AGCC Sun. a.m. 1/27/2002
#8      (The "7 Questions of the Backslider" Series -- Malachi)


TEXT:  Malachi 4:1-6


For what reasons do you serve the Lord?

(1. Is it to be richer than sinners? There isn't a large distinction in the world between Christians and non Christians in terms of wealth, they can be found in both camps … so it not for money reasons that we are faithful to the Lord. (2. Is it to avoid diseases? Not likely, Christians get ill and sick just as unbelievers do. (3. Is it to be free of disasters? Not likely, Christians encounter troubles as much as unbelievers. (4. Is it to be popular and powerful politically? Yeah right!!! If anything, you would be less popular and targeted as weak!
One of the most important reasons to be faithful to the Lord has to do with our future, not just our present life. We are "banking" on a future when we surrender ourselves to God in the present. While we do have unique help when we love the Lord, such as healing, help in disasters, and even promises of God that He will supply all our needs we still go through many trials and tribulations while in this life, so the great benefits we get as believers has a lot to do with our future as well as our present. We are counting on God's promise about tomorrow … that all those who follow Him have a certain future in Heaven. This is a GREAT REASON to be faithful to the Lord because all of us will one day face a future life in eternity, so why not pick the right destination! ILLUS:In St. Louis, MO. there is a railroad switchyard. One particular switch there begins with just the thinnest piece of steel to direct a train away from one main track to another. If you were to follow those two tracks however you would find that one ends in San Francisco and the other ends in New York, two very different destinations, all because of one tiny switch in a switchyard in the middle of the country! Here is where God's Word comes in, it directs us to a very different destination than this world offers, but we can't stay on the right track unless we make the choice to switch the track from this world to eternity. What's your destination? -- Source - Unknown Even secularly minded people think about their futures … albeit not a very distant one, only the near future. They plan for retirement, they are careful to plan and discipline their lives now so they will be comfortable in old age. Why not plan even further? What about eternity? PROP. SENT:      There is a great reason to be faithful to God, it is called "eternity." While it is not something we often think about now it closes in on us every day of our life, drawing ever closer. The choice you make today will affect the life you have in eternity!

I. BACK TO THE FUTURE!     4:1-3

A. Fire Burning!     4:1 1. Malachi ends his book with a "wake call from God." a. "Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace…" b. There is a certainty about future life somewhere, either Heaven or Hell. c. While Israel continued in lethargy and indifference to spiritual things the future was quickly catching up with them, judgment was not far away! 2. Since Israel was living in rebellion this wake up call is a reminder that judgment is the certain future for them, hence the image here of fire and the furnace. a. So many today don't like preaching about Hell, it is not politically correct to speak of such a reality anymore, but popularity doesn't determine truth! b. Israel didn't want to hear about sin or Hell, or the fact that there may well be judgment for them just around the corner … they wanted to hear about blessings, joy, rewards, power, etc. 3. They had watered down the idea of sin and so had dulled their conscience about it. a. The world has always tried to change the labels on what is called "sin" … they will instead call sin "mistakes" or "errors" or use other terms less frightening until the idea of sin itself is gone. b. Yet, no change of a label changes the fact of sin, breaking God's Word is sin, no matter what new label you put on it! ILLUS:Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman told of a distinguished Methodist minister in Australia who preached on sin one Sunday. One of the Church officers came afterward to talk with him in his study. He said to the pastor, "Dr. Howard, we don't want you talking so plainly as you do about sin, if our boys and girls hear you talking so much about sin they will more easily become sinners. Call it a 'mistake' instead of sin if you must mention errors." The pastor went to a utility closet and brought back a bottle of strychnine that was clearly marked, "RAT POISON." He said, "I see what you want me to do, you want me to change the label. Suppose I take off this label of 'POISON' and put on some milder label such as 'ESSENCE OF PEPPERMINT?' Don't you see what might happen? The milder you make the label, the more dangerous you make the poison!" -- Source - Unknown 4. All sinners will face judgment one day, ALL! a. Malachi's "wake up call" was meant to stir them to change, to change their sinful ways. b. This is the reason Jesus and the Bible talked about Hell … to stir us to change our ways, and to remind us that there is a certain future ahead of us, Heaven or Hell. B. Faithful Blossoming!     4:2-3 1. God does not just tell them about doom and gloom however, this wake up call also included the promise of God's healing and joy if they chose wisely! a. God does not take delight in suffering or seeing people go to Hell, in fact He tries in every way to entice us toward Heaven by the promises of joy and wholeness! b. What a contrast those who revere God's name experience from those who will face judgment … the righteous will experience "the Sun or righteousness rising with healing in His wings…" c. The righteous will also "go out and leap like calves released from the stall" … the picture of exuberant joy! 2. The future has two possibilities … and the one we experience is determined by the choices we make now! 3. In stark contrast to judgment there is joy -- pending the correct focus of our life now! 4. The Jewish people had spent so much time on their physical wants and needs that they had neglected their soul and their future destiny … a scene still being played out in our materialistic culture today! ILLUS:"'Two things a master commits to his servants' care,' someone said, 'the child and the child's clothes.' It would be a poor excuse for the servant to say, at his master's return, 'Sir, here are all the child's clothes, neat and clean, but the child is lost!' "It is the same way with the account that many will give to God of their souls and bodies at the great day. 'Lord, here is my body. I was very grateful for it. I neglected nothing that belonged to its content and welfare. But as for my soul, that is lost and cast away forever. I took little care and thought about it!'" -- Flavel -- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Quotable Spurgeon, (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, Inc, 1990) 5. One day it will only be the righteous that stand triumphantly, but Israel was trading away their future victory for immediate desires that were only materialistically oriented. a. Their forefather's had lived for the future … the promise of a "better city," a "better dwelling place," a "promise land." b. They had neglected this forward way of thinking, their forefather's hopes and dreams of a future had encouraged righteous living in the present, and if Israel would only go to a "BACK TO THE FUTURE" mindset like their forefathers they too would find righteous living a possibility again. II. BACK TO THE FATHERS     4:4-6 A. Fickleness Banished     4:4 1. Malachi asks them to remember the covenant that Moses had brought them, while their forefathers had wandered in a desert. a. Their forefathers had wandered and trusted God because they were thinking of the future … a "promise land" awaited them! b. This hope of tomorrow had inspired them to survive in the desert! c. It was the hope of the promise land that had helped them overcome obstacles in their immediate present circumstances! d. AND it is the hope of Heaven that can spur us on to endure the present difficulties of life today too! e. This is not a cop-out theology, it is motivational for present living! 2. Israel would have to quit wavering in her decision about God and the future she could have. a. They wanted everything, all the things sin could bring now and something good for tomorrow too! b. This is why they misused their resources, failed to give their tithes, broke up their marriages in divorce … but then complained to God about how He was not blessing them! 3. They were going to have to decide what they really wanted, they could no longer have a half hearted commitment to God! a. So often like them we say we are committed, but our actions speak otherwise! ILLUS:"It's Monty Williams. He wants to know if he can audit your discipleship class on 'Total Commitment.'" -- Cartoonist Rob Suggs in Leadership, Vol. 12, no. 3. b. Commitment must be in reality, not just in desire. 4. They were having a hard time accepting Malachi's admonition, his call to make a choice, they preferred compromise, it was less demanding. a. They were half heartily worshipping God, they only gave sick and diseased animals for sin offerings. b. They did put something in the offering plate, just not a tithe. c. They did identify themselves as the sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob … but they didn't live out the faith of their forefathers. 5. They didn't want to take sides, they liked the middle of the road approach to commitment … but this can be hazardous! ILLUS:We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run over. -- Aneurin Bevan -- As quoted in Bob Phillips, Phillips' Book of Great Thoughts & Funny Sayings, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1993), p. 169. a. All the middle of the road would bring them is spiritual death! b. They were miserable as sinners, and miserable as half hearted believers! 6. God calls them back to the commitment of their covenant with God through Moses so they can be sure of their future! B. Final Battle     4:5 1. As an extra warning God will send "Elijah" before the "day of the Lord" arrives, the day of fixing judgment. a. God makes many attempts to warn of sin's nature and consequences before He acts in judgment. b. In fact, God is slow in anger and judgment, abounding in love! This is stated over and over again in the Old and New Testament! Joel 2:13 "… Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity." 2. God is telling Israel that BEFORE the final judgment comes He will send yet one last final warning through the coming of one like Elijah. (fulfilled in John the Baptist) 3. God gives ample warning before He acts in judgment. a. Even today, there are ample warnings in the Scriptures concerning the future and what is coming, yet how many heed these warnings? b. God has sent many prophets, prophecies, and warnings. (1. Some of these prophecies have been fulfilled in our very day! (2. Others will be soon! (3. Jesus is coming soon … will you be ready? 4. God will not force you to love Him nor follow Him, this is your choice … but He does let us know that our future reality is based on the choice we make now! ILLUS:God has no need of marionettes. He pays men the compliment of allowing them to live without him if they choose. But if they live without him in this life, they must also live without him in the next. -- Leon Morris - Edythe Draper, Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992). Entry 1142. C. Faith's Benefits     4:6 1. One of two things will happen when we truly realize that there are two future possibilities: a. We will return to God, or we will run away from Him. b. If we return to Him, He will heal the most important things, first our soul, then the family, and then the culture; but if we turn away from Him then our land will be cursed! c. This was part of the meaning of this last verse when Malachi says: "He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse." Mal 4:6 d. They must not underestimate the power of choices and the impact that those choices have on tomorrow! 2. The hope is for turning the hearts of the fathers toward their children and vice versa. a. It may also mean that if they return to God they are in a sense as children returning to their fathers who embraced God, thus they once again truly become the descendants of the father's of faith like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. b. In faith their hearts become one again with those who went before them in faith … and who they will one day see again as they live by faith in the kingdom of Heaven! 3. Don't underestimate the power of choice and its impact on tomorrow … we may never know how powerful our choice to follow God can be on those who come after us too! ILLUS:Max Jukes lived in New York. He did not believe in Christ or in Christian training. He refused to take his children to church, even when they asked to go. He has had 1,026 descendants; 300 were sent to prison for an average term of thirteen years; 190 were public prostitutes; 680 were admitted alcoholics. His family, thus far, has cost the state in excess of $420,000. They made no contribution to society. Jonathan Edwards lived in the same state, at the same time as Jukes. He loved the Lord and saw that his children were in church every Sunday, as he served the Lord to the best of his ability. He has had 929 descendants, and of these 430 were ministers; 86 became university professors; 13 became university presidents; 75 authored good books; 7 were elected to the United States Congress. One was vice president of his nation. His family never cost the state one cent but has contributed immeasurably to the life of plenty in this land today. -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 195. 4. And so, what will your choice be today? It will have a profound impact on both your future and others tomorrow! a. We have a great reason to be faithful to God … our very future is at stake! b. And yet, that future impacts the present too … so what choice will you make? c. Israel chose foolishly many times … so have we! Yet, God continued to warn and send signs as He still does to let us know that the future is catching up with us, will we be ready for it when it comes? d. We can be ready, if we are in Christ and our sins washed away. Are you ready if it comes soon? CONCLUSION:    The future has a way of catching up with us at some point … and the reality of the future, both Heaven and Hell, gives us a great reason to live right today! People who don't prepare for retirement before they get there usually have little when it comes, the same is true with spiritual investments. What's your future look like? Will your investments pay off?