Elijah Is Coming (Malachi 4)
- Order of Service: Prayer & Preaching
- Hymns: LSB #348, 508, 781, 355
"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome Day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction." (Malachi 4:5-6)
In the last verses of the Old Testament, God's last words before four centuries of famine of the Word, God promises to send Elijah the prophet to His people Israel. He will send him before the great and awesome Day of the LORD. His job will be to turn the hearts of the people to the LORD.
The first question that comes up is, “Who is Elijah?” Elijah means “YHWH is my God.” He was a prophet from Tishbe in Gilead in the ninth century before Christ. He was the man of God who tormented King Ahab of Israel. At Elijah's word, a drought came upon Israel for forty-two months. He battled the prophets of Baal on the top of Mount Carmel. He is one of two people who never died. The other was Enoch. Elijah was taken up into Heaven with a chariot of fiery horses. He reappears with Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus called John the Baptizer “Elijah who is to come.”
What was so great about Elijah? He stood up to a corrupt government that was anti-YHWH without fear. Sure, he bemoaned his loneliness, but God revealed to him a vast company of previously unknown God-fearers. Not everyone is as vocal as Elijah, but that doesn't make them non-existent. Elijah preached the joyful message of sins forgiven by a loving God. But the Israelites wanted more “fun” in their worship. They wanted to follow after the fertility cults of the nations around them instead of the Word of the God who brought them out of Egypt. Out of the house of slavery. Into the Promised Land. They wanted to indulge themselves. To live their lives without consequences for their actions.
Sound familiar? Doesn't that sound like today? People are the same today as they were three thousand years ago. Completely turned in on themselves. Do whatever feels good. Make God in our own image. Save ourselves by doing good works. Go through the motions so we can check it off our to-do list.
No different than Malachi's day. They were back in Jerusalem. God's city. But they didn't listen to God. They would not obey His Word. They robbed God of His due honor. Honoring themselves and their works instead of Him and His works.
Elijah was coming again to reveal God's works to Israel once again. God's work of salvation through His right hand and holy arm. Elijah would reveal God's righteousness before the nations. That God remembers the steadfast love He had promised to Abraham and his descendants.
Zechariah prophesied about his son John, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." John the Baptizer would go “before the great and awesome Day of the LORD” as he prepared the way for Jesus' ministry.
“The great and awesome Day of the LORD” begins with the dawn of Jesus' birth. As we sang earlier, “The King shall come when morning dawns and light triumphant breaks.” The bright light of Jesus' birth in the stable of Bethlehem marks the dawn of this “great and awesome Day of the LORD.” As the Christmas hymn says, “Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light, and usher in the morning. Ye shepherds, shrink not with affright, the day of grace is dawning. This Child, though weak in infancy, our confidence and joy shall be, the power of Satan breaking, our peace with God now making.” Christmas was the dawn of “the great and awesome Day of the LORD.”
The Day continues until the final sunset of Jesus' return to judge the living and the dead. When “they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” The sun will set for the final time for those who deny the LORD. But for those who love and follow Him, they will see their redemption drawing near.
At that moment, Jesus will judge the earth with righteousness and equity. He will repay everyone according to their deeds. “All the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.” They will be set ablaze by the LORD. When their deeds are judged by God's refiner's fire, they will be completely consumed. They will have nothing to show for their lives. Their lives count for nothing because they don't believe in or follow God.
“But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” Jesus, the sun of righteousness, rose from the dead to bring forgiveness of sins for all who believe in Him. This is the for youness of the Christian faith. The Christian faith is a gift for you. A gift from your Savior who heals your diseased soul from its sin. Eternal salvation from the sins that plague your life. They will all be gone when Jesus returns.
“You shall tread on the wicked.” Evildoers will not be able to stand up against the faithful because Jesus will give them the words necessary to confute them. “Not a hair of your head will perish.” This is the great Gospel promise that God's people will be blessed beyond measure. The Day we wish would come today, but “the great and awesome Day of the LORD” is also terrible, dreadful and horrible.
Jesus points to this in His prophecies about the Temple's destruction. The “decree of utter destruction” Malachi warned about. “The days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Within forty years of His crucifixion, Jerusalem and the Temple would be razed to the ground by Roman troops. The destruction would be horrific and unforgettable. After all, there's never been another Temple built in Jerusalem.
This total destruction illustrates the destruction of the heavens and the earth on the Last Day. That destruction will be just as final. Just as irreplaceable. No one will be able to remake them. Only God's new re-creation will be possible. “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.” Man tries to replace what was lost. God makes all things better than you can possibly imagine. What human could imagine replacing the glories of the Jerusalem Temple with the Son of God's flesh? Not only that, but to replace it with your baptized flesh.
Your new creation in Baptism makes you God's Temple as the Holy Spirit takes up residence in your soul. God sends Elijah and all His prophets and Apostles to build up and repair your temple through His Word. The main purpose for a prophet or Apostle is to proclaim God's Word to all creation. To turn sinners' hearts back to God. Through that turning, you can finally and faithfully turn towards each other instead of inwards on yourself.
God was sending Elijah to do just that. “He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.” John the Baptizer came before Jesus to remind the Jews surrounding Jerusalem of the Mosaic Law. “Remember the Law of My servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.” These Jews were seeking John's Baptism of repentance, but he made sure they were truly repentant. No lip service with John. He was an all-or-nothing Gospel preacher. Just like Elijah.
Beginning with the Fourth Commandment, John turned fathers to children and children to their fathers and then to the proper understanding of God's rule over everything. He is the true authority upon which all other authority is based. His Law is the one eternal Law. His Gospel of salvation is the one true Gospel that delivers from sin, death and the devil. Preaching the eternal Law and only true Gospel, Paul could say, “The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.”
Jesus' Word is not an idle Word. It is powerful and active. Powerfully working within each Christian to complete the good work begun in Baptism. He brings His Word to you to strengthen you. To protect you from the devil's fiery darts. To turn your heart so the wings of His righteousness might heal you. Therefore we pray for God's Word to speed its way into every corner of the earth and to every nation and person on earth. His Word to create faith in those who have none. To strengthen those whose faith is weak. To sustain the strong in the face of every struggle.
The struggles of this life aren't the end of the world. They seem like it at the time, but God sends His Word to help you through them. The true end of the world is “the great and awesome Day of the LORD.” It is coming soon. “Burning like an oven” with intense heat. But fear not, dear Christian. Elijah has come. You have listened to his warnings. You will be preserved on that Day. No harm will befall you because you are in Christ. Even though one stone may not be left upon another around you, God's Word build you up to survive the Day. You will “sing to the LORD a new song” because He has put His new song into your heart. The song of Moses and the Lamb, which only the host of Heaven may sing. You are a part of that host because your heart has been turned toward your heavenly Father through His Word. Amen.