The End of Apathy (Malachi 3:16-4:6)

Sermon Manuscript . . .

God Ends Apathy!

Bree and I had a problem in our home recently. It was a big problem that took the on the form of little creatures. The little pests terrorized our kids, terrorized my wife–and let’s be honest, guys, freaked me out a little. Of course, you don’t know you have the problem until it is exposed. One morning I wake up early, go to the kitchen for some water, flip on the lights and what do I see bolt across the kitchen floor? Las cucarachas–cockroaches!

These little devils are fast and smart! One was flipped on its back. I thought it was dead, so I got a Kleenex and reached down to grab it. It quickly flipped back to its legs and sprinted off. When you see one cockroach, you know he has friends (amigos), so you must take immediate action. After the problem has been exposed, what do you do next? Call the bug exterminator–he comes to bring severe judgment upon these evil creatures. “El día de las cucarachas muertas”–the day of the dead cockroaches!

The end of Malachi foretells a more serious day of exposure and extermination. A day is coming when God will flip on the lights. All of mankind will ultimately be exposed and divided into two camps–God’s children and God’s enemies. In chapter 3 verse 15, Israel had the audacity to say that, “evildoers test God and escape.”

Our passage today is God’s sssurance that His enemies will not escape–and that includes those of Israel who continue in apathy. God warns them, “You have been arrogant against Me” (3:13). Look who is judged in (4:1)–“the arrogant and the evildoer.” The arrogant, spiritually apathetic are in the same camp as the flagrant evildoer–enemies of God awaiting judgment. But as swift as the judgment comes, so does grace in the day of the Lord.

This passage today is also God’s assurance to His people that they are loved and spared. Apathy doesn’t last forever. God ends apathy in two ways–judgment for His enemies or salvation for His children. The question for you this morning is, who are you and what’s your destiny? If you are God’s child, you need to be reminded of the promises that are yours. If there is any residual apathy in your heart, I pray that you would be stirred out of it and return to serve Christ, your faithful Savior and King.

Maybe you sit here today totally indifferent, apathetic. You are here because you feel obligated. You were asked by a friend or family member. Or you sit here today thinking that a good work like this will make you good enough for Heaven. On the outside you are cleancut, but if God were to flip on the light in your heart, it would expose a coldness toward God and false idols you worship.

I pray that as you hear these warnings from the mouth of God, you would awaken from your stupor and rush to Christ the only Savior and King. “Fight for us, O God, that we not drift numb and blind and foolish into vain and empty excitements. Life is too short, too precious, too painful to waste on worldly bubbles that burst. Heaven is too great, hell is too horrible, eternity is too long that we should putter around on its porch.”–John Piper Let’s turn to the text beginning in Malachi 3:16.

1.  God Remembers His People  Verse 16

Something significant happens at the very beginning of this text.

Different Audience–described as those who fear the Lord and esteem His name, unlike those who have arrogantly questioned God, these people show Him the honor and respect He deserves.

Different Response–then they spoke to one another. “Then” is emphatic in the Hebrew, highlighting a new response from a new people. Unlike those who have proudly disregarded God’s Word, these people have received it humbly.

This is a remnant, true Israel. Paul tells us this in Romans 9:6–not all of Israel is true Israel. True Israel, the true people of God, are marked as those who return to God, fear Him and serve Him. They live by faith. Fake Israel have the heritage, the ethnicity, but do not return to God, do not fear Him, and do not serve Him. They lack faith. There is always a remnant, isn’t there?

There are those who wear the “Christian nametag”–they go to church every Sunday, live by a good set of morals, send their kids to Christian school. Yet their hearts are very far from God. Just because you claim the name doesn’t mean God claims you. Only those who live by faith are true children of God. These are God’s elect in Israel, His true children. What is God’s action toward this people?

First, He remembers them–He gave attention and heard and a book of remembrance was written before Him. We’ve heard this before, haven’t we? Psalm 34:15, “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry.” One commentator wrote, “Like the eye of Sauran (The Lord of the Rings), God’s eye is always watching. He looks madly for His prized possession, a people that fears Him.” As the watchful eye of the Lord scans the crowds, He sees many arrogant, many wicked, many idolaters–but He sees a few faithful.

He has a book of remembrance written before Him. The imagery here is that of a king ordering his personal scribe to keep record. These are the official annals of the king–records of significant events to be kept for future reference or reward. Popular in the Persian Empire, you might remember this in the story of Esther. Mordecai’s life was saved because the Persian king reviewed his book of records and saw his deeds faithful to the throne.

Some of Israel claim that it is of no profit to serve God. God responds, “As a King keeps a sealed record of deeds, so do I.” I remember and your reward is coming! Is your life found in the books? Revelation 20:11 to 12, “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it…12And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.”

Christian, it is never a futile endeavor to serve God. Although peers, co-workers, bosses poke fun at you–although it seems like right now it is unrewarded, unappreciated, maybe forgotten. God reminds us that He is watching, He remembers, and the reward is coming.

2.  God Comforts His People  Verse 17

“ ‘They will be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.’ ” He calls this remnant “Mine.” He’s used this language before, speaking to Israel in Deuteronomy 7:6. And then in Isaiah 43:1, ” ‘O Israel, Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!‘ ” He calls them “my own possession.” Some translations say, “my own jewel.”

I think about the young man who rushes to the jewelry store to buy a ring for the love of his life. Out of all the rings presented, he must choose one. He’s looking for the perfect piece. Although they are all shiny, he looks for the one that outshines the rest in his eyes–one that reminds him of her, one that sticks out. Let’s be honest, one that isn’t too expensive. Finally he picks one, takes it from the cabinet to the counter for purchase. Once the payment is made, the clerk places it in a case and hands it to him. He chose it, he bought it–it’s his precious jewel.

Among all the nations of the earth, God chose Israel, and made her His prized possession–not because they were any better, bigger, or more beautiful, but simply because God chose them, loves them, and keeps His promises to them. This is a beautiful reminder to the people of Israel of God’s covenant love. Although the majority of the nation has fallen away, there is still a remnant with faith.

God will fulfill His covenant, 1) restoring them to their land as promised (Ezekiel 11:17), 2) there will be peace like they have not yet seen (Ezekiel 37:26), 3) He will establish His forever reign in Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:3 to 4). They are His and He has not forsaken them (Romans 11). Israel will shine again and His glory will appear upon them (Isaiah 60:2). God made an explicit promise and He intends to keep it.

What about us–are we included in God’s covenant love? Ephesians 2:11 to 19, “Gentiles… 12remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ… 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.”

Turn to 1 Peter 2:9 to 10, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession… 10for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God.” God’s covenant love has been extended to us through Christ and the New Covenant. We have been included, grafted in, fellowheirs in God’s family. There is extraordinary comfort in being called the child of the Most High.

Like a child wrapped in the arms of their Father, there is assurance of protection (I’m safe), assurance of love (I’m loved), assurance of hope (everything’s going to be okay), assurance of comfort (therefore I can rest). God calls you His (you are safe), you are His prized possession (you are loved),

God will prepare you for the day of His coming–therefore you can rest in His promises. “Christians are jewels–and Heaven is the golden cabinet where they shall be locked up safe!”–Thomas Watson. God comforts His people!

3.  God Distinguishes His People  Verse 18

How will we tell the difference between true Israel and fake Israel–true believers and make believers? The Day of the Lord will distinguish them! When you study the Day of the Lord in Scripture, just like in Malachi, there are different key elements that comprise it–elements of restoration and revival (4:6), elements of fiery judgment (4:1), and element of Christ’s return (4:2).

The Day of the Lord is a time period, not just the Second Coming of Christ, but includes the events that surround it–the Tribulation preceding it and the Millennium following it. It is an eschatological (future) event, because these things have not happened yet. This is the time period where God will flip the lights on, so to speak. Full exposure is coming.

Sometimes with a big group picture, it’s hard to distinguish who is who–especially if it’s pixilated and unclear. Certain features make certain people stick out, but it’s hard to know for sure. We live in a day where it’s difficult to distinguish true believers from make-believers. There are features or fruit that help us determine whether someone is of the faith, but we can’t distinguish them from the heart–that is God’s business.

Malachi tells us that on the Day of the Lord, God distinguishes the righteous from the wicked. In Matthew 25:32 to 33, Jesus reminds us that this day is still coming. “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.” Notice, no lukewarm, no in-between, no one riding the fence of Christianity–no apathetic. There are only those for God or against Him. Spiritual apathy will not last forever. God flips on the lights–exposure. What follows after? Extermination.

4.  God Crushes His Enemies  Verse 4:1

‘For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.’ ” There is terrible, imminent judgment coming. Surely the people of Israel experience shadows of this judgment. They were slaves in Babylon, captive to Medo-Persia, in 70 A.D. Herod destroyed the Temple. But all of this points toward a more serious, cataclysmic judgment–a judgment the world has not yet seen. God’s enemies will be burned.

Matthew 25:41,46, “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels’ . . . 46These will go away into eternal punishment.” Everyone opposed to God will be set ablaze in an unending fire. “The fire of Hell is such as multitudes of tears will not quench it, length of time will not finish it; the vial of God’s wrath will be always dripping upon a sinner. As long as God is eternal, He lives to be avenged upon the wicked. Oh eternity! eternity! who can fathom it? Mariners have their plummets to measure the depths of the sea; but what line or plummet shall we use to fathom the depth of eternity? The breath of the Lord kindles the infernal lake, (Isa. 30:33), and where shall we have engines or buckets to quench that fire?”–Thomas Watson.

“I must warn you, as God warns us here–if you would not repent and turn to Christ, this is your final destination. Eternal separation and punishment in Hell. Israel cried, ‘Where is the God of Justice?’

He is coming, and ‘whoah’ to him who stands opposed. Patience, then, believer, eternity will right the wrongs of time.”–Charles Spurgeon What about His people? What becomes of them on the Day of the Lord?

5.  God Spares His People  Verses 4:2 to 3

‘But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. 3You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,’ says the Lord of hosts.” First, there is healing. Here is the Gospel. We are all arrogant, we are evildoers–sinners from the heart. We all deserve the eternal crushing described in verse one. But instead, God offers another–the righteous One, to be crushed instead.

Isaiah 53:10 to 11, “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief…the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities.” Jesus Christ came and lived a righteous life (life we couldn’t live). He died on the cross (taking on the punishment for our sins–He was crushed). A great exchange happened on that cross. While He bore our punishment, He covered us in His righteousness. When we believe in Him, trusting in His work alone for our salvation, we are justified. We stand right before God and we are spared when He comes again!

Jesus is this Sun of Righteousness–this points to both His first and second coming. Because of His first coming, we can be covered in the wings of His righteousness. When He comes again, He will spare those who are covered, those with faith in Christ alone. First healing, then great victory for those with Christ on that day–skipping like calves (overwhelming joy), treading down the wicked (like a crowd running over one another).

It is known that at dawn, before the rising of the sun, a morning star appears indicating that the sunrise is imminent. In Revelation 22:16 and 20 Jesus says, “ ‘I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.’ 20He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ ” The morning star came with healing in His wings. Now we look forward to the sunrise, when He comes again.

Revelation 19:11 to 16, “And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. 13 He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”

Revelation 19:19 to 21, “And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. 20And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence… these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. 21And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.”

Revelation 20:4 to 6, “Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years…. 6Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.”

If that doesn’t light your jets, repent of your spiritual apathy–Jesus wins! If you are His child, you win with Him. Lean forward in hope for “the Day of the Lord”. What do we do in the meantime?

6.  God Commands His People  Verse 4:4

Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.” This is the last oracle from God to the people of Israel before a 400-year period of silence, and so what does God command? Remember the Scriptures! This is a testimony to the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Scriptures. There may be 400 years of silence coming, but God still speaks through the reading, preaching, and applying of the Scriptures.

Remember, at this time Israel doesn’t have much. They have the Law written by Moses, maybe a few other scattered writings. They don’t have much, but they have enough. They have enough to live a blessed life. They have enough to look forward to a coming Messiah who would take away their sins and reign forever. They have enough to trust God and live according to His will.

Christians, we have so much more here. God has given us everything pertaining to life and godliness. All Scripture is inspired by God as though He breathed the very words onto the page. It is all valuable “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16 to 17). We must heed the same command.

God has given us His complete canon–Old and New Testaments. How much more should we read it, study it, meditate on it, memorize it, apply it in everyday life. Do you value the Scriptures? Our soul must be anchored in the promises of God given to us in this book.

7.  God Prepares His People  Verses 4:5 to 6

Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. 6He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” There is some controversy as to who this reference is about. Pick up any commentary on Malachi and you will probably find a different opinion in every one on this passage, which isn’t helpful for a young exegete like myself.

Is this the same reference as the “messenger” in chapter 3, which means John the Baptist? Is this another prophet that comes in the end, during the Day of the Lord (which seems to be the immediate context)? Is this actually Elijah, who (like on the Mount of Transfiguration) appears again in the last days? It’s hard for us to know for certain.

I like Dr. Eugene Merrill’s explanation best. Elijah’s return is figurative, not literal. John the Baptist appeared in the spirit and power of Elijah, but was not Elijah himself (John 1:21). In one sense, John fulfilled this, in that he would “prepare the way of the Lord,” as mentioned in Malachi 3:1. Jesus cross-references this as well in Matthew 11:14.

In Matthew 17:11, Jesus tells us that Elijah is still coming to restore all things. So in another sense, there is future fulfillment through a different appearing eschatologically, because the Day of the Lord is still used in context. In other words, there is dual fulfillment in this passage. John the Baptist (in the spirit of Elijah) prepares the way for Christ’s first advent. Someone else (in the spirit of Elijah) will prepare the way for Christ’s second advent. Now that I’ve lost you in the theological weeds, let me restate the main point here–“God prepares His people.”

Think about Israel in this position. They don’t even know about Christ’s first coming, but John the Baptist steps forward 400 years later and He so clearly was the one who would prepare the way for the Lord. Many rejected him, but some took note and recognized, “This is the messenger Malachi was talking about.” The Lord prepared them. So we can trust Him to do the same for Christ’s second coming–we will be prepared. In the meantime, trust Him and trust His Word.

In regard to His second coming Jesus said, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” We shouldn’t become alarmists or skeptics, but we live by faith, trust Him, His plan, and His promises to prepare us for that day.

What does God do with apathy? He ends it in a plan of judgment and salvation. There is judgment awaiting His enemies. If you stand now opposed to God in your sins, turn from them and run to the cross of Jesus Christ to be covered in His righteousness. There are so many good promises in here for God’s people. He remembers us (no service to Him is futile). He comforts us (we are His, loved, being what we can imagine, and we have a secure future–hope), He spares us (in the righteousness of Christ, the Morning Star who came and the sunrise who is coming again). We must remember His Word–we must look forward with great anticipation as he prepares to return.

There really is not a greater story. It’s not just a story–it’s His-story. Theologian Charles Feinberg points out something that is worthy of note–“What is the last word of the Old Testament? Curse. What are the final words of the New Testament? Grace.” Because of sin, the story starts with a curse. Because of Christ, the story ends with grace. Who are you–under sin, or covered by the righteousness of Christ?

About Morgan Maitland

Morgan served from 2015-2020 as the high school pastor at Faith Bible Church. He is now the teaching pastor at Summit Bible Church in Fontana, CA.

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