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Seeing Reality

November 24th 2013 by Joel Schultz

Today is the Last Sunday of the Church Year. It is the Sunday of Fulfillment, the Sunday when our attention is drawn the the end of all things, the Sunday that we eagerly anticipate the Lord Jesus' return to judge the living and the dead and to make all things new. As we continue to await that day, Malachi helps us see the reality of judgment day and what that means for our lives of faith. Read or listen to find out more...

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Last Sunday of the Church Year" – “Seeing Reality” – Malachi 3:14-18 – November 24, 2013

There were two young men who were good friends and successful entrepreneurs. Walt, who was anxious to show off a new idea, drove his new convertible over to pick up Art. The two drove forty-five minutes outside their southern-California city. Walt parked the car in an orange grove and said, “Get out of the car; I want you to see this.” “See what?” Art replied . “All I see are some orange trees.” “No, no, no! I don’t see orange trees,” Walt said shaking his head. “I see a family fun park. Art, I want you in with me on the ground floor of this thing. We’re going to build a family fun park here. People will bring their families and have picnics and enjoy rides and have a great time.”

Art couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Who in the world would drive 45 miles out into the country for a family fun park?” Walt continued to try to convince his friend to join him as a partner, but Art adamantly refused to invest any money in Walt’s hair-brain idea. Art focused his attention to his successful radio show “Art Linkletter’s House Party.”

Meanwhile, Art’s friend Walt Disney went ahead and bought the orange grove and turned it into Disneyland. Later Art Linkletter admitted, “If only I’d seen what Walt had seen I would be a wealthy man today. Art could not see the reality of what Walt saw.

Seeing reality. This is a problem that the Israelites were having in Malachi’s day. This is the reality they saw: God’s people, Israel, had been punished for their faithlessness and sin by being taken into captivity into Babylon. By God’s grace, however, the faithful remnant returned to their land and rebuilt the temple. Yet their community soon slipped into faithlessness again and became one corrupted by false priests and deceptive people, and what they saw with their eyes became “reality” for them.

So now, at the time of Malachi (about 100 years after the return from Babylon and about 430 years before Jesus), many people thought they had a picture of reality all worked out. Everywhere the wicked seemed to do just fine. They even said to the Lord and His prophet, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and he is pleased” (Mal 2:17).

As a result they said, “It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape” (vv 14-15). They were convinced that what they saw was all there was, and so they lived as if it were. Being righteous or wicked didn’t seem to make much difference.

It is into this setting that Malachi is sent to proclaim the reality that was not seen – the reality of the Last Day – the reality of the Day when God would come and all would “see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not” (v 18).

It was easy then and it’s easy now to let what our eyes see become the defining reality not only for our lives, but also for our very under¬standing of our relationship to God. What a tragedy, says the message of Malachi! There is something far greater and far more real than this present moment and this present world. Although we can’t see it now, we will see it on that great and final day when Jesus returns as Lord of lords and King of kings. Everything else, including this moment in time and all that appears to be so real, is transitory and ultimately will pass away.

Well, what we see today is also often very different from God’s reality. A rather embarrassing goof somehow made its way into the early editions of the Lutheran Worship hymnal. Verse 3 of the beloved Thanksgiving hymn, Come, You Thankful People, Come, gives us a picture of the Last Day from Matthew 13, when the Lord will come again and gather in His harvest of wheat into His garner/ His barns and cast the tares/ weeds into the fire. The verse ends with these words: “Give His angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast, but the FRUITLESS ears to store in His garner evermore.”

Did you notice the goof? Lots of people, including the copy editors, didn’t notice. Members in Lutheran congregations across our Church body, including me, sang right on through it as if nothing were amiss. Being fruitful in faith, or being fruitless, didn’t seem to make much differ¬ence as the hymn was sung .

God’s people, like those in Malachi’s day, can become discouraged when it doesn’t seem to make much difference whether we’re faithful to the Lord or not. In this world, the distinction between the righteous and the unrighteous often seems blurred. The people of Malachi’s day proclaimed: “It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements?” (Mal 3:14).

Look around at our world. It does seem as if the unbelievers prosper and believers suffer injustice. Immorality is portrayed as a healthy alternative lifestyle. Public figures can live reprehensible personal lives and still be lauded as great peo¬ple. Popular role models for children seem to be models of rebellion against God, not people of virtue.

Even the church seems enamored with what it sees in the world. A watered down version of religion, far removed from the biblical tenets of Christianity, is all around us. We’re told, (1) “All gods are the same.” (2) “It’s intolerant to insist that there is absolute truth which exists for all people at all times and in all places.” (3) “The church must look and act like the world around her to be accepted by the world.”

And we need to be careful lest we buy into it, saying by our actions, “It is futile to serve God” and maybe even more to the point, by saying, “God can be safely ignored.” What was happening in Malachi’s day, happens today, as people leave the church because they do not see the reality that God’s Word proclaims.

The tragic fact is that not all who heard the prophet believed his words. Some did, however, for we’re told, “Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and hon¬ored his name” (v 16). From the tragic mass of rebellious Israel, God called forth His faithful ones – “those who feared the LORD and honored His name” (v 16). They saw with their eyes the same things others saw. But they knew that the Lord had a greater reality – a reality defined not by sight but by faith.

Like the faithful in Israel, we also live by faith and not by sight. True we often mourn the things we see in this world – injustice, success of the unrighteous, suffering of the righteous – but we are confident of the greater reality that the Lord has made known to us – that we who are faithful are also numbered among those whose names are written on the “scroll of remembrance” (v 16).

You see, our Lord remembers us. He remembers His mercy and grace, which forget what we have done AND He remembers what He has done. In His grace He came into this world in the person of Jesus Christ to share our humanity. In His grace, He went to Calvary, where He, the Lamb, was slain once and for all humanity. In His grace He rose from the dead to bring the reality of eternal life to us. In His grace He grants forgiveness of sins, freedom from death and the devil, and the certain hope of eternal life. ¬

And in His grace He grants to us the very means by which He pours out His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Have you heard the Word of God read and proclaimed? Have you heard a pastor with his all-so-human voice say, “Your sins are forgiven”? Have you been touched by the water of Holy Baptism? Have you stood at the altar and received bread and wine while fully believing they are the very body and blood of Jesus? Then you have seen with eyes of faith in this world the very promise of God’s future reality!

This day the God of all grace sets us free from the world by presenting to us again His Word of forgiveness. He calls us to a new life in Him, a new life lived in this world in joyful anticipation of His heavenly kingdom!

On the Last Day all the faithful will see the reality of God’s future. “‘They will be mine,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him’” (v 17). They who fear the LORD and hon¬or His name are His “treasured pos¬session” and are treated with the com¬passion a loving father has toward his child. On that Day you will stand among those whose robes are made white in the blood of the Lamb.

Until then you and I will live in this world. But here we live as strangers and pilgrims. Our reality is greater than that granted by this poor world. By His grace we go beyond what our eyes see to what our hearts believe without seeing – the full consummation of our salvation and life in the world to come! Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus! Amen!

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