November 10 & 11, 2018 – Last Judgment
Malachi 4: 1-2a
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
I’m sure you have heard the following saying: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” There are other versions of that phrase like, “If you can’t stand the heat, step away from the fire,” or “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the sun.” The literal meaning of each phrase is obvious. If you can’t stand the heat from the boiling pot or from the oven, then get out of the kitchen. If you can’t stand the blaze when you are roasting your marshmallows, step away from the fire. If you are burning like a lobster, get out of the sun.
I think all of us understand that this phrase has come to mean something else as well. The phrase also has a figurative meaning. If you can’t take the pressure of your job, then quit and work somewhere else. If you can’t handle the intensity of the situation, then back off. If you can’t handle all the problems, then step away and let someone else do it.
We hear about some heat and some fire today. We hear it from the mouth of God as written by the prophet Malachi in chapter 4. Listen again to what God says in verse 1: “Look! The day is coming, burning like a blast furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble. The day that is coming will set them on fire, says the Lord of Armies, a day that will not leave behind a root or branch for them.”
Malachi was the last Old Testament prophet that the Lord spoke through to his people the Israelites. He was the last prophet that God spoke through to warn his people about their sin. Those Israelites had a very storied past of wickedness and rebellion. God led them out of Egypt but they complained about being in the desert. God sent them food and water in miraculous ways, but they didn’t like it. God warned them not to get mixed up with Canaanite practices when they entered the Promised Land. But they started to worship their false gods. They were very immoral and committed gross adultery. They would lie and cheat. Their leaders and priests were corrupt. Finally, God punished them by allowing the Assyrians and Babylonians to conquer them and carry them off into captivity. That brings us to the time of Malachi, about 400 years before Jesus. God mercifully allowed the Israelites to return to their promised land. But they still continued in their sin. Instead of rebuilding the temple they built up their own houses first.
Now God was addressing what was soon going to happen. There would be a “day” coming, and coming soon, when everything would be destroyed and every sin would be punished. It was quite clear that this “day” would not be a good day for sinners: “Burning like a blast furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble. The day that is coming will set them on fire.” Not knowing when this day would come was supposed to “scare them straight,” so to speak. The impending disaster and destruction and pain and punishment of this day was a call to repentance—a call to turn from their evil ways and to turn back to the Lord. They didn’t know when this “day” was coming, so sinners had better beware.
From the rest of Scripture, we know what “day” God is speaking about through Malachi. It’s the same day he speaks of through the prophets Joel and Amos and Micah and Zephaniah and others, the same day that Jesus spoke of in the gospel today. That coming day is Judgment Day.
Now we might think, “Wait a second! God says that this day is “coming.” But Malachi lived 2400 years ago. How can Scripture talk about Judgment day as if it is coming soon?” Remember that with the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day. For him any time is soon. So we must be on guard. Jesus says that Judgment Day will come like a thief in the night. It will come abruptly and unexpectedly. It could be in another 2400 years, next year or in 10 minutes. The point is the day is coming.
In several places in the Bible Jesus also tells us some of the signs of the end of the world. He says there will be wars and rumors of war. There will be earthquakes and famines. There will be hatred and violence. There will be lots of false doctrine spread throughout the world. Sound familiar? All of those signs of the end times have already been fulfilled. Judgment Day appears to be coming sooner than later.
So we must review once more what will happen. Listen again to the Lord’s words: “Look! The day is coming, burning like a blast furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble. The day that is coming will set them on fire, says the Lord of Armies.” There appears to be two kinds of fire or heat that are going on here. First on Judgment Day itself. This world will be destroyed when Jesus returns. But it is the second kind of heat or fire that is the scary part: “All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble. The day that is coming will set them on fire.” This second kind of heat or fire would be hell.
It is interesting to see how the world views hell. Some think of it as just a hot place way down there. Some view it as a place where just the really, really bad people go—the Adolf Hitlers and Jeffery Dahmers of the world. Some view hell almost comically, like the little red guy with a pointy tail and a pitchfork. Maybe some of you have even seen the famous Gary Larson Farside cartoon where there was a long line of people waiting to enter hell and the man at the door was asking people, “Smoking or non-smoking?”
There is nothing funny about hell. Nor is there anything funny about saying that God should damn someone or something there. Hell is a terrible place. It’s a place of torment. And the real horror of hell is that it is the place where God is not. Hell is when God abandons you. Hell is when God turns his back and says, “I want nothing to do with you. I don’t care for you. I don’t love you. Forever!”
Here’s the scariest part of all: “All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble. The day that is coming will set them on fire.” There are two words there that are absolutely terrifying: all and every. All the arrogant and every evildoer.
What is arrogant? Arrogant is thinking your life and your stuff are too important, more important than spending time with the Lord at church or with him at home reading the Bible. Arrogant is thinking that your money is what you earned and that you got it for yourself, ignoring that God gives all blessings and refusing to give back what is due him. Arrogant is coming to church and hearing about your sin and thinking, “Oh yes, I shouldn’t do that,” but then going right out and doing the same thing all over again.
What is evil? Evil is the opposite of good. Evil is what we know we should do, but don’t. Evil is what we know we shouldn’t do, but do anyway. Evil is talking with language and jokes that would make your mother or God cringe. Evil is thinking about someone else in even the slightest inappropriate way. Evil is causing problems. Evil is losing your cool and blowing your top in anger. Evil is talking about someone, whether you are gossiping lies or the truth. We’ve been arrogant. We’ve done evil. And here God says, “All the arrogant and every evildoer,” will be going down in flames. Then we also hear that God says this “day,” this Judgment Day, is coming soon? That’s terrifying!
There is a word that I want you to memorize though. It’s a short word. It’s easy to remember. It’s the first word of verse 2. “BUT.” Beautiful isn’t it? So short, yet so sweet. Listen to how it flows in context: “Look! The day is coming, burning like a blast furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble. The day that is coming will set them on fire, says the Lord of Armies, a day that will not leave behind a root or branch for them. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise, and there will be healing in its wings.”
To fear God’s name means to believe in God and everything that he has done. Simply, it means to have faith and trust in him for salvation. “[For those who have faith and believe], the sun of righteousness will rise, and there will be healing in its wings.” We know what this sun of righteousness is that brings healing, too. Rather, we know who the sun of righteousness is. The s-u-n of righteousness is the S-o-n of God, Jesus Christ. He is the righteous one, and through him comes all righteousness.
For Jesus was never arrogant and prideful. Jesus never had anything to do with evil or wickedness. Jesus was completely perfect and righteous. He lived the way we couldn’t in our place. But he didn’t stop there. He knew that we are sinners. He knows what sinners deserve, that they, “will be stubble. The day that is coming will set them on fire.” Jesus didn’t want us to suffer that punishment, so he suffered it himself. Hanging on that cross in agonizing pain and bearing a burden of sin and guilt which you and I cannot fathom, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That was hell. God the Father turned his back on his Son. God abandoned him. God forsook Jesus, all so that he wouldn’t have to forsake us in the depths of hell.
So, if you can’t stand the heat, if you don’t want the heat and the fire and the pain of hell, If you Can’t Stand the Heat, then Get into the Son, the S-o-n of God. For in him and through him, we now have righteousness. Judgment Day sure sounds horrible from some of the descriptions we hear in Scripture. But for Christians, it will be a day of great joy and gladness. There is nothing scary at all about Judgment Day for us. Our verdict has already been determined. It was pronounced on the cross. Right after Jesus carried our sin and suffered our hell, he cried out, “It is finished.” And so it is. For us who fear his name, for believers, we are basking in the sun of righteousness who has healing in his wings—the healing of forgiveness and salvation.
If you can’t stand the heat of Judgment Day, if you are afraid of what is to come, then get into the Son. For in Jesus, Judgment Day is something we eagerly await with great joy and excitement. Amen.