The theme of the book of Malachi is “Return to the Lord.” We’re finishing this four-week series today as we ask ourselves, “In what ways do our hearts need to be returned to God or submitted fully to Him.” Hear two verses from Malachi 3:6-7 before we jump in to chapters three and four today:
6 “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. 7 Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.
As Malachi opened in chapter one, we saw how the people were making harsh claims against God, alleging that He was unloving. The accusations against God are the people’s theme in the book of Malachi. Seven times in the book they have a feud with God or dispute with God about something. We see it here in chapter 3 beginning in verse 13:
Malachi 3:13-15 13 “You have said harsh things against me,” says the LORD. “Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’ 14 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.'”
The people have these things against God. They claim that it does them no good to serve Him and to carry out His commands. They have said it is a burden to do it and that it does no good because they see the arrogant, the people who have been cutting corners and living for themselves, they see them and by their estimation, it is going pretty well for those people. They are living the “good life.” They appear to be blessed. They seem to be prospering even though they are doing evil. In their estimation, they are living on the edge, challenging God, and they seem to come out smelling like a rose. They seem to escape the consequences for living that way.
First of all, those who were making these claims against God, that it did them no good to serve God and to obey His commands, they act as if they actually were serving God in the way He had commanded. It is almost laughable that they would talk to God about how the wicked were seemingly living it up and being rewarded for doing so while they were “towing the line” and living God’s way, when they weren’t living any better than the wicked. I mean, it’s one thing to live the way you want to, apart from God, when you don’t have a relationship with God and you don’t claim to have a relationship with God, but when you know what you know about God and His love and generosity, when you know what you know about God and His strength and power, when you know what you know about God and His aid and support in your life, and you choose to cut corners, and you choose to dismiss God, and you choose to turn up your nose to God’s holiness and you toss Him some sacrificial scraps now and again as if He needs to be somehow appeased by you or noticed by you, you are worse than the wicked. Harsh, but true.
Those who fear the Lord fear the Lord regardless of what other people do or how they appear to live. “Everybody’s doing it,” will never be a justification for God’s people choosing to live as if God’s holiness is trivial and as if His commands are optional.
Besides that, when God really has your heart, it won’t be about how others are living, but it will be about what God desires for your life. You see:
Those who fear the Lord have a trusting view of His work in their lives and in the way He works in the world.
We don’t see the whole picture. We don’t know what is going on behind closed doors in the hearts and homes of people who appear to have it all when we see them out and about in the marketplace. We often find out on social media and in the news that those who appear to “have it all” have nothing that matters.
Those who truly want to honor God in their lives take other people and their actions out of the equation because they trust that what God desires from us is what is best for us and what will bless us in the end. When things happen that we can’t understand, if we are fearing the Lord and honoring Him above all in our hearts, we trust His sovereign plan even when we think people are getting away with things they shouldn’t.
Here is what I see in the text: Those people who were saying it wasn’t “worth it” to serve God, weren’t seeing themselves correctly. They couldn’t see how ridiculous it was of them to even think they were in a correct relationship with God. They were blind to their own sin because their eyes were on the sin of other people.
Let me illustrate it this way: Suppose you ask your child to clean their room, and you give them two hours to do it. When you walk back in, at first glance, the room appears to be clean, but as your eyes linger over the scene, you see paraphenalia sticking out from under the bed and when you go to open the closet, everything that had been crammed in there in a pile comes tumbling out and you lose an eye and a toe as you are attacked by transformers and Legos. When you look under the bed with your one remaining eye you see trash and dirty clothes that will rot and smell by the next day, and you are surprised to find out that your child thinks they did a good job. They think they have cleaned their room. They can’t even see the error of their ways. Your child may say, “But I did what you asked. I went through the motions of cleaning up my room. You can see the floor. It doesn’t look messy.” But you know the truth. That is what was happening to the priests of Malachi’s day, but they couldn’t see it.
When you move away from the fear of the Lord, you will lose your spiritual sensitivity and be drawn to compromise.
Look what happened next in verse 16: 16 Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard.
Those who fear the Lord are connected in fellowship with one another.
Aligning ourselves with people who are also aligned with God’s heart is key to our spiritual success. We won’t gain insight into the truth by asking the masses on Facebook about spiritual things. We won’t grow spiritually if we are troubleshooting the answers to life’s big questions with people who doubt God has a standard or means business or that it is important to do things His way. In this verse, those who did fear the Lord got together to talk things over, and look what happened. God heard them!
Those who fear the Lord are heard by Him.
Yes, God is drawn to listen to those who fear Him. They are in a genuine relationship with Him. He is listening for their prayer. I love this passage in Psalm 145:18-19 18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. 19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.
Truth. When we desire to know and walk in truth, we are fearing the Lord. This passage says He fulfills the desires of those who fear Him. He hears them. He saves them. Yes, He is God. Yes, His will is Sovereign. While it is true He isn’t bound to do anything we ask, He has bound Himself to us in a Covenant relationship, so in that sense, yes, He will meet our needs. Yes, He will be responsive to our desires. Yes, He will rescue us because of His promises to us, not because of our bossiness or our worthiness or because we have some command of Him. But He will respond to His children when we call because He has bound Himself in love to us, and He is a perfect Heavenly Father. Not worth it to honor Him? Ridiculous. Why would we want to forfeit a relationship with a perfect, loving, powerful and generous Heavenly Father who is on call 24/7 to hear the cry of those who fear Him?
Look at the end of verse 16:
A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name. 17 “They will be mine,” says the LORD Almighty, “in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him.
It doesn’t get any better than this! Do you see that God journals about those who fear Him? He is writing about you in a scroll of remembrance. You are being remembered by God as you fear His name. He goes on to say, “They will be mine.” How many of you know this morning that God takes care of what belongs to Him? How many of you know that God’s hands are all over that which is His? He has a tight grip on His loved ones. He treats them as His treasured possession. It is an awesome thing to be a child of God!
The way God feels about those who fear Him is incredible. He says of them in Isaiah 43:1-4 “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. 4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life.
Oh my, my, my! God doesn’t just think highly of those who honor Him. He doesn’t just remember them in time of trouble. He doesn’t just write in His journal, “Oh boy, there is Bill. He is in a mess. I’m hoping he can figure a way out.” “Oh gracious, there is Susie, she is in trouble. I wish I knew what to do to help her. I hope everything turns out OK.” No, my friends, our God is the God who gets in the water with us. He is the best Lifeguard. He will make sure we are sustained as we go through the rivers. Our God is the God who walks right into the fire with us, and He has an ability to offer protection over our lives that not only keeps us from perishing, but we won’t even smell like smoke when we come out. Our God is the God who routes our enemy and takes out our enemy because He says we are precious and honored in His sight. Do you see that? Those who honor God are honored by Him!
This is what I want for my life. I don’t want to fend for myself. I don’t want to have to figure it out on my own. I don’t want to just have to wish for the best. I want the honor of honoring the God who will honor me and keep me in the midst of difficulty. How about you?
18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.
You may think there is no difference between those who fear God and those who don’t, but you will see it. God will reveal it to you. There is a difference. You will experience it as you fear my name. You’ll see.
The second part of verse 18 ties back to 14 about serving God. Those who serve God are rewarded. Those who serve God are blessed. Those who fear the Lord know their service isn’t in vain. It is worth it! You may not receive your blessing in the moment, but you know in God’s plan, there is coming a day where you will be rewarded for all you do in His name.
Years ago, an elderly missionary couple who had served for years in Africa, was returning to New York City to retire. They were feeling discouraged, defeated, and afraid. Their health was broken and they had no retirement pension. When they got to the wharf to board the ship, they discovered that they were booked on the same boat as President Theodore Roosevelt, who was returning from a big game hunt. No one paid any attention to this old couple, but they watched the fanfare as the President arrived. A band was playing and the crowd was waving and straining for a glimpse of the great man.
As the ship crossed the Atlantic, the old man grew more and more depressed. He said to his wife, “Something is wrong. Why should we have given our lives in faithful service for God in Africa all these years, and yet no one cares for us? This man comes back from a hunting expedition, and everyone throngs to see him. It doesn’t seem fair!” His wife tried to comfort him, but he couldn’t shake his depression.
As the boat docked in America, more bands were playing and more crowds had turned out to greet the President. Many dignitaries were there, and the papers carried the story on the front page. But no one noticed the missionaries. They slipped off the boat and went to hunt for a cheap apartment and for jobs.
That night, the man’s spirit broke. He felt that God had abandoned them. He complained to his wife, “We don’t have anyone to help us and no where to go. Why hasn’t God met our needs?” His wife wisely replied, “Why don’t you go in the bedroom and talk to the Lord about the whole thing?”
Some time later, he came out of the bedroom, but his face was different. He was happy now. His wife asked what happened. He said, “I went in and told the Lord the whole thing. I told Him that it’s not fair. I told Him how I was bitter because the President received this tremendous homecoming, but no one met us as we returned home. And you know, as I finished, it seemed as though the Lord put His hand on my shoulder and said simply, ‘My child, you’re not home yet.’”
Why serve God? Because He notices and cares for all who serve Him!
As we move into chapter four we see that:
Those who fear the Lord know that judgment isn’t a joke.
Malachi 4:1 1 “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.
We aren’t playing a game. Judgment is real. Verse one tells us the day of judgment IS coming. Jesus will return. Regardless of what you believe about the end time details know this: When Jesus comes, there will be a judgment and those who haven’t placed their trust in Him, those who haven’t lived in reverent and right fear of Him will have a whole lot to fear. Verse one tells us the arrogant will get what is coming to them. There will be no escaping. They won’t get away with sin and unrighteous living.
I’m afraid in a world that revolves much of the time around virtual reality, many are being sucked in to thinking that Hell couldn’t be real. It’s real. The Bible has much to say about Hell. It is where the evil and un-redeemed will spend eternity, and there is nothing pleasant about it.
But for those who fear in the Lord, the story will be totally different. The judgment on the sin of those who fear the Lord has already taken place. It was all placed on Jesus on the cross, so those who have accepted what He did on their behalf and are walking in fellowship with God don’t have to fear judgment. Their sins have already been judged on Calvary’s cross.
Those who fear the Lord live with joy and live in wholeness and in victory.
Malachi 4:2-3 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness (that’s Jesus) will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.
3 Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,” says the LORD Almighty.
If you honor the Lord in your heart, you can be filled with joy. You will no longer be pent up and defined by your sin like a caged animal. You will live free. You can be healed body, mind, and spirit, but most importantly, you can experience spiritual healing that leads to thinking well and living well. You can overcome the enemies that stand in your way. You will live with courage and confidence.
As we close this series on Malachi, let me end with a plea for those of you who are unsaved to trust Christ. For: Those who fear the Lord accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Look at verses 5 and 6: 5 “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
Scholars agree that the reference here to Elijah isn’t referring to the OT Prophet Elijah who was already in glory, but to John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, one who would have a ministry in the same spirit as the ministry Elijah had in the OT, and one that would prepare people to receive Jesus as He came on the scene. His ministry was a spiritual-heart prepping ministry as he preached that people should repent of their sin and turn to Jesus.
So many people think Jesus is about performance, personal goodness, or an adherence to some ritualistic way of living. It isn’t. It is about a relationship with God that starts in your heart. What happens in your heart will make its way to the surface of your life, for sure. But it isn’t about an outward conformity, but an inward submission. God wants your heart because God wants your all.
Every work God wants to do in your life begins with your heart. That is why the entire book of Malachi deals with returning our hearts to God. No matter what you are wrestling with, no matter the temptation, no matter the thought, no matter the pressure, the answer lies in surrendering that area of your heart to the Lord. He doesn’t want you to live pent up and angry. He doesn’t want life’s challenges to beat you up and overtake you. He doesn’t want the things that happen to you to define you and drag you down, and He surely doesn’t want you to face the judgment for your sin that has already been dealt with through Jesus’ death on the cross. God has amazing blessings for His children. Help for the now and rewards for the now and later. It is worth it to surrender. It is worth it to serve the Lord.
Will you return every part of your heart to God?