Scripture points to a pattern of world-changing interventions whenever humanity arrives at a seemingly inevitable, yet intolerable destination – that of no longer knowing, except for a remnant, who God is. Genesis 6 says, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time…but Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” We all know what happened next.
Eventually the world once again reached the point where nearly everyone was worshipping false gods and idols. Even God’s chosen people had adopted a distorted image of Him, despite countless demonstrations of His character throughout their history. Malachi, the final book of the Old Testament and thought to be one of the last written before Jesus’ arrival, portrays Israel as confused and misguided…
- “’I have loved you’, says the Lord. But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’” (Malachi 1:2)
- “’If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Malachi 1:6)
- “It is you priests who show contempt for my name. But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’” (Malachi 1:6)
- “You have wearied the Lord with your words. ‘How have we wearied him?’ you ask.“ (Malachi 2:17)
Malachi (3:1) prophesied what the Lord’s next extraordinary intervention would be in response to such utter confusion about who God is. “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come.” By God’s grace, rather than save only a remnant, He chose to make Himself fully known to the world and offer redemption to all mankind. God in His infinite mercy brought torrents of love rather than water at the incarnation. Through Jesus, the Father left no room for doubt about exactly who He is. “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made Him known.” (John 1:18)
Yet like the flood, our Father’s intent to clear up any misconceptions about His character still promised to be a demanding, painful process. “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.” (Malachi 3:2-3) Jesus was unreserved in His criticism of the Pharisees who were largely responsible for leading His people astray. Jesus refuted their self-serving teachings at every turn and put His righteous anger on full display over their misrepresentation of His Father, designed to elevate themselves and condemn others.
Ironically it was often those who the religious leaders condemned most harshly that wound up being the remnant Jesus preserved during God’s second grand intervention. Malachi (3:16-18) prophesied, “A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name. ‘On the day when I act,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.’” Jesus fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy by confirming, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
Today, we are left to wonder whether humanity is edging closer to the precipice where once again only a remnant of authentic disciples truly know who God is and recognize how high His expectations are of Christ-followers. If so, then perhaps the Lord’s next (and final) earth-shattering intervention, the return of Jesus, is not as far off as some imagine. False religions are proliferating across the globe. Atheism and agnosticism are on the rise in America and other developed, “educated” nations where faith has turned to human intellect and science. Cultural Christians no longer subscribe to a holistic picture of God’s character and expectations because it conflicts with their personal view of who God should be and their preferred level of commitment to living out their beliefs. Most churches fear that challenging “consumers” with the unabridged truth of who God is and the actual costs of following Jesus would send them running for the exits. Through books, videos and trainings, America then exports its attractional church growth models, teaching pastors how to build viable institutions, not sold-out disciples.
Only the Father knows His timetable, but if history is any guide then we can be certain Jesus’ next advent will once again be difficult for many churchgoers and leaders. Like the Pharisees, many pastors withhold the “key to knowledge”, a full depiction of God’s demands for repentance, discipleship, accountability, surrender, sanctification and compassion. Malachi (2:7) recorded God’s disappointment with teachers who selectively conceal truths – “For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth. But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble.” In an effort to appease “customers”, churches tend to emphasize God’s love but not His hatred of sin, offering “cheap grace” without expectation of transformation. According to Malachi (2:17), priests in his day had wearied the Lord “by saying, ‘All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them.’” When churches today point out sin in society yet do not confront sin within the body, it wearies the Lord and fuels the popular notion that Christians are hypocrites. That label is accurate to the extent believers choose not to accept what they do not like about God or only obey His commands that suit their lifestyles.
It’s Your Turn
Do you see the connection between the last book in the Old Testament and the first books in the New Testament – Malachi’s disappointment that God’s chosen people no longer knew who He was, and Jesus’ appearance to clear up any misunderstanding? As our world drifts further from God every year, the day is approaching when Jesus will reappear to set the record straight about His identity and to rescue the remnant of authentic disciples who persevere until that time.