Then I will draw near to you for judgment.
The judgement of God is not something that normally incites joy in our hearts. Though there are some who sadistically proclaim their desires for God to reign down His wrath, that is not the norm among believers (and thankfully God doesn’t generally plan His strategies based on the advice of the angry). We can simultaneously see the justice and reason of God’s judgment, and have no desire for it to actually be levied. The Old Testament instance of Sodom and Gomorrah shows us a culture that definitely deserved judgment in its out of control state. However, anyone that could honestly read the account of its destruction and not feel some twinge of sorrow for the loss of life ought to check their heart for a compassionate pulse.
So, when Malachi relays this message from God, “Then I will draw near to you for judgement”, there probably isn’t a joyful expectation created in the heart of the reader. At least that’s what I have thought in past readings of this text. But this morning it was different.
In any kind of serious reading its important to make sure you read every word in a sentence / paragraph, because the power of a word can be enormous. A few years ago, in a sermon, I heard Chuck Swindoll recommend dealing with difficult texts (or any passage for that matter) by reading the verse over and over while overemphasizing each word in the verse (I love you…I LOVE you…I love YOU). He said that this will help you feel out the importance of every word and get an accurate sense of what the text is trying to say, not just what we may want it to say. One of the additional benefits of this method, that Swindoll didn’t refer to, is that it forces you to read every word. There’s no skipping or assuming or subjectively appropriating importance. It creates a complete and totally level playing field.
So, with that being said, we go no farther than the first word of the verse in Malachi: “Then…”. God indicates that there is a certain and specific time that He will come close to bring judgement. The timing is not arbitrary. The moment is not random. There is no whim involved with God.
If we look back a couple of verses, our answer beautifully emerges. God offers this promise:
He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD.
God, mercifully and wonderfully, says that the coming of His judgment will be directly linked to the preparation of His people for the judgment. He isn’t capriciously looking for a day that we may or may not be ready. He is lovingly waiting until He has purified us, refined us, and prepared us. How wonderful is the promise that only after He brings the fire of preparation does He bring the fire of destruction?
Suddenly the judgment of the Lord is not something to be feared for the believer. It’s not God’s “shooting gallery”, where he waits for those who are unprepared and then drops hot rocks on them without warning. He has never been, and will never be that way (Mal 3:6 – “I do not change).
The only thing that should be bring us pause and intense reflection then is this: are we willingly being refined and purified? This is the question. How resistant to His process are we? Do we feel His Spirit’s conviction and push it out of our minds in favor of our own desires? Do we ignore His Word, or just not read it altogether, so we won’t have to deal with the truth?
He gives us every opportunity to prepare and to be ready for His return. That’s what the text says. Though much of this passage is alluding to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, there is an eschatological (“end of things” / “last things”) feel to it.
May we be pliable in his hands and responsive to the heat of purification. He refines us for at least two reasons: 1. He loves us and wants to use us, 2. So we will more clearly reflect His glory. And those two things are not as much about His judgment as our joy.