Pastor Eric Schroeder - The Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, September 4, 2022

Text: Malachi 3:17-4:6

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“On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. 18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not. 4 “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty. “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

Famous last words. When an individual knows that their time here is coming to an end, sometimes they go out of their way to ensure that their last words contain something significant, something memorable, something to leave behind to those who knew them. For instance, maybe a lot of you would recognize the name Luciano Pavarotti. The Italian singer was probably the most well-known opera singer of his generation; he was one of the Three Tenors, maybe you’ve heard of them. In an ideal situation, his case is about how anyone might want their last words to go: he wrote them out ahead of time and as he was dying, he handed over a note with these last words: I believe that a life lived for music is an existence spent wonderfully, and this is what I have dedicated my life to. Famous last words.

Some people’s last words aren’t always as well thought out. Allegedly, the great statesman Winston Churchill’s last words were, “I’m bored with it all,” which he uttered just before he slipped into a coma from which he would never wake up. And then there are times that a person’s last words might be downright ironic. During the American Civil War, a Union General named John Sedgewick was on the battlefield when bullets started coming from far away. As his men started ducking down and taking cover, Sedgewick stood up in a show of bravado and said to them, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance…” right before he was hit and killed by one of those bullets. Of course, he had no idea that those would be his famous last words, but that’s the way it happened.

Today’s sermon brings us to the close of our series, with God’s famous last words to his Old Testament people. After Malachi, as far as we know, it would be another 400 years before God would speak to anyone on earth again and announce the arrival of the long-awaited Savior of the world. For anyone living in Jesus’ day, the giving of these words marked the completion of God’s revealed Word in the Bible they had to read and study. So what was, and is, God’s message through Malachi?

The Day is Coming. God wanted his people to be ready. That’s nothing new. Whenever God speaks to people of any age, he is preparing us for what comes next. So, he sent Malachi to address a people who were in danger of losing their grip on the covenant God had made with them. They had returned from exile and settled back in, and initially they were waiting for everything to be restored. But it hadn’t happened yet, and as a few generations came and went, maybe they were starting to think it wasn’t going to happen at all.

Here's what God said through Malachi, though. “On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. 18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” Words of encouragement! Those who remained faithful to God could be sure that God was still faithful to them. Those who kept their hope in God’s plan of salvation would not be disappointed, because God was still working among his people to save them, to forgive all who repented of their sins. All who served God could know that they were treasured by God even if the world showed them no favors. And the Day is still coming when God will expose everything and everyone according to his divine judgment.

Here’s how he describes that: 4Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. Do you know anyone that should be worried about God’s judgment? Anyone who could be considered arrogant or an evildoer, who needs to be concerned about this fire that will consume God’s enemies? Earlier in the book, Malachi pointed out some of the ways that the people had offended God. One was their absolute failures in marriage and family. They were largely unfaithful to one another and made a mess of their relationships and in turn, their society. Another big one was insincere worship. They showed up, but their hearts weren’t completely devoted to God. They brought offerings, but they weren’t the best they could give; instead, they brought God what was left over after they took out the best for themselves. Not only that, but a growing part of the population was neglecting worship altogether. Over time, good habits faded into spiritual laziness, and the excuse was that worship didn’t make any difference. Their lives weren’t any better when they obeyed God, and they didn’t seem to be any worse if they didn’t. So they waned in their faithfulness until their faith hung by the slimmest of threads.

The truth is that we all have a sinful nature within us that will never be anything but an arrogant evildoer. In our selfish desires, we are tempted to think that we know better than God, and it won’t hurt anything to ignore his commands (how arrogant of us!). We hear that voice that says, “The world isn’t going to end if I go to church any less; I can think of a whole lot of things I’d rather do than plan a weekend around worship.” We all are tempted to prioritize our own wants over generous giving to God for the work of the church. We are all tempted to think we don’t have time during the week to devote to daily study of God’s Word and a deeper prayer life. Or maybe we don’t even realize it, because we are tempted so often in our lives not to think about God at all.

Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace, God says. God’s judgment is coming, whether we think about it or not. It’s a call to humble ourselves once again and confess our sin and seek God’s mercy and forgiveness. And then here’s what God says: But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty. God draws us to himself and urges us to consider his Son’s famous last words as he gave his life for sinners on the cross: “It is finished.” All of our guilt died with him, and for all who rely on Jesus Christ alone for our eternal salvation, just as the Son of God rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. All who long for his redemption will be satisfied and healed forever of every struggle, every illness, every doubt and fear and conflict we have ever suffered. God is faithful to his everlasting promises, and he wants us to remember and trust in him. Throughout this life, we can look forward to the new day that leads to an eternity of victory over every spiritual enemy.

What should we focus on until then? Here’s what God said through Malachi. “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. As God spoke his final words before sending the Savior, he revealed one more clue to watch for. He would send a forerunner to prepare the way. The very next time we hear of God sending a messenger happens in the New Testament; it’s when the angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah and announces the birth of John the Baptist, who would be the fulfillment of this Elijah reference. It’s proof for us that despite the unfaithfulness of his people in every generation, our God cannot leave a single promise unfulfilled. He remains faithful to THE promise given and renewed through all the prophets. God still seeks to strengthen our trust in him as he works through Word and sacrament in our lives. Let’s be faithful in our use of these means of grace.

As we close out our series on the Minor Prophets, I think we’d all agree that we are blessed to have the view that we do. We’d much rather look from afar on the ways that God disciplined his Old Testament people than live through the conquest and captivity like they did. But let’s make sure we realize that these words are for us, too. Even as we see the promises of salvation fulfilled in Christ, let’s remember to watch for his coming again and prepare for it through a life of humble repentance. God’s final word to us remains: the Day is Coming. With hearts of faith we long for the victory he brings, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” Amen.