The Day Has Come: The Sun of Righteousness Has Arisen!
As I enter into Your presence this morning, may I do so with humility confessing my sins and with confidence rejoicing in Your forgiving love. Open my mouth to sing Your praise and my ears to hear Your instruction. May I grow in faith, increase in love, and then leave Your house to serve You with faithfulness. Amen.
Jesus came to save sinners! That includes you and me!
John came preparing the way for Jesus. He urged everyone to repent of his or her sins and to bear fruits worthy of repentance.
Text: Malachi 4:1-3
“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.
In Christ Jesus, who came and who is yet to come, dear fellow Redeemed:
It was dark. It was dank. There was no way of knowing in that dungeon whether it was day or night, other than the slight drop in temperature which granted some relief from the oppressive, desert heat. The only light was that of a torch thrust occasionally through the prison door when food was brought into the bowels of Machaerus, Herod Antipas’ desert fortress on the eastern side of the Dead Sea. John the Baptizer had been arrested by Herod for condemning his illicit relationship with Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. John had been placed into this prison and now awaited what lay ahead… whatever that might be.
What truly plagued John, however, were not his outward circumstances. Rather, he was plagued by doubts concerning Jesus—the One whose arrival he had announced. He had been “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the LORD’” (Is. 40:3a), but might he have been wrong? Jesus’ coming did not seem to fit the Old Testament’s prophecies. The first verse of our text, for instance, speaks of a fiery judgment to accompany the arrival of the promised Messiah: “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.” John had taken those words seriously and had warned the Pharisees and the Sadducees that “even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”(Mt. 3:10). In fact, it was John’s warnings to Herod Antipas that had gotten him imprisoned. But Jesus, it seemed, far from preaching judgment was preaching a much milder message of peace. He was attending banquets held in His honor at the homes of the Pharisees John had condemned. Could John have been wrong all along? Was Jesus the promised Savior, sent by God or was He simply an imposter? John sent two disciples to Jesus asking him that question. Jesus sent them back with this message: “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see; the blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” (Mt. 11:4-6)
The problem John was facing was that the Old Testament prophecies spoke of two comings of Jesus—His first and His second—without distinguishing between the two. Jesus’ second coming will be in judgment at the end of time. His first coming, however, secured for us our eternal salvation. Consequently, the day that Malachi in our text said was coming, has already in part been fulfilled, but in part remains unfulfilled. Let us this morning consider those parts of the prophecy which have been fulfilled. THE DAY HAS COME! THE SUN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS HAS ARISEN bringing healing to our hearts, and instilling hope within our lives!
Malachi addresses us as individuals who “fear” God’s name. To “fear” God’s name, first of all, means to know and believe in the one, true God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It means, secondly, to place our faith and trust in Him as our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Sanctifier, as we confess in the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds. It means, finally, that we have a great reverence and respect for all that He has told us through His Word, believing that His Word is indeed, a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (cf. Ps. 119:105).
Malachi assures us that, “The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings.” Jesus is the “Sun of Righteousness.” As such He is, as He proclaimed during His earthly ministry, “the Light of the world” (Jn. 9:5). To help us understand the impact that Jesus and His Word are to have and can have upon our lives, the Scriptures often speak of sin and unbelief as darkness, while it speaks of forgiveness and faith as light. Those walking in their sin apart from God, failing to trust Him and entrust themselves to Him, are walking in darkness, as in the night. Their sins hold them captive, and their unbelief leaves them in a deep spiritual fog. But when the message of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus pierces the darkness of our sin and unbelief it is like the sun rising at dawn dispelling the shadows of uncertainty, revealing the truth about ourselves and our relationship with God, and giving us the confidence we need to walk here in life.
Yes, Jesus is the “Sun of Righteousness.” He does not come demanding righteousness as a condition of acceptance. His gospel message does not say, “Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Mt. 5:48)…and then and only then will My Father and I decide whether or not to accept and to love you. No, while the law demands a righteousness we can never achieve, the gospel provides a righteousness, we could never afford. Jesus came and as the sun dispenses its light freely upon all whose eyes are open to it, so also Jesus’ righteousness is bestowed upon all whose eyes of faith have been opened by the work of the Holy Spirit. As Paul tells us in his Epistle to the Romans: “Through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:18b-19)
It is this understanding that we are justified by faith through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that brings healing to our hearts. Malachi speaks of the Sun of Righteousness arising “with healing in His wings.” He uses the picture of a hen gathering her chicks under her wings as a means of conveying the peace and comfort that the healing gospel message of forgiveness brings the penitent sinner’s heart.
When we are restless because of unresolved conflict; when we are burdened by guilt regarding our unkind words or unloving actions; when we are seemingly held captive by forces opposed to God and His will, then Jesus comes. He comes as the “Sun of righteousness…with healing in His wings.” He does not demand great works to impress, or great sacrifices to secure His blessing, but rather He comes to the repentant sinner—to the one whose heart stands condemned by the law, and He brings healing. He cries out: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Mt. 11:28-30) My dear friends, THE DAY HAS COME! THE SUN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS HAS ARISEN bringing healing to our hearts, and…
…instilling hope within our lives! Malachi writes: “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.” Malachi provides us with two pictures illustrating the fact that faith in Christ instills within us hope for this life and our future.
The first picture is probably not too appealing to any of us upon first reading it—“you will go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves.” I am not sure that any of us wants to grow fat and be compared with a stall-fed calf. But the picture is one of constant care and provision as opposed to neglect and the lack of necessities. A calf left to itself out in the fields among the predators would not likely survive, while the calf cared for in an enclosed and secure space and provided everything it needs each day will grow and thrive. So it is for the individual who has come to know and love Jesus Christ, and who makes use of the means of grace—the gospel in Word and sacrament on a regular basis. Such a person is well-fed spiritually and well-taken care of eternally!
There is a joy, a confidence, and a hope that fills the hearts of those who believe in Jesus. It is the confidence once expressed by Peter on behalf of the other disciples when Jesus asked them whether they too would forsake Him. Peter said: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Jn. 6:68-69).
It is a joy, a confidence, and a hope that is bolstered by the assurances of Jesus Himself. He tells us plainly: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (Jn. 10:27-28). The apostle Paul assures us not only that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” but that through the study of the same “the Man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). As children of God the protection and providential care that God, our heavenly Father, provides us through Jesus Christ, His son, leaves us well-fed and secure!
Malachi, however, ends his prophecy with a second picture: “'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." It is tempting to suggest that the fulfillment of this prophecy lies only in the future—a time when all the saints will return with Jesus in final triumph on the last day of judgment. That its ultimate fulfillment will be seen on that day I would not deny, but I believe that it is already being fulfilled at the present time.
For instance, think of the apostle Paul’s words: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, 'For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.' Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:35-37). As children of God we can face every trial and challenge with full hope and confidence that we are victors in Christ. Think of Stephen who was stoned because of his faith in Christ, but who died seeing a vision of Christ and praying for the forgiveness of those who were killing him, including the future apostle Paul. Was Stephen not a conqueror in Christ? Think of Paul who during his second imprisonment in Rome as he faced beheading wrote these words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). Was not Paul trampling the wicked under the soles of his feet, having placed his hope and full confidence in Christ Jesus?
We are living at a time of great persecution of Christians around the world. Christians are being imprisoned in North Korea and China, beheaded in Syria and Iraq, taken off of buses and executed in Kenya, and taken from their families and sold in sexual slavery in Nigeria. Yet, the Holy Spirit continues to confirm the truth of the Christian gospel message, and such saints are taken home to rejoice in heaven.
Now more than ever we need to proclaim in this Advent Season the gospel of salvation—the message thatTHE DAY HAS COME! THE SUN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS HAS ARISEN bringing healing to our hearts, and instilling hope within our lives! May we do so with joy and confidence! Amen.