Malachi 3:13 – 4:6 ~ Healing for a Sick Nation
INTRODUCTION TO SCRIPTURE
It’s already mid-November! Thanksgiving is days away. Advent is but a couple of weeks away. This is the time of year when many churches around the world finish reading the Old Testament before they begin reading of the Advent of the Savior. So this November we are reading from the prophets at the end of the Old Testament: a couple of Sundays ago, Habakkuk, and today, Malachi. When we think of an Old Testament prophet, we usually think of a prophet of doom. But Habakkuk and Malachi spoke not doom but hope, because their people were living in times so hard that many had given up on God. Many were saying, “What’s the use?” But Malachi gave them hope. I’m reading today from the conclusion of Malachi, the last page of the last book of the Old Testament. (read scripture)
OUR LAND IN NEED OF HEALING
Last Sunday we heard young men from Cameron Boy’s Camp tell their stories. Each one had come to camp because he needed healing of some kind: healing from family strife or abuse, healing from anger or addiction or neglect. So many families in our land need so much healing. As the family goes, so goes the nation. One measure of the health of our nation is how we take care of broken families, how we take care of the fatherless and the orphan. Our families and our whole land are in need of healing.
JUDAH IN NEED OF HEALING
This word from Malachi that I read to you was given to another land in need of healing, the land of Judah. The people of Judah were wounded — wounded by personal immorality, wounded by injustice among rich and poor. Workers and widows and orphans and aliens were exploited and cast aside. Husbands were abandoning the wives of their youth and marrying new wives who worshipped new gods.
But most of all, the people of Judah were wounded by disappointment. They had been released from exile in Babylon; they had come home to Jerusalem and Judah. They had rebuilt the temple and resumed worshipping God in the temple. They did so expecting that once temple and worship were restored, God would bless the people with a great age of prosperity. But nothing like that had happened yet. They were just barely surviving, in the midst of hostile neighbors. The wound of their disappointment cut them to the heart.
JUDAH IN DESPAIR
You can hear their disappointment and despair in Malachi 3:13:
It is vain to serve God. What do we profit by keeping his command or by going about as mourners before the Lord of hosts? Now we count the arrogant happy; evildoers not only prosper, but when they put God to the test they escape.
In other words, “We’ve tried to serve God, but it gets us nowhere. Meanwhile the people who don’t even care about God are living the good life. What’s the use?”
WE IN DESPAIR
Have you ever said to yourself, “What’s the use?” Have you ever tried to live by the rules and found yourself just getting further behind; and meanwhile, the people who don’t give a rip about God seem to be having the time of their lives?
A person can endure a lot of stress and strain as long as that person still has hope. But if that hope begins to waver, then the stress and strain become too much, and despair comes. What is the use of living for God? What is the use of waiting for God? God has not shown up yet for me. Who’s to say God ever will?
That’s what was going on in Judah. Has that ever gone on in you?
THE LIE OF THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL
What makes it worse is when we hear preachers preaching a gospel of prosperity, which is a very simple gospel:
If you are good to God, then God will be good to you.
And if you are bad to God, then God will be bad to you.
What a coincidence that being good means giving to their ministries. They quote generous portions of Deuteronomy (Ch. 28) and other parts of the Bible to make their case. But that’s not the whole story, and some of you know it.
Some of you have tried to revere and honor God in your lives, and yet tragedy has still hit you and your family. Preachers of the prosperity gospel don’t have much to say when that happens, but the Bible does. Read Jeremiah, or some of the Psalms, and you will read honest words about how there are times when the good may suffer and the bad may prosper. Read the story of Job, and you will know that you are not the only one who has wondered how life in God’s world can feel so unfair. You are not the only one who has wondered how long God will take to straighten all this out. The people of Judah wondered the same thing.
SEE, THE DAY IS COMING
But in Malachi, the Lord said to the people of Judah: the day is coming:
See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble, the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch
But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. (Malachi 4:1-2a)
The Lord told them the day is coming:
- The day is coming when you will indeed see the difference “between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” (3:18b)
- The day is coming, says God, when you will realize that I haven’t abandoned you, and you will realize what a special treasure you are to me (3:17)
- The day is coming when the sun of righteousness shall rise on you, and the warmth of its rising will heal your despair.
The sun of righteousness, with healing in its wings. In the ancient near east, artists would draw a disk for the sun and then wings on either side of the disk. I suppose they imagined the sun using wings to fly across the sky each day. Babylonians and Egyptians worshipped the image of the winged sun as a god. Here in 4:2 Malachi called on that image, but not as a god, rather as an instrument used by God who created the sun. So the image of the winged sun was an image of destruction and healing. For those who do not serve God, the heat of the sunrise on the day of the Lord will bring destruction. But for those who do serve God, the heat of the sun, winging across the sky on that day of the Lord, will bring healing.
That day is coming, God promised Malachi. On that day, God’s people will be filled with joy and power, like calves leaping out of dark stalls into bright sunlight. On that day, a prophet with the power and the spirit of Elijah will turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the hearts of children to their parents.
The words make me think again of those boys from the Children’s Homes. Imagine the strife in their families being healed. Imagine the strife in our all families being healed. Imagine our land being healed someday, on the day when the Lord acts, the day of the Lord.
To live life and to serve God with a view to that day of the Lord is a very different way to live. We don’t serve God for what we can get out of it. That would be the false way of the gospel of prosperity. Rather, we serve God even when we’re not getting anything from it. We love God, not just for what God can do for us. We love God just because we love God. This is the ruthless trust of the prophets that rings out at the end of the Old Testament.
They tell us: keep trusting and walking the way of God, even though you get no apparent reward, even though you get no exemption from the tragedies of life.
Keep trusting God, even though there is no guarantee that it will lead to prosperity; it may even lead you to poverty for God’s sake.
- Keep trusting, whether you get anything out of it or not.
- Keep trusting, whether you see prosperity in this life or not.
- Keep trusting, whether you see God at work or not.
For the day will come when you will see God at work. On that day, you will see that there is after all a difference between serving God and not:
- You will see, in the sunrise of God’s day, the warmth of healing upon broken families and despairing people;
- You will feel God’s joy in you until you go leaping like calves let out of their stalls
- You will see God’s prophet bringing parents and children back together.
You will see it all, on that great and terrible day when the Lord comes.
- Douglas E. Murray