Thursday, November 20, 2008

Context, Context, Context!

For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts (Malachi 1:11).

That verse is a bright ray of hope splashed against a canopy of deep darkness. Indeed, it is such a beautiful, hopeful verse that many have it memorized and songs have been composed about it. The verse speaks of a day when all the earth will glorify the name of the Lord God. It speaks of a day when worship will not only be offered in the Temple, but also in every place where people are found. They will offer 'incense', which is often symbolic for the prayers of God's people. Malachi, the messenger of God, has been allowed to see a new future in which God will be worshipped "in spirit and truth" by all nations (John 4:24).

So it is definitely a verse worthy of committing to memory. However, if we only know this verse without its setting, you will miss some of the brightness of the hope and the seeming impossibility of this promise coming to pass. Allow me to illustrate.

If this passage were an artists painting, the very first thing you would see on the page would be this promise. It would pop out to you like a bright moon in a dark sky. The reason it would be so attractive to you is because the light of the verse is set in stark contrast to the darkness of the rest of the canvas. According to the word of the Lord to Malachi, God did not even have one priest who was doing the will of the Lord. Look at God's lament:

And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand (Mal. 1:9-10).

God is grieved because He does not have one man to stem the tide of wickedness. The people are bringing him blind and lame and sick sacrifices; sacrifices they would never dream of giving a dignitary. The people's leftovers are all God is getting; He has not captured their affections. So, God laments. He pours out His heart and says, "Oh! that there were one among you...!" Just one! Alas! There is no one to do God's will. There is no one to stem the tide of evil. The people of Israel is spiritually bankrupt. All hope seems irrevocably and utterly lost. And yet...

From the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts (Malachi 1:11).

But...there's no one left! Israel has abandoned the Lord! Yet God swears, "My name will be great...in every place...my name will be great among the nations!" And how will God accomplish this?

Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For m he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He 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 (Mal. 3:1-3).

"He is coming..." says the Lord. Who is coming? The One in whom God delights. The One who will refine His people like the refiner's fire and wash them like the fuller's soap.* Who is the messenger that prepared the way of the LORD? When did He appear in the temple? Who, beloved, was the hope of Malachi and the hope of Israel? Who was the radiant light that broke the grip of darkness? This is no vague hope, and this is no vague glory. God's name will be great amongst the nations, and everywhere there will be offerings and prayers made to His Name. The Lord will glorify Himself through the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is He of whom Malachi spoke. It is Jesus Christ, through whom God will make His Name great from the rising to the setting of the sun.

Did you get that? Do you see, now, the importance of context?

* - For a great discussion on what Fuller's Soap is, see this post by the illustrious Frank Turk. Great stuff there. Definitely worth the read.

1 comment:

Drew said...

Come Lord Jesus, come!