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.”