Seeking the Gospel in Malachi, the Last Book of the Old Testament
If you’ve heard a sermon on Malachi, it was likely centered around one of three things. Malachi 3 is a favorite place to go for preachers desiring to preach on giving — it can provide a place for a hard-hitting rebuke to those who might be “robbing God.” If you’re in a more Calvinistic minded church, you’ve maybe heard a sermon on God’s electing love. But my guess is that you’ve heard Malachi preached in preparation for the birth of Christ.
But really Malachi isn’t the last book of the Old Testament. It’s the last book of the English version of the Old Testament, but it’s original intent wasn’t to drop the mic and then sit silent for 400 years. Malachi was positioned as the last book of the Neviim — the last of the Twelve Minor Prophets. But it is about battling indifference while we wait for God’s fulfillment of promise, in that regard it still might make a great Christmas sermon.
Where do we find the gospel in the message of the prophet Malachi?
How Do You Find the Gospel in the Old Testament?
I suppose before understanding how to find the gospel in the OT, it’d be helpful for us to define the gospel. The simplest definition is one given by JI Packer: God saves sinners. If you’d like to put a bit more meat on your gospel presentation, I use two different frameworks with four points each. The first is God—Man—Christ—Response. The second is more of a story: Creation—Fall—Redemption—Glory.
The first presentation centers upon God’s character and how humanity fails to meet God’s holy standard, as such the judgment of God is upon us. But the good news is that Jesus Christ fixes this by fulfilling what is required through his life, death and resurrection. Our only fitting response, then, is to respond to Him in repentance and faith. When this happens, we are united to Christ and his record becomes our record.
The second presentation centers upon the overarching story of the Bible. God lovingly created us to love Him and enjoy Him forever. We were made for rest, rule, and relationship. But we made shipwreck of this, and so rather than having the blessings of obedience we are under the curse of disobedience. Rather than having peace (rest), purpose (ruling), and healthy relationship we often experience the opposite. Ultimately, we are alienated from God. But thankfully God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to bear our curse and to fulfill what God intended for humanity. As such we now experience the blessings of Jesus’ obedience in our place. He restores the rest, rule, and relationship we were created to enjoy. Someday everything will be ultimately restored and we will live in a new heaven and a new earth.
We could write entire books focusing on these various themes of the gospel. But every gospel story follows this basic skeleton. No matter where you find yourself in the Old Testament (or the New Testament) you can find one of these various threads. Every place in Scripture is either telling you something about God, something about our rebellion, something about His rescue, or something about our future restoration. If you can spot this, then you can fill out the rest of the story.
How Do We Find the Gospel in Malachi?
Imagine that as a child, your parent promised you a trip to Disneyland. Your family talked about it every week, as the parents hyped up how wonderful it would be to attend the Magic Kingdom. You get excited, as any kid is likely to do.
What happens, though, after a year of talking about it nothing seems to be happening with the trip to Disneyland. There is no money being saved. Year after year comes and there is no trip. Eventually the child gives up hope and assumes there was never a trip to Disneyland planned. After some time, the child, now an adult, moves out and starts their own family. When your child turns five (the same age when the promise was made to you) the same promise is made to them.
This time, there is a little bit of money put towards the trip. A miniscule bit of progress towards the trip. It’s just enough to cause you to have hope again. But then, your child becomes a teenager. There is talk of taking a trip right before graduation. Do you believe any trip will happen?
That situation would be a bit similar to what the Israelites were facing. It had been 100 years since they had returned from exile. God had promised a restoration of the temple, a renewed interest in Torah, an extension of the land, and a king like David to rule over them. The Golden Era hadn’t lived up to its potential, and the people are frustrated and indifferent. There are about 100,000 people in the land, and the land itself has been ravaged by drought. It feels like a far cry from the Promised Land.
The Book of Malachi is woven together with six different disputes. But they have one thing in common — it’s what happens when indifference has taken a toll. 47 of the 55 verses in Malachi are God speaking. The other verses are the people disagreeing with God’s assessment.
God says, “I love you”; they ask, “How?”
He says, “You are robbing me”; they again ask, “How?”
The Lord says, “You are making me weary”; they retort, “Why?”
What we see from all of these disputes is that the hearts of the Israelites have not fundamentally changed. Exile itself did not bring about the new covenant which was promised in Jeremiah 31. The Israelites, much like those of the Exodus generation, are grumbling and despising God’s redemption.
Malachi, like so many other places within the Old Testament, tells us about the truth of the human condition. We are rebellious people. And even the pain of exile and the joy of being brought back from such a dark place is not enough to captivate or hearts. Malachi tells us, especially in 4:4-6, that there will have to be another to come. One who will be a new prophet — a new Moses, a new Elijah — who will fulfill all of the promises which the prophets pointed toward. Yes, that promised messenger is the Lord Jesus Christ.
God’s promises are certain. They will get to Disneyland. His Word has not been a lie. But the “trip” doesn’t come through human effort. It will require another leader. It will require the Christ, to fulfill and accomplish all of the Law and promises which God has made.
Where Is Jesus in Scroll of Remembrance?
There are three passages from Malachi which are quoted in the New Testament. Paul picks up the dynamic of Jacob and Esau in his explanation of God’s sovereignty in Romans 9. The gospel writers pick up the promise of a future messenger in both Malachi 3:1 and 4:5. These are relatively simple to draw a line to Christ, but what do we do with a passage like Malachi 3:16-18?
Malachi is filled with disputes. God expresses His disappointment in the people and the people return the favor. But there is a little section here in Malachi 3, where some heed God’s words. As a result, a book of remembrance is put together in order to write their names within.
This group is contrasted with those who are grumbling in verses 13-15. It is a display of the difference between those who are righteous and those who are wicked. As Duguid notes,
“This is the fundamental fault line that divides humanity in two, running through all other divisions of race, class, gender, and social standing. It is also the essential division that the Lord affirmed at the beginning of this book, when he said, “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated” (1:2–3).
The key here to connecting this with the gospel is the statement in verse 17, “in the day when I make up my treasured possession.” When does this happen? According to 1 Peter 2:9 being God’s “treasured possession” comes through being united to Jesus Christ. It is here that the dividing line is drawn. Those who are righteous — those who would be written in the book of remembrance — are those who are united to Jesus Christ by grace, through faith. For it is Christ Himself who is the One who is truly righteous.
Baldwin says it well:
“Ultimate judgment turns on a man’s relationship to God, and that is determined by his response to God’s invitation to ‘return’ (3:7).”
Iain M. Duguid and Matthew P. Harmon, Zephaniah, Haggai, Malachi, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2018), 174.
Joyce G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 28, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1972), 273.
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