The Messenger Will Come Back
The best stories are the ones you don’t know. One of the great parts about watching a new movie is that you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Is it a sad story that ends up happy? Is it the opposite? Is it a story that you know the ending to, but you wonder how they get there? In all of these movies what glues them all together are clues and context. This morning we walk through the first part of Malachi 3. And what glues and binds this part of God’s word together is clues and context. So let’s look at them: “See, I am going to send my messenger, and he will clear the way before me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to his temple, the Messenger of the covenant you delight in—see, he is coming,” says the Lord of Armies.” (Malachi 3:1 CSB17)
The Messenger of the covenant will come back. That’s the main fact the Lord tells his people. Who is this? In order to answer that question we have to put together the clue and the context. In the Old Testament the Angel of the Lord—the Messenger of the covenant appears at many important times. And it would take many hours to thoroughly lay out who this is in detail. But let’s take for as an example what we walked through on Thanksgiving Eve. In our sermon on Thanksgiving Eve we heard about a man named Jacob. And all throughout one dark night there was a messenger who wrestled with him. This messenger was from God, but also was God. This messenger was clearly God. But, in a miraculous way, he was also a man. Now, let’s put the clues together. Can you think of anyone who is both God and sent from God—someone who is both God and fully human? This is one of these beautiful parts of God’s word that shows us that Jesus is the Angel of the Lord. And that this Messenger of the Covenant would come back. But the real question for the Old Testament believers was this: were they ready for his return? We read: “2 But who can endure the day of his coming? And who will be able to stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire and like launderer’s bleach. 3 He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4 And the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord as in days of old and years gone by. 5 “I will come to you in judgment, and I will be ready to witness against sorcerers and adulterers; against those who swear falsely; against those who oppress the hired worker, the widow, and the fatherless; and against those who deny justice to the resident alien. They do not fear me,” says the Lord of Armies.” (Malachi 3:2–5 CSB17)
These Old Testament believers yearned for and were excited about this Messenger of the covenant coming back. But they shouldn’t have been. For they were not ready. We have these words fulfilled for us in the life of Jesus. Here in Malachi we learn that this Messenger of the covenant would go to his own house. And Jesus did exactly that. And when he went to his Father’s house, what did he do? He wove together a whip with slow-burning anger and drove out all the people from the temple courtyard. And here in these words in Malachi we see why he whipped them. They wanted to be in God’s presence. But they didn’t want to do so with repentance. They lied. They lusted. They lived for themselves—and themselves alone.
All of this I have been speaking about them at that time. But what about us? Jesus, the Messenger of the Covenant, will come back to judge the living and the dead. Are we ready for that? See, the great trap we can fall into as New Testament believers is to pine away and plan for Jesus arrival at Christmas and on Judgment Day the same way they did: without repentance. What about our lies, our lust, our living for ourselves. A friend of mine texted me, letting me know that the church he used to go to in Indonesia fell prey to a terrorist attack. And my first thought was, “I guess that’s what you get for living over there.’” I had this great opportunity to grieve with and pray for our fellow Christians. But instead, my thoughts were only of myself. How easy this is for us, isn’t it? The Messenger of the covenant will come back. But are you ready? Look at where these words go from here: “Because I, the Lord, have not changed, you descendants of Jacob have not been destroyed.” (Malachi 3:6 CSB17)
What is amazing about these words is how they don’t seem to fit at all here. In these words the Lord is getting angrier and angrier. He is listing one grievous sin after another. And we would expect the conclusion to be a promise to destroy. But, instead of punishment, we hear a promise. The reason we are not destroyed is because the Lord does not change. We change. We make promises and do not keep them. But Jesus does not. From the beginning, God made promises—promises that he would keep—promises that would save us from our sin. Think of the promise he made to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The Satanic Serpent would kill Jesus. But Jesus would then end Satan. Christmas is the beginning of that promise. Good Friday and Easter are the end of that promise. And for that reason, we are not destroyed. Jesus whipped the people he saw in the temple. But because he kept his promises, he was the one who was whipped for them on Good Friday. The Lord told them that they were not destroyed. And the only reason that was true was because Jesus’ body was the one that would be destroyed on Good Friday. He made a promise to pay for their sin and he kept it. For that reason, we have every reason to look forward to the Messenger of the covenant coming back. And in our final words, the Lord gives us a reason why: “Since the days of your fathers, you have turned from my statutes; you have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Armies.” (Malachi 3:7 CSB17)
The Lord ends with this gracious invitation: Return to me, and I will return to you. This is a reminder to us to look behind us at Christmas, and the baby Jesus placed in a manger. But even more so, we look ahead and above. For the people yearned with such joy to have this messenger of the covenant come back. But my friends in Christ, Jesus will come back. Because of this, our yearning ahead and above should be far more than our yearning behind us. Think, for example, of the Christmas hymn, Now Sing We, Now Rejoice. In the final verse, we sing:
Oh where shall joy be found?
Where but on heav’nly ground?
Where the angels singing
With all his saints unite,
Sweetest praises bringing
In heav’nly joy and light
Oh, that we were there!
Oh, that we were there!
The hymn writer invites us to wish that we were there. And, my friends in Christ, take him up on that invitation. But don’t stay there. For the Messenger of the covenant still has more promises to keep. Look ahead and look above. For Jesus will come back to be with us forever. Amen.