Proper 29 • Malachi 3:13–18 • November 21, 2010
by Michael J. Redeker
There is famine, poverty, oppression, and unfaithfulness. People live their lives contrary to God’s Word, and he doesn’t even seem to care. Does it really pay to follow God? This is the state of the world today. But this was also the context of Malachi’s ministry. The people were waiting for God’s glory to return, but nothing seemed to be happening. The people grew lax spiritually and morally. Malachi’s ministry was to call God’s people to repentance and to reassure them of his love for them. God’s glory would return in his own time.
This is the last Sunday of the church year, and the Christian’s eyes are focused on our Lord’s return. The church waits in hope. We wait to see his glory in all its majesty and full array. Yet, as we wait we can become discouraged with what’s going on around us. God’s word of repentance, promise, encouragement, and continued love is just as valid for us today as it was in Malachi’s day.
Liturgical context: The Gospel for today is Luke 23:27–43, the crucifixion. Here we find the world mocking Jesus. He claimed to be the Son of God, the Messiah, but look where that got him. He received nothing but a date with the cross, filled with humiliation, mockery, and shame. Nevertheless, this is what the Son was sent by the Father to do. The Father spared not his Son so that our sins would be forgiven and paradise’s gates would be open to any and all who repent of their ways. Such is the example of the repentant thief on the cross.
Homiletical helps: In vv. 13–15 the people are murmuring against YHWH because in their own eyes they don’t see why it pays to serve him. The wicked and the proud seem to taunt YHWH who doesn’t seem to even care about what’s happening. Why, then, should his people serve him? In other words, it seemed vain and useless to serve God. They didn’t feel like they were “getting anything out of it” and in fact, the wicked seemed to be doing rather well by not serving YHWH. “What gives, God?”
The Hebrew verb שׁוא means “vain, empty” and is found in Exodus 20:7—the second commandment. Many Christians in the pew may simply think that cussing, swearing, or using God’s name flippantly is the only way one breaks the second commandment. And yet it’s more than that, as we hear through Malachi. We break the second commandment by murmuring against YHWH and by wondering “what’s in it for me” to be a Christian, especially when the wicked aren’t living right and God doesn’t seem even to care. This kind of thinking and comparison with worldly ways is what leads Christians into spiritual laxness, living lives of indifference, skepticism and permissiveness. In other words, this demonstrates our unfaithfulness to YHWH.
In vv. 16–18, Malachi assures the God-fearers that God still loves them and that God is doing something about the situation “behind the scenes” even though they don’t realize it at the time. The wicked and the proud were not really “getting away with it” because on the day of YHWH’s choosing all people will see that there is a difference. The day will come when all will see who are a part of God’s special posses- sion (“jewel” in the KJV—the preacher might be able to use this as a Gospel handle) and who are not. Those who live their lives in repentant faith to the end are written in YHWH’s book of remembrance.
YHWH’s word of grace is also found in v. 17: כאשׁר יחמל אישׁ על בנו העבד אתו —“as a man spares his son who serves him.” The phrase, “serves him,” is noteworthy. This can be used as a bridge to the gospel reading for the day to bring the hearer to the cross. It is the Son who serves the Father. The gospel twist is that the Father did not spare his Son so that we who are unfaithful are spared.
Homiletical direction: The malady of the sermon seems rather obvious. Our culture today is the same as that in Malachi’s day. We look around society and question why unbelievers live lives against God’s Word and nothing happens to them. “They seem to be doing all right, and in fact, many of them are prospering. The Lord doesn’t strike them dead. In fact, he even seems to be blessing them more than he’s blessing me! Maybe God doesn’t really care about whether someone is faithful to him or not. Maybe I, as a Christian, should simply live a life of moral indifference. After all, everyone else is doing it. So why can’t I have my cake and eat it too? I believe in Jesus, and that’s all that matters. Right?”
The preacher can work this malady according to his congregational context. The careful distinction should be made between sanctification and justification. Of course, faith in Jesus alone is what saves. But saving faith is never alone. It produces works of righteousness—lives lived in repentant faith and hope as we wait for our Lord’s return, which is the emphasis of the last Sunday of the church year.
Verse 17 can serve as the connection point between the Old Testament reading and the Gospel. As the preacher prepares the sermon, he can key in on “as a man spares his son who serves him.” The “son who serves him” points to Jesus’s service on the cross. There, in the theology of the cross, is where God’s glory is revealed. There is where God makes the distinction between the righteous and wicked as the great exchange takes place. In the midst of the world that mocks, humiliates, and crucifies him, the Son serves the Father. The Father spares not his only Son in order that we who are unfaithful will be spared. Those who murmur rebellious words against Christ, shaking their heads and pointing their fingers hear our Lord’s words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
Christ’s words of forgiveness are offered to all. But the one who hears and repents receives the benefits of the cross just as the repentant thief did. The repentant one hears, “Today you will be with me in paradise. You are mine. You are my special possession. Your name is written in the book of remembrance.”
On this last Sunday of the church year our eyes are once again fixed on Jesus as we wait for the day of his glorious return. On that day he will raise up all people and take his special possession to live with him forever. Reassure the hearers of God’s covenant love for them sealed in baptism, and of his promise of eternal life with him. Until that day we live our lives in repentant faith and hope.
God’s blessings on your sermon preparation.