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Fearing the Judge, Not the Judgment

God again reminds the Israelites to fear God to escape judgment because the key to salvation is fearing the judge, not the judgment.


Malachi 4:1-6: “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.


“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.


“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (ESV)


Church, do you realize that whatever we fear rules and reigns over our lives?


About two weeks ago, I had a conversation with a sister who said she wants to follow Jesus because she does not want to be sick and poor anymore. Another person said he wanted to follow Jesus because he does not want to go to hell.


How about you? Why do you follow Jesus? Is it because you want something from Him or is it because of the fear of hell? Neither should be the reason to follow Jesus.


One creates a false perspective of reality based on external measures of prosperity through health and wealth and the other generates fear of eternal damnation in hell. Therefore, prosperity and end-time preachers figuratively and literally capitalize on our fears. We truly follow Jesus only when we fear the judge and not the judgment.


The problem is that most of us strive to be good not out of fear of God who is the judge on the Day of Judgment, but the judgment itself. We need to fear God the judge.


In Malachi 4:1-6, we see God’s final words in the Old Testament: his final warning about the final judgment. God reminds the Israelites once more to fear God the judge to escape the judgment because the key to salvation is fearing the judge, not the judgment.


If we fear God the Judge then we have no reason to fear the judgment, neither here nor hereafter. So, fear the judge, not the judgment.


This passage, Malachi 4:1-6, indicates three reasons why we should fear the Judge and not the judgment:

1) because His future judgment is final,

2) it is fair, and

3) it is fearsome.


Final Future Judgment


If you want to know what the main subject of a text is, look at the most repeated concept or phrase. In the six verses of our text, the future day is mentioned four times. The text is about the future day of judgment.


Verse 1 says, “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.”


The day that is mentioned here is both near and at hand. What I mean by that is Malachi is not the first one who painted such an apocalyptic picture, but he is most certainly the last prophet in the Old Testament who delivered such a warning that will have a permanent effect. To comprehend why this future judgment is final, let’s look at three elements: the instrument for the judgment, the object of the judgment, and the outcome of the judgment.


First, the instrument for the judgment is fire, which represents hell. I know most of us do not like talking about hell. But if Jesus preached on hell, then why shouldn’t we? Some may say that burning like an oven and setting people ablaze cannot be our sweet, sweet Jesus.


Listen to Jesus in Matthew 13:41-42: Jesus said, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Everyone is entitled to have their beliefs, but this is the future of this world and God is warning of the coming heat. A day is coming, like the day of Noah. Then was the water, now it will be the fire.


This past Friday was my son Arius’s graduation. In her prayer, his principal thanked the Lord that his mercy is never ending. Though that is true, this verse tells us for some it will reach its predetermined limit. When that happens evildoers will burn with fire.


Second, let’s look at the object of the judgment. The verse says that all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. They are the object of God’s judgment because they believe they need no instruction, correction, or admonishment and that their standards of good and righteousness should receive admiration from God on the day of judgment.


We looked at their character previously: they were selfish, self-serving, and self-righteous individuals completely delusional to the point of self-deception. The day is coming when God will be heard even if that means turning such people into stubble, meaning they will quickly burn.


Third, let’s look at the outcome of the judgment. The phrase “it will neither leave them root nor branch” shows that God will burn and destroy sin, evil, and all of its fruit to bring forth a new creation which will sin no more. Imagine your life in a place without sin and sinners where it would be impossible to sin. But for that to be true, hell and fire are necessary.


There was a time when all we heard from the pulpits was fire and brimstone and very little about love, grace, and forgiveness. I grew up in that era. I had nightmares of fiery hell as a little kid. Though I would not endorse such abuse of the teaching of hell and fire, I tell you this, as a young man that fear of hell made me cling to Jesus.


While that was one extreme, we now see the opposite where the mention of hell makes people uncomfortable. I am sure many of my readers are feeling very uncomfortable right now.


However, if a text compels me to teach an uncomfortable subject I will teach it, because if God intended it to be there that means it is needed. I tell you it is needed more than ever before. Why?


Because today there are several ideas on the nature of hell. Some believers think that hell doesn’t exist, some believe that it only lasts for a short time and then you can enter into heaven, others believe after a period in hell you then completely cease to exist, but the Bible teaches that hell is ongoing conscious torment forever.


What is the application? Do not fear the judgment of hell or fire, fear God the judge who has the power to save from hell, where Jesus in Mark 9:48 said, “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”


Fair Future Judgment


Let’s look at the second reason we should fear the judge and not the judgment. Verses 2-3 say, “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.”


God’s judgment is not only final it is also fair because we all deserve hell. The Bible says, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God but those who fear God the Just Judge, though they may not be perfect and sinless, they will enter His heaven. Just as in your house, you get to decide and put conditions on who gets to come in and who does not, God gets to decide who gets in His house that is Heaven and under what conditions. That is fair. So, it comes down to fearing God the judge.


Let me try to summarize all that we have learned in the last two months about fearing God which has been the major theme of this book. It is neither the fear that terrorizes people to make moral modifications by doing good works nor does it paralyze them so that they cannot act at all.


Rather it is the reverential fear, a healthy dread of displeasing God our Father and Master that births at the core of our being to produce good in us. It is to be in reverent awe of His holiness that no man can ever reach. It is to give God in all that we think, speak, and do absolute respect and honor for there is no one like Him, and to Him belongs all the glory, majesty, purity, and authority. It is not because we love Him but because He loved us first (1 John 4:19).


We see that here in this phrase “the sun of righteousness shall rise.” It appears only once here in the Scripture, so it is difficult to say what exactly Malachi meant, but most Bible scholars agree it is about Jesus. The “sun” is the “Son” of righteousness. He rose from the dead to give life and make us right before God.


The Greek word for righteousness in the New Testament is the word dikaiosunē, which is the status of being right before God. We attain that through faith in Christ, but here it is about His second coming, and how He will remove the cause of every pain, evil itself, to heal and restore.


Then, the example of leaping like calves portrays an image of true joy and happiness. At Jesus’ return, He will radiate righteousness and, in His presence, sin and evil will burn away and healing and joy will be birthed. But for the arrogant and evildoers, the Sun of righteousness will have a different effect.


I come from Pakistan and in Pakistan in certain months the sun is a curse, but in others, it is a blessing. We have the same issue here in the United States. The same sun in the deserts kills everything but in other places it brings life. For those who fear God, it is the source of life but for those who do not fear God the judge it is the source of death and destruction.


Here is the application: Whatever you may go through in life, such as disease, a broken relationship, or habitual sins, know that the Sun of righteousness will rise with healing in His wings, and His judgment is fair because He is a just judge.


Fearsome Future Judgment


Now let’s look at the third and final reason why we should fear the judge and not the judgment: His future judgment is fearsome. Verses 4-6 say, “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”


The title of this series is “persistent love” and though the Old Testament ended with these last verses, His love never did. It is evident in God’s message of hope for everyone. His plea to remember His Mosaic covenant is His desire to be obeyed. Even then He gives them hope for the future that Elijah will come before the great and terrible day to turn their hearts to God. When all attempts fail the fearsome judgment will befall them.


My boys are at that age where they play rough and often hurt each other. So, when I sense they are getting too excited, I warn them to stop or they will get hurt. I warn them again and again, but when nothing works, I get up and go into their room to settle the situation. God has been warning them. The day is coming when He will get up, punish the wicked, and reward the righteous.


The application? We have been given warning upon warning. Heed them. Jesus said in Matthew 24:43-44 that this day that Malachi talked about will come like a thief in the night. Therefore, Jesus said, be ready.


Are you ready? The only way you can be ready for sure is if you fear the Judge and put your faith in Jesus because those whom He justifies, He sanctifies and glorifies and presents them holy and blameless before the judgment throne of God.


Back in New York, a woman came to my office and told me to convert her to Christianity, and I said no. Here is why. When I asked her why she wanted to convert to Christianity, she said that she does not want to go to hell and that Christianity is similar to her previous religion that she no longer wanted to follow. She wanted to replace one religion with another because of the fear of judgment. She was not interested in Jesus but rather in a familiar religion.


If I would have said yes, she may have converted to Christianity, yet ended up in the same place where she was going anyway because, without Jesus the son of righteousness, no one can stand before God. No amount of work out of fear of future judgment will save us from God the just judge whose judgment is final, fair, and fearsome unless Jesus justifies us and declares us innocent before God.


Here are two action steps that you can take right now. First, examine your heart against pride. In Malachi, the key issue was pride that stopped God’s people from listening, obeying, honoring, and trusting Him. Ask yourself, “Do I have the problem of pride?” Only when you confess that you have the problem of pride, do you make a choice to either keep the pride and be ready to burn in fire or burn your pride away and save yourself from the fire.


Second, make a decision: the warning has been given, a calling to repentance and conversion has been issued, and now there is only one thing left, decide. Your pride for your life or your life for your pride? You decide.


Here is my appeal to you. Friends, no works, no man, no religion can claim to save because no one has the power to save, but Jesus does. So, consider Jesus for your salvation, cling to Jesus for your sanctification, and claim Jesus’ blood in every situation. If you do that you will never need to fear judgment because the Judge has already declared all washed in the atoning blood of Jesus to be innocent and worthy to enter heaven.


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