Summary: The Sun of Righteousness Will Rise 1) To burn the arrogant; 2) To warm the reverent

The 17th Century czar of Russia, Peter the Great, lived in a palace filled with exquisite artwork. Yet whenever he saw a sunrise he wondered why many did not awaken early enough to view one of the most glorious sights in the universe. “They delight,” he said, “in gazing on a picture, the trifling work of a mortal, and at the same time neglect the one painted by the hand of the Deity Himself” (Joel Pankow). There can be no denying that the dynamic colors and grandeur of a sunrise is more stunning than anything man can put on canvass.

Have you noticed, however, that in the last twenty years the sun has become an object of fear more than wonder? That neighborhood star of ours which puts on a show every sunrise and sunset, that gives us light and heat, and which can make all the difference between a blah day or a cheery one, is now seen as a threat. We’re told that the sun’s ultraviolet rays cause wrinkles, and even worse, cancer. So should we fear the sun? Not necessarily. If you apply sunscreen, the sun is a blessing. If you skip the Coppertone, however, be prepared to suffer the consequences.

In our sermon text this morning the prophet Malachi reports that, come Judgment Day, “the sun of righteousness will rise” (Malachi 4:2). The sun of righteousness is another name for the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Malachi goes on to tell us that Christ’s return will be great for some but terrifying for others. Or to put it as the text does: the sun of righteousness will rise 1) to burn the arrogant, and 2) to warm the reverent. Let’s turn our attention to Malachi’s warning and encouragement.

Malachi lived about 430 years before Christ was born. He lived at a time when God’s people, the Israelites, were tired of seeing the “wicked” prosper while those who did “good” had nothing to show for their efforts. God sent Malachi to assure his people that, in time, he would punish the wicked. But before they rejoiced at that bit of news the people were to carefully consider whether or not they were among the wicked. In our text God described the wicked as those who were “arrogant.” Was God speaking about the Paris Hiltons of the day? Was he ranting against overpaid professional athletes? No he wasn’t. The book of Malachi starts with these words: “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name… When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty…you profane [my name] by saying of the Lord’s table, ‘It is defiled,’ and of its food, ‘It is contemptible.’ 13 And you say, ‘What a burden!’” (Malachi 1:6b, 8, 12, 13a).

Ouch! Those words hit close to home. Have I, like the clergy of Haggai’s day, shown contempt for God’s awesome name? Have I dared to bring him less than my best in sermon and Bible class preparation? Have I looked upon my calling to serve you with God’s Word as a burden? With shame I have to say, “Yes, at times I have.” And therefore I am among the arrogant that God speaks about in our text.

If God’s spokesmen show contempt for his name, should it be surprising when parishioners do the same? And so God said of the people of Malachi’s day: “You flood the LORD’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant” (Malachi 2:13, 14). When God talks about the arrogant he’s not referring to people “out there.” He’s not speaking about those who slept in this morning and didn’t bother to come to church. He’s talking to us, his people who come to worship, who even bring offerings, but perhaps have forgotten that worship does not end with the final hymn. Worship of the true God continues outside of church in the way that we treat one another – including our spouse. If we have broken faith with our spouse through physical or even emotional adultery, we have broken faith with God and are also included in those whom God considers to be “arrogant.”

Does this sermon not apply to you because you’re not clergy nor are you married? Well God isn’t done describing the arrogant. He said: “8Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it” (Malachi 3:8-10). The arrogant are also those who withhold from the Lord their firstfruit offerings. The arrogant see their time and their cash as their own. They make excuses as to why they can’t give the way God wants us to. They may say that they’re waiting for a worthy project to contribute towards. Or they’re waiting to make that first million. But what does God say? He urges us to put him first NOW. He wants us to determine how much of our income we’re going to give back to him before we spend on ourselves and give God whatever we have left over. Giving God 10%, 15%, 30% of our income might seem like a foolish thing to do but don’t arrogantly lean on your own understanding of how finances work. Trust God’s promise that when we put him first he will bless us so abundantly that we won’t have rooms big enough to hold all his blessings!

No, it’s not just the self-absorbed pop stars, nor the greedy first round draft picks that God considers to be arrogant. All who have made God # 2 in their life are the arrogant. That’s us, isn’t it? And that’s bad news because God says through Malachi: “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them” (Malachi 4:1).

When the sun of righteousness, Jesus Christ, arises, the arrogant, whom God compares to stubble, the leftover, no good part of the grain that has been harvested, will be so thoroughly burned that there will neither be root nor branch left to it. In other words, once God gets hold of the arrogant on Judgment Day there will be no hope of salvation for them. Their future is bleak because God’s judgment is fierce and it’s final.

So who can stand in the presence of the sun of righteousness and not get burned? Who will escape the flames of hell come Judgment Day? The reverent will. For while there will be no second chances come Judgment Day, none will be needed for those who have put their trust in Jesus. That’s what Malachi assures us of when he wrote: “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2).

Have you ever gone camping in the rain? It’s not a pleasant experience is it? You’re cold. You’re wet. And after a few hours of tossing and turning you’re seriously considering pulling up stakes and heading home to a warm shower and a bed, even if it is 3 am and you’ll have to drive hundreds of kilometers to get there. But what can make all the difference to such a camping trip? The sun can, right? If the sun should come out the next morning, it will quickly warm you and help you see everything in a new light. Mountains that looked foreboding in the damp fog the night before now stand as splendid sentinels begging to be conquered. After twenty minutes of standing in the rejuvenating sunlight you’ll have forgotten the dreary experience the night before.

That’s what believers have to look forward to on Judgment Day. Jesus will return to warm us and make us forget the pain and suffering we have endured here. But how can this be? How can Jesus burn the arrogant and warm the reverent at the same time? It’s simple. The reverent are wearing sunscreen. They are dressed in a robe of righteousness that Jesus made with his tears, blood, and guts when he died on Calvary and came back to life again three days later. The arrogant, on the other hand, foolishly dress in their own “good” deeds. They think that because they’ve been pretty good people that they will be able to withstand the sun of righteousness. Well that’s like a tourist thinking he can safely view a volcanic eruption up close because he’s dressed in his lucky t-shirt and shorts!

Friends, don’t be arrogant. Don’t view yourself more highly than you ought. Instead be reverent. Humbly acknowledge before the Lord that you have not always put him first and stop blaming others for your sins. It’s not the church council’s fault you don’t give God your firstfruits. It’s not your spouse’s fault that you’re showing more interest than you should in that co-worker. Just as it’s not your fault when I see my pastoral calling as a burden. That’s my fault, my sin, when I fail to see this work as a privilege for Jesus’ sake. The reverent are not only humble, they are trusting. They throw themselves on Jesus’ mercy confident that he has paid for all sin. It’s this confidence in Jesus that makes us ready for the day he will come to warm us.

So when will the sun of righteousness rise? We don’t know. We can say this though. The glow of dawn has been in the air for some time now. Jesus said that wars, rumors of wars, false prophets would all be signs of the End Times, as would the fact that his Word will be preached in all the world. I’d say that everything is set for Christ’s return. It has been for some time. So get rid of the arrogance and reverently put on that heavenly sunscreen, Jesus Christ. For only then are we ready to have fun in the Son! Amen.