Malachi means “my messenger”. His message is one of love, of repentance, and of preparation. Love doesn’t have to come in pretty paper and sappy sentiment. Love can come in harsh words. Malachi spares nothing in reminding Israel what they have done. They have turned from the Lord to idolatry. They have forfeited their inheritance of being God’s chosen people. Messiah comes from Judah, not from Israel. Yet He still loves them. He desires their repentance so that they welcome Messiah’s arrival. Messiah comes to save them as well as their cousins in Judah and even the Gentiles.
Yet there is rebuking to be done. The priests of Israel have failed to live up to the Lord’s expectations. Malachi says: If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Not even Judah is spared the Lord’s rebuke through Malachi: Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god.
There is nothing new under the sun. God’s people stray from His word for new ideas and familiar idols. In a season where hope springs eternal in the promise of a Savior Who is born man, we look for someone or something else as our savior. Perhaps we think if God loves us so much, how come He doesn’t give us an instant cure for this virus? How come He doesn’t end all racial strife? How come He doesn’t pave a way for a level playing field for all human beings to earn a living? How come He lets false teachers of Scripture stand alongside those who speak His truth from Scripture? We forget that God does not exclusively work on what’s happening now. God focuses our eyes, ears, heart, and soul on the long game.
The long game is what Malachi is working toward in his oracle. The long game is what Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel, reflecting back to Malachi’s words over four centuries before. The day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The first thing that comes to mind might be, “Oh, boy, the Lord is gonna show those unbelievers a thing or two on that day!” Be careful that you do not find yourself among the arrogant and evildoers, among people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
All we see today, all the hard work of mankind to form a more perfect union in our country and elsewhere, will burn. Relationships will change in the blink of an eye. We’re so used to marriage and family that we forget that the only family that matters in the life of the world to come is the family of God, sealed in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Yet we’re so focused on today and endless tomorrows that we neglect to look at the long game of eternity.
For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. It is these verses from Malachi that Charles Wesley had in mind when he wrote the beloved Christmas hymn “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”. “Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail, the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, Risen with healing in His wings.” The birth of Jesus Christ according to the flesh brings joy like calves leaping from a stall. If you know how to raise cattle, you know how calves show their playfulness by jumping and dashing around a stall. That’s how it is for you and for me in believing that Jesus comes to make all things new.
Malachi also says that we 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. These words reminds us of the Litany, when we pray “to beat down Satan under our feet”. The wicked believe there is no God. The wicked despise the things of God and look to their own doings as their hope. When your hope is in the here and now and you have no hope for a long game, you will be tread down and become ashes under the feet of those who leap like calves from the stall in playful joy that their Redeemer has come.
We know our redemption is drawing near because Malachi’s oracle concludes with two commands. First he bids us remember the law of my servant Moses. The use of law here is more than the Ten Commandments. Malachi wants us to remember the fullness of God’s revelation that includes the promise of salvation in Messiah, the Christ. Then he promises the coming of Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord. The one who comes in the spirit of Elijah is John the Baptist. John prepares the way of the Lord by turning the hearts of father to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Our attention is turned to John the next two weeks as we hear his testimony concerning Christ.
Today, though, we consider Malachi, the Lord’s messenger whose words are the last thing God has to say to His people for over four hundred centuries. Though we are stung with his penetrating preaching of repentance, he does not leave us hopeless. The day is coming. The end of all things arrives soon. Until that day, we remember the torah of Moses and hear the preaching of Elijah. Both men also do not leave us hopeless. Moses, Elijah, Malachi, and John the Baptist point us to Jesus, the hope of the world. The church has a future because Jesus has a future. His future, our future, is eternal life in the presence of the Sun of Righteousness.