Pastor's Sermon
December 9, 2018
Malachi 3:1-4
The Second Sunday in Advent
  Rev. Matthew C. Rauh
 
Jesus Comes Bearing the Gift of Peace.
 
     “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.  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. 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, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.”
 
     How do you feel before someone who is important?  Let’s say you have a job interview.  Do you feel confident and comfortable walking into that interview?  I would be a little nervous.  All I have to do is say one stupid thing or make a bad impression and I will lose the job.  Let’s say it is announced over the intercom at school that you are suppose to leave class immediately and visit with the principal.  Would you casually stroll in there, sit down, and put your feet up on the desk and say, “What’s up, dude?”  No.  You would be nervous. 
     How nervous should we be then when we come face-to-face with God?  He is much more than a boss or the principal.   God is your Creator who gave you life.  And he intended you to use your life in a very specific way.  Would you be comfortable standing before him and hear him ask, “What have you done with you life?”
     Today we will see that God not only wants you to be comfortable when you come to him, but that you actually run to him and call him, “Father.”  This can happen only when you have nothing to fear from him and before him.  It happens when you are at peace.  Today we continue our advent series as we see the gifts Jesus brings to us.  Today we see the gift of peace. 
 
I.  Jesus comes to start a war.
 
     There is a joke that in heaven there is a complaint box, not that there is anything to complain about, but for some people complaining is heaven.  Malachi is full of complaints from God’s people.  Malachi pointed one out:  “You have wearied the Lord with your words.  ‘How have we wearied him?’ you ask.  By saying, ‘All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them’ or ‘Where is the God of justice?’”  We could be hearing a recording of our own complaints here.
     We are much like the fable of the ant and the grasshopper.  All summer long the ant worked and toiled to store up food for the winter, but all summer long the grasshopper danced and had fun and gathered no food.  Christians have a double responsibility.  We work, we toil and we suffer like everyone else.  But we also are expected to listen to God’s Word and do what he says.  We go to church when others don’t.  We give offerings when others don’t.  We watch our language when others don’t.  We teach and follow the Ten Commandments while others don’t.  Like the ant we see everyone else dancing and having fun while we work hard for the Lord.  
     The Israelites in our text felt that way so they complained to God.  “Why do the wicked prosper and have more?  You must like them more than us!  We want justice.”  They were hoping God would come and do something.  Well he does come and he will dispense justice, but not what we expected.
      “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.  “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.”  God says two people will come and do something about it.  The first is a messenger to prepare the way before God.  He is John the Baptist.  The second is God himself, Jesus Christ.  But did you hear the warning here?  “Who can endure the day of his coming?  Who can stand when he appears?”  It is a rhetorical question.  The answer is no one.
     I met a man who worked in a steel factory back in the days around the Great Depression.  He showed me his back.  It was scarred from the intense heat and sparks from the steel factory.  You have a piece of iron ore.  Good.  But it is useless because it is iron mixed in with rock.  Refining uses intense heat and fire to separate the rock from the iron and melt it so you can use it.  When Jesus comes he will refine us.  It will be intense.
     Malachi gives us another picture here.  He describes him like a launderer.  We are not talking about dry cleaning or sticking a load in the washer.  We are talking about strong lye soap and sitting down with an old washboard or rocks and rubbing and scrapping until every speck of dirt is out of the clothing.  This, too, is intense.
     When Jesus comes he will be like a refiner and launderer.  His fire will burn you.  His lye soap will scrap you raw.  And what will he burn and rub out?  What you and I love most:  sin.  Yeah, sometimes we are embarrassed by our sin, but often we love it.  Sinful man loves a coarse joke, the coarser the better.  Man loves things and usually doesn’t have enough of them.  He loves to fantasize, thinking more of himself and less of other people.  He loves to tell or listen to gossip.  And he is selfish and wishes people do more for him and he does less for others.
     So Christ comes and he applies intense heat on us.  He tells us that anyone who loves his parents more than him is not worthy of the kingdom of God.  He embarrasses us with the parable of the Good Samaritan, showing us we really don’t love our neighbor.  He used the rich young man to rip us apart when he told him to sell all he had and give it to poor, and we walk away with that rich young man because we love our things too much.
 
II.  With this war he establishes peace between us and God.
 
     When God comes to you, he comes to destroy the very things we love.  He will expose your sins.  It will hurt a lot.  No one can stand before him innocent.  But why?  Notice our text didn’t say that Jesus will come with fire to destroy everything, period.  He will come with a refiner’s fire to purify us.
     I read an article about refining silver in ancient times.  So you have this rock that has precious silver in it.  You must refine it with intense heat and fire to burn and scrap off the impurities.  But how do you know when you have pure silver?  The refiner would look into the pot of molten silver and if he sees his own reflection, it is pure.  Do you see it?  Do you get it?  God saves us with his own reflection.  This is what the Bible means when we wear the robe of Christ’s righteousness.  God sees Christ and his holiness, he sees himself in us because of Christ.  This is what Isaiah meant when he wrote, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though the are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” 
     Righteousness and justice are very similar words.  The Israelites saw how the wicked got away with everything and demanded justice from God. God brings justice all right, but not by punishing us.  He punishes Jesus for us.  He pays for sin so we don’t have to.  Justice is served and we have peace with God.  We are not afraid of him.  We are not nervous coming to him.  We run to him like kids running to their dad and jump into his arms.
     But Jesus doesn’t just affect our relationship with God.  His refining also has an effect on us.  God described it like this:  “Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.”  Once in a while I clean our coffee maker by running vinegar through it.  Boy that smells up the house.  So if you walk into our house and smell bitter vinegar you know we are cleaning the coffee maker.  It probably will bother you.  But if you walked in and smelled homemade pumpkin bread in the oven or the smell of roast beef, that would be pleasant.
      The Hebrew word translated here as “acceptable” actually means to smell wonderful.  Sinful man is unable to please God.  What we do is worse than vinegar.  But when believers do something good before God, it smells wonderful to him because they are done in faith in Christ.  Cain and Abel both made sacrifices to God, but God wasn’t shy in telling us he loved Abel’s and not Cain’s.  It says in Hebrews, “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did.  By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings.”
     So our new, peaceful relationship with God through Christ affects us.  We can now bring offerings in righteousness and they will smell wonderful to God.  What offerings can we bring?  Really anything and everything.  It certainly includes an offering in church.  That is why Jesus said the widow gave more with her two pennies than the rest with their hundreds of dollars, because she did so with faith and trust in God.  But remember, we offer ourselves as living sacrifices.  Maybe your offering includes such time consuming things like caring for your children, or caring for your parents who need your help.  Such help often is needed at the most inconvenient time, but we give it anyway because it is our offering to God and shows love.  We just donated a bunch of coats to our pregnancy counseling center in the Cities.  Imagine someone staying warmer with that coat.  You forgot about it, but it makes God happy.  I think of the ladies who go to our school and read with the kids.  I think of the husband or wife or neighbor who swallows their pride and doesn’t have to win every argument.  What you eat or drink, whatever you do, you do it know to the glory of God.
     This is the peace Jesus comes to give us.  He destroys the things sinful man loves.  He exposes sin, and then he tells us how God dispenses justice by letting Jesus be punished for our sin so we stand holy and blameless and pure before God.  This is how he makes things peaceful between us.  Let it show as you offer yourselves to him as living sacrifices.  Amen.     

Readings:
Malachi 3:1-4
 
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