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A Time for Questions and a Time for an Answer

Sermon passage: (Malachi 4:1-6) Spoken on: July 5, 2010
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Malachi

Tags: Malachi, 玛拉基书

Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is the moderator of Jubilee Church, serving there since 2002. 王晓晖牧师是禧年堂的主理牧师。自2002年,在那牧会将近20年。
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Sermon on Malachi 4

When I was in my teenage years, I sometimes found myself debating with God. I would ask God questions: questions about life, questions of theology and even questions challenging him. “Why, God?” “Why is this not like that?” “Why is that not like this?” I would receive replies. They were often in the form of standard answers from what I’ve learnt in church. And then I’d challenge those standard answers. And I’d receive more replies and the debate goes on. Were those replies divinely inspired by God? Or were they my own wild imaginations? I did feel like I was conversing with God. But I guess I’d never know. What I do know for sure is that I’m never quite satisfied. This debate with God continues through my life. I’d ask God questions from the books I read. That includes the Bible. I’d ask questions when I listen to sermons or during worship. Mostly, I’d ask questions when things go wrong in my eyes. “Why, God?” “Why is this not like that?” “Why is that not like this?”

This is the reason we embark on this series in Malachi. I believe that I am not alone in my hunger to ask God questions. As humans, we have this insatiable desire to know the truth. We wish that God is the spiritual version of Answers.com. After all, isn’t God in charge of everything and knows everything? This desire is further intensified because there are so many things that don’t make sense. Injustice doesn’t make sense. Suffering doesn’t make sense. Pain doesn’t make sense. At least, it doesn’t make sense in a world that God exists. And so we ask God questions. We want to debate with him. Why God, why? Malachi is an excellent platform to talk about these questions because that is exactly the way it is presented: in the form of questions and answers.

With Malachi, we addressed some of the most crucial questions. “Where is the God of Justice?” That is the question on everybody’s mind when Lampard’s goal was disallowed. Is God just a confused referee handicapped by the lack of goal-line technology? And when we are suffering, we ask God “How have you loved us?” After all, how can a loving God bring pain? With this question, we arrive at the heart of the matter: our relationship with God. If God is like this, then why bother to serve him? Why bother to worship him? Not only worship, we also ask about our prayers and petitions. Does he care about our offerings? Does he remember our sacrifices? These are the questions we have asked with Malachi.

One by one, in our sermons, we gave the answers from Malachi. Despite all the varieties of perplexing questions, the answers are always remarkably simple and similar. On one hand, God reveals himself to be true to his covenant with his people. And this is evidenced by history. Compare yourself to Edom. They are wasted and you are restored. There is the proof of my love. Am I not the heavenly Father of all Israelites and the creator of all marriage? There is the proof of my faithfulness. And what happens when you profane the sacrifices and rob the tithes? You are judged with droughts and locust. There is the proof of my holiness. Despite all the doubts and suspicions on the nature of God, he has proven himself time and time again. This is one half of the answers given.

On the other hand, God also laid the responsibility of the suffering fully on the people themselves. This constitutes the other half of the answers to the questions to God. The people are guilty of blemished sacrifices. The priests are guilty of indiscipline. The men are guilty of unfaithfulness to their wives. Not to mention the long list of law breakers that includes “the sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, those who defraud laborers of their wages, those who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, and do not fear God.” I mentioned last week that Malachi used the issue of tithing to illustrate just how all of them have broken the law. So if the Israelites are questioning their difficult circumstances, if they are upset about God’s treatment to them, the answer is that they themselves are responsible. God is faithful, but they have been unfaithful.

Do these answers to the Israelites answer our questions to God today? I believe so. We may continue to ask questions of God today, but the answers remain the same. Look into history. Has not God proven himself faithful? I believe so. And yet, can we claim to be faithful to God? Absolutely not. Maybe individually, some of us are blameless. But as a people, our sins today are comparable to the sins of yesterday. In science and technology, we are moving forward. But morally, it’s often one step forward, two steps back. If our debate with God is like a soccer match, I think we’ll all be hoping for the final whistle so that the match will end early. This is because every attempt to go forward with our questions has resulted in a goal for God with his well-organized counter attacks. Now, I believe the answers from Malachi do answer our questions adequately today. It does seem like every question to God can be answered with this simple reply: “Look at God - faithful. Now, look at humanity - unfaithful.” I guess that answers your question.

But just because there are adequate answers to our questions, it doesn’t mean that we are therefore satisfied. My own experience tells me so. Intellectually, I can be convinced, but personally, I am not satisfied. I may have lost the debate but I still want to argue with God. This compulsion is even greater if I am convinced of the goodness of God. If God loves, why doesn’t he love everyone? If God listens to prayer, why doesn’t he listen all the time? If God judges, why doesn’t he judge once and for all? It seems to me that we humans will never be satisfied unless all things become perfect. If God has intervened once, then he should intervene all the time until it is perfect. And as long as we see injustice, we see unfairness, we see unexplained suffering; as long as we see imperfection, I fear we will never be satisfied.

However I believe Malachi has a perfect ending to these questions and answers such that we can be satisfied. Malachi ends with a prophecy of the Day of the Lord. This concept itself is not new. The Day of the Lord refers to the definitive day that God intervenes in history. It means judgment on God’s enemies and liberation for God’s people. Over the course of history, there are a few events that can count as the Day of the Lord. The downfall of Israel and Judah are such days because the idolatrous kingdom is judged and only the faithful remnant preserved by God. After the exile, the people await this Day of the Lord where the kingdom is restored and the evil oppressors overthrown. As for us Christians, this Day of the Lord could also refer to the second coming of Jesus Christ. It is the day where God’s people are resurrected and reunited and the evil punished. In all these events, those who are faithful to God will be vindicated, and those who are rebellious will reap their just deserts. This is why Malachi reminds us “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.” The commandments of the covenant will be the deciding factor for judgment on the Day of the Lord.

But described in this way, the Day of the Lord seems to describe a future event. It does not seem to promise perfection for now. Why do I say that this is the perfect ending that will satisfy all our questions? This is because I believe this Day of the Lord described a very unique event. In 4:5 “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.” This specific Day of the Lord pronounced by Malachi will be preceded by the return of Elijah. Who is this Elijah who will return? Is it really the prophet from centuries ago who did not die but was taken up alive to heaven (2 Kings 2:11-12)? Or is it another prophet who comes in the spirit of Elijah? The significance of Elijah is twofold. Firstly, he signifies repentance in the midst of unfaithfulness. Malachi emphasized remembrance of the law, because obeying the law is returning to God. Secondly, Elijah also represents reconciliation. And this is why Malachi says “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers”. Elijah’s call to repentance will restore the broken relationships so that the hearts will be ready for God to be transformed. And now the key question: Who is Elijah? If Elijah is identified, then we know this Day of the Lord that Malachi is referring to.

In the New Testament, the four gospel writers were very clear in identifying the return of Elijah in the person of John the Baptist. This is what angel Gabriel said to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, before his birth. Luke 1: “16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” This is what Jesus himself said after John the Baptist was in prison. “Matthew 11: 13For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.” And this is what Jesus said after John the Baptist was beheaded. “Matthew 17: 9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, "Don't tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." 10The disciples asked him, "Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?" 11Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." 13Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.”

The event of the return of Elijah will precede this specific Day of the Lord. In the same way, the ministry of John the Baptist has ushered in the ministry of Jesus. If John the Baptist is the return of Elijah, then the Day of the Lord is the Jesus Christ event. John the Baptist called for repentance and reconciliation, so that the hearts of God’s people may be prepared for Jesus. Jesus is the Son of Man who will suffer, but he is also the one who will bring about the eternal salvation of God’s people. Jesus is the Son of Man who was persecuted, but he is also the one who will judge forever on the right side of God the heavenly Father.

If this promised Day of the Lord is the Jesus Christ event, then I feel it is the perfect conclusion to this debate with God. In Jesus Christ, I have all my answers and I am satisfied. God fully demonstrated his sacrificial love in giving his only Son Jesus. This sacrifice bore all the injustice, all the suffering and pain, all the sins of humanity. As an intervention of God, it has complete and everlasting value. Therefore, it resolves all my doubts about my relationship with God. It explains what God intends to do about evil. It also determines how I should live and what should I live for. In all these questions, Jesus is my answer. “Matthew 5: 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Brothers and sisters, perfection is a reality in Jesus Christ. For all your doubts and queries, let us find the answer in Jesus.

Malachi 4 (Listen)

4:1 “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, the 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.”

(ESV)