The grace that God offers

Malachi 3:1-5, Luke 2:21-40

As we heard in the introduction to the passage from Luke, Jesus was ritually presented in the Temple as an ordinary human baby, but would offend many by transcending religious practice and reaching out to save all God’s children.

According to Luke’s report, only two people in Jerusalem recognised this in the baby brought into the temple that day; Simeon and Anna.  It appears that there was a blindness or darkness over all the other people who would have been milling round the Temple, for no one else saw what Simeon and Anna saw, despite these two characters being known by those who came to the temple.

We may ask ourselves why was this so, why did only two people recognise that God’s salvation had entered into the temple that day?  Well, I think Malachi helps us here.  His book illustrates tarnished humanity.  However, before judging us, God will help us to clean up our act.  This process may well be painful!

I can remember as a child playing with my sister.  We were not really behaving well – we were throwing cushions at each other and the inevitable happened – one of us was wide of the mark and we knocked over a vase with flowers in it.  Water over the table and on the floor – we tried are best to clear up, using the said cushion to mop up the water!  Obviously it didn’t end well as we were found out and rightly told off.

So you know what it is like, a vase shatters, brushed by a careless elbow; a toy breaks, pushed beyond its limit by young fingers.  “It just came apart!” is the cry.  Fabric rips, pulled by strong and angry hands. Spills and rips take time to clean up or repair and money to replace, but far more costly are shattered relationships.  Unfaithfulness, untruths, hateful words, and forsaken vows tear delicate personal bonds and inflict wounds not easily healed.  Most tragic, however, are broken relationships with God.

God loves perfectly and completely.  And His love is a love of action, – giving, guiding, and guarding. He is altogether faithful, true to His promises to His chosen people.  But consistently they spurn their loving God, breaking the covenant, following other gods, and living for themselves.  So the relationship is shattered.

But the breach is not irreparable; all hope is not lost.  God is more than capable when it comes to healing and mending and reweaving the fabric.  Forgiveness is always available.  This is the grace that God offers.

This is very much the message of Malachi, God’ s prophet in Jerusalem.  His words reminded the Jews, God’s chosen nation, of their wilful disobedience, beginning with the priests (1:1–2:9) and then including every person (2:10-3:15).  They had shown contempt for God’s name (1:6), offered false worship (1: 7-14), led others into sin (2:7-9), broken God’s laws (2:11-16), called evil “good” (2:17), kept God’s tithes and offerings for themselves (3:8-12); and become arrogant (3:13-15). The relationship was broken, and judgement and punishment would be theirs.  In the midst of this wickedness, however, there were a faithful few, the remnant, who loved and honoured God.  God would shower his blessings upon these people (3:16-18).  As we read this book do you see a reflection of yourself?

God was tired of the way the people had cynically twisted His truths. He would punish those who insisted that because He was silent, He approved of their actions or at least would never punish them.  God would also punish those who professed a counterfeit faith while acting sinfully (see 3.5).  So Malachi paints a disturbing picture of Israel’s unfaithfulness that clearly shows them to be worthy of punishment.  But when you read the whole of this book you will see that woven throughout his message is, hope, which is based on the possibility of forgiveness. This is beautifully expressed in 4:2; “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.”

When I was a child, we lived right next door to a farm yard.  Often the barns and yard homed calves, before going off to market.  When we watched them being released from the barns they would leap and run around!  That image is the power of God’s forgiveness – we rise with healing and go out leaping like calves.  What a joyful image!

Malachi ends with a promise of the coming of “the prophet Elijah”, who will offer God’s forgiveness to all people through repentance and faith (4:5, 6). This was fulfilled by John the Baptist, who himself came to herald Christ’s coming.  He urged people to repent of their sins.  This was the preparation needed in order to receive Jesus when He came.  We know this is what John did because two of his disciples, Andrew and John, left him to follow Jesus! (John 1). But, this passage also points towards a second messenger; Jesus, the Messiah, so both Malachi and John the Baptist prepared the way for Him.

The book of Malachi forms a 400 year bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament. I encourage you to read it.  As you do, see yourself as the recipient of this word of God to you His beloved child.  As you do this, evaluate the depth of your commitment, the sincerity of your worship, and the direction of your life.  Then allow God to restore your relationship with him through his love and forgiveness.  This is the grace that God offers.

The image of Christ being “like a refiner’s fire” is vivid.  In the process of refining metals, the raw metal is heated with fire until it melts.  The impurities separate from it and rise to the surface.  They are skimmed off, leaving the pure metal.  Without this heating and melting, there could be no purifying.  As the impurities are skimmed off the top, the reflection of the worker appears in the smooth, pure surface.  As we are purified by God, his reflection in our lives will become more and more clear to those around us.  God says that leaders (here the Levites) should be especially open to his purification process in their lives.  And Jesus calls all to be open to His Fathers purification process.

There are occasions when I feel as if we are living in times that Malachi lived through.  So I have to be careful that I don’t fall into Satan’s trap of becoming disheartened with what is going on around me.  This is why books such as Malachi are so good, they reveal to us that God’s patience is endless.

The truth is we all sin.  Jesus calls us to allow God to restore our relationship with him through His love and forgiveness, for God’s patience is endless. This is the grace that God offers.

Based on a sermon from Sunday 2nd February 2020