Summary: There is a deadline that is waiting for all of humanity - that final day of time when all people will need to be ready to stand before Jesus. However, this is a deadline that Jesus has transformed into our lifeline!
Deadlines. We all have them. A specific time at which something must be completed or there will be consequences. Whether it’s an assignment at school, a project at work, a bill that needs to be paid, an RSVP to a wedding reception that needs to be sent in. They all have deadlines – a figurative “line” that you need to be ready to cross. That word “deadline” is kind of an interesting one. According to Webster’s Dictionary, the word “deadline” was originally a literal line that was drawn around a prison that if the prisoner crossed, you put yourself at risk of being shot and killed. It was an actual dead line. Over time, the word has taken on a more figurative meaning. I don’t think that anyone is in fear of getting shot for not finishing their homework, or completing a project at work, or not sending in that RSVP for a wedding reception. However, there is a very real and serious deadline that the Bible describes for us. It is a deadline that no one can avoid, that every person will one day face. It is the deadline that is marked by the final day of time, when the world as we know it will cease to exist and all people will stand before Jesus for judgment. This deadline is one that we need to be ready for because it is coming, and it has eternal consequences.
That “deadline” is what the Old Testament prophet Malachi describes in the two verses that we heard read this morning as our first lesson. Malachi lived in the southern part of Israel about 400 years before Jesus was born. Over the previous two centuries, the nation of Israel had been slowly dismantled and devastated by enemy nations which burned the city of Jerusalem and the Lord’s temple to the ground and carried off its people into exile. However, there was now a Jewish remnant of people that had returned to Jerusalem, rebuilt the city and the temple. This was the period of time when the prophet Malachi lived.
Malachi was one of many Old Testament prophets who were directly called by God to speak God’s Word to God’s people. While there were many different prophets that God has sent throughout the centuries, the message had remained relatively the same. When you read through the writings of the Old Testament prophets, you see some common themes. 1) The prophets repeatedly called people to repent of their sinful ways for which they deserve God’s eternal punishment. 2) The prophets pointed God’s people to the promised Messiah who would rescue them from the punishment of sin. 3) The prophets described the end of the world, that day when God will determine if a person will spend eternity with God or be eternally separated from God. When you stop and think about it, all three of those themes really go hand-in-hand, don’t they? When you recognize your sin, you realize that we are not ready to stand before God on Judgment Day. It is then that you realize how we all need that promised Savior, someone to rescue us from the punishment that we deserve to face from God on Judgment Day.
Quite fittingly, you find all three of those thoughts once again in these closing verses, of the last chapter, of the last book of the Old Testament. Look again with me at those two verses from Malachi 4 where the Lord Almighty describes that approaching deadline for all humanity.
In verse 1 the Lord grabs our attention as he says, “Surely the day is coming” (Malachi 4:1). There is a singular event that is approaching. It is not merely a possibility for some, nor is it something that can be avoided. Denial will not make it go away. “The day IS coming.” What is this day going to be like? The Lord tells us, “It will burn like a furnace” (Malachi 4:1). This is a day that is described as a blazing inferno that completely consumes everything and everyone that stands in its path. You might think of the massive forest fires out west that consume anything its path, leaving only complete devastation and destruction in its wake.
Who stands in the path of the blazing inferno of that last day? The Lord tells us with these words, “All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire.” Well, sure am glad that none of us are arrogant, that we have never done anything evil. Alright, maybe every once in awhile, but there are certainly worse people than us, more arrogant people than any of us, right? But did you notice that this verse does NOT say, “The REALLY arrogant” or, “the SUPER, NOTORIOUSLY BAD people.” There are no degrees of arrogance or evil here. It just says the arrogant and every evildoer. So, have you ever pulled into your driveway after church and looked over at your neighbor walking out in his pajamas to get the newspaper and thought, “At least I go to church?” Have you ever watched the news and thought, “I would never treat my spouse or my child that way?” Have you ever looked at the addict or the homeless person and just shook your head in disgust? Have you ever read the Bible and thought, “God, I hear what you’re saying, but… that person really had it coming to them! …I would have lost my job had I not done that! …you don’t really want me to be unhappy, do you, Lord?” Arrogant and doers of evil is not just what other people are. It’s what every one of us is!