This message is directed at men, and husbands and fathers in particular, but there will be plenty of applications to go around for everyone in the room since the basic message can be summarized as “if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11). We begin with God’s efficacious love, and then we press that into the corners, beginning with the men and then to all.
A Summary of the Text
This final book in our Old Testament begins with a “burden” or a judgment from God against His people, sometime in the late 5th century B.C., most likely during the days of Nehemiah (Mal. 1:1). This burden comes as a stinging rebuke to those who had returned from exile and rebuilt the temple and were seeking to reestablish Israel as a nation. The difficulties of rebuilding have piled up and discouraged the people to the point of significant moral compromise, such that when Malachi opens with the announcement of God’s love, the point was clearly to address the fact that they have come to the point of questioning it (Mal. 1:2). Malachi’s answer is God’s election of Jacob over Esau, and traces that out in history, pointing out that Esau’s rebuilding projects have not succeeded since God’s wrath abides on Esau/Edom forever (Mal. 1:2-4). Malachi concludes this opening salvo with the promise that the eyes of Israel will be opened to see the Lord’s efficacious love and then they will proclaim the glory of the Lord (Mal. 1:5).
All the Excuses
These people were the dedicated ones. They had sacrificed much. They had moved back to Jerusalem, endured hardships, and were painstakingly seeking to rebuild Jerusalem. But the work of Reformation is never easy and is often long and slow. The rest of Malachi addresses three areas of significant problems which all flow out of the initial question posed in Mal. 1:2. Forgetting God’s sovereign love has led to polluted worship, unfaithful marriages, and robbing God of tithes. All of these areas demonstrated a significant breakdown in the Israelite families. The men put up with weak and lying priests because that gave them an easy pass with their own wives and children. And when men fail to love and lead their families faithfully, they frequently try to buy them off, which often results in robbing God of tithes. But the root cause of it all is pride. “How has God loved us?” is perhaps one of the most insolent questions a creature can ask, even if true hardships preceded that appalling point. At its heart, it’s the resentful sentiment of the older brother in the parable: “Lo, these many years I have been serving you… and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends” (Lk. 15:29).
Jacob I Have Loved
God’s answer is intended to humble Israel: “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? Yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau” (Mal. 1:2-3). The answer is one of startling, sovereign freedom. Not only were Jacob and Esau twin brothers, but God chose Jacob in the womb before they were even born (Gen. 25:23). And Paul underlines the point: “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that called – it was said unto her, the elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom. 9:11-13). The answer to Israel’s discouragement and frustration and pride was a straight shot reminder of God’s free and sovereign love. God might have chosen Esau. There was nothing intrinsically better about Jacob. The reason for God’s choice to love Jacob was not in anything in Jacob or Esau or anything good or evil they might do. It was merely “that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that called.”
What follows is the evidence that God had stood by His choice: despite all the difficulties, Jacob (Israel) had rebuilt Jerusalem, but all of Esau/Edom’s building projects were doomed (Mal. 1:3-4). The book of Malachi ends with a promise that God will save His people and destroy the wicked. He had already done this, but He will continue. He will remember His people like jewels and spare them like a son (Mal. 3:17). He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers (Mal. 4:6). This is the sovereign, efficacious love of God, finally accomplished in Jesus.
Husbands Love Like That
The startling thing is that this standard of love is held up for husbands to imitate toward their wives, and by implication, their children. “Husbands love your wives as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27). Malachi had condemned Israel for forgetting God’s love and putting up with polluted worshiped, being unfaithful to their wives, and financial folly, and here Paul calls men of the new Israel to remember God’s love in Christ and so be faithful and diligent in their love of their wives, which is connected to the church honoring Christ (worship) and building households of wisdom (finances).
The center of the faithfulness required is love that imitates Christ, and that love is efficacious. It is efficacious because it takes responsibility and sacrifices for the assigned outcome. Responsibility means you fully embrace her challenges as your challenges, just as Christ took our sins upon Himself. Sacrifice means laying your life down to sanctify and cleanse your bride from every spot or wrinkle. Perhaps most importantly, it means laying down your pride and dwelling with your wife in an understanding way (1 Pet. 3:7). Efficacious love sees the goal of glory and beauty and holiness, and it drives eagerly toward the goal, doing whatever it takes to get there. This kind of love is to be as efficacious as a man’s love for his own body (Eph. 5:28). This is a persistent, uncomplaining, humble, joyful leadership in every area of life. And wives your love for your husband is to be primarily communicated through submission and respect, as the church is to Christ (Eph. 5:22-24).
Conclusion: Love One Another
“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:10-11). Why did Christ die? To turn away God’s just wrath (propitiation for our sins). “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly… But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:6, 8, 10). For whom did Christ die? For the ungodly, for sinners, for His enemies.
“He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love, having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Eph. 1:4-6). For whom did Christ die? For those He chose before the foundation of the world. The cross was not an attempt to save everyone but successful with only some. Everyone God has chosen, He loves, and Christ died for them and will not lose one. They will be made holy by His efficacious love. Why? So we would praise His grace and proclaim the glory of the Lord (Mal. 1:5).
How are we to love one another? Like that. Plotting blessing. Giving freely. Without growing weary. Not expecting anything in return. Keeping vows. Out of sheer joy in Christ for His efficacious love.
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” says the Lord of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves. 3 You shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this,” says the Lord of hosts. 4 “Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with thestatutes and judgments. 5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 6 And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:1-6).
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, 77 To give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, 78 Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; 79 To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:76-79).
When Christians are discouraged by the corruptions of our time, it is like complaining about a day that is dark gray and drizzly, wet and soggy. It is in fact a day just like that, but it is not a day like that at midnight.
Because Jesus Christ lived, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven, the world and its history have been completely transformed. It was midnight, but the day has dawned. Think about it. Billions of people identify themselves as followers of Jesus Christ. All over the world people take Sunday off because Jesus rose from the dead on this day. And as much as the secularists don’t like it, our whole dating system is divided in two by the man from Nazareth. This is in fact 2014, the year of our Lord. He was the man who split history in two.
But while it is no longer midnight, we are not anywhere close to midday either. What must we do to understand our time?
“For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; And all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: And the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.
But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; And ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts” (Mal 4:1-4).
Summary of the Text
In the previous chapter, Malachi had compared the Lord’s work to a refiner’s fire. All the dross was consumed. This chapter begins in a similar way. A day is coming that will burn like an oven. The proud and the wicked will be consumed like stubble, and with nothing left for them (v. 1). But for those who looked forward to the Lord’s promised deliverance, the sun of righteousness will rise. A ball of flaming righteousness will come up, and healing will extend all along the horizon (v. 2). Those are the healing wings, stretched out to embrace the world. The response of God’s people will be to gambol out into the meadow like calves just released from the stall (v. 3). Our response is not at all dignified. When this all comes to pass, the wicked will be trampled underfoot (v. 4).
Christ the Son, Christ the Sun
Few metaphors are as fittingly biblical as comparing Christ to the sun. In reading the sun
in this way, we are letting the New Testament instruct us on how to understand the Old Testament. The heavens declare the glory of God, the psalmist tells us (Ps. 19: 1-4), and the chief ornament of those heavens is the sun. This is why God sets up a tabernacle for the sun, and the sun comes out of that tabernacle, out of that tent, like a bridegroom on his wedding day (Ps. 19:4-5). But then, in the 10th chapter of Romans, the apostle Paul takes these words and applies them to preachers of the gospel.
Spurgeon summarizes Paul’s thought this way, “So that what was here spoken of the sun by David, is referred by Paul to the gospel, which is the light streaming from Jesus Christ, ‘the Sun of Righteousness.’”
This is why Paul can refer to Christ as the bridegroom in the fifth chapter of Ephesians, and can also say the sleeper should rise and wake up because Christ will shine upon him. “Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” (Eph. 5:14). He says this, and just nine verses later he is comparing Christ to the bridegroom.
What do we then learned about Christmas from this great word from Malachi? What is the point?
First, the advent of the Christ means the destruction of the proud. There is heat that burns like an oven, and there is heat that makes calves want to play in the sunshine. When God is praised, whenever God is glorified, the humble hear it and are glad (Ps. 34:1-2). The entire cosmos—in heaven, on earth, and under the earth—has been transformed by the birth of this child, and that is why we have celebrations with tinsel, cocoa that is too hot, stupid and overdone Christmas tree ornaments, and way too much fudge. All of this because this baby was born, and if you don’t rejoice in all these apparently insignificant ways at these apparently insignificant tidings, then something needs to be done to your heart. It looks like a three-quarter inch piece of leftover beef jerky, and this is not consistent with the apostle’s desire that our hearts be enlarged. Pride puffs up, and love builds us up in humility.
Second, the sun is a sun of righteousness. God is holy, righteous, and altogether good. Going back to Psalm 19, the structure of the poem compares the law of God to the sun, and that law is perfect, converting the soul. God’s righteousness is not our enemy. God’s righteousness embodies what we were created to be in the first place. But God’s righteousness is the enemy of all that would corrupt us. His righteousness consumes our dross, and refines our silver. We only take it so badly because we don’t know which is the dross and which is the silver, but it all feels like me.
This relates to the third point, which is that God’s righteousness brings healing in its wings. What God’s righteousness destroys is that which was destroying us. Our unrighteousness is the cancer, and God’s righteousness is the chemo. It isn’t always pleasant, but it is always good.
And it is important here to say a word about our justification—because we are forgiven, because we have been declared righteous, God can work on the sin that we have to deal with in a spirit of no condemnation. Every sin that He mortifies in us is a sin that has already been crucified, two thousand years ago.
Last, you shall “go forth.” Righteous that rises in the sky is not debilitating. The night is over, and as the psalmist says, joy comes in the morning (Ps. 30:5). The meaning of Christmas dawn is the meaning of every dawn. Christ is risen, and He has risen from the dead because once in the dead of night, He became a boy child so that it might be said of Him “that of the increase of His government there will be no end.”