Judgment at the Lord’s Coming
Open Your Bible
Malachi 2:17, Malachi 3:1-18, Matthew 11:7-15, Hebrews 12:7-11
I love to barbecue. Two or three times a year, I make pulled pork. It takes me three days, give or take: a wet brine, a dry rub, slow smoked on the grill, and then finished in the oven. The first bites of sweet-spicy bark are heavenly, a combination of loving preparation and long-suffering.
When pork shoulder reaches approximately 160 degrees, it enters what is known as “the stall.” The stall can last hours and can be paralyzing for the barbecuer: the temperature gauge does not change. It sits at 160-ish degrees for hours and hours. The stall is a scientifically-studied phenomenon during which the melting fat in the meat leads the moisture in the meat to evaporate, which cools the meat. Basically, the fat is rendering and the meat is slowly, steadily becoming pure, tender deliciousness. The meat is being refined and purified by the heat.
The three disputations in today’s chapter in Malachi are about this very thing: the cost of refining. The Lord promises to send a messenger who will “be like a refiner’s fire and like launderer’s bleach” (Malachi 3:2). The messenger will “purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the Lord in righteousness” (v.3). The messenger is dual: it refers to John the Baptist, who will prepare the way for Jesus, the messenger of the new covenant—the one who will go through the refining fire and be the refining fire for all of us.
In Malachi, we see the calling-out of the people and priests who tried to shortcut their way through the fire, or who claimed what they had already done and been through was enough. But the sacrifices were not about the animals, and the behavior modifications were not about performing just right, and the exile wasn’t a punishment that would wipe their sin away for good.
Proverbs 17:3 says, “A crucible for silver, and a smelter for gold, and the Lord is the tester of hearts.” Our hearts are just as in need of refining as the hearts of the wayward priests in the book of Malachi. Sanctification, the lifelong process of being made more like Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit, is often painful like fire as it burns away our sin.
“No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). This training is hard. I can count a thousand ways the Lord is burning away the dross in my life today, and there will still be a lifetime of work to do. Asking for His refining love is the most daring and terrifying thing I can pray, but it is also the safest because of His sweet and abiding love for me.