Pastor Peter Walther / November 8, 2015 / End Times 2
The Day of Judgement/ Malachi 4:1-3
What’s the point of going to church? Nothing happens when I go to church. Nothing happens when I don’t. Why bother when I could be doing something entirely different with my time, like sleeping in or watching football, or catching up on Netflix? I mean what advantage do we get from going to church? Maybe a tax break after giving a certain amount of money in the offering. Other than that? It’s not like the people who aren’t in church are being struck down where they stand by God. In fact, a lot of times, it seems like the unbelievers have the better life, probably because they get their beauty sleep on Sunday morning! So many in Israel at the time of Malachi were growing impatient with God when he didn’t seem to judge the evil in the world. In fact, the people even said it is pointless to serve the Lord. What did they gain from carrying out the requirements? The evildoers prosper, even those who challenge God escape. They wanted to know when the end would come. That day seemed like it would never come!
A day isn't really a long time. It’s only 24 hours. Not much at all. But it’s almost as if time is irrelevant to our brains as we can’t conceive what an hour or even a day is. Some days a day feels like an eternity or that it can never come soon enough. When you have vacation planned, it feels like it takes forever. Maybe it’s a day that you finally get to see that friend that you’ve been dying to see and you have so much to catch up on. Maybe it's the kind of day that you are dreading. You don’t want that day to come. Maybe that day is a day that you have to prepare a big presentation in front of your company. Or maybe it's the day when you have to put your loved one down into the freshly dug ground. A day you’ll never see your loved one again.
I think in theory, we want to the Last day to come. Right? That way we’ll never have to deal with pain and sadness. But, did you ever take the time to realize all that comes with that wish? The real buzz word becomes apparent: readiness. Who is ready? Are you ready for the day? Am I ready? Yeah, maybe. But is your next door neighbor who is a raging alcoholic, the next door neighbor that you just can’t stand because he and his live in girlfriend are constantly arguing, even out in the street? How will that next door neighbor ever be ready if the only experience with Christianity that he and his girlfriend see is you making eye contact, running in doors, closing the garage door, the sound of “click,” your doors locking? I think we quickly see that the day we want to come isn’t necessarily a day that we are ready for.
Now look at the qualifiers in this verse. Who deserves to be trampled and set on fire? Who deserves to be thrown into hell? How many arrogant people? All. How many evil doers? Every. It hurts that Malachi chose to use these two words because reality sets in. The Israelites had returned from their nation’s captivity and they had began to rebuild. The temple had been completed, and the people worshiped there, following the prescribed rituals and offering the required sacrifices. But the religious enthusiasm had now drained away. Again we find them sliding down toward sin, trapped in the old patterns. Reading this book of Malachi, you can’t help but come to a realization. God’s people had lost their vision of God, and of their own future. Even those who claimed to do things right, who claimed that they were pretty good, they had become dependent on how they looked. Do you not see that those who claim that they are pretty good go against that first qualifier for judgement? They were arrogant! We can’t escape this judgement. Because even if we claim that we are pretty good, that is an exaggerated sense of our abilities. That is the definition of arrogance. We are nothing but fit for destruction. Nothing but stubble ready to be burned and tortured forever.
Speaking of things I can’t be too arrogant about, sometimes you do things that you look back and think, that was not very bright of me. There were moments when stoking a camp fire when you want to look manly and just put a log right into the middle of the fire with your bare hands. Or you decide that the already large fire could use another good dose of lighter fluid. All of a sudden, you smell that burning hair smell. Yes, you have singed the very hairs off of your fingers, your hand, your arm, and even your eyebrows. The thought of getting so close to the fire and not getting burned is the height of arrogance. The boyfriend and the girlfriend living together didn’t think anything of it until IT happened. The older gentleman who sees a young person who almost looks like they could have just woke up in the gutter, and instead of acting in love to this younger gentleman, THAT happened. The younger daughter who had been mistreated by her parents hears about forgiveness in God’s word but when her other siblings start blaming their parents behind their back, THAT happens. You might not think you’ll burn yourself in the fire, but every time you get close to the temptation, how easily we get burned! How much more when we continue to hang in that area of temptation and sin? How can we claim to be ready when we continue already so close to the fire?
How arrogant am I, that I would think that I could be ready on my own? To think that I could prepare myself for death and to stand before the judgement throne and say that I prepared myself? Am I ready? I would think not. I am never ready when I continue to wallow in my sin. In fact I'm slightly afraid of that last day because I fear that I may not be ready enough.
In high school I tried to make an excuse for a paper that I was handing in late. The teacher said, “Excuses are like butts, everyone has them, and they all stink.” My sin has no excuse on the last day. On the last day, my spiritual carelessness is not excused. I can only assume that God will be hearing a lot of “but, but, buts. But what about that one time I went to church? What about that one time I gave money to a homeless person. Doesn’t that get me anywhere?” God will say no, it doesn’t. It’s too late.
Instead God gives us something right here and right now. What word do you see? What is the first word of verse 2? God says, “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.” I actually like the translation where it says, “…With healing in its wings.” These are the greatest words a person can hear. That’s what you need to hear. That’s what your children need to hear. That's what your next door neighbor needs to hear who only knows your garage door shutting in his face.
We need to hear these words because we have been beaten, bloodied, blinded by a spiritual war. That war even pervades our physical life. We see the effects that sin can have on people physically, spiritually, even emotionally. The pain that a friend caused another because they spoke badly behind their back. The blast that leaves us speechless as we lose the loved one at our side. The shot to the chest as we see Satan working tirelessly on our children. The land mine of sin that breaks up a family. The drone of temptation that you never saw coming, all of a sudden, catching you by surprise as it attacks you again and again as you fall again and again into sin. But on the battlefield, we hear this buzzing sound. A distant hum. We hear our medical team coming in. On the wings of this plane comes our physician. He comes to us, for us. He picks us up, brushes us off, carries us, and places us into the safety of that hospital.
In our arrogance, we thought we could stand alone. We had no chance. But God doesn’t come to us in his own arrogance or to flaunt what we have lost, or to say, “I told you so!” No, he comes to us in humility. Jesus Christ took on human flesh, was made fun of, was beaten, crucified, and took on the greatest humiliation of our sin, as if it was his. The times I was so arrogant in my spiritual life, the times you never showed love to the unloveable, the sin that brings humiliation and disgrace to a family, he took all of that as if it was his. Who am I that he would do that? I’m just this kid who is one of billions of billions of people. I’m just something of a gnat that God could just flick away. And yet, God loved me. God looks at us square in the eyes and says, “You know how you were worried about getting ready for that Last day? Do you remember your sin keeping you from preparation?” And he points at Christ and says, “There's your answer. Right there, no longer nailed to the tree, but the king ruling over everything. That’s your ticket. Look to him.”
Can you feel it? The weather is getting worse. Cloudy, rainy, gross. I already feel like I have cabin fever. Even though I’m one of the few who like winter, when I’m all cooped up inside, I love looking at summer photography that catches the warmth of the sun and the breeze of summer time. That idea of perfect weather in Wisconsin always seems so far off. But those pictures keep reminding me that I’ll be all right. Spring is just around the corner.
The people of Israel were longing for that better weather. The nation of Israel had gone through some extreme difficulties in its history. The prophet Malachi had seen first hand the Israelites coming back from exile. It seemed like they just couldn’t catch a break. Several thousand years later, we still look for that better weather. We look at the world around us and we think, what’s the point? What has Christianity gotten me? I read the Bible and pray one day, and maybe I forget the next day. But nothing happens, nothing changes around me. The world continues to go around all while it mocks and challenges Christianity. Things feel like they are upside down, and opposite of what they should be. When will there be justice? Do you think God would really forget about us?
That sun is on the horizon: the moment we have been waiting for when Christ returns. These words remind us of the wonderful care we receive from God right here in his church. We aren't like sheep compelled to look for their scanty food on the dry desert ground. We are carefully and well fed in the stalls. When you have the best of something, it’s hard to go back! These churches are like our feeding stalls where we receive the best food: where we have the Word of God, the sacraments, devotional books, the communion with fellow brothers and sisters, so that we can go forward in vitality and strength. It’s not to say that we won’t go though the very same struggles that we’ve been facing. However, God’s word assures us of what comes after this life.
What’s the point of doing all of this? Of being in church? Of living a “Christian life?” Of praying, worshiping, and reading God’s Word? When the last judgment arrives, we will not cower in fear, but lift up our heads because our redemption is near. We will be ready for that day. I will be ready not because of me, but because of my Savior who was nothing for me. As the apostle Paul once said, “But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Dear brothers and sisters, We will face Judgment Day. But we will with confidence given by Christ. Let us always continue to look forward to that day. Amen.