For Sunday, December 9, 2012
Second Sunday of Advent
A good speaker tells us what he’s going to say, then he says it, and then he tells us what he said. God is a good speaker. When he speaks through the Old Testament prophets like Malachi, he is telling us what he’ll do, then in Jesus he does it, and then in the rest of the New Testament he tells us what he did.
Looking back through the reality of the cross this passage is a good example of this. God tells us he is going to send a messenger, that the Lord will follow, and that Judah and Jerusalem will be restored as a result. Then God does it: Elijah appears in the wilderness and Jesus appears in the temple.
Now what about step 3, namely the Levites being purified and the offering of Judah and Jerusalem becoming pleasing to the Lord again? There is no mention of this anywhere in the New Testament. Christians who are Dispensationalists, believing in a forthcoming dispensation of God’s plan different than the current one, will explain, “Well, this hasn’t happened yet, but will happen when Jesus comes back to reign in the 1,000 year kingdom, at which point the temple will be rebuilt and the Jews will be saved.”
Christians who are Amillenial (like me), believing that there won’t be a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ on this earth, understand this passage differently. For us, Malachi is using current points of reference as a means of portraying a future that otherwise would be incomprehensible. For example, Malachi says that when the Lord comes he would “purify the Levites”. The point is not that Jesus would come only to purify the Levites. He came to purify all of us. However, for the Jews of that day, access to God was through the priests. Malachi’s point was that God would restore the means by which people could become pleasing to the Lord again.
This is why the Apostle Peter could say of all of us as the church: “you yourselves as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). We all together now are the temple, the priests, and the sacrifice (1). Had Malachi said this directly, his original readers would have said, “Now that just makes no sense.”
With this interpretation applying the passage then becomes straightforward. What is the spiritual state of my stone, my priesthood, and my worship? Where does my stone have flaws or imperfections that need to be removed? How effectively am I pursuing the ministry (priesthood) that God has given to me? What acts of worship (sacrifice) am I currently engaged in and are these really pleasing to God?
If you are like me, your inner voice is now saying, “Well, when you put it that way, I’m doing horribly. My stone has serious flaws and imperfections. I have some profound questions of what ministry God really wants me to pursue (much less how to pursue it). Finally, with everything I’m dealing with, worship is frankly an afterthought!”
Don’t lose heart. The flaws and imperfections in our stones are already being addressed through the Holy Spirit in our lives. We remain within the priesthood of all believers, not because of our worthiness but because of God’s grace. All we need do is to ask ourselves, “How can I serve right now as as the priest that God has made me?” Regarding worship, all we need do is come back to our gracious Heavenly Father and say, “I want you to be first in my life. Would you please come in and pull everything back together?” He will do just this for each of us because he loves us.
Points to ponder:
Do you believe the Bible intends to tell a consistent and coherent story from beginning to end? If so, what’s your view of how passages like this fit into this story. Do you find the Dispensational or Amillenial (or Post-millenial) versions of the story more convincing?
In terms of your own life’s involvement in this grand story what is the next step God is inviting you to take as a living stone in the Temple of God?
(1) Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Mal. 3:4.