The Sunday of Fulfillment
November 20-21, 2010
Text: Malachi 3:13-18
Dear Friends in Christ,
When I was a kid, movies taught the lesson that crime does not pay. There was a zany movie about a guy who had a plan to break into the government print shop where they print the money and print a bunch for himself. He assembled a nutty group of crooks who pulled it off, in spite of the fact that their safe cracker was deaf and so forth. But then, the money was stacked in boxes in the ally and the trash man came along and carted it all off. So in the end, for all their work, they had nothing. Their crime did not pay. In the 1960's there were the crime as justice movies, like Jane Fonda’s Cat Ballou. She took revenge on the railroad men for killing her father. For this she became an out law and was almost hung. Her escape from the hangman is one of the funniest scenes in the history of movies. Lee Marvin’s drunken gunfighter is unforgettable. But today, many movies glorify crime. The criminal satisfying his greed and lust is the hero. This then is also reflected in video games like Grand Theft Auto where you win by stealing the most cars.
In real life, it is little better. Bill Gate became a billionaire by purchasing a key piece of software from IBM. He didn’t invent anything. He didn’t innovate in any way. He just understood that every computer would need this software and if he owned the rights to it, he would get rich. Many of the wealthy simply get that way by moving money around here and there in the markets. Kids go to college, specifically to learn how to do this. Politicians line their own pockets even as they run the country into the ground. A recent song accused politicians of stuffing their pockets while Rome is burning. Congressman Charlie Rangel was convicted by the House Ethics Panel of major corruption and all he is getting is a censure - an official reprimand. We certainly could never get away with the thing’s he’s done. We’d go to jail.
When we look at the world, we wonder, does it even pay to be honest? Does it benefit us to do good? Often, in the world, it doesn’t appear that it does. We hear sayings like no good deed goes unpunished. The Jews in 400 B.C. were thinking the same things. Following the will of God was not a good thing. The wicked prospered and the righteous often suffered.
Malachi was the last of the Old Testament Prophets. And it is pronounced Mal-a- ki not Ma-lach-ee. He was a Jew not an Italian. Malachi was active as a prophet around 400 B.C. This would also be close in time to the death of the Prophet Zechariah. The temple and Jerusalem had been rebuilt. They had peace within the Persian empire. Yet, many who were their enemies lived in lands around them. They often seemed to prosper more than the Jews did.
Christ also warned in the New Testament that people of the world would often seem better off than the people of God. Christians would often suffer at the hands of the world. We see this to this very day. More Christians were martyred for the faith in the 20th century than in all the previous centuries combined. From a worldly standpoint it is not a good thing to be Christian. It might cause you poverty. It might even cost you your life. And what happens to those who do these things to Christians? They go on their merry way and prosper.
Through the Prophet Malachi, God responds to this situation. He makes a book of remembrance. Does God need a book to remember these things? No, of course not. But it is a frequent image and I would suggest that God does have a literal book. What is written in a book does not change. It has an official character to it. God records the evil deeds done to His children. They are written in the book. They will not be forgotten.
Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. Many fear this. It will be the end of this world. We are unable to understand what will come after this. Yes, we are told that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. They will be without sin. We will live there in peace and joy. But these things are so far beyond our experience that we cannot even imagine them - at least not with any great confidence. So people fear this. We also fear the judgement of God. As sinners this is natural. There should always be a sense of fear when dealing with God. But there is also great confidence - a certain hope. We know what is written in that book. We know that when God opens it to our page, He will not see our sins, but instead will see the cross of His Son, Jesus Christ. That is the official record for each of us. But we also know that this is not so for the wicked. When God opens the book, He will not see the cross. He will instead see all the evil that they have done.
This book of remembrance will be the basis for a distinction. In the judgement we will see who is righteous and who is evil. All will be revealed. The distinction will be clear. Here will be the sheep and there will be goats. Here will be those who trust in the cross of Jesus Christ and there will be those who reject the cross. It will be clear to everyone who is righteous and who is evil.
When Christ comes He will take the believers to heaven, to live in the new heaven and the new earth. How that exactly will work, I cannot say. But I can say this. There will be no sin. We will no longer sin. And those who remain in their sin will no longer be there among us. We will be separated from them. Christ, tells us that there will be a great gulf between us and the wicked. There is no way to cross between them. The wicked will bother us no more. The distinction will have been made.
Christ promises to make a Book of Remembrance, and on the last day to clearly distinguish between righteous and the wicked. Though we often see the wicked prosper in this world, they will not prosper in eternity. They will be cast into the outer darkness. The righteous will be in the new heaven and the new earth. They will be gather together with all the righteous. That’s part of what makes it heaven. Not only will we be with Christ our Savior, but with all Christians from throughout the ages. As a child I thought it would be neat to see Moses, David, and the other saints of old. As I’ve gotten older, my sights are lower, and closer to home. I look forward to seeing my brothers, father, grandparents and the like. To be gathered with them at the table with my Savior, that is paradise indeed.