Summary: what God through Jesus is willing to do to accomplish the work of purification and salvation in us.
Scripture: Malachi 3: 1-4
Title: Potty Theology
Theme: This scripture informs us what God through Jesus is willing to do to accomplish the work of purification and salvation in us. The messenger has come and is coming! Are we allowing him to work in us?
Come in with a shepherd’s outfit (bathrobe with towel on head) on, pretending to look at the manger adoringly. Then rip off the head piece and grab up the toilet brush and bleach.
(Idea for introduction taken from sermon by Daniel Habben on SermonCentral.com)
When you think of Christmas and the Messiah, what images are in your mind? A stable with animals, or shepherds – like the ones that we just sang about. Maybe you also think of angels as they proclaim “Peace on earth and good will to all!” as the baby lays in the manger. But would you ever think about Jesus in housecleaning attire getting ready to clean the toilets? (At this point get the toilet cleaning supplies).
Well if you had asked the prophet Malachi what images he thought about when he pictured the Messiah that’s just how he might have described him. God had told Malachi that the Messiah would come as one who purifies and cleans with fuller’s soap.
Let me explain. The prophet Malachi lived about 400 years before Christ was born. One hundred years had passed since the Hebrews had returned from their exile in Babylon and it was as if God was starting over with his chosen people. Those who had refused to worship God were gone now and this new group was going to be the ones who ushered in the new era of the Messiah.
Things started out well. The Hebrews came home and dedicated themselves to rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and the temple of the Lord. But this enthusiasm did not last long. They began to get greedy and spend more time building themselves big homes than to focus on the temple. They began to intermarry with pagan cultures after God told them not to. They began to cheat, lie, and steal. And not just the people, but the priests were guilty of this too!
Now, one would think that God would just throw in the towel with this bunch of people. After all, their track record for faithfulness to the Lord was not so good. They complained and turned their backs on God whenever things were going badly. They thought that if they could just do things their own way that everything would be better. When things were going good, they patted themselves on the back instead of recognizing God’s power and grace in their lives.
Aren’t we often like the Israelites? We complain when things don’t go our way! We too, turn our backs on God, believing in our own power instead of the power of God in our lives. And when things are going good, we too often pat ourselves on the back, giving ourselves credit instead of God.
So, why has God not given up on us? Because he loves us so very much! Instead of telling the prophet Malachi that the people would be punished for their unfaithfulness, God told him that he would send “the messenger of the covenant” who would purify the temple and its priests in preparation for the full advent of God the judge. Once the temple had been cleansed and God’s house prepared for him, then God would come to set right the injustices of the world. God would come to restore the hearts of humankind.
Malachi told the people that the Messenger would come as a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap.
Refiner’s fire: Silver doesn’t come out of the ground all shiny and clean. In fact, it is only 1% silver, 99% other stuff. In order to remove the impurities and get to the silver, it has to be crushed, sifted, and heated in the fire. Then when the impurities are all gone, the silver begins to shine – enough so that a reflection can be seen in it. God is refining us – removing all the impurities so that His reflection can be seen in each of us.
Indeed, the Messiah has come to refine us, to purify our hearts so that his holiness and glory can be reflected through our lives, but the next analogy is equally as important.
Fuller’s soap: The fuller was the one who was responsible for cleansing and dying garments. Before cotton, wool, linen or animal skins could be dyed, they had to be cleansed from the oily and gummy substances naturally found on the raw fiber. Many different substances were used during the ancient times for cleansing the materials. They didn’t just have a bottle of Gain around. In fact, being a fuller was quite a nasty business. The fuller’s workplace was usually located far from the downtown business section of the city. Why? Because of the smell.