SERMON TITLE: Where is the God of Justice?
TEXT: Malachi 2:17-3:5 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know — and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time with us or if you’re worshipping at our North Main campus — is that God loves you and I love you too.
And we’re starting a new series this week. Just about a year ago, we took a few weeks to look at some topics that were — and still are — dividing our country. It turned out to be a series more popular than I anticipated and so we thought it’d be a good idea to revisit some similar themes as we’re about to begin a new year together.
And we’re calling this series “Evil” — as there’s a dangerous tendency to call things good that God has said are evil. Where we blur the lines between good and evil, acquire a taste for evil, and even allow evil practices to become acceptable. And this is just as true for the church as it is anywhere else — so we want to look at some ways that we’re exhausting God by calling good — things He’s said are evil. And what it means to experience the justice of God as we do these things.
That’s what the imagery in the video you just saw was showing. Evil things — that some called good. Evil things even done under the umbrella of the church. Evil things that people did for God thinking their actions pleased Him.
And the idea behind this series is found in our text for today — which is Malachi chapter 2 — verse 17 — through chapter 3 — verse 5.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
So if you have your Bible please turn with me to the Old Testament book of Malachi — chapter 2. We’ll begin in verse 17 and read through verse 5 of chapter 3.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. So if you have a question during the sermon, you can text your question in to the number printed on the bottom of the sermon notes sheet or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
RE-ANNOUNCE AND READ THE TEXT
Hopefully you’ve found the book of Malachi. Here are the words found in Malachi chapter 2. Beginning in verse 17.
“You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, "How have we wearied him?" By saying, "Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them." Or by asking, "Where is the God of justice?" 1 Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. 5 "Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 2:17-3:5 ESV)
“Where is the God of justice?” I wonder how many of us have asked this question or something like it? Maybe you’re not so sure about the whole “God part” so you’ve just asked, “Where’s justice?”
We wake up each morning — check the news on our phones — some of us still unfold an actual paper — but regardless of how we get the news — I don’t know about you — but most days I feel like I’m better off avoiding the news altogether as it just seems to be one story after another after another about evil and injustice happening in our world.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And that sounds great and all — but sometimes it’s hard to see any kind of arc bending towards justice when you take a look around us. I mean — forget the trajectory of the world for a moment and just look at the trajectory of our country — what is going on?
Doesn’t it make you sick that we’ve got more and more women sharing stories of abuse? Abuse in Hollywood and in the church! We’ve got racists spewing out words of hate in our country. We’ve got unborn children being murdered in the womb. We’ve got families sleeping on the streets. There’s hopelessness all around us — physical hopelessness, emotional hopelessness, relational hopelessness, spiritual hopelessness — it’s all around us. So much for this being a Happy New Year’s message!
And in seeing all of these injustices — it makes a lot of sense — that out of fear or despair — that we’d cry out “Where is justice?” Or even, “God, where are you in the midst of all of this?” But we’ve got to be careful.
A few months ago, Robert Bowers opened fire in a synagogue in Pittsburgh — killing 11 people. Later, multiple social media posts by Bowers showed that he hated Jewish people. He was taken to a hospital to be treated for his injuries during his exchange with the police.
Now working in the hospital was a Jewish trauma nurse who saw Bowers being wheeled into the emergency room. As a child, this nurse was often singled out because of his Jewish faith. Students would write, “Die Jew. Love, Hitler,” on paper and stuff the notes into his locker in high school. So this nurse sees Bowers being brought into his ER all while yelling, “Death to all Jews!”
OK — so — timeout. What’s the “just” thing to do in this scenario? Imagine that this guy’s being wheeled into the ER that you work in. He’s injured, but he’s being escorted by police because he just murdered 11 people of your faith? What’s the just thing for this nurse to do? What’s justice look like here? What would you do?
Now some of us — if we’re honest — if we were the nurse — we’d go take a smoke break — I don’t even smoke, but suddenly I’ve got the urge to start a bad habit just so I don’t have to take care of this guy — justice. Some of us would be more honest and be like, “Let him die” and walk away. I mean — that’s justice, right — eye for an eye and all? Wouldn’t that be the ultimate “getting what he deserves?”
But the nurse didn’t do that. The nurse said, “I chose to show him empathy.” And the nurse took care of a man who had just murdered people of his own faith.
OK — question. What is it about the way we think of justice — especially here in the US — that makes it so hard for us to think about justice in any way other than “getting what you deserve”? Because the nurse showing the guy empathy doesn’t sit well with us does it? It doesn’t feel like justice does it — the murderer getting treated for his wounds? Is justice always vengeful — is that all that justice is?
Now — if it is — it may be easy to blame God for not doing something to right all of the wrongs we see — but if justice is always “getting what you deserve” then we may be setting ourselves up for a very unhappy ever after. Because most of us — dare I say all of us — ignore the ways in which we contribute to the injustices in our world — we’ve justified the reasons why we call things good that God has called evil. We have no idea how we’ve set the scales of justice against us — if justice is always about getting what you deserve.
And — as bad as that scenario is for us — do you want to know an even worse place to be? The place where you’ve exhausted God’s patience — where — after all of this blame shifting and accusing God — and saying “Why haven’t you done something about all of these bad things that are going on” — after all of that — you find yourself at the end of God’s patience and at the beginning of His just — “I’m going to give you what you deserve” — judgment.
EXHAUSTING GOD (2:17)
That’s how our passage begins. “You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, "How have we wearied him?" By saying, "Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them." Or by asking, "Where is the God of justice?"” (Malachi 2:17 ESV)
Now let’s get an idea of what’s going on in this Old Testament book. The book of Malachi is set up like a courtroom. In the beginning, the nation of Israel is the prosecutor and do you know who’s the defendant? God is. The nation of Israel is putting God on trial and — just so you know — that never goes well.
So what are their accusations against God?
They say He doesn’t love them.
That He’s not being a just God — He’s being unjust.
They accuse Him of not fulfilling His covenantal responsibilities — of breaking His promises to them.
And then — and the people really don’t have any say in the matter — God flips the scenario and puts Israel on trial. God’s like — “I’m done with your accusations against me. So let’s do this — it’s my turn.” Again — it’s never a good spot to be in where God’s like, “I’m done. Let’s do this.” — that’s not gonna end well for you.
And with the roles reversed — God is found innocent and guess who’s guilty? Israel is. The verdict is read. And though they’re guilty — we learn something about God’s justice that should surprise us. But we’ll get to that surprise in a moment.
And our verse — verse 17 — is right at the end of Israel’s accusations — this verse is the moment when God’s going to turn everything against them. This is the moment that none of us want to experience — where God is done — where He’s exhausted with us — where He is ready to serve us justice.
So how did they exhaust God — how do we exhaust God? First, we say that evil is good and that He approves of the evil.
Now it’s easy to do what we constantly see the Israelites in the Old Testament do — and that’s this: Evil is always out there. It’s in those people — it’s never in here — evil’s never among us. Evil is somebody else’s problem — not ours — definitely not mine.
You see, God had given the Israelites clear instructions as to what is good and what is evil. He’s told them plainly that evil isn’t to be tolerated — it’s not to be welcomed — and it’s definitely not to be celebrated. Yet God’s people — let me say that again — God’s people are being found guilty of calling things that God has said are evil — good. And then they go even farther and say that God delights in those who do evil.
So let’s pause and talk about us — by us — I mean us Jesus followers. So if that’s not you — you’re off the hook here — I want to talk to us Christians like Malachi was talking to God’s people in his day. So if you’re not a Christian, sit back, get some popcorn, and enjoy the show.
Christian — what has God called evil that you’re calling good? Now stop. Because you’re already thinking about someone else — so stop that. Don’t let this be some abstract — “let me point the finger at someone else and not wrestle with how I do this” — kind of thing. Ask yourself, “What am I calling good that God has said is evil?”
Doesn’t the question itself make you sick? If you have any sensitivity — at all — to God’s Spirit — I don’t know how it can’t make you sick because you know there’s evil junk that you approve of and you both hate it — and are attracted to it — all at the same time.
I remember a pastor saying — and this shook me to my spiritual core — because a lot of the time I don’t agree with the guy — but I heard him say, “How dare we find entertaining something Christ had to die for.” And — at first I was all like, “Legalism.” And then the more I thought about it, I was like, “That’s not legalism; that’s brutally convicting.”
I don’t even have to get all that specific, do I? I don’t have to say this book is good and this one’s bad. This show’s good and this one’s bad. I don’t have to do any of that because if you have God’s Spirit in you He’s already bringing to mind some things you find entertaining that’s wicked and evil. What do you find entertaining that Christ had to die for?
Sexual immorality? Murder? Hate? Taking the Lord’s name in vain? Racism? Abuse? Poverty? What evil has scratched your “I need to be entertained” itch?
And then we say that God’s delighted in all of this — delighted in us — how sick are we?
We have this way about us where we’re so desperate to justify our evil behavior that we lie to ourselves and say that God’s shifted His moral compass to match ours.
Where we don’t have to change — what we do, what we value, what we approve of, what we call good and evil — “you don’t worry about any of that stuff because God loves you just the way that you are. I bet He’ll even change His standards for you — that’s how much He’s in love with you. So don’t worry about a thing — God loves you.” Doesn’t it all sound crazy stupid?
Now God does love you, but don’t confuse His love for you as agreement with your definition of what’s right and wrong — of what’s good and evil. Our definitions are to align with His — not His with ours.
The second way we exhaust God is by questioning His character — by asking “where is the God of justice?” So we entertain ourselves with injustice and evil and then ask God why He’s not doing something about this whole mess. We don’t even connect how our behaviors — with the evil and injustices happening in our country. Something else is to blame — not us — so why not blame God for not doing anything about it, right? That makes no sense whatsoever.
Now questioning God isn’t unusual in the Old Testament. In the book of psalms questions are asked like, “Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?” (Psalm 89:49 ESV)
God, where’s Your love — cause I don’t feel it. I’m not experiencing it. I’m not sure where it’s gone, but it’s MIA right now. That’s a pretty bold question to ask.
We find, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1a ESV)
God why have you left me? Abandoned me? Rejected me? I thought You were supposed to be faithful?
Let’s be honest — those are some pretty radical accusations against God.
But what’s so disturbing about our question — where is the God of justice — is that now we’re questioning God’s moral character. There’s an accusation — in this question — about whether or not God is morally corrupt. “Maybe You’re not so pure — so holy — so good — after all?” That’s hinted at in our question.
And after accusing Him — of approving people who do things that He’s clearly said are evil — after we blur the lines between good and evil — we then question His character! We even question His existence — “well if this is what’s going on in the world the only conclusion I can come up with is that God must not exist.” That’s what some people think.
But as CS Lewis said, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing the universe with when I called it unjust?” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 2000), 38.)
But most don’t think as deeply as Lewis did. Most of us just say “this is good and this is evil” without any standard to compare to. And — because of evil in the world — many people throw out the idea of God all together. But here’s the thing: If God doesn’t exist — calling evil things good and good things evil — doesn’t even matter. Who cares? Why get so angry over things you think are wrong? Everyone should do whatever they want — if there’s no God — there’s no judgment — so why should we care about justice?
SUMMARY OF POINT 1
That was the state of people in Malachi’s day — and I think you can see how we’re not much different. Which leaves us with a question. Not “where is the God of justice” but “what is justice?” And if we keep reading, we find some clues about justice — we see that it’s coming — God isn’t idle or aloof — justice is coming — but it’s coming with a surprise.
THE COMING JUST ONE (3:1-4)
Let’s read in chapter 3. “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.” (Malachi 3:1-4 ESV)
Now it’s easy to miss — here — but the coming of justice — the coming of the just one — shows us something incredible about justice. When we think of justice we usually think of someone who’s done wrong and deserves condemnation — some kind of penalty — they deserve to be judged — we say “they deserve justice.” But that’s only one part of what justice is — the retributive side of justice.
The other side of justice is the liberative side. An example would be justice for the person in slavery when they’re set free. Justice for the orphan when they’re adopted into a family. Justice for the victim when their story is finally heard and believed.
One author has said this about God’s justice. “It is not uncommon to find God acting in the Old Testament to liberate those who have been held captive irrespective of whether they actually deserve that liberation, in which case the criteria for so acting are not found in the merit or demerit of that constituency but in the character — the gracious “rightness” — of God himself. In these settings, God is effecting the release of his people from imprisonment by an act of ‘judgment...’”( Douglas A. Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 661)
Here’s what’s being said.
Though — as we saw earlier — we put God on trial.
Though we say that evil is good and that God’s delighted with the evil things we say are good.
What we see — in these verses — is that though we deserve justice in the way we usually think — we deserve judgment — we should be “getting what we deserve for being so wicked” — you’d think that we’d find everyone being promised death in these verses — or the mention of destruction — or even hell here in these verses — but what we find — to our surprise — is that God sends someone who refines the people. He makes them clean. He purifies the offerings the priests bring so they’re acceptable before God — and not only acceptable — but pleasing to Him. The people get — not retributive justice — they experience liberating justice. And here’s the real shocker — they don’t deserve it!
But there’s another question asked here — but this time the question’s for us — not for God — and it’s this question: “who can endure the day of his coming” — the day of the coming just one?
What’s being asked is “how do you know if you’re going to experience the retributive justice of God or the liberating justice of God?
How do you know if you’ll experience justice that leads to judgment or justice that leads to freedom?”
When you stand before God, what kind of justice is coming your way?
Which side of the justice coin will you receive? Is there anyway to know with certainty which justice is coming your way?
The answer is yes. And the way of experiencing God’s liberating justice is through the liberating work of Jesus.
For it’s through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that we find freedom from our enslavement to sin — freedom from our enslavement to calling evil things good — even freedom from our enslavement to questioning God’s moral character. Jesus came to set captives free from Satan, sin, death, and Hell. He came to cleanse His people of their sin — to make them sparkle like a bride on her wedding day in a spotless white gown.
In the gospels, you find Jesus telling people to be watchful — to be prepared — for His return. He tells them it will be unexpected that — like in the days of Noah — people will be going about life with their plans as usual on the day of His return. But on that day, there will be a refining. A refining — not just of God’s people — but of all creation. A day of justice — both of the retributive and liberating kind. Those who haven’t put their faith in Christ will experience the retributive justice of God and those who have put their faith in Christ experience the freedom of God’s liberating justice as they experience the chains of sin and sorrow and death and mortality all release their hold on them — forever.
And this coming day will be the ultimate act of God’s justice. While Jesus was here on earth, He showed us that God is a just God. He showed compassion and mercy to those society had excluded — the lepers, women, the poor, and children. Jesus challenged unjust social practices in His day. He rejected the idea of ethnic superiority when He talked with a woman in Samaria. He gave dignity to those considered as second class citizens. He befriended those with addictions and those who sold their bodies for money.
Jesus advocated for the oppressed. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, cast out demons, and even showed compassion towards those who said things like, “I believe you can do this, but help me to really believe.” Jesus showed many the liberating justice of God.
But know that Jesus confronted the powerful — whose power was money, or spiritual authority, or political — Jesus didn’t care. He confronted those who used their power to call evil good. He opposed those who thought God was on their side when they were ignoring God altogether. He confronted injustice wherever He found it. Jesus showed many the retributive justice of God.
SUMMARY OF POINT 2
So what does this tell us? It tells us that to speak of justice and yet — reject Jesus — is to dismiss the just one. And when it comes to God’s justice — and the Day of God’s justice that’s before every one of us — what makes for a “healthy” fear towards that day is to look to it with an assurance because of God’s grace as revealed to us in Jesus — who died for us while we were still sinners. When you look to the Day of God’s judgment with confidence in knowing that — through faith in Jesus — that day is bringing to you the fulfillment of God’s liberating justice because Jesus took God’s retributive justice for you on the cross.
POINT 3 — Where We’re Headed (3:5)
Which is the justice we see in our last verse.
“"Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:5 ESV)
Not all will experience the liberating justice of God. Some will experience the swift judgment of God on the day of Christ’s return.
And what we’re going to do — in the rest of this series — is look at these different groups that are mentioned in this last verse and show how the gospel is the only answer that ends in freedom for people on the Day of Judgment.
We’re going to look at sorcerers — well kind of — we’re going to look at other religions. How does God’s justice relate to all of the religions in our world? How do people of other religions discover the liberating justice we’ve been talking about? We’ll look at that next week.
In two weeks — we’ll look at God’s justice and the foreigners among us — that’s what the word sojourner means. Pastor Ben is going to help us see how God’s justice applies in this area of life.
Then Pastor Ben will help us explore how God’s justice applies to how we treat workers.
I’ll help us connect what the Bible has to say about God’s justice with lying — swearing falsely.
Then we’ll wrap up this series, by looking at God’s justice for the adulterer. And listen — I know some of you are already marking your calendars so you miss that weekend — cause you’ve got stuff hidden in your life that you don’t want God to speak into — but I am praying especially for this week in the series as I want us all to see how God’s justice applies here — because there is freedom for the adulterer — we won’t ignore God’s judgment for the unrepentant — but my hope is that many who walk in shame because of this sin will find the freedom that Christ offers.
So that’s where we’re headed over the next few weeks.
God is just. We may question His justice. We may question His existence. We may question His ways. But what I hope we’ll see in this series, is that there’s much more to God’s justice than what we may first think. He is a just judge — but He’s also a liberating rescuer. God sent His Son to set captives free and I hope that freedom is what many of us will find as we explore God’s justice together. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for Your justice. It is more rich and complex than we give it credit. Your justice isn’t just about You giving people what they deserve — there’s a sweetness to Your justice as well — a freedom offered through it — a liberating power that sets captives free. Thank you for the freedom You offer to all of us through the life, death, and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus. Help us to walk in the freedom He’s made possible. Calling good what You have called good. Calling evil what You have called evil. And not confusing the two. Help us to be people concerned with justice in our world because we worship a God who is just. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
May you go, walking in the liberating justice that Jesus is offering to you. Amen.
God loves you. And I love you too. You are sent.