“A People Restored”: Malachi the Prophet
I’m a runner. But is that really true in the seasons when I don’t run? Right now, for example, I am in the middle of about a 3-week stretch where I have not run at all. And even when I run regularly, someone could argue that I am a jogger, not a runner.
So what exactly makes someone a runner? Where can we draw the line between runner and non-runner? Wherever it is, it’s clear that more must factor into the equation than just a claim to be a runner.
Carry this thinking with me to a much more important realm: What makes someone a believer?
The Scriptures are clear that a profession of faith is required, so we can know that anyone who has not professed faith in Christ is not a believer. But does this mean that anyone who has made a profession is a believer?
Not at all. Just as a person who claims to be a runner but who never runs is not a runner, a person who claims to be a follower of Jesus but never follows Him—never lives that faith out—is not a believer. Put simply, the way we live must support our claim of being a follower of Jesus. This is part of Malachi’s message.
True Faith Shows in How We Live
The Israelites in Malachi’s day were claiming to be right with God—claiming they had learned their lesson from the exile—but were living in a way that contradicted that claim. They were living unjustly with one another and unfaithfully toward God—only in a different way than before.
One of Malachi’s central messages to God’s people was that the way that they were living did not support their claim to be followers of God—actually, it did the opposite and refuted their claims.
The Israelites in Malachi’s day had a choice: keep on living as hypocrites or let following God mean something and change them from the inside out. They chose the former.
Many who claim to be followers of Christ today have the same choice to make. It has often been said that hypocrisy is one thing that keeps people from church. While our culture is full of non-church going hypocrites too and this can often be used as a straw man against Christianity, we have to recognize it has some truth to it as well. Our actions often betray our faith. Or, perhaps more common, we live as “stealth Christians,” living in such a way that people don’t even know we follow Jesus. Malachi’s message rings just as true today.
True Faith Drives Repentance when We Fail
Don’t miss the beautiful truth of God’s message to His people through Malachi. Malachi’s message was not one of condemnation alone. Yes, he was calling out the sinful behavior and hypocrisy of the people, but for a greater, beautiful purpose: so that they might repent of their sin, cast aside their duplicitous ways, and return to the Lord.
This is what true faith in God leads to: repentance of sin. Sure it is difficult, and often our first instinct is one of denial and rationalization, but one of the tender ministries of the Holy Spirit is to break through that sinful response to being confronted of our sin and push down into our hearts to remind us of the gospel. The Spirit brings to our awareness the holiness and glory of God and what He did to provide forgiveness of our sin. In light of His goodness and grace, the only reasonable response to our sin is brokenness and sorrow—that leads to repentance and resting in God’s unending grace and mercy.
This, again, is what the Israelites of Malachi’s day failed to do. They failed to respond to Malachi’s message with repentance and instead remained fixed in their sinful ways. And once again, we have the same decision to make as they did.
True Faith Recognizes God’s Mercy and Grace
We have already hit on this, but it is too good not to set apart to say again: our faith should lead us to live differently, and when we don’t—when we live in sin—the Holy Spirit convicts of that sin to draw us to repentance. But we should not stay there in a state of sorrow. That is not what God wanted of His people in Malachi’s day and it is not what He wants of us either. God wanted His people to repent and then experience the joy of forgiveness and salvation. He wanted them to live abundantly. And that is what He wants from us too.
What a joy it is to know that in Christ we stand fully forgiven and righteous. There is no sin too great to be beyond God’s mercy and grace. And because of Christ, we are accepted by God completely—no matter what. But that does not mean we live as we please. (Go back to the first point and start over if that is your conclusion.) Because of God’s goodness to us, our hearts should be full of love and a desire to please Him. Not to earn His favor, but out of the favor He showers upon us. This is what the gospel is about. This is what God wants of us—to live in such a perpetual state of joy, gratitude, and awe of who He is and what He has done. And, therefore, anytime we sin and step out of this posture, we are quick to respond in repentance and reenter it as soon as we can.
God’s primary purpose in generosity is not to get the money out of our pockets but the idols out of our hearts.” — J.D. GreearJ. D. Greear, “Surrender,” JDGreear.com, June 18, 2019, https://jdgreear.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/5b-Joshua-5-13-15-Surrender.pdf.
Preschool Tip: Like much of the Old Testament, this passage can again be a little heavy especially for preschoolers. Keep in mind that there is no way to teach the Old Testament without experiencing this—it is how we are supposed to read it—with sorrow and an ever-growing need of relief. This session, however, gives you the opportunity to tell your little ones that the “relief” we have longed for—and that God’s people in the Old Testament longed for even more—is coming next week when we turn the page into the New Testament.
Kids Tip: If you have time, consider sharing about the 400 years of silence that followed Malachi’s message. From this point, God did not communicate with His people until John the Baptist began His ministry. This is not to say God was not active, only that He did not communicate directly with His people. The likely reason was to make what would follow that silence “loud.” John’s message of preparing for the Messiah would not get lost in the —there was no other noise.