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Refiner’s Fire

“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. 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.” Malachi 3.1-2.

Steeped in immorality and sin, Israel has said, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them … Where is the God of justice?” or, as The Message paraphrases Israel’s words: “GOD loves sinners and sin alike. GOD loves all … Judgment? GOD’s too nice to judge.” (Malachi 2.27). Today’s reading is God’s response.

First, God will send his messenger. There is a play on words here because, in Hebrew, the two words “my messenger” are the single word malachi — the name of the prophet who is giving this very message to Israel (malach = “messenger”, i = “my”). But the messenger that God speaks of here through the mouth of Malachi will not arrive for another five centuries and when he does, he will be John the Baptist. Matthew 11.10, Mark 1.2, and Luke 7.27 all make that positive identification of John with the one referred to in Malachi 3.1.

“… and he will prepare the way before me.” The personal pronouns are full of significance in these verses. The one before whom John prepared a way was Jesus yet the “me” in this verse is “the LORD of hosts” … Yahweh Sabaoth … the God of the Angel Armies. And he Jesus/the LORD of hosts is none other than “the Lord whom you seek”, which is to say Adonai … the Ruler … the awaited Messiah. This is the one who will “suddenly come to his (note the pronoun again) temple”.

And so it is that a six-week-old baby is brought from Bethlehem to Jerusalem by Mary and Joseph, some five hundred years after Malachi spoke these words, and carried into the temple that is, in truth, both his Father’s house (Luke 2.49) and his own house (Matthew 21.13).

But why does he come? To purify and cleanse; to get rid of sin and to make us holy for our holy God. As The Message puts it: “But who will be able to stand up to that coming? Who can survive his appearance? He’ll be like white-hot fire from the smelter’s furnace. He’ll be like the strongest lye soap at the laundry. He’ll take his place as a refiner of silver, as a cleanser of dirty clothes” (Malachi 3.2-3).

Yes … but oh, listen to this Malachi! He’ll do it with the white-hot fire of his love and with the strongest lye soap of his shed blood. He’ll do it by dying for me, not by killing me. I can stand up to that coming and survive that appearance because he wills it so; for he has not come to destroy but to save, not to wound but to heal, not to banish but to restore.

My holiness, however, is his aim, and I must not lose sight of that. Not only the righteousness of Jesus himself that is reckoned to me (Philippians 3.9), but inner personal holiness, wrought by his Holy Spirit. He will have me clean, refined, pure. He will not settle for less. It is why he came.

Purify my heart,
let me be as gold and precious silver.
Purify my heart,
let me be as gold, pure gold.
Refiner’s fire,
my heart’s one desire is to be holy,
set apart for You, Lord.
I choose to be holy,
set apart for You, my master,
ready to do Your will.

Purify my heart,
cleanse me from within and make me holy.
Purify my heart,
cleanse me from my sin,
deep within.
Refiner’s fire,
my heart’s one desire is to be holy,
set apart for You, Lord.
I choose to be holy,
set apart for You, my master,
ready to do Your will.

Brian Doerksen

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