Full Love Requires Justice
Malachi 2:17-3:5 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
You have wearied the Lord with your words.
Yet you ask, “How have we wearied him?”
When you say, “Everyone who does what is evil is good in the Lord’s sight, and he is delighted with them, or else where is the God of justice?”
“See, I am going to send my messenger, and he will clear the way before me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to his temple, the Messenger of the covenant you delight in—see, he is coming,” says the Lord of Armies. But who can endure the day of his coming? And who will be able to stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire and like launderer’s bleach. He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. And the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord as in days of oldand years gone by.
“I will come to you in judgment, and I will be ready to witness against sorcerers and adulterers; against those who swear falsely; against those who oppress the hired worker, the widow, and the fatherless; and against those who deny justice to the resident alien. They do not fear me,” says the Lord of Armies.
Today’s passage in Malachi begins with an accusation. Malachi said,
- Malachi 2:17a (CSB) — You have wearied the Lord with your words.
Words are wearisome.
When was the last time you were lied to? When was the last time someone made you a promise that you knew they couldn’t keep?
Those kinds of words are always wearisome.
But, sometimes words are wearisome, not just because of their content, but because of their volume. There are people who talk at you not to you. And they go on and on with their agenda without listening to a word you say in response. And that wears you thin. It’s wearisome.
And some words are wearisome out of shear ignorance. They talk and talk about things they know nothing about.
Malachi told Israel that they wearied the Lord with their words and their response was,
- Malachi 2:17b (CSB) — “How have we wearied him?”
That’s ignorance. They don’t even know what they said to weary God. So, Malachi told them.
- Malachi 2:17c (CSB) — When you say, “Everyone who does what is evil is good in the Lord’s sight, and he is delighted with them, or else where is the God of justice?”
The Israelites believed that they were in God’s favor strictly because they were God’s people. So, then, even if they lived immoral lives, they said God delights in them, that they are still good. It’s like when you go to a funeral for someone who lived a really bad life and someone says, “But, I know his heart was good.” The Jews wearied God with their words and then complained that God wasn’t present with them.
And I fear that many Christians live right there today.
There is a very common and I believe harmful teaching in our churches today that the way you become a Christian is by accepting Jesus into your heart. You are told that you need Jesus because your life is falling apart around you and that he will come in to you to repair all the damage that has been done in this life and in eternity. If you just say this prayer to accept Jesus into your heart, then you can be saved from everything that haunts you.
So, you say the prayer and maybe start going to church, and you no doubt begin to pray, but you find out that nothing changes. Your incantation and new religious habits have done nothing to fix your circumstances. And so you weary God with your words, Where is the God of Justice? Where is God when I need Him? Where is God in all this pain?
The foundational issue with this approach to Christianity is that we don’t tell God where He can go. Jesus will enter into whom he wills. He does not enter because we invite him. Read the Gospels and you’ll see that the demons never asked permission to enter a person. How much more powerful is Christ, then? He doesn’t need your permission for you to receive him. Notice the wording of 2 Corinthians 1:22,
- 2 Corinthians 1:22 (CSB) — He has also put his seal on us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment.
We did not invite Jesus’s Spirit into us, but the Spirit of God came into us through Christ. If you are a Christian, the Spirit of Christ was placed in your heart and Jesus does not need your permission to live there.
See, when you teach someone to accept Jesus into their heart, you are working on the assumption that Jesus is going to do what you invite him to do. Saying a prayer to be saved, inviting Jesus into your heart is not assurance of salvation and it is not assurance of the indwelling of the Spirit of God. In fact, I believe it is rarely the case that the a person is saved—receives the Spirit and is justified—at the time that they first profess Christ.
Incantations, like saying a prayer do not result in the Spirit. Even rituals like baptism do not result in the Spirit. What the scriptures teach is that the Spirit comes into a person when they becomes loyal to Jesus Christ. The Spirit comes when a person chooses no longer to live for themselves, but to live for Christ. And that’s how salvation occurs: loyalty.
But, we don’t tell people that. We don’t tell people that following Jesus means complete abandonment of everything that they are. Well, I do. But most Christians don’t. Whether you realize it or not, the accept-Jesus-into-your-heart Gospel, communicates that Jesus is something you add to your life. He’s another charm on your charm bracelet. He’s a patch on your uniform. He’s meant to take who you are and elevate you to be something better.
But, Jesus didn’t come to take who you are and make you better. Jesus came to bury you in the grave that you might rise in new life. Jesus isn’t interested in retaining anything about your old life before Christ. I’ll be clear here, though. Jesus doesn’t necessarily change you personality or your interests. But, he isn’t interested in retaining anything about your morality or worldview. He’s interested in complete resurrection and glorification of the old self.
That’s why John the baptist said, “I must decrease, but Christ must increase.” He was talking directly about his ministry influence, but the metaphor is beautiful. John wanted to get out of the way and let Christ reign in every way.
Malachi actually prophesied about John the Baptist in our passage today. He wrote,
- Malachi 3:1 (CSB) — “See, I am going to send my messenger, and he will clear the way before me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to his temple, the Messenger of the covenant you delight in—see, he is coming,” says the Lord of Armies.
Malachi said that the messenger—who we know is John the Baptist—would come to pave the way for the coming of the Lord. He came and called the Jewish people to repent of evil and serve the Lord with a pure heart so that when Jesus came, he could get out of the way. Less of John. More of Christ.
If a man as righteous as John the Baptist felt that he needed to get out of the way and let Jesus reign, then which one of us has any right to hold on to any part of our old self?
The Christian life is characterized by less of me and more of Christ. Jesus is not something you add to your sinful, wretched, and broken life by praying a prayer. Jesus takes over every part of life.
In his famous sermon, What Does it Mean to Accept Christ?, A.W. Tozer said,
- A. W. Tozer (What Does it Mean to Accept Christ?) — If your Christian conversion did not reverse the direction of your life…then you’re not converted at all, you are simply a victim of the accept-Jesus heresy!
He calls this way of thinking out as a heresy, which I think goes entirely too far. But, why? Isn’t it just a different approach to evangelism? Can’t each person do this his or her own way?
He sad this because the accept-Jesus-into-your-heart method of evangelism gives people the false notion that they have been saved by saying a prayer, when it is not anywhere close to the means that the scriptures say a person is saved. No one gets saved in the scriptures by saying a prayer. The Gospel is that you give your whole self, full allegiance, loyalty unto death, to Christ. When you do that, you are saved.
But the accept-Jesus Gospel leaves people in their sins. It allows them to believe that they belong to God even though they have not yet repented of their sins. They have not committed to fully give themselves over to Christ. Frequently, people pray to accept Jesus into their hearts, not because they actually believe in Jesus, but because in their hopelessness, they want to see if Jesus will work for them. But, that’s missing the point of Jesus entirely. We don’t try Jesus to see if He works. He’s not a self-help guru. Jesus is the Lord of life and the God of the universe and we receive Christ when we recognize His sovereign power and sacrifice ourselves before him.
But, that’s what is happening in churches all over the world today. People are coming to Christ for the promise that their lives will get better. That’s true for people who are responding to the prosperity Gospel—follow Jesus and you will be blessed financially and get promotions at work and all that. But, that’s also true for people who are in more conservative churches like ours. People are praying to accept Jesus into their hearts for the hope that Jesus might fix their problems. And he might. But, that’s not the point of the Gospel.
And that’s exactly what was happening in Israel. The Lord gave them the law of God. He sent them the prophets. They had everything they needed to be completely sold out for the Lord, fully allegiant to Him, but they continued in their sins. They claimed the blessings of God. Malachi said that they called themselves good even though the continued to do what is evil. They did their religious rites and they prayed the prayers, so certainly now God must bless them. But, then when God did not show up to fix what they wanted fixed and to cause them to prosper in the ways that they wanted to prosper, they complained, “Where is the God of justice?!”
They accused God of acting unjustly towards them as if they had earned God’s favor and now God must bless them. Incredible arrogance.
But, again, that’s what so many of us do. We profess Jesus, but don’t actually give our lives to Him. We claim the name, we want the name on our charm bracelet. But, we want to retain our identity and sprinkle Jesus in where we want him, but we don’t want Jesus to redefine who we are, so there is no allegiance, no loyalty. And then we accuse God of acting unjustly when he doesn’t bless us.
That was the problem in Israel and that’s the problem in the church today. And that’s difficult because, Jesus actually said it would be like this. Look what he taught,
- Matthew 13:24–30 (CSB) — “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while people were sleeping, his enemy came, sowed weeds among the wheat, and left. When the plants sprouted and produced grain, then the weeds also appeared. The landowner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Master, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’ “ ‘An enemy did this,’ he told them. “ ‘So, do you want us to go and pull them up?’ the servants asked him. “ ‘No,’ he said. ‘When you pull up the weeds, you might also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I’ll tell the reapers: Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles to burn them, but collect the wheat in my barn.’ ”
Jesus said that there would be weeds among the wheat, sown by the enemy of God. That is a way of saying that, in the church, there will be authentic, sold out believers and there will be people who are here for other reasons, they claim the name of Jesus, they try to fit into the church, but they are not allegiant to Christ; they are weeds.
This is where I would like to turn your attention to the diagram on your bulletin and on the screen also. There are two groups of people represented here. These are not people in the church and in the world. This is not people in Israel and the nations surrounding Israel. These two groups are present and intermingled in the church. There are those who are being sanctified who are the wheat. They are growing and producing fruit for Christ. And those who stand condemned. They are the weeds, and they are simply waiting until judgment to be uprooted and thrown into the fire.
On the first tier of the graphic you have those who are truly Christians, those who are truly saved. And on the second tier you have those who have not surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ, but still count themselves as part of the church; they are not saved, not really Christians.
The question for you is, Which category are you in?
I can’t decide that for you. All I can do is to ask you to look deeply at your life, at the way you live, at the way you treat people you know, at your devotion to Jesus, at your desire for godly living, and at your desire to actually be with Jesus—I can ask you to look at your heart and then ask you to gauge where you are at.
I can’t do that for you, and in fact, Jesus gave a warning against it. In the story Jesus told, when the servants asked if they should pull out the weeds, the master of the house said no. If you pull up the weeds, you might accidentally pull up wheat with it. So, he said, leave the weeds to grow among the wheat. In other words, it’s not my calling as your pastor to remove those in the church that have no faith from those with authentic faith. I don’t have the ability to determine who is truly saved and who is not. Rather, that is something that the Lord will do when he comes to gather his harvest, on the day of Judgment.
But, just like Malachi warned the Israelites, and just like Jesus warned the disciples, I warn you, that there are some here today who are not allegient to Christ and who will not enter God’s presence on judgment day.
But, I want you to have a gauge to look at your heart and my prayer is that today, if you find yourself to be a weed, you might today surrender yourself to Christ, that your loyalty might be to Him, to Christ and Christ alone.
So, Malachi is speaking to the Israelites, the Jews. They believed that because of their ethnicity, they were God’s chosen people and that they should receive God’s favor. But, remember they wearied God with their words. They were continuing to do evil things and saying that they were still good people.
So, there’s a natural progression of thought in the passage. Malachi prophesied about John the Baptist ushering in the reign of Jesus Christ when he said,
Malachi 3:1 (CSB) — “See, I am going to send my messenger, and he will clear the way before me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to his temple, the Messenger of the covenant you delight in—see, he is coming,” says the Lord of Armies.
The most important part of this verse is that Malachi said that the Lord Himself will come to his temple.
Don’t miss this. The Lord of the Old Testament is the Lord of the New Testament. The Lord, Yahweh—or some say Jehovah—who gave the covenants to Abraham, and to Moses, and to David, is Jesus Christ, who came to the earth as a messenger of the New Covenant that would be established by His blood shed on the cross. The Lord of the Old Testament is the Lord of the New Testament.
Now, I don’t have time to talk through all the details of covenants in the scriptures today. But, this is the New Covenant that the prophet Jeremiah spoke of and which Jesus spoke at length about, as well as the Apostle Paul.
Under the New Covenant, the Lord no longer resides in the temple made by human hands in Jerusalem, but now He resides in the hearts of all of His people, by the indwelling of His Spirit. Paul wrote,
- 1 Corinthians 6:19 (CSB) — Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own.
The Lord enters His temple, by placing His Spirit in us—in you and I—when we become loyal to Jesus Christ alone.
Malachi warned Israel,
- Malachi 3:2a (CSB) — But who can endure the day of his coming? And who will be able to stand when he appears?
The Lord Jesus is a righteous judge and that should worry them. It should worry us! The Psalmist wrote,
- Psalm 53:1–3 (CSB) — The fool says in his heart, “There’s no God.” They are corrupt, and they do vile deeds. There is no one who does good. God looks down from heaven on the human race to see if there is one who is wise, one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one.
No one can stand before God. That should worry us! When God comes for judgment, there is no one who can endure His judgment. That’s why Malachi said, Who can endure the day of His coming? It’s a rhetorical question. The answer is emphatically, “No one!” Not even a Jew by birth.
But, then Malachi made this great statement. He said,
- Malachi 3:2b-3a (CSB) — For he will be like a refiner’s fire and like launderer’s bleach. He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver.
My Dad loves guns and when I was a kid he would make his own bullets. We would go to gas stations and tire shops and pick up buckets of old tire weights and he would melt those down to make his bullets out of.
Well, the first step is to refine the lead in the weights. If the lead isn’t pure, then it won’t make a good bullet and it can actually be dangerous. So, you had to get all the tire goob and dirt off of them.
The way he did that was be melting them down over a fire outside. All of the impurities would rise to the top and he would scoop it off and throw it away. He would lose a lot of the material that way, but what he was left with was absolutely pure metal that he could make his bullets with. And basically that’s how all metal is refined. It’s placed in the fire so that the impurities will burn off or melt away. In a refiners fire, the point is not the destruction of the impurities so much as it is the isolation of the good stuff within.
Malachi also spoke of launderer’s bleach. And that’s really about as obvious as it sounds. A launderer had bleach to remove stains from fabrics and other materials to restore their purity. Get the bad stuff out and keep the good.
People often ask how a loving God can send people to hell and the answer is because God’s love for His people requires that the dross be removed. Those who are not allegiant to Christ must be separated in the refining process if His people are to be made holy.
There’s a fancy word that’s used in certain places in the New Testament. The word is Sanctification or Sanctify. To sanctify is to make holy or make pure. Sanctification is the process of becoming pure and that is what Malachi is talking about here when he uses the illustration of a refiners fire. Christ purifies us as individuals. Throughout our lives he melts away the dross so that on the Day of the Lord he can present us as holy, blameless, and pure.
- Malachi 3:3b–4 (CSB) — Then they will present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. And the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord as in days of old and years gone by.
Because Jesus purifies us, our offerings become acceptable to God. Our lives become offerings to God. Our presence becomes pleasant to God. And because we are acceptable, then we can enter forever into the presence of God.
That is what is meant be eternal life—eternal being with God forever.
But, this is actually a warning that Malachi presents, because, he doesn’t seem as much concerned that they will be sanctified as he is concerned that they will be condemned. There are two paths. Some continue on the path of condemnation while others progress in sanctification. Remember, this doesn’t have to do with people in Israel versus those in the world. Neither does it have to do with those in the church verses those in the world. There are people in the church who are progressing in sanctification. And there are people in the church who persist in condemnation. Those who are progressing in sanctification wait for the eternal presence of the Lord on judgment day.
But, many claim that they will enter God’s presence, but they are not progressing in sanctification; they are persisting in condemnation. Look what Malachi wrote,
Malachi 3:5 (CSB) — “I will come to you in judgment, and I will be ready to witness against sorcerers and adulterers; against those who swear falsely; against those who oppress the hired worker, the widow, and the fatherless; and against those who deny justice to the resident alien. They do not fear me,” says the Lord of Armies.
Notice that Israelites who persist in their sinful ways await judgment for a very different reason than those who are being sanctified. The author of the letter to the Hebrews says that the Lord Jesus advocates for us on the day of judgment.
But, here Malachi says that the Lord will testify against those who persist in sin. If you put this in a courtroom setting, you could say that Jesus is the prosecuting attorney for those who are not being sanctified, but he is the defense attorney for those who are being sanctified.
Either Jesus is on your side or he is against you. And the hinge-pin is not whether you go to church. The hinge-pin is not whether \you read the Bible. The hinge-pin is not whether you call yourself a Christian. The hinge-pin is not whether you have a Christian bumper sticker. The hinge-pin is not whether you have a Bible verse in your Instagram profile.
The hinge-pin is whether or not you have forsaken yourself and your ways and submitted your entire life and being to Jesus Christ as Lord.
Have you given up allegiance to the things of this world—including the desires of your own flesh—and committed in your heart to be loyal to Jesus Christ no matter what the cost or consequence?
So, here’s the real question. If it’s not going to church, if it’s not baptism, if it’s not profession of faith or saying a prayer, then what gets you out of condemnation and onto the path of sanctification so that you can spend eternity with Jesus forever?
That’s what Christianity is about and that’s what we need to know.
We said it’s allegiance, but I want to make sure you understand how deep your allegiances to this world lie so that you understand exactly how much you are required to give up to follow Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote,
- Romans 3:9b–18, 23 (CSB) — For we have already charged that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become worthless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they deceive with their tongues. Vipers’ venom is under their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and wretchedness are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
• It is not until you are wiling to admit that there is no righteousness in you that Jesus will begin to build righteousness into you. Until you admit that you are not a good person in any way, you cannot be made to be good.
• It is not that you are a spiritual person who seeks God. Remember what we said, you don’t invite Jesus in to your heart. Jesus goes where He pleases. You don’t seek God. God seeks you.
• It is not until you believe that you are worthless that God will begin to build true value into your life.
• It is not until you confess that you can do nothing good on your own that the Spirit of God will empower you to do truly good works.
• It is not until you confess that you are a liar and a deceiver that God will gift you to speak truth.
• It is not until you believe like the hymnodist John Newton, “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me,” that God will take away your wretchedness and sanctify you, make you holy like Christ.
• It is not until you confess that you have not ever known true peace that God will give you incomprehensible, supernatural peace.
• And it is not until you fear God that you can know the love of God. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
So many people have confessed to me over the years that they have never sensed the presence of God’s Spirit. I’ve been told by many people that they serve in the church begrudgingly, out of guilt—they don’t want to; they feel like they have to. Many people don’t give to the collection because they simply don’t want to. They would rather spend their money on other things. Many people persist in patterns of sinful behavior because they simply don’t want to stop sinning.
Those are just a handful of many signs that you might not be loyal to Christ. Jesus said you can’t serve God and the things of this world. You will love one and hate the other. So, don’t lie to yourself and say you love God, even though you refuse to let God have some part of your life. If you are reserving part of your life from God then you are not loyal to Christ. If you hold on to pet sins, that is not loyalty. If you withhold certain pleasures, that is not loyalty. If you refuse to serve or refuse to give, then there is no loyalty.
The title of today’s message is Full Love Requires Justice. For Malachi, justice is important because without justice, no one gets to heaven, no one gets to enter the presence of God. But, justice also means that those who are condemned will be separated from God for eternity.
For those of us who are confident that God is with us, that can see that God is sanctifying us, refining us, we are becoming more like Christ, Judgment Day is a glorious thing. We can proclaim with the Apostle Paul, Marinatha! which is a Aramaic expression meaning, “Lord come.”
But, Judgment Day is also a somber day, because it means that many people will be eternally condemned, even people we know very well, within the church.
The question often arises, Why hasn’t Christ returned for His church? What is he waiting for?
And I think Malachi answers that question.
- Malachi 3:6 (CSB) — “Because I, the Lord, have not changed, you descendants of Jacob have not been destroyed.”
In other words, because God is faithful, he is waiting until the right time to judge the world so that all of His children might be saved and not destroyed. The Apostle Paul said it this way,
- 1 Timothy 2:3–4 (CSB) — This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
And the Apostle Peter said,
- 2 Peter 3:9 (CSB) — The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.
I have no doubt that there are some here who have a vibrant faith and you are confident that God is sanctifying you, and you have no doubts that you will enter into the presence of God.
And then there are others here who are certain that you are still under condemnation. I have to believe that is true because of what the scriptures say. If that is where you are at, and you are sure that you have not given your life fully to Christ, then let this be the day. As we go to take the Lord’s Supper, let that be a time of commitment, where you finally give over every corner of your life to Christ. Whatever areas you have been holding back from God, let this be the day that you commit to Christ that you will no longer rule your own heart, but he will rule those parts of your life no matter how difficult the changes you will need to make will be.
And then many of you are confused by this text, because you know that you love God and you understand the grace offered to you by the Lord Jesus Christ. And maybe you’ve been a Christian for a long time, but you have doubts because some parts of your life are not looking like you think they should. So, that’s where I would remind you that sanctification is a process that you go through all of your life. You start out in remorse for your sin. You start out remembering your wretchedness and wishing to be like Christ. Sanctification moves you from that point to actual righteousness. But, the remorse you feel is the conviction that comes from the Spirit of God; it is evidence that the Spirit of God is in you, that Christ has come into you, His temple.
My encouragement for you, if that’s where you are at is to renew your commitment to follow God with all of your life. Pray, “Lord, my life is yours and I don’t want to hold anything back from you.” And then ask God to sanctify you, to empower you to live the life you know you ought to live.
As we go to the Lord’s table today, make that commitment. And then, as you partake of the elements, do so remembering that Christ died so that you might become holy. And if you have not been baptized, let us know on your Next Step card, and we will get together and get you baptized.
But, today we come to the Lord’s Table to celebrate by the bread, the body of Jesus Christ, the Lord, that was broken for you that in your brokenness you might be again made whole. And we celebrate by the cup, the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed for you to cover over every sin you have committed. The promise of wholeness and the promise of forgiveness are yours if you are loyal to Jesus Christ alone.
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