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Fiery Furnaces!

Malachi 4:1-6

Malachi is thinking about fiery furnaces and roasting the wicked. In other words we’re thinking about "the end times" as they’re called, or to give it the correct theological term "eschatology" (that’s eschatology, NOT escapology which is an altogether different thing - although those destined for the fiery furnace that Malachi describes might want to practice their escapology)

But of course with the fiery furnace is also a message of hope for those who belong to and worship their God. "2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays."

To better understand this a little better, we have to know a little bit of the background.

The book of Malachi was written about 100 years after the return of Judah from exile in Bablyon, but these were not good times by any means. There had been poor harvests, swarms of locusts and they were a hungry people, living on the edge, scratching a living in what was supposed to be the Promised Land of milk and honey.

They were disappointed and disillusioned by the outcome, things should be better, God was supposed to be building his kingdom with them at its heart, but they were struggling to find food to eat.
The only good thing to come out of their exile seemed to be that they now had got the message about following other gods. That had taken a LONG time, but it was a real positive!

But their own religious practice had slipped to the point where they were really only going through the motions. They were going to the temple simply because they always had, it was a tradition and not a priority in their lives (I know a few folk like that!) Their faith was confined to a small part of their lives and they gave as little as they could get away with. As an example, they knew they shouldn’t trade on the Sabbath, so they did their business outside the gates to get around the rules.

Oh, and if that weren’t enough there weren’t many women around after the exile, so the men were marrying outside of the people of God, to Gentiles no less!

And they blamed God for their dilemma, effectively saying, "If God’s not bothered about us, why should we be bothered about God?"

So that’s the background, and here’s God’s final word through his prophet in the Old Testament. It would be another 400 years before we catch up with what’s happening in the New.

Bad things will happen to those who make bad choices in their lives, says the prophet, but God’s people (at least those whose lives show that they are the people of God) will come through OK.

And it’s a strange word that closes the book because the prophet invokes the names of Moses and Elijah, the first of God’s great prophets who really challenged the people over their life, morals and faith. Moses of course was the prophet who led the people out of captivity in Egypt, and who gave them the Law. Remember them, he says, because their message is as relevant now as it ever has been, and will be the message that eventually turns your lives around and leads to your rescue. Hold it in your heart and worship your God.

Now the whole message of the Old Testament comes to a close with these words, "If they don’t listen to Elijah then the land will be cursed."

One more chance – that’s the word echoing across the 4000 year chasm between the Old and New Testaments. And for 400 years they waited for something to happen. That must have been some wait, because in that time the land was occupied by Persians, Egyptians, Syrians, Greeks and Romans!

Then our reading touches the Advent season to come. Suddenly in the desert there appears this man dressed like Elijah and eating locusts and wild honey. People flock to hear his words, the words that Malachi said he would preach. But this man was only there to prepare the way for Jesus Christ. If you remember, there was quite some debate as to whether John the Baptist was Elijah, returned to earth. Matthew in Chapter 17 has Jesus saying that Elijah had indeed returned.

When Jesus took his disciples to Mount Hermon, he asked who they though he was, and got the answer that some thought he was the reincarnation of a prophet. It was Peter who had the flash of inspiration that said "No, you’re the Christ, aren’t you, the Son of the living God." Then Jesus takes them up the mountain and in a vision both Moses and Elijah appear and talk to Jesus. Malachi’s words of 400 years past, promised and delivered!


 

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