My Sunday School lesson for May 31, 2015 ...
Have you ever looked ahead to what was next to come? All through high school you looked forward to graduation? Ladies, you played out your wedding day years in advance?
Now that you are supposedly grown-up, are you already looking forward to the kids moving out, then retirement?
When you were kids, did you look ahead to your birthday months in advance? Halloween? (Did you have your costume picked out in July?) How about Christmas?
Throughout our lives, we’re constantly eyeing some time or event in the future.
But here’s the thing: we have a limited view of what the future holds. Sometimes that wished-for day or event finally arrives, and we discover it’s not all that we dreamed. In fact, sometimes it turns out to be quite the opposite of what we imagined.
*** Question – How about a day or event that you looked forward to that turned out differently than imagined? Also, what turned out just as you imagined?
UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
*** This week we end our study of the minor prophets and the book of Malachi, which closes out the pre-Messianic history of God’s chosen people.
*** Previously, in chapters 1 and 2, the people of Israel and the priests had become careless in their godly responsibilities and sinful in their actions.
*** For much of the Old Testament, the Israelites were disobedient to God. To end the OT, Malachi warns them and then gives them hope of being purified.
GOD’S MESSENGER (MAL. 3:1-5)
1 “See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,” says the LORD of Hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of His coming? And who will be able to stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire and like cleansing lye. 3 He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. 4 And the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will please the LORD as in days of old and years gone by. 5 “I will come to you in judgment, and I will be ready to witness against sorcerers and adulterers; against those who swear falsely; against those who oppress the widow and the fatherless, and cheat the wage earner; and against those who deny justice to the foreigner. They do not fear Me,” says the LORD of Hosts.
*** Two messengers are coming.
--- Matthew 3:3 identifies the first messenger in Malachi 3:1: This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
--- Question - Who is that messenger reported to be? (John the Baptist)
--- The second messenger is Jesus Christ, the Messiah, will come to purify the people of God.
--- 1 John 1:9 - If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
*** Malachi wonders if the people are truly ready for the Day of the Lord: “But who can endure the Day of His coming?” Clearly reality would be different than their expectations.
--- In the Scriptures, three elements comprised the Day of the Lord:
1) God would judge the sin of unbelievers. Those who opposed Him would receive their due.
2) God would cleanse His people’s lives. He wanted a pure and holy people to worship Him.
3) God would save His people. He would act in history once and for all to rescue them and to bring His victory.
*** Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do when He comes for you?
--- God’s judgment against sin would be swift and impartial against the wicked who did not fear Him.
--- The Lord condemns sorcerers, adulterers, liars, those who cheat widows (see Isa. 1:17,23), don’t pay their workers (see Lev. 19:13) and those who deny justice to strangers (Lev. 19:33-34).
--- There was a common problem with all of these evildoers. They did not fear God, so they disregarded His Word and lived as they pleased. God said that they would get what was coming to them.
GOD’S UNCHANGEABLE CHARACTER (Mal. 3:6-7)
6 “Because I, Yahweh, have not changed, you descendants of Jacob have not been destroyed. 7 “Since the days of your fathers, you have turned from My statutes; you have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD of Hosts. But you ask: “How can we return?”
*** God hasn't changed.
--- If we aren't as close to Him as we need to be, it's our fault, not His. The same Lord who punished Israel for its sins also gives us a chance to be purified.
*** Question - Why should believers today be thankful that God doesn’t change?
(The same God who loved us enough to put His son on the cross 2000 years ago loves us just as much today. We don't have to worry when we come to God in prayer that we might catch Him in a bad mood.)
*** "Return to Me, and I will return to you." Praise God that He allows us to come back when we mess up!
--- The Israelites thought that as long as they went through the motions of the law that God was cool with it. Similarly, today too many think Jesus is like Austin Powers: "Whatever's your bag, baby! That's groovy, yeah!"
--- James write, however, in chapter 4 verse 8, that it's up to us to make the first move: Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
--- QUESTION - Why do people so often resist being repentant for their sins?
GOD’S RECORD (MAL. 3:16-18)
16 At that time those who feared the LORD spoke to one another. The LORD took notice and listened. So a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who feared Yahweh and had high regard for His name. 17 “They will be Mine,” says the LORD of Hosts, “a special possession on the day I am preparing. I will have compassion on them as a man has compassion on his son who serves him. 18 So you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.
*** God keeps a record of the righteous and the wicked.
--- Revelation 20:12 - And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.
--- Revelation 20: 15 - Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
--- He knows who serves Him and who does not.
*** Question - How can knowing God has a book of remembrance encourage believers?
*** It appears that some God-fearing individuals were encouraging each other to stand strong and trust in God.
--- QUESTION - How would an observer in Malachi’s day know the difference between the righteous and the wicked? How do we know today?
(The one who served God was showing his faithfulness through his service. The one who did not serve Him showed he had no relationship with God. The Day of the Lord will bring purification, but it will also bring separation—separation of God’s people from those who do not know Him.)
HOPE FOR THE FAITHFUL (MAL. 4:1-2)
1 “For indeed, the day is coming, burning like a furnace, when all the arrogant and everyone who commits wickedness will become stubble. The coming day will consume them,” says the LORD of Hosts, “not leaving them root or branches. 2 But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings, and you will go out and playfully jump like calves from the stall.
*** If you are with God, you're OK. If you're not? Ouch.
--- The proud and arrogant who reject God will face judgment in the end.
--- Fire can be both refining and destroying. Fire refines precious metals, but it also burns up the chaff.
*** God offers hope to all who place their faith in Jesus.
--- We don’t have to wait for the Day of the Lord to experience joy in Christ. And all are invited.
--- Five pictures from verse 2:
1. A rising sun - He brings light where there was darkness.
2. Beams of righteousness. - Jesus makes things right so that we don't have to carry the burdens of the world.
3. Wings of healing - Jesus was a great healer. Jesus meets the tremendous need we all feel for hope beyond the grave—that all sickness and pain and sorrow and crying will be gone forever.
4. Breaking out of a stall - The coming of Jesus means freedom not bondage.
5. Leaping like calves - Jesus said once (Luke 6:22-23), "Blessed are you when men hate you . . . Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold your reward is great in heaven."
*** QUESTION - How does the word-picture in 4:1 motivate you to tell others about Jesus? How does the word-picture in 4:2 encourage you to live for Christ today?
Have you ever played hide-and-seek with your kids, or someone else’s?
They don’t always count to ten in the same way, do they? Sometimes they’ll go super slow, other times super fast. If they’re going faster than you’d expect, by the time they hit seven you’re yelling out, “Hey, wait, I haven’t had time to hide yet!” Your heart beats a little faster when you hear “Ready or not, here I come!”
When it comes to the Day of the Lord, or our short journey here on Earth, we don’t know when we or others will meet God and see if our names are in the Book of Remembrance. Does it feel like God’s counting too fast sometimes, and you aren’t ready?
*** Our ways are not His ways.
You can try to make sense of God with all your ingenuity, creativity, and intelligence, but God says we will never know Him that way. We will never know Him just by studying history—by simply studying what He has done. His ways are mysterious. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, “declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
*** It’s up to us to let people know that following Jesus is the winning side. Jesus comes to give light, truth, healing, freedom, and He will set everything right.