God has blessed America like no other nation has been blessed. We were founded by the light of truth. Our founding fathers loved God’s Word and established a constitution that reflected integrity, checks and balances and vision for a people who wanted freedom from tyranny and opportunity to see their dreams become a reality.
Israel was also founded on truth. God established Israel through the Abrahamic Covenant and Israel continued to grow in might and influence, until Solomon’s dedication of the temple. Israel enjoyed tremendous prosperity and influence around the world at that time. Because of Israel’s worship of the Lord, God kept other nations from rising up. But when Israel forsook the Lord, God’s patience came to an end and He said, “Enough is enough.” God sent them in exile in B.C. 586. God, in His mercy, restored them to the land in B.C. 536 and the temple was completed in B.C. 516. But Israel combined pagan worship with their own worship by marrying foreign men and women. Fifty years after the temple was completed, God sent Ezra from Babylon to Israel to re-establish godly worship. When Ezra heard of the foreign marriages, he prayed for the nation.
3 So when I heard this thing, I tore my garment and my robe, and plucked out some of the hair of my head and beard, and sat down astonished. 4 Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel assembled to me, because of the transgression of those who had been carried away captive, and I sat astonished until the evening sacrifice. (Ezra 9:3-4 NKJ)
Ezra had to be hurting badly to pull his hair and beard out. Can you imagine the anguish he felt? Those who trembled at the words of the Lord assembled to him and strengthened his resolve. They were the remnant. Ezra was in so much anguish, he could not lift up his face to heaven, so on his knees, he prayed,
6 And I said: “O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens. 7 “Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been very guilty, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plunder, and to humiliation, as it is this day. (Ezra 9:6-7 NKJ)
Notice he included himself when he said “our iniquities” and “our guilt.” He had not personally sinned by a pagan marriage, but he recognized his own responsibility as a spiritual leader of Israel. Then he highlighted the grace of God,
8 “And now for a little while grace has been shown from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and give us a measure of revival in our bondage. 9 “For we were slaves. Yet our God did not forsake us in our bondage… (Ezra 9:8-9 NKJ)
God demonstrated grace so Israel could respond, but they did not.
13 “And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, since You our God have punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us such deliverance as this, 14 “should we again break Your commandments, and join in marriage with the people committing these abominations? Would You not be angry with us until You had consumed us, so that there would be no remnant or survivor? 15 “O LORD God of Israel, You are righteous, for we are left as a remnant, as it is this day. Here we are before You, in our guilt, though no one can stand before You because of this!” (Ezra 9:13-15 NKJ)
God loved the remnant and preserved it. How do you know if you are a part of the remnant?
In Malachi 1, God made the statement, “I love you,” and asked, “Why do you offer unclean sacrifices.” Israel naively responded, “We don’t think you do love us. How have you loved us? And what do you mean we offer unclean sacrifices?” God unsympathetically responded, “When you offer the blind, sick, lame and diseased offerings, it is evil.”
Then in Malachi 2, God sternly rebuked the spiritual leadership and said, “You do not serve glory to My name and you do not stand for truth. You also are indifferent toward holiness in marriage, in your children and toward my holy purposes.
So in Malachi 3, God warned that He was going to send his messenger, in fact He would send the Messenger of the Covenant to judge the people. He would cleanse the people for His name sake, because He gave His word to them and He does not change. So God said, “Return to Me and I will return to you.” Israel was thinking, “Return to You? What do You mean? We are back in the land and we have not gone anywhere else!” Israel was not connected to reality with God. The reason was that most of Israel was not in the remnant. How do you know if you are part of the remnant?
1) Most were not and found it useless to serve God 3:13-15
Israel was a picture of the people of God. By the time of Malachi, not all were believers. There were wicked unbelievers outside of Isreal and then there were those inside of Israel who did not fear God. God addressed them in Malachi 3:13,
13 “Your words have been harsh against Me,” Says the LORD, “Yet you say, `What have we spoken against You?’ (Mal. 3:13 NKJ)
Israel could not figure out God. They did not understand how what they did or said was “that” bad! Is God so thin-skinned that He cannot take it?
They did not understand the holiness of God. From our perspective, we may not use harsh words, but then we don’t fully understand the holiness of God. That is why God gave the example of the words of a child said against a parent, “And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” (Ex. 21:17) Are words spoken worthy of a death penalty? Only when you understand the “position” a parent is in as holy before the Lord and representing the holiness of God. Most of Israel did not understand. Instead Israel was frustrated and foolishly expressed that frustration,
14 You have said, `It is useless to serve God; what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, and that we have walked as mourners before the LORD of hosts? (Mal. 3:14 NKJ)
What was the profit? It was useless they said. What do we gain? The word “ordinance” refers to God’s Word. They were “mourners” in action, but it was a show, a dramatic performance, an emotional release trying to get God’s attention, but not in heart over their sin of indifference. They felt they should be rewarded by what they do. Jesus taught that they should be grateful they were delivered from Egypt, out of slavery and bondage. They were not servants of the Lord. They should be grateful for what God provided for them. Jesus said,
7 “And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, `Come at once and sit down to eat ‘? 8 “But will he not rather say to him, `Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink ‘? 9 “Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. 10 “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, `We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” (Luke 17:7-10 NKJ)
Israel should have said, “We are doing what we were commanded to do. We are grateful for the freedom we have to be in this land and Lord, You are our portion. You are all we need.” They were spiritual infants, who did not understand sin. They saw sin as overt rebellion or a violation of the Ten Commandments. Paul gave an excellent list of overt sins in Galatians 5:19-21. But that was spiritual infant understanding.
A spiritual child learns that, yes, sin is doing the wrong thing, but sin is also not doing the right thing. That is called passive indifference. James wrote, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (Jam. 4:17 NKJ) Failure to do right is passive indifference, which is sin.
When a person grows to become a spiritual young adult, he learns a third level of sin, which is acting independent from God. Faith at salvation is dependency on the finished work of Jesus for our sins on the cross. It is dependency on God by accepting what He did for us. God also wants us to live a life of dependency as Paul wrote, “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” (Col. 2:6 NKJ) When we do not, then we are independent from God, which is sin. Paul wrote, “…whatever is not from faith is sin…”(Rom. 14:23 NKJ). Whatever is not from faith (not dependent on God) is sin. Israel was like a child who had come in from playing in the dirt and tried to sit down to eat, not realizing the dirt on his hands and face and on his clothes. Israel was full of sin, especially of complacency, indifference and even boredom. Furthermore, they failed to have a righteous view of God when they said,
15 So now we call the proud blessed, for those who do wickedness are raised up; they even tempt God and go free.'” (Mal. 3:15 NKJ)
Israel looked at the people of surrounding nations and thought they were getting away with their wickedness. Israel thought they were being blessed, while they were struggling. It seemed the wicked were coddled and even delivered from problems. “How can they have more than us? That isn’t fair!” Israel likely thought. But God can never be unfair. Does anyone escape God’s notice? We will see the answer to that in Malachi 4:1.
While the ungodly found it useless to serve God, the godly chose to do the right thing regardless of circumstances, regardless of feelings, and regardless of what others did.
2) The remnant will fear the Lord 3:16-18
16 Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who meditate on His name. (Mal. 3:16 NKJ)
There was a remnant who gathered and humbled themselves before the Lord. Jeremiah wrote, “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jer. 29:13 NKJ) The remnant sought after God with all their heart. And God listened and heard them. Notice they wrote a book of remembrance. That was not for God’s benefit, but for their benefit. They did not want to forget the goodness of God and all of God’s good blessings.
My wife wrote this Notebook for us. She wrote two to three pages per year of our marriage on the 30th anniversary and she has added five more sections since then. It brings us great joy to reflect back on the Lord’s goodness and blessing through our marriage.
King Ahasuerus called for the book of the records of the chronicles when he could not sleep. As a result Mordechai’s life was spared along with all of Israel from the harm Haman plotted. Remembering helped the remnant remember God’s goodness through the trials and troubles they faced. But that is not all from this verse!
Note the repetition of the phrase “fear the Lord.” After the first phrase the text says, “the Lord listened and heard them.” In the Hebrew it is “cashav shama.” After the second phrase “fear the Lord,” it says, “who meditate on His name.” In the Hebrew, it is “Chashab shem.” They sound very similar and were designed to get Israel’s attention. Those who fear the Lord will meditate on the goodness of the Lord’s name and the Lord will listen and hear. That is very powerful!
Israel was going through the motions, but they remained in the darkness. The light was not rising over Israel. After all, most of Israel said, “What use is it to serve the Lord? What profit is there that we keep His Word?” (Mal. 3:14). Jeremiah understood the profit of serving and remembering. Jeremiah, who was sitting on ash heaps after the destruction of Jerusalem, wrote Lamentations. The stench from burning homes, hair, flesh and garbage filled the air. People were dead all around him and he wrote,
21 This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. 22 Through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!” (Lam 3:21-24 NKJ)
When Jeremiah wrote, “The LORD is my portion,” he implied that nothing else mattered to him. He was content with his portion – the LORD. He would hope in the LORD alone, because everything else was gone, destroyed and wasted.
The Lord, yet, kept His eye on the remnant. Malachi wrote,
17 “They shall be Mine,” says the LORD of hosts, “On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” (Mal. 3:17 NKJ)
The Lord said the remnant would be His “jewels,” His segullah, His “precious treasure.” And then the Lord expressed the deep connection to the remnant with the word “spare” as a man “spares” his own son. The Hebrew word chamal refers to the deep emotional attachment, the feeling of compassion, the action of taking pity on and desiring to preserve the person from trouble or from danger. And finally God said, they will then discern the remnant from the foolish ones.
18 Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him. (Mal. 3:18 NKJ)
God knows people; Israel did not. Israel called the evil good and the good evil. God’s preservation of the remnant would help them discern true character. Praise God that He preserves the remnant.
3) The Lord will preserve the remnant 4:1-3
This is the final chapter before 400 years of silence. The last words of people are considered very important. While God will speak again at the birth of Christ, He does not speak for 400 years. There would be 400 years of silence from God after this last chapter of Malachi.
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. and the day which is coming shall burn them up,” says the LORD of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch. (Mal. 4:1 NKJ)
The first line is like a command in the military. There are two commands to every command in front of troops. There is the preparatory command and then the command execution. The preparatory designates the individuals involved to listen up. The command of execution tells them what to do. For example if a company commander says, “Company!” the company immediately goes to an alert parade rest awaiting for the command of execution. The command of execution is the order for the next action to be followed, like “Attention.” Malachi 4:1 is the preparatory command and Malachi 4:4 is the command of execution.
”Behold” was designed to get Israel’s attention. It was coming to Israel. What was coming? The day of wrath was coming. It was meant to be a warning to those faithful Jews waiting on the Lord’s coming. What followed was why they needed to pay attention. The judgment was coming. The wicked would not get away with anything. The wicked would end up as stubble and ashes.
Burning was a common picture of judgment. David wrote,
9 You shall make them as a fiery oven in the time of Your anger; The LORD shall swallow them up in His wrath, and the fire shall devour them. 10 Their offspring You shall destroy from the earth, And their descendants from among the sons of men. (Ps. 21:9-10 NKJ)
And Zephaniah wrote,
18 Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the LORD’S wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of His jealousy, for He will make speedy riddance of all those who dwell in the land. (Zeph. 1:18 NKJ)
The wicked, the proud in their years of boastful arrogance would find their end like a forest fire that burned not just the leaves, but the trees, stumps and roots. They would be consumed. But the remnant had a different hope.
2 But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves. (Mal. 4:2 NKJ)
Those who fear the Lord’s name were part of the remnant. The Sun would provide healing, but it would also burn in judgment. The One who is a blaze of flame to the wicked is a warm bright sun to the righteous. The remnant are those who were healed, strengthened and just waiting to be released from the bondage to the Law. They would grow fat like a stall-fed calf. When released from a stall, Israel would jump and shout and whoop it up with tremendous joy in the Lord! The Sun of Righteousness is a name for Jesus.
3 You shall trample the wicked, For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this,” Says the LORD of hosts.(Mal. 4:3)
The wicked would become nothing but ashes from the Lord’s judgment and the righteous would tread them down. Ashes are the finality of judgment. This is not a believer’s revenge, but a result of the Lord’s judgment on the wicked at the Second Advent. This is the reverse of what seems to happen in history as the righteous often get the short end. But the Lord has prepared a day when it will happen.
So, why does God preserve the remnant? There is one reason. God has to preserve the remnant, because of His Word. He promised Abraham in the Abrahamic Covenant. God must keep His word to Israel to provide them a land, seed and blessing for the world. He does not change. There will always be Jewish people until the Lord returns.
The Lord will always keep His Word.
The remnant will always fear the Lord.
In 2001, more than 29.4 million Americans said they had no religion – more than double the number in 1990.
The percentage of Americans regularly attending church is 18.7%.1
Professor Alvin Reid shows that at least 41% of Americans are hard-core unchurched (have no clear understanding of the gospel, and have had little or no contact with a Bible teaching church), larger than the number of nominal Christians (30%) or active, participating Christians (29%). 2
Of the 350,000 churches in the U. S., …less than 1 percent is growing by conversion growth.”3
“Most evangelistic methods used today are ineffective in making disciples.”4
Evangelicals are not the fastest-growing faith group in America. Neither are Pentecostals. Nonbelievers are the fastest-growing faith group in America in numbers and percentage. From 1990 to 2001, which was the last good count, they more than doubled, from 14 million to 29 million. 5
“A full 72 percent of the people interviewed said they think the church ‘is full of hypocrites.”6
More than two-thirds of young churchgoing adults in America drop out of church between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two. 7
In surveyed mega-churches, nearly everyone, including visitors, described himself or herself as a “committed follower of Jesus Christ.” …barely 2% (roughly 500 people among the entire 24,900 survey respondents) said they were not a committed follower of Christ. 8
BUT…Roughly 90% of both groups claimed quite regular participation in worship services… Nearly 45% say they never volunteer. 32% of megachurch attenders give nothing financially.9
Every year more than 4000 churches close their doors compared to just over 1000 new church starts! (U.S. Census Bureau).10
There is no remnant in a nation today, besides Israel. There is no sacred nation, like Israel was. Today, nations will rise and fall based on God’s sovereign will. No nation will be preserved. There is no remnant like Israel that God will preserve, because He has made no promise to America, like He did with Israel. But I want to be a part of the remnant of the body of Christ. The Founding Fathers were of the remnant of the body of Christ. They stood up to the tyranny of their day. Yet it would not be easy. They only had one third of the nation that wanted freedom from tyranny. Two-thirds of the colonialists were indifferent or supported the English crown. Yet, the founding fathers rose up and fought against the oppression and tyranny. We have more tyranny today, more oppression from taxes, regulations, government tracking and drone work, more class and race division than any previous time. Of course, it is all in the name of trying to help the nation, but in reality it is government power lust. Do we rise up? Let me tell you what needs to rise up. Peter explained,
16 For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” 18 And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the Morning Star rises in your hearts. (2 Pet. 1:16-19 NKJ)
There are two sensory perceptions mentioned: sight and hearing. Peter recalled the Mount of Transfiguration and said, we have something more reliable, more sure, something that we can trust more than what we see and what we hear – the Word of God! You will understand it more as the Morning Star—the Lord Jesus Christ—rises in your heart. It is like standing in the woods when the dawn hits and you can see trees, but it is too dark to see anything else. As the sun rises, you can see more, but there are still shadows. When the sun is directly overhead, you can see everything plainly.
Let Jesus rise up in your heart. Stop just listening to teachers on the radio and television. Read and study the Word yourself! Get away from passivity regarding the Word. You learn it. You lead others. You join our home group team of leaders!
If Jesus is arisen in your heart, you will fear the Lord. Do you need circumstances to be just right? Do you need your feelings to be just right? Do you need people to be or treat you just right? If you do, then Jesus is not sufficient. Jesus has not risen in your heart. God’s Word is not sufficient. You are depending on something other than Jesus and His Word and He has not risen in your heart. Fear the Lord. Read Scripture, lead your family, lead in devotions.
1Stanley Presser, “Data Collection Mode and Social Desirability Bias in Self-Reported Religious Attendance,” American Sociological Review, v. 63 (1998): 137-145 (with L. Stinson).
2Alvin Reid, Radically Unchurched: Who they are and how to reach them, (Grand Rapids, Kregel Academic, 2002) , 21
3Alvin Reid, Radically Unchurched, 23
4Alvin Reid, Radically Unchurched, 24
5Christine Wicker, The Fall of the Evangelical Nation: The Surprising Crisis Inside the Church, (NY: Harper One, 2008), 63.
6Wicker, p. 75
8Scott Thumma and Warren Bird, Not Who You Think They Are: The Real Story of People Who Attend America’s Megachurches, (Hartford, CN: Hartford Institute for Religious Research, 2009), p. 5.
9Ibid, p. 7
10R. J. Krejcir Ph.D. What is Going on with the Church in America? 2007 (research from 1998 to 2006) Institute of Church Leadership Development http://www.truespirituality.org/
Message Based Discussion Questions
1) Can you think of a movie where it seemed the good people were mistreated, but were delivered in the end?
2) Whom does the Lord not spare (Is. 9:18-19)? ______________ What happens when wickedness arises (cf. Prov. 34:14)?
3) For what else does God have concern (Ezek. 36:21)? _______ ________________ What does He promise He will do (Ezek. 36:21-24)?
4) How long does God punish the wicked (cf. Matt. 25:46; 2 Thes. 1:7-9)? _____________ What should our attitude be toward the wicked (cf. Matt. 28:19-20)?
Making the message practical to life:
5) What kind of joy will there be in the future Millennium (Is. 65:17-25; Amos 9:13-15; Zeph. 3:19-20)? ________________ How should that help your perspective?
6) Why does it seem like wickedness does get away and is actually rewarded? Why do they seem to increase on earth?
7) When it seems like there is no justice for good works, how would you encourage another disciple to press ahead?