(Malachi 3:1-5, 4:1-6; Matthew 11:11-15;)
For a time, it seemed that the prophets had ceased to speak. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets….” (Heb 1:1). Back then we had the temple in Jerusalem, and we had the voice of the prophets on and off... for hundreds of years. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel. Elijah, Zepheniah, Micah, and Nahum, to name a few. The last of the books of the Old Testament though… is the Prophet Malachi.
Malachi spoke as the Spirit carried him along (2 Pet 1:21), some time after the people were released from captivity in Babylon. God had worked things out in the rise and fall of nations so that they would be returned, safely to live in the land of Israel. They had been able to rebuild the temple and rebuild the walls of the city of Jerusalem. Things seemed like they might get back to normal… they had entered into yet another cycle of repentance, restoration, sin, wrath, and perhaps repentance again. Yet after the prophet Malachi, the prophets had ceased to speak. The people were back home, but… the last few words from the Lord had been cryptic. What did it portend?
It is written: “3:1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.”
There are two bold statements here. Two advents. A messenger from the Lord will come, and further: the Lord Himself is coming. The advent of a messenger is normal… kings and all people of high position often sent heralds ahead of them. The word for messenger (מֲלְאָךְ) can often mean ‘angel,’ since God often used angels to send messages to His people. Yet this messenger Malachi foretold is also called “Elijah” later on (Mal 4:5)... not a reincarnation or resurrection of the original Elijah, but a prophet who speaks by the same Spirit, power, and office as Elijah of old (Lk 1:16-17). Jesus tells us plainly in the gospel reading that John the Baptist is this “Elijah”, the messenger prophet who was promised to come and prepare the way (Matt 11:14).
The messenger prepares the way for the One who is to come. That’s the Advent of Jesus. The month of December is often a-jinglin’ with inflatable Santa Clauses and secular stories aplenty. That cheerfulness is fine, yet you know that the real reason for the Christmas season is the incarnation and birth of the Son of God. We remember how once He came in blessing, and watch for the present and future Advent of the Lord Jesus to judge the living and the dead. Christmas doesn’t start until sundown on December 24th though… so perhaps the best mascot for the church during this Advent season is... John the Baptist. A hairy weirdo on the fringes of secular society, yet one close to the Lord, speaking with the prophetic spirit, calling sinners to repent and believe in the Lord Who comes to us.
Malachi might be the last book of the Old Testament, but John was the last of the Prophets who had to wait for the Incarnation. Historically, John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus by his ministry… just like Elijah… with a fiery preaching of repentance and faith [in the coming Lord]. So also today, the same prophetic message prepares the way for the Lord Who is to come. The voice of the prophets has not ceased. God has raised up messengers, preachers of repentance and faith, to echo forth their same message.
Malachi 3 verse 2 continues: “2 But who can endure the day of [the Lord’s] coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap.” Therefore do not rest in complacency with respect to the coming of the Lord Jesus among us. Do not think that you are done being refined. Fuller’s soap is caustic, like bleach. A refiner’s fire repeatedly melts the precious metal along with the dross, that they can be further separated. It is written: “5 “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” Do not be among them, enchanted by the many “sorceries” Modern mankind has come up with. Keep adultery far away from your heart or your eyes or your hands. Put your name only onto what is true, and do not consent to live by words or ideas that you know are false. Let your conscience be captive only to the Lord God in His Word. Do justly and love mercy for all, even your enemies and those who hate you.
This we have not done. Not perfectly. So even we who believe and are baptized abide in the Word, abiding in the prophetic message which prepares us for the Advent of our Lord. Your sins are forgiven. Christ is come to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, and withhold forgiveness from those who do not repent. God still works through those He has put in the prophetic office, to convict the unrepentant and declare Absolution upon the repentant faithful. Even as we Christians are already fully justified by the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, we look forward to how God the Holy Spirit is renewing us, sanctifying us, refining us in the image of Christ. We want to be prepared for the coming of our Lord. We long to be sanctified, purified of those besetting sins and cleansed of our shame. To that end, we return again to where the prophetic office speaks purely, and the sacraments are rightly administered, even if that puts us at the fringes of the rest of society. Through these means that Holy Spirit works to sanctify and refine you. Your sins are forgiven. On the last day when all our dross is finally purified, we who believe and are baptized will be fully renewed, refreshed, and rejoicing. We will leap like calves and rejoice at the Sun of righteousness. For Where Jesus is, there is His kingdom. You have His kingdom now, and it is yours by faith. That kingdom cannot be taken away from you by violence, it remains yours by God’s grace through faith in the coming Messiah, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. In + His name. Amen