1 “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.
My dad used to say, “Prior planning prevents poor performance.” When things are planned out, when preparation is made, then the nerves go down a bit and the execution is at a good level. Just think of a kid who is taking a biology semester exam. That’s kind of one of those times when you need to be prepared. You need to make sure you have your biology notes, because the history ones won’t help you much. And you need to give those notes a little more than a glance. You need to get in their and work at it, maybe even for a few nights if you want to be to prevent a poor performance.
I remember being in this exact situation at Martin Luther College my sophomore year. Science classes weren’t really a forte of mine in school. So in order to avoid squelch the nerves, in order to avoid a poor performance, I studied multiple nights. I wasn’t totally calm going in or coming out of that final exam but studying sure helped. I can’t remember what my grade was, but I remember being at peace with it.
Malachi is describing for us something that has a little more weight than a biology final. In Malachi 3, he’s talking about the coming of Christ. He asks, “Who can endure the day of his coming?” The reason he asks is because the people of Judah have become pretty indifferent. This is the time after they returned from exile. There had been a positive spiritual resurgence when those, who were captive in Babylon, were allowed to go back home to Judah. They rebuilt the temple, rebuilt the city, rebuilt the walls, and that also rebuilt their foundation on God’s promises. But the pattern that existed for the Jewish people in the Old Testament cropped up again to the point where the people were questioning the Lord. Think of that! The people got lazy about worship and faith and they figured one of the reasons was God’s fault.
Maybe you notice the same kind of thing going on now. People are waiting for the Lord in their own ways, not his, if they are paying attention to him at all. Even among us, from time to time, we question God’s power and love. If we are his children, then why do we have to face struggle and pain? Why can’t we have what we want all the time?
That is ultimately what the people of Judah are asking for. That’s the implication when Malachi says, “The Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come.” We get caught up looking for God to be what we want him to be. We want the comfort and the easy life. It’s this kind of selfishness that often looks at Jesus to be a soda machine, giving me what I want when I want it, instead of looking at Jesus as the Savior from sin and death that I need.
Jesus’ work was not to give Judah what they wanted or to dispense to us every last wish and desire we have. He is the messenger of the covenant, a covenant that God made to forgive sins and bring deliverance to people who do not deserve it. His job was to save us. I like the picture that God paints through the prophet Malachi. Jesus is described as a refiner or launderer. Those two metaphors are a lot more useful to us than a soda machine, dispensing what we want.
Jesus is the refiner, purifying us by his death. He has burned off every impurity from our record. It cost us nothing; Jesus did it all to bring us as pure and righteous children to his Father. But that doesn’t mean our lives are going to be easy. Jesus is the purifier and refiner of our lives. That means he is going to use some heat to melt off what is not of value to our faith.
The same thing is true with the metaphor of the launderer. Jesus has washed us clean. He has removed every stain with his blood to present us as holy and spotless to God. But that doesn’t mean we are off the hook, that we can live in any way that makes us happy. We are the dirty laundry that Jesus scrubs and cleans. He uses his Word as powerful soap and applies it to our lives so that stains will not seep into our lives. A dirty, filthy faith is, again, of far less value than a cleansed faith.
This is not a pain-free process as Jesus works on the faith that he purchased for us. The law drives us to our knees in sorrow and the inability to cleanse ourselves. Self-righteousness is burnt up by the law’s perfect standard. Pride is washed away in the law’s holy demands. As Jesus works on us he will also pinpoint things we love but hinder our relationship with him, and he will work to remove those things from us. Jesus can even use the hardships of living in a broken world to work for our good. Weakness forces us to rely on his strength. Sorrow forces us to the eternal comfort only Jesus provides. We have the kind of Savior who allows and even brings the painful fires needed to purge our faith of impurities so that we can avoid the far greater, far more painful, eternal fire of hell. God loves us enough to prepare us the right way for the Last Day, so that we can be at peace.
Think of it this way: is a parent helping their child by neglecting discipline? A parent might be able to convince themselves that discipline is cruel and that they love their children too much to put them through any kind of pain or discomfort. But in avoiding that little bit of pain, parents like that open their children up to much greater pain. They will grow up to think there are not punishments, that “I get to do whatever I want,” that “the world revolves around me.” God loves us too much to leave us spoiled and unprepared for Jesus’ return.
However, God does not save us from destruction just to keep us from the destruction. He saves us and purifies us to be who he created us to be. He keeps us safe and prepares us properly for Christ’s coming so that we can glorify him with each other and help others prepare as well.
Notice who is brought up in this section; it’s the Levites. When the Promised Land was divided up for the 12 tribes of Israel, the Levites didn’t get a section of land. They were the ones who served at the temple; that was their place among God’s people. They were the priests and leaders of worship. So God specifically includes them to show us that there are not levels for those who need purification. You don’t have the pastors and religious scholars up here. You don’t have church councilmen and board members here. You don’t have Sunday School teachers and choir members here. You don’t have ushers and other weekly attenders here. You don’t have those who can’t seem to make worship the priority every week here. You don’t have the delinquent list members here. And you don’t have the rest of the pagans and unbelievers here. No. Everybody has the same need to be cleansed and purified by Jesus.
And when Jesus cleans you up and purifies you from all the things that have no value to your spiritual life, then it doesn’t matter who you are, you get to serve the Lord with thankfulness and joy. To think that there are only certain types of believers that can serve God in the church or help out with ministry is not only ludicrous, it’s a destructive lie that comes from our sinful flesh, from the world around us, and from the devil, himself.
If Christ died for you, if he came back from the dead to give you eternal life, if he washed you in baptism and strengthens you with his Word and sacrament, if he cleans you and purifies you so that you can serve him even better, then I sure hope you notice what you are going to do. You are going to serve the Lord in all sorts of ways.
One of those ways that God mentions through the prophet Malachi is offerings. Without people who believe in the Lord, where would the support for ministry be? But God has brought us into his family, where we live in thanksgiving. We live with joy for the home we have in heaven. We see things better. Jesus continues his work as the refiner and launderer so that we will continue to serve him with thankfulness. We do it now to a degree, but imagine what it will be like when we can give the Lord our best in the perfect glory of heaven.
Peace comes from the kind of preparation that Malachi is talking about. People about 400 years after Malachi needed peace, and that’s when God sent them John the Baptist. Even thought his message was somewhat striking, it was exactly the kind of preparation the people needed. Mountains of pride and self-righteousness needed to be leveled. Valleys of despair and self-loathing needed to be filled in. Blockades that people had erected to the clear gospel had to be removed.
The same things are true today. Maybe we don’t have a guy like John the Baptist wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts as our guest preacher during Advent, but in a pastor, God gives people a servant to help with preparations. But just like it wasn’t about John back then, it still isn’t about the pastor today. God’s message has always been about the messenger of the covenant, that second messenger who not only proclaims peace but then goes out and accomplishes peace for us, Jesus Christ our Savior.
For now, with such joy and excitement, we are in a time similar to getting ready for a Christmas party. You know it will be fun and joyous, and you are looking forward to it eagerly, but before that party comes there are hours and hours of planning and preparations. Sometimes we think that this life is the main event for us. But it’s not. The party comes later. Now is the time for the hard work that prepares us for the party. We have peace and comfort now because Jesus did the hard work for us when he came the first time and purchased it for us with his holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death. We are on God’s side and he will never declare war on us. We have peace to live as children of God. We have peace as Jesus refines us and washes us to make us even better at our service of thankfulness to him. We are at peace because God is doing so much to prepare us for Jesus to come back and take all his people to heaven. So, in peace we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, and take us home.” Amen.