Who can stand?
by Jack Wald | November 4th, 2005

Malachi 2:17-3:5

For just about two thousand years the church has been expecting the return of Jesus. The early church expected Jesus to come soon. Generation after generation has expected Jesus soon. From time to time people have been so caught up in this expectation that they sold all they had and waited on a mountain top or at the sea side for the return they so confidently expected. Sixty-seven generations later we are still waiting.

In those years new continents have been discovered. Despotic regimes have risen and fallen. Diseases have been discovered and cured. Mankind has gone from the horse to cars to airplanes and landed on the moon. We have learned to explore in space and on the floor of the depths of the ocean. We have learned to look through a lens and see the distant parts of the universe and look through another lens into the intricacies of sub-atomic particles. And still we wait. Year after year we remember the birth of Jesus. And we wait for what has been promised.

The prophet Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He delivered his prophecy about 430 years before the birth of Jesus. This was a time in the history of Israel when not much was happening. The miracles of Elijah and Elisha were now four hundred years old. The temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians, Israel had been taken into captivity. After seventy years they returned from the exile and the temple was rebuilt.

When the temple was completed, there had been an expectation that God would now reveal himself to Israel. Seventy years later as Malachi delivered his prophecy, Israel sat in poverty, continued to be occupied by the Persians and the promises of the past seemed more and more distant.

The prophet Haggai had said that the splendor of the rebuilt temple would be greater than the old temple, and that treasures from all the nations would fill it. Zechariah had said that their king would come to them (Zechariah 9:9)
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Zechariah also announced that a new fountain of forgiveness would be opened (13:1), a spirit of prayer would descend on the people for repentance (12:10-14), many nations would join the Lord, and God would be in their midst (2:11).

Put yourself in the shoes of the Jews with Malachi. They had believed that the temple in Jerusalem was indestructible because it was the dwelling place of God on earth and he had chosen the Jews as his people. But they had gone from the depression of the Babylonian destruction of their temple to the exhilaration of returning from the exile and rebuilding the temple. A huge fall and a wonderful rebound. Surely now with the rebuilt temple and all these marvelous prophecies that announced a king was coming who would be great, surely now they would see God reveal himself.

But nothing. Just day after day of poverty and oppression. The priests continued their ritual duties at the temple. The people continued to go to the temple. But they did so out of religious duty without any enthusiasm.

Malachi accused them:
You have wearied the LORD with your words.
“How have we wearied him?” you ask.
By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”

The people had two conclusions: If the temple is completed and still we are poor and under the occupation of the Persians, then it must not matter if we do good or evil. Doing good did not bring the promised king. Doing evil does not seem to change the circumstances. So it must be OK to do evil. In either case we continue to be poor and under occupation.

The second conclusion was: We were promised that justice would prevail but look around, where do you see justice? Tell us Mr. Prophet, you preach and preach but where is the God of justice? We don’t see him.

Malachi’s response was not to get into a debate and argue that there was justice. He did not try to explain why it seemed that evil was unpunished. He did not try to reason with the people of Judah. He did not try to convince them to be patient and wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises that would surely come.

Malachi preached to stir their conscience. The people of Judah were focusing on the externals, What have you done for me? Why is this happening to us? and Malachi pushed them to look inside themselves.

We are in a similar position to that of Judah in the time of Malachi. We live in the time that follows God’s redemptive work in Jesus. What Zechariah promised and the people of Judah were tired of waiting for, we have received. We look back 2000 years to the fulfillment of these promises when Jesus was born, the suffering servant who died for our sins.

But then more promises were made. Jesus said he would return and bring us into his kingdom and we have waited and waited and waited for this to happen. Year after year preachers get up during Advent to preach about the second coming of Jesus. How long do we have to wait?

Jesus is coming back. He talked about this time as recorded in Matthew 24:37-39
As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;  39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

It will be in a time like this, when we are not expecting his return, that Jesus will come. We will be excited about wedding plans for ourselves or someone in the family. We will be excited at the prospect of a vacation with friends and family. We will be excited about a new job prospect and the chance to do what we have long dreamed we could do. We will be excited about the things of this earth and then Jesus will come. The fact that Jesus has not yet come is not a negation of his promise. He will come suddenly, without warning. He will come. This is in the bedrock of our faith.

When Jesus comes, he will come as the triumphant king who will exercise judgement. This time, there will be no mistaking Jesus for a lesser figure. He will not come as a little child who will need protection from a king who wants to kill him. He will not come as a little child who will lie sweetly in his cradle, cooing at the strangers who come to see him.

Listen to the descriptions of Jesus from John’s revelation:
Revelation 1
I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands,  13 and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest.  14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.  15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.  16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.  18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

And again in Revelation 19
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.  12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.  13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.  14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.  15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.  16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

His eyes like blazing fire, a sharp sword coming out of his mouth. This is not someone you gaze at with loving eyes saying, “Isn’t he cute? I think he has his mother’s nose.”

How did John receive this revelation? Remember that he was one of the twelve disciples. In fact he was one of the inner circle of three disciples who spent the most time with Jesus. He saw Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus was revealed in his heavenly glory. John knew Jesus very well. Did he walk up to Jesus and say, “Hey good buddy, long time no see”? Not exactly.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.

How will you react when he comes? Jesus will stand in the brilliance of his glory with his sword of judgement to judge you and what will you say in your defense?

This is the image Malachi presented to his listeners.
“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.
2 But 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.

Week after week, year after year Judah called out for God to fulfill his promise to send a king and what Malachi preached was that the people of Judah did not know what they were asking for. “Suddenly,” Malachi said, “the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple… But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?”

We sang today O come, O come Emmanuel and Come, thou long expected Jesus. But are you ready for his coming? The images Malachi used to describe the coming of Jesus are that
he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.

What did he mean by those images?

A refiner is someone who removes impurities from a substance. If the material is silver or gold, fire is used for the refining process. The fire does not consume the metal, it refines. It purifies. It melts down the bar of silver or gold, separates out the impurities that ruin its value, burns them up, and leaves the silver and gold intact. Jesus is like a refiner’s fire.

The word that in the NIV is translated as “launderer” describes the profession of fuller. Fullers worked to prepare cloth for use but before cloth can be dyed, the oily, gummy substances found in raw fiber must be removed. Cloth that has not been properly cleaned, cannot be dyed, cannot be sewn, cannot be used. So the fuller made lye, a caustic mixture of ash and alkalis from plants. The lye was beaten into the cloth and then the cloth was rinsed over and over. Jesus is like the lye used by fullers.

Although we like gold and silver jewelry and fine cloth, gold and silver do look forward to being put in the fire and melted. Cloth does not look forward to being immersed in lye and beaten.

Jesus, said Malachi, is someone who will come to remove the impurities from us to make us suitable for heaven. Are we really looking forward to his refining process in us?

Jesus is coming, whether or not we call for him to come. And when he comes he will exercise judgement. He will come as the triumphant king with blazing eyes and the sword of judgement that will strike as he speaks his word to you.

You will come to him in all his brilliant glory and on what basis will you stand?

“Well Jesus, God knows (oops, I guess that means you), just a little joke, hah, hah. You know that I wasn’t perfect. But I was better than most people. I wasn’t like my neighbor who treated his wife so bad. I didn’t go to church all the time, but I was nice, at least most of the time. I made a few mistakes but then, doesn’t everybody? I wasn’t perfect but I was better than most people.”

Will this defense allow you to stand before the supreme judge who will determine your eternal life or death?

“Hey Jesus, don’t be so hard on me. I was the victim. I was the one the rich oppressed. I was the one who got trampled on. My husband cheated on me. Well, yes, it is true that I lied to get some things I needed but was it my fault that I wasn’t born into a rich family?”

Do you think Jesus will be convinced by our stories of how difficult our life on earth was?

“Hi Jesus, good to see you. Gee, I’ve talked to you so often I feel I already know you. I hope you took notice of all I did in the church. It wasn’t easy putting up with all the petty requests of people, but I did my work. Did you see how I organized a food bank for the poor? And don’t forget that I never missed a Sunday in church except when I was really sick.”

Do you think Jesus will be satisfied with our work we did for him?

“Hi Jesus, you know me of course. Did you catch my funeral? How many thousands of people came? I had a hard time counting. Never knew I’d be able to see my own funeral, but it was great to hear all the nice things they said about me. I think they may name the new school after me and a street as well. Three preachers spoke at my funeral. They said how pleased you would be to see me. OK now, where is my mansion?”

As you stand before the blazing eyes of Jesus, do you think it will matter how many people thought you were a wonderful person?

“Thank you Jesus for making me so wealthy. I tried hard to use the money well. I lost count of how many churches were started with the fund I set up. I finally had to say no to the organizations that wanted me on their board, but I helped them with an annual check anyway. I gave away more money than I can count. Well, actually I did count and if you want I can tell you how much it came to. Do you want to know the total with interest added or just the amount that I gave?”

Do you think there is a price that can be paid to ease past the judgement of Jesus?

I don’t think any of us will do better than John when he saw his revelation of Jesus.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.

The opening three chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans makes this case. (Romans 3:22b-23a)
There is no difference,  23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

Everyone of us, regardless of how good or bad we were in our time on earth will fall to the floor and be judged as unfit to enter heaven, our efforts and sacrifice insufficient, our reputation and charitable giving inadequate.

Not one of us will be able to endure the day of his coming. Not one of us will be able to stand when he appears.

We will fall at his feet as though dead. Our confidence in coming to him will be gone. The sin that we thought was so trivial will seem huge and we will see more clearly than ever before the extent of our willfulness, our selfishness, our self-centeredness that prevented us from following Jesus, walking alongside him. We will be without hope.

We will be without hope except our hope that we will hear Jesus say,
Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid. I died for you. My blood has paid the price for your admission to eternal life. Come my daughter. Come my son. I love you. Enter my kingdom.

Our hope, our only hope as Christians is that when we arrive at the throne of judgement, Jesus will speak up on our behalf and claim us as his own.

What does this mean? It means that if you have any illusion that you will be able to earn your way into eternal life or talk your way into eternal life, you are horribly mistaken. You are on a path to eternal death.

This morning we have communion in which we remember the death of Jesus when he paid the price for our salvation. When you come forward for communion, throw yourself at the feet of Jesus and cry out for his help.

What this also means is that you are no different than any other person who has ever lived or ever will live on earth. The town drunk who beat his wife and children and sleeps in the street and you are in the same position. The woman who murdered her children and you are in the same position. The vilest person in the history of the world and you are in the same position. All of us, regardless of how good or bad we are, are unfit to enter heaven and only by the grace of Jesus will we be able to enter.

You object to this? Won’t my theology help me? What about atheists and those who do not acknowledge Jesus as the son of God? Won’t the fact that I tithed and in fact gave more than 10% of my income to the church help? Aren’t I better off than those who gave little or nothing to the church? Doesn’t the fact that I never cheated on my spouse and loved my children and served my church and community make any difference? Aren’t I better off than murderers and adulterers?

And the answer is no.

When Peter stepped out of the boat on the Sea of Galilee and began walking toward Jesus, he wavered in his faith and began to sink. In his panic he cried out to Jesus, “Lord, save me.”

That is what will help me and help you. When you realize you are lost, sinking, without hope and cry out for help, that’s when you are in the right place with God.

Because we are human, we begin to think we are better than others. We begin to think we do deserve God’s favor and salvation. I call you back again this morning to your absolute dependence on God. Apart from his salvation, you have no hope.

When you stand before Jesus in all his blazing glory and his sword of judgement, this is your defense.

“Jesus, I have no defense. I am guilty. I see the depth of my sin. I am unfit to be your child. I am so sorry that I lived for myself. I don’t deserve it, but please have mercy on me.”

As you come forward for communion this morning, come with this prayer on your lips and heart. Throw yourself at the feet of Jesus and receive from him the food from his table: the bread and wine, his body and blood that was broken and shed for you. Come and receive life.