John 1:19-34 has John the Baptizer being questioned about who he was by a group of Pharisee’s. They came to him and asked questions of him, and “he was completely honest” in his response. He had nothing to hide. He “told the plain truth” but they weren’t really satisfied. They started by asking if he was the Messiah, which he answered ‘no’. Then they pressed him about being Elijah, or a prophet and he again said no. Who was this man who was stirring things up so much. “Tell us something – anything – about yourself” was their request.
John finally gives them this answer: “I’m thunder in the desert”. He was there to speak truth and that truth was that people had to get right and clean out the sin in their lives. The Pharisees asked “why do you baptize” to which John really defines his role. He is the guy who was given the role of setting up things for Jesus. “I only baptize using water. A person you don’t recognize has taken his stand in your midst. He comes after me, but he is not in second place to me. I’m not even worthy to hold his coat for him”. John tries to make it clear that he is not the man act. He is the pre-act. He is there to point the way to Jesus.
What was the difference? John baptized “giving you a good bath and scrubbing sins from your life so you can get a fresh start with God”. Jesus, on the other hand, “He forgives the sins of the world”. John was the precursor to the real thing. John was able to prepare people to meet the Savior, but he definitely knew he was not it. And he was clear and careful to make sure the religious leaders of the day understood that. John’s entire purpose was about Jesus, not himself. And he is careful to point to the Savior.
They continue to press him and he then gave his witness: “I watched the Spirit, like a dove flying down out of the sky, making himself at home in him”. John had been there when God sent His dove to place the Spirit upon Jesus. He had firsthand experience and had viewed the entire thing. He is a witness of God’s hand on His Son. And John says it this way: “This is the Son of God.” Come, See for Yourself”. We need to do the same. Have you been to meet the Savior? Do you know Him as the Son of God?
John 1 brings us to the reality of the creation and how God has things planned out. “Everything was created through him; nothing–not one thing – came into being without him”. That is a powerful statement. Nothing on this planet just showed up. It was all planned for, and created by God Himself. That includes you and me. First of all, that means there are no mistakes. Nothing surprising has ever shown up. And secondly, it is all intentional and special. God doesn’t make junk. And He certainly didn’t make any people that were not molded and created in His image in His way.
But beyond creation, God designed a plan to bring Himself and His grace and love to His people. That plan started with a guy names John. “There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light”. John had one role in his life – to point the way to Jesus. He was a bit odd according to the norm of his day, but he had absolute clarity around what he was to do, “he was there to show the way to the Light”. John was the warm up, the pre-game show, the opening act for the main event, which was Jesus Christ.
Scripture tells us John had a tough time getting his job done:
– “He was in the world….yet the world didn’t even notice
– He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him”
John did what God called and created him to do, but the world didn’t get it. A few did, and some missed the message and followed John himself rather than being pointed to Christ. But God continued with His plan when “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood”. This wasn’t a simple move. It was a from heaven down to earth move. But God’s plan was to love us that much – to send His only Son – to live on this earth and become a sacrifice for our sin.
So what description does scripture have of Jesus? Here it describes him as “generous inside and out, true from start to finish….exuberant giving and receiving….endless knowing and understanding– all this came through Jesus”. Jesus is not just a nice God. He is part of the Trinity and is the Messiah. He is our view into truly seeing God because “no one has ever seen God, not so much as a glimpse”. Yet as we see and experience Jesus, we see and experience God. Jesus is a “one-of-a-kind God-Expression”. And the best news of all is that He desires to be our personal Lord and Savior and to have a deep and abiding relationship with us one on one. He desires to live in us. Is He alive in you?
Malachi 4 has the prophet telling us what is to come. He begins by assuring us “behold, the day is coming”. There is a day of judgment that will come, and we will stand before God and give account. It will be “burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble”. Sin will be dealt with at that time. God cannot ignore sin. His nature and character won’t allow that. So we will be judged based on how we have lived. Sin is missing the mark, failing to meet God’s requirements. And left to stand on our own, we will fail that test.
Sin will cost us everything. “The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch”. The only solution we have is Jesus Christ, whom God sent to the Cross to atone for our sin and give us the cleansing from sin that will set us free. The outcome of judgment for those who are covered by the blood of Christ is that “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall”. What a difference the outcome will be.
In one case, sin will cause fire and destruction. In the other, where Christ’s blood has made us white as snow, we’ll romp around like newborn calves. No worries, no stress, just blessing in God’s presence because of the mercy and grace given freely to us through Jesus. God wants us to “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him”. We can’t remember it if we don’t read it and study it and learn it. We have to spend time in God’s Word to understand what He wants for us.
God has sent us prophets like Elijah to teach us “before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes”. We’ve been given the truth and the time to understand what God expects, to realize we fall short, and to receive His gift of grace that was offered to us through Jesus. Now it is up to us to respond. God moves in the hearts of those who come to him. “He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers”. He heals relationships and sets us free from the burden of sin. But we have to receive His gift. We have to be born again!
Malachi 3 talks about the coming reality that Jesus “will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord”. We will all stand before the Lord and be judged based on how we have lived. It isn’t optional, it will be. And the prophet goes on to tell us that “I will be a swift witness” as we stand and give account for our actions. It won’t be based on how good we believe we have been. Judgment will be based on how well we obeyed.
God’s standard doesn’t change. “For I the Lord do not change”. We have no excuse – we can’t say that we didn’t understand the expectations. God wrote the manual and set the standard clearly, and it won’t be moving. He never changes. The truth is that all of us unfortunately “have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them”. We’re going to come up empty when we stand before the Judge on our own efforts. But God had a plan. He sent Jesus to the cross to deal with our shortcomings and sin, and He promises that if we “Return to me, and I will return to you”. He is always there ready to receive us back.
Malachi points out one area that we fall short – in how we handle our money. “You are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contribution”. We fail to give to God that which is His – the tithes and offerings we owe Him. God has made it clear that we need to “Bring the full tithes into the storehouse”. It isn’t for us to interpret what that means. God’s been clear that the first 10% is His, of all that we have, and failure to return that to Him is like stealing from Him. Not a very smart move.
But he goes beyond just telling us to bring the tithes. He reminds us that if we are obedient we can “thereby put me to the test….if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need”. I’ve experienced His faithfulness in this way when we tithe. We will never out give God. We can’t give more than He will bless. And how we handle our money around tithes is a big differentiator in our obedience. “You shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him”. When people look at you, what do they see? A person who walks in obedience, or one that does things your own way hoping God will bless you.
Malachi 2 has the prophet speaking straight and powerfully to the priests who are off the tracks. “If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name….then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings….I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces”. Wow – there is a big problem here. The priests are not listening to God. They are not giving Him honor. They will pay a price for that choice, and it is a deliberate choice, so God will deal with them.
God has been clear about His expectations. He made a covenant with Levi and He says “My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me”. God had an understanding with Levi about how the priestly lineage was to live. And these current clowns that Malachi is addressing are not fearful of God at all. They are just doing whatever they want. Levi responded to the covenant this way: “He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity”.
Levi took the covenant seriously. He lived in fear of that covenant. Malachi makes clear the expectations. “For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts”. The role of the priest is to guard the truth and teach the people as a messenger of the Lord. It isn’t to ignore it and do whatever you want. Malachi calls them on the carpet and says “you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant”. Some strong words from the prophet from God Himself.
God is clear He won’t just ignore the disobedience. “I make you despised and abased before all the people”. There is a price to pay for ignoring God. He goes on to ask the question “Why then are we faithless”. We take things into our own hands and do what we want, not what God has commanded. And one area Malachi calls out here is divorce. He tells them to “guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth”. Then comes one of the strongest statements in scripture on the topic. In the ESV, it says “For the man who hates and divorces, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence” but in many translations it is more direct where it says “God hates divorce”. Bottom line is that God cares about how we live. He wants us to live in obedience with Him, and to treat marriage as another very serious covenant that cannot be lightly ended.
Malachi 1 has the prophet bringing the word of the Lord to His people. And it is a pretty direct and strong word. It seems the people have forgotten just what it means to love God. “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” We all forget all too quickly the history of the past. We think we are worthy, but none of us are. The people have run amuck for a very long time, and still are. Malachi brings God’s truth to them, that their attempts to rebuild on their own will be torn down.
He then brings this truth: “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear?” The truth is that there was no respect for God – either from the point of servant or son. They have taken things into their own hands and were ignoring the God of the universe which is a bad plan. God calls them on the carpet for the way they were living. Bringing sick or lame or blind offerings to present to God. Not the first fruits. Not the best they had. And God is not pleased.
He demands honor and glory. He demands that we treat Him as God. “With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you….I have no pleasure in you….I will not accept an offering from your hand”. We can’t treat God that way. He is Lord. He won’t even receive a gift we bring to Him that is not right. He is unwilling to accept it. “You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering”. God will not be mocked. When we try to sow that way, we will be rebuked.
The truth of the matter is that God is King. “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations…. my name will be feared among the nations”. God is the Almighty. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and His name will be glorified. If not by us, then the rocks themselves will cry out His glory. The people here are very far off kilter. And God won’t stand for it. Correction is coming. He will punish us when we fail to put Him in His rightful place. Oh that we keep God where He belongs!
Psalm 126 is a short five verses and comes after the restoration of Jerusalem where Nehemiah has successfully come back to lead the rebuilding of the wall after Ezra had managed to get the temple rebuilt. The psalmist recalls that “the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion”. One thing we didn’t see from either of our two leaders is a lot of resume building based on their success. They didn’t’ pump themselves up or try to stay in the limelight, they just did their work and created an environment that would lead to long term success.
The psalmist also talks about being “like those who dream”. Dreaming is such an important part of getting things done. We have to be able to see the future and visualize the things that can be before we will ever take steps to move toward them. Vision is such an important part of what needs to be in place for success to occur. Once we achieve that success, we should celebrate. Too often we are already on to the next things and we don’t stop to enjoy the journey we just completed. “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy”.
But that celebration and acknowledgement should spread beyond our own patch to those around us. The people here “said among the nations….the Lord has done great things for us; we are glad”. They didn’t hide the fact that God had blessed them. They weren’t ashamed of God’s power and presence in what had happened. They know God is the one who is in control and has made the new walls and the restoration of the temple and city possible. It wasn’t about them, it was all about God.
And even with all the success they had experienced, they knew that there were more challenges ahead. Life is a journey, and they weren’t done yet. So they prayed. “Restore our fortunes….like streams”. They prayed for God’s blessing and the restoration of the glory they had experienced earlier as the people of God. They ask that tears be replaced with joy, and that weeping will be turned to shouts of joy as they work to rebuild their future. They know where that will come from – God’s Himself – and His blessing on them. So they seek Him and pray for His touch. We need to do the same – look at our situation in the light of history, dream of what can be, pray for God’s hand to be on us, and then celebrate and praise Him for what He does!