We’ve reached today the end of the book of the prophet Malachi, written about the year 400 b.c., two and a half thousand years ago. You will remember that the Malachi prophesied in the city of Jerusalem that had been rebuilt after the people had returned from their exile to Babylon. The temple and the city walls were rebuilt, but then nothing much had happened for over a hundred years, and the people were beginning to doubt that God really loved them. So their response to God was becoming increasingly half-hearted.
Last time we looked at their mumbling amongst themselves, as they said to each other, “It is futile to serve God.” God said to them, “No, it is not futile to serve me.” For two reasons. Number one, God remembers. God remembers his people. He will never forget them. Then, secondly, because God distinguishes. And in particular God will distinguish them on what he referred to as “the day when I act”. There is a day coming in the future, which we said is the day when Jesus returns to this world, and on that day God will treat his people very differently from the way he will treat everybody else.
The question is, how will he treat them differently? What will happen on that day that will be so different for God’s people and everybody else? That is where we come today, and what we discover today is that there are only two types of person. Now as I look out this morning I can see there are many types of person. You’re all very different from each other, and that is wonderful. Yet when it boils down to it, on the day when Jesus returns, there will only be two types of people. We will all fall into one of two categories. And there’s one of two destinations that we will all end up at.
So today I intend to draw out for us from Malachi chapter four the great distinction that God will draw between his people and everybody else. The two fates, one of which awaits each one of us. And then, before we close, I’m going to just draw out for us the two lessons that Malachi deliberately ends his book with. He ends his book, wanting to leave ringing in the ears of his hearers two particular things for us to take away and live out. And I will leave us with those same two lessons to finish with this morning.
So then let’s look at these two destinies, these two destinations, these two fates, the two roads on which we’re all traveling and to which we’re all headed.
Fate of the Wicked: Destruction
Number one is the fate of the wicked. The fate of the wicked is destruction.
So here is verse 1: “‘Surely the day is coming, it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evil doer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire’, says the Lord Almighty. ‘Not a root or a branch will be left to them.’”
They will be destroyed, it says, in a furnace. A bit like a sort of modern garden incinerator, you know a dustbin with holes in that is used to burn up the rubbish.
Nothing will survive, it says. “Not a root or a branch will be left.” There’s nothing left of the plant to spring back up. So you know if you have a garden and you try and keep on top of it, you get a few self-seeded sycamores or elders, and you think, “Okay we’ll cut that we’ll, get rid of that, it’s gone.” No it isn’t. come back to it three months later, guess what’s happened? It’s come back up again, because the roots remain. Something is there for the life to spring back.
That’s what this is saying will not happen with the wicked on that day. The destruction that is faced will be total. There will be nothing left to come back.
Now that might give us the impression that what will happen is simply that they will be destroyed, and simply cease to exist. But then we have to modify, qualify, what this passage is saying with teaching elsewhere in the Bible, in the New Testament, and in particular the teaching of Jesus. Jesus uses language in his teaching of “a fire that never goes out”. The apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians chapter 1 speaks of “everlasting destruction”. So although the destruction here is total, in that there will be no recovery from it, the New Testament tells us that what we’re talking about here is an experience of being destroyed, which goes on forever and ever.
Now I take absolutely no pleasure in talking about this this morning. I would rather talk about a large number of other things, to be honest, because I know that what I’m describing here is describing close friends of mine, and members of my extended family if they continue along the path that they are currently traveling. This is something therefore that I cannot think about for too long, before it simply becomes unbearable, and I have to find something else to think about. This is really very hard stuff to hear. However it is true, and God tells us these things because he loves us and he wants us to know the future, and know what is coming, and not be unprepared.
But the point for this morning is simply this: Do not ever say that it is futile to serve God, and that being a Christian makes no difference. Boy, does it make a difference.
So that’s the first destination: the fate of the wicked, which is destruction.
Fate of God’s People: Life
Or, there’s the alternative, the contrast. The fate of God’s people. The fate of God’s people is life.
Verse 2: “But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays, and you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.”
So sunrise on the day when Jesus comes back will bring for those who are part of God’s people a very different day. It’ll be the dawning of a wonderful day.
You might recognize part of verse 2 from the Christmas carol, Hark! the herald-angels sing. People keep thinking it’s a misprint in the service sheets, that it should be hail the “son” of righteousness s-o-n. but it’s deliberate, s-u-n, because as the sun comes up, as the day dawns when Jesus returns, here is what that day will bring for you. It’ll bring three things, and they’re all wonderful.
The first is righteousness. That’s the sun of righteousness that comes up that day. So if your response to God all of your life has been slightly heart-hearted, all of that changes the moment Jesus returns. Because in an instant we become the people that God wants us to be, who love him from the bottom of our hearts. It brings righteousness.
Secondly, it brings healing. The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. So as you feel the warmth of the sun on the day that Jesus comes back, that warmth of the sun will bring healing to your bones. If your body is broken, if it decays, and if one day it will die, all of that will be no more. Because on the day that Jesus comes back his people, will be put back together. We will be given new bodies, that never decay, break down, get ill, get hurt, and die. Healing.
Righteousness. Healing. And third is joy. “You will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.” This is a vivid picture for people from a farming background. The animals have been wintered in the barn, they’ve been well fed all winter, and then spring comes. The barn doors can be opened and all that energy can be burnt off.
Actually it’s a picture probably the parents of small children can relate to as well as farmers who keep animals. It’s seven o’clock in the morning. It’s time to get up, and all that energy can be burnt off.
Or if you’ve ever owned a dog, you know what happens when you put the dog in the car and drive the dog to some woods for a walk. Unless you’ve got the lead on, what happens when you open the boot? Like a bullet from a gun the dog is off and every little scent needs to be sniffed, every path explored, and the dog is just absolutely berserk enjoying the freedom of exploring this wonderful wooded place to which it’s been taken.
That is what will happen for God’s people on the day that Jesus returns. We will just enjoy freedom, and joy, and it will be good.
Note please, this is the fate of God’s people. The contrast between verse 1 and verse 2 is not between evildoers, those who do bad things, and then (verse 2) those who do good things. No. Verse 1, “all the arrogant and every evildoer”; verse 2, “but for you who revere my name”. This is the future that comes by grace as a free gift to everyone who knows the Lord God, who revere God’s name.
So Jesus earned this wonderful future for himself by being perfectly good, and then he made it possible for him to transfer that wonderful future to us as he died and rose again. All we have to do is attach ourselves to him, and his future becomes our future.
Now before we move on to the next few verses, I need to comment on the uncomfortable verse, which is verse 3. The picture in verse 3 is of the field into which these calves are released containing, in at least part of it, the ashes that are left from the fire of verse 1. “Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act.”
It’s not a very pleasant picture. But nowhere here is it indicated that God’s people will take any pleasure in the fact that, as they run and enjoy their freedom, they are trampling on the ashes of those in a different place. That will never bring the people of God any pleasure. In fact it is the reverse. In Ezekiel chapter 18, God says explicitly that he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.
Rather the point here is this those who have lived all of their lives under the thumb of those who hate God, and so who have been oppressed and mistreated, will suddenly find themselves with the boot on the other foot. They will be the ones who were on the victorious side for a change. Things have been reversed, and they will never again be the ones who are downtrodden.
It’s the picture that Mary talks about as she is visited by Elizabeth. You know the verses well some of you. She says this: God “has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble,” Luke chapter 1 verse 52.
So there are the two destinies, and all of us are heading to one or the other, and it all hinges on whether we know the Lord Jesus now in this life. On that day, we will indeed see the distinction between those who know God and those who do not. Do not let anyone ever tell you that serving God, being a Christian, makes no difference. The difference could not be greater.
Walk in God’s Way
Well, Malachi ends with two take home points for his hearers and for his readers and the first is this: Walk in God’s way. Walk in God’s way.
So here’s verse 4: “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.” So the books of the Old Testament have been divided from days of old into two halves: the law and the prophets. And the figure who represents the law more than anybody else is Moses.
But Malachi is not saying to keep God’s rules. He’s telling us to walk in God’s way. That’s because Christianity is not a rule book to live by. It’s a relationship with the God who made us.
And it’s because the books of Moses, which is the heading given to the first five books of the Bible, are not primarily books of rules. First and foremost, those five books tell the story of how God promised to bless his people, how God rescued his people from slavery, how he made them his treasured possession, how he lives among them, and how he provides for them. And then, and only then, calls them to live in response .and even as he calls us to live in response the first and greatest commandment found within the law of Moses is: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart.”
Malachi is saying, “Live this story. Live as God’s people, chosen and dearly loved.” Which for us translates into saying: Turn to the Lord Jesus; find forgiveness and new life in him; and then let his teaching (and indeed the rest of the Bible) be your guide as you live in response to God’s kindness. Walk in God’s way.
Heed God’s Warning
Malachi’s second take-home point from the whole book: Heed God’s warning. Heed God’s warning.
So before God judges, he always sends prophets to warn that the judgment is coming. And before the final judgment, one final warning will come. One final prophet will come. Verse 5, “See I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the hearts of the children to their parents, or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”
So the Old Testament divides into law and prophets. If Moses is the figure who represents the law, the figure who represents the prophets is Elijah. You may remember when Jesus was transfigured on the mount of transfiguration, when his clothes became dazzling white, the two people who appeared with him were Moses and Elijah. The question is: Who is this final prophet, who comes to warn of the final judgment? Who is this Elijah figure?
Well the New Testament would identify him very clearly as John the Baptist. But John the Baptist prepared the people for the first coming of Jesus. Jesus himself, in his first coming, prepares people for his second coming. And so Jesus more than anyone is the figure who fulfils this prediction of a second Elijah coming. So God sent Jesus the first time, to warn us that he will come a second time, and to die and rise again to open the way for us to be forgiven, so that when he comes the second time it does not mean total destruction.
Heed God’s warning.
And so we reach the end of the book of Malachi.
It’s felt, as we’ve worked through, it very contemporary.
If you’re not yet a Christian, if you’re still looking into the Christian faith, can I urge you this morning to look into all of this carefully and with great urgency. We’ve seen this morning we are not playing games as we talk together about Jesus in church on a Sunday. This affects whether your life is heading to a future of destruction or of life. And it affects whether your life is heading to one or other of those for all eternity.
Sometimes people may ask you, “Where do you see yourself being in five years’ time?” It’s a good question. But I want to ask you a different question this morning. Where do you see yourself being in a hundred years’ time? Where will you be in a hundred years’ time? Because Malachi has just told you the two options that there are. We are not playing games. This stuff matters.
It may even be that some people here this morning know enough about Jesus to start to follow him, to become a Christian, but you’ve never done it. And if that’s you, why don’t you start today? Don’t leave it another day.
But if you are a Christian, has your love for God grown cold? Is cynicism beginning to encroach? Are you less persuaded that God really loves you than you were when you first began?
If so, the book of Malachi is for you, and its message is the one given in chapter 1 verse 2, when God tells his people: “I have loved you.” God wants you to know just how much he loves you. God loved you specifically by sending Jesus to die and to rise again, by choosing you to be a part of this wonderful story, so that for you his return will be the beginning of L-I-F-E in capital letters: righteousness, healing, joy, freedom.
Chew on that. Chew on God’s love for you. Let it sink in, until it utterly transforms and takes over your life.