Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the second Wednesday of Advent 12/9/2020. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 7pm, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, use the order of Vespers found on LSB page 229 (with Psalm 24 and hymn 337) or download it here: Advent2 Vespers
The text for the sermon was Malachi 3:1-7.
Last week we heard the prophecies of Jeremiah, and contemplated both their near fulfillment, and their final fulfillment. Specifically, the LORD would bring His own people out from captivity in the near political history of Israel. But even greater than that, He would deliver them finally from sin, death, and hell by the atoning Sacrifice of Jesus.
A similar thing is happening in our text this evening. The name “Malachi” literally means “my messenger.” And so, it would be reasonable to think that this section of chapter 3 is self-referencing; like when Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet, and told the people that the Scripture was fulfilled in their hearing.
But this messenger of the LORD, i.e., Malachi, is not really talking about himself. He does prepare God’s people in the sense that He proclaims the Word to them. Malachi brought to light the sins of the people and the priests as well. In fact, that warning what makes up most of the first three chapters. But Malachi is pointing forward to something more specific. The messenger Malachi speaks of is actually John the Baptist.
Luther paraphrases tonight’s reading this way:
[The Lord] says, “I will send you the genuine Malachi, that is, a messenger, who is John the Baptist.” (AE 18:408)
Now, Luther wasn’t right about everything all the time. And we ought to be careful with the Word in general, and prophecy particularly. So, I give you the words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, when He tells us exactly what Malachi meant:
Jesus says of John in chapter 11,
This is he of whom it is written, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.” Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Matthew 11:10-11
Even though Malachi isn’t talking about himself, per se, we can see that he and John have a great deal in common. Through each of them God spoke to a stiff-necked, self-righteous people, people whose lips praised God, but whose hearts were far from Him.
Both were rather terse as well. The book of Malachi is only four short chapters, and John is not known for being long-winded either. They also both like rhetorical questions. Malachi asks 22 of them in only 55 verses of text. And John famously asked the Pharisees:
You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Matthew 3:7b
Furthermore, both regard themselves as nothing when compared to their Lord. Malachi isn’t even identified by name. As I said, the word simply means “my messenger.” Likewise John, who declares that he must decrease, and Jesus must increase.
They are even closely connected in time. Malachi is considered to be the last of the Old Testament prophets; a title he shares in part with John the Baptist, whom we speak of as the prophet having one foot in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament.
Finally, both make it clear that there is only one way out of this mess. Malachi asks, rhetorically:
Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? Malachi 3:2a
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) But the words about our Lord being like a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap, though they might not be familiar, and may even sound frightening, are Good News.
The refiner’s fire is one that cleanses and purifies, removing impurities. And by December 2020, we should all know what soap does. This prophecy of purifying the sons of Levi is given concerning you. You, dear Christians, have replaced the Levitical priesthood.
[For] you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
You, dear Christians, have been purified. Jesus, whose coming we await, has absorbed your impurities into Himself. Your sins He has taken into His own body, and for them He was crucified.
He also has poured out His fire on you. The flames that fell on Pentecost, the fire of the Holy Spirit which kindles faith and sanctifies you and holies you, this was poured out on you in Holy Baptism.
The refiner’s fire and the fuller’s soap, the purifying work of Jesus, the Messiah foretold by Malachi and John, He alone has done it.
What, then, does the life of those redeemed look like? It looks like living within God’s commandments.
Malachi lists off the works of those who despise God’s Law, even as they despise His salvation and His Christ.
But you have been purified, refined, and cleaned. You are holy priests before the Lord, who call upon Him in prayer, to bless and not to curse; who honor your spouses and holy marriage; who speak truth and not falsehood; who live in mercy toward the oppressed and the discarded: the widow, the fatherless, and the sojourner.
You are called to receive mercy and to give mercy.
As we approach the manger in Bethlehem, you can think of it this way. You are called to receive Jesus – again and again – from font, pulpit, and altar; in Word and Sacrament, for the forgiveness of sins.
Having received everything from Jesus, material and spiritual, you are also called to share that everything. It’s the simplest thing: like holding a Baby, and then passing Him on to someone with empty arms.
But this Baby will change them. As a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap: His touch will make them what it makes you: pure, clean, and righteous.