Malachi 3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.
The inclusion of this passage is one reason I am convinced of the inspiration by the Holy Spirit of Handel’s librettist. This is a passage quite a few people would prefer were not in the Bible! We think of Jesus as all “sweetness and light,” particularly at Christmas with images of the Baby in the manger being serenaded by angels. However, this is talking about His second coming, and the focus is on purity. We can imagine what “refiner’s fire” might be like, but at the time Malachi was writing, laundry was primitive to say the least. What the NIV expresses as “launderer’s soap” was lye soap at best. (The Japanese just says lye, period.) This was strong enough to raise blisters, and certainly wasn’t something you wanted to apply to your body with any regularity. However, it did kill germs and remove grease, so it was used on fabric, but using a stick to avoid contact with the skin. To Malachi’s hearers, this was hardly any gentler than a blazing furnace to remove impurities from precious metals! The whole point is, Christ is going to return for a spotless bride, and the closer we are to that condition when the time comes, the easier it will be on us. Too many of us are comfortable with our sins, and that is dangerous in the extreme. By God’s amazing grace He has provided something far gentler than fire and lye, and that is the blood of Christ. As the hymn says, “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” Some people seek a “bloodless” Christianity, but that choice leaves only fire and lye. The choice should be pretty clear!
The purity/holiness of God and the repentance required to receive it are constant themes in my ministry, not just to preach to others but because I’ve got to walk that way myself. The devil never gives up in trying to trip us up, so we’ve got to walk in the truth expressed in the first letter of John, just as I preached this past Sunday. When we keep our repentance up to date, we don’t have to fear the fire and the lye. I want to be one who serves the Lord in righteousness indeed, just as Malachi goes on to say in the following verses. Failing to deliver a clear message of repentance isn’t kind to anyone. I’m sorry to say that I have indeed failed in that more times than I like to think about. I am to share with all not just the love and grace, but also the holiness of God, for their salvation and His glory.
Father, You know my heart better than I do myself. Keep me true to You at all times in all ways, so that I may accurately represent Christ to all I encounter, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!