23rd Sunday after Pentecost
November 17, 2019
“Dead Man’s Curve”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the First Lesson from Malachi 4, the final words of the Old Testament.
My dear friends,
When we moved to extreme northern Minnesota from Nebraska, my folks built a home right on the Rainy River. It was a beautiful spot…right on the water with Canada on the other side. Our house, though, was located on a sharp curve in the highway that sat at the junction of 2 long straight stretches. You can just about image the number of motorists who slid into the ditch because they were drowsy having been “hypnotized” by the long, straight road and they didn’t react quickly enough or the curve was icy which was the case about half the year. We got so good at watching the cars out on the highway we could tell from ¼ mile away whether they would make the curve or not. Some folks in our area jokingly called it “Dead Man’s Curve” because that was literally true. Tragically, a 16 year old kid, Michael Hervey, didn’t make the curve one night and crashed out in the field in front of or house. My brother Mike was first on the scene and he did the little he could. Michael Hervey died in the hospital later that night as a result of his injuries. Yup, I grew up on “Dead Man’s Curve.”
The prophet Malachi reminds me of that curve, only the view is not from a sudden deadly curve on Highway 11, but from the sudden return of Jesus on the Last Day. For Malachi, this great and terrible day was just around the curve. It was certain to happen, and Malachi urged the people to snap out of their spiritual hypnosis and drowsiness caused by the monotony of life and prepare for the final day of judgment. When Judgment Day came, you either made “Dead Man’s Curve” or you didn’t.
If you were judged wicked and arrogant, and then thrown out, that day would be terrible…talk about “crash and burn.” Malachi sees it like being thrown into an oven or furnace. Malachi sees the Last Day for those judged wicked as being burned to less than ash. Sound like a good eternal destination to you? No thanks.
However, if you are judged righteous by faith in Christ, if you made “Dead Man’s Curve,” that day would be one of joy, wholeness, and victory. As you might know, there was a small controversy over the statue in downtown Sarasota called “Unconditional Surrender.” It’s a statue of the iconic picture taken back in 1945 after the Japanese surrendered officially ending World War II. Some complained that the statue glorified sexual assault. Uhm…not quite. Instead, it is a reflection of what the total joy of absolute victory feels like. For believers, the Last Day will bring that kind of joy magnified infinitely.
Malachi pictures it like a calf jumping in spring. Okay…not as cool as a big statue, but it is what it is. I’ve seen calves do that. Not only was our home on the river, it was also adjacent to my grandparent’s farm and they had cattle. Especially in the spring, the calves were so happy. They’d jump around, kicking up their hooves, suddenly running for no reason. It is pure, raw joy as they discover the world around them.
On the Day of the Lord, those who are righteous – those saved by grace through faith in Jesus, will be like that…having survived “Dead Man’s Curves,” we’ll be so excited, so healthy, so awake and so alive! No more pain or tears. No more “Dead Man’s Curves.” No more ridicule by unbelievers about our faith or our church, no more sin to make us feel as though God is distant from our lives. It will be just the opposite; on the Last Day He will become our lives…for all eternity. That’s not a bad thing…WAY better than being reduced to ashes, right?
Malachi’s words make the heat from the furnace on the Last Day just too close for comfort; like the awful concentration camp images from World War II. Maybe that’s the way it should be. And that’s the way it would be for everyone except for the hope that Malachi provides when he mentioned two key figures: Moses and Elijah. Moses and Elijah…Elijah and Moses…men who lived several hundreds of years apart, but once stood together on one very special day. We call it Transfiguration.
More than 900 years after Elijah lived, Jesus went up on a mountain. The disciples Peter, James, and John are with him. Jesus was transformed right before their eyes with dazzling, bright white light. And who else was there? Yup…Elijah and Moses! And Peter says, “Master, it is good that we are here” (Lk 9:33). And Bingo was his name-o! How right he was! For Jesus then proceeds to navigate them right through “Dead Man’s Curve.”
How? Watch as Jesus comes down that mountain and heads straight for another big, important day of the Lord…a judgment day like no other. This day is Good Friday…the ultimate “Dead Man’s Curve.” On the cross, Jesus takes the judgment against us on Himself. Our sin, our wickedness, doubt, anger, rebellion, and arrogance become His, and “the sun of righteousness” (v 2) gives us His righteousness.
Then comes another calf-jumping, big, important day: Easter. Jesus rises from the dead, and His victory becomes ours. By the resurrection, Jesus sends death itself rocketing off “Dead Man’s Curve” never to return. The resurrection makes “Dead Man’s Curve” nothing more than a minor bump in the road.
Just like Peter said at Jesus’ Transfiguration, it is good for us to be here, in church, because every time we worship it’s a Day of the Lord because He is here and we are with Him and we are strengthened for all of life’s dangerous stretches and curves. What a difference that makes in our worship! It’s not about you or me. It’s about Jesus. It’s about coming to hear His Word. It’s about growing closer to Him. It’s about surviving the journey of life another week in order to approach the altar and being so close to Jesus that you take His body and blood into yourself during the Lord’s Supper. Yes, most assuredly, it is good to be here because Jesus leads us safely through all of the “Dead Man’s Curves” of life.
Malachi 4:1-6 is the end of the Old Testament. How does the New Testament end? From Revelation 22:20-21: “He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.”