Sinner, Please Don’t Let This Harvest Pass – God’s Plan to Save Us, as Seen in the Book of Malachi

Pumpkins, nuts, indian corn and applesIn the posts of the past two days, we’ve looked at the sins of the priests and those of all the people. Clearly, we all have a lot on which to reflect.

The prophets do not write merely to denounce, but rather to draw people back to the Lord, who alone can save them. Malachi is no exception.

God wants His people to be ready for the Day of Judgment. That day is coming upon us all. Either we are going to Him for individual judgment or He is coming to us and the world in general judgment. But either way, the day is surely coming. How will God make ready His people?

The vision is laid out in the central section of Malachi, in the early part of the 3rd chapter. There are four basic elements of the plan there, and then a final plea in chapter 4. Let’s look at each in turn.

I. The Preparation – The text says, Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me (Mal 3:1).

Like any good father, God prepared by first teaching His children. Historically, He gave us the Law (Natural Law) in the book of creation, and more specifically in the Decalogue on Mt. Sinai and its explication in the Pentateuch. Therefore, Moses and those who recorded his teaching were like great messengers, setting before the people the holiness of God.

But time and time again they fell short, not living the teachings given by God. So He sent more messengers, the Prophets, who summoned the people to repentance. Scripture says, The Lord gave the word, great was the company of the Preachers! (Ps 68:11)

Yes, messengers, many messengers, were sent to prepare the people for the day of His coming.

God sent His own Son, who in our own times, through His Church, speaks to us, teaches us, and sends countless prophets to prepare us. These prophets are the Apostles and their successors, bishops, priests, deacons, catechists, parents, saints, godparents, and many others (bloggers, too?).

And the message remains the same: repent and believe the Good News! Come to a new mind, come to new and different priorities, and accept the life-changing message that Jesus offers you! Enter into a life-changing, transformative relationship with Jesus Christ. Let Him, who alone can heal, prepare you through Word, Sacrament, and witness.

Yes, everywhere the cry of true prophets can and does go forth. In the words of an old spiritual, “Sinner, please don’t let this harvest pass, and die and lose your soul at last!” It is God, through His messengers, teaching and exhorting us in order to prepare us. The listing of the sins of the priests and the people is a clarion call to prepare us for the day of encountering God that is surely coming.

II. The Purpose – The text says, For the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? (Mal 3:2-3)

God is preparing us so that we can endure and withstand the day that is surely coming upon us all, the day when we will “suddenly” encounter the Lord.

Many modern people have little notion that this day is something to be very sober about. God is very holy; He is like a blazing fire of charity. Fire either transforms or burns up whatever it touches, but nothing goes away from fire unchanged and no one goes away from God unchanged.

Unrepentant sinners in the presence of an all-holy God will not be able to endure or withstand God. They are like wax before a fire. They are like those in a dark room who are suddenly brought out into the noonday sunlight. There are stabbing pains in their eyes and loud protests from their mouths at the light. The noonday sun is beautiful and good, but not to those accustomed to the darkness; the day of His coming will be torturous for them.

Even repentant sinners will likely undergo some painful purification. As St. Paul says,

Their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames (1 Cor 3:13-15).

Thus, God’s purpose is to prepare us for the day of His coming, a day to be very sober about. He has a purpose to prepare us because there is a lot to be prepared for! God isn’t going to change (and we would be foolish to want Him to change). Se we have to change—a lot. More accurately, we have to be changed by God, because in no way are we capable of readying ourselves.

Will you be able to stand when He appears? Will you be able to endure? God’s purpose is to get you ready to withstand and endure, for judgment day comes suddenly.

III. The Prescription – The text says, For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years (Mal 3:3-4).

So there it is, a kind of fiery purification, a wash of lye or bleach. It’s not all that pleasant, but it’s necessary.

-Paul says, Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).

-Jesus says of Paul, I will show him how much he must suffer for my name (Acts 9:16).

-Job says, But God knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as pure gold (Job 23:10).

-St Peter says, You have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7).

Such purifications are necessary for us. God adds consolations to encourage us, but this world more often remains a valley of tears; an exile; a crucible in which we are tested, purified, and made ready for something far greater.

Indeed, we must look beyond the cross to the glory that follows, lest we be discouraged. St. Paul says,

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary afflictions are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor 4:16-18).

This is the prescription: that we take up our cross daily and follow the Lord. He is purifying us through our share in His cross. And if you think that there should be a better way, remember that God offered us paradise but we wanted a better deal. Well, welcome to the better deal. We chose one tree over all of paradise. But God mercifully took that tree and turned it into a cross, reopening to us not just paradise, but Heaven! And our share in the cross is but a sliver of what Jesus endured.

So the prescription is our share Jesus’ cross and the purification it effects!

IV. The Produce – The text says, Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another; the Lord heeded and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and thought on his name. “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, my special possession on the Day when I act, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him (Mal 3:16-18).

So, the Lord’s work brings about a purification that in turn elicits a holy reverence or fear. Praise God! And not only do the righteous alone receive this gift, they also “spoke with one another.” In other words, they become evangelical, drawing other souls to God and making sure their names are written in the Book of Life.

Purifying them, the Lord can say of them, “They shall be mine … I will spare them as my own dear children on the Day I act. They shall be distinguished from the wicked and by my grace be righteous. They shall be among those who have served me and not among those who have spurned my purifications …”

This is the produce that the Lord seeks: sons and daughters to live with Him forever, purified of their sins and lacking nothing! They shall be His own and share in Godly perfection.

V. The Plea – At the end of the Book of Malachi, the Lord lays out two alternatives for us:

Choice 1: For behold, the day comes, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch (Mal 4:1).

Choice 2:  But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go forth leaping like calves from the stall. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts (Mal 4:2).

Which one do you want? (Hint: Pick the second choice; it’s a lot better!)

Meanwhile, God waits and quietly acts:

Still pleading: Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel (Mal 4:4).

Still preparing: Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers (Mal 4:5-6a).

Still plaintively warning: Lest I come and smite the land with doom (Mal 4:6b).

Why Didn’t the Father Come to Save Us?

Many years ago, when I was just a teenager I remember being puzzled by the oft quoted John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son….” Now everyone used this verse to demonstrate how much God loved us. But I got stuck thinking, “What kind of a Father is this that he sends his Son to suffer horribly and die!?”  My own Father wouldn’t send me in harm’s way, he’d go and face the threat and protect me. But God the Father sent his Son to do the hard and dirty work, to get slaughtered and die. Why? Why didn’t the Father come to save us himself?

As I asked this question no one had a real answer. Even the priests looked at me like they didn’t understand my question. As the years went by I eventually connected the dots and found the answer. But recently I was reminded of my question as some one asked me, “Why didn’t the Father come to save us himself?”

The answer really comes down to one word, a word we’re not so good at understanding in these modern times. The word is “obedience.”  The simple answer is that the Father cannot obey the Father, only the Son can do that. For it is not just the suffering of Christ per se that saves us, it is his obedience that saves us. Consider that it was Adam’s disobedience that destroyed our relationship with God. Hence it is Christ’s obedience that saves us. Scripture says, For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous (Rom 5:19). So plainly put, since obedience was the necessary remedy for our disobedience Jesus the Son had to come for he is able to obey the Father. It does not pertain,  nor is it really sensible,  to say that the Father could obey the Father. Hence God the Father sent his only Son. Scripture says of Jesus He became obedient” to the Father “unto death (Phil 2:8)

While we tend to speak today primarily of the suffering and death of Jesus as the cause of our salvation. But more specifically, his suffering and death are really the manifestation of the deeper cause of our salvation, which is the obedience of Christ. Isaiah 53:7  says of the Christ, He was offered because he willed it. St. Thomas Aquinas says, Now obedience is preferred to all sacrifices. according to 1 Samuel 15:22: “Obedience is better than sacrifices.” Therefore it was fitting that the sacrifice of Christ’s Passion and death should proceed from obedience….And so the Man-Christ secured the victory through being obedient to God, according to Proverbs 21:28: “An obedient man shall speak of victory.” (Summa, Tertia Pars, 47.2)

Over and over again Jesus spoke of his looming death as an act of love and obedience for the Father.  Christ received a command from the Father to suffer. For it is written (John 10:18): “I have power to lay down My life, and I have power to take it up again: this commandment have I received of My Father”–namely, of laying down His life and of resuming it again….He suffered [also] out of love of the Father, according to John 14:31: “That the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father hath given Me this  commandment,  so I do. Arise, let us go hence”–namely, to the place of His Passion:….. He “paid….suffering Himself to be fastened to a tree on account of the apple which man had plucked from the tree against God’s command (Aquinas, Summa Tertia Pars 47. Reply Obj 1).

And why such terrible suffering? Here too some get stuck on thinking that God is blood thristy. We need not conclude this any more that we would conclude such a thing of a surgeon. The surgeon clearly makes use of radical proceedures, slicing open the body, sawing through bones, cutting out flesh and the like. But strong medicine is needed when the situation is grave. Rather than looking at the crucifixion and saying, God has a problem (i.e. he is blood-thirsty) we ought to see how desperate our problem is. Sin is a very serious condition and we should not make light of it. In order to resolve our problem, God had to resort to this.

But Jesus freely obeys his Father out of love for Him and for us. In his human will he obeyed the Father and so we are saved through the suffering that it entailed. St. Maximus the Confessor has a beautiful line: We are saved by the human decision of a divine person. Where Adam disobeyed, Christ obeyed, and hence we are saved. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Father for sending your only Son.