The Essence of Advent: a Day of Judgment
Dear Lord God, our heavenly Father—I enter Your courts with joy in view of Your grace! By grace You determined to save me from the foolishness of my sinful rebellion and its inevitable result death. Through the holy life and innocent death of Your own Son, You have redeemed me and through the effective working of Your Spirit You have called me to faith. Be with and bless me this day as I sing praises to You, seek wisdom from You, and lay my petitions before You. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
The apostle Paul reminds us that God caused the Bible to be written “for our learning,” so that we might have “hope.” He then urges us to “receive one another, just as Christ also received us,” so that we might praise our God together and be filled with “all joy and peace!”
Jesus informs us that the Father alone knows the day and the hour when this world will face its final judgment. The unbelieving world takes no thought of that day and remains unprepared. Jesus urges us to be wise and faithful—ever ready and always faithful!
Text: Malachi 4:1-6
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” says the LORD of hosts, “that will leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves. You shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this,” says the LORD of hosts. “Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”
In Christ Jesus, who will come one day in victorious judgment, dear fellow redeemed:
Perhaps the most famous sermon ever preached on American soil was entitled: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God!” It was preached by Jonathan Edwards, a Congregationalist minister in Massachusetts in 1741 and helped spark what has become known among historians as the “Great Awakening,” a time of tremendous spiritual fervor in colonial America. In that sermon Edwards described in a very powerful way the fiery pits of hell, comparing all of the wicked and all of the unbelievers in this world to spiders hanging by the thinnest of threads above a boiling cauldron. Such thoughts are seldom heard in American pulpits today. It has become unfashionable to condemn sin, or for that matter even to speak of sin. In fact, the most frequently quoted Bible passage today, or should I say the most frequently misquoted Bible passage today seems to be: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1).
The Bible, however, does speak of judgment, and it is especially clear that when Jesus comes again at the end of time, He will judge both the living and the dead. Consequently, as we consider this morning THE ESSENCE OF ADVENT, let us understand that it involves A DAY OF JUDGMENT as described in our text. From our text we see that this will be a day filled with fear for all who oppose the LORD, a day filled with joy for all who embrace the LORD, and a day to be anticipated by old and by young!
Malachi was the last of God’s Old Testament prophets. He lived just over four hundred years before Jesus was born. A century before Malachi began his ministry, God had graciously led His people back to Palestine after seventy years of captivity in Babylon. During that hundred years the people had avoided the gross idolatry that had led to their destruction by King Nebuchadnezzar and their deportation to Babylon. Unfortunately, however, they had fallen away from the LORD in many other respects. They had lost their love for the LORD in spite of His many blessings. While they still practiced their religion outwardly, their worship lacked true reverence. For instance, instead of offering the best of their flocks and herds to the LORD, they offered Him those animals that were blind, lame, and sick. The priests of God, who were to uphold God’s law and instruct the people in His word, did not keep the law themselves, were easily bribed when asked to make judgments based upon that law, and led the people away from the word rather than to the word! Failing to apply the word of God in their lives and becoming ever more secular in their thinking, the people thought nothing of marrying unbelievers and divorce had become commonplace.
It was into this situation that God sent Malachi with a message of strong condemnation. The final words of his book of prophecy, which form our text, begin with a severe warning: “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” says the LORD of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch.” What a strong contrast with so many of the preachers of our day, who only want to speak of a “God of love.” “God is (indeed) love,” as the apostle John explains in his first epistle, for He sent His only-begotten Son to save us, but He is also just and will punish sin and unbelief (cf. 1 Jn. 4:8b; Jn. 3:16-18).
While this severe warning is certainly directed to all of the wicked and unbelieving people of this world, let us not think that we can simply ignore it! Satan is always trying to convince us that sin is not such a serious thing in our lives—that we can tolerate its presence and even embrace it…a little bit anyway! The apostle Paul did not answer his question to the Romans, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound” (Rom. 6:1), with a “Sure, why not?” By no means! He rather said, “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom. 6:2) Sin, in any form, is very serious, for it can, does, and often has undermined relationships with God. Paul is not kidding when he warns, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Gal. 5:9). He wants to prevent us from experiencing the judgment of God both in our present lives and on the Last Day!
Malachi’s words of warning should lead us to humble repentance. Let us not exalt ourselves with pride in opposition to our God! Let us never assume that just because we maintain an outward connection to the church and grace these halls upon occasion with our presence that all will be fine. Let us rather acknowledge individually and collectively the truth of what God tells us through Solomon: “Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; though they join forces, none will go unpunished” (Prov. 16:5). Who are the proud? They are those who reject God’s word either openly or secretly—those who assume that they know better than God and who chart their own course in order to satisfy their own desires. God’s solution is revealed by the prophet Jeremiah who urged the people of his day: “Hear and give ear; do not be proud, for the LORD has spoken!” (13:15)
Jesus echoes Malachi’s warning in His parable of the “Wheat and the Tares.” He warned that the unbelievers, many of whom live, work, and play next to believers in this world, will be cast into the fire on the Last Day (cf. Mt. 13:30). Let us remember that there will be no second chances. Malachi says that in the day of God’s judgment there will be neither “root nor branch” left! As we then contemplate THE ESSENCE OF ADVENT, therefore, let us recognize that it involves A DAY OF JUDGMENT…a day that will be filled with fear for all who oppose the LORD!
At the same time it will be a day filled with joy by all who embrace the LORD! As strongly as is Malachi’s word of warning, so strongly also is his word of encouragement to those who believe in Jesus and are faithful to Him. He writes, “‘But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves. You shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this,’ says the Lord of hosts.”
What tremendous imagery God uses here to instill courage within our hearts as we look forward to our Savior’s second coming. Those who “fear” the LORD’s name are those who have been led by the Spirit of God to believe in Jesus as their Savior. Believers stand in awe of God’s grace and power. They recognize in Jesus the very Son of God—their Savior and their Lord. For them He becomes “the Sun of righteousness” arising in this world filled with the darkness of sin…breaking that darkness and healing our hurting souls.
This past Tuesday Pastor Eichstadt conducted the funeral service for Jeanette Brenner and directed our eyes to the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Many of you attended that service, as did many non-members, and were comforted by Pastor Eichstadt’s Bible-based message. One of our members informed me that three different non-members approached her after the service and commented that they never hear such comforting words at funeral services in their church. My dear friends, God wants us to be comforted in the face of sin and death by the announcement of His forgiving love in Christ and His promise of the gift of everlasting life. He wants us to approach life in this world and look forward to the end of this world with confidence and joy—the same confidence and joy revealed by a frisky, well-fed calf let out to pasture after a long winter in the barn! What an interesting and unique picture God paints for us!
To what is Malachi referring when he says that we will “trample the wicked” and that they will be like “ashes under the soles of (our) feet”? He is using a picture of a victory in battle during Old Testament times. The walls of cities would be breached, the houses sacked, and the buildings burned to the ground. It is a picture of an enemy’s total annihilation—a picture of complete victory. Who is the enemy? Satan is, of course, and his spiritual and physical allies in this world. When John experienced the Revelation nearly sixty years after Jesus’ ascension, he was given a vision of Jesus leading out the army of the saints, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen—riding out to a complete victory. How is it described? John writes, “Now out of His (Jesus’) mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: ‘KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS’” (19:15-16). By the grace of God every believing child of God shares in Christ’s victory and can look forward with eager anticipation to Christ’s return at the end of time.
Again, my dear friends, as we contemplate THE ESSENCE OF ADVENT, let us understand that it involves A DAY OF JUDGMENT…a day filled with joy for all who embrace the LORD!
Finally, it involves also a day to be anticipated by old and by young! As you look ahead in your life, what do you anticipate? In the short term many of you children, and perhaps a good many of you adults, are anticipating Christmas with its toys and other presents. In connection with our celebration of the holidays, you may be anticipating the arrival and visits of family and friends. Some of you may be anticipating graduation from school, and I know some of you are anticipating upcoming weddings. Others of you may anticipate advancement in the work-place, or a change in the direction of your career. Still others of you may be anticipating great changes in life—the birth of a child, a long-distance move, the entrance into assisted-living, or the limiting factors of old age. Anticipation is part of life, but let us not confine our anticipatory thoughts just to the things of this life. Rather, let us listen carefully to Malachi’s last words: “Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you, Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”
Malachi encouraged the Old Testament believers to focus their attention on God’s word. It revealed both God’s perfect will in the form of His laws, but also His ultimate plans in the form of many prophecies concerning the coming Savior. In that word they would find direction, and in that word they would find strength. In the same way Jesus urges us New Testament believers to “abide” in His word (cf. Jn. 8:31-32), and the apostle Paul urges us to “continue in the things which you have learned…(for they are) able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:14).
God did send “Elijah the prophet” in the person of John the Baptizer prior to Jesus’ earthly ministry (cf. Mt. 17:10-13). He prepared the way for the Lord by preaching a message of repentance and forgiveness. Why is it that we include in almost all of our worship services a confession of sins and an absolution from God? It is because we thereby prepare our hearts for the entrance of our Savior. Jesus tells us in the Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (3:20-21). What a marvelous promise our Savior gives us!
The Spirit of God uses the word, both the law and the gospel, to convict our hearts of sin and then convince them of His loving forgiveness. The Spirit of God uses the word to win the hearts of fathers as well as of children, and He enables us to share as families the most precious truths imaginable. There is no gift greater that you as a father or mother, or you as a son or daughter can give than the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Be sure this Christmas season to give that gift before and above all others. Toys grow old and break; ties get worn and become old-fashioned; but the story of the Christ-Child and the message of His heralding angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Lk. 2:14) never grows old. It continues to help us focus our attention on what is truly important—the approaching advent of our Lord! Yes, THE ESSENCE OF ADVENT includes A DAY OF JUDGMENT…a day to be anticipated by old and by young! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting