I’m beginning to feel like I’ve given blood too often. Preaching is a lot like giving blood — you open your veins and let the pure doctrine flow out. It takes that much effort — it takes that much out of you. Pure doctrine is the lifeblood of the Christian faith, and may Christ grant me His Spirit and the courage to confess His holy name before all the world. (Amen.)
Some things I wanted to emphasize with this sermon:
- the connection between Christ’s being the Messenger of the covenant and the Holy Communion, the new covenant in His blood
- how this text emphasizes Christ’s humanity as well as His divinity
- how Christ fulfilled this prophecy (a necessity whenever preaching on a prophecy)
- our ardent desire and longing for Christ to come
- how we are the temple of God now (I could have multiplied references to support that idea, but time is short; suffice it to say that in the paragraph of the sermon where I discuss how we are God’s temple, almost every thought in that paragraph is quoted from Scripture)
- the majesty and absolute authority behind the Lord’s pronouncement of this prophecy
I didn’t even get to address really anything about John the Baptist. Perhaps some other time. Prophecies are fun to preach, because you can take the route of the Epistle to the Hebrews and show exactly how and when Christ is the fulfillment.
Jesus bless your Advent anticipation of His Nativity and glorious return!
“See, 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,” says the LORD Almighty. (malachi 3.1 niv)
The signs of Christmas are all around us. Christmas music plays in the stores as we shop for gifts. Our TVs and radios blare ads for Christmas sales. Everybody has their Christmas decorations out. Lights and tinsel are everywhere. The signs of Christmas show on our faces and in the way we carry ourselves, too. Bags under our eyes from extra hours spent cooking, cleaning, getting the house ready for visitors. The occasional cross word with those we love when tired nerves are jumpy. A little more tired slump to the shoulders as we think about all the work required to get ready – and for what? A few days’ celebration, and then life just goes on as it always did.
Does Christmas really change anything? Does the annual round of parties, gift-giving, sending letters and cards, all the baking and eating, really change anything? Does it accomplish anything more than piling dirty dishes in the sink, piling some more stress on our lives, maybe piling on a few pounds from Christmas cookies? After all, we still sin. We still offend against those around us and they still offend against us. We still do things that we know are wrong and that go against our better knowledge, but we still to choose to do them – whether or not it’s Christmas. We still feel guilty. We still feel worn down and frazzled, close to the end of our ropes. Empty and unfulfilled in our souls. Does Christmas really change anything?
Tonight the prophet Malachi gives us the answer to our wondering if Christmas changes anything. He says, “Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the Messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come, says the Lord Almighty.” This prophecy of Malachi proclaims several ways that Christmas changes things for us. First, Malachi says that the Lord’s coming will be sudden. That might not seem like it’s all that important, but consider what that means for you. God can act in an instant when He knows the time is right. He can carry out His will before we can even blink or react. God can act faster than any person can expect or predict. Conversely, God can also seem like He’s taking His time. He can wait for what seems like ages, until we begin to wonder if He’s heard our prayers at all, or if He even cares about us anymore. Sometimes we wonder why God waits so long to answer our prayers or why He doesn’t step in and help us sooner. Malachi simply reminds us: God can act fast, but He acts in His time. He can’t be rushed or pushed. His way is best. He knows exactly when to take care of the problems you face. Just trust Him – He has your best interests at heart.
We see this time and again in the Bible. In the lives of individual believers, like Moses, Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah and Elizabeth, and countless others, God knows the exact right time. The biggest example of God choosing the right time is the sending of His Son. God chose the exact right moment in history for His Son to be born into the world. God knew exactly when to send His Son to be the Savior of the world – don’t you think He knows exactly when to help you in your distress?
Malachi also says that the Lord will come to His temple. Jesus fulfilled this prophecy quite a few times during His ministry. He was brought to the temple as an infant, eight days old. He taught the teachers at the temple when he was twelve years old. As a grown man he taught at the temple regularly. He drove the money changers out of the temple. On Palm Sunday, after riding triumphantly yet humbly into Jerusalem, Mark tells us that Jesus went to the temple and looked around. Jesus came to His temple on Palm Sunday. So there’s no doubt that Jesus fulfills these words.
Jesus still comes to His temple now, because we are that temple. God does not live in temples built by human hands, as if He needed anything from us. Rather, He chooses to come and live with us. This is only possible once the Holy Spirit has kindled faith in our hearts and forgiven our sins, and we come to know and love God. Jesus promises, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with him.” Paul tells us that we are God’s temple. God Himself chooses to dwell within us and live within our hearts. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. We all are being built like living stones into a spiritual house with Christ as our cornerstone, and in Him the whole building rises to become a holy temple to the Lord. Jesus comes to His temple, and we, His people, are that temple.
Malachi also describes Jesus in a different way: as the messenger of the covenant. Jesus can rightly be called the “messenger of the covenant” because He brings a new kind of covenant. Moses was the one to whom God gave the old covenant, the one at Sinai. Now Jesus brings the new covenant. Jeremiah explains what the new covenant is: “ “The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
The new covenant is God’s promise to fully and freely forgive all of our sins for the sake of His dear Son, Jesus Christ, and for no other reason than that. You don’t need to do anything to earn God’s forgiveness. You don’t need to pay money. You don’t need to say certain prayers. You don’t need to work yourself into such a state that God finally has pity on you and grants you mercy. God is giving forgiveness away, free of charge, to all who believe in His Son. That’s the new covenant. Jesus picks up on what Jeremiah says when He institutes the Lord’s Supper: “This is the new covenant, the new testament, in My blood, for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus points out to us what the new covenant means. It means that God forgives all our sins totally and completely for Jesus’ sake, every day. Old sins, new sins, big sins, little sins – doesn’t matter, they’re all gone. That’s the comfort Jesus gives us in the Lord’s Supper, and that was His message all along. It was what He proclaimed and taught while on earth, and what He causes to be proclaimed even now. He wants forgiveness of sins and life in His name to be proclaimed to all nations.
This changes something! It changes our hearts. We’re not enemies of God anymore. You’re His child and you love Him. It changes our outlook on life. We’re not working and living for this life only. We’ve got better things in store for us – Jesus promises us so, based on what He’s done for us. God loves you! He sent His only Son to proclaim it to you, and to die for you to make it so. If we believe it, how can this not affect our days?
So we long eagerly for Jesus to return and to come once again, because we know that His coming will be joyous for us. As we rush around, getting ready for Christmas, we know that none of this will last – but what God gives endures forever. We look forward to our Lord’s coming again, because He is the delight of our hearts. He is our best and dearest friend, our Savior, and the day of His coming will be great. It’ll be far better than any holiday party or gathering with family and friends. We will finally be done with sin, forever! We will finally have all of what Jesus promises us in the new covenant, that He established. Whenever we receive the Lord’s Supper, we look forward to the day when we will be guests at the marriage feast of the Lamb in heaven. When we commune at the Lord’s table, we celebrate Christ’s death for us. We celebrate the oneness of faith that He gives us with all His people on earth and in heaven. Right now we get to see only a little part of that when we celebrate Holy Communion. When He returns at the end of time, we will see everything He has accomplished. We will be united, fully and finally, with all His saints forever.
Christ’s coming does change things. It changed them at the first Christmas, when He came as a baby to begin the work of our salvation. It will change them for good when He returns to bring us to glory. So look forward to the day of His coming eagerly, because then our joy will have no end. Amen.