“‘For look, the day is coming, burning like a furnace, when all the arrogant and everyone who commits wickedness will become stubble. The coming day will consume them,’ says the Lord of Armies, ‘not leaving them root or branches. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings, and you will go out and playfully jump like calves from the stall.’” (CSB – Read the chapter)
For the last couple of days we have been talking about this tension around the worthwhileness of serving the Lord and striving to do life His way. Yet even as we have been trying to resolve tension, we have left some hanging there each day. With what we see here at the beginning of chapter 4, we are going to repeat this pattern yet one more time, but hopefully with more weight on the resolution than remaining tension. Let’s dig in.
The bit of resolution we got last time was this: At some point it will become clear who is serving the Lord and who isn’t. That was how chapter 3 ended. Those words were promised to the people of Israel. We have the great privilege of living in the day of their fulfillment. In Christ and with the help of the Holy Spirit and the fruit He brings in our lives, we can tell who is who. The true people of God stand out.
Now, that would be a pretty powerful promise all on its own. But God doesn’t stop there. Here at the beginning of chapter 4, He takes it a step further. Actually, it kind of feels like He takes it several steps further.
Not only will it become clear who is following Him and who isn’t, but those who aren’t are ultimately going to pay the price and be dealt with…permanently.
The imagery here is intense and uncomfortable. Malachi pictures a great fire that will burn through humanity. The wicked will be burnt to ash. They will be completely consumed by the flames and there will not be anything left.
Can we just be honest here? This is really not a popular concept today. The idea of judgment at all sits awkwardly at best with most people. The idea of a fiery judgment is simply a non-starter. What kind a loving God would do something like this? Surely this is just Old Testament imagery that gets dropped when you literally turn the page from Malachi to the New Testament. Except it isn’t. And Jesus is one of the worst culprits! He talks about fiery judgement all the time!
Then it gets worse.
The righteous are pictured as going out to celebrate, blissfully unaware of the absolute slaughter they just survived. In fact, one verse over from where we stopped he has them trampling on the ashes of the wicked without a care in the world. How is this just?!?
Well, put yourself in the shoes of a persecuted person. What do you want more than just about anything else in the world? To know that someone powerful enough to matter has your back and that those who have been persecuting you are going to receive their just end. If you’ve never really experienced persecution of any kind (I would include myself in that category), this is really a hard idea to grasp.
While there are a lot of people who have been taught to think they have been persecuted in this country, the number of those who actually have is a much smaller count, and I suspect they would tend to better understand the gift God was giving the people here. Their trouble would not last forever and justice would be served. One day they would rejoice in the victory God had secured for them. That’s a powerful hope. God was simply expressing it in language they understood.
This is what makes sticking with the Lord a worthwhile endeavor. What? The threat of punishment? No, the promise of justice. But, yes, the reality of the permanency of union with Him or separation from Him (which itself is eternal destruction since He is the source of all that is) certainly doesn’t hurt.
These words were spoken to a people who were not opposed to God, but rather who were wavering in their faith and questioning its worth. God’s encouragement here is that their commitment will indeed prove worthwhile in the end. Those nations around them who pay Him no heed, persecute them for doing so, and seem to experience no consequences for it will not run wild and free forever. Eventually they will receive their just end. In other words: It’s worth it.
Hear the same thing for your own journey. There are days it gets hard and confusing and discouraging to keep chasing after Jesus. There are days when those who are opposed to you seem stronger than you are. Their attacks stick and hurt and there doesn’t seem to be anything you can do about it. Friends, know this well: It will be worth it. Justice will be served perfectly and completely. You will delight in the Lord and His justice as your foes receive the destruction they have embraced. Christ, our crucified and resurrected Savior has guaranteed it. Keep moving forward. Life is on its way.