Summary: Scripture demands that discernment (not infallibly, however)be made between those truly converted and those unconverted.
"DISCERN BETWEEN THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE WICKED"
1. Turn to the last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi. I would like for us to begin reading at Malachi 3.13. Please stand, and we will read together Malachi 3.13-18: "Your words have been stout against me, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee? Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the LORD of hosts? And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered. Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not."
2. Malachi was written about 425 years before the birth of Christ, during a very dark period in Jewish history. It had been about 12 centuries since the children of Israel were delivered from Egyptian slavery and brought into the Promised Land. But since then, with the notable exceptions of kings David, Solomon and Josiah, there had been an almost continual national and spiritual downhill slide throughout their history.
3. Almost 200 years before Malachi’s time the Babylonian army had laid siege to Jerusalem, leveling the city and taking almost the entire population of those not slain in battle or starved to death into captivity. What dark days those had been.
4. It had seemed like a marvelous dream for the captivity to end after 70 years, just as Jeremiah had predicted. Psalm 126 records the mood of the people: "When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The LORD hath done great things for them. The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad."
5. But profound discouragement set in when only 50,000 Jews actually chose to return to the Promised Land. How could they rebuild without people? The efforts of Ezra and Nehemiah and several others raised up by God helped somewhat, but the situation was still extremely bleak.
6. Things seemed dismal beyond belief in the land. The Temple had been rebuilt, but it was a shabby and cheap imitation of the glorious original Temple built by Solomon. The priesthood had been restored and sacrifices were being offered, but the priests were corrupt and complacent. The people had no respect for them.
7. Any objective observer could tell that the people had already sunk to a depth of sin that exceeded the former iniquities which had brought on the judgment of God by first the Assyrians and then the Babylonians. Would the people learn nothing from the past? It seemed as though they would not.
8. Because the limitations of time prevent me from giving to you a full landscape of the history that lay back of our text, allow me to lift from those verses that we have read four thoughts, the last of which forms the basis of my sermon this morning.
9. First, in Malachi 3.16, mention is made of "those who feared the LORD" speaking often to one another. What an encouragement. In the midst of spiritual apostasy and barrenness God has preserved for Himself a remnant. And they seem to have an awareness of each other, since they "spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it." I would venture a guess that prayer meetings might be implied by this, and God was listening to their prayers.
10. Second, also in Malachi 3.16, we are told that "a book of remembrance was written before him," which is to say before God, "for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon His name." Mention is oftentimes made of the books God keeps in heaven, in which records are kept of the sins and the wickedness of the unsaved, which will be used to judge them in the end, Revelation 20.12. But here we are told that God keeps records, also, of the deeds of those who are His Own. So, God listens to prayers and God remembers what you’ve done for Him . . . if you are His child. If not, He remembers what you have done to Him.