Wow! What a journey it has been walking with the Minor Prophets. I hope that during our study you have grown in your understanding of the history of the waywardness of God’s people and the faithfulness of God to those same people.
This week we will take a look at Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets. There has been some debate throughout the years about who wrote Malachi. Some see the word, “Malachi” as a title. In Hebrew, “Malachi,” means “messenger of God.” The folks who understand “Malachi” to be a title believe that Ezra wrote this little book of prophecy. There are others who believe “Malachi” is a personal name, the name of the prophet. There was a Catholic priest many years ago named Vitringa who provided pretty convincing proof that “Malachi” is not a title, but the name of the prophet used by God to call His people back to faithfulness.
Malachi prophesied during the times of Ezra and Nehemiah; after the temple had been rebuilt. This time period, about 458-433 B.C., places Malachi in Jerusalem about 100 years after Haggai and Zechariah. When you read Malachi with the understanding that he ministered 100 years after the Jews had been freed from their captivity in Babylon you realize that nothing had changed. The people were still hard-hearted towards God, if not more hard-hearted than they were in Zechariah and Haggai’s day. It is not that the people were atheists. They would never have described themselves that way. They were very religious people, but religious practice was not what God desired from His people.
The people were not open to what God had to say to them. This is evident from a recurring conversation God had with His people in the four chapters of Malachi. Seven times in Malachi God makes statements about His people and seven times the people of God challenge God’s statement. In Malachi 1:2, God says, “I have loved you.” The people come right back with the challenge, “How have you loved us?” In Malachi 1:6 we read the next instance.
…”It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name. “But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ (Malachi 1:6 NIV)
In Malachi 1:7; 2:17; 3:7; 3:8; and 3:13 we find the same interaction between God and His people. God makes a statement about how His people are missing the mark and as soon as God finishes what He has to say the people question God. Let me show you the last instance which is found in Malachi 3:13-15. Turn there and read along with me.
13 “You have said harsh things against me,” says the LORD. “Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’ 14 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.’” (Malachi 3:13-15 NIV)
There’s a problem don’t you think? The people hadn’t stopped frequenting the temple. They had not stopped making offerings to God. The priests had not gone on strike, they were still performing their priestly duties, but it had all become something far less than God desired for His people. G. Campbell Morgan writes,
These people are not in open rebellion against God, nor do they deny his right to offerings, but they are laboring under the delusion that because they have brought offerings they have been true to him all along. Theirs is not the language of a people throwing off a yoke and saying, ‘We will not be loyal,’ but of a people established in the temple. It is not the language of a people who say, ‘Let us cease to sacrifice and worship, and let us do as we please;’ but it is the language of a people who say, ‘We are sacrificing and worshiping to please God,’ and yet he says by the mouth of his servant, ‘Ye have wearied me; ye have robbed and spoken against me.’ They have been most particular and strict in outward observances, but their hearts have been far away from their ceremonials… And when the prophet tells them what God thinks of them, they, with astonishment and impertinence, look into his face and say, ‘We don’t see this at all!’” (G. Campbell Morgan, Malachi’s Message for Today (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972), pg. 30-31)
That sounds more like a description of our day than an assessment of what we would think life was like over 2400 years ago doesn’t it? Five hundred years after the time of Malachi, the Apostle Paul wrote about what life would be like in the future when he wrote these words,
1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God– 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. (2 Timothy 3:1-5 NIV)
The phrase, “having a form of godliness but denying its power,” hits at the heart of the problem. We, and those throughout the ages, who say that we love God far too often excel at ceremonious religion, but fall far short of demonstrating the transforming power of the Gospel in our daily lives. We talk a big game, but we walk, at best, with a limp. We treat God like a stranger and forget that He is the One who has given us life and sustained us every moment of our lives.
Let me ask you, “What would you do if you were God and those whom you love, those you created with a smile on your face and love in your heart, continually turned away from you, confessed their love for you while their lives denied they ever knew you, and they acted like they knew better than you—what would you do?” Well, that’s a tough question isn’t it? What do we do when we have friends who are two-faced; who say that we are their “BFF,” and yet they’ll kick us to the curb if a better opportunity comes along. We’re not putting up with that are we? If that is our mentality and we are merely people cut out of the same tainted and messed-up fabric as our two-faced, double-minded friends then why in the world would God put up with us for a minute? Why? God knows that we are broken on our best day. He knows that our hearts are hard and our heads are harder still. Yet, He loves us so much that He has a plan for us. I want you to turn to Malachi 3 and let’s read the first six verses together.
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. (Malachi 3:1-6 NIV)
In Malachi 3:1, God says that He will send His messenger to prepare the way for His coming. Remember, “Malachi” means, “messenger,” but Malachi isn’t referring to Himself, he is talking about someone else—He’s looking to the future. In Matthew 11:10 we find Jesus quoting from Isaiah 40:3-5 when He says,
10 This is the one about whom it is written: “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ (Matthew 11:10 NIV)
Who is the messenger that Malachi is talking about? Well, it would have to be John the Baptist. The verse from Isaiah is quoted in each of the four Gospels and each time it is talking about John the Baptist. The prophets announced to the people that the messenger is coming, but if you look at Malachi you will see that he is merely preparing the way for the Lord Himself. Matthew 3:11 says,
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Matthew 3:11 NIV)
In Malachi the question is asked, “Who can stand when He appears? Who can endure the day of His coming?” When perfection arrives those who are imperfect will feel the weight of His glory. When Holiness comes those who are unholy will cry out like Isaiah, “Woe is me…” We can gauge our worth or our goodness in light of those around us and hold our own, but when absolute goodness, absolute holiness comes, not one of us will be able to utter a word, much less boast of our glory.
If you will look back at Malachi for a minute we need to answer the question, “Why is He coming?” Malachi tells us that He will be like a “refiner’s fire” or a “launderer’s soap.” There is a big difference between a “refiner’s fire” and a raging, destroying fire isn’t there? A raging destructive fire destroys everything in its path. We’ve all seen those kinds of fires on television, but this is not how God is described in this passage. The refiner’s fire is a purposeful fire, it is a purifying fire.
I read a story several years ago about some ladies who were studying Malachi and talking about the meaning of the phrase, “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” While the women were talking they decided that they should visit a silversmith and learn more about the process of refining and purifying silver. The day came when the ladies visited the silversmith and he told them about the process of refining silver. One of the ladies asked, “But Sir” she said, “do you sit while the work of refining is going on?” “Oh, yes, madam,” replied the silversmith; “I must sit with my eye steadily fixed on the furnace, for if the time necessary for refining is exceeded in the slightest degree, the silver will be damaged.”
The visit to the silversmith gave the ladies not only a better understanding of Malachi 3:3, but it also gave them a better understanding of the love and provision of God. We, like the silver, are being refined, we go through the furnace, but our glorious God has set His gaze upon us and therefore the fires of purification are refining and not destroying us.
When the ladies were leaving the silversmith’s shop that day he stopped them before they got out the door. He said, “Oh, one more thing, the only way that I know that the process of purification is complete is when I can see my own image in the reflected silver.”
Isn’t that exactly what the Bible teaches us about what God is doing in each of our lives? He is working day-in and day-out to conform us to the image of His Son. To burn away the “dross” of our lives and bring forth the traits that characterize Jesus’ life. In Romans 8:28-29 we read.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28-29 NIV)
It is God’s passion to mold us into the image of His glorious Son. For that process to take place we must be “refined,” we must go through the fires, the trials of this life, that act like the refiner’s fire to purify the silver. Job, who knew all to well, about the troubles and trials of life, said, 10 …when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. (Job 23:10 NIV)
The refiner’s fire was a very common sight in the ancient world and everyone knew the purpose of the refiner’s fire. That is one of the reasons why this imagery is used so often in the Bible. In Isaiah 48:10 we read,
10 See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10 NIV)
In Zechariah 13 we read about the judgment of God and how God will bring the true believers forth from the fires of testing. Read verse 9 with me.
9 This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’” (Zechariah 13:9 NIV)
Gut wrenching trials can work in our lives like nothing else can. On Tuesday morning there is a group of men that get together for Bible study here at our church. Through the years I’ve watched men who are going through the fires of life draw near to the Lord, learn about what is truly important in life, and grow more humble and grateful. In 1 Peter 4:12-13 we read that these “painful trials” should not surprise us. Read along with me.
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13 NIV)
The NIV calls them, “painful trials,” but the word which we read “painful” is the Greek word, “πύρωσις” (purosis) and it means, “a burning, the burning by which metals are roasted and reduced, or calamities or trials that test the character.” We are not to be surprised when the crucible is heated up and the dross of our lives begins to be melted away because the Refiner is keeping watch over our lives.
The crucible’s heat is comes in more ways than we can ever even imagine. Let me share with you one man’s story. Terry Anderson was a reporter working in Beirut, Lebanon when, on March 16, 1985 he was abducted, placed in the trunk of a car, and then held hostage by Hezbollah Shiite Muslims who were retaliating against Israel’s use of U.S. weapons against Muslims in Lebanon.
Terry Anderson was held hostage for 2,454 days. Terry was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, but had not practiced his faith for years. During his captivity Terry was given a Bible and later he said that the Bible was a gift from heaven. He read God’s Word day after day and as he read he reflected on his life…for 2,454 days.
As Terry read and reflected he thought about many things about his life that brought him shame. In his mind, he began composing a list of all that he had done wrong, all of those he had hurt—and he began to confess his sins. As time went by, he gradually learned about other American hostages confined in cells around his own cell. He found out one was a priest – Father Jenco. He asked if he could confess to the priest, and his wish was granted. The two men were brought together, their blindfolds were removed, and Terry began to go through his life and list all of the things that he had done wrong during his life. When he finished, they were both in tears. Father Jenco laid his right hand on Anderson’s head and said, “In the name of a gentle, loving God, you are forgiven.” Anderson’s faith grew deeper and deeper through his long captivity, but his first formal step back was his confession. In the darkness of captivity and abandonment, Terry Anderson turned back and found the grace of God.
Can a person who had walked away and ignored God for many years, find Him once again while in captivity? You better believe he can and Terry did. The crucible of captivity began to burn away the dross of Terry’s life and the man that emerged from captivity was the not the same man who had been taken captive. The writer of Proverbs said,
3 The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the heart. (Pro 17:3 NIV)
I have to confess to you that I don’t enjoy the crucible moments of life. They are painful, they are trying, they are exhausting, but I can’t think of one time that the Lord has had me in the crucible that I have not grown and become more aware of my absolute dependence upon Him.
I learned something this past week that God has used to show me, in a picturesque way, the purpose of the process that He is taking me through. I read, in 1 Peter 2:9,
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9 NIV)
We are a “chosen people.” God has chosen you and me and all of those who follow Jesus for a very special purpose. God is working in you and me to equip us to declare His praises to this world that desperately needs Him. This calling, this mission that we have been given, we are completely incapable of fulfilling apart from His transforming work in each of our lives.
When we are born and as long as we live in defiance of our Savior, we are like that raw silver when it is first mined. When silver is first dug up it looks very different than the silver you see in stores. It is mixed with other minerals like zinc, lead, or copper. For silver to be made useful it must first be separated from the other minerals. The separation can only take place by heating it up. We are created in God’s image, but that image is marred and mixed with other “minerals” that need to be heated and separated for us to be conformed to the image of God’s Son.
Lust, greed, prejudice, lying, selfishness, pride…the list goes on and on. There is so much about us that stands in defiance of God’s call to “come out from among them” and “be holy as I am holy.” For us to be truly useful, for us to live out God’s call on our lives, we must be separated from all that vies for our allegiance to Almighty God, we must be separated from all that stands in the way of seeking Him with our whole hearts, we must be separated from all that contradicts His character. It is interesting isn’t it? When we see these ungodly characteristics in others they repulse us, but we neglect to recognize those same characteristics at work in our own lives. Through the Refiner’s fire we begin to see the impurities of life rise to the surface so that they can be dealt with.
How is the Refiner’s fire working to purify your heart this very morning? What are the fiery trials you are going through right now? Oh my friend, please do not see them as a coincidence or a enemy of your happiness, but see them as the work of the Refiner to mold you and shape you into the image of His Son. Let’s pray…
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114