“Your words against me are harsh,” says the Lord.
Yet you ask, “What have we spoken against you?”
You have said: “It is useless to serve God. What have we gained by keeping his requirements and walking mournfully before the Lord of Armies? So now we consider the arrogant to be fortunate. Not only do those who commit wickedness prosper, they even test God and escape.”
At that time those who feared the Lord spoke to one another. The Lord took notice and listened. So a book of remembrance was written before him for those who feared the Lord and had high regard for his name. “They will be mine,” says the Lord of Armies, “my own possession on the day I am preparing. I will have compassion on them as a man has compassion on his son who serves him. So you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.
“For look, the day is coming, burning like a furnace, when all the arrogant and everyone who commits wickedness will become stubble. The coming day will consume them,” says the Lord of Armies, “not leaving them root or branches. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings, and you will go out and playfully jump like calves from the stall. You will trample the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day I am preparing,” says the Lord of Armies.
“Remember the instruction of Moses my servant, the statutes and ordinances I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Look, I am going to send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
Malachi 3:13-4:6 CSB
This is our last week in Malachi and I think it is appropriate that Malachi’s prophesy ends where it does.
In chapter 3, we saw that the Lord uses fire to refine us, to make us holy, but today we see that same fire as a destructive fire. It is a fire that consumes. As I studied the passage, it seemed so real after listening to all the wild fire stories. The fires burn so hot and fast that they burn up and destroy everything in their paths like they are dry grass. They burn so hot and fast that firefighters can’t do much to stop them at times. That’s the kind of intense heat we are talking about.
The Lord said through Malachi,
The Day of the Lord is a reference to a future day of judgment. Malachi compared that day of judgment to a furnace. The word stubble literally means straw or dry grass. And what happens when you put dry grass into a furnace? It’s quickly consumed. The day of the Lord results in the quick destruction of the wicked.
But, the point of God’s working through history is not the destruction of the wicked. That’s a byproduct of God’s real purpose. Malachi recorded,
The Day of the Lord results in the destruction of the wicked, but the point is that God is gathering his own possession. He is gathering His own people and he says, ‘They will be mine.’
I think the wording is so interesting in this passage. Our tendency is to focus on ourselves when we talk about eternity. Am I going to heaven or hell? Will I spend eternity with God or separated from God? Those sorts of questions focus on the self and certainly many passages of scripture demonstrate that God loves His people and His desire is that we would be saved from wrath on the day of judgment.
But, notice, this passage is not about what we get. This passage is about what God gets. ‘They will be mine, my own possession.’ You see, you and I, we are not the protagonists in God’s story. The Lord God is the protagonist in the story. The grand narrative of all time and history culminates in the end with the Lord God, receiving the possession He is due. And we are that possession.
The primary character in a story are the protagonist—the good guy, usually—and the antagonist—the one who works against the protagonist. Then there are secondary characters. In the Harry Potter films, Harry is the protagonist. Ron and Hermione are secondary characters—very important to the story, but everyone knows the story isn’t really about them. That’s the story of history. We humans are extremely important to the biblical storyline. But, God is the protagonist. The story is about God gaining His possession in the end.
In this case, we need to look at the secondary characters to determine exactly what God’s possession consists of. So let’s contrast,
This is interesting because, in this passage, and really in the book of Malachi, the wicked are not totally wicked people. They aren’t slave owners, mass murderers, or rapists. They’re people who just don’t care much about God. Malachi wrote,
The wicked are those who simply don’t serve God because they don’t see the point. Why don’t you go to church? I don’t know. Why would I? What’s the point? That’s kind of where they were at. To them, serving God seemed like a lot of work that they didn’t want to do. So, it’s not that they intentionally wanted to work against God or that they hated God or the idea of God. Here the wicked are those who just don’t care.
But, look what Malachi said about the righteous who fear the Lord,
Those who fear God get God’s attention. How do you get God’s attention? You fear God and have high regard for His name. I want to talk about these ideas a bit.
I think if you were to ask most people, Do you fear God?, if they understand what you are asking at all, they would probably respond by saying, ‘Sure, I try to be a good person.’ I rarely ask people if they believe in God. If you want to talk to people about your faith, you only get so many words before the conversation moves somewhere else.
So, I don’t waste my time there. God is obvious. Very few people in our world believe there is no god of any kind. But if you ask someone a different question, like, Friend, I was reading my Bible and it said I ought to fear God; what do you think that means? Do you fear God? That’s a question that’s going to tell you a great deal about what a person believes.
And if you ask that question, you will find that most people have a certain amount of fear of God that they believe governs their moral choices. It doesn’t make them a righteous person per se, but they probably believe that their fear of God is what keeps them a normal person and not a depraved murderer or something like that.
That’s my experience at least.
I think that this phrase, ‘high regard for his name,’ sheds some light on what it means to fear the Lord. The Hebrew word that is translated in our English Bibles as ‘regard,’ literally means to weigh, count, or calculate. The word is used euphemistically to mean discern or have discretion. In other words, discern the name of the Lord, discern who the Lord really is.
We get some cues as English speaking people as to what this means. A lord is someone who rules over other things, usually a house and maybe a plot of land or a small village. So, you may discern that God being Lord means that you ought to follow the laws of God so that the land can prosper. And that would be true.
But, that’s not what a Hebrew person thought when they heard this in Malachi’s day. They heard so much more when they were told to discern the name of the Lord. This statement brought to mind pictures of creation, when the Lord brought all things into being and it reminded them of the hand of God delivering their people from the hands of the Egyptians. And they remembered their forefathers who followed the Lord God and were totally devoted to Him like Abraham who obeyed God by faith and it was accounted to Him as righteousness. And they got images of righteous judgment like we see in this passage.
See to fear the Lord is not to just be a generally good person so that God might accept you. To fear the Lord is to be purely devoted to the one who created all things, and the one for whom all things were created—to be His possession. We do this because, God chooses His possession from among the people of the earth.
So, why don’t people fear the Lord in that way? Let’s move on to…
This was literally the issue for the Israelites. They saw following God as suffering and being free from God as the path to prosperity. That seems a bit backwards, but look what the text says.
In other words, they did not consider themselves fortunate because they were chosen by God, but the fortunate were those who were arrogant, who rejected God. How so? Well, because they prospered. They did not follow the laws of God and so they lied, cheated, and stole to get what they wanted, to gather wealth for themselves. In rejecting God, they found a means to prosperity at the expense of others.
And certainly, then, you can see that it is probably the righteous who fear the Lord who are being taken advantage by the wicked and so the righteous suffer. And that’s kind of a hard pill to swallow.
So, wait, if I want to follow the Lord, then I have to suffer at the hands of those who don’t follow the Lord?
And the answer is not a definitive yes, but you may have to. Notice what the Apostle Peter said,
Even if you suffer you are blessed. How so? Because the righteous are God’s possession. When you suffer for your faith, you know what side of the fence you are on and if you are on God’s, then you find yourself blessed. And so we ought not to fear or be intimidated by those who persecute us because we know that God is with us and that is something that the wicked just don’t have.
Few people get rich by living righteous lives in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. The lesson here is don’t be so concerned about prosperity that you compromise your relationship with the Lord. That’s the principle. Because, where the wicked might be…
…the righteous will be…
We just read…
The wicked often appear fortunate in life. But notice that those who commit wickedness, they don’t only prosper, but they test God and escape. In other words, they’re always getting away with stuff.
When the IRS catches someone cheating on their taxes, they go back and audit that person for the last 7 years. Why? Because they know that they didn’t catch them the first time. They were testing the IRS and escaping…that is, until they didn’t escape.
And it may seem to you like people are testing God, they are pushing boundaries, they test God’s patience and God let’s them escape. God is patient. He is waiting until the day of judgment to deal with the wicked. But for the righteous, the fortune comes later, for most after death, when judgment actually comes. The Lord said through Malachi,
The image of the sun is an image of prosperity. The sun shines down on the earth to bring life to all things. And so the fire on the day of judgment is not just to consume the wicked, but also to shine as a sun upon the earth to bring prosperity to those who fear God.
In other words, life is hard. And life is hard for everyone. Sometimes it looks like the wicked prosper, because they cheat, steal, lie and do other things to get wealth and comforts in this life. But, real prosperity comes in the end, after judgment.
Now remember, this passage in Malachi is about God, the protagonist, the main charachter, choosing those who He will have as His eternal possession. Here God took notice of those who were committed to Him and here’s what He did.
Malachi said that their righteous works were written down in a book of remembrance. Now, I want you to first consider why someone might write something down in a book. You write things down to remember them. You write them down because you want to communicate that information to other people. You write things down because they are true. There’s lots of reasons we might want to write something in a book.
In many ancient religions the gods were consider to be the keepers of the destiny of humans. The gods determined the fate of the people. This is particularly important for kings. It was said in ancient Mesopotamia that the gods wrote the fate of kings on tablets of destiny. In addition, the gods kept records of good deeds and bad deeds done by the people. It’s almost as if these books are like ancient ways of keeping score so that when you get to judgment its easy for God to tell if you have done enough good to get into heaven or done enough bad to keep you out.
Here in Malachi we see this idea, that God has recorded the deeds of the righteous into a book of remembrance. In Psalm 56, we see that the Psalmist’s tears were recorded in the book. It was part of the worldview of the ancient person that God keeps books, like accounting ledgers, of right and wrong deeds that are done by the people of this earth.
But what are they for? Are they for judgment? Or do they serve a different purpose?
Let’s read from the book of Revelation.
This passage has two different classes of books. There is The Book of Life. There is only one of these. And then there are the many books. These are the books of remembrance where all the good and bad deeds of every person are recorded.
Let’s talk about the book of life for a minute. What is it?
Well, we just read, “And anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” Clearly the book of life has the names of people who don’t go to hell in it.
Paul sees the book of life as containing the names of serious Christians who are really working out the Gospel in their lives and ministering to others.
Jesus said this to his disciples.
Here Jesus is telling them not to get too exciting about the things that are happening in this life, but they should be joyful that their names are written in heaven, that is, in the book of life.
This isn’t just a New Testament idea, however. In Exodus, Moses said to the Lord,
Moses was on the mountain of Sinai while Israelites had begun to worship a golden calf, an idol. Moses pleaded for their forgiveness and even suggested that God should also erase him from the book of life with the rest of the people.
The Psalmist prays,
That’s the book of life. If your name is in it, then you belong to God and will spend eternity with Him.
Now I want to return to Revelation. Revelation 20 describes judgment day and exactly the role the books play. Let’s read it carefully,
Everyone who had died was standing before the books of remembrance, ready to be judged.
There was one book that was different than the others; it is the book of life which has the names of everyone who belongs to Christ in it. It’s God’s general ledger.
Notice, the dead were judged according to the books, plural, not the book of life, which is singular. It’s the books of remembrance that have the good and bad deeds that are in mind here.
This is the judgment, the lake of fire, which we tend to call hell. It’s the second death or the permanent resting place of humankind. Now, let’s see if you can see what I see in this up to this point. At this point in what is written it seems that every single person gets thrown into the lake of fire. No one survives. In other words, when the books are opened, there is no one who is able to endure this judgment. No one has enough good works and everyone has done enough wrong and because everyone has done wrong, it seems that no one escapes.
But there is hope, because some do escape this judgment. The passage concludes,
The books of remembrance are all open. But, if your name is written in the book of life that is also open, then you skip the judgment of works. No person who has ever lived will endure judgment of works. But, you can skip it if you belong to Christ and your name is written in the book of life.
So, how do you get your name in the book of life? Do you have to act real good? Do you have to do lots of religious things or give lots of money to the church?
Let’s read from earlier in Revelation. This is a different reference to the judgment that was written to the church of Sardis,
In His letter to the church of Sardis, Jesus said that they would need to conquer to keep their name in the book of life. The word conquer is interesting here. There was great social pressure in the church of Sardis to partake in the rituals of the pagan temples. Christians had a lot to lose socially and financially if they became devout Christians. To be dressed in white does not first mean sinless, per se. It means that your devotion is pure. Similarly, the image of soiled clothing is a symbol of religious impurity.
This passage make it clear that the way to get your name into the book of life is by pure faith, pure devotion to Christ and not to any other. To have divided interests is to strike your name from the book, which means your inheritance is in the lake of fire. But, to have pure devotion to King Jesus is to spend eternity with Him.
Notice, what happens on judgment day here in Revelation 3. The books are open, but when your name is called for judgment, before you are judged Jesus acknowledges your name before the Father. He says, “Anthony Delgado belongs to me.” And because I belong to Christ then I don’t have to answer to the books of remembrance at all. And because I don’t answer to the books of remembrance where all of my deeds whether good or bad are recorded, then I don’t suffer in the lake of fire, but enter God’s eternal presence.
If you are loyal in life to Jesus, then you are God’s full possession.
As we continue now to participate in the Lord’s Supper I’d like you to reflect on this teaching. The story is about God going into the world to gather His people.
And that’s exactly what God has done through the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus came to earth to gather His remnant, the people whose names are written in the book of life. Through our loyalty to Christ and His Kingdom, we escape judgment. When the books of remembrance are opened, we skip that judgment. And we do so, because the Lord has already taken our judgment upon Himself. The debt for sin is paid. The ransom collected. Death has been appeased. It is finished.
Jesus suffered humiliation in life. He went to the cross to die for us. And when he died, all of our evil deeds were placed on Him and he carried the punishment for them all when he descended for three days into the abyss.
And then he rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father where he waits for the end to come. Jesus came, not just so that we can get to heaven. Jesus came and died because he was dealing with our judgment. He was gathering together His possession.
And that’s what we celebrate in the Lord’s supper. If you are loyal to Jesus Christ and you know that your whole life belongs to Him and that you are His possession, your name is written in the book of life, and if you are confident that on the day of judgment, the Lord Jesus will stand up and advocate for you so that you will not endure the judgment of the books of remembrance, then this table is for you.