Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sermon for the Last Sunday in the Church Year (November 24, 2013)

Wordle: Untitled

Text: Malachi 3:13-18

On this last Sunday of the Church Year, we hear from the last book of the Old Testament, written by the prophet Malachi. It’s about 400 years before the birth of Jesus. The 70 year exile in Babylon was behind the people of Israel. God brought a remnant back to Judea. The walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt. The temple was rebuilt with worship and sacrifices restored.

But all was not well. Instead of offering proper sacrifices and offerings, the people did not bring their best. They withheld their tithes. They offered blind, lame, and sick sheep as opposed to unblemished ones. They offered animals that had been stolen from their neighbor. And the priests went right along with this. They accepted these sinful sacrifices and abdicated their duty to uphold God’s holiness. They did not rebuke the people and lead them to repentance. Moreover, the prophet also makes clear that marriage was not being kept sacred. Contrary to God’s Word, people were marrying those who worshiped idols. Even proper marriages between Israelites were not healthy. People were not being faithful to their marriage vows. Divorce was rampant.

The Lord gave Malachi some hard words to speak to the people, and rightly so, as you can well understand. Yet our text today says that the people had some hard words for the Lord. “Your words have been hard against me,” says the Lord.

What “hard words” did the people have? Earlier in the book, they challenge God’s love for his people (1:2). A bit later, they claim that God favors those who do evil and therefore question if God is really a God of justice (2:17). And in our text today, they say that “It is vain to serve God.” Why bother having faith in God? Why bother obeying his Word? Why bother repenting of our so-called sins? Where has it gotten us? Those who do evil get away with it. Not only that, they even prosper!

Next, Malachi turns his attention to a remant within the remnant in Judea. He turns his attention to those who feared the Lord. Malachi says “they spoke with one another.” What did they say to each other? Perhaps they reminded themselves of their need to return to the Lord, to repent of their sins, to rely on the Lord’s mercy. The prophet says that the Lord paid attention and heard them. Their names are written in his book of remembrance … as if God needs a book to remind himself of those whose are his.

Think of it this way: you and I might like to keep a record of those things that are precious to us, important things we want to remember, items that are meaningful and irreplaceable. We write them down in a memo book. For those of us who are electronically inclined, we might use an “app.” But here’s the difference between our method’s and God’s. In God’s book, no records will ever be erased or deleted. God’s hard drive will never crash.

This is his Word towards those who fear the Lord: “They shall be mine … in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” The distinction between the righteous and the wicked is not about whether they are sinners or not. Neither are they without sin. Rather, the righteous are those who serve God because they have faith. The wicked are those who do not serve God because they do not have faith. And the Lord promises that a day of judgment is still to come when God’s justice over all injustice will finally be made public and visible to all.

For you and me today, we might be tempted to have similar “hard words” against the Lord. Is it vain to serve God? In these gray and latter days, it sure seems that way sometimes. It all seems so pointless. Better to eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. Serving the Lord may bring opposition … from friends, from family, from government.

In these gray and latter days, it often seems as though the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. Perhaps we, like the Israelites, also figure “What’s the point?” and we give up on being faithful to the Lord’s Word. And so, we do not give him our best. We withhold our offerings. We fail in our marriage vows. We let the ungodly world around us mold us and shape us rather than the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word. And like the faithless priests in Malachi’s day, pastors today fail to turn their congregations from their sin and call them to repentance. At times, Christians today don’t look any different from the unbelieving world around them. There is no apparent distinction between those who serve God and those who do not.

Kind of like Jesus in our Gospel reading. There you see the Christ of God, his chosen One, carrying his cross on the way to his own execution. There you see the King of Kings at the place of the Skull, crucified between two criminals. The one who served God perfectly his entire life, flawless in every way, totally without sin, appears to be wicked … one who does not serve God. This is the way in which the sins of the world were laid upon Jesus. God’s judgment over your sin was “hard against” his own Son so that you could have freedom, release from debt, forgiveness, and life everlasting. Through Christ’s saving death, he reconciled all things in heaven and on earth, “making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1:20).

Another name for this Last Sunday in the Church Year is “Christ the King Sunday.” At the end of the Church Year, we think about the end of time, the return of the Lord, the culmination of all history. The theme of this day is repentance, hopeful joy, and confident anticipation, and this carries over into Advent next week and the weeks ahead. With our eyes on the Last Day, our eyes are on the Crucified One … our King. The inscription of above his head declares him King. Jesus is enthroned on his cross.

The righteous King speaks words of forgiveness from his throne. Even while hanging on the cross, he speaks words of love, words of forgiveness to the ones who were crucifying him. That includes you and me … our sins grasped those hammers and drove those nails into his hands and feet. And still, he forgives.

The wicked criminal acknowledges his crime. He says to the other criminal, “We are receiving the due reward of our deeds.” He acknowledges that Jesus has a kingdom: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And the King says, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Trusting in Christ, the wicked one becomes righteous. He who is repentant has his name written in the Book of Life … and it will never be erased or deleted.

The Word of the Lord through the prophet Malachi is for you who are marked with the name of Christ in Holy Baptism and who trust in Christ for your salvation. Your name is written in his book of remembrance. You are his. You are his treasured possession. He spares you as a man spares his own son who serves him. Yet God did not spare his own Son. St. Paul said in Romans 8, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). “He has delivered [you] from the domain of darkness and transferred [you] to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom [you] have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13).

In these Last Days, the Lord will strengthen our resolve to live as his people, to live in repentance and faith, to serve him, to love our neighbor, to be a light in this dark and dying world until he returns and says to you, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”


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