Advent 2c

Preached: December 16, 2012

Jesus Comes to Purify
Malachi 3:1-4

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Holy Spirit points us to Jesus through the words he gave the prophet Malachi to write, recorded in the third chapter.

“See, I am sending my messenger, and he will clear the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord, whom you seek, will come to his temple. The Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, will certainly come,” declares the Lord of hosts.

Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he is like the refiner's fire and the launderer's soup. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver. He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. They will belong to the LORD and in righteousness bring offerings. The offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in days of old, as in former times. (Malachi 3:1-4).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Bottled water comes in clear containers. They want you to see how pure it is. If the container was decorated nicely but the water was filthy, how disgusting that would be!

Our natural selves love to dress up how good we are and deny the filth inside. Jesus used the term “white-washed tombs.” Picture that. All clean and proper on the outside, but what do you find inside a tomb? The stench of death and rotting flesh -- much worse than dirty water.

What good news that Jesus comes to purify! He purifies you and me. Our inborn filth only brings death and hell. How much we need to be purified! How blessed we are that Jesus came to do just that!

A. How much we need to be purified!

Water purifiers will claim to produce 99.9% pureness. I don't think any claim 100%. That would be too easy to prove wrong, and people accept 99.9% as pure enough.

That mindset can pollute our spiritual thinking. We imagine God will be satisfied with “pure enough.” “If I try hard, isn't that good enough? 100% perfect is impossible. God can't require the impossible, can he? That would be unreasonable.”

But when Jesus returns on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead, his burning eyes will see into the darkest corners of your heart and mine. “Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap” (Malachi 3:2 NIV84).

Picture how fire refines gold or silver. It melts down the precious metal. Any impurity, even hidden deep within, is exposed and burnt away. When soap is mentioned, don't think of Johnson's No More Tear Baby Shampoo. Rather picture dirty, greasy wool waxy with lanolin. Once it's sheared from the sheep, the launderer had to clean it with powerful soap or lye in a process called scouring.

Do you really think you are good enough to stand before the holy God? Even 99.9% pure cannot endure his consuming presence. And how far, far short of that you and I fall! How much we need to be purified! And so did the people in the days of the prophet Malachi.

Malachi preached in the fifth century BC, the last of the Old Testament prophets recorded in Scripture. A remnant of the people of Judah had returned from exile in Babylon and rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. They weren't going to run after idols, as their ancestors had done. That had brought God's punishment. They had learned their lesson, or so they imagined.

They went through the motions of worshiping the Lord but did not give him first place in their hearts. In chapter one Malachi confronts them about their sacrifices. Yes, they were bringing them to the Lord, but instead of bringing the best, they brought the blind or crippled sheep. It's just going to get burnt up anyway. They also held back part of their offering, worried about having enough to live on. They're hearts weren't right with the Lord, so even their good actions were completely impure.

Who has first place in your heart? We come to church to worship our Lord but then think about other things. Is that giving him our best? We put our offering into the plate but then worry about paying the credit card bill. Are we trusting him to take care of us? How far you and I fall short! How much we need to be purified!

Remember, dear friends, any impurity in our heart makes all that we do damnable before the Judge. “Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?” (Malachi 3:2 NIV84). Think back to the bottled water. If it's only 99.9% pure because a grain of sand is in it, that's not a big deal. It's not going to hurt you. But if the impurity is botulinum, then it doesn't matter if the water is 99.9% pure. Even if it were 99.999999% pure, it's going to kill you. Just a teaspoon of that poison could kill a billion people, they say. And one sin, no matter how small, brings eternal death, the Bible says.

How much we need to be purified, completely purified, 100% clean! What good news that Jesus came the first time to do just that! How blessed we are! Jesus comes to purify.

B. How blessed we are that Jesus came!

“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple, the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:1 NIV84).

In Matthew 11, Jesus refers to these words and makes it clear that the first messenger mentioned is John the Baptist. The Lord sent him to prepare the way by “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3 NIV84).

Our natural self calls out, “Let me help out. Let me contribute to my forgiveness at least a little bit. Let me do something!” Deeply ingrained in the very core of our sinfulness is that desire for a piece of the credit, a tiny sliver of the glory. That's why our natural self wants to try to help out.

But that, dear friends, is the very thing that blocks Jesus from the heart. You can't help out. You can't contribute to your forgiveness. There's nothing you or I can do. Remember that water bottle. Even the tiniest measure of botulinum turns it all deadly. How much more my sin in me and yours in you turns all that we do deadly! With no hope in our own efforts, how we seek and desire the only One who can purify us from sin!

“Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple, the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come” (Malachi 3:1 NIV84). Jesus is the Lord, the Messenger of the new covenant, God's promise of forgiveness that he remembers our sins no more. Jesus is the Word, the Message, made flesh. And we prepare to celebrate his birth, because he was born to purify us from our sins -- to purify you, dear friend. How blessed we are!

What you and I were powerless to do, Jesus did, fully and completely. “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 NIV84), the Holy Scriptures declare. You are forgiven, washed clean, dear Christian. Not 99.9% but 100% clean, completely pure. That's God's covenant, his promise: a full pardon, complete forgiveness, flawless righteousness.

Only the blood of Jesus Christ, shed on the cross, purifies us. Trying to add any contribution from ourselves poisons us. Faith looks to Jesus alone. Only his blood purifies.

“Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?” (Malachi 3:2 NIV84). You can, dear Christian. You can, but only through faith that trusts Christ's blood, firmly believing that his blood alone fully purifies you from all sin. Such faith has abandoned all hope in yourself and leans on Jesus alone. How blessed you are!

And what is more, dear Christian, as you live in this faith, then your words of love and acts of service become pleasing and acceptable offerings to the Lord your God. The text talks about the Levites, who helped the priests. Through faith in Jesus you, dear Christians, are Levites and priests who serve your God as you carry out the roles he gives you in life. This is not just church work, but your service at home as husband or wife, as parent or child, your service at school, in the work force, and in the community -- all become pleasing offerings to your God when done from a heart purified with Jesus' blood. For through faith in Jesus, you are priests serving your God in all that you do.

Yes, your offerings of service are pleasing and acceptable to him as the last verse of the text mentions. Don't imagine that its your goodness or effort that makes them acceptable. Remember that faith abandons all hope in our own goodness. But just as Jesus purifies you so also he purifies your works, making them acceptable to God. That's what faith believes because that's what God has promised.

How blessed you are that Jesus comes to purify! How this changes the way we look at our daily life! As you study hard at school, as you cope with difficult coworkers, as you do the same household chore for the umpteenth time, as you pray for your family and your enemies, see it all as service to your Lord who purifies even our lowliest offerings so that they are acceptable to him. How this elevates all that you do because Jesus comes to purify! Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313