It is still probably the dumbest thing I have ever done in my life. The Colonial 200 is a 206.8 mile ultra-marathon where you run from Charlottesville to Williamsburg, Virginia on purpose. Mind you, I had never run a half marathon, nor had I ever run a full marathon. So, why would I go from nothing to ultra? Besides questionable reasoning skills, it was because at the time I was running six miles, three days a week, and I was assured that with a four-man team it would mean only eight to ten miles at a time with relief in between. While it seemed tough, I figured I could endure. Now mind you, most teams had groups of tens to twenties. We were the crazies with only four! So, without the proper gear and promises that everything was going to be okay, we began our thirty-three-and-a-half-hour commitment to pain and endurance. It is only now that I know why the Bible says, “The wicked run when no one is chasing them” (Proverbs 28:1). I had completely and thoroughly underestimated how difficult this was going to be.
As other teams passed me up on my fifty-five-mile leg of the journey, I envied the ease with which they ran or even their partners who would ride a bicycle alongside their runner to encourage them and support them as they ran. I realized the only comfort I would have on the road were two little signs which would be there before a leg of the run was complete. One would say: “1½ miles to the Life Saving Station,” and the next would say: “½ mile to the Life Saving Station.” The “Life Saving Station” was the best possible way you could describe it. It was literally the place where you felt like you were saved from your agony and misery. It was always good news to see those signs, but it was also an ironic form of good news because every “Life Saving Station” on that marathon was a church. The church was indeed a lifesaving station, but before you could reach its doorstep, like so many churches back east you would have to run through a cemetery in order to get to the front door. This struck me as beautiful especially as we consider the text from Malachi 3:13-18.
Malachi and God’s people were on a marathon of agony as they were trying to reach the finish line. They were straining to see God’s glorious “Day” come. They found it hard to endure, only feeling hardship, hard words, and difficulty. What was especially troublesome to them was the fact that it looked like the wicked had it so much better than God’s people (verse 15). The wicked had such ease and support. Israel felt alone and in agony. Malachi has only one answer: “Come to the House of God because this is where you can find salvation and strength to endure” (3:3-4). However, there were corrupt practices in the Temple and the love of many had grown as cold as a grave. What was worse is that even while God’s people were at the Temple, they still had complaints against God about their pains.
Again, it reminded me of the community of runner’s I hung around with at the church entryways of Virginia. We sat, complained, ate nourishing food, and tried to get ready for the next leg of the journey. We were counting on the hope that with each leg of the trek and as the pain got worse, at least the end was drawing near. I still remember so many details about that run. Chased twice by dogs, my borrowed headlamp went out halfway through the 1:30 in the morning run in the pitch-black Virginia woods, the same leg where a runner was tragically killed because of a hit and run. To my shame, I also remember the leg of the run I had to give to a friend to complete as I convalesced in the van. I recall the sheer madness of running the last leg as I passed the river to the finish line only to be greeted by friends, yes, but more memorably to be greeted by the sad little street tacos as a prize and injuries which still affect me to this day. I had no good reasons for positivity from that madness. It was the last athletic event I participated in. I will never forget it. But I will also never forget how precious those lifesaving stations were, how priceless the church was for me in those moments because it was the only place of refuge on the journey. It did save us, but it was also a place where instead of dying on the road we were living together in community. Sure, we were picking at our wounds and pointing out our troubles but, nevertheless, a precious place to all who needed rest. It was a place of hope, certainty, and something to look forward to until we reached the end.
It is the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who serves the Father and because of Him, we are spared.
Homiletically there are two parts to Malachi 3:17 which serve like little road signs that point out the life-saving Gospel of Jesus Christ for the sermon. In verse 17, it uses the word “spare” (כאשׁר יחמל אישׁ על בנו העבד אתו; ca-a-Sher yach-Mol Ish al be-No ha-o-Ved o-To; “As a man spares his son who serves him”). This idea of being spared can actually connect to the Gospel reading for the day. It is the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who serves the Father and because of Him, we are spared. Romans 8:32-39 says:
“He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? It is God who justifies. How are we justified? By Christ Jesus who is the One who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. So, who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The Father did not spare His own Son so we, while complaining about the things of this life, might be spared. Instead of dying on the way to the end and being left cold and in the grave which we certainly deserved, He has given to us a place of life and community. This place is just past the graveyard, like the churches in Virginia. This place is called the Church. It is a place to stop along the marathon called life and to hear the life-saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a place of fellowship and sustenance (Lord’s Supper) so that as we get back on the road we are strengthened and renewed in the resurrection power of Christ. We are all waiting for the end, but as we wait, we have this Word of hope and this place of fellowship to give us comfort until that day comes.
The second signpost in this verse is the word segulla (סְגֻלָּה) which is often translated as “treasured possession.” This word occurs in the Old Testament eight times: Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Malachi 3:17; Psalm 135:4; Ecclesiastes 2:8; 1 Chronicles 29:3. This is one of the kindest words God speaks about His people in the Old Testament. He speaks this word over them while they are acting and speaking to Him in exactly the opposite manner of a treasured possession. God calls them His “priceless treasure,” not because they are valuable in and of themselves, but because they are loved by Him. They are not loved because of their value, rather their value comes only from His gracious declaration of who they are to Him.
For the preacher, this text is valuable because in life, and on this last day of the Church year, we need someone to point us away from our present pain towards a future day of deliverance. We look forward to the return of Christ, which fills us with hope that there really is an end to this marathon called life. Of course, this is only made possible because Jesus ran the race for us. He did not take one leg of the journey; He took every single step in agony and endured the cross. As we are gathered at church surrounded by this community of people seeking life in a world gone mad, remember the words of Hebrews 12:1-3:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
In other words, do not focus on your own endurance. Instead, look to Christ who endured it all for us on the cross. He did this not just for our sin but the sin of the entire world. We get to run past the grave straight into the Kingdom of God forever because of what He has done for us. Think of how glorious it was when the sun dawned on that Easter morning as the son of God finished the marathon for you. He came back from the grave and you can be certain He will come again for you. Listen to the angel’s words from Christ’s ascension in Acts 1:11: “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into Heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into Heaven.”
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Malachi 3:13-18.
Concordia Theology- Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Malachi 3:13-18.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Malachi 3:13-18.
Lectionary Podcast- Rev. Ryan Tietz of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Malachi 3:13-18.