Menu Close

“Righteous Waiting”

Malachi 4:1-6
Bob DeGray
October 24, 2004

Key Sentence

Hoping in God’s promises, his people have always had to wait righteously.


I. A Day is Coming
   a. A Day of Judgment (Malachi 4:1)
   b. A Day of Joy (Malachi 4:2-3)
II. Waiting for the Day
   a. Waiting Righteously (Malachi 4:4)
   b. Waiting Forwardly (Malachi 4:5-6)


        How would you feel if somebody made you a promise, but you had to wait 400 years for them to fulfill it. Imagine a promise of rescue: I know you’re in terrible trouble, but it’s not the right time to rescue you; be patient and hang on and in 400 years or so, rescue will come. Or a promise of marriage: I love you and I long to be with you. I’ll be back in two or three thousand years, and we’ll be married then. You’d say ‘that’s absurd!’. But the promises of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, were promises that called God’s people to wait not days or weeks but centuries: 400 years of God’s silence until Christ came. Who knows how long until he comes again? Yet God desires that such waiting be done with hope and righteousness.

        So this passage has something to say to all who wait, either for Christ to come or for other things we long for. Ben Patterson, one of my favorite authors, wrote a good book a few years ago called “Waiting”, subtitled “finding hope when God seems silent.” That’s what Malachi’s readers needed and that’s what we need - hope. In his book Patterson applies Biblical principles to our lives and implies what Malachi teaches, that even while hoping in God’s promises, we still have to wait righteously.

        Patterson begins this way: “I hate to wait. My image of hell is an eternity of standing in line, waiting in the lobby of some endless bureaucracy. My teeth clench, my blood pressure rises, my field of vision narrows and my temper erupts. I've embarrassed my wife, my friends and myself at things I've said and done when I've had to wait. And I'm forced to do it several times a week_at supermarket checkout counters, in freeway traffic snarls, at the bank, and in fast_food drive_throughs. These daily waits try my nerves. But there is another, more acute kind of waiting _ the waiting of a childless couple for a child; the waiting of a single person for marriage or whatever is next; the waiting of the chronically ill and their loved ones for health or death; the waiting of the emotionally scarred for peace; the waiting of unhappy marriages for relief or redemption; the waiting of students to get on with life; the waiting of the lonely to belong. For Christians caught in waiting, the question is, "How long, O Lord?" It's a good, biblical question. Even martyred saints, standing in the presence of God in heaven, ask it. And we don’t really want the answer in weeks or years. What we want is hope. We’re asking: "Can I trust you, God? Is there any meaning in all this? Why me? What are you doing, Lord?"

        Patterson goes on to say that “To wait with grace requires two cardinal virtues: humility and hope.” Both of these virtues are implied the last six verses of Malachi. Here in God’s last word before the silence he repeats his promise of a day that is coming when the waiting will be over. And then he tells us how to wait.

I. A Day is Coming
a. A Day of Judgment (Malachi 4:1)

        Whether you’re waiting for something as ephemeral as your next vacation or as eternal as the return of Christ, your calling is the same, and is simple: to hope in God’s promises, and to live righteously in the mean time. So, let’s look at God’s promise. Malachi 4:1-3 "Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire," says the Lord Almighty. "Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. 3Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things," says the Lord Almighty.

        A day is coming for the wicked. A day is coming for the righteous. Same day. Different outcome. The ‘day’, is a technical term, ‘the day of the Lord,” often revealed as a day of dramatic judgment. Let me quickly share a number of ‘Day of the Lord’ Scriptures. They don’t start until Isaiah, 2:12 “The Lord Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted - and they will be humbled.” This becomes a major topic for Joel. 1:15 “Alas for that day! For the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty;” 2:1 “Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. It is close at hand”; 2:30 “I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 31The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” Notice the cosmic nature of that day - the sun, the moon and even the stars are affected. Yet it is not a day without hope. Joel 2:31 goes on to say “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

        The Day of the Lord is also associated with the final great battle on earth. Joel says “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” And Obadiah 1:15 warns “The day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.” Finally, Zephaniah and Zechariah describe the nature of that day in words that are echoed in the book of Revelation “The great day of the Lord is near– near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there. 15That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, 16a day of trumpet and battle cry 4On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. . . Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. . . 9The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.” So it is a day of culminating judgment, a day that inaugurates God’s reign, and as the New Testament explains, Jesus’ reign over the nations.

        It is a day characterized by the dark fire of God’s wrath, long withheld in patience, finally bursting forth on the earth, and changing even the heavens. And for the wicked, it will be as if they are the dried stalks of a failed harvest, consumed in a moment by that dark fire. That’s the promise of verse 1, and if you believe any of God’s promises you ought to be sure of this one - that the Day of the Lord is coming.

I. A Day is Coming
b. A Day of Joy (Malachi 4:2-3)

        But that day will be very different for believers than for those who despise faith. Rather than dark fire, for them it will be a day of joyous light. Verse 2: “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.” Aren’t those great images? The sun of righteousness rising, and us leaping like calves who feel the joy of spring freedom. It’s the same day, but the experience is totally different. In fact it seems to me that the same sun of righteousness that is dark fire to the unbeliever is gentle light to the believer. As Kaiser says in his commentary “Meanwhile, the righteous God will come as "the Sun of Righteousness". No doubt Malachi means to point to Christ, the one who would be the "Light of the world," and "the Lord our Righteousness". Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, called Jesus “the rising sun” who “will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness.”

        Malachi further says that the one who comes will have healing in his wings. He will come to set right all that has been wrong with creation and with mankind ever since the fall, to heal this world of sin and sickness and sadness and death. When the sun sent forth his rays, like the winged disc of ancient art, the long winter of suffering for the righteous would come to a glorious end. Those who feared God's name would feel as invigorated as calves released after a long winter boxed in a stall. For you and I who believe in Jesus what this means is that his second coming is going to release a tremendous sense of joy and relief for us. It will be an amplified version of what we feel when a baby is finally born, or a child returns home, or the marriage ceremony is complete. It will be the moment we’ve always waited for.

        The wicked, however, will be trampled under foot, just as Genesis 3:15 and Romans 16:20 promise. God will tread the winepress of His justice, and the wine of the bad grapes will flow as He crushes them under His feet. The amazing thing is that this verse and several others picture believers as doing part of the trampling. Paul says we will judge the world. Revelation says we will reign with him. We’re going to be part of this victory - I don’t know exactly how, but it’s clear we will.

        So here we have promises: not that different than many others, but significant because these are the last promises before the silence, before the years of waiting. God’s provision for the waiting is to reinforce his promises, as if to say ‘hang on to these’. That’s a tremendous principle for you and I when we wait. We cling to the fact that God is a God who has ordained the future, and revealed just enough of it for us to know that he has in mind fulfillment and joy for us.

        Ben Patterson tells a story about some counseling he did. Quote: “I had put on my best Carl Rogers demeanor, asked lots of questions, listened sympathetically to all Tom said and did everything I could to understand his situation. After an hour and a half I’d learned, as near as I could tell, that Tom wanted to divorce his wife simply because he wasn't happy with her anymore. No adultery was involved, no cruelty, just boredom. Then I dropped Carl Rogers and tried to talk him out of it, to persuade him to recommit himself, to go the long haul with the woman he promised to love until death did them part. He listened for a while, and then said, "But Ben, what about happiness?" And here's the embarrassing part _ I could think of nothing to say. It never occurred to me to tell him that he might have to wait to be happy.”

II. Waiting for the Day
a. Waiting Righteously (Malachi 4:4)

        God promise of happiness for those who wait depends to some extent on how we wait. The last word, Malachi 4:4-6, essentially says “here’s how to wait”: "Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. 5"See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse."

        These three verses teach us that as we hold on to God’s promises, we need to first wait righteously and second, wait forwardly, a phrase you will well understand before we’re done. Verse 4 is about waiting righteously, and for these last generations of Old Testament believers, the key to that is “Remember the law of my servant Moses.” God's people and God's Law are inseparable. Malachi’s message has been that if God's people would not keep his Law, they must expect the judgments promised in that Law. But these few faithful whom Malachi wants to encourage, need to learn to wait for their rescue by being faithful to that law.

        The Law was given as a picture of righteous living. Many of the precepts of the law, it’s ceremonies, sacrifices and civil duties, are illustrations ultimately fulfilled in Christ. These picture the path of righteousness, but the moral laws describe it: loving your neighbor as yourself, loving the Lord your God, fearing, honoring and serving him, valuing life, valuing marriage, valuing the property and honor of others. These things showed God’s people how to live and even thrive while waiting for God to keep his promises. In the silent years about to start it was those who clung with both hands to what God had already said and taught who were able to wait righteously.

        New Testament believers must likewise be careful not to erect too high a wall between the law of God and the promises of God. Paul himself posed the question whether the promises had rendered the Law null and void, and then answered “by no means.” By faith the law was not set aside, but rather written on the heart. So on one hand the law, even it’s standard of righteousness, no longer determines our legal standing before God. It’s God’s grace in the death of Christ for our sins that determines whether we’re declared righteous and forgiven or recognized as wicked and judged.

        The law is no longer our judge. But it is still a picture of righteousness, and, as I said last week, it is available to us as wisdom for right living. We need to take hold of that wisdom in order to wait righteously. In the same way the ethical and moral teaching of the New Testament shows us what righteous living and waiting look like.

        Let me urge you to go home today and consider the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3-11, which are a whole list of attitudes for the present intended to bring blessing both now and in that day. Another great memory passage for waiting righteously is Philippians 4:4-9, where Paul teaches us how to deal with anxiety. Finally, we see dozens of examples of waiting righteously in Hebrews 11, the roll call of faith? Hebrews 11:39 “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” I would recommend that you take at least these three passages home and spend a little bit of time asking God through these Scriptures how to wait righteously.

II. Waiting for the Day
b. Waiting Forwardly (Malachi 4:5-6)

        But we are also to wait forwardly, expectantly. God reminds the people that though he is about to be silent, the story is not over. And if he seems silent in your current situation, whether it is your family situation, your work situation, your financial situation, your marriage prospects, your health or the health of your loved ones, I think he would have me say to you - your story isn’t over, there are more chapters to be written. He says to Malachi’s readers “Look, I’m going to send Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord!’

        There is a clear relationship between this verse and Malachi 3:1. They both contain: (1) the word "Behold!" (2) the participle "I am sending," (3) the mission of calling the people to "turn," and (4) references to the day of the Lord. So Elijah is God’s messenger, sent to announce the coming of Christ. He is John the Baptist in the first advent, and he may well be one of the two witnesses of Revelation 11:3_12. He isn’t called Elijah there, but like Elijah he has the power to shut up the heavens so it does not rain. And Malachi tells us that his message will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the children to their fathers, creating peace in this most fundamental of relationships that is so often fractured. Jesus has the power to do that now, through the Holy Spirit, and we pray that he will. But that power will be even more evident in the life and message of this forerunner to his return.

        Sadly, Revelation teaches that the conditional clause in this last verse of the Old Testament will not be met. Humanity will not turn to the Lord, and God will come to smite the earth with a "curse". Revelation shows this fulfilled when Jesus comes to smite the nations with the sword of his mouth - that is, with his word, or here, his curse. But praise God though ‘curse’ is the last word of the Old Testament, it is not the last word of God’s plan. After that judgment comes the millennial reign, and the new heavens and the new earth, which Peter calls, ‘the home of righteousness’.

        So we are called to wait righteously and to live expectantly. Remember Patterson’s book on ‘Waiting”? He said the two cardinal virtues for waiting are humility and hope, which correspond to living righteously, and living expectantly, or forwardly.

        Max Lucado, who coined that phrase, explains it so well that I’m going to let him close out this message. He says “Let's take a look at Simeon, a man who knew how to wait for the arrival of Christ. The way he waited for the first coming is a model for how we should wait for the Second Coming. Luke 2:25 “Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to Israel's comforting and the Holy Spirit rested on him" Our brief encounter with Simeon occurs eight days after the birth of Jesus. Joseph and Mary have brought their son to the temple. It's the day of circumcision, the day of dedication.

        But for Simeon, it's the day of celebration. Let's imagine a white_headed, wizened fellow working his way down the streets of Jerusalem. People in the market call his name and he waves but doesn't stop. Neighbors greet him and he returns the greeting but doesn't pause. He has a place to be and he hasn't time to lose. Verse 27 says that “prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple." Simeon apparently had no plans to go to the temple. God, however, thought otherwise. We don't know how the prompting came_a call from a neighbor, an invitation from his wife, a nudging within the heart_we don't know. But somehow Simeon knew to clear his calendar and put away his golf clubs. "I think I'll go to church," he announced.

        On this side of the event, we understand the prompting. Whether Simeon understood or not, we don’t know. We do know that this wasn’t the first-time God tapped him on the shoulder. At least once before he had received a message from God. Luke 2:26 “The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen God's anointed King" You've got to wonder what a message like that would do to a person. What does it do to you if you know you will someday see God? We know what it did to Simeon. He was "constantly expecting the Messiah" or as Phillips paraphrases it, he was "living in expectation of the salvation of Israel" Simeon is a man on tiptoe, wide_eyed and watching for the one who will come to save Israel.

        Maybe you know what it's like to look for someone who has come for you. I do. When I travel somewhere to speak, I often don't know who will pick me up at the airport. Someone has been sent, but I don't know the person. So I exit the plane searching the faces for a face I've never seen. And I know I'll find him. He may have my name on a sign, or my book in his hand, or just a puzzled expression on his face.

        Were you to ask me how I will recognize the one who has come for me, I would say, "I don't know, I just know I will." I bet Simeon would have said the same. "How will you know the king, Simeon?""I don't know. I just know I will."

        So he searches, like Colombo after clues. Studying each passing face. Staring into the eyes of strangers. He's looking for someone. The Greek language, rich as it is, has a stable full of verbs which mean "to look." One means to "look up," another "look away;" one is used to "look upon" and another "looking in." To "look intently" requires one word, but to "look over someone carefully" mandates another.

        Of all the forms of look, the one which best captures what it means to "look for the coming" is the term prosdechomai. Dechomai means "to wait." Pros means "forward." Combine them and you have the graphic picture of one "waiting forwardly." The grammar is poor, but the image is great. Simeon was waiting; not demanding, not hurrying, he was waiting. At the same time, he was waiting forwardly. Patiently vigilant. Calmly expectant. Eyes open. Arms extended. Searching the crowd for the right face, and hoping the face appears today.

        Such was the lifestyle of Simeon, and such can be ours. Haven't we, like Simeon, been told of the coming Christ? Aren't we, like Simeon, heirs of a promise? Are we not prompted by the same Spirit? Are we not longing to see the same face? Absolutely. In fact, the very same verb is used later in Luke to describe the posture of the waiting servant: Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting (prosdechomai) for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.”

        Please note the posture of the servants: ready and waiting. Please note the action of the master. He is so thrilled that his attendants are watching for him that he takes the form of a servant and serves them! They sit at the feast and are cared for by the master! Why? Why are they honored in such a way? The master loves to find people looking for his return. The master rewards those who "wait forwardly."

        Both words are crucial. First, we must wait. Paul says "we are hoping for something we do not have yet, and we are waiting for it patiently" Simeon is our model. He was not so consumed with the "not yet" that he ignored the "right now." Luke says Simeon was a "good man and godly" Peter urges us to follow suit. "The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The skies will disappear with a loud noise. Everything in them will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be burned up. In that way everything will be destroyed. So what kind of people should you be?" Great question. What kind of people should we be? Peter tells us: "You should live holy lives and serve God, as you wait for and [here is that word again] look forward to the coming of the day of God" Lucado is showing us that hope of the future is not a license for irresponsibility in the present. We need to wait forwardly, but we also need to wait righteously.

        He goes on “But for most of us, waiting is not our problem Or, maybe I should say waiting is our problem. We’re so good at waiting that we don't wait forwardly. We forget to look. We are so patient we become complacent. We are too content. We seldom search the skies. We rarely run to the temple. We seldom, if ever, allow the Holy Spirit to interrupt our plans and lead us to worship so that we might see Jesus.

        It is to those of us who are strong in waiting and weak in watching that our Lord was speaking when he said, "No one knows when that day or time will be, not the angels in heaven, not even the Son. Only the Father knows. . . . So always be ready, because you don't know the day your Lord will come. . . . The Son of Man will come at a time you don't expect him"

        Simeon reminds us to "wait forwardly." Patiently vigilant. Not so patient that we lose our vigilance. Nor so vigilant that we lose our patience. In the end, the prayer of Simeon was answered. "Simeon took the baby in his arms and thanked God; 'Now, Lord, you can let me, your servant, die in peace, as you said'" One look into the face of Jesus, and Simeon knew it was time to go home. And one look into the face of our Savior, and we will know the same.

        The last word of the Old Testament teaches us this: to wait righteously and to wait forwardly. How good are you at waiting?