians live as if God isn’t really going to come back one day. Far too many of us live as if God is just going to wink at our sins because He forgives. When we Christians live this way we’re exactly like the people to whom Malachi was writing. Those of Malachi’s time weren’t taking their faith seriously; their worship was half-hearted, they weren’t giving God what was His of their income, they were taking advantage of the weak, and they weren’t taking their call as believers seriously. To put it simply, they were apathetic. They were apathetic towards God and His Law, and so Malachi calls them to remembrance.
He says, “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him.” This command though isn’t just for the people 400 years before Jesus, they’re for us as well. We are called to obey the Law of God has we’ve received it through Moses. We don’t obey the laws regarding sacrifices or what animals are appropriate for eating because those laws refer to the laws that Jesus abolished, we do however obey the moral laws, the laws that dictate how we love God and those around us. If we ignore His Law or if we think they don’t actually matter, the return of God is very bad news indeed. We cannot live as if God isn’t going to keep His promise to return.
God keeps all His promises including the promise to come and to exercise His judgment on the arrogant, wicked, and unbelievers. He says, “The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” The fire that God refers to is not a cute little campfire which heats up the chilly night nor is it the roaring fire that quickly consumes a house. The fire of God’s judgment isn’t even equal to the 1,800 degrees that softened the steel and partially led to the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. The fire of God’s judgment is unrivaled by anything we would experience in this world, for it will completely purge any remnants of Sin and wickedness.
The return of Christ in judgment is bad news, but it isn’t for you! It’s bad news for the wicked, but for you who are Christ’s people it will be an incredible day filled with delight. Listen to how Malachi describes it. He says, “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.” What a great description of unbridled of joy.
We can anticipate this day of joy because while the promise of Christ’s return should wake us up and bring to mind our failures to love God as we should, His promises are also recalled. The promises that say that while we are sinners who deserve to be consumed with the wicked, we’re not! Instead, when we revere God’s name and hold Him in the highest esteem we’ll receive the love of Christ that will make us dance in pure delight.
We’ll leap like calves from their stalls because we will see God’s judgment on the wicked and we’ll see that God is good and He executes justice in His way and in His time. The wicked and the unbelievers prosper now, they seem unstoppable at times, but it’s not going to last. The comforting truth is that one day God will reveal Himself and those who have rejected God and reviled His name will be destroyed. Malachi puts it this way, “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.” This is some imagery, isn’t it? We’ll dance on the ashes of the wicked. We’re not doing so in bitter revenge or hatred, but because that’s all that’s left of them and we won’t even notice them. Wickedness, Sin, and Evil will be destroyed and their memory obliterated from our minds.
Did you catch the reference to a Christmas hymn in Malachi’s words? He says, “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” Healing in its wings? Hark the Herald Angels Sing, right? What a day to anticipate with heartfelt yearning. The day that the perfect Sun of Righteousness warms us with the light of His love and compassion. The day that His great light bursts into our world and dispels the darkness and gloom of Sin and Death. We’re sick because of our sins and we’re sickened by the sins that others inflict on us, but in Christ we find healing. Not a temporary alleviation of our symptoms, not a disease that is beaten into remission, but complete healing, a true cure.
Christ brings us healing because He has borne for us God’s judgment. “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” Those words sum up the fire that God unleashes on Sin. The fires of hell, the fires that reduce evil to ash, the fires hotter than anything we can imagine baking our Savior because of our Sin. He felt the heat of judgment so we will feel the warmth of forgiveness and peace.
How wonderful that knowledge is right now! It’s not just joy reserved for some day in the future. We will leap for joy then, but you can do that now. Rejoice, leap, and dance for your sins are forgiven. Don’t fear the bad news of God’s judgment on this sinful world, celebrate the Gospel, the Good News, of God’s judgment on Christ which assures you that you are righteous, that you are forgiven, that you are illuminated by the light that is Christ Jesus.
Whether news is bad or good depends on your point of view right? Tuesday’s election results, the outcome of the annual Iowa/Iowa State Football game, the day that Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead are just a few examples. Christians may not care about elections or football or other things like that, but we do care about the return of Jesus. Don’t be afraid of the promise of God’s return because you have nothing to fear. Yes, God is the just God who punishes wickedness and unbelief. He is also the just God who doesn’t punish His people because He’s already punished His Son. Lift up your eyes to Heaven and eagerly anticipate His return! His coming isn’t bad news, it’s indescribably joyful news. For the fires that consume the wicked will warm you with the eternal warmth of Jesus.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen