REFINING FIRE by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
Introduction: One night a chemical plant outside the city limits caught on fire. The alarm went out to fire departments for miles around. Here came all the big fire trucks from the city and started fighting the fire but it was no good. After about an hour the president of the company went to the fire chief and said, “We have some secret formulas in a vault in the center of the plant. I’ll give $50,000 to the engine company that brings them out safely.” The chief told his men – “C’mon, we need that money!” They strengthened their attack but two hours later it was still no good. The president raised it to $100,000. Just then they heard a long siren and a fire truck coming towards them. It was from the volunteer fire department out in the country. The truck looked like it should’ve been in a museum 50 years ago! The guys were bunch of retirees in their sixties and seventies. To everyone’s shock they drove right into the flames of the chemical plant. From the distance the other fire fighters with their shiny big trucks and all the public watched in amazement as those old guys hopped off their rig and began to fight the fire with intensity. In about half an hour, the blaze was out and the vault was safe! The president was so impressed that he raised the reward to $200,000! He walked over to thank them – “Wow! That’s Old School right there! What’re y’all going to do with the reward money?” The fire truck driver replied – “Old School? Phoo…The first thing we’re going to do is fix the brakes on that truck!” In this message we’re going to talk about a different kind of fire, not a destroying fire but a refining fire.
Malachi 2:17 “You have wearied the Lord with your words; Yet you say, ‘In what way have we wearied Him?’ In that you say, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them,’ or, ‘Where is the God of justice?’ 3 1 “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” Says the Lord of hosts. 2 “But 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.”
Question: Are you in God’s refining fire? Are you going through a tough time physically, mentally, financially, relationally, spiritually? Could it be that God is using that fire to refine you, to purify you? Are you saved?
Context: The book of Malachi has a fascinating literary style. Scholars have given it different names: judicial speech pattern, disputation speech, dialectical style. Bottom line: It reads like a courtroom drama where the people of Israel are on trial for falsely accusing God of being unfaithful to them, not coming through for them. What they didn’t realize was that God was their judge, their prosecuting attorney, their witness, and their executioner. So, welcome to God’s court. Let’s listen in on the trial – Malachi 2:17 “You have wearied the Lord with your words…” The people of Israel were bringing their leftover, rejected sacrifices to God and murmuring under their breath. What were they saying? “…Yet you say, ‘In what way have we wearied Him?’ In that you say, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them,’ or, ‘Where is the God of justice?’ Why were they talking like that? Bad things had happened in their lives and they were comparing themselves to their ungodly neighbors and saying, “Look at them. They don’t go to church but they don’t get sick with cancer. They don’t give their hard money in tithe but they seem to buy a new car and a new boat. They didn’t raise their children in church but they seem to be doing just fine. There’s no benefit to following God. Looks like bad people have a better life than we do. God must love them more. He’s not just. He’s not fair.” They were calling God’s character into question.
Listen carefully: I’ve been there. Let me warn you – If you look at life only through your natural eyes, you’ll talk like that too. If you compare yourself to your neighbors only by earthly standards, you’ll also become bitter towards God. In fact, Satan’s greatest temptation against believers is that “God is holding out on the best for you” or “God is not giving you what you deserve but I will.” He did that with Adam and Eve – “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” He even tried that with Jesus – “If you fall before me, I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world.” He was implying that his father won’t!
Application: Are you comparing yourself to someone? Have you allowed bitterness to come into your life? Are you going through the motions but inside you have become angry towards God? You need to humble yourself, repent, and seek God’s forgiveness.
How did God answer their false accusation? 3 1 “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” Says the Lord of hosts. What an unusual answer! Before we try to understand what all that means, let’s identify the different personalities mentioned in that verse:
- “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me.” Who is the “I” and the “Me” here? This is God the Father. He is the one saying all this.
- “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me.” Who is this “Messenger” who will prepare the way before God? Malachi gives his identity in 4:5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” Does that mean Elijah the prophet will come back from the dead? Not really. It means a person like Elijah the prophet will prepare the way before God when he comes. (We’ll come back to this in a second.)
- “…And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” Says the Lord of hosts. Who is this “Lord” and this “Messenger of the covenant?” They are one and the same. The Hebrew word for Lord is “ha adon” which is God. The word messenger is “malech” which is also “angel.” This “angel of the covenant” is none other than the “angel of the Lord” who led Israel out of Egypt, went before them as they crossed the Red Sea, led them through the wilderness, and filled the temple with his glory. He is the pre-incarnate Christ. In other words, the Lord who will suddenly come into his temple and the Angel of the covenant are none other than Jesus. What is this covenant? It’s the same covenant that God made to save the world. He made it with Eve, with Shem, with Abraham, with Moses, with David, and on to the renewed covenant in Jeremiah. Hebrews 12:24 says “Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.” What will he do? 2 “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? Meaning: They thought God would come to fulfill all their desires and wants. Instead, when he comes, it will be unbearable. He will come in judgment.
Let’s put all this back together. The people of Israel were murmuring because God was nowhere to be found. God said, “I hear you and I’m coming but I’m sending my Son Jesus, the same one who made the old covenant with you. This is how you’ll know that he is the One – there will be a messenger who will clear his way first and then he will come without warning into his temple. And don’t think for a moment that this will be all fun and games. You won’t be able to stand it.” 2000 years ago John the Baptist came crying in the wilderness. Was he Elijah? In a sense, he was. If you remember, the angel told Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist in Luke 1:17 “He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah…” by which he meant that the same spirit and power that energized Elijah in the Old Testament will also energize John the Baptist. Jesus also said in Matthew 11:14 “if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come,” meaning in spirit and power John the Baptist was like Elijah. What did John preach? Matthew 3 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Some of y’all are thinking “But Jesus didn’t do that.” Read the gospels carefully and you will see how many times he pronounced judgment on the religious leaders – Matthew 23:15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Then he called the temple a “den of thieves.” Then he cursed the fig tree as a representative of his people. Listen to him in John 9:39 “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.”
Listen carefully: The mistake we make is in thinking that all Jesus came to do was to be our Savior. Don’t forget that he also came as our Judge. Ever since then he has been doing both in our lives and he will complete his task with the people of Israel at his Ultimate Coming. If you want to know what his work now looks like, try to understand what it will be like at his Ultimate Coming – 2 “…For He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer to the Lord An offering in righteousness.” Growing up I remember ever so often my parents would take me along to the goldsmith and silversmith shops. There was an entire row of these shops. It was always fascinating for me to watch them as a kid. Nowadays it’s all sophisticated but back then they used to sit on the ground in front of this small portable furnace. They would place the silver into this pan and hold it over the fire. After a few moments, the silver would turn into molten state. As the ore melted, the dross (impurity) would rise to the top. The silversmith would then take a small scalpel like instrument and remove the impurity and stoke the fire even more. Some more impurities would rise to the surface and he would keep scraping them off. Occasionally, he would sit up and look into the pan. What was he looking for? Silver in its purest form turns into liquid mirror. When he could see his face reflected in the pan, the silver was ready. Same way with us, God allows trials to come into our lives. Loss of a job, loss of a loved one, loss of health, financial troubles, family problems. What is God doing? He is turning up the heat. If he let him, he is removing the dross from our lives. How does he know when we’re ready? When he can see the face of his Son Jesus reflected in us. Is Jesus your Savior?