We already talked about the first verses of Malachi chapter 3 before, and I really don’t have that much more to say about it. Just to summarize: The Messiah was coming (and as we know from the N.T. perspective, there are two comings, and we await his second one) and would come as the ultimate cleansing agent. The first time he came to cleanse his people from their sin, and the second time he’ll come to cleanse the earth of sinners and quarantine them forever in a place called Hell. To put it bluntly, you’re going to be involved in one cleansing or the other. The prophet asks “[Who] can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?” This is a rhetorical question. The answer is “No one.”
But then we come to today’s verse, and I submit that pound for pound, this is one of the most poignant and meaningful verses in the entire Bible. In this one verse (fifteen words in the NIV translation, ten words in the Hebrew), there is so much packed meaning. Let’s unpack it.
In the first words here, the Lord (speaking thru his prophet) tells us that he does not change. This is so important. I really don’t think I can overemphasize this. The theological term is immutability, and it’s a good word to know.
As always, we need to be careful in our thinking about him. This means he’s not affected in his nature by anything outside himself. However, he responds to what’s outside himself. For example, his behavior towards us is determined by our behavior towards him. When we sin, he responds. When we confess and repent and believe, he responds to that as well. He’s not unaffected by what goes on in his creation. Contrary to deism in all its permutations, he takes an active role in the created universe. He didn’t create it and walk away. He’s more than the “Unmoved Mover” that some philosophers picture him as.
But in his nature, in what he is in and of himself, he doesn’t change. What he was in himself in the moment before he first said “Let there be. . .” he still is and forever will be. In order to understand this, let’s contrast this with ourselves. A great illustration of this which I’ve heard is a wave of the sea. A wave looks basically the same as it rolls forward. But as it does so, it’s constantly changing in ways visible and invisible. It gets bigger or smaller, which is visible to the naked eye. But it’s also changing on the inside as well: The water of which it's made up has changed. We’re like that. To the naked eye, I’m pretty much the same person I was a year ago. But inside, I've really changed in ways you can’t even see. And of course I’m always susceptible to changes which are immediately visible. If I was in a serious car accident, for example, there would be immediately visible changes.
But in his nature, in who and what he is, he doesn’t change. He's completely true to his word. He’s the three “O’s”: omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. He hated sin before creation, and he hates it just as much now, and he always will.
And here’s where it gets practical. Remember, I’m a practical theologian, because the Bible isn’t there to satisfy our idle curiosity about God or anything else. If it tells us a fact about the Lord or anything else, there’s a practical reason.
The Lord tells us here that he doesn’t change, and therefore “you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” Again, there’s a lot of meaning in just these few words. He doesn’t change, therefore he’s still patient with--and forgives--sinners. Please notice how he addresses them. There’s a reason he calls them “descendants of Jacob” (please see here for more on the significance of his name). Jacob, the child of promise, was far from a picture of godliness most—if not all—of his life. He was the consummate con-man, meaning he was an expert in cheating people and lying to them. He was a coward, liar, thief, and mostly self-absorbed most of his life. But God still was patient with him and still forgave him his sins (which were multiple and egregious).
This is why this immutability stuff is so important. Let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s say the Lord could change. Let’s say that one morning he announced “You know, I think this ‘salvation by grace through faith in my Son’ paradigm isn’t working out. Starting today, we’re going onto a ‘salvation by works’ model. Let’s try the ‘Give them immediately what they deserve’ model for a while." How would that work out for you? To borrow the words of the prophet, if that happened, “Who could stand?”
But he doesn’t change. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin. He forgives the instant we confess and repent. We are his children the moment we believe in Jesus, and as such are co-heirs with Christ. Our Savior has gone away to prepare a home for us, and he’s returning to take us to be with him so that we also may be where he is. And because he doesn’t change, we can count on that and every one of his promises (as well as the threats).
So do you see why this is so important?
Father God, I certainly act sometimes like a spiritual descendant of Jacob: sinful, deceitful, ungodly, totally undeserving of anything but judgment but receiving grace upon grace upon grace. I thank you that you don’t change, and you never will.
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