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!
We are the ones that rightfully deserve to face that consuming fire of that last day. And it’s not just a punishment that lasts a little while, or for some temporary purging that will eventually diminish over time. Did you notice how the Lord describes this punishment? He says, “Not a root or a branch will be left to them” (Malachi 4:1). Even after a massive forest fire, how quickly the sprouts begin to pop through the charred ground. While the fire was absolutely devastating these little sprouts are signs of hope and life. There is no signs of hope or life for those who face the consuming fire of that Last Day. This punishment is eternal and without end. Wow! This is one serious deadline! To stand before God covered in arrogance and sin is a truly terrifying thought!
But that deadline doesn’t need to be terrifying. In fact, for you, it’s not! For us, that last day of time is not so much a DEADLINE as it is a LIFELINE, that is, a crossing over into the eternal life that God says belongs to us. The Lord says to you, “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves” (Malachi 4:2). What a turnaround! The fear and terror of that Last Day has been replaced with frolicking and joy. How can that be? It’s because you know the name of the Lord. This is the powerful name that the Apostle Peter, quoting the words of the Old Testament prophet Joel, announced, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Joel 2:32/Acts 2:21). The name of the Lord Jesus announces rescue from the eternal punishment that sinners deserve. This is the name that proclaims peace instead of punishment. This it the name that declares life instead of death. How can that be? There must be some sort of mix up because I’ve seen my arrogance and I’ve seen the evil that I have done even I try not to. How can this be true?
It’s because we bask in, what the Lord calls, “the sun of righteousness.” Think about the rays of the sun which you might occasionally see in the upcoming months. The rays emanate from the sun and you soak up the sun’s warmth. You are recipients of what the sun produces. So also, we are simply recipients of the righteousness that the Lord has produced for us. That is the righteousness of Jesus that shines us, on our cold and lifeless hearts have been repeatedly stained by sin, that should be destined for the fires of hell on the Last Day. But Jesus changed all of that for us. The Apostle John wrote, “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). As true God, Jesus lived a life completely free from arrogance, evil and every sin. And although completely free from sin, he suffered for the sins of all people. At the cross Jesus faced the eternal wrath of God, that consuming fire, that we deserved to face for our sins. And why did Jesus do that? So that he could give his life and death to us. Because in his love, he didn’t want us to face that Last Day unprepared and separated from him forever.
That is the sun of righteousness that shines on all those “revere” the Lord’s name, that is, who humbly trust that Jesus has done what he says he has done, given his perfect life that completely covers our arrogance, evil and every other sin. You are right now perfect and righteous in God’s sight. Jesus has given to us his payment for our sins so that when we stand before Jesus on that last day of time, we will NOT face the consuming fire of his judgment because Jesus already faced it for us. Instead, we will get to hear Jesus say to us, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
That is the “sun of righteousness” that you and I live under by God’s grace. That is the “sun of righteousness” that we wake up to every morning and go to bed with every evening knowing that WHENEVER that last day of time will come, when we stand with all people of all time before Jesus as our judge, we can stand confidently. For Jesus, “the sun of righteousness,” has changed this deadline into our lifeline, a day on which our Savior will give to us the fullness of the life he came to win for us. What a day to look forward to! Amen.