Offerings in Righteousness

Text: Malachi 3:1-7b
Date: Advent II +12/6/15

Malachi. The name means “messenger.” In the Old Testament canon he brings the last message God’s people will hear for the next 400 years! And what was that message? It was predicting the coming of another messenger which happened “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.” Anyone else? St. Luke runs the credits at the beginning of his record. Malachi’s prediction was coming true as a real messenger appeared in a real place at a real time says St. Luke. “The word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan” preaching.

This was the messenger from God. And what was his message? Malachi the messenger says this messenger “will prepare the way before me,” that is, before another Messenger called “the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight.” That would be “the Lord whom you seek.” So three messengers appear before us today because their message is important.

Malachi, John and Jesus. The first predicts or promises the way. The second prepares the way. The last is the Way.

So what’s the message that is so important for us to hear? John says it is “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Now we witness the sacrament of holy baptism occasionally here before our very eyes. It is simple water combined with God’s Word. The water is gently poured on the head of the infant or adult. It is a peaceful event, a happy event. But John did not greet the crowds coming to him for baptism with a toothy grin and a warm welcome. “You brood of vipers!” he called them. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” What wrath to come? The wrath of God’s judgment, judgment against sinful deeds by a people of unclean lips. You can’t receive the blessing of your baptism unless you realize your desperate need. That realization John says is bearing “fruits in keeping with repentance.” Repentance means to confess your sin, your separation from God by your own choice. It means to turn away from your waywardness and unbelief and turn in faith to God’s way.

John came to prepare that way. You’d think the people or at least some of them would be offended by John’s message. But look at him! “He looks and sounds like a real prophet likes of which we haven’t seen for 400 years.” He says, “Don’t take comfort in your ancestry of Abraham.” Do not begin to say to yourselves, “But we’re Lutherans!” God is able from rocks to raise up Lutherans. The people ask, “What then shall we do?” The tax collectors asked, “Teacher, what shall we do?” Military men asked likewise, “What shall we do?” And to each John suggested actions in keeping with the Ten Commandments.

But repentance isn’t just a matter of doing the right things, acting the right way, doing good works. No one has the ability to be good enough. That’s why John talks about axes and fire. And Malachi talks about a refiner’s fire, being purified and refined like gold and silver to make not only our works but ourselves “righteous”—at one with God, no longer separated. In Jesus Christ God harnesses His wrath with His love. That’s where our third messenger comes in.

He is the messenger of the covenant. We remember the prophet Jeremiah talk about this when he spoke God’s word, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…. I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people…. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer 31:31, 33b, 34b). This new covenant isn’t a matter of doing the right things but of being transformed or purified as Malachi said becoming an offering in righteousness with new hearts and minds.

This new covenant of God toward us is sealed with blood, the precious blood of His only-begotten Son as He Himself said on the night before His sacrificial death on the cross, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Lk 22:20). This new covenant purifies us by faith in Jesus, but also through the various trials of faith that come, as St. Peter said, “so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:7).

Malachi spoke of refining fire. John spoke of those who have not born the good fruit of repentance and faith being cut down and thrown into the fire of God’s eternal judgment. So it seems you can’t escape the fire. The only choice is to experience the fire of God’s judgment now by baptism, repentance and faith, God refining us to be the renewed, recreated righteousness of God, or to reject the message of the messengers, the invitation of God to return to Him, and finally to face the fire of hell, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Is 66:24; Mk 9:48).

So listen up to the messengers, Malachi the prophet, John the last prophet, and Jesus the messenger of the new covenant, the Lord whom you seek and in whom you delight. Remembering our baptism and constantly receiving the forgiveness of our sins God refines you and makes of you an offering in righteousness to the Lord.