Last Sunday of the Church Year
Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Malachi 3:13 “‘Your words have been arrogant against Me,’ says the Lord. ‘Yet you say, What have we spoken against Thee?’ 14 You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept His charge, and the we have walked in mourning before the Lord of hosts?’ 15 ‘So now we call the arrogant blessed; not only are the doers of wickedness built up, but they also test God and escape.’ 16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord who esteem His name. 17 ‘And they will be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.’ 18 So you will again distinguish between the righteousness and the wicked, between the one who serves God and one who does not serve him.’”
When my oldest daughter River was little girl she had a stuffed mouse, which she named, “Favor Baby.” The name identified the stuff rodent as her most beloved and treasured possession. It was always near. When she climbed into bed at night or for an afternoon nap, “Favorite Baby” was right there with her, if not a search soon followed. She loved it and took pretty good care of it.
But as with all stuffed animals, eventually there came a time to give Favorite Baby a bath. Just as mom was going to drop Favorite Baby into the wash machine, River objected. After all the wash machine might destroy Favorite Baby or lose favorite her like a sock. After all, a dirty Favorite Baby is better than no Favorite Baby at all. When Favorite Baby emerged from washer and the drier, all clean and in good health, River was very relieved and very happy.
In the Old Testament lesson this morning we are presented with a fundamental spiritual reality. We live in a world of contrasts. Light and darkness, hate and love, good and evil, and the like. The Old Testament lesson contrasts two groups of people. 13 “‘Your words have been arrogant against Me,’ says the Lord. ‘Yet you say, What have we spoken against Thee?’ 14 You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept His charge, and the we have walked in mourning before the Lord of hosts?’ 15 ‘So now we call the arrogant blessed; not only are the doers of wickedness built up, but they also test God and escape.’ “
That’s the first group, not that we don’t sometimes do the same. But the text immediately moves to the second group. The second group are those who fear Him and trust in His promises. These the Lord God calls His “own possessions” and whose names are written in the Book of Remembrance.
In this context think of the Book of Remembrance as an inventory list. The repentant and contrite are His very own possessions and as His very own possession, their names are written in the Book of Remembrance. 16-17 “Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord who esteem His name. ‘And they will be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.’”
The Hebrew word in Malachi 3:17, is segoollaw, which means a “treasured possession,” “a jewel.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve been called a jewel once or twice in my life. “Ain’t he a jewel!” I suspect they didn’t mean the same kind of thing God means here.
In this context God has made us His “treasured possessions,” His “jewels” through the life, death, and resurrection of His only Begotten Son. Colossians 1:13-14 “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
The Gospel lesson this morning is one of the passion week and Good Friday readings. It might strike you as strange that it is this year’s Gospel lesson for the Last Sunday of the church year. The assigned reading though is making the lick between Christ’s first coming and His second coming.
It is only because of the life and impeding death of Jesus, that He could turn to the thief on the cross and say, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” The same is true for you. (Col. 1:19-20) “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross.” It is only because of Christ’s death on the cross that you can be made God’s very own possession. It is only because of the cross that you are a jewel in God’s eyes.
As the prophet Malachi stood some 450 years before the birth of Christ, he looks through the life, death, and resurrection of God’s own Son, and to the final day when, Christ will return in glory and collected His bride the Church. This is not only a historical look, it is a theological look into both of Christ’s comings. He sees the first and the second advents as two parts of the person and work of the Messiah.
To that claim that we are God the Father’s unique children, His very own possessions, His jewels is challenged in just about every corner of religious and civil life. I recently had a conversation with a friend. In that conversation I made a clear and unequivocal statement about the truth of the Christian Faith and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I followed that statement up with the statement that I am right about it. In response my friend said, “Well, what if another guy came along and disagreed?” No sooner had the last syllable left her mouth and I replied, “I’d still be right and he’d still be wrong.” The response was so quick it generated a chuckle from both my friend and a man sitting in the booth next to us.
Folks, all such challenges like this are challenges to the truth of God’s Word and to our unique relationship to God the Father. To all those people who challenge what it is God has said to and done for the people He has made His own possessions God says of them, “‘Your words have been arrogant against Me.”
It is this kind of thinking that the Book of Malachi addressed. It was one of the last books to be written by an Old Testament prophet. It was written because the Jews complained against God about the injustice they had to endure at the hands of unethical and unfaithful priests and political rulers. The faithful were struggling for their survival, while others prospered in their unfaithfulness.
In reality God had freed the Hebrews from bondage in Babylon. He had brought them back to the promised land. The temple had been rebuilt. They worshipped regularly and brought their offerings to the Lord as commanded. But all they could see is that things weren’t improving for the common man financially.
The Book of Malachi is the Father’s response to the complaints of His children. The book of Malachi began with the Lord declaring His love for His people, against the backdrop of their complaints. 1:2 “‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have You loved us?’”
The answer to the question is the Book of Malachi. After declaring His love for His very own people, God goes on to list how He has loved them. He does so in a kind of backwards way. Malachi writes that the priests profane the name of the Lord by an unholy performance of the service at the altar (1:6-2:9); that the people themselves reject their callings by wrong marriages, frivolous divorces (2:6-10), poor stewardship, half-hearted offerings, and empty service. Add to all this the fact that they were complaining about what they saw as God’s delay in judging upon their oppressors.
Easy to see why God said through the prophet Malachi, “Your words have been arrogant against Me.” The Hebrew word that is translated “arrogant” means “to do violence against.” To complain against God because of our circumstances in light of our sinful lives, is to “do violence” to the Lord God.
Even though we do this time and time again, and even though the Hebrews did it throughout over and over again in the Old Testament, God loved them, made them His treasured possession. The same is true of us, of those who fear and trust Him.
While the Lord’s words in the first three verses of our reading are words of Law, intended to humble us, God’s response in the next three verses are words of love, mercy, and patience.
God’s response to our complaints is to show us our complaints against Him are unjust and that He forgives us none-the-less. Throughout the Old and New Testament that God has shown time and again that He is a faithful, loving, merciful, and patience. He takes care of His “treasured possessions.” “13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)
Jesus rescued us by taking God’s punishment of our sin on Himself. The adoption as children, the remission of sins, and our admission into heaven, the new heaven and new earth was made possible because of what is recorded in the Gospel lesson– Christ’s crucifixion. That’s how much God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit loved us.
Having created and adopted us, He goes on to take care of us. God the Father, not only sent His only begotten Son to died for our sins, He established the Word and Sacrament ministry to cleanse us with the “washing of regeneration” “that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” (Eph. 5:26-26)
We are the Father’s own possessions, His jewels. We are the ones who have been chosen and separated. God has distinguished between the righteous and the wicked, “between the one who serves God and one who does not serve him.’” You were foreknown, predestine, called, justified, and glorified in the Water and the Word. You are God the Father’s very own possession, a jewel, whose name is recorded in the Book of Remembrance, the Book of Life. And one day soon you will be in paradise.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.