The founding of the colony at Jamestown, Virginia was a long time ago – 406 years to be exact. We think of that as a substantial hunk of time, and it is. And that is the amount of time that passed between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament.
Yet the story from Genesis to Revelation is one grand story of God’s work. We even speak of it in our children’s ministry curriculum at TSF as “God’s Big Story.” It is God’s masterpiece – it is THE BIG PICTURE. And we fit into that story as his workmanship … his ambassadors to a lost world.
What might not be immediately evident in today’s two Scripture passages is that, though there are 400 years between them, the story line itself has essentially no gap. The reading in Malachi chapter 4 is the end of the Old Testament. The reading in Luke chapter 1 is actually on the flip side of the page in terms of the working out of God’s plan. Malachi ends with the promise of the return of Elijah before the great day of the Lord, and Luke says that John the Baptist is the coming and fulfillment of that prophecy.
In the previous chapter 3 of Malachi, just prior to today’s reading, the prophet wrote, “14 You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’”
We have all had that feeling sometimes, right? … the sense that those who do wrong get away with things while good people suffer injustice. But the next several verses remind the readers that God is really good at record keeping, and in the end, the following happens …..
4:1 “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. 3 Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.
4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
Malachi says that in a final day, there will be a just judgment – of fire upon those who are evil, and of light and life upon those who are the righteous. The picture presented here is of cattle who have been penned up, and then when set free, they really do run and jump for joy!
And verse four brings back to our memory so much of what we emphasized in the ReviveTSF.org writings from our Deuteronomy series this past spring – that God honors his covenant and blesses those who are obedient to remember and observe. “Remember” is a word that was used 18 times in contexts of exhortation in Deuteronomy.
5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”
The concept of the “day of the Lord” is a bit complicated. This is the time when the Messiah does come – as Christ did, accomplishing salvation through the cross – though every aspect of the final judgment of evil and sin has not yet been fully realized. But the sunrise of this entire period was heralded by the coming and ministry of John the Baptist …
The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold – Luke 1:5-17
5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
So John the Baptist is sent as a sort of “warm-up” act for the coming of Jesus. His ministry was recognized by masses of people as unique, and it set up a fresh expectation of God stepping into time to fulfill his covenant promises to the nation of Israel; and we know now that the plan of God through the work of Christ was truly universal – touching us as well.
God has a master plan. It is not about just the Old Testament and the covenant people of Israel. It is not just about the Christian church. It is about how God has redeemed a lost creation of mankind back to himself through the work of Christ on the cross. The Old Testament looked forward to it – presenting the background and the need. The New Testament finishes the story by telling how it was fulfilled in Christ, and how that message is one for us to preach until such time as God returns to make an end of his entire earthly work.
In a way, it might be said that we fit into that story book somewhere in the next to last chapter. And we have a lot of history and obligations to understand and put into practice in our world. We have obligations to live in a way that we are in right relationship with God. But our obligations extend beyond ourselves – most particularly to be passing along this truth to the rising generations behind us … in our homes first, then in the church, and finally to the rest of the world. We need to understand where we (personally, and as a church) fit into God’s plan, not how do we get God to fit into our vision.
All of this story was passed down to us … over thousands of years of people transmitting it – some at the cost of their very lives. We now carry the baton, but it must be passed off as well to those who will run after us (pending God’s return). How are you involved generationally in that transfer?