Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Relief is coming. This past summer when my family and I traveled to Wisconsin to see our family there we made a last minute decision. Just before we left we decided to try traveling through the night. Now there are some advantages to that. Hopefully our children would sleep and hopefully there wouldn’t be too much traffic. But there were also some challenges. One of course being the fact that I was awake the whole day before and now was going to try being awake all night as well sitting in a nice comfortable seat with nothing else to do but drive. But we went and after about 7 or 8 hours of constant driving at night it was getting difficult. My eyes were quite strained, studying things longer than I’d have to during daylight, playing tricks on me thinking something in the ditch was a deer or animal, so after 7 or 8 hours I was ready for that daylight to come. How much longer was it going to be? But then finally, in the early morning the darkness began to break and was soon dispelled by the early morning rays of sunshine…ahh finally relief at last! Now I could see clearly, now my eyes didn’t have to strain anymore. Relief! Thank the Lord!
Waiting can be difficult, can’t it? When you’re in the midst of something unpleasant, that light at the end of the tunnel can seem so far away, so far in the distance, almost like it will never come. When you’re sick it can be so unpleasant for a time until the sickness goes away and relief is so welcome when it finally comes. In a way, our lives are like waiting in darkness, waiting for that light to break forth and relief to come. We deal with things every day that are unpleasant: Disappointments, failures, problems, sicknesses, losses of every kind, we battle every day against those same sins that seem to get the best of us again and again; and if that isn’t enough, we look around us in the world and it seems every day there’s more wickedness, more evil, more abandoning God’s Word, sin is not just accepted but actually encouraged and promoted. You know it; you see it all around you. And it can get quite depressing. And it even seems like wickedness and evil keep prospering unabated! The wicked and evildoers continue to thrive and win and succeed. So what’s going on? Has God abandoned us? Why should we continue to serve the Lord and continue to hold on to His Word? Those who promote evil prosper, they challenge and test God and seem to escape!
Do those thoughts enter your mind? As I look at the world I wonder. Our eyes strain through the darkness of this world and wonder “Is relief for God’s people coming?” Interestingly enough, those are exactly the same sentiments of the Israelite people to whom God sent the prophet Malachi. You see, the Israelites, remember, had been sent off to exile for their unfaithfulness to God. For about 70 years they were in exile until in God’s providence and grace He sent a remnant back to the land of Judah so He could fulfill His promise to send the world’s Savior. So about 400 years or so before Jesus a portion of the Israelites are back in Judah and Jerusalem and have rebuilt the temple, rebuilt Jerusalem’s walls, began worshipping the Lord again. But there’s a problem. They are still surrounded by foreign enemies, they’re just a puny, insignificant nation, located in the backwaters of the Persian Empire. They don’t feel very glorious. And so they started questioning: Where is this glorious future when the Messiah is going to come? We don’t see it! In fact, we’re here struggling to survive when all these foreign nations who have nothing to do with God are prospering and succeeding and in power. So they started doubting God’s love, losing hope, giving up on God’s justice and their worship to God degenerated into a mere going through the motions and they no longer took God’s Word seriously. 5 verses before our text the people were saying, “It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.” Their eyes were straining through the darkness of this world and wondering, “Is relief ever coming?”
So, in the last chapter of the last book of the Old Testament God through Malachi skips right to the end of all time, the Last Day, Judgment Day. In the end all will be right, in the end God will settle all scores, in the end evil will not prosper. When God comes in all power and majesty and might all will recognize God as the true God and God of the universe. For us who fear the Lord we look forward to that Day, but for those who don’t fear God that day will be unimaginably awful. One day- two totally different reactions to it.
“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer 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.” So what does this mean? “Surely” make no mistake about it, this is definitely going to happen. What’s going to happen? “The day” is going to happen. In the Hebrew God uses two participles to describe this day. It’s coming and it’s burning. Participles describe characteristics of something, here the day. The first characteristic of the day is that it is coming. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts, it IS coming. There’s a day when Jesus will return, it is set in stone and it will happen. And this day is “burning.” It’s burning like a furnace. The hottest fire that people of Malachi’s day would have seen is the furnace for the smelting process, not an open fire. In a bee-hive like metal shaped furnace wood would be ignited and fanned exceedingly hot for the smelting process that flames would shoot out he ventilation holes on top. That’s hot! “All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble” that is, everyone who rebels against God are like stubble or chaff, the leftovers after harvest, insignificant, dry, and easily ignitable. That day will burn them up so that there is no more traces of them and their wickedness- root and branch gone. And who says so? The LORD Almighty, the Lord of hosts, the Lord of celestial armies.
So, who are the wicked and the evil-doers? Finally, they’re everyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus the Savior. It’s anyone who thinks they don’t need Jesus and they don’t need Jesus’ blood to cover over every single aspect of their lives. There are manifest unbelievers. People who have no regard for the true God, people who put their trust in a false god, people who have no regard for God’s Word. But it also includes people who “look” like they are good. People who say they like God but really don’t. You can’t say I believe in God and yet not take His Word seriously. You can’t rewrite God’s Word in order to create a god who is a figment of your own imagination. You can’t say, “My god wouldn’t send anyone to hell.” Well, my friend, then you have made up your own god. The true God as he reveals Himself in His Word is a just God. If someone spurns His love and His grace and His promises, then that person rightly deserves eternal punishment.
But, wait a minute pastor. “Isn’t that horrible? Isn’t that mean to say? How can your church body teach those things?” Well, if those are your thoughts you’re going to have to take it up with God, not me. I’m not making this stuff up here. I don’t think God could lay it out any more plainer or with any more vivid imagery than this. Hell is horrible. If you aren’t standing on the Lord’s side, you ought to be terrified and horrified of Judgment day. God doesn’t have to justify his ways to sinful humans, God doesn’t have to make everything make sense for our puny, sinful human brains. This is the fact: the wicked go to hell.
But what about us? “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.” Just like the morning sun breaks the darkness and shines across the earth, so The Sun, the Son of God will come on that day and break all darkness apart. Completely opposite to the fire of judgment that will engulf the wicked will come the Sun of Righteousness bringing warmth and light to believers. He will bring healing in His wings. The healing message of the Gospel or righteousness credited to us for Jesus’ sake. Just as soldiers weary and tired and wounded on the battlefield hear the “wings” of a plane or helicopter bringing healing and rescue, with that same relief believers look forward to the Last day. “And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.” Literally, it says calves of the fattening. Calves that are stalled and purposefully fed (not left to find food on their own) when they are released will run and frolic and jump about to exercise their muscles. I’m told it’s quite a sight to see. To any onlooker it would appear that the calves are just bursting and overflowing with joy and exuberance. That’s a picture of the believer on the Last Day. The day will be filled with joy. You, having been “fattened” so-to-speak with God’s Words and promises will want to run and jump for joy when Jesus returns.
And as for the wicked and arrogant? No longer will they hold any power, no longer will they oppress the righteous, they will be as insignificant as ashes underneath your feet. That’s what the LORD Almighty says and He will do it.
So what do we take away from this text? Let’s take away four points. First, Jesus is coming. God has set the date. God has taken His red pen and circled a day in His calendar. There is a final day. The world is not going to keep going like it has been all along. No matter what’s going on in the world the Sun is on the horizon.
Second, in the end Jesus wins. No matter how much wickedness and evil today seem to reign and prosper, one day God’s recompense against evil will come. There is a hell and its burning fires are the fate of all who reject the true God and Savior. Hell is horrible. God doesn’t want anyone to go there, but God is just, so those who reject Him will.
Third, Judgment Day gives us joy. In the end we will be vindicated. We who have clung in faith to our Savior and have clung to His Word will one day leap for joy. We look forward with excitement to that final day when we will be ushered into paradise with our Lord forever.
And finally, knowing that the Day is coming, we are moved all the more to share the message of salvation without restriction. Jesus could return at any moment and we don’t want a friend, a relative, an acquaintance standing on the wrong side. Let’s share the only message that brings healing and salvation on that Last Day.
Brothers and sisters, the day is coming. Rejoice! Amen.