By The Rev. Sean Esterline, Messiah Lutheran Church
Please read Malachi – chapter 4 (the last chapter in the Old Testament) before reading on … its okay, I’ll wait. Okay? Alrighty then, now that you’ve done that….
Trust is the most important element in any relationship, whether it’s the relationship between a husband and wife, a teacher and student, an employer and employee, or a human being and God. Without trust, relationships are strained and quickly end—usually badly. If someone is honest and keeps their promises, people know that they can trust that person. The same is true for each of us. We humans, however, are frail and are not always honest, we’re never completely trustworthy. No matter how hard we try, we cannot always keep our promises. At times dishonesty all too easily creeps into our relationships. At times like that our relationships suffer. When that happens, it takes time to heal the hurts and to reestablish the trust necessary for a good relationship.
Dishonestly, however, is never a problem with God in our relationship with Him. Moses wrote in the book of Numbers, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19). We can be sure that God will always be honest with us. He will never lie, and He will always keep His promises! It is this truth that grows out of our text—the final words of the Old Testament Scriptures. In these words we find three promises of our God: two promises He has kept, and a third, He certainly will keep. This important truth provides the basis for our relationship with God, because our God keeps his promises.
He sent “Elijah”, just as He promised. Our God, through the prophesy of Malachi, promised, “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.” Elijah, of course, was an Old Testament prophet who lived four hundred years before Malachi made this prophecy and over eight hundred years before Christ was born. So who is the “Elijah” that Malachi is talking about? Who did our Lord God promise to send? He was John the Baptist, the forerunner of our Savior Jesus. When the angel of the Lord appeared to John’s father, Zachariah in the temple and announced John’s upcoming birth, he pointed back to Malachi’s prophecy while explaining John’s importance to Zachariah. The angel said, “He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:16-17). How was he going to do that? John the Baptist came and did that, according to Saint Mark, by “preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sin” (1:4).
So, because John came as the “Elijah” promised by God, we should listen to him! John’s message was two-fold: he came preaching that all people—no matter their station in life, no matter their economic status, no matter their supposed relationship with the religious community—all people should repent of their sins in preparation for the coming of God’s kingdom. Humble recognition of and repentance of our sin is at the center of our relationship with God. Trying to hide our sin or to deny our guilt is really calling God a liar (1 John 1:10), but the truth is that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 4:9).
How does that confession and forgiveness happen? It happens because of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ—and that brings us to the second part of John’s message. John identified Jesus as the promised Savior that the world should recognize and follow. At the height of his ministry when we are told that multitudes came from everywhere to hear and see him (Matthew 3:5-6), we are told that John told his disciples when Jesus appeared, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
As Jesus’ ministry began to grow, John proclaimed: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). John recognized what Peter later confessed concerning Jesus: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12). So, we listen to John, because he came like “Elijah”—preparing the way for Jesus—just as our Lord God promised!
Yes, our God keeps His promises. He sent the “Son of Righteousness” to save us. Malachi recorded this promise of our Lord, “But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” The “Sun of Righteousness” is Jesus Christ, that’s why Charles Wesley started the third verse of his famous Christmas hymn, “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” the way he did: “Hail, the heav’nly Prince of Peace! Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!” We can see now, our God truly keeps His promises! We see, finally, that He will send the “Sun of Righteousness” again.
Malachi begins our text with a reference to a future day of judgment. He says, “‘See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere 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.” Within the context of Malachi’s words, it looks like the Day of Judgment and the coming of the “Sun of Righteousness” are going to happen at the same time, but as Jesus tells us this is not the case. Jesus came as the “Sun of Righteousness” when He was born in Bethlehem on that first Christmas day. He said, however, during His ministry, that the Day of Judgment was still in the future. It would come, for He would return in glory with His angelic host to judge the living and the dead, but that day would be postponed until the end of time.
This was a little confusing for the believers in Jesus’ day. In fact, John the Baptizer could not understand the path of Jesus’ ministry and, had a few questions while he was imprisoned. He sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3). Jesus responded by pointing John and his disciples to the fact that Jesus was fulfilling all of God’s prophecies concerning Himself. Jesus urged them to trust in Him and be confident that Jesus would fulfill His mission of grace as well as His future mission of justice. The Scriptures tell us that “when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-32).
What should be our response? Obviously, we should prepare for His coming! But how do we do that? The Lord tell us through Malachi, “Remember the Law of My servant Moses, the statutes and just decrees that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.” Malachi pointed the minds and hearts of the believers of his day to the Word of God found in the Old Testament.
By the way, the “Law of Moses” here is not just the Ten Commandments, it includes all the Word of God given through Moses, both law and gospel. Malachi wanted the believers of his day to focus their eyes on the precious promise of the coming Savior. The Savior Who would, as Isaiah had earlier prophesied, offer Himself as a substitution, a sacrifice for the sins of all people. Our blessed Savior, Who urged John and his disciples to remember the Scriptures, urges us to do the very same thing. He promises us, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).
Folks, as we get ready to move past Thanksgiving and enter this Advent Season we prepare to celebrate our Savior’s first coming once again. As we prepare to celebrate all the blessings that accompanied His birth in Bethlehem. We should be led back time and time again to God’s precious Word! We can trust our God, because for our God keeps His promises! And in the Bible we find promises that have been fulfilled and promises that will be fulfilled. In the Word of God we find strength, hope, guidance, joy, and confidence as we wait our Savior’s return! May He find us listening to His Word, rejoicing in His redemption, and prepared for His coming! May He find us trusting in His promises, especially the promise that for those who believe in Jesus Christ, all our sins have been forgiven, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
By The Rev. Sean Esterline, Messiah Lutheran Church
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