When we look across the old year it is a time to reflect upon things past. There have been many changes in our lives in this past year. There have been new marriages and new births of children. There have also been struggles, problems, and severe difficulties. Our children have grown a year older and we with them. Some of us have had loved ones taken from us through the hand of death. Life is always changing—this past year was no exception to that rule.
In our musings upon this past year, however, there is one phenomenon that can easily escape our attention: Christ’s church has not been consumed. Maybe this is quick to escape attention because we are too busy with our own lives to consider it. Perhaps we do not think of it because we do not know how precious a gift it is to belong to the church in this world. As a result, we do not give much thought to the truly amazing wonder of grace that the church of God is not consumed by Satan and this world, or even by God Himself! We draw our attention to that truth today in our broadcast as we reflect upon the old year: God has preserved His church! This is why I have chosen to speak for a few moments on Malachi 3:6, the last of the Old Testament prophets. We read in this verse: “For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”
This verse immediately focuses our attention on God Himself. I mean, it is impossible to call attention to the church’s preservation without contemplating the God who preserves her. As soon as we do this—that is, turn our attention to God Himself—then we have turned our minds to that which is changeless. We have just noted that there have been many changes again in this past year. Everything changes; nothing stays the same. Nothing, that is, except God. God is the one absolutely changeless Being. And that is the reason we are not consumed—God changes not. The believer’s mainstay in 2020 has been the immutable God. Our mainstay in 2021 must be the same unchangeable God. What better way to end the old year could there be than with this thought: our God changes not, and therefore we are not consumed.
I. Jacob Preserved
As we mentioned, the verse we consider today was spoken in the Old Testament by the prophet Malachi, and therefore to God’s people under different circumstances and in a different time. We will find, however, that despite the differences, this Word of God applies readily to you and me in our day as well.
Malachi here addresses the church in the old dispensation as the “sons of Jacob.” This was not an uncommon address. The entire nation of Israel came out of the patriarch Jacob, whose name was later changed by God to Israel. By the sons of Jacob, therefore, is meant the sons of Israel, or the nation of Israel. And this, we have found, makes reference to the church of the Old Testament.
However, we may not forget the reality that the Bible also clearly sets forth for us, that they are not all Israel that are of Israel. They are not all truly sons of Jacob who are called or named sons of Jacob. Or, once again, to put it in today’s terms, not everyone belongs to God’s true church just because they are members of the church institute in this world. When Malachi speaks of the sons of Jacob, therefore, he refers to that elect people of God whom God has chosen as His true church.
God preserves His true church made up of elect believers. That church is never consumed. But let us observe this amazing phenomenon. Malachi spoke to the Old Testament church, and surely we can see the faithful preservation of the church in the Old Testament since it is recorded for us in Scripture. This was true already in the world before the Flood. The true church prior to the Flood had dwindled to the point of near non-existence. There were only eight souls in the church who entered the ark. At that point, when it seemed that the wicked world had swallowed up the church, that the church would be utterly consumed, God sent the Flood and delivered His church.
When Israel was in bondage to Egypt for 400 years, that bondage grew harsher and harsher. From a human point of view the church should have died beneath her burdens. But even when Pharaoh ordered the destruction of all the baby boys of Israel, that nation continued to grow stronger and stronger. When Israel should have been consumed, she was in fact preserved by God. The same is true in the later history of the nation. The nation of Assyria took the ten tribes captive, and later the Chaldean Empire did the same to the two tribes of Judah. They were carried entirely away from the promised land of Canaan and given settlements throughout the Babylonian kingdom. Babylon attempted to absorb the church into her kingdom of sin. But God preserved His church and brought her back again to Canaan. Always throughout the history of this world God has preserved His church from her enemies. At those times when everything seemed impossible, God was there keeping her from being consumed by her foes.
It has been no different in the 2,000 years after Christ. God has preserved His church of the New Testament too. I realize that it may seem to us as if the world is pretty friendly toward the church right now. But according to Scripture, that is not the reality of things. The wicked world hates the church, the true church in the midst of this world. The world may at times in history tolerate the church, but never does the wicked world love the church. There have been times in history when the church of Jesus Christ suffered horrible persecution for the sake of Jesus Christ. Even today in many lands and nations Christians are persecuted for Christ’s sake. We ought not forget this fact either, just because it is not happening to us. Through all this, God has and continues to preserve His church. The enemies of the church do not consume her.
The same can be said of the church today and of those who are members of that church. The true church of Christ today too has not been consumed by her enemies. Perhaps we are not persecuted for Christ’s sake, nevertheless we are surrounded by the unbelieving world on every side. We as the sons of Jacob find ourselves right in the middle of a world that is attempting its hardest to absorb us into its sinful and worldly delights. We live in a world that is anti-God and anti-Christ, and will use every means at its disposal to turn us from the cause of Christ in this world. That wicked world has battled hard and long with us in this past year again. It has snatched away from us some of our loved ones. It has had its own subtle influence on us and our lives in this world. Slowly it seeks to draw us away from the life of holiness and dedication to God and His kingdom. Slowly it seeks to turn us from the old ways and follow after the relativistic ways of unbelief. But God is faithful to His people in Christ. He yet preserves His true church today, though there are many who have turned against her.
But there is an even more amazing wonder in this preservation of the church. That is actually the one expressed by Malachi in the verse we consider. It is of God’s mercy that we are not consumed. Malachi calls our attention to the truth that it is a wonder of all wonders that we have not been consumed by God Himself! Countless times throughout the ages the church has turned away from God and began to follow after the gods of this world. Think of the time when Israel stood before God at Mt. Sinai and worshiped the golden calf in His sight. God was filled with wrath. He told Moses to step aside and He would destroy the entire nation. It was a wonder that God did not consume the sons of Jacob in His wrath! And how about during the many years that the judges ruled in Israel? How often Israel did that which was right in her own eyes. How often did God send her enemies to come and devour her and her land. Yet, even when Israel most deserved destruction, God preserved her. How often Israel turned from the truth and worshiped other gods while in the land of Canaan. God could very well have consumed her, destroyed her by the hands of the Assyrian and Chaldean Empires. Instead, the church was taken captive and then later brought back to the land of Canaan.
Now, having returned to the promised land, Israel again sinned greatly against Jehovah. Throughout this book the prophet Malachi rebukes her sharply for her sin. Yet, God continued to preserve His church throughout the 400 years of silence between the Old and New Testaments. Though times were dark, God preserved His church unto the very birth of Jesus Christ. Even then, when the Jews turned their backs on the Savior Himself and crucified Him, the Lord preserved His faithful few out of this nation. God has never destroyed or even forsaken His church!
But did not God in His anger consume many in the church? Maybe God did not destroy the entire nation of Israel, but many in Israel were destroyed by the hand of God, for example, in the wilderness. How many fell by the wayside in the wilderness and never did see the land of Canaan, and that because of their sins? How many hundreds of thousands of Israel and Judah were killed when taken captive by Assyria and Babylon? Did not God consume these sons of Jacob in His wrath against sin? Ah, this is where we must keep in mind the distinction between true Israel and those of Israel in name only. Surely, God in His wrath consumed many in the nation of Israel, but these were not His elect people. They were not true Israel. God never destroys His faithful people. Never are they consumed, even when they sin against Him.
In this we as believers rejoice at the end of another year. In this past year, you and I have not been consumed in God’s wrath. Even though we have deserved it. God has been faithful and has not destroyed us in anger for the sins we have committed against Him. That is an amazing act of God’s mercy in itself. God gathers His church everywhere in this world. That church universal has again been kept safe. The gates of hell have not prevailed against the church.
II. Jehovah’s Faithfulness
To what do we ascribe this great wonder of the ages, that God’s people are not consumed? Why are we preserved? Have we merited this privilege? Can we ascribe it to our own faithfulness to God’s cause? Can we attribute this preservation to our own strength and ability to remain steadfast? Certainly not! The sons of Jacob are not consumed for one reason, and one reason alone: because God is Jehovah who changes not. That is the only reason we are not consumed, neither by our enemies nor in God’s wrath against our sin! God is Jehovah and changes not!
But let us understand the reasoning by which we can conclude this. What does the fact that God changes not have to do with our not being consumed? Let us begin with the name “Jehovah.” This name is the Hebrew “Iaweh,” which literally means “I Am.” The name Jehovah therefore makes reference to the words God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush. There God speaks of Himself as the “I Am That I Am.” Think about that name once. God is. He does not describe Himself as the “was” or the “will be.” God is. He exists. Time does not touch Him. God is eternal and therefore stands above time. God simply is. He will never be young and never grow old.
This means time does not change God either. Everything changes because everything is touched by time. And time changes things. Not so with God. He stands above time and above space. He is not affected by them. God therefore is the immutable God. He does not change His mind or His ways. As James tells us in James 1:17, with God there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” Just as God is changeless in all His infinite perfections, so also is He changeless in all that He has sovereignly purposed. God never changes His mind, because God never makes mistakes or errors. He never miscalculates or misjudges matters. God is Jehovah, He changes not.
But what has this to do with the fact that we, the sons of Jacob, are not consumed? We can attribute God’s faithfulness this past year to the covenant He establishes with His people in Christ. God has spoken these words to His people: “I will be a God unto you and to your children after you in your generations.” God has established this covenant with His church. It is a covenant rooted in God Himself as Jehovah. It is a covenant ordained from eternity in God’s eternal counsel. It is a covenant God has established with His people since the beginning of time. In that covenant God has made us promises. One such promise to the sons of Jacob, to His church, is this: I will never forsake you. Your enemies will therefore never prevail against you. Not even the gates of hell or the power of Satan and his fallen host can thwart the salvation of the church. God will faithfully preserve His church. He does that too. God has promised us, and that promise will not change, because God does not change. In order to maintain that promise of protection against our foes, God has sent Christ, ordained, exalted, strong to save us. He rules over the enemies of His church. Our risen and exalted Lord will actually use our enemies for the welfare of the church. God is faithful because He does not change from His eternal purpose for you and me.
God is faithful in all of this also because He has promised to save us from sin. This is why we have not been consumed in this past year. God has not forsaken His people or destroyed us in His wrath against our sin, because He has saved us from that sin in the blood of Jesus Christ. In this, too, Christ is sent by God in His faithfulness to His covenant with His church. Christ comes and takes away the wrath of God against us. For that reason we are not consumed. For that reason we are preserved both as individual believers and as a church. God is a faithful covenant God who never changes from His purpose to give us the highest possible friendship and fellowship with Him. This is the connection then between God’s immutability and our preservation. All must be ascribed to God alone, who has been faithful to us this past year for the sake of Jesus Christ.
III. Jacob’s Observation
Now, let us step back a moment at the end of this year 2020 and reflect on our lives. Let us observe with spiritual eyes the events of another year. Let us make an observation with respect to God’s faithfulness and our preservation. We have seen many different threats to the church of Jesus Christ—not the least of which is the coronavirus that swept through the nations of this earth. Many nations where there is no freedom of religion simply shut down the churches so that they could not meet in worship. Yet, we know how vital worship is in the life of the believer. Even here in our own land, in compliance with the government’s decisions, the church was unable to meet for weeks. This was and is hard on the church of Christ. From that point of view, the year 2020 has threatened the well-being of the lives of God’s children who desire nothing more than to gather with God’s saints in God’s house.
We do not, of course, wish to end this year on a note of doom and gloom, but we do wish to be realistic too. Two-thirds of the countries of this present world are non-Christian countries. Few of them favor God’s people. In many of them God’s people are repressed or even persecuted. In our land too we hear of threats against the Christian church. Statistics show that more and more people in our land see no need to attend church. They have become unchurched. The false church grows larger, but this church has wandered far, far away from the truth and from an emphasis on a life of holiness. Even we who love the cause of Jesus Christ are prone by nature to give in to our sinful natures and to stray from the paths of God. It is in us all. The days are dark in which we live, just as they were in Malachi’s day.
If this is as far as our observations of 2020 go, it would be doom and gloom! But with spiritual eyes we evaluate all these events in light of God’s faithfulness to His church. God is gracious and kind to those whom He has saved in the blood of Christ. The cause of Jesus Christ is not lost, and it never will be. As we look back across 2020, we can certainly say, “It is of God’s mercy that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness!” Christ is king forever! He reigns in the heavens over His church. Christ has earned for us the forgiveness of sins and has reconciled us to God. We, the church, are the body of Christ and are united to Him forever. We need not fear. God is our guide and will lead the church unto eternal glory. He uses everything—even the evils we have seen in this past year—for the advantage and profit of His church. In that we rejoice at the end of another year. God has not consumed us. We sit here together today praising His name and His goodness. God will preserve His church unto the very coming of Jesus Christ. Then we together will stand in glory rejoicing in the God of our salvation.