Looking Deeply at Baby Jesus
Scripture: Malachi 4:1–6
Looking Deeply at Baby JesusMalachi 4:1-6
Sunday, December 12, 2004
Pastor Randy Smith
What comes to mind when you think of yourself in relation to a baby? Do you see strength or weakness? Toughness or fragility? Do you depend on babies or do you believe babies, if they wish to live, must depend upon you?
Quite often at this time, Christmas cards and nativity scenes depicting the birth of our Savior conger up images in the minds of many. Most can't get beyond a cute, tiny baby lying helpless in a manger in Bethlehem. He is to be coddled, but few find Him worthy to be worshiped. He is to be smiled at, but few find Him worthy to be obeyed. He is to be helped, but few see their need to be helped by Him. After all, He's only a baby. And what comes to mind when you think of yourself in relation to a baby?
In the first century, most of the people saw Jesus as just another insignificant infant brought into the rough Mediterranean world. But there were a few who saw Him in a different light. The Angels saw Him as a Savior (Lk. 2:11). The Magi saw Him as a King (Mt. 2:2). The Shepherds saw Him as a reason to glorify God (Lk. 2:20). Anna saw Him as the "redemption of Jerusalem" (LK. 2:38). Simeon said, "Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel" (Lk. 2:34). And Mary, the mother of Jesus said, "My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior" (Lk. 1:47) as she "treasured all (these) things, pondering them in her heart" (Lk. 2:19). No doubt all these folks saw something special when they saw baby Jesus. Do you? Do you see Jesus through the eyes of the world or through the eyes of faith?
Yesterday we went to a few stores to purchase the finest $20 Christmas tree in Central Jersey. Christmas is to celebrate the birthday of Jesus, but He was hard to find amongst all the tinsel of commercialism. This Christmas we need to be sure we don't get lost in the secularism of baby Jesus by losing track of exactly who this baby really was. Yes, He was fully a human baby. But He was also infinitely much more. He was unlike any baby that ever lived, or ever will live. He was God incarnate. As we sung this morning: "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate deity. Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel." Jesus is God with us! Or, "Come to Bethlehem and see, Him whose birth the angels sing. Come adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord the newborn king." Jesus is King!
Our text in Malachi, as we conclude this wonderful book, will help us to remember this Christmas season that Jesus was a human baby. Yet we also need to remember that He was God, fully possessing the attributes of wrath and justice and holiness and mercy. This morning we'll explore each of these awesome attributes in further detail.
1. WRATH (verse 1)
Verse 1, "'For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,' says the LORD of hosts, 'so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.'"
The Israelites throughout the book of Malachi have been testing God. In their arrogance (Mal. 3:13-15) they wearied the Lord by their words (Mal. 2:17). They questioned His love, His goodness and His justice. They insulted Him by offering defiled worship, disregarding His marriage commandments and neglecting the tithe in their offerings.
Yet God will not allow His name to be mocked by such behavior. The Day will come when God will make a division between the sheep and the goats, between His true children and the imposters, between the righteous and the wicked. The Day will come when His wrath will be poured out upon the disobedient.
This Day, commonly known as the Day of the Lord, is referred to four times in the final eight verses of Malachi (3:17; 4:1, 3, 5), which are the final eight verses of the Old Testament. This theme is carried into the New Testament with tremendous frequency. Romans 2:5 says those who have unrepentant hearts "are storing up wrath for (themselves) in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." Revelation 19:15 says on this Day "a sharp sword (will come from the mouth of Jesus), so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.
The disobedient people during the time of Noah experienced a foretaste of this wrath. In the day of Noah, water was the agent for devastation. In the Day of the Lord it will be fire. Malachi 4:1 says the Day will come "burning like a furnace." This alludes to the hottest fire that people in the ancient world were familiar. Peter simply called it an "intense heat" (2 Pet. 3:10). This is not a fire for purification (the refiner's fire), but rather a fire for destruction. It will consume (the verse says) so that the arrogant and evildoer will be chaff. The verse goes on to say they will be "set…ablaze," resulting in complete termination so that neither root nor branch will be left (cf. Job 18:16; Amos 2:9).
The little baby born in the manger and wrapped in swaddling cloths will be the One who comes on the white horse in righteousness to judge and wage war among unbelievers (Rev. 19:11).
Do you see a God of wrath when you look deeply at baby Jesus?
2. JUSTICE (verses 2-3)
Verses 2 and 3, "'But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,' says the LORD of hosts."
The little baby born in Bethlehem may bring wrath to the unbeliever, but that same baby will bring justice to the believer. But justice for what, and how will that justice be dispensed?
Baby Jesus grew and lived over 30 years amongst humanity. He knew what it was like to be rejected by family and friends because of a steadfast commitment to God. He knew what it was like to be persecuted by those who claim to be religious. He knew what it was like to face the day-in and day-out hurts of a sinful world. He felt the stings of injustice but in response He did not retaliate. The Scriptures say, "He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Pet. 2:23). Jesus knew there would be justice dispensed at His second coming, but in His first coming His mission was the meek and suffering Servant of Isaiah 53.
In the same way, the followers of Jesus receive great persecution. "Indeed all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim. 3:12). We shouldn't be surprised. Jesus Himself even warned us, "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (Jn. 15:20). We also receive the emotional hurts and mistreatments from those in the home and community and workplace and yes, even the church. Yet how are we to respond when treated unfairly? Are we to retaliate? Are we to revile? No, we are to follow the example of our Master. We are to fight back with the weapon of love and entrust the situation to a God who sees all and knows all. A God who we believe judges righteously.
We are never called to seek revenge (Rom. 12:19). We are never called to pay back evil for evil (Rom. 12:17). On the contrary we are to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21) and leave room for the wrath of God. "'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay' says the Lord" (Rom. 12:19).
If life was unfair to Jesus, are we to expect any greater fairness in this world? Absolutely not! Because we are not called to trust in the world. We are called to trust in the God that He will hold others accountable for every wrong committed against us. As image bearers of God we want justice and justice will be accomplished, but it will happen His way and according to His timetable.
This is the point of verses 2 and 3. When the Lord returns to vindicate His name, He will also vindicate our name. The Day will be gloom, destruction and punishment for the world, but for those who fear His name, the Day will bring healing, joy and vindication. Let's take a look at each one of these individually.
Verse 2 says, "The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings." Some have taken the "sun of righteousness" to refer to the Messiah, but I believe (based upon the context) it refers to believers who are revealed and vindicated and glorified. They once stood in the shadows of persecution but are now standing with righteousness bright as the sun shining in all its glory. They will be healed not only from physical suffering, but also indwelling sin as they experience the full scope of God's redemption. At this time we will fully understand what it means to be "healed by His wounds" (Isa. 53:5; 57:18-19).
The verse also says we will experience joy on that day. We "will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall." We will be like vigorous calves confined to a small stall for an extended period of time, now released to run and leap for joy. We will experience tremendous freedom now that the restrains of persecution have been forever removed. I found it interesting that we are commanded to "leap for joy" in Luke 6:23 when we are hated, insulted, ostracized and scorned because of the greatness of our reward in heaven (Lk. 6:22). Now on the Day of the Lord we will leap for greater joy when we see our Lord deal out justice to those who brought this persecution upon us.
Finally in verse 3 God says, "(We) will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing." We already learned in verse one how God will incinerate those who do not fear His name (Eze. 28:18). Now the Scriptures say they will be ashes under our feet as we tread down the wicked. Using strong metaphorical language, God speaks of the day when the roles will be reversed; when we will triumph over those who appeared to triumph over us. We may not feel the weight of this verse living in a comfortable country, but for the millions of Christians around the world who have unjustly seen their churches burned and land stolen and spouses tortured and friends killed and children raped, they, no doubt, find great consolation; a consolation that gives them strength to trust God in the present time to be the ultimate avenger of evil. Our hope is in the return of Jesus when the faithful will be rewarded and the wicked eliminated. On that Day God will vindicate Himself and His people.
Do you see a God of justice when you look deeply at baby Jesus?
3. HOLINESS (verse 4)
Verse 4, "Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb (Sinai) for all Israel."
In verse 4 God calls for attention to be given to His Word. Though the law was given 1,000 years before the writing of Malachi it remains an unchanging standard for judgment. It was to govern the Israelites in the present no different than it governed them in the past. Verse 4 says the law was to be "remembered." This word speaks of more than simply recalling the law. It speaks of heeding and paying attention to the law. Simply put, God is calling the Israelites to obey His holy Word! He is calling His nation to be holy as He is holy.
In points one and two of this sermon we contrasted the final state of the believer and the unbeliever; yet the believer and the unbeliever - in what? Naturally the answer is God, but since there are so many gods to be chosen from, how can we be sure that we believe in the right one? Here's the answer: We believe in the right God when we believe and follow what He has revealed to us in the Scriptures. Those who will be saved are those who hear the voice of the Shepherd and follow Him (Jn. 10:27). They are the ones who live "on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Mt. 4:4). They are the ones committed to holiness. They are the ones who "remember" His law.
I was so blessed to work with the seminary students in Armenia last week. Most of these men have a high school education at best. Few, if any, theological books have been translated into their native tongue. But these men know the Scriptures inside and out. They have great respect for the Word. And because of that, live lives that reflect the greatness and holiness of God.
Obedience is not an option. We must remember the Word! God has given us His Word for a purpose and that sole purpose is application, whereby we might be conformed to the image of Christ. When we follow the Word we glorify God, show ourselves to be His children and grow further in His holiness.
Do you see a God of holiness when you look deeply at baby Jesus?
4. MERCY (verses 5-6)
Verses 5 and 6, "Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to theirchildren and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse."
Though one day God will return in vengeance, He closes the Old Testament with words of mercy. In Ezekiel 18:23 God said, "'Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,' declares the Lord GOD, 'rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?'" 1 Timothy 2:4 says God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." God in His mercy is continually giving men and women ample opportunities to forsake their sin and turn to Him in faith.
Yes, verse 5 says it will be a "great and terrible day," but the verse also talks about God sending Elijah. John the Baptist ministered in the "spirit and power of Elijah" (Lk. 1:17; cf. Mt. 11:14; 17:11-12; Mk. 9:12) "preaching a baptism of repentance" (Mk. 1:4) prior to the first coming of Jesus. Now we read of Elijah coming again (possibly literally-Rev. 11) to sound the warning prior to the second coming of Jesus (cf. Mt. 17:11). And God in His awesome mercy has sent many Elijah-type people, many prophetic voices to warn those without Christ of impending judgment and urge them to trust Jesus for total forgiveness before it is too late. Whether it be Sodom or Nineveh or Jerusalem or Central Jersey, God always precedes judgment with the call of mercy.
Do you see a God of mercy when you look deeply at baby Jesus?
So this Christmas, what will you think of when you gaze upon the face of baby Jesus? Will you like the world, laugh at Him, coddle Him and dismiss Him? Or will you like it says in the final chapter of Malachi, embrace Him as God in the flesh, possessing the fullness of wrath and justice and holiness and mercy? For those of you who fear the Lord, will you this Christmas praise the God who gave Himself to deliver you from His wrath, vindicate your suffering, conform you to His holiness and engulf you in His mercy?
And for those of you without Jesus as your Lord and Savior, will you believe the Scriptures? Will you realize that God in His infinite mercy called you to be here today and to hear this message? Will you heed His warning? Will you repent of your sins and turn to Him before the coming Day of destruction? Will you place your faith in Him before it is too late?
As we were driving home from Yerevan one evening last week in Armenia, I asked the man driving us (who spoke a little English) where he was from. He didn't understand. I asked him, "Where do you live?" Again, he didn't understand. I asked him, "Where is your home?" "Home" was a word he understood. Immediately he pointed up.
How can we have such assurance of our future home and positive standing with God when the final word in Malachi 4:6 is the word "curse?" At the close of the Old Testament we are left hanging, anticipating, searching for a resolution. But after 450 years, God broke His silence. He sent His promised messenger (Mal. 3:1) to clear the way. He sent another prophet. He sent John the Baptist who upon seeing Jesus said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn. 1:29)!
That first Christmas, God has given us a gift. That gift was Jesus, born to die for sin. That gift was God Himself.
What do you see when you look deeply at baby Jesus?