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God’s Word for You

Malachi 3:2 Bleach for my sin

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, April 24, 2021

2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who will stand when he appears?

Think back to Malachi’s time, four hundred years before the first coming of Jesus. Would the people be ready for him? Could they control the moment when he would appear? Malachi has warned them to pay attention to his messenger (Malachi 3:1) and listen to his preaching, but if they wouldn’t listen to the messenger, they wouldn’t recognize the Christ when he came. He wasn’t going to come like a king with an army. He wasn’t going to come yelling and calling attention to himself in the king’s palace or in the temple. Isaiah had already warned: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will pour out my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1). He was going to be “despised and abhorred by the nation” (Isaiah 49:7). When Christ would come, there would be many in Israel who wouldn’t recognize him at all. But that doesn’t mean that nobody would be prepared. Jesus said: “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Luke 7:23).

The people of Israel had their own ideas about what the Messiah would be like, but very few of those ideas measured up to what God had promised in his word. Man needs to sweep aside his opinions and let the word speak, so that we’re not tempted to say, “This can’t be God’s Son because he doesn’t look like what I imagined.” Our ideas need to be crushed, cut down, and made to conform with God’s word.

For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like launderer’s bleach.

Malachi shows the work of Christ with two clear and simple illustrations. The first is the refiner’s fire and the second is the soap or bleach of the one who does the laundry. In the one case, what is wrong is burned out, and in the other case, that which is stained is cleansed. So those who can be corrected (the corrigible) will be corrected, and those who cannot be corrected (the incorrigible) will be cut off.

Since Malachi will continue with the refining idea in verse 3, we will focus on the launderer’s bleach here. Lye and soap were, in this time, the products of wood ash, animal fat, and water. Cleansing alkali was also obtained from various plants, including the iceplant, native to Africa. A molecule of soap bonds on one end with water, and on the other end with oil, so it works as an excellent cleaning agent, and yet rinses away easily with water. Lye dissolves fat, and will bleach fabric if allowed to mix for a short period, but it will break down the fabric completely if allowed to mix with it for too long.

Christ cleanses from us whatever is wrong. The brilliance of this illustration is that the one washing the clothes doesn’t always know where all the dirt is. I might miss a stain with my eyes, but the soap will still find it. I might not realize that something in my life is sinful, but my guilt is still washed clean by the blood of Christ. The Lord sends the law to show us all of our sins, but our sins are too many to count. They are often too frequent to notice. We pray that as we grow in our faith we will see more and more of them, but as we do, we are all the more aware of the greatness of our Savior. Despite our many, many sins, his work bleaches us clean, lathers away our stains, and brightens us again and again by his grace. “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11).

This call to repentance for Malachi’s people is still a call to repentance for us today, but because he was preaching the coming of Christ, this passage also preaches the gospel. What Malachi foresaw in the future has now become a glorious fact of the past: Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ is risen! Our sins are washed clean in Jesus. When we stumble in our sins, we remember our Savior, thank him for purifying us, and ask him to guide us as we strive to live lives that thank him and give him glory. We humbly pray: Lord, be with us, forgive us, and guide us safely home to heaven. Amen.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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