Are You Ready (Malachi 3)
"Behold, I will send my messenger and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His Temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, He is coming," says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)
The police officer rang the doorbell. It was 3AM. He had tried to call the family, but all he could get was their answering machine. He knew that his appearance at this hour would frighten them, but he needed to talk to them. They answered the door, and before he could explain his presence, he could see the look of horror in their eyes. They were simply not prepared for the awful possibilities that his early morning presence suggested.
He tried to explain as quickly as he could. "Your daughter," he began. "Oh no!" the mother cried out. The officer tried again. "Your daughter has been in a serious car accident." "Dear God, no!" the father moaned. The officer jumped in again as quickly as he could. "But she's all right. We offered to take her home, but she's pretty shaky and wanted you to come and get her." In the presence of this police officer who was the designated messenger that night, the parents had experienced the ultimate horror of death and the overwhelming joy of receiving their daughter back from the dead.
The relationship between the parents and their daughter changed that night. They cherished one another more deeply. They expressed their love for each other more often. And although from time to time they may have absentmindedly taken one another for granted, it certainly happened less frequently. One might say that they lived very differently from that night on.
Through his prophet Malachi, God promised to send a messenger who would bear a twofold message. John the Baptizer was that messenger who proclaimed a message of Law and Gospel and so was the fulfillment of God's promise. The preaching of John and his Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins prepared people for the coming of the Savior. Today, through the message of Law and Gospel, we are also brought from death to life, and
Today Malachi and John call us to examine ourselves and, by God's grace and mercy, to live as a forgiven people who are ready for His second coming.
This is the biggest question in life: Am I ready for Jesus to return? God's answer in Malachi's day was "Without Me, you're not ready." God's answer in John's day was "Without the one coming after me, you're not ready." God's answer in our day is "Without Jesus, you're not ready." God's answer never changed because God never changes (v6). God sent His messenger to "prepare the way" (v1). By our own powers, we aren't and can't be ready for Jesus' coming. Being ready for Jesus' coming comes from outside us.
It comes from outside us because our sinfulness and our sins come from inside us to keep us from being ready. Our sinfulness makes our paths crooked. This is even true among Christians who sit in the pews every Sunday morning and hear God's Word every week. Christians can fall into the trap of thinking that they are ready all by themselves. "I haven't missed a church service in more than thirty years ... when I've been healthy," one might say. What a great boy am I, right? Wrong. God promises that His judgment begins with those who call upon His name. Malachi sees God refining Levi's sons, the priests, like gold and silver (v3). St. Peter says, "It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God" (1 Peter 4:17).
Satan tempts us who are faithful in worship attendance to think how wonderful we are because we do so much for God just by showing up. The more we think this way, the further we distance ourselves from being ready for His coming. Looking at the Third Commandment, we're tempted to reference our worship attendance and say, "See, I don't despise preaching or God's Word! I'm a wonderful Christian, and all of you should be just like me!" Even though they're sitting in the pew, they keep looking at their watch because 10AM can't come fast enough. They battle falling asleep because they'd been up too long the night before. They allow themselves to be distracted by the joyful noises of the children sitting around them. Sure, they're not openly despising God's Word or its preaching, but they're also not holding it sacred. They're not really listening. They're simply warming the pew for the head count. These temptations and sins we as Christians tend to overlook. We need to repent about these temptations and sins.
Repentance is the heart of the Christian's readiness before God. Malachi sought the people of Israel, and especially the priests, to repent of their wrong worship of God (2:1-16). John the Baptizer proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3). Jesus would come along later and say, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel" (Mark 1:15). Repentance is key, but it's only available because God is a merciful God. God has always been a gracious and merciful God. He could have destroyed everything when Adam and Eve fell to the serpent's temptation, but He promised a Savior. He could have destroyed everything with the Flood, but He rescued Noah and his family in the Ark. He could have destroyed everything when "the fullness of time" came, but He sent His Son to take on the vulnerable form of a human baby (Galatians 4:4). God's mercy drives everything He does. Malachi says it this way, "For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed" (v6). God has made many promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob about the blessed state of their descendants. God cannot go back on His promises. Those who hold to God's promises are ready for His coming because they have no fear of repenting of their sins. Their faith has made repentance second nature to them.
Forty days after Christmas, when Jesus was presented at the Temple as Mary's firstborn, Simeon and Anna were faithfully waiting. Simeon was "righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel" (Luke 2:25). He comes into the Temple and proclaims the baby Jesus to be God's salvation for Israel as well as all the nations. Anna, the prophetess from the tribe of Asher, came at the same time and proclaimed the same message "to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38). God's promises of redemption and consolation come from His mercy and grace. Our faith in the promises also comes from His mercy and grace.
We have a gracious and merciful God who has sent His messenger to help us get ready for Jesus' coming because He will come suddenly (v1). This suddenness was the same in Malachi's day, John's day and our day. But God has made us ready through His Word so that our relationship with God has changed--like the parents and the daughter described at the beginning of the sermon. As people who are ready for Jesus' coming, we are called to put away our sin and every evil and to offer up our lives as living sacrifices to God and our neighbor. "Then," God says, "the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord" (v4). May His grace and mercy continue to enrich your heart, soul and mind in the knowledge and faith that you are ready for His coming. Amen.