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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Inscribed in God's Book
Text:Malachi 3:16-18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness
 
Preached:2016
Added:2016-07-17
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 126:1,2                                                                                          

Ps 103:4,5

Reading – Malachi 3; Revelation 20:11-15

Ps 37:1,2,3,16

Sermon – Malachi 3:16-18

Ps 56:1,4,5                           

Hy 73:1,2,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation, in the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa there’s a place called the Memorial Chamber. And right in the middle of it is the “Book of Remembrance.” It’s a large book set in a glass case, with the names of every Canadian killed during the first World War carefully written down, column after column, page after page. After each new war that Canada has been involved in, other books have been added, so now there’s several big volumes in that chamber. Just looking at all those names, you get a sense of the great sacrifice that was made. The “Book of Remembrance” is a way to honour all those men, and to prevent their names from being forgotten. 

There’s not only a “Book of Remembrance” in Ottawa. There’s also one in Malachi—or better, there’s one in the presence of God in heaven! For the LORD says that the names of all his believers are written down before him. We’re inscribed in his heavenly book, so that we won’t ever be forgotten, but forever upheld and cared for as God’s people.

This was exactly what the church needed to hear in Malachi’s day. He prophesied in the decades after the exile—but if you’re expecting joy and optimism in the land, you’re mistaken. These people are discouraged, down and out. From the very first words of the book, it’s clear: life was hard in those days, and the disappointments were many.

So where was God? Did He love them still? If they were going to struggle like this, what was the point of serving him? It’s not so different from the questions that a believer might ask today. Does God see my pain? Does God care, or is this all just random and pointless? And in this wicked time, when the church seems so small in the world, do our service and sacrifice really matter? We find our answers in God’s Word,

Through Malachi, God promises to preserve all who fear Him. We see this in:

  1. a holy desire in an unholy time
  2. God’s determination to remember his own
  3. the clear distinction between righteous and wicked

 

1. a holy desire in an unholy time: If you made a list of the key words for the Old Testament prophets, you could put on words like: sin, judgment, exile, repentance, and restoration. Another word on that list would be “remnant.” What’s a remnant? It’s only a piece, but it’s too big to throw out. That’s what God’s people were like in these days after the exile. They were small—much smaller than they’d used to be. But God wasn’t going to throw them out. He still had a purpose for them, and He still wanted to make something of them. It was from this left-over people that God will bring the Saviour!

Even so, being faithful wasn’t easy in those days. We hear that in verse 16: “Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another…” Notice how the prophet draws a line around this group of people, and he sets them apart. For the population of Judah was growing again in those days. The church had more people in the pews. But among them, these are the ones “who feared the LORD.” These are the ones who took it seriously.

Because there were other people who’d become cold about the whole thing. You could say they were stuck between the past and the future. The past for God’s nation had been glorious, when they witnessed so many of God’s mighty acts. Then there was the future: by Malachi’s time, there were many prophecies—so many visions of the Messiah and the Spirit and the new Zion! But where was Judah now? They were in between that splendid past and that hopeful future—stuck in a present that seemed empty of blessing.

Sure, the temple had been rebuilt. People were busy again with their farms and businesses, and church life had settled into a routine. It was now decades later, and there were lots of people in Judah who hadn’t been part of the deliverance from exile. So it didn’t mean so much anymore. That’s why when God says in Malachi chapter 1, “I have loved you,” the people’s answer is so hurtful, “How have you loved us?” (v 2). They had forgotten the promise of God’s love, and they had come to doubt his faithfulness.

Could that ever happen to us? That we stop appreciating the mercies of God? It can definitely happen, if we’re not seeing how his good gifts fill each day, or if salvation feels irrelevant to us, or unimportant. Then we’re sliding into that dangerous place of being discontent and dissatisfied. What has God done for us lately? He’s promised me great things, but all I have are empty pockets and unanswered prayers. “How has He loved us?”

And do you think that we’ll worship God if our heart is bitter? Will ungrateful spirits burn with zeal for the Lord’s service? Not likely. Why should we give anything to God, if He doesn’t give to us? So it was an unholy time in Judah. Malachi isn’t a long book, but God’ admonitions come fast and furious. During that time there was lots of marriage to unbelievers. Unfaithfulness in tithing. Poor leadership.

Just look again at 3:5, a whole shopping list of transgressions. God says, “And I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against sorcerers, against adulterers, against perjurers, against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, and against those who turn away an alien—because they do not fear me.” Such was the state of the church in Malachi’s day. And notice the root cause of all this sin: it was “because they did not fear God” (v 5). If you don’t think much of God’s glory, then you won’t think much of sinning. What’s so important about listening to him, anyway?

Now look again at that faithful remnant: “Those who feared the LORD spoke to one another…” (v 16). Finally, there’s a right response to God: they fear him. Not just believing in God, not just loving God, but fearing him! Bowing before the LORD’s holiness. Revering his glory, being in awe at his majesty, submitting to his power, depending on his grace, and being grateful for his favour. When you fear God in your prayers and worship and daily life, then you recognize that God is greater, wiser, and stronger than you in every way. That’s what God wants.

Later, see what the faithful are doing: they fear the LORD, and “[meditate] on his name” (v 16). Instead of thinking of all the ways that God isn’t blessing them right now, they give thought to what never changes: God’s glory. That’s what “meditation” is. Sometimes we think that meditation is kind of mysterious, that it’s overly intellectual, or it has something to do with yoga. But we meditate all the time, like when we have something that we’re worried about, and we keep turning it over in our minds, thinking about it from every angle.

Let’s meditate on something better. Take an attribute of God—perhaps a Bible passage about his faithfulness, or an example of his almighty power—and turn it over in your mind. Meditate on the LORD while you drive to work, or mow the lawn, or fold the clothes. Try it: take one of God’s attributes (his love, truth, eternity), and consider what it means for his glory, and for your comfort as his child. Such meditation gives strength and joy.

Malachi says that these who fear God also “spoke to one another” (v 16). He doesn’t even tell us what they said. But I think that it’s meant to contrast with that awful conversation that we find in verse 14, “You have said, ‘It is useless to serve God: What profit is it that we have kept his ordinance?’” No, the righteous have an entirely different conversation. They say, “How marvelous are God’s ways. How faithful are all his words!”

That’s still what the righteous can talk about today. To talk about the God who made us, the Saviour who saves us. It’s always easier to talk about the weather, or to talk about other people. We’d rather share our views on the economy, or relive the sports highlights. But let those who fear the LORD speak to one another about him. Try have a holy conversation, about holy things. “Let me tell you what God has done for me!” Such talk builds us up, and it also brings glory to God.

Jesus says that it’s from the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks, that from the heart comes everything in our life, good or evil. Those bitter people in Judah weren’t bringing forth anything good. But you can be sure that those who feared him and meditated on his name were obeying his Word. They married in the Lord. They gladly gave the full tithe. They worshiped sincerely. Because if you stand in awe of the LORD, you’ll also acknowledge that God’s path for you is always better. If you’re impressed by the greatness of God, you’ll acknowledge that his laws are always perfect. As Proverbs says, that’s always the beginning of wisdom: when we fear God, and we gladly find our direction from him.

           

2. God’s determination to remember his own: Let’s go back to Ottawa. The “Book of Remembrance” is there, filled with the names of the soldiers and sailors and airmen. The LORD, we said, has a book like this too. Because as God looks on his people, He doesn’t just hear the complainers. He notices the righteous: “And the LORD listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before him” (v 16). God listens, and God hears those who fear him!

 Keep in mind that this remnant of believers was struggling. Even as they gathered to meditate on God’s Name, they had to have felt sometimes that were talking into the wind, knocking on heaven’s door but getting no answer. It’s normal to think that, especially in times of trouble and evil. Have you ever wondered if your concerns are too small for Almighty God? Whether God really see your tears? But the truth is, God notices. He hears what you struggle with, He knows your troubles, and gives ears to your prayers! Not one message sent through Christ goes undelivered.

And to drive that truth home, God says that the names of the righteous will never be erased. Their faithfulness will not go un-blessed. Why? Because we’re inscribed in his book! Engraved in that heavenly volume!

This isn’t the only place that we come across God’s “book.” For example, we hear Moses pray to God after the sin of Israel with the golden calf, “If you will not forgive their sin, I pray, blot me out of your book which you have written” (Exod 32:32). Moses, as the mediator for God’s people, wanted to give up his own place in the LORD’s book. He would do that, rather than see Israel rejected.

What was this book? We’re probably meant to think about an official register of citizens. Back in the ancient world, cities and kingdoms would keep a list of the names of all their citizens. To be on that list meant everything. Because if you’re on, you can stay and receive all the benefits of support. Just think about how valuable that’d be during a time of war: to be allowed behind the city walls, where you’re protected and safe. But if you were missing from that book of names, or if you forfeited your citizenship somehow, you had to go outside the gates—alone and defenseless.

Malachi is allowed to see this kind of book, and he’s allowed to tell the righteous about it. God has a book, and they’re written in it. Which was good news. Just look back to 3:2, where God talks about his messenger, and the judgment He’s bringing, “Who can endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderers’ soap.” A fearsome cleansing is in store for the world, and for the church.

That kind of talk can make us worry. Who can ever endure judgment day? Will we too, be swept away, burned up? But Malachi tells us that God knows those who are his own, He knows us by name! When we live, and when we die, we’re not forgotten, but written down, remembered and preserved forever.

This is how John speaks of it in Revelation, where we find God’s book again. The scene of the last day is described, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who sat on it…” (20:11). This is the final judgment, when Christ will judge all people—when He’ll even judge the church! “I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books” (v 12).

Notice there are two books in Revelation: one, a record of the deeds of every living person, deeds good or bad. And another book, a list of names, the names of those who are citizens of that eternal city—this is the book of life. And you can see that in God’s judgment, these books are connected. What a person did in their life is the basis for the final judgment. Did you believe? Did you fear God? Did your life show that it was claimed by God? The books won’t lie. In many ways, it’s a terrifying to think about it, our works being brought out into the open. There’s much sin that we hide in our life, many unholy things that we camouflage and mask. We dread those books being opened, the ugly story of our life being read.

But if we have feared the LORD and walked in his ways, if we have believed in Christ as Saviour, we can have great confidence. Because by faith in him, his work cancels out our every failure, his blood covers our every transgression. Earlier in Revelation, Jesus says, “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life” (3:5). Beloved, if we persevere in faith, then we won’t ever be forgotten, but we shall be written in the book of remembrance. Page after page, column after column, God sees the full number of his elect in Christ. He sees them all. And by his grace, we’ll be among them. Even today, He knows our names, and He won’t forget. It means that nothing can separate you from his love in Jesus Christ!

If that wasn’t strong enough of an image, see how God speaks of his remnant in the next verse, “‘They shall be mine,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘On the day that I make them my jewels’” (v 17). If you go to England, you can see the Crown Jewels, the royal family’s stunning collection of gold and silver and precious stones. They’re kept under tight security in the Tower of London, but the public can go down into the vault and look at them, and then on special occasions the Queen will wear them proudly on her head and hands. That’s how highly God esteems us in Christ his Son! “On that day I will make them my jewels.” We are preserved by him, and precious to him!

It’s also how God speaks of his covenant people in Exodus 19:5, “If you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to me above all people.” Sometimes Christians will think that they’re worthless. For some reason we conclude that we’re unimportant to God—that He’s uninterested in us, or essentially uninvolved with us. But consider this: we’re his jewels, God’s special treasure, his crown of glory. Because of Christ, to whom we’re united by faith!

So even in the judgment to come, God will show compassion, “And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him” (v 17). Here we get an early taste of that New Testament reality, where God becomes our Father in Christ. There’s a real bond there, a bond of love and affection. Seek the Father in your prayers, seek the Father in your worship, because He will always have mercy on his children!

When you look at all these images together, you see that Malachi can’t be more emphatic about God’s promise. We’re inscribed in God’s book of remembrance. We’re considered his precious jewels. We’re like his own beloved children. Let this give you great confidence! And let it move you to be holy!

 

3. the clear distinction between righteous and wicked: In a godless environment, when you're surrounded by people who don’t serve God, there are many pressures. But perhaps one of the greatest pressures is the temptation to think that it’s not worth it to believe in God. Maybe you’ve thought that when you’ve seen the immorality in your workplace, or when you witness what goes on at university: people sleep around, they party all weekend, and they never seem to suffer for it. Actually, it looks like they’re having a lot of fun, living for themselves. Must be nice, to be so carefree. What do we do with that? Where’s our reward for being holy? Is it worth it?

Some people in Judah were thinking that way too. Marry an unbeliever? Didn’t seem to matter. Give God your rubbish as sacrifice? Nothing happened. Evil people seemed to be doing just fine, while the faithful were no further ahead. This is what some were saying, “It is useless to serve God. What profit is it that we have kept his ordinance?” (v 14). That leads to the terrible conclusion in verse 15, “So now we call the proud blessed, for those who do wickedness are raised up; they even tempt God and go free.”

This isn’t a new struggle. We find it in the Psalms, and in other prophets. It’s always the struggle: the wicked will prosper, and the righteous will suffer. We see it today too, throughout the world. So we may have to wait a long time for his blessing on our labours. We might have to pray hard for his vindication and reward. But surely as God is God, his answer will come. So Malachi urges the people to hang onto that. If you’re doing good, keep doing what you’re doing! “You shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him” (v 18).

Because there’s a distinction between the godly and the ungodly that can never be erased. People might try to blur that line, to deny it. They might say that good and evil don’t matter. But these things do matter. God’s vision goes beyond this life—God sees, and God judges. If we keep reading into chapter 4, we find it, “Behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble” (v 1). God’s point is: Everyone will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked. You’ll see that holiness does matter.

God doesn’t forget. He doesn’t overlook your prayers from each day, or your sacrifices for the church. He sees your struggles in sin, and He hears your confessions of faith and your songs of worship. He knows if you’re striving to live a God-pleasing life, and He promises that He will bless your faithfulness. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep going, in God’s strength. But to those who don’t serve him in this life, Christ will say, “I never knew you. Your name isn’t written down in my book. So you have to leave my city.” Think of how terrible those words would be. May we never have to hear them, but may Almighty God help us to be faithful to him always!

And so with this message from Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets has spoken. God sent many messengers to his people, but Malachi is the last. It’s about 400 years until we hear another prophet speak in Israel, and his name is John the Baptist. That’s a striking thing—the very next prophet to come announces the day of the Messiah!

Now the Saviour has arrived. Like it says in Hebrews, “In many and various ways God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by his Son” (1:1). That makes ours an urgent time! We’ve heard the last prophet. We’ve seen the great Saviour. We’ve met the one who will be Judge.

So pray for faith in the Son of God. Persevere in an unholy time. Long for that day when Christ your Saviour will come again. And fearing God today, may your name be found written in the Book of Life!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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