All Roads Lead To Jesus - Malachi

Malachi – Jesus is the Refiner
Reading: Malachi 3

My family loves to tell stories. You will never laugh more than when you are in a room full of Lebanese cousins, uncles, aunts, parents, and grandparents when they start to stroll down memory lane. The volume is loud, the stories are certainly embellished for laughs and you never want it to end. A story could be told a million times and it always feels fresh as you wait for the familiar punchlines and the laughter that will certainly follow.

I imagine that the households in Judah were very similar. I can imagine large family gatherings where the aunts and uncles would tell the stories of the past. I imagine that there would be a respectful silence as the great grandfather reminded the family of all that their people had been through. Children grew up hearing how their people had escaped Egypt by the mighty hand of God. They heard the stories from different perspectives of those who were never named in the Scriptures but had observed these things as part of the hundreds of thousands of people that traversed the wilderness. Those family gatherings must have been magical.

But those stories were eventually part of the distant past. They may have felt just as ancient to the people of Malachi’s time as they do to us in our time. Judah had not experienced God in the same way that Moses had. As they heard the stories for the thousandth time they may have thought, “That was then. This was now.”

During the time of Malachi, Israel had returned from Babylon and had listened to the prophets that urged them to rebuild the temple and to return to the Covenant God had made with them all those years ago. Judah had been obedient. They rebuilt the walls. They rebuilt the Temple. They returned to worship. And yet, something was missing. God seemed silent. Slowly, life went back to the normal grind.

Religion was still a part of everyday life and living for the people of Israel, but there was no real power and no real heart. Malachi saw what was happening and so he pleaded with Israel as the curtain between God and His people began to close.

The priests felt this silence from God and subsequently allowed corruption to enter into their midst. Worship was routine and disconnected from the lives of the people. They observed all of the religious rites and rituals but without any perceived worth. Marriages broke part and families disintegrated. The social fabric of God’s people had been deteriorating for some time. Israel ignored the inequality and inequity that they had been facing since their return. Widows went without help and orphans begged for sustenance in the streets. To make matters worse, there was cultural and racial tension between those that thought of themselves as the pure-breed Israelite and those that were considered half-breed such as the Samaritans.

All the while, God’s voice grew silent as fewer and fewer prophets stood before the nation of Israel. Perhaps, all of the stories of the past were just that – stories. Perhaps, their best days were behind them and God had done all that He was going to do. Maybe, God had never done any great work before and all of the stories were just myths. Or maybe, there was no God at all, and the people of Israel were just another nation that would rise and fall.

Malachi was the last prophet before John the Baptist followed him 400 years later. During those 400 years, God remained silent. Malachi must have felt this coming silence as he watched life return to normal after the return from exile. But even in the growing silence, the prophet knew that God was not yet done with His people. There were still stories to be told. The laughter around the family dinner table would return as God’s people would remember how He worked. Malachi wrote these hopeful words 400 years before Jesus Christ was born,

“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.  But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD.  Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.”

Malachi was certain that God had not left His people and that He would keep His covenant with them. In this passage, Malachi predicts the coming of John the Baptist who would be the last Old Testament era prophet before Jesus Christ. Jesus was the one who would fulfill the New Covenant by his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus was the Refiner of which Malachi spoke.

The people of Israel had to hang on to these words of Malachi during those 400 years as God promised that He Himself was coming. He would be the refiner and would restore righteousness to his people. Through Jesus, God Himself would bring back the days of glory that the children of Israel had heard so much about.
During the life of Jesus and in the days after His ascension the stories around the table returned. The story of God’s redemption was no longer an ancient and disconnected story but rather one that everyone was personally involved in.

As Jesus preached and ministered, word spread quickly from town to town and from table to table and family to family. The words of Malachi echoed in the hearts and minds of those who followed Jesus. With every account of God’s glory being displayed through the words and actions of Christ the people felt and experienced to a greater degree what the people who followed Moses out of Egypt felt only in part. Jesus was a greater prophet than Moses, a greater king than David, and a greater priest than Aaron.

But then, he was crucified and killed. For many, Jesus was no longer the refiner who would restore the righteousness of God to his people. He was no longer the one who would bring back the true glory of God to the Temple. He was just another dead messianic figure.

The voices around the tables must have been hushed for those few days that Jesus’ body lay in the tomb. But then, something happened. Jesus had not been defeated but rather he had defeated their ultimate enemy of sin and death. Can you imagine what the stories must have been like as word spread? Some of those who heard about the resurrection were most likely hearing about his death at the same time! They heard the Gospel in its entirety just like we hear it today! This Jesus who had been prophesied about from the words of Malachi 400 years earlier had indeed refined God’s people. He had indeed brought the righteousness and glory of God back to the people of Israel.Through his death and resurrection, this Jesus had led God’s people out of Egypt and into true freedom and eternal life.

The stories spread from town to town and table to table. The laughter of heaven had returned. The work of Christ was just beginning with His resurrection. God was doing new work and expanding His Kingdom into the four corners of the Earth! The stories continued throughout the days of the New Testament church. Jesus had ascended but his Apostles and disciples were continuing to spread the good news and perform miracles to authenticate the Gospel message.

Our days are similar to the days of Malachi. Religion is often routine. We tell the stories of the past and they seem disconnected to us. Our cultural fabric has been torn into shreds. We keep doing the church thing, but God seems silent to us. But what we learn from the 400 years of silence is that God was not disengaged. Heaven was preparing for the next chapter in the story of Redemption. God was keeping a remnant for Himself. He had promised His people redemption and God always does what He says He is going to do. God is not silent today. He is still speaking to us through His Word, through the preaching of His Word, through the means of grace, and through His church.

There was always a remnant during those 400 years that remained faithful to the promises of God and trusted in His faithfulness. During these days of trouble, it is imperative that the church continues to trust that Jesus was not only the Refiner that was promised, but that he continues to be the Refiner that is coming again. There is a day coming that we will rejoice as in the days of old.

The world needs the church to hold on to the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. If the world has proven anything in these troubled times, it’s that there is no certainty of hope outside of God’s promises to us that have been fulfilled in Christ. Just as Malachi promised that God was going to dwell with His people, so Jesus has promised that he is with us, even until the end of all things.

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