Last week Greta, my daughter, said La La Land had arrived on Netflix so Saturday evening we watched it. Her for about the 6th time. If you haven’t seen it – I’ll try not to spoil it.
I was struck by how a song in the middle of the film summed up a lot of what was going on. It’s when Mia is auditioning and they say – tell us a story. She talks/sings about her aunt in Paris and how she got her into acting. The chorus is:
Here's to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem
Here's to the hearts that ache
Here's to the mess we make
I thought that summed up a lot of the film because it’s all about two people’s dreams. Their hopes and ambitions – to be a film star, run a jazz club. And you see how those dreams – drive them in life. Lead them to do rubbish jobs, make certain decisions about relationships.
I think – those dreams drive them too much and other things get sacrificed. But you get a clear picture of dreams driving life.
I mention that because this passage talks about the future – thinking of advent and God coming – and that raises questions of what we are looking forward to – hoping for – dreaming of.
Or more – if we’re Christians or were to become Christian – what does God say about the future - what should we dream of?
That brings us to the people Malachi is talking to – God speaks to them about the future because they didn’t really have any hopes or dreams.
Malachi’s hearers looked around them at people who ignored God and lived as they liked – and they were doing well on it – they were happy and successful. And they thought – what’s going on – God’s not doing anything about them – where’s his justice? In fact - they’re doing well – it’s like God’s pleased with them.
And so they thought – if you can do what you want – and God doesn’t do anything about it – why bother doing what God says – why bother putting yourself out for God – I should live for today and look after myself. The rest of the book talks about what they did.
When they offered a sacrifice they looked at their animals – they were meant to offer the best animal to God –but they thought – that will make a nice lunch for the family – God can have this lame manky one.
They were meant to give a 10% tithe of their money to God – but they thought – black Friday is coming up I’ve seen some stuff I want – God can have the spare change I’ve got on me.
When it came to relationships – they were meant to be faithful and caring – but they thought – you’ve got to put yourself first sometimes – I’ll get divorced if it suits me – I’ll marry from another religion – and can’t give too much time looking others.
In other words – they just lived for now – and so they did what seemed best for them. They had lost any sense of the future.
Let me paint a picture of what this might look like today – I’m a bit cautious of this because it sounds like I’m making specific issues – the issue – but they are just examples – I’m just giving an impression. The specifics will vary for each of us.
Today this would be the Christian who looks at people around them having a good time and thinks – why bother putting yourself out as Christian. I know it’s good to go to splinter group – but everyone else is having a glass of wine on the sofa with their spouse. I know I should be honest but everyone else exaggerates at work so they look good. I know we should give to church – but we all deserve a treat holiday sometimes so let’s do that.
As I say – they are examples – specifics vary with our situation – but you get the idea. And what is underneath this is – there no sense of the future – there’s no dream driving life – so you live for today. Do what seems best now.
Well what does God say to this? What should our dream be?
Well very simply – he says, I’m coming.
1) God will come
When the kids were younger I sometimes played hide and seek with them round the house. I was always a bit reluctant – alright – go and hide – I’ll count to 40 – 1, 2…. 39, 40. I’m coming, ready or not.
I’ve had that echoing in my head this week – because God says – very simply - I’m coming.
3v1 READ. And he goes on to describe what will happen when he comes.
Now Matthew, Mark and Luke all quote this verse – and say it’s happening in their day - the messenger is John the Baptist – getting people ready for the Lord to arrive – Jesus, God himself.
And yet there is also some confusion about Jesus coming. You might remember John the Baptist himself – sending people to Jesus to ask – are you the one who was to come or should we expect someone else?
And they were confused because Jesus wasn’t doing everything that was expected – when God came.
You know when you go for a walk in the countryside – say you’re walking up a hill – and it’s hard work – but you can see the top – nearly there – only – as you get there you realise – it’s not the top – it goes up again.
It’s a bit like that with the coming of Jesus. In the OT God promised he is coming – and it sounded like one coming – one peak if you like – but when you get there – we realise – Jesus explains – there is another peak – another coming. He has come – but he promises – I’m coming again.
And so in many ways we are in the same position as Malachi’s hearers. There are some differences - yes, God has come in Jesus, some of what is said here has happened – we’ll think about that – but he has promised to come back – so God says the same thing to us as them – ‘I’m coming – ready or not’.
Well that makes us ask – what will happen when he comes? Here we’re told – when he comes,
2) God will purify
This is v2-5. I’ve wondered how to teach this – what tone to have. Is it something positive – to look forward to? Or is this something negative and scary? A wonderful dream or an awful nightmare?
I think the answer is – it’s both. So I’ve made the point quite blank – God will purify. But he does that in two ways - let’s think about the negative side first – that is God will purify – by removing evil people.
- removing evil people
You say – where is God’s justice? But you don’t know what you’re asking for?
It’s like a child complaining to their parents about their sibling – they hit me – it’s not fair – do something. But the truth is – they threw the first punch.
Do they really want their parents to act – do they really want justice? Because it won’t go well for them.
It won’t go well for many of Malachi’s hearers – they say where’s your justice – but they do plenty wrong too – they won’t be able to stand the day he comes.
This gets explicit in v5 READ. That list comes from God’s law to his people – they were meant to be faithful in marriage, tell the truth, treat workers fairly and look after the vulnerable.
But they haven’t. The rest of Malachi talks about their unfaithfulness and failures. And if you live like that - not as one off failings but as a consistent pattern of life – then you are showing – end of v5 – you do not fear God.
It’s worth pausing on this – because this is the key issue – do you fear God? This is what decides whether this coming will be a dream or nightmare. It comes through the rest of Malachi – look at 3:16-18 READ.
There are two groups – and at the end there they’re called the righteous and the wicked. But that isn’t simply – the good people and the bad people. The righteous v16 are those who fear God – or honour his name – or serve him.
Fearing God isn’t simply being scared of God – it means you know he is God – he’s in charge – you care about what he says and wants. You trust him – and you seek to serve him and obey him. It’s not perfect – far from it. But God is big and real and significant to you – he makes a difference. That’s the righteous.
On the other hand the wicked – are those who don’t fear him. They might talk about him, they might go to the temple or church, they might look the part - but functionally they ignore him. Day to day God isn’t God to them. He isn’t big and significant enough to make a real impact on them. They don’t trust him – or really listen to him – they don’t fear him.
And if that is us – this is a warning to us. Flashing red, big letters, neon light warning. God is saying – I’m coming – ready or not. If you’re not ready – if you don’t fear him – trust him – you won’t stand on that day.
God will purify - by removing evil people.
But this coming is also going to be a wonderful day – God will purify by
- removing evil from his people
You get a lump of metal – gold or silver – but it’s got other stuff in it – dirt, some iron. It’s a mixture. So you melt it – and then you can scrape off the dross – the impurities – until it’s pure. Perfect.
That is what he promises to do with his people – because we are a mixture. There are plenty of impurities in us. Our sin – our distrust of God – our disobedience. God promises to remove that from us.
He does that when he comes.
First of all when he came in Jesus. Jesus dies for us so we can be forgiven – or purified – made perfect in God’s sight.
He does it as he comes to us now – by his Spirit - he changes us – purifies us so we live more like Jesus.
But particularly in mind here is the day he’ll finish that work. When Jesus comes back – he promises to raise us with new bodies – bodies like his – where all the dross – all the impurities are taken away – we’ll be pure and perfect.
And being made pure – it isn’t an end in itself – it leads to something else – v3-4 READ.
At the moment their worship is insulting to God – they offer rubbish animals as sacrifices, they don’t give the tithe they are meant to – they don’t live as they should.
But on the day God comes – purifies - then his people – those who fear him remember - they will worship him as they should.
Back in chapter 1 God says – 1v11 READ. God will be great – glorified – he will be praised as he should.
But for him to be glorified like that – we need to be purified – have our sin removed – so we see all he is and praise him, so we live lives that are acceptable sacrifices to him. So that we worship him as we should.
One day God will be great among the nations – because one day God will come.
And one day God will purify - by removing evil people and by removing evil from his people.
This is described later in Malachi – 4:1-2. I hope these verses make sense.
V1 READ – he will remove evil people.
V2 READ - Jesus will heal - every disease. Every wrong thought. Every wrong action. Every wrong motive. He’ll make everything right. He’ll remove evil from us – and make us pure and we will worship God.
And then we’ll leap like calves. It’s not an image I’m familiar with – didn’t grow up on a farm. But you get the idea the calf is stuck in the stall, doesn’t have much room, cramped – and then it’s released – free – and it delights in just jumping around and enjoying it’s freedom. It is happy – to be free to be what it’s made to be.
That is what being made pure and worshipping God will be like. It will be a delight – the delight and joy of being what you were made to be – pure – and the delight and joy of doing what you were made to do – enjoying God and worshipping him.
Mia sang – here’s the ones who dream, foolish as they seem.
Dreams can seem foolish –because they aren’t real, won’t happen. Or they can seem foolish because they are so good they feel too good to be true.
Well this dream in Malachi – God will come, God will purify – it’s not a dream in the sense that it’s not real – or won’t happen. God has promised. And he kept his promise and came in Jesus and died. And he will keep his promise to come again – and this wonderful dream will become reality.
But you could say it is a dream in the sense that it’s so good – it’s what we were made for - it’s all we could ever have wanted or hoped for – heaven will be everything we dreamed of.
When I was at theological college a student came from Sudan to study for a year. When he arrived he needed lots of jumpers bought for him as he was so cold. After a few months of being with this us theology students – he spoke to a friend of mine and was clearly a bit troubled. He asked – do you all believe in heaven?
Friend said – oh yes. Don’t worry – we definitely believe in heaven. Why do you ask that?
Because you never talk about it.
He was right. Right about me anyway – I say I believe in heaven but I don’t really talk about it – it’s not very real to me. If I’m honest very often it’s not the dream that drives my life. Too often I forget the future and live for now. Then I think – it’s not really worth putting yourself out for God is it? Let’s do what seems best for me now.
Malachi says – God says – I will come. I will purify. Make that your dream.
And let that drive your life – let that future be so real to you – it stops the cynicism - it’s not worth putting yourself out for God. Let that future make you see – it’s worth giving up time for others –being honest at work – giving generously – whatever it is – because you know the future. God will come – God will purify.
Here’s to the one’s who dream, foolish as they may seem.
I’m coming, ready or not.
Do you believe in heaven? You never talk about it.
I will send my messenger – then suddenly the Lord will come.