Okay, done. Sin’s code is broken. Malachi never really mentioned the word ‘sin,’ but he certainly told the people of Israel that they failed to keep the commandments, especially the first one—have no other God before me. True he outlined how the priests had failed and then how the people failed, but the major points boil down to two:
1. Have no other God before me.
2. Return to God and God will return to you.
The faithful simply must stay focused.
Staying focused on God is not difficult unless you are susceptible to other influences. Yet there are methods to use that provide strength against those sinful influences—worship together with other faithfuls, serve God, study the Word, give your best to God, and listen to God. (If those sound slightly familiar, remember the Bishop Schnase’s five fruitful practices: radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, extravagant generosity, and risk-taking mission.)
The parallel cannot be ignored between Malachi and the Bishop’s advice. We must practice following the commandments in a manner that demonstrates that we are God’s children. This unlocks the mystery as to why Malachi was the last prophet before John the Baptist arrived.
The faithful were few in number, but they were still faithful. Malachi’s prophecy was for everybody, but who followed his advice was heeded by such a few. God told the people that they must return to God if they wanted God to return to them.
For 400 years, God did not speak to the people. 400 years! That is almost five lifetimes, two American histories, four centennial celebrations, eight golden anniversaries, 16 silver anniversaries, or 40 decades. Humans measure time; God’s time has no boundaries. Still, he was quiet for 400 years.
Malachi’s closing words were meant to encourage the few faithful who were indeed listening. The first two verses certainly show a division between the faithful and the unfaithful:
“You can be sure the day of the LORD is coming. My anger will burn like a furnace. All those who are proud will be like straw. So will all those who do what is evil. The day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD who rules over all. “Not even a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 “But here is what will happen for you who have respect for me. The sun that brings life will rise. Its rays will bring healing to my people. You will go out and leap like calves that have just been let out of the barn.
Two very different images are shown, but images the people who lived in a farming-based culture could clearly understand. As faithful followers in today’s world, the farming-based images continue to work. There is little doubt what Malachi was saying, even to us today, nearly 2,500 years later!
Reading Malachi’s prophecy today is just as relevant to us as it was in 430 BC. We are still to follow God’s commandments. True, Jesus brought the Greatest Commandment: Love God, love one another. Is that not what Malachi is saying? Doesn’t the Greatest Commandment supersede or incorporate all the Ten Commandments?
For 400 years, the faithful hung on to God’s words. The faithful did all they could to maintain the commandments. For them, Malachi was sharing a prophecy filled with hope, with the promise of life eternal and to meet God face to face. For those who did not follow the warnings, there was no hope for eternal life, for seeing God’s face. All there was to look forward to, according to Malachi, was the furnace and they would burn like straw burns.
The prophecy ends with where chapter three began—with the promise of sending a messenger. Everybody was familiar with Elijah and the relationship he had with God. The promise from Malachi that the prophet Elijah would come before he himself would come. The words are hopeful and fearful:
5 “I will send you the prophet Elijah. He will come before the day of the LORD arrives. It will be a great and terrifying day. 6 Elijah will teach parents how to love their children. He will also teach children how to honor their parents. If that does not happen, I will come. And I will put a curse on the land.”
The purpose of the messenger was to prepare even more faithful people to meet God.
Chronologically, we turn the page—we begin the New Testament story, another key to breaking sin’s code or hold. #
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Picture life now, 400 years after Malachi has spoken. What has changed? Not much, that is true. The faithful are still faithful; they are still waiting for the next messenger or prophet. Are they ready?
After studying Malachi and considering the chronological list of the books or stories of the New Testament, we see that both Matthew and Luke present the arrival of John, the Baptist, as the arrival of Elijah. The timeline in Malachi is being revealed: Return to God and God will return to you.
The faithful had broken sin’s code and had succeeded to stay focused on God to the extent that God was ready to return. Halleluiah!
This is where we reach into the Greatest Story to be told. We have the written report through two different sets of eyes as to what happened next. Both Matthew and Luke begin with the birth and ministry of John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus. To follow the work of John the Baptist is to see the fulfillment of Malachi’s as well as Isaiah’s prophecy.
Listen to the story of John the Baptist in both Matthew and Luke: Matthew 3:1-12 In those days John the Baptist came and preached in the Desert of Judea.
2 He said, “Turn away from your sins! The kingdom of heaven is near.” . . .
3 John is the one the prophet Isaiah had spoken about. He had said, “A messenger is calling out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord. Make straight paths for him.’” (Isaiah 40:3)
4 John’s clothes were made out of camel’s hair. He had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.
5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all of Judea. They also came from the whole area around the Jordan River.
6 When they admitted they had sinned, John baptized them in the Jordan. . . .
7 John saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing. He said to them, “You are like a nest of poisonous snakes! Who warned you to escape the coming of God’s anger?
8 Produce fruit that shows you have turned away from your sins.
9 Don’t think you can say to yourselves, ‘Abraham is our father.’ I tell you, God can raise up children for Abraham even from these stones.
10 The ax is already lying at the roots of the trees. All the trees that don’t produce good fruit will be cut down. They will be thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water, calling you to turn away from your sins. But after me, one will come who is more powerful than I am. And I’m not fit to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
12 His pitchfork is in his hand to clear the straw from his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into the storeroom. But he will burn up the husks with fire that can’t be put out.”
3 He went into all the countryside around the Jordan River. There he preached that people should be baptized and turn away from their sins. . . . Then God would forgive them.
4 Here is what is written in the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. It says, “A messenger is calling out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord. Make straight paths for him.
5 Every valley will be filled in. Every mountain and hill will be made level. The crooked roads will become straight. The rough ways will become smooth.
6 And everyone will see God’s salvation.’” (Isaiah 40:3–5)
7 John spoke to the crowds coming to be baptized by him. He said, “You are like a nest of poisonous snakes! Who warned you to escape the coming of God’s anger?
8 Produce fruit that shows you have turned away from your sins. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘Abraham is our father.’ I tell you, God can raise up children for Abraham even from these stones.
9 The ax is already lying at the roots of the trees. All the trees that don’t produce good fruit will be cut down. They will be thrown into the fire.”
10 “Then what should we do?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “If you have extra clothes, you should share with those who have none. And if you have extra food, you should do the same.”
12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” John told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” John replied, “Don’t force people to give you money. Don’t bring false charges against people. Be happy with your pay.”
15 The people were waiting. They were expecting something. They were all wondering in their hearts if John might be the Christ.
16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But One who is more powerful than I am will come. I’m not good enough to untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
17 His pitchfork is in his hand to toss the straw away from his threshing floor. He will gather the wheat into his storeroom. But he will burn up the husks with fire that can’t be put out.”
18 John said many other things to warn the people. He also preached the good news to them. The choice of words in both is so nearly alike one cannot argue their authenticity. The message continues that of Malachi.
1. Have no other God before me.
2. Return to God and God will return to you.
What does this offer the faithful today? The same message, only this time it is even simpler because there are not eleven rules and examples, there is one: Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher,” he asked, “which is the most important commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your mind.’ (Deuteronomy 6:5) This is the first and most important commandment. …
Remember this commandment; follow the words of the prophets, the disciples, and the church leaders even today. As long as they are following the words of God, sin’s code will be and is and will always be broken.
Dear Holy God,
Thank you for the words of your prophets,
for the teachers, for the leaders, and for your Son.
Thank you for the wisdom of simple laws
to guide us in our lives.
Thank you for the promise of eternal life
and of meeting you face to face. –Amen