Do Not Despair, the Lord Returns! (Malachi 3:13-18)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Last Sunday of the Church Year – November 20, 2016
Text: Malachi 3:13-18
At first, there’s righteous anger: How could this world be so godless?  Look at what’s on TV!  Look at what’s accepted as normal now!  Don’t you hear the filthy lyrics in popular music?  Don’t you see what unchaste lives our celebrities live, and how they’re supposed to be role models for our kids?
1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at your presence—
                           as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
                              to make your name known to your adversaries,
and that the nations might tremble at your presence![1]
Then, there’s righteous disgust: I don’t want to have anything to do with this horrid world!  I’m not going to watch TV at all.  I’ll put myself on a moral island in this sea of filth.  I’m only going to listen to classic music and KLOVE.
113  I hate the double-minded,
but I love your law.
        114         You are my hiding place and my shield;
I hope in your word.
        115         Depart from me, you evildoers,
that I may keep the commandments of my God.[2]
But occasionally for the saints, it gets to the point of what we hear in Malachi:
14 It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? 15 And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’
We’ve gotten mad and fought against ungodliness.  We’ve withdrawn ourselves from every appearance of evil.[3]  But now we fear it’s all for naught.  The ungodly are doing fine while the righteous are miserable.  This is a case of righteous despair.
Lord, we know that You knit together every person and that you create them in Your image.  We know that You love our corrupt race because you gave your Son to be the way of peace.[4]  But who has believed the call to repentance and the promise of eternal life?
Instead of living in God’s ways for His creatures, we see those very same people celebrating their evil.  God is the giver of life, but we hear people callously refer to living human beings as an inconvenience and burden.  God made marriage to be a life-long union between a man and woman, but we see spouses celebrating divorce as personal freedom and even going to the point of throwing a party about it.[5]  He made women’s bodies to bear and feed their children, but we see the world turn a woman’s body into a plaything for selfish pleasure. “Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape” (v. 15).
From a heavenly point of view, we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,[6] but on earth, we weather against a storm of people moving away from God.  We have every practical reason in the world to give up on the Lord and go with the rest.  We don’t see the Lord judging all these so-called ungodly people around us.  Maybe He doesn’t really care who’s righteous or wicked.  Maybe the whole good and evil thing was just something that people came up with!  If we were truly enlightened, why not burst these old, superstitious bonds[7] of misogyny, homophobia, and prohibition?  “What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?” (v. 14)  Maybe if we forgot about God, we’d find “true satisfaction” in our lives!
But is there really hope in that?  We may grumble, “What is the profit” of staying faithful to God and His Word, but if we abandoned Him, what would we actually gain?  Before we even think to speak this way against God, we’ve already been deceived by the cunning of Satan.
Think about what God has promised to His children.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)
“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.” (Psalm 91:14-15)
“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)
From today’s Gospel: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
But those aren’t the blessings we’re wanting.  We want what the wicked have: peace in our families, government leaders we can be proud of, acceptance in the eyes of friends and strangers, and a lifestyle that celebrated far and wide.  We want our church to be popular (and rich wouldn’t hurt), bringing people through the doors in droves.  We long for, even lust, after the fleeting sun and passing rain that “God sends on the just and the unjust.[8]  And when it seems that the unjust, unrighteous people of this world have it better off, we grumble that God doesn’t care one way or the other.
But think of this, true children of heaven, what sort of blessings do they receive?  All of them, without exception, are of this world.  All of the rain that God sends on the righteous and wicked tapers off and dries up.  God gives earthly blessings regardless of faith, but every last one of them has an expiration date!  Sure, they’re available immediately, and that makes them appealing.  But they don’t last.  God has appointed a Day when He will judge “between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” (v. 18)
In that Great Day, it will be infinitely better to be the righteous, to be those who have “feared the Lord and esteemed His Name.”  The wicked will see all their comfort melt away.  All the good they enjoyed from God will be snatched away from them in a moment.    “Then,” in true despair, “they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’[9]  If only they had feared and trusted in the God who called to them in His Word!  But, by then, there will be a great chasm fixed[10] between the righteous and the unrighteous, between those who believed in God’s only-begotten Son and those who rejected Him.[11]
But as for the sons of God whose hearts have faith in the cleansing blood of the Lamb, they will receive all the blessings promised to them.  Their names will be found in the Lord’s “book of remembrance.”  And to His beloved, enrolled in heaven, the Chief Shepherd will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”[12]  And His Kingdom shall have no end.
Do not despair, beloved in the Lord!  The Lord of Hosts will, without fail, distinguish between the righteous and the wicked and He will gather you to be His treasured possession forever and ever.  The Apostle John writes, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”[13]  Your God who made these promises to you is also able to keep you safely in the true faith.  You have received His Holy Spirit, the Comforter, Who “brings to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”[14]  When Satan and the voices around you tempt you with the idea, “It is vain to serve God.  What is the profit?”, you will be reassured of the profit that was gained by the death and resurrection of God’s own Son, and that such a treasure was made yours in Baptism.  Because of this, you are an heir of God’s eternal kingdom. Amen.
[1] Isaiah 64:1-2
[2] Psalm 119:113-115
[3] 1 Thessalonians 5:22
[4] Luke 1:79
[6] Hebrews 12:1
[7] Psalm 2:3
[8] Matthew 5:45
[9] Luke 23:30, Gospel reading
[10] Luke 16:26
[11] Matthew 10:33
[12] Matthew 25:34
[13] 1 John 4:4
[14] John 14:26

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