Text: Malachi 3:13-18
Proper 29, C
An ardently atheistic farmer, who gloried in making fun of God, once wrote a letter to the local newspaper. It read: “Sir, I have been trying an experiment on a field of mine. I plowed it only on a Sunday. I planted it on Sunday. I cultivated it, reaped it, and hauled it all in to my barn only on a Sunday. And now, Mr. Editor, what has been the result? I have more bushels to the acre in that field than any of my neighbours have had this October.” He expected some applause from the editor, who did not, perhaps, himself profess to be a specially religious man. But underneath the letter the editor published only this short line of comment. “God does not always settle his accounts in October.”
How do we as Christians answer the abundant prosperity of the wicked? Must we admit that God somehow condones their actions ... that they are truly blessed for being so good at “playing the game”? What's the use of serving God, if it just keeps on costing, but never seems to give a pay out? How much complaining against God is too much? When do genuine questions begin to cross the line into dangerous territory? These are all realities that we struggle with from time to time. But we certainly are not alone in this struggle. We hear the people of God in Malachi's day asking the same questions: Where is God's Divine Justice?
The idea of God's Divine Justice is flat out rejected by unbelievers at all times. Yet these are the very same people who seem to be doing just fine in the meantime. (3:13-15) “Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, How have we spoken against you? You have said, It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.”
Like the farmer in our story, there are people, who live their lives not merely without giving God recognition, but who relish in throwing it all back in His face, so to speak. Nowhere do we see it more easily in our time than in the debates over Creation vs. Evolution. Cynicism blinds people to the workings of God. Cynicism leads to mockery, like the evolutionist who began the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (yes, I'm serious!) in protest of anything but evolution being allowed to be taught in schools. Yet this fellow has garnered kudos and followers. His mocking protest has arguably been successful, both in having school boards rescind any openness to theories that are not atheistic, but also in making fun of God.
And you don't need to go to that extreme to make the point either. We all know others who don't go to church, who won't help others in need, who spend their money and time selfishly ... and seem to be pretty happy for it! No getting up early on Sunday mornings, no feeling bad about missing Bible Studies, no guilt over any of their life choices, and 100% of their money goes straight to them! They are descent people, applauded by society, respected by their neighbours. Something a sincere and vocal Christian can only dream about.
Perhaps that is why we sometimes can't help but ask: Why them and not me? Why must I do so much, while they enjoy the spoils? Why is it always so much harder to do it God's way? And so it is that God's Divine Justice is questioned by believers in times of trouble. (16) “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.”
Where the heart is weak and envious, where we focus on ourselves and what we deserve, when cynicism is allowed to creep into our way of thinking, there we begin to doubt that there even is such a thing as Justice. And that is precisely when this verse becomes so important to us. For here in v.16 we see those dear people of God in the face of the same temptations, take a moment of self examination. Those who truly feared God, pulled themselves out of the rat-race of this world and came together as a community to reevaluate their hearts and motivations. They stopped looking at what others had in spite of God's warnings, and started being more concerned about their own place in the Kingdom of heaven, their own role within His designs, and their own performance before God. And when they did, their hearts were led to repentance! And the repentant heart God hears and remembers!
For this is God's Divine Justice, and it will be vindicated by Him at the end of time! Comfort for the oppressed, release for the sinner, salvation for the contrite – those whose hearts fear the Lord. (17-8) “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” There is Divine Justice, but it doesn't work on our time-table ... though it is in the works even now. Knowing this allows us to rightly distinguish once again between the righteous and the wicked, taking away the cynicism that blinds us to the workings of God. For the real treasures of this world are us! We are God's own treasured possessions, His joy, his desire.
Those who serve God are not punished or poorly treated, indeed we receive His utmost care and attention. And those who live in wicked opposition to Him will not forever proper. For all accounts will be settled on that coming day. And either they are accounted in Christ, and the forgiveness He won on the cross, a forgiveness clung to in repentance and faith ... or they are accounted by works. And even the greatest of human deeds can earn only death on that day. Money can't buy you happiness, and it certainly can't buy you Divine Justice.
I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. God proclaims. Yet consider this dear friends – God did NOT spare His own Son! His only begotten Son who was indeed serving Him by taking up the cross and dying! God did not spare His Son, but left Him to the depredations of the cross, just so that He could in spare us as His own beloved child in Christ who paid the price of our cynical, jealous hearts. As we read in the Epistle: (Col. 1:19-20) “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
The blood of Christ's cross is what creates the distinction between the righteous and the wicked! And so it is that through Baptism into the blood of Christ, and in the Supper of His Body and Blood, we are His treasured possession even now. What better example of this distinction can we give than the two criminals on the crosses with Jesus. Both rightly charged and convicted, both facing their day of reckoning, yet one by repentance has His name recorded in the book of God's remembrance. One dying thief is spared and taken up as the treasured possession of His God. Just as will one day happen for us. No, God does not always settle His accounts in October, but He has settled them once and for all in the sacrifice of His Son! What sweeter justice could there be for you and me as we serve our God and faithfully await that coming day?