Malachi 3:1 “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. 2 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. 3 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, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years. 5 “So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty. 6 “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.
Jesus was referring to this passage from the Prophet Malachi in His answer to John’s disciples in our gospel lesson for this week: 1 “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.
The idea of preparing the way goes back to another time, of course. Before instant text messaging and email and even the telegraph, a journeying king would send a messenger to prepare his way. The message would let everyone know that this important person was coming. It alerted them that they should do whatever was necessary in order to receive Him in a dignified and honorable way. They should clean and prepare their best clothes. They should prepare their best food just in case he would ask to come into their home. They should straighten up their place to make it presentable. The preaching of John the Baptist served as an alert for the people. The King of Kings was coming!
In terms of receiving the LORD [we] are seeking, we have things to get in order.
Malachi, the OT prophet who writes our text for this evening, lived in the Post-Exilic period of Israel’s history. Their Babylonian conquerors had fallen to other conquerors. Those conquerors, the Persians, were more pleasantly disposed toward them (and anyone they conquered). They permitted a remnant of God’s people to go back to Jerusalem, and to rebuild the temple under Ezra, and to rebuild the city walls under Nehemiah. During this time, they underwent religious reform. They were once again focused as a nation on obeying God and being led by Him.
But in the 4 chapters of Malachi’s prophecy (a portion of which serves as our text), God, once again, speaks judgment against His people. Again, they are engaged in wickedness and idolatry having intermarried with pagan nations.
One glaring symptom of their spiritual decline is their unwillingness to bring appropriate offerings before the Lord. He accuses them, saying: When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? [Sacrifices were their offerings – like when you put money into the offering plate] He goes on: When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty. 9 “Now implore God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”– says the LORD Almighty. 10 “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.
14 “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the LORD Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.
2:1 “And now this admonition is for you, O priests. 2 If you do not listen, and if you do not set your heart to honor my name,” says the LORD Almighty, “I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings.
7 Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty. “But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’ 8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse– the whole nation of you– because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the LORD Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.
They had things to get in order before the king comes. Blemished animals as offerings to the Lord… The Lord either doesn’t exist, or He’s too stupid to notice that they’re just unloading something worthless on Him – That’s what they were saying with those sorts of offerings. Their actions were saying, God can’t really see inside our hearts and minds. He doesn’t really know what we’re feeling and thinking – namely, that there’s no way we’re going to give up something valuable without getting something valuable in return. Offerings like the ones they were giving say about a person that he thinks himself to be personally responsible for whatever wealth he has, and not in need whatsoever of God giving him anything. In terms of receiving the LORD [they were] seeking, we have things to get in order.
In terms of receiving the LORD [we] are seeking, we have things to get in order.
Our trust in the Lord has holes in it. We protect the littlest of things, while God is prepared to give us the greatest of things if we’ll only trust Him to do so. We even protect secret sins, while the Lord has in mind for us pleasures that far exceed whatever we think we need here. We jeopardize a fortune in order to hold onto a pittance. We have hearts that long for this world. We want success and wealth and notoriety and things, and we turn our attention to getting all of it that we can get.
Meanwhile, the LORD is coming. He’s coming to bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts, as Paul writes in this week’s Epistle lesson (1 Cor. 4:5). Malachi talks about Him being like a refiner’s fire and a launderer’s soap because one thing’s for sure, He cannot accept us if we’re unprepared.
The messenger prepares us with these words: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”(Matthew 3:2) Nothing more. Just repent. Realize your tendency to want to follow the world instead of God, and be sorry about being that, and be willing to allow God to make you into something else.
In repentance, the Holy Spirit has enabled us in Baptism to trust in God’s promises and in His mercy, and to put aside the sins that seem so necessary to us and the possessions that we love so much.
We need to be prepared – there’s no doubt about that. The refining and the laundering that the Lord will carry out when He comes would destroy us otherwise. We need to be able to withstand it. He makes us able to do so through faith that He gives us to trust in Him instead of in ourselves and in whatever the world offers. The Israelites needed to be made to trust like that (we can tell from the way they were living their lives). We can see enough similarity in our own lives to see that we need to made to trust like that too, can’t we? We need to be prepared for the coming of the LORD.
This doesn’t just happen. We can’t practice it like we would an instrument or a sport. We can only receive in the way in which the LORD has determined to give it. He gives it through our hearing of His Word, and our receiving of His Sacrament. There He prepares us. He breaks us down and painfully convinces us that what we’ve thought was going to make us happy (like one of those secret sins, or the things of this world that we cling to) was only going to be a disappointment, but that He has something better in mind for us. He has replaced our guilt with Christ’s righteousness. Christ suffered and died for it so that we could have it as our own before God. If we have Christ’s righteousness, we’re prepared for the LORD’s coming. We’ve already been refined and laundered, and prepared so that God’s grace is our treasure and our greatest desire, and in that grace we will never cease to be satisfied.
The King Whose birth we celebrate next week comes constantly to us in Word and Supper to prepare us for His coming in glory to receive us. We prepare our hearts in repentance, and in devotion to the Lord Who bought us for eternal life. Amen.