Sermon Manuscript: Malachi 3:6-4:6 “God’s mercy distinguishes, therefore return to him.”

For November 23, 2014, if the Lord wills.

Text:
Malachi 3:6 KJV* For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.
7 Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return?
8 Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
9 Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.
10 Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
11 And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts.
12 And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts.
13 Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee?
14 Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?
15 And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.
16 Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.
17 And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.
18 Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.
4:1 For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.
2 But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.
3 And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts.
4 Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.
5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:
6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

I. Introduction
The Jews were restored in the land after a period of captivity. The temple had been rebuilt, but the hearts of the people were not inclined toward the LORD their God. This is the situation in which we find our passage. They were going through the external motions of temple worship: the sacrifices and offerings, the priestly prayers and oblations, and expecting a blessing from God in return. Meanwhile their hearts were full of sin and violence. It is an offense to God when we act pious to his face and then turn around and mistreat our neighbor as if we did not know God at all. Jesus says as much, when he instructs anyone having anything against a brother or sister to leave his gift on the altar, and be reconciled, before offering to God. God takes no pleasure in the hypocrisy of those who honor him with their lips but not in their hearts. This is proven when they act contrary to his law. It shows their hearts are far from God. Such external worship without the inward reality of faith an inner outlook of repentance (turned to God) creates a stink in his nostrils instead of a pleasing aroma.

God is preparing his covenant people, Israel, for the coming of Messiah. This is the last bit of prophecy that was given, which is why it is placed as the last book of the Old Testament in our Bibles. The problem of the sin of God’s people described in this prophecy will only be remedied by the coming of the LORD in the person of Jesus the Messiah.

Just as the Jews in Malachi’s day were looking forward to the coming of the LORD, so are we. He who came once will come again, on a day when he is not expected. When the apostles gazed up in amazement as our Lord ascended up to heaven, where he sat on the throne of his royal authority, what did the angel say? The angel told them that he would return just as he had left. That is physically, in plain view of the whole world. And when he comes again, he will come in glory to judge the entire sinful world, and to gather his people to himself. This is what we have to look forward to.

So when we look at the catalogue of sins that God lists in this passage, that his people were committing in the day that Malachi prophesied, we see too clear a reflection of our own sins. When we read the words that God speaks to Israel in this chapter, the threatenings against unrepentant sinners, called “the wicked”, and the promises to preserve his people and make them holy, set apart for himself, keep in mind that these threatenings and promises are as much for us who are looking forward to Christ’s second coming, as they were for the Jews who waited before his first coming.

II. Doctrine: God will restore his chosen ones to himself, and judge the earth, therefore return to him.

God’s patience to us is the basis of our continued existence. (3:6) If God judged as we deserve, we would be instantly destroyed. This merciful patience is not based on our own deserving or merit, but only on his special love with which he loved his chosen ones before the foundation of the world. God himself will restore his chosen ones. He is not waiting with bated breath, just hoping they will return to him. What he commands, he brings to fruition by his secret operation inside their hearts to draw them away from lawlessness back to himself.

God will restore his people in specific ways. God will turn his people back to himself. One means among others by which he turns them is to give specific commands. God’s sovereignty does not undermine our own responsibility to be obedient to him. It establishes it. One important thing commanded by God through the prophet Malachi in this passage is that they give one tenth of their increase to the Lord, known as tithing. This is an ancient custom recorded in Scripture as far back as Abraham in Genesis, who gave to Melchizedek a tithe, or a tenth, of his booty. God says very expressly in vv. 8-9 of Malachi 3 that his people are robbing him by not giving a tenth of all their profit to the Lord’s service. They are said to be robbing God! How is this possible? Does not God already own everything? Of course he does. And he also owns you, me, us, and everything that we have. The proper way to think about tithing is that it is an acknowledgement that everything that we have to live on comes as a gift from God’s generous hand. By dedicating ten percent of all our income to the service of the Lord, that is by giving it to his church, we provide for the worship of God, the proclamation of the gospel, and the care of those who are in need, especially in the church. The principle of tithing does not go away in the New Testament. It is repeated by our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 23:23, where he upbraids the Pharisees and teachers of the law for neglecting the weightier matters of the law, like justice and mercy, but he affirms that they were doing exactly what they should have been doing by tithing on all their increase by the words “these they ought to have done, not left the others (tithing) undone.” Tithing is still required of Christians in the New Testament. The fact that God allows us to keep ninety-percent of the income that he provides for us, that is, of his money, is very generous indeed. Notice how seriously God takes this one specific command to tithe, which is itself an act of worship, in that he specifically brings it up in this passage when he is explaining to the Jews how they have turned away from him, and how they ought to return to him. They ought to return to God by reserving one tenth of their income for the service of God in the temple. Let us also be diligent to repent (turn away from) our sins in the way that we are stewards of God’s gifts to us by resolving to tithe faithfully.

Yet God, in this chapter of Malachi, as we find so often in Scripture, does not simply command what is our duty, but he also gives a promise to spur us to do that which seems hard to us. It is not that tithing is difficult, though it takes practice and careful planning at first, (and I would be happy to help if someone would like some advice on how to make a tithe a part of ones regular budget.) Yet God promises to shower blessings from heaven upon his people if they will remember to tithe.

10 Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
11 And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts.

The blessing described here is great material blessing: income, peace, security, and increase. There are some commentators who take this promise to be temporary, as if it were only for the Jews who heard Malachi. They say that this promise does not apply universally in all ages, that it was just a one time thing. In other words, the argument is that we cannot expect God to bless us materially because we tithe. It is true that this passage has been much abused by charlatans on television who are in it for the money. They prey on poor widows by promising that they will get material blessings for sending in the last of their savings to the preacher on the tv set. And it is true that we should not give to God in expectation of a return, as if it were some kind of get rich quick scheme that God is laying out before us. “If you give me a tenth, I will make you rich.” We give to God cheerfully, from the heart, not because we are thinking about a reward. But there does not seem to be any reason to me to restrict this promise to Malachi’s immediate audience. When we read “Return to me,” it applies to us as well. Although there is an immediate context to these words, there is a broader application that also includes us. This is not merely a one time enticement, but a broader application based on God’s own bountiful nature, that those who are faithful in using those gifts and blessings that God has bestowed on us lawfully, that is, according to his commandments, will never be in need. God will bless us if we are faithful with the blessings that he has given us.

The next way in which God promises to restore his people, other than tithing, is by making a distinction between the righteous and the wicked. Because that which is commanded is also given as a mark of future restoration, God will restore his people by making them obedient to him. Let us examine the following verses:

16 Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.
17 And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.
18 Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.

The Lord commands a book to be written for those who fear the Lord. This book is a book containing the names of his chosen ones among the people of Israel. He loves them with a special love, as a father his own sons. One of the sins of the people of God noted in this chapter is murmuring against God. His people have been questioning his justice when they see the blessing that evil-doers seemed to acquire in this life, and the suffering and hardships experienced by those who fear God. Does it not at times seem frustrating that ungodly people prosper so much in life while true Christians are suffering? But with the eyes of faith we can see past the present circumstances before our eyes, and remember that God is working out his glorious plan in everything that happens. Those who wickedly oppress their neighbor, and even Christians, may seem to be living high on the hog now, but their day will come. God will judge the earth in righteousness. What an encouragement this is to his people today to endure hardship. God who has graciously chosen his people out of sheer love, and adopted them into his family, will right all the wrongs on a day of his own choosing. He has not forgotten his chosen ones whom he loves. They will shine, basking in his glory forever while the wicked and evil-doers suffer the eternal fire of God’s righteous indignation for their sins against him. God’s people ought to make the same distinction in their minds between those who are saved by grace, and those who are perpetrating evil in the world, as God will on the day of judgment. If we turn to God, we will think as he does about the circumstances around us. We who may be suffering at times now will one day be spared. We will be forever blessed and happy with him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

God will restore his chosen ones to himself by his own power. They are required to return to him and repent of their sin, for “without holiness shall no man see the Lord.” But he does not depend on their independent action. Brothers and sisters, our staying faithful to God, and turning back from our sins to him, does not depend on us, but on his sovereign mercy working in and through us. Therefore, let us not slack off or wallow in the mud of sin, but be restored to him, because he himself will restore us.

Verses 2-6 of chapter 4, the last passage of the Old Testament, speak of Elijah who will come to prepare the way of the LORD. (3:1) Remember as we saw last week that it is the LORD God himself who said to be coming in this prophetic word. Elijah here is a prophetic type of John the Baptizer, who came in the Spirit and power of Elijah. He even wore the same type of clothing as the prophet Elijah, of camel’s hair. This detail of John’s clothing was placed in the gospel accounts on purpose to make us think of the prophet Elijah. This prophet, (John the Baptizer in fulfillment), will come to prepare the way of the Lord by calling his people to repentance. John’s baptism is described as a baptism of repentance. When the bridegroom is coming, the bride makes herself ready by bathing and putting on her wedding dress and jewelry. In the same way when the Lord is coming to his people, they are to prepare themselves by washing off the filth of sin and wickedness, and adorning themselves with works of obedience pleasing to God. The Lord is holy, and he is coming for judgment. Let all those who love the Lord make themselves ready.

One blessed feature of the prophetic ministry of this “Elijah” figure is to turn the hearts of the fathers and the children to one another. This passage, like several others in Scripture that you may be able to think of, highlights the importance of devotion to the Lord in the family. In Christian families, godly conversation between parents and children stirs up all of them to greater faith and devotion. What a beautiful thing it is when families are a help to true faith, instead of a hindrance. Fathers have a particularly important role in Scripture, seen in this passage, in instructing and leading their families in the Lord. But that does not prevent them from being encouraged in their faith too by well-placed words of faith coming from their children. How often do we talk about God with our family members? Let us not only come to worship together in families, but also purposely look for times and opportunities—sometimes just spontaneously—to encourage one another in faith and obedience to God. Quote Scripture to one another. Encourage one another when someone in your family is upset, frustrated, or tempted, or when his temper gets the best of him. By doing so, you will not only draw closer together as a family, but you will be turned to God.

4:1 For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.
2 But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.
3 And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts.
4 Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.
5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:
6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

Verse 6 “lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” are the words which cap off the book of Malachi, the last of the prophets before John the Baptizer in the New Testament. It was found to be very offensive to the Jews who kept the Hebrew Bible that the last word of their Scripture is a curse. That’s why in the Jewish canon you will find the prophets listed in the table of contents before the writings (Psalms, Proverbs, etc.) so that this verse is not the last verse in the volume. According to Ralph Smith (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 32) the Masoretic scholars directed that verse 5 be repeated in reading after verse 6. Meanwhile, the Greek Septuagint, a Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible made around 200 B. C., places verse 4 last. So we can see what great pains have been taken to avoid verse 6 being the last word of the Old Testament.

God’s wrath is coming upon the wicked. They will burn with the unquenchable fire of his righteous anger, the proud “as an oven.” But the main point of this passage is that God will bless his chosen ones by drawing them to himself, not by ones and twos, but together in families. The tears will be dried from their eyes as they see God’s judgment upon their oppressors and persecutors. This is a comforting announcement. God instructs his people to remember the law, the commandments of God given to Moses upon Mount Horeb (aka. Sinai), and look forward to his coming salvation. The faithful Jews of Malachi’s day were to turn back to God. Instead of murmuring, God was inducing them to look ahead with hopeful joy to God’s future providing of salvation, which would be announced by the Elijah figure. there is something we can learn in this. Part of turning back to God is having hope in God’s future deliverance. Christians show that they are true believers by watching and hoping for the return of Jesus Christ, just as faithful Jews of the Old Testament looked forward to his first coming.

III. Use: God will restore his chosen ones to himself, and judge the earth, therefore return to him.
Give one tenth of all your income to the Lord. This commandment is not abrogated in the New Testament, as we saw in the words of our Lord Jesus. It is not burdensome. God graciously allows us to keep ninety percent of all his blessings to us, and only requires that we give one tenth to his service. If you are apprehensive about getting started, help is available. The important principle is that Christians are to give their tenth at the church where they gather for worship, as Jews in the Old Testament gave at the temple. Other charities or organizations may be supported above and beyond the tithe, or supported by the local church, if the elders so decide.

Remember that God is not slacking off in bringing justice to your life and situation. He is working everything out exactly according to plan. Just as God distinguishes between those who are his chosen ones, who in his own timing will hear the gospel and come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, so we ought to have the same distinction in our minds. Do not envy the wicked to treat others unfairly for their own dishonest gain. They may seem to be doing well now, but their day is coming. This thought will keep us from murmuring against him, as if his plan were unfair. And remember that it is only by his sheer mercy that we are saved, that he has forgiven us of all our sins, and adopted us as his own beloved children, not by our own doing.

God will come to judge the earth. Our Lord Jesus Christ will descend with a shout, with the trumpet blast from the archangel. The dead will rise, and the books will be opened. Those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life, in this “book of remembrance”, will be solemnly acquitted and declared righteous on that day. And those who have impenitently and unrighteously pursued their own wicked idols of selfish pride, greed, and oppression, will be cast into a lake of fire forever to suffer God’s wrath against them for their crimes. We can go on knowing that this will undoubtedly take place. It gives us strength to go through life obediently, in faith.

The law of God is not a list of ten suggestions, or steps to being a super-Christian. The ten commandments summarize God’s own character, even that character which he is writing with his finger, or, that is, by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of all those who are looking forward to the return of the Lord. Let these commandments of God be written not only on our lips as we recite them on Sunday morning, but be radiantly exuded in our lives, so that the world may see, and know we are his, and justify God on that day.

IV. Conclusion: God will restore his chosen ones to himself, and judge the earth, therefore return to him.

Our hope of finally returning to God, of leaving our sins, of being made like him, does not depend on us. He will do it in and through us. He has shown you mercy, O believer in Christ. Return to him, by tithing, distinguishing between the righteous and the wicked, and having faith in his promises, his coming to judge the world and bless you as his own beloved children. Let us keep the ten commandments, in thought, word, and deed. In this way, God will restore us to himself. For although are sins are great, our names are written in that book, if we are believers in Christ. Let this hope spur us on to believe in him amidst all the hardships we face in life. Amen.

*The King James Version is used due to the lack of copyright restrictions on this particular English version of God’s word.