I’m pretty proud of myself this year. I’m already done with my Christmas shopping. I have purchased every gift that I believe my wife will enjoy. In fact, I know she will enjoy every gift I have purchased because she gave me a list of what I should purchase. Smart, right? Now, I know some of you are thinking, “Well, that just takes all the fun out of it!” Does it though? Because I don’t know about you, but if there is one thing that is a bit of a downer at that time when you open presents at Christmas, it’s when you give someone a gift, and you can just tell that the gift you bought them, the one you thought would be a big hit, was one big fail – it’s written all over their face, like what am I supposed to do with this multi-function toenail clipper, fork, back scratcher, and toothpick combo utility tool?
Gift-giving can be stressful, sometimes you just don’t know what to get a person, and the pressure to get the right gift for someone only gets worse as you become closer to them. I’ve been married, what, six years, and I know that’s not a long time, but you would think I’d have at least some idea of what my wife would want. Thankfully, she knows me well enough to give me that list. But it is disappointing, isn’t it, when someone whom you think knows you gets you a head-scratcher of a gift.
So, imagine for a moment that your heavenly Father, God, is getting you a gift this year for Christmas. You’d probably expect something pretty amazing. I mean, God knows everything about you; he knows you better than you know yourself. But then you get that gift from him – two gifts actually – the first is warm to the touch, which seems a little strange, and the second gift, the second smells like chemicals. You open those gifts up – you’re excited – but the first one is a burning hot refining fire, or, just because I couldn’t bring a refining fire, a hot coal and the other gift is a bar of soap. Imagine opening these two gifts up in front of God. Might be hard to look thankful in that moment. Like, “What is this God? Is this some sort of joke? Where’s my real gift?” No, it’s not a joke. This is what you need. Before we go any further though, let’s look at the first verse of our lesson, verse 1 of Malachi chapter 3.
“See, 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. You maybe knew this but, Malachi, his name, means “messenger.” So, here is this messenger prophesying about a future messenger who will prepare the way before me. Who is the “me” there? In Matthew chapter 11, we find out. In that chapter, Jesus quotes from this very verse to explain that the messenger Malachi prophesied about was John the Baptist, and John the Baptist was preparing the way for him, for Jesus – Jesus is the “me” in this verse. That makes him the messenger of the covenant, the one whom God’s people are seeking, the one they desire. Alright, now look at verse two with me.
“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.” We are still talking about Jesus here, and look how he is described. He’s a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. Now, remember, how I said this – this fire and this soap – was the gift you need. Let’s talk about that some more.
Start with that refining fire. What do you know about the refining process of say gold or silver?…Yeah, me too, not much. But I did a little reading, watched a few videos, which, by today’s standards, makes me an expert. It’s kind of interesting how precious metals are refined. Silver for instance is heated up to 1763⁰F for the refining process. Once it hits that temperature, silver begins to melt and the impurities, the stuff that’s not silver, starts to float to the top (it’s called dross), and this is scraped off by the refiner, the metal worker. For what purpose? To achieve a purer silver metal. Now, what about that soap?
That soap isn’t just a normal soap it’s a soap that has lye in it. Are you familiar with lye? What cleaning products contain lye? It’s the good stuff, the strong stuff. We’re talking draino and most paint strippers. So, here is Jesus, and he’s described as this refining fire and lye-filled soap, but he’s not cleaning clothes or clearing drains, he’s not refining silver or gold, no, he’s cleaning, he’s refining, people. You see that in verse 3, “He, Jesus, will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.” Jesus is refining people. And why does Jesus need to do this? Why do you and I need to be refined and cleaned? We have impurities, things that don’t belong in our hearts and in our lives.
I’m guessing you’re going to go home today sometime after this service. When you get home, do me a favor, as you’re walking around in your house – especially any carpeted areas – ask yourself are your floors, your carpets, clean? If you’re sitting on your couch and you drop a chip or something on the floor, will you pick up and eat it off the floor? I would. My assumption is my carpet is fairly clean. It gets vacuumed. We take our shoes off in the house. It’s clean. But then you get that carpet cleaner in the house and you deep scrub those carpets and you see all that nasty black water that gets sucked up…those carpets are not clean. Or think of that last time you went to the dentist.
I brush and floss somewhat regularly (the brushing is regular). And, yet, every time I go to the dentist, “Oh, yeah, you got some plaque build up in there.” You think your mouth is clean…Isn’t this true in our own lives? Things look good. I look good – you look good! – but dig a little deeper or let someone else take a look and what do we find? Impurities. Sin. Think of our thoughts sometimes and how those bad thoughts just keep showing up in our minds, where is that coming from? Think of grudges or an unwillingness to forgive that we hold these things inside and they’re so deeply rooted, or think of that bitterness you might have, it’s so ingrained in you that you forget it’s even there. These things need to be removed. They don’t belong.
And, look, when you find out how filthy your carpets are, when you realize your teeth are covered in tooth decaying plaque, it disgusts you and you get those things cleaned and, theoretically, you work hard to keep them clean. Isn’t it the same when we realize how sinful and sin-filled we are? We want to be clean. Ignoring the sin, denying the sin, it doesn’t work.
The point here is that there are things in our hearts and in our minds that need to be cleaned, refined. And just because you don’t see it, or don’t want to see it, doesn’t mean it’s not true – that it’s not there. So, you go back to the beginning of verse 2, and there Malachi asks two very important questions, take a look, “Who can endure the day of Jesus’ coming? Who can stand when he appears?” The answer is no one can because, once we’re tossed into that refining fire, once we begin to be scrubbed with that launderer’s soap, we’re exposed. Our sin and our guilt are revealed, things aren’t so clean and tidy.
But, remember how I told you that I read some things and watched a few videos on the refining process. Well, in one refining video that I saw a metal worker said that good refiners do two things: 1) They carefully watch the temperature of their refining fire and 2) They watch the metal itself, because if the temperature is just a few degrees too hot that metal will begin to be marred and it will be ruined.
So, think about this, if we have impurities in our lives, sins that are real and deep and buried in us, sins that we need to confess and repent of and be cleansed of, don’t you think it’s important to know whose refining us? Well, who is refining you and me? That’s the point of Malachi’s whole prophecy in these verses, it’s Jesus. And, I can’t think of anyone else that I would want to be doing that refining process than my Savior who loves me. And isn’t that worth noting? Jesus is a refining fire, not a consuming fire. God never wanted to destroy you. You see that there in verse 6. “I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” And then he says this in verse seven, “Return to me, and I will return to you.”
Why does Jesus refine us? Why does he sometimes come at us hard with his law even though he knows how angry and terrible it will make us feel? What’s his end goal? It’s not to send us to hell. He wants us to return to him. He wants to save us, he wants to save you. In the refining process of silver, the silversmith will often refine that silver multiple times, and one way he knows that that silver is done, it’s ready, it’s pure…is when he can see his own image, his reflection in the silver. So, why does Jesus refine you? Why does his law bother you and convict you? Because Jesus wants to see his image in you, and so he uses that refining process to draw out all your impurities all your sin, so you can see it, and confess it, and repent of it. And you know what happens next? In Christ it is forgiven, it’s burned away and there you stand in God’s sight pure and holy, a reflection of your perfect Savior.
Which is why, which is why, God often gives you this gift, again and again, a refining fire and a launderer’s soap – because he knows you need it. Because it’s this gift that humbles you, it’s this gift that leads at Christmas time to the foot of a manger and all other times back to that cross. There you see your Savior – and you know him! – and as you look at him you see the end of your refining process. It’s done or, as Jesus himself said on the cross, “It’s finished.” Which means you hear those two important questions from Malachi much differently now. “Who can endure the day of Jesus’ coming? Who can stand when he appears?” “I can…you can” We can because God gave us that gift, a refining fire, and a launderer’s soap. That’s the gift we need, a Savior. He is Christ the Lord. Amen.