The last words of the Old Testament! That’s what the book of Malachi is. As we will see in our new sermon series, this book clearly shows the Old Testament is an ‘unfinished story.’ Or better yet, an unfinished history, lest we mistake this for fiction or fantasy.
The book’s ending includes a prediction of the next act, with God sending a “messenger.” But preceding him is yet another “messenger.” Two messengers will come, the Lord says. This should invite you to turn to the next book of the Bible, the Gospel of Matthew, where you immediately meet them: Jesus and John the Baptist.
But the book of Malachi doesn’t start that way. It starts with “I have loved you.” God’s loving choice of Israel, despite their sins, is the opening assurance for a confrontational book. The Babylonian exile is over, but all is not well. Malachi will confront the nation and its leaders for their half-hearted religion. Their faith has veered off the rails towards disaster. Nonetheless, God’s first words are a reminder of His love, which serves as the context for the tough words to follow.
Keep an eye on three things in this book: the external, the internal, and the eternal.
Take one example, from the first chapter of Malachi. The external issue? The priests are offering lame sacrifices. Literally. These are sickly animals, which are not supposed to be offered. But what’s the internal issue? Through Malachi, God puts His finger on it: these mediocre gifts mean that God is not being rightly honored in their hearts. After all, these things would not be offered to their governor!
But there’s a turn to the future, and even the eternal. God’s name will be honored and feared, and not merely within Israel, but among the nations (1:14). In fact, a “pure offering” and incense will be offered to the Lord in every place, from the rising of the sun to its setting (1:11). That had to be confusing for the Old Testament Levitical priests. In every place? And not just in the temple? But the book of Malachi is pointing toward New Covenant realities, and the future gospel proclamation after Jesus’ Resurrection will yield worshipers scattered across the globe. This growth continues to our day!
(And see Revelation 8:4 for a word on incense.)
But in Malachi’s day, once again Israel’s faith is in trouble. The Jews have returned to their homeland, but their restoration hasn’t exactly been glorious. Welcome to a ho-hum existence. There are other things occupying their attention. The Lord, through Malachi, confronts them. He points to the external, the internal, and the eternal.
The last of these is all about the “messenger of the covenant,” even the coming of “The Lord” Himself (3:1). This is the Lord Jesus Christ, God incarnate! And the book of Malachi sets Him up.