Advent Midweek 2 (Malachi 4:1-6)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Wednesday of Advent 2 + December 12, 2017
Text: Malachi 4:1-6
Is it hot in here?  Yes, I do believe it’s hotter than hell in here.  We hear that phrase thrown around thoughtlessly.  But is it really true?
“Behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.”
The Dies Ire, the Day of Wrath is coming, and the Lord describes it like an oven, like the oven that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into.  The oven of God’s wrath is like a forest fire which will reduce the arrogant and evildoers to mere stubble.
The Lord Jesus also says about that fire,
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.[1]
Here He describes hell as a fire that is never put out.  There are no rains to extinguish it and no lack of fuel to cause it to die out.  That is what hell is—suffering without a shred of hope of reprieve.  There is no more time to turn and repent and experience refreshment.[2]
Just ask the Rich Man:
The rich man…died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.”
But there was no mercy for him.  Abraham replies, “between us and you a great chasm has been fixed”[3]  There is no more mercy, and now the torment is physical as well as spiritual.  The bodies of those in hell will never again know relief and their spirits will never again have their prayers answered.
Hell is unlike what any person has ever yet experienced—because it is an eternal agony, separated from the mercy of God and in the wicked arms of Satan.  Hell is pretty damned hot.  Yes, I mean damned, too.  Damnation is the eternal dwelling place of all of God’s enemies.
So what did these people do to deserve such a hopeless future?  Surely this is reserved for the most wicked among men—child molesters and rapists, murderous dictators and psychopaths.  But this isn’t necessarily the case!  It may be that the most pious and godly in appearance will end this way—popes and pastors, martyrs and pillars of the church.  How can this be?
How can it not be?  All of us have inherited rebellious hearts from our ancestors, and added our own sins on top.  The intention of our hearts—in God’s sight—“is only evil continually.”[4]  And the Psalmist says, “you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not dwell with you.”[5]  We have all run roughshod over the Ten Commandments, though we know those who break them deserve death.[6]  Hell is what each person justly deserves.  But there is another way.
But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.
For those who fear the Lord and put their hope in the Sun of Righteousness, they will be healed of their sin-disease!  They will be planted in the house of the Lord and stand tall as cedars in Lebanon.[7]
What about the Day of Wrath?  What about the just wages for our rebellion?
The Day of Wrath has already been borne for all men.  It happened on Calvary, when all the threatening signs of the Last Day centered on the cross:
45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying…“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”… 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. 51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.[8]
The sky was darkened, the foundations of the earth rocked, and Man cried out in despair that God had utterly forsaken Him.  This is the Last Day Judgment against the ungodliness of man.  But you weren’t there.  God’s Son, Jesus, was there in your place!  The burning day of God’s wrath has already been poured out for you.  And if you believe in Him, you “do not come into judgment, but have passed from death to life.”[9]
For you who believe, there is more rejuvenation and refreshment than any of us has ever experienced.  It will be a bodily bliss, a perfect healing.  “You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall”—full of youth and vigor, completely free from the bondage to sin which we’ve always known!
But for those who refused to receive this gift, the already-atoned-for wrath of God poured out on Jesus, then the Last Day will be a terror.  The terror will be against their refusal to repent and believe in the Savior.
51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.[10]
In our bodies, we shall live in the immediate presence of God, no longer veiled by signs and perceived by faith.  But, as Job says, “After my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see him for myself.”[11]  And we will be refreshed to the utmost:
They are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.[12]
That is what awaits every believer when the Last Day comes.  No more sinning, no more enemies, and no more peril of everlasting death.  By the everlasting faithfulness and mercy of God, may He preserve you in the fear and trust of Him.  You have a truly blessed eternal home through Jesus Christ your Sun of Righteousness. Amen.
[1] Mark 9:43
[2] Acts 3:20
[3] Luke 16:22-26
[4] Genesis 6:5
[5] Psalm 5:4
[6] Romans 1:32
[7] Psalm 92:12-13
[8] Matthew 27:45-54
[9] John 5:24
[10] 1 Corinthians 15:51-53
[11] Job 19:26-27
[12] Revelation 7:15-17