How we talk to God reveals our heart for him. It is good and natural to question someone, that’s how we relate and grow in relationships, however the quantity of questions and tone reveal the level of trust we have and quality of the relationship. As the tone of questioning turns to accusations we find an unhealthy relationship. I’ve heard a common question many times “Why do bad things happen to good people?” This question may sound innocent enough but in truth there are two great assumptions made in this question. One is that people are inherently good, and the other is that whoever is in charge is not. People question if God is so good how could he let this bad stuff happen. What we have to come to grips with is that God is good and we are not.
Humans messed this thing up, God’s original plan looked much different than the current state of affairs. We were in community with God in the garden, and we were so transparent and open we were unaware of our nakedness. We chose sin, which separated us from God. We then hid ourselves in shame and refused to repent. The result of our sin was separation from the presence of God. However, from that point God began his rescue plan, his plan to conquer sin and crush the head of the serpent through his son who would come as one of us. From the seed of Adam Jesus would come and live among us and pay the penalty for our sin and reunite the family. You see God is so good that even though we don’t deserve it he has fought for us, and because he loves us he pursues us.
Here in Malachi 2:17- 3:5 God answers the people’s questions with Jesus.
“You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” 1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.“ Malachi 2:17- 3:1 ESV
Notice here God states they have wearied them with their words. Continually through the beginning of this book they question God and complain. “How have you loved us?”, “How have we despised your name?”, “How tiresome it is,” “For what reason?”, and “How have we wearied him?” He answers how they have wearied him here; by them calling those who do evil good, and by questioning God, which is essentially calling God bad. I love God’s answer here to “Where is the God of Justice?” In his answer he reveals just how truly loving he is. It’s almost like God says, “I’m glad you asked!” Where is the God of justice, let me tell you, “Behold” I’m sending him and just to make sure you don’t miss him I’ll send a messenger to point him out to you. And by the way, he’s me. Notice in the text he says my messenger, John the Baptist, will prepare the way before ME, and this Lord you seek, the God of Justice, will come to his temple. He’s revealing his rescue plan. However he’s also lovingly reminding them of whom they are and their need to get their heart’s right.
If we look ahead to Matthew Jesus quotes Malachi 3 in revealing John the Baptist as the messenger that was foretold to prepare the way:
“Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written,“Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.” Matt 11:7-10 ESV
I believe the truth we find in this next piece of scripture is that Jesus both defines us and refines us.
“But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord.” Malachi 3:2-3 ESV
It seems to me what he is saying about being able to endure or stand when he appears is that no one is righteous, everyone will be found lacking and in need of cleansing. The imagery he uses here to depict Jesus as coming to purify the priests is not merely coming to wash but a tough process of refinement. The image of the refiners fire is cleansing through heat. Precious metals are refined by heating them and melting them, then skimming off the impurities. The processes of being refined is not easy and often is not pleasant, however the process refines us. Our faith grows and we are blessed by having sin removed from our lives, our character grown, and ultimately knowing and better reflecting Jesus.
It’s also knowing Jesus that makes this process possible. It is the children of God that are being refined. He cares about our character being developed and faith being strengthened because we are in a relationship with him. Also our ability to be in that relationship stems from his paying the debt of our sin through his suffering on the cross. Christ then called us to pick up our cross and follow him. We follow him not just as being believers but in suffering as he did.
Lets go back to Matthew 11 and look at what Jesus said about John the Baptist, and about those that are in the Kingdom of God.
“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Matthew 11:11 ESV
John was so great that he was compared to Elijah. He is prophesied as being the next Elijah, who would declare the coming of the great Messiah. Jesus claims here that John is greater than any of the Patriarchs, indeed anyone who has ever been born. Here Jesus describes John by God’s definition of greatness:
“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Jer 9:23-24 ESV
What made John great was not anything he did but his knowledge of who Jesus was. He knew Jesus so well he could point to him; from the very womb of his mother he revealed the presence of his savior to his mother when Mary went to Elizabeth. When Jesus approached him to be baptized John knew he was his Lord, and the very one he had been preaching about. What made John great was Jesus, and Jesus here declares that the very least in the kingdom of God are even greater than he.
We are greater than John because of our grace of place in redemptive history. John died before seeing Jesus full glory was revealed on the cross and in his resurrection, however we know it happened. We can more fully know and understand who Jesus is because we have the whole story, and have seen scripture fulfilled in his death and resurrection. There is great hope and encouragement in this scripture. Jesus calls those who know him great, and as we saw in chapter one of Malachi God chooses his children and reveals himself to them, and in doing so he makes us great. We are not given an opportunity for greatness, we are made great.
I believe part of what we are reading about here is the process of him revealing himself to us so that we can better know and understand him. That process of revealing himself plays out in our being refined. Refinement is found in trials and suffering.
“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:7-11 ESV
“we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 ESV
For the people hearing this word I believe the idea of God coming to refine them gave hope and conviction just as it should do for us. He had already told them their specific sins and called them to repentance, and here is saying I will do the work of refining you. For us I believe it’s important to know that we too are broken and in need of continued purifying. I think its also a blessing to know that knowing Jesus is what makes us great, and because we know him we have the opportunity to go through this process. As a believer and child of God it sets my expectations to know he tells me I will go through trials, and it gives me the hope of knowing they have a purpose. In going through these seemingly bad times God is continually revealing himself and making us more like Jesus. He is revealing more of himself in us. So instead of being surprised or angry and asking why are these bad things happening to us, ask what are you working on in me? How can I glorify God in the tough situations I find myself? I believe the truth being revealed here is that allowing these painful events in our lives is the loving act of our father. The result is that we are better prepared to bring him glory.
“Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.” Malachi 3:4 ESV
Here the promised process of refinement will result in their offering once again being pleasing to God rather than repulsing him. For us our lives are supposed to be living sacrifices, so by continually being refined our lives will be pleasing to him. This gives us great hope as we find ourselves in times of suffering.
We also see that while his children are refined those who are not his children will face judgment.
“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 3:5 ESV
Notice here he starts with “then.” It is after this time of refining of his children that he will come with judgment. I believe he was using these two acts to describe the first and second coming of Christ. In the first coming he revealed himself and started the work of refining his children, and in the second coming we will see the final judgment. At this time he will be “swift,” there will be no more chances judgment will be carried out. He describes what it looks like not to be his children, and ultimately boils it all down to not fearing God. This brought to mind the conclusion of Ecclesiastes:
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 ESV
Our purpose is to glorify God. We do that by fearing, or living lives out of awe of God. If we are his children we will seek to live according to his word and our hearts will reflect his love.
This message applies to how we view adversity. As Gods chosen children we can look at the tough circumstances in our lives as opportunities to grow closer to God. We can choose to glorify God in our reaction to these times, and seek understanding from God rather than blaming God and accusing him of being an unloving father. We also have the joy of knowing that true greatness comes in knowing who God is and that greatness is a gift. Along with that gift as we walk through life our circumstances draw us closer allowing us to know him more and on a deeper level. Furthermore as his children it is our duty and purpose to be part of his revelation process to others. In sharing our story and how the Gospel has been relevant in our life we are able to relate God’s story to others in significant ways.