Do you ever look at the world, and everything that is broken within it, all the bad stuff that there, is the people who do horrendously bad things – and wonder why God does not fix it. Why does he not stamp out all the bad things? Why does he not intervene, and take off the stage of this world all the people who do really awful things?
Why is there still coronavirus? Why are there famines? Why are there wars perpetuated by greedy dictators, and people who wish to grasp for power? Why do all these things still happen? I’m sure you do find yourself wondering that at times. You’d be unusual if you didn’t, and certainly I do.
This passage we’re looking at this morning tells you to be careful what you wish for.
The background is that we’re halfway through the book of Malachi, which was written about the year 400 BC. The people of Israel are back from their exile in Babylon, and they’re back in their homeland, the city of Jerusalem and the land around it. Even though they are back, and the city and the temple have been rebuilt, they are still subject to foreign occupation. They are ruled by the Persians.
The people are looking at the nations around about, and especially at their Persian overlords, and they see that these are nations who are more wicked than they are. And yet they are more prosperous: their life is easier. And they wonder: “if we are the people of God, and we are better than they are, why are we suffering and enslaved, while they enjoy freedom, and much easier lives?” It comes out in the end of verse 17: “‘All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord and he’s pleased with them,’ and ‘Where is the God of justice?’”
Once again these people find themselves asking: “Does God really love us, because the evidence is lacking?”
Well as I say, be careful what you wish for. God has three things to say in reply to these people. And three things in reply to say to us when we find ourselves looking at the world, and wondering the same thing.
God tires of you complaining that the world is broken
Number one: God tires of you complaining that the world is broken. God tires of you complaining that the world is broken. So look at how verse 17 starts: “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…’” This wearies God. He’s tired.
Maybe you’re surprised that God would ever get tired of your voice. I mean you should be surprised by that, because if you’re a child of God, God loves it when you pray. He wants you to bring all matter of things before him in prayer. But there are some very big differences between what these people are saying, and the prayer that God loves to hear from you.
Prayer is talking to God as an expression of your trust in God. It is trustful talk. What these people are doing is talking, not to God but to each other; and it’s an expression of their lack of trust in God.
So when you look at the world, and see that it’s broken, remember how God has promised to fix it. (We’ll get to that in a moment). Trust him, and then talk to him. Talk to him about the pain that you feel, and that you see others going through. And pray the prayer that closes the whole Bible: “Come, Lord Jesus”. “Lord Jesus, please come back to this world and fix everything. Bring in that world when all the suffering, and pain, and horrible things that we see and experience, are no more.” “Come, Lord Jesus.”
That’s what we should do. Don’t moan to other people that God has lost his grip, and in the process inciting others to join you in your stance of unbelief. That’s what God tires of.
God tires of you complaining that the world is broken.
God will deal with everything that is wrong with this world, including you
Number two: God will deal with everything that is wrong with this world, including you. God will deal with everything that is wrong with this world, including you.
It’s interesting isn’t it? I occasionally do some teaching (on a different part of the Bible) with individuals. I get them to imagine that we could line up everybody in the world in order of how good and how bad they are, so that you have all the despots of the world (the Myra Hindleys, the Ian Huntleys, the Adolf Hitlers) down one end of the room, and all the impossibly good people (that you could never hope to be as good as them) down the other end. Somewhere in the middle it’s all the rest of us, and we shuffle about and get ourselves in order until we’re roughly in order of how good we are. And then I say: “Where is the pass mark for heaven? How good do you have to be, how far down that end of the room do you have to be, to get to heaven? How bad do you have to be before God decides that you have to be eradicated, and that you could never be in heaven?” You know what: We almost always draw the circle in the sand so that the group of people who are part of the problem does not include us. It’s other people who are the problem, not me.
And that’s precisely what they are doing. They want the God of justice to come. God tells them how that’s going to happen. He tells them how he will give them what they long for. It will happen as two people come onto the stage.
In the ancient world, back then, if a king was going to go on to a royal visit to a distant part of the empire, he would send a messenger first to get the people ready where he’s going: so that people are ready to welcome him appropriately, and to clear the roads, to fix the potholes, move the obstacles out of the way, so that the king and his chariot can have a nice smooth run to wherever it is he’s going.
When I had part of my childhood growing up in East Africa, from time to time you’d be driving on one of the main roads, and some motorbikes would start coming past. That was your signal to get off the road. Not just to the side of the road. Off, onto the verge. Behind the motorbike would be some very flash, black well-polished Mercedes Benz cars. Now, why get off the road? Not because there’s anybody important in any of those cars. No, you then sit by the road for a further five minutes, until a solitary car comes past carrying the President of Kenya. The other cars came first to clear the road, so that when the President comes, he can have the entire carriageway all to himself, and can motor down unhindered.
That’s what’s happening here. Two people will come. First, the messenger to get ready for the main act, and then the main act: “the Lord”, it says (the king, that means) who it turns out is also a messenger. And when, God, the Lord, the king, comes, he will bring the judgment that the people wanted. It says “the messenger of the covenant whom you desire will come.” They’ll finally get what they wanted.
Only they slightly wanted the wrong thing, because who is on trial when the judgment comes? Verse 5: “I will come to put you on trial”. What for? A wide range of ordinary, everyday sins. Things like sorcery. That is using magic, horoscopes, tea-leaf reading, or consulting the dead to try to work out what’s going to happen in the future. Or adultery, unfaithfulness within marriage. Or a whole string of other offenses, that all revolve around failing to treat other people fairly. Day labourers, who require to be paid at the end of the day if they’re going to eat. Widows, who without social security had no other source of income. And foreigners, who back then as well as today are always the easiest target to discriminate against. For things like that, God will judge – not other people – but the very people asking for justice.
Be careful what you ask for. “God,” they say “please punish everything that’s wrong with the world.” And what they have in mind are the really big sins of other people. And then when he comes and does what you asked for, you’ll find that you are just as sinful.
So who are these two messengers, the motorcade to clear the way, and then the main act? Who are they in real life? well the New Testament tells us. The advanced messenger is John the Baptist. And then the main act is the Lord Jesus Christ.
John the Baptist preached against exactly the sins that you find in verse 5 (if you read his sermon in Luke chapter 3). Then he introduced Jesus as the one who would come to judge. And then Jesus himself taught that he would come back from heaven at the end of time, to judge every single human being. Be careful what you wish for.
God will fix everything that is broken with this world, including you.
God tires of you complaining the world is broken. God will fix all that is wrong with this world, including you.
God has a future where he’s worshipped acceptably
And then number three: God has a future where he’s worshipped acceptably. God has a future where he’s worshipped acceptably.
So, having heard that God will come as judge, that even Jesus is the judge, does that mean there’s no hope, that everything’s going to just collapse as God comes and tells us all the stuff that’s wrong, and punishes us?
No, not at all! The God of judgment also comes to cleanse, to purify, to clean. Verse 3: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver”. That’s the picture of the person who would melt some silver that was impure, and study it in the pot, and deal with it until they finally got all the impurities out and it shines like a mirror. “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.”
You see, when God weeds out of his kingdom everything that’s bad and rotten, he’s also a God of grace who cleanses his people to make them acceptable to him. Jesus judges those who reject him, but he also forgives and transforms those who come to him.
So if you tire of a broken world, don’t moan to other people that God has lost the plot.
Don’t long for instant justice, which would sweep you away as well.
Instead recognize, first of all, that you are part of the problem. The reason the world is broken is because it’s full of people like you and me.
And then trust that Jesus will come again, and will fix everything.
And then be grateful that he came the first time, in advance, to gather a people who are cleansed and forgiven.
Because we are forgiven, we can face that judgment without fear.
And because we are cleansed, we can gradually become less and less part of the problem.
So we can go through life, not tiring God out, not thinking that we’re okay and that God should just judge all the really bad people. Not tiring him but trusting God.
Trusting him: to deal with things in his own time.
And trusting him to rescue us, and to change us by his grace.