Do I really want God to change me into the person he wants me to be? This is a question that’s easy for us Christians to ignore. Faithfully walking with God is the toughest thing we’ll ever have to do in our lives. While we want Jesus to “save” us, do we really want him to be our Lord and tell us what to do? Even if we say “yes” to this question, do we walk with God as he works in our lives or do we get angry with him when things get tough?
This is what the Israelites did in the Old Testament. Last week we looked at Jeremiah 33. God said he’d keep the promises he made to his people and keep a descendant of King David on the throne. He even said eventually things would go so well that Jerusalem would be a city of peace. However, that year, 586 B.C., the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem. Most of the educated people and craftsman were sent away to Babylon where they stayed for 70 years.
Persia later overthrew the Babylonians. The Persians allowed some of the Jews to return home and rebuild the temple in 516 B.C. Roughly 60 years after this, Ezra the priest and several thousand other Jews came to Jerusalem. They were encouraged to develop temple worship and obey the laws of Moses. It appeared God was keeping his promises. Israel was rebuilding. Perhaps the Messiah, a descendant of King David, would arrive soon and bring true peace to Israel.
But the Messiah didn’t come and life in Israel was difficult. People eventually drifted away from God. They quit tithing, ignored the Sabbath, intermarried with foreigners who worshipped other gods and the priests became corrupt. To make matters worse, they doubted God’s love for them and no longer trusted his justice. Their worship became somewhat lifeless and routine. It wasn’t about loving God but simply going through the motions. Since they no longer took the law seriously, they offered inferior animals at their sacrifices to God.
Has the same thing happened to you? You’re tired of waiting on God to bless you so you doubt his goodness. Perhaps over the years, you’ve slowly drifted away from God to the point you’ve even quit taking him seriously. Bible study and prayer only happen if you don’t have anything else you’d rather do. You only “go to church” because you force yourself or because someone else guilted you into attending. When you do go to worship, you really don’t meet God anymore. It’s become nothing more than an activity you can check off your list. You’ve lost interest in being faithful to the teachings in the Bible or listening to the Holy Spirit. After all, does it really matter anyway? You’re tired of trying because being faithful only brought more problems and heartaches.
In the midst of this happening in Israel, God sent another prophet, Malachi, to deliver a word to the disillusioned Jews. God told them he knew what was going on and they needed to straighten up. He reminded them he hadn’t forgotten his promises to them.
Malachi 3:1-4 states, “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.”
This passage mentions two different people the Lord will eventually send. The first one is a messenger. Malachi says the same thing about this messenger that Isaiah had written about him 270 years earlier. The messenger would prepare the way for second person, the Messiah.
Matthew identifies the messenger as John the Baptist. Matthew 3:1-3 says, “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
He would make straight paths for the Messiah was by calling the people to repentance. Their hearts needed be ready to receive the Messiah when he arrived.
Once John did this, the Lord, the messenger of the covenant that the Jews were looking for, began his ministry. Matthew 1:21 says God told Joseph “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The name Jesus means “the Lord saves.” He was the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament.
We love this about Jesus. He forgives us for all of the sins we’ve committed in the past, the ones we struggle with today as well as the ones we’ll partake of in the future. Jesus says if we accept and follow him, God will meet all of our needs. Most of the time, he even blesses us beyond what we need to live. He also places the Holy Spirit in us to guide and comfort us. These are the main reasons we celebrate his birth.
But do you notice what else Malachi says the Redeemer is going to do? Let’s look at Malachi 3:2 again. It says, “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.”
A refiner’s fire happens when gold or silversmiths want to remove impurities from precious metals. They heat the metal until it becomes molten liquid. As they stir it, impurities float to the top so they can be skimmed off. Launderer’s soap was applied to dirty clothes. The clothes were then briskly rubbed or placed in a stream and trampled. Neither one of these processes is pleasant.
Malachi says this is what the redeemer, Jesus, was going to do to the Levites. He has to do the same thing to us. Even though we’re forgiven for our sins, we’re still affected by them. Professor and pastor Kathryn Schifferdecker writes, “Like one who burns away the dross in order to refine gold, God will burn away all the evil within us. Like one who uses harsh soap to clean a garment, God will bleach out the stains that sin leaves in us. Refining gold and cleaning clothes are positive activities, but from the perspective of the gold and the clothing, the process holds the prospect of much pain.”
This purification happens through something we try to avoid at all costs. Suffering. The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10-11– “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”
We love the part about knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection. This same power is what will allow us to resurrect from the dead also. The second part, which tells us we need to participate in his sufferings, is much more difficult to wrap our minds around. Talking about enduring suffering is a hard subject to discuss. Often, we preachers don’t talk about it enough. It’s more fun to talk about how God wants to bless us. Nonetheless, God uses trials and suffering.
James 1:2-4 tells us how it works. It says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” God uses suffering to teach us things we can’t -or won’t- learn when things are going well. It makes us persevere in our faith so we can become mature followers of Jesus.
Going through difficult financial times strengthened my faith. It taught me to depend on God in ways I didn’t have to when times were good. Losing possessions taught me not to place my self-worth in what I owned. I also learned that, in some ways, possessions are actually hinder you. Dealing with a chronic illness for several months taught me not to take my health for granted. As I spent many days lying on the couch, I also realized the only one getting upset about the things I wasn’t getting done was me. Tension and disagreements in relationships teaches me not to be as selfish.
Please take a moment and reflect on this question. What has God taught me through the trials and suffering I’ve experienced in my past?
While some suffering is long-lasting, much of it only lasts for a season. If you’re sick, pray for God to heal you and trust that he will. If you’re struggling financially, ask God to bless you. If there’s brokenness in some of your relationships, pray for God to bring healing. Whatever you have in your life that’s causing you to suffer, take it to God in prayer, do whatever he tells you to do and then wait on his timing to bring relief.
There’s one important thing you need to do while you wait. Ask God to show you what he’s trying to teach you in the trials and suffering you’re going through right now.
While no one likes to suffer, we need the purification it brings us. Sin separates us from God. While many Christians don’t seem to care about their sin, it’s a big deal to God. He sent his Son to die because of it.
We’re celebrating the birth of our Savior because he gives us salvation. Trials and suffering are also part of God’s gift to us because they refine and purify us. They prepare the way for God to make us into the people he wants us to be. Don’t become disillusioned in your faith because life is difficult or because God hasn’t answered your prayers the way you think he should. Rejoice in the fact God is using these things to refine you. The more God refines and cleanses us, the less sinful we are. The less sinful we are, the closer to God we become.
This is why the Redeemer came to earth!