…from the third chapter of Malachi we have this fascinating note where the Lord of hosts says: “the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight is here, here already…”. This messenger, who Matthew argues to be Jesus was already at work in the time of Malachi and according to 2nd Peter through the early years of the church, and I am here to tell you that that same messenger is the Spirit of Christ for those of us who revere the Lord, those who are attentive to this lamp that does shine in a dark place, this light that is the morning star that seeks to rise in your heart and mine.
At the very conclusion of his five chapter long prophecy Malachi lays the foundation for one of the most fascinating and marvelous stories from the life of Jesus, the Transfiguration. This is what God through the voice of Malachi says to the people: “Remember the law of Moses my servant, the rules and precepts which I made him deliver to all Israel at Horeb. Look, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will reconcile fathers to sons and sons to fathers, lest I come and put the land under a ban to destroy it.” Later he adds: Suddenly, the Lord whom you seek will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight is here, here already, says the Lord of hosts. Who can endure the day of his coming?
Invited to accompany Jesus to a secluded a mountain retreat, Peter, James and John unexpectedly find themselves in a conversation with Moses, Elijah and Jesus, God’s messenger. All the ingredients of Malachi’s prophecy are in evidence. And this voice speaks from a bright cloud and Jesus’ face shines brilliantly and according to Luke, even his clothing shines brighter than any bleacher on earth could whiten them. Here, let me read it to you, it’s short. Matthew 17:1-8
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
In a recent Sunday School lesson we weighed how that experience may have figured in Jesus’ understanding of himself and his mission and how it must have indelibly shaped how Peter, James and John would forever see him.
When, in 2 Peter 1:16-21, the author seeks to establish his authority among the Christians suffering tremendous persecution he lays claim to having been a party to that spiritual experience on the mountain top. He writes: 16For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. And then he adds this: 19So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed.
The State of Judah, restored after the Babylonian exile, lived in subjection to the Persians but never the less were expected to live as the Lord’s people, formulating laws to govern their civil and religious conduct. According to Malachi, they had failed on both counts. The Book of Malachi begins with an outstanding oracle of the word of the Lord: “I love you, says the Lord.” When Susan and I were house hunting several years ago I made the unforgivable mistake of falling in love with the house for which I feel sure we ended up paying too much. I can’t imagine a worse way to begin a negotiation. But that’s the way Malachi begins what is presented as a disputation. What’s the expected response from someone to whom you might say “I love you!” ? How about , Oh really, what have you done lately to show me. Well that’s about what was the response of the people of Judah to God’s affirmation. God’s love for a restored people, and a people whose whole history has been that of a chosen and loved people, should have been evident to them. But, as we say, familiarity breeds contempt and they had become blind to God’s love for them. They took every sign of love for granted and ignored them, but the least bit of hardship or difficulty became evidence of the absence of God’s love. When Malachi reminds them of this wonderful fact, their response was “How have you loved us?” Throughout the whole book the ‘people’ try to excuse themselves by asking God things like how has God shown them love, how have we despised your name, how have we wearied the Lord, or by asking “Where is the God of Justice?” After hearing so much of this, God cuts loose having Malachi, his messenger say: “ Look” “I am sending my messenger who will clear a path before me. Suddenly, the Lord whom you seek will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight is here, here already, says the Lord of hosts. Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand firm when he appears? And here is the really good news from Malachi: rather than coming to destroy, as he comes to take his seat this messenger of God’s love comes to his throne in the temple bringing lye soap and a scrub brush, not to destroy but to purify the priesthood to make them fit to serve. That was the religious side of the equation. Then he tells them that the Lord will “appear in court to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, and against those who wrong the hired laborer, the widow and the orphan, who thrust aside the alien and have no fear of me, says the Lord of Hosts.” They too must stand for a good scrubbing.
But this picture Malachi paints is quite different from the picture of a maligned, hateful and vengeful God who comes to bring destruction to everything and everyone. For those who welcome the Lord’s correction, there is nothing more to fear here than a mouth full of lye soap and a good scrubbing. There are those who choose to reject the promised purification. They are the arrogant and the evil doers. They are the remnants of harvest that remain on the winnowing floor after the grain as been separated. For them day of the Lord’s coming is like a glowing furnace which will consume them. But be clear, that is not God’s intent, that’s not everyone, it’s not the majority and it’s not the main event. We need to remember that part of God’s gracefulness is God’s great regard for personal boundaries. No, this people is destined to live – purified. Though it is still called the great and terrible day of the Lord the words are these: “…and I will spare them as a man spares the son who serves him. You will again tell good men from bad, the servant of God from the man who does not serve him.”
Despite the record these people have of turning away from God and not keeping his commandments God calls them back and the people want to know: “How can we return?” In God’s response God himself becomes a role model for us all. He wants the people to learn to distinguish between wickedness and righteousness and we read: 17They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them as parents spare their children who serve them. 18Then once more you shall see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.
Malachi continues:“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in his wings, and you shall break loose like calves released from the stall.” Wholeness and freedom – those are words of truly good news. Being restored in our relationship with God is all about God’s desire to live at one with us, like a parent who spares the compliant and obedient child.
I love it when Malachi writes: For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished. Malachi as God’s messenger gives us this good news: 16Then those who revered the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord took note and listened, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who revered the Lord and thought on his name. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in his wings, and you shall break loose like calves released from the stall.” Matthew tells us: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” Then from 2nd Peter we read: You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. And finally, from the third chapter of Malachi we have this fascinating note where the Lord of hosts says: “the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight is here, here already…”. This messenger, who Matthew argues to be Jesus was already at work in the time of Malachi and according to 2nd Peter through the early years of the church, and I am here to tell you that that same messenger is the Spirit of Christ for those of us who revere the Lord, those who are attentive to this lamp that does shine in a dark place, this light that is the morning star that seeks to rise in your heart and mine.