23rd Sunday after Pentecost (2nd last) “Negotiating Dead-Man’s Curve”
November 13, 2022 Malachi 4:1-6
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Let’s consider the OT reading for today, from the Prophet Malachi. One of our seminary professors, Dr.Glenn Nielson, once served in central Wisconsin. Outside of his small town, there’s a road with two curves which form an ‘S’; a driver needs to slow down in order to take them safely. Unfortunately, there have been many times that drivers do not slow down, and they fly off the road into the ditch; sometimes with serious or deadly consequences. The locals refer to that stretch of road as ‘dead-man’s curve.’ And this prompted one of the local churches to put up a billboard there, which says: “Are you prepared to meet your Lord? Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Prophet Malachi & his message was like the warning sign at Dead Man’s Curve; he speaks about the 2nd Advent = the great & terrible Day of The Lord, as Jesus returns in power, glory, & judgment. The language in Malachi is a warning of reality. It’s a serious warning meant to help people prepare for the sudden return of the Messiah on the Last Day. Even in Malachi’s day, before Jesus’ first coming, the people of earth needed to prepare for His 2nd & final coming in judgment & glory. And that’s because a person only has their earthly lifetime to prepare their souls for eternity. How much more do WE need to prepare for that Day, because =since Jesus has descended & ascended the 1st time= so now Judgment Day is much nearer now than ever before.
Not surprisingly, the preparation of the sinful heart & mind is not different now than in when Malachi preached, 400 years before Jesus’ birth. Therefore, this message & warnings & invitation should sound familiar to us = it’s the same kind of message John-the-Baptist used as Jesus arrived on the scene. So Malachi’s urgent warnings about the Day of The Lord are necessary because the people were rebelling, and breaking their covenantal relationship with God in four areas:
#1, the Sabbath Day was desecrated, offerings were ignored, and their worship life was neglected. The people were not coming to the temple in repentance over their sin seeking forgiveness; they were not listening to His Word or following His ways. If they came to the temple at all, they wanted to hear that they were doing fine; they came to socialize with others.
If they even offered a sacrifice, they brought old & sick animals that no one wanted. In chpt.1, God said: “I am not pleased with you! Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors.” Meaning: it would be better that the temple is closed rather than come before God so disrespectfully.
#2, the people were breaking God’s covenant by rejecting His instruction. They were allowed to join into mixed-religion marriages with their pagan neighbors, causing them to fall away from the faith. Like today, the culture was against Christianity, & it lured believers away and destroyed their eternal faith.
#3, money had become their chief idol; God and His things were pushed aside to make way for material gain. Their priority was running their business, including on the Sabbath Day; and if you didn’t, your business fell behind the others. So then the charity work of caring for the poor & widows & orphans was neglected.
#4, the temple priesthood itself had become corrupt; they were changing God’s instructions to benefit themselves. The priests were not calling sinners to repent, and they were ignoring unpopular parts of God’s Word. They, too, wanted an easy religious life of tolerating everybody’s ideas, even sins, & wanting peace more than truth.
God’s words thru Malachi were a hard slap in the face; but those who are drunk on their own intoxicating sin needed the warning. They were speeding down the highway, headed for ‘dead-man’s curve’. If they did not slow down on the Lord’s narrow, holy road of life, they would fly off into the ditch & die. They needed reminding that the Lord is not blind; He could see exactly what they were doing & not doing. He was on His way, and that Day would be great for some and terrible for others. Malachi was the billboard that was saying: ‘are you ready to meet the Lord?’
Malachi’s words are like Jesus’ parable of the sheep & the goats. On the Day of The Lord, people would be separated into two groups & the judgment is made. Either you would be one of the righteous or one of the wicked; either a humble servant of the Lord or the arrogant rebel against the Lord. On that day, you are either ‘in’ or ‘out.’ If you were judged as wicked & arrogant, that day would be terrible. Malachi describes it like being thrown into a furnace.
It would not be some warm & comfortable room, but an oven & a fire that would burn their lives & future to ashes.
Have you ever seen a glassblowing demonstration? The ovens are hot enough to melt sand and make glass, somewhere around 3,000 degrees. Those fires go beyond red & yellow, they burn white with roaring flames billowing & swirling around. If you should stick your hand in there, it would be gone in seconds. Thru Malachi, God describes the Last Day as a burning end for those judged as wicked.
But if you’re judged as righteous, as the Lord’s trusting & obedient servant, that day would be one of joy, wholeness, and victory. Thru Malachi, God pictures that like a calf leaping. During the cold winter months calves are in the barn in a small pen. But as the warm spring days melt the snow & ice, the animals are let out. The young animals act as if jumping for joy, kicking up their hooves with mud flying all over.
On the Day of The Lord, those who are righteous will be excited, healthy and whole. No more pain or tears. No more threats about ‘dead-man’s curve’. There is victory, with the satisfaction that bearing the cross & following Jesus was all worth it. No more ridicule by unbelievers; no more of those sly temptations that take advantage of our weaknesses. I don’t know if there’s any mud in heaven to kick around, but God pictures our happiness like that of leaping calves.
How will God decide who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’? God talked about that earlier in the book. Malachi challenged the people of his time to return to faith in a couple key areas. First, they had become too enamored with money & possessions. Second, their worship life was in shambles. Malachi’s message fits in our day. Have we ever seen the pursuit of money used as an excuse to neglect proper & regular worship? Between the two, worship and working, which one is admired & respected & praised more in our culture? And which one is dismissed or criticized as being a waste of time & effort. People boast about how hard they work, but not how hard they worship.
The world praises & rewards those who are on-the-job 24/7 for worldly things; but the world does not put much value on those who keep their Sunday mornings reserved for spiritual & eternal things. So, not much has changed in 2,400 yrs. Money is still seen as the solution to life’s problems, and those who make a fortune are held up as most admired & to be imitated. But what about those who put the worship of the eternal God first? At best, the world merely says, ‘well, that’s okay for you; if that’s what you want.’
In the world’s view, to become rich with money shows that you must be talented & wise; but they think that any ignorant bumkin can worship. Of course, God thinks the real fool is the one who ignores Him, and the truly wise person seeks after Him. Malachi was warning his people to make sure that their money did not mean more to them than The Lord.
And besides money, Malachi talked to his people about their worship life. He challenged them about their halfhearted worship, merely going thru the motions, showing up only when they felt like it, and giving the Lord leftovers instead of their best. These things are also in our sinful nature. In what ways might we value & enjoy our Fri./Saturdays more than ‘the Lord’s Day’? Or after our worship time, are we thankful for having been blessed in the Lord’s presence with His people & Word of life, or do we complain about what we didn’t like?
In Malachi’s day, God chastised His people for giving crippled & diseased animals for their sacrifices, instead of giving the very best for their heavenly King. In essence, God scolded them saying, ‘you give your best to an earthly boss & you give Me leftovers. If you fear & respect men more than Me, you might as well close the temple.’ That scolding should prompt us to ask ourselves some questions. Do you & I come to the day of worship with our best gifts, & open ears, & reverent attention, & with sincere prayers == as God most certainly expects & deserves? Otherwise, we may be in danger of treating His worship carelessly as we’re facing ‘dead-man’s curve.’ That was Malachi’s warning regarding The Day of The Lord.
However, I think there’s more here than just equating The Day of The Lord to Judgment Day; & this will bring us the good news. Because (if you noticed) Malachi mentions here two key Bible people: Moses and Elijah. And they remind us that there are some other very important ‘days of the Lord’ we hear about, and are counting on for our salvation. The Day of Transfiguration is one of them.
Recall when Jesus goes up on a high mountain; Peter, James & John are with Him as witnesses, and Jesus is transformed before their eyes with dazzling white light. They fall down in fear & amazement. And then who appears with Jesus? Moses and Elijah. And Peter rightly says: ‘Master, it is good that we are here.” (Luke.9) Jesus is shining brighter than the sun, brighter than a fiery hot furnace, but it IS good to be near Jesus. It is safe to be near Him. He doesn’t burn the disciples as all sinners deserve.
Instead, he walks closely with them down the narrow road, and negotiates for them the ‘dead man’s curve’ of Judgment Day. Jesus comes down the mount of transfiguration and heads straight for another very important Day = His own personal Judgment-Friday. It was on the cross that Jesus has taken the final judgment against us upon himself. He has taken our unhealthy idolizing of money and our times of mindless & apathetic worship & cheating God out of His due. He has taken our little rebellions, and our big arrogance, and Jesus becomes Malachi’s ‘sun of righteousness’, who has promised to come to us with healing in His wings. The terrible Day of the Lord upon Jesus has guaranteed a great Day of the Lord for all who believe & are baptized in Him.
Not long after that Good Friday came the preview of the calf-jumping Day Malachi promised: Easter. As Jesus is risen from the dead, demonstrating His power over death, so those women who came to His empty tomb, and then the other disciples, and then all Christians down to our day, we have hearts-of-faith that leap for joy.
Our Sunday worship will never be as grand as that Day Moses & Elijah stood with Jesus on that mountain, or as momentous as that first Easter morning. But every Sunday is still a little Day of The Lord because He has promised to be among His people when they gather in His name. It is good to be here; it is safe to be here with Him. There is no better place on earth than in His presence.
Here is where he has promised to speak to us by His Word, to strengthen us by His Spirit and to encourage us with His holy meal. Here the repentant person receives the riches of heaven that no amount of money can buy, and the humble worshiper learns how to follow the Savior thru all the ‘dead man’s curves’ and so to arrive safely on the eternal other side.
The prophet Malachi is like all the other prophets the Lord used to deliver His important message of Law and Gospel. God’s people, you & I, will always need the uncomfortable warnings against the drowsiness of our sin. As we move thru this life, we are all facing ‘dead man’s curve’. But Jesus, the sun of righteousness, has become our good news. He gives us the comforting assurance that He himself is bringing us safely to the right side of that great & terrible Day of the Lord. Thanks be to God!