Sermon Text: Malachi 3:1-4
Date: December 5 & 6, 2015
The Second Sunday in Advent, Year C
Malachi 3:1–4 (NIV84)
“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
God Prepares the Way for His Purification
Even if you’re a person that seems to attract clutter like I am, I think we can all admit there’s an appealing part about spending time cleaning and organizing. Every once in a while I get fed up with the state I’ve let my desk in my office or my dresser at home and I set out to clean up, organize, recycle what we can, donate things I don’t need, and generally clean up the place. And then, when it’s done, everything is neat and organized and it feels really nice and not at all chaotic as it had been (at least for a few minutes).
We have a mess that’s far worse than any clutter we might have around the house, a mess that is worse than a massive sewer backup in our homes. We have the mess of sin that hangs on us. We need to be purified and cleansed from that gunk. And that’s exactly what God does for us. Not only does God purify us, he prepares the way for that purification to ensure our hearts are ready.
Malachi is the last of the Old Testament prophets. Writing in the mid 5th century BC, he writes to the nation of Israel after they have returned from their 70-year captivity in Babylon. But as the last of the prophets of this era, much of what God directs him to write and say caused him and those who heard him to look ahead, beyond where they were, to where God was going to take them next.
Everything in our lesson this morning is in the future tense. For Malachi and his contemporaries, everything God was going to do was going to happen later—much later. It would be more than 400 years before God would bring these prophecies and promises to completion. And in some respect, you and I are still waiting for the full realization of all that God promises as well.
Malachi begins with a promise from God, “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” We see this promises of one who prepares the way especially clear in the work of John the Baptist more than 400 years after Malachi wrote these words. John would be Jesus’ cousin, roughly 6 months older than Jesus, whose work would be to get people ready for Jesus’ ministry. A lot of John’s work is not what we would call fun. He was called on to proclaim the law, to point out the people’s sins and to lead them to repentance.
Not many people like to hear about their sin. In fact, we could probably safely say that no one likes to hear about their sins. We may recognize that it’s necessary, but it’s never a fun thing. It’s never a happy thing to be told that what you’re doing, saying, planning, or thinking is wrong. And yet we need to hear that. You and I need to have the mirror of God’s law held up to our faces to show us exactly as we are: people who are completely and hopelessly corrupted by sin. We’ve taken every opportunity we can to offend God, either consciously or subconsciously. Our hearts are filled with selfishness and envy. We covet and lust after things we don’t have. To put it succinctly, we are a mess. And the people who lived in John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ day were no different.
So John came not only to point out their sin, but also to point out the solution to their sin. We heard in our Gospel that John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. We know that John specifically pointed to Jesus out of a crowd and told everyone that Jesus was the Messiah, the promised Savior. John would use the picture of the Old Testament sacrifices as he described Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
Malachi in our lesson for this morning uses some vivid terminology himself. He describes Jesus as a metal refiner and launderer: For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. When you get a nugget of gold out of the ground it’s worth something, but it’s impure. How do you get rid of the dirt and other contaminants? Fire. You heat up and liquefy the metal to a point that everything but the metal burns off. When it cools you’re left with pure gold. That is how precious metal are refined.
When you need to clean a stained garment what do you do? Now, I suppose, we have a lot of chemicals and special washing machines with different cycles that can do a lot of the work for us. But if you want to get a stain out, most likely you’ll need soap and some elbow grease to scrub.
Whether you’re talking gold or laundry, it takes work to get things clean and purified, but it’s work that neither the gold nor the stained garment is able to itself. They are completely passive in the process; someone else has to do it for them.
And that’s exactly the picture Malachi has in mind as he describes Jesus as the refiner and launderer. In the working of the Holy Spirit to create faith in our hearts, Jesus has taken each and every one of us and scrubbed us and burned off the crud that was on and inside of us. And his job isn’t like my job picking up the office which far too quickly descends into chaos again; Jesus’ work is permanent. When Jesus removes sins, they are gone. When he cleans you, you are clean forever. When you are refined by him, you are pure through eternity.
Jesus had work to do, elbow grease to put into that work. It cost him more than any refiner or launderer has ever given to their work because his cleansing was an eternal cleansing. To make us pure, he had to become corrupted; to clean us he had descend into the muck and mire of sin. The apostle Paul clearly lays out for us what God did: God made [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Jesus gave everything, his very life, to purify us. In his death we are set free from sin; in his resurrection on Easter we are assured of our eternal life with him. We will live because he died and rose. We are pure because he purified us of sin.
Malachi notes that this cleansing will mean a change in people. Before Jesus, we were scared to even think about God. The imperfect cannot stand in the presence of perfection; the sinner cannot stand before the holy God. But now we are not imperfect, but perfect; now we are not impure, but pure. And so now we can approach God in confidence and thankful joy. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
We are able to bring thanksgiving to God for what he’s done for us. The way we do that may vary depending on the day and our particular station in life. Maybe it’s helping an elderly parent in failing health; maybe it’s supporting a coworker who is stressed beyond belief at work; maybe it’s helping a friend who is going to through a difficult time in her life; maybe it’s simply commending the concerns and worries of this life in prayer to the God who can really, actually, bring about a change—the one who can purify the sinful and restore the brokenhearted.
But ultimately, we express our thanks in doing exactly what John the Baptist did: preparing the way for God’s purification. When we thankfully share our faith with others, when we share what Jesus has done, when we lead people into God’s Word to see his pure, perfect, and all-sufficient revelation for mankind, we are preparing the way for the Lord to create faith in their heart as well, that they may be sanctified, purified, and made able to thank God as their Savior as well.
Thank you, Lord, for letting us be a part of your preparation work, leading all to know the complete purification in Jesus, your Son. Amen.