I. In a World of Unbalanced Abilities, of Unequal Powers, of Imperfect Motives, We Long For . . .
It's New Years Day, we stop to reflect on what has gone past us and we consider that which lies ahead. We mark time as though it could have a slash of chalk upon it, like one marks a calendar. It gives us a sense of measure, a record, a way in which we keep track of our lives so that we don't get lost. The telephone operator in a large industrial town in England received a call each day requesting the proper time. It was the same person asking again and again. After a month of such requests, she asked the caller why this was so important. ?I have to know the exact time?, he said, ?because I blow the town clocks whistle right at noon.? 'my goodness?, gasped the operator, ?I always set my clock to that whistle.? Time is of great value to us not just because we are mortal but because it is linked to the purposes of God. Just think of the descriptions of time you've read in the Bible? seven days of creation, 40 days of flood, 40 years of wandering, on the third day He arose, time is linked to the purposes of God. He has a calendar whose pages contain the timing of His purposes, and by grace He tips the page that we can glimpse the ways that are higher than our ways, the thoughts that are higher than our thoughts. Such a glimpse is in Malachi chapter 4. These are the last recorded words of the Old Testament, it was like a great New Years Eve that lasted for over 400 years and then came the unveiling of Christ in the New Testament. The words of Malachi 4 speak to a ?New Years Day? that is yet to be known, they speak about a day of which every human heart has a longing for, they speak about a day that God has linked in an unbreakable way to His purposes. Let's read that together, Malachi 4.
I. In a World of Unbalanced Abilities, of Unequal Powers, of Imperfect Motives, We Long For Justice.
When you read the first three verses what strikes us is ultimate balance, Retribution and Reward back to back. It is an accounting of all that has occurred in the history of us and a whisper into our minds that justice is in God's purposes and is fixed on His calendar. But why would God tip this page at such a time as when Malachi wrote these things? Perhaps the events of Malachi's day will answer that. We know from the pages of this book that several things were out of balance, unequal and imperfect. The spiritual leaders, the priests, had become corrupt and self serving; the people were growing indifferent and vulnerable to the values of world about them. They blurred evil for good and good for evil. Divorce, tithing, worship, and finally an arrogant attitude towards God which said, ?It is vain to serve God, what profit is there that we have kept His charge?not only are the doers of wickedness built up, but they also test God and escape.?(3:13-15) It was basically an attitude that said each person should do what they think is best and they should be fine. Proverbs 16:25 addresses the outcome of such reason, 'there is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.? That means that we can get easily lost in self justification and it can even feel good and be a prosperous place, but the end of it leads to a type of death. Perhaps the death of your desire to love, the death of a lasting purpose, the death of a sense of belonging and the death of a desire to contribute. For some it will be the death of eternal separation between them and an all present, all knowing, just, God. But wait, isn't this a lot like the attitude of people today? Wasn't this like the attitude of people in the days of John the Baptist and then Jesus, wasn't it like the heart of Israel in the days of Malachi? It seems that though time has moved forward, the human heart is still the same.
I believe God has put within each person born of a woman an aspect of Himself that points us to justice, to conscience, to accountability. It is why we long for justice, a longing for a perfection that this world can never provide. God whispers in our ear this New Years Day, that ?perfection? is on His calendar and He invites us to prepare for it.
II. Our New Years Direction? Remember the Law; Restore the Heart; Renew Righteousness.
Certainly 'remember the Law? was good for Malachi's day, but we have the knowledge of the cross, the demonstration of God's grace, what can we gain from remembering the Law in the days to come? Well the Law, the embodiment of which is the Ten Commandments, speak to humans which are basically the same beings today. Five of those Commandments speak of how to have a right relationship with mankind and the other five speak of how to have a right respect or fear of the Lord. They shine like a light that exposes our sin. The Law was only ever meant to expose sin, not to take it away. That's why there was blood required, sacrifices that pointed to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Law's intent was that you would love your neighbor as your self and that you would love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind and it points out the specifics of how sin blocks that. So the Law still reminds us of the existence of sin, we need that in a world of self justifications.
Restore the heart?particularly it speaks of the prophecy of Elijah coming to restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the children to their fathers. Further more it says that this will ultimately happen before the great and terrible day of the Lord. Luke 1:17 records the angel Gabriel telling us that John the Baptist was the one who came in the spirit and power of Elijah to do restore in just this way. To restore the heart of the fathers to the children in Jewish mindset meant the hearts of the Fathers of the nation, the Patriarchs. The children referred to the peoples of Israel now adrift. What was it that was now being restored? it was the heart for God. What does that mean what did it look like? It meant having a desire to know what God had already said in His Word, the Scriptures, it meant having a love for God that exceeded all other loves, it meant seeing God as a Father Who disciplines us and provides for us and yet seeing Him as Almighty God, not like man at all. The fear of the Lord is this kind of perception of God, it was what was in the heart of the fathers and what needed to be restored to the children's hearts. When we have restored hearts like this then the hearts of the children to fathers are renewed. Look at what this looks like in Luke 1:17, "TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
Do you see that underlined phrase, it explains the phrase of 'the hearts of the children to the fathers? that was in the Malachi quote. A restored heart will lead to a renewed righteousness. Gabriel called it 'the attitude of the righteous?. As the church our righteousness is secure in Christ, but in a self justifying world our attitude of righteousness can bend and fall to the ground. A restored heart that sees sin through the light of the Law and clings to God who restores my soul, Who leads me not into temptation but delivers me from evil, this restored heart leads to a renewed attitude of what is righteous. John Piper wrote in The Pleasures of God, ?Is not the essence of righteousness to place supreme value on what is supremely valuable, with all the just actions that follow?? A renewed heart will draw you to place supreme value where it really belongs. This year what will you value'may it be?
The God Who knows the depths of who you are and loves you with infinite passion, this I?ll value.
The Cross of Christ by which Jesus chose to give His life for me, His death for my sin, His resurrection becomes my hope, this I?ll value.
The Spirit of God Who knows all truth and sets me free by it, constantly setting before me life and inviting me to choose it, this I?ll value.
The Word of God, the Bible, a light to my feet and the Church the Body of Christ that bears that light into realms of darkness, this I?ll value.
The wonder of the presence of God about me manifested in those whom I share this with, my family, my friends, my community, my country, I value.
May God restore your heart and renew the attitude of the righteous in you throughout this year we are about to enter, to the wonder of His glory.
Rev. Spence Laycock pastors at Church of the Open Bible, Ponoka, Alberta, Canada.