What a Difference a Day Makes

Series: Collision

Sermon by David Strain on Jun 26, 2016

Malachi 3:16-4:6

Take your copies of God’s holy Word in your hands and turn with me please to Malachi chapter 3 at the sixteenth verse. Malachi chapter 3 at verse 16. If you are using one of our church Bibles, you will find that on page 802. Malachi 3 at the sixteenth verse. This is the last section we’ll be looking at together from the book of Malachi running from the sixteenth verse of chapter 3 through the last verse, verse 6 of chapter 4. Also, of course, the last words of the Old Testament scriptures. And the last words point us forward to the coming of John the Baptist and ultimately to the coming of our Savior, the Lord Jesus. Before we read them together, however, let’s bow our heads as we pray. Let us all pray.

O God, would You give to us now the Holy Spirit by whom these words were inspired that we may understand them and believe them and embrace them and meet Christ as He is offered to us in them. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

Malachi 3 at the sixteenth verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:

“Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. ‘They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.

 

For 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. 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.

 

Remember the law of my servant Moses, that statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.

 

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.’”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy and inerrant Word.

“You’re not from around here!” The first words I usually hear after a few moments’ conversation. A few rolled “r”s and it becomes immediately apparent that I am a stranger in a strange land. But you know, there is a sense in which we all ought to hear something like that said of us regardless of our accent or our ethnicity. If you’re a Christian, you are not from around here. You are a stranger in a strange land. You bear the marks of citizenship in another country. A Christian is not at home in this world. Our home is elsewhere. We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven and we’re just passing through here. There’s a great difference between us, noticeable, tangible, between us and the world. And in our text this morning, Malachi 3:16-4:6, the prophet highlights four areas in which that great distinction between the church and the world, between believer and unbeliever, ought ordinarily to be revealed. So the world looking at us can say, “You’re not from around here. You come from another world. Your citizenship is in heaven.”

The first of them you’ll see in chapter 3 at verse 16 if you’ll look there with me. The distinction is revealed first in our fellowship with one another. In our fellowship with one another. Then in 3:17 through 4:3, the distinction is revealed in our futures, our respective destinies. Then thirdly, chapter 4 verse 4, the distinction between believer and unbeliever, the church and the world, is revealed in our faithfulness; our faithful obedience to the Law and to the Word of God. And then finally it’s revealed in chapter 4:5-6, in our families, in the way that the Gospel restores broken relationships among ourselves. Fellowship, future, faithfulness, and families. Four areas in which the grace of God makes the children of God noticeably different from the world so that we are manifestly not from around here.

  1. Our Fellowship

So let’s look at chapter 3 verse 16, first of all, please. “Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name.” Throughout the book of Malachi, really punctuating the prophet’s message, we have heard the voices of those who are sliding back down into moral and spiritual rebellion against God. So, for example, chapter 1 at verse 13, speaking about divine worship the people said, “What a weariness this is,” and they snorted at it. In chapter 2 verse 17, with voices filled with cynicism and unbelief they ask, “Where is the God of justice?” And in chapter 3:15, really the climactic expression of their spiritual rebellion they said, “It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his ways, his charge, or as walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?” Here is a snapshot of the kind of things the people of Judah were saying to one another in their waywardness and spiritual declension.

Gracious Speech

But not everyone was like that. And chapter 3 verse 16 tells us the godly feared the Lord and their conversation with one another was marked by a radically different character altogether. And notice carefully the word with which verse 16 begins – “Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another.” It was just “then.” Then, against that backdrop, in response to the wickedness and sinful speech of their compatriots that the people of God, the remnant of the faithful people of God began to speak with one another. They resort to spiritual counsel and to godly fellowship. They fear the Lord; they esteem His name. That is to say, they prize and cherish Him in His person and glory and grace. That’s the kind of thing that has marked their speech with one another. They embrace the injunction of the Apostle Paul in Colossians 4 at verse 6, “Let your speech be always gracious, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

God Pays Attention to our Conversations

And did you notice how God responds to His people as they fellowship and talk with one another? The Lord, we are told, “paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him.” That is, I think, an amazing thought. The Lord pays attention when His people speak not just to Him, which is stunning enough when you think of it, that He would hear us when we talk to Him, but He hears us and pays attention when we talk about Him to one another, when we encourage each other and exhort one another and open the Scriptures together and speak about spiritual things with one another. The Lord takes note; He writes it in His book. We live in a time when the world views our words as cheap, throwaway things. What’s the shelf-life of a Tweet? It’s about a day; maybe two if you’re lucky. Our speech is weightless and insignificant, blown away by the wind in the eyes of the world. But our words before God have gravity and they’re not forgotten. He pays attention, Malachi says; He writes them in His book of remembrance. Christian fellowship is one of the great marks that characterize a child of God in distinction from the world. We love to speak of sacred things and we love to be with those who prize sacred things.

I wonder what marks your speech, you who profess to follow Jesus Christ? Do you have a filthy mouth or is your speech characterized by often delighting to name the name of Jesus? It’s a great evidence of authentic Christianity that there is no name we more love to hear or to say than the name of Christ; no person we more love to honor or to describe or to proclaim than our God. No theme we more enjoy exploring than the glory or the grace or the goodness of our Father. And so the first great distinctive that Malachi sets before us that defines and delineates who the people of God really are is our fellowship, the quality of our communion with one another as we speak the truth in love to one another.

  1. Our Future Destinies

And then in the second place, this great antithesis between the church and the world, between believers and unbelievers, appears not just in our fellowship here and now but also in our future destinies. First our fellowship, now secondly our future. Look at chapter 3:17 through chapter 4 verse 3. We call this sermon, “What a Difference a Day Makes,” largely because of a repeated phrase in this portion of our text. I wonder if you can see the reference to “the day” that runs all the way through our passage. Verse 17, “They shall be mine in the day when I make up my treasured possession.” Chapter 4 verse 1, “For behold, the day is coming…The day that is coming shall set them ablaze.” Chapter 4 verse 3, “They will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act.” Chapter 4 verse 5, “Behold, I send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” A day is coming when the relative difference between a believer and an unbeliever, the relative difference in a believer’s morality will give way to an irreversible difference in the believer’s destiny.

That’s what verse 18 says in so many words, isn’t it? “Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and the one who does not serve him.” Right now there is already a great gulf, a chasm, separating a Christian from a non-Christian. We love different things. Our values are radically opposed. We see the world through different eyes. We live for a different master. But for all that that difference between the believer and the unbeliever is profound, it is a difference nevertheless that can be overcome. It is a chasm that can be spanned. A non-Christian can become a Christian. The enemy of God can become His friend. The wicked may find a place among the righteous. Through faith in Jesus, we may pass from death to live, from enmity against God to adoption in His family. So yes, the difference is vast, the gulf between us is wide, and to be sure we can’t cross it by any invention of our own. But, says Paul, “God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.” So we can’t span the gulf but God has acted in Jesus Christ to make reconciliation. He has spanned the chasm by means of His Son so that guilty sinners, like me and like you, may be reconciled to God as we trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. The cross bridges the gap and ends our alienation and reconciles us to God as we trust in the Lord.

That is our situation today. That is the great possibility held out to you today if you’re not a Christian. You may, today, pass from death to life. You may, today, cross the chasm and move from alienation against God, enmity against Him, to becoming a child of God by grace, adopted into His family through faith in Jesus Christ. That is the great possibility today though the gulf between us is wide. But a day is coming, Malachi says, a day is coming when that possibility will end when the wheat shall be separated from the tares and the sheep separated from the goats, and the believer forever separated, irreversibly separated from the unbeliever.

The Destiny of Believers

Look at the relative destinies of these two groups as Malachi describes them. Chapter 3 verse 17 first of all. Believers, we are told, will become the “treasured possession” of the Lord. He will spare them, preserve them, from a coming day of wrath and judgment as a father spares a beloved child. On that day, chapter 4 verse 2, “the sun of righteousness will arise with healing in its wings.” Jesus Christ will come with the shout of the archangel and the clear trumpet blast sounding for all to hear and all our hearts and all our songs and all our fears and all our wounds and all our weariness will be gone. He comes with healing in His wings. And we shall enter on that day into the joy of our Lord. Malachi says, “You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” What a day of joy! What a much longed for day of joy that will be! Don’t you find your heart crying, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” when you hear told again the promise of His soon appearing?

The Destiny of Unbelievers

But you know, there is another side of that story. That is the destiny of those who know the Lord. There is another side of that story, on that same day, according to chapter 4 verse 1. To those who do not fear the Lord, who don’t know Jesus Christ, that great final day will be truly terrible indeed. Look at the text. “For 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 neither root nor branch.” The fire of the wrath of God in hell is comprehensive and involves everlasting destruction away from the presence of our God and against it, there is no defense. The wicked, verse 3, “will be ashes under the feet of the righteous.” That is to say, the victory of God among His people will be absolute and all who opposed Him will know utter and complete and comprehensive defeat.

You know, I was ordained originally in the Free Church of Scotland, the Presbyterian denomination that continued a tradition that it had inherited from the Scottish Reformation regarding the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. After the sermon and after an invitation was given to believers to come and sit around the Lord’s Table, we would sing a psalm during which the congregation communicants who were participating in the meal would rise from their seats and process forward to sit around a long table erected for that purpose. And then, once everyone was seated at the table who would be celebrating the supper, I would address them and explain the significance and meaning of the Lord’s Supper and encourage them to eat and drink, trusting in the Savior. But it was also commonplace that I would address those who did not come to the Table, who remained behind seated in the pews and were not seated with those who had professed faith around the Table of the Lord.

“Observe the separation,” I would say. “Some of you have come to Christ and here you are seated at the Lord’s Table, at the family table to enjoy the family meal. But others of you remain behind. You will not come to Christ and so you may not come to the Table. You think you still have time to trust in Jesus, and so you might, but no one knows the day or the hour; it will come like a thief in the night. And if you will not trust in Jesus Christ, this visible separation you see before you now will be an everlasting and eternal separation as the faithful enter into the joy of their Lord and take their seats around the marriage supper of the Lamb in joy and rest and celebration. But you who have refused the offers of grace in Jesus, you will remain in the outer darkness of the divine curse where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. But O today, today there’s still time! Today there’s still time to end the alienation, to see the great separation removed. Before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes, today, today repent and turn to Christ and confess your sin and believe on the Lord Jesus. You know He was cut off for sinners. He Himself was plunged into the outer darkness at Calvary that everyone who trusts Him might not perish but have everlasting life.”

A great distinction between believers and unbelievers is revealed first by our fellowship but it’s also revealed by our futures. Which future will be yours? Which will be yours will be determined on the basis of what you do with Jesus Christ.

  1. Our Faithfulness

Then thirdly, it’s revealed by our faithfulness. Very briefly, look at verse 4. “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.” The distinctive feature of a child of God, the great characteristic mark, is not simply the quality and content of His fellowship with other believers, nor is it the destiny that will one day face him in the future. But it is also the way and manner in which he lives here, faithfully obeying the Word and command of his God. A Christian is someone who has been mastered by King Jesus. He’s found the Law of God to be the Law of liberty. He’s found the yoke of Christ placed upon his shoulders to be easy and his burden light. “Remember the law,” says the Lord through Malachi. “Live according to My Word. Love the statutes and rules I commanded you.” If you love God, it should show by your obedience. “Love fulfills the Law,” Romans 13:10. Do you claim Jesus Christ as your Savior? It will be manifested in your life by your happy surrender to Him as your Lord. It’s not possible to say that you are Christ’s follower and disciple and not strive to live in faithfulness to His commands. “If you love me,” John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” Faithfulness, obedience, is a characteristic mark of a child of God.

  1. Our Families

Our fellowship, our future, our faithfulness, and now finally Malachi says the great antithesis between the church and the world is revealed also in our families. Look at verses 5 and 6 of chapter 4. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” Elijah the prophet will return Malachi tells us. In Luke chapter 1 at verse 13, you remember the story of the angels’ enunciation of the birth of John to Zechariah. “You shall call his name John,” he was told, “and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children” – there directly quoting Malachi chapter 4 at verse 6. “And the disobedient to the wisdom of the just to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” And similarly, Mathew 11 verse 13 Jesus said of John the Baptist, “All the prophets in the Law prophesied until John, and if you’re willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.”

So John the Baptist came preparing the way before the Lord Jesus with a powerful preaching ministry. He proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” He preached Christ, and as he preached Christ, people were reconciled to God through faith in Messiah Jesus. And as they’re reconciled to God, a spiritual thaw began to happen in their hearts. Thomas Watson, famous Puritan once said, “Grace dissolves and liquefies the soul causing a spiritual thaw.” When grace breaks in, it reconciles us to God, it ends our alienation with Him, but it also begins to end, undo our alienation with one another. There’s a reconciliation that is vertical between ourselves and our God and it always, always appears to have happened in our hearts when we see reconciliation beginning to take place between ourselves and our most intimate relationships signified here in Malachi chapter 4 by the relationship of a father with his children and of a child with their father.

As the Gospel of the coming of Christ begins to have its way, hearts melt. There’s a thaw that takes place. We’ve been reconciled to God, forgiven, and so we learn to forgive. We begin to learn how to love and serve. We begin to resolve to slay our pride and adopt a stance of humility and we pursue reconciliation with one another. Jesus Christ has mended the deepest wounds of our soul by His grace and by that same grace enables us more and more to mend the wounds of our broken relationships with one another. “Repay no one evil for evil,” Paul says, “but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of the Lord if possible. So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” Romans 12:17 and 21. That’s how Christians live in relationships that grace has invaded and begun to cause a spiritual thaw. I wonder if that characterizes your relationships, you who claim to follow Jesus Christ? Are you prepared in your pursuit of His honor and glory to pursue reconciliation with those, many of whom may be in the most intimate relation to you, within the bounds even of your own household? That is one of the great features, the characteristic marks of a child of God that they will never be content with a broken relationship but will pursue restoration.

And so when the world looks at the church, what does it see? Well, it ought to see a place, according to Malachi, where those who fear the Lord speak to one another, they esteem, they prize His name, and they encourage each other in intimate, joyful fellowship. It ought to be a place where faithfulness to the Word of God and the commands of Christ is the norm, not the exception, where we love Christ because He first loved us and we show it by keeping His commandments. And it should look like a place where the hearts of the fathers are turned toward their children and the hearts of the children are turned toward their fathers because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a place of radical reconciliation. It’s that kind of place, that kind of church that you know God will use to effect reconciliation not simply on a horizontal level but between unbelieving hearts and their Maker and God and cause the same grace that we have become the recipients of to explode into the hearts and lives of others who do not yet know Him. Our fellowship, our futures, our faithfulness, even our families are the great differentia, the great distinctive marks of people into whose lives Jesus Christ has brought saving change. I wonder if they mark and characterize you. I wonder if they mark and characterize our fellowship together, our church here. May God give us grace, each of us today, now, to turn perhaps for the first time but certainly afresh in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ so that resting on Him alone we might learn to live for His glory in precisely these ways in which Malachi has spoken to us until the day dawns at last that the sun of righteousness arises with healing in His wings.

Let’s pray together!

Our Father, we praise You for Your gracious Gospel that provides not only reconciliation between our alienated hearts and You, but also overflows into the restoration of our broken relationships with one another. How we pray that You would so work that grace down into the depths of our souls that we find ourselves rejoicing in spiritual things and encouraging one another and all the more as we see the day approaching. We find our fellowship to be sweet and refreshing, even at a time of spiritual declension all around us. We pray for grace to overflow in a renewed obedience and faithfulness to Your commandments and we pray for grace that those who are yet separated from the life of God and from the commonwealth of the people of God, that they might be brought in through faith in Jesus Christ. Hear us, meet us, and do a work in our lives for Your praise and glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Our Father, we praise You for Your gracious Gospel that provides not only reconciliation between our alienated hearts and You, but also overflows into the restoration of our broken relationships with one another. How we pray that You would so work that grace down into the depths of our souls that we find ourselves rejoicing in spiritual things and encouraging one another and all the more as we see the day approaching. We find our fellowship to be sweet and refreshing, even at a time of spiritual declension all around us. We pray for grace to overflow in a renewed obedience and faithfulness to Your commandments and we pray for grace that those who are yet separated from the life of God and from the commonwealth of the people of God, that they might be brought in through faith in Jesus Christ. Hear us, meet us, and do a work in our lives for Your praise and glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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