Pr. Eric Swensson

November 17, 2013

photo of Pr. Eric

"Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty. “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” -Malachi 4:1-6

We have these two types of burning in Malachi, The Refiner’s Fire and Judgment Fire.

In Malachi 3:1-2 we hear, "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. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver."

The church knows and loves this text. It inspired a popular praise song:

Purify my heart, Cleanse me from my sin, Deep within.
Purify my heart, Let me be as gold and precious silver
My heart's one desire, Is to be holy, Set apart for You, Lord

Malachi 3:2 is followed by Malachi 4:1: "...and the prophet’s promise that the arrogant and the evildoer are going to be burnt up like when farmers burn the stubble on a field that has already been harvested."

That gives many the idea that if we do not invite God into our hearts and God purify them we will burn in hell. Is it that simple? Well, certainly Lutheran theology proposes that there is something else going on. We call it the gospel. See, Luther was very afraid that he was stubble just waiting to be burnt. He heard texts like this and was terrified. This is the background for his discovery of the gospel.

Do you have your head straight on this? It is an important theme, and we run into it all the time. John the Baptist is around the corner in December and Brother John said the one coming will gather His wheat into the barn — but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire!" MT 3:12

Let’s look at Matthew 13:24-30:

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

Who can endure the day of his coming? And who will be stubble on the Last Day? Who is going to be gathered up in the arms of the angels and taken to the Lord's garner? Those who already rest in God.

This is God’s work, friends. Not ours. We are not to judge others and we are not to be preoccupied with the judgment. Who will be saved? Those who by God’s grace are already saved. Luther said “We must teach the people to live right; and yet both our doctrine and our life are directed to the expectation of the Last Day and of eternal life.” By that he means that we are not to fear the Last Day on account of our works. Yes, we desire to live right, but that does not mean we are afraid of the reckoning. The fear of the Lord does not mean fear of punishment. We stand amazed at God’s grace. He has made our sins white as snow through the blood of the Christ. Thank you, Jesus. +Amen.