Your Future Reality Invades Your Darkness

Light in the Dark (610x351)Malachi 3:1-4, Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6

The name Malachi means “my messenger.” And it’s a fitting name, since that prophet so powerfully spoke about God’s coming messenger. That messenger would be like a powerful soap to purify and cleanse the Levites, the chosen priesthood of Israel.

God chose that tribe of Israel to be His full-time servants. They could own no land, and God didn’t allow them to do any work, except to serve as His priests. Those Levites who were descended from Aaron served as priests. The other Levites helped transport the tabernacle, and later assisted in worship at the Jerusalem Temple.

In Malachi’s day, sin was having a free-for-all in Israel. Even God’s chosen priests were acting more pagan than priest-like. They needed purifying and cleansing. And so a messenger was to come to prepare the Lord’s way. Then, the Lord Himself would suddenly come to His temple. He would purify in a way that only He could do!

That Lord would be “the messenger of the covenant.” He would fulfill the ancient covenant and establish a new one. He would wash people in purging waters and refine them with fire. John the Baptizer, who prepared the way for Jesus, described Him in those terms: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16).

And God’s work of cleansing people through baptism and the preaching of the Gospel continues to this day. Paul spoke of that in our Epistle reading. He wrote to the church at Philippi, “All of you share in God’s grace with me” (Philippians 1:7). All of us today, pastors and people, have a “participation in the gospel” (Philippians 1:5). God works through the word, the word that brings you the Word, Jesus. And that Word comes to us, so we can “be pure and blameless in the Day of Christ” (Philippians 1:10).

In the New Covenant, God brings all Christians into His priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). And like the priests of the Old Covenant, we in the New also need God’s cleansing. That purifying soap for sin-stained Levites is even for us today, to repent and have God’s Holy Spirit renew us by the power of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.

That “soap” is effective because it comes from outside of us to cleanse us from within. How can a dirty cloth clean itself? It can’t. The soap must come from outside the dirty garment to wash away the dirt. That purifying soap of God, from outside of us, moves us to live out the cleanness of our cleansing within our everyday lives.

But first there is repentance, the “coming clean” by confessing our sin. As Malachi surveyed God’s people in his time, what he saw had dismayed him. Their deceptions, their filthy lies, and the grime of apathy encrusted their worship of God. They lacked sincerity and conviction, thinking they could fool God by going through the motions.

“Come clean,” the prophet Malachi cried. “Repent,” John the Baptizer shouted (Matthew 3:2). Be “filled with the fruit of righteousness,” the Apostle Paul encouraged.

But we, in ourselves, cannot bring about those changes, any more than a dirty garment can clean itself. Like a finger pointing to something else, Malachi, John, and Paul each directed others to Jesus. It’s in Him that we become clean as the Holy Spirit moves us to renounce our sin, and Christ’s grace purifies us once more.

Now, a giant difference exists between repentance and remorse. Consider this: Imagine that you go to work, but you’ve been quietly stealing from your employer. You know it’s wrong, but you’ve got all the rationalizations down pat to justify your thieving. The boss won’t miss it. He pays me too little for what I do, anyway. He’s a jerk, and he deserves what’s coming to him.

But then, one day, he catches you red handed. You ask your boss not to fire you, to show you mercy. And for some strange reason, that jerk of a boss doesn’t fire you.

Later, your share what happened with your family. They’re grateful, but you, you laugh at how you fooled the boss with your fake cry for mercy. That’s wasn’t repentance. You weren’t sorry for what you did; you only had remorse that you got caught. True repentance is lamenting the sin itself and turning away from it back to God.

The Israel of Malachi’s day was sorry for being caught, not for being sinful. Their repentance was a sham, as it can be for you and me. And so Malachi announced the cleaning power of the “refiner’s fire and. . . cleansing lye.” John the Baptizer urged, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” And Jesus Himself proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). The Apostle Paul preached repentance from Jerusalem to the outer fringes of the Roman Empire. And that is God’s cry to us in His Church, even still today.

Examine your life. What do you need to cast off that keeps trapping you in a rut of sin? What’s eating away at you like a sinful cancer? Is it old sins, old hatreds, or fantasizing about what you don’t have, wishing that you did? Like cleansing lye, like a refiner’s fire, God removes those agonizing sins by bringing you through repentance into the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47).

Repent! That’s the first step. Here’s the second: Remember your baptism. The Baptizer didn’t stop with telling people to repent. He also told them to be baptized.

Every day, remember God’s forgiveness in your baptism! Luther told parents to teach their children to make the sign of the cross when they woke up in the morning. That was to remind the child that he was baptized and to live in his baptism. Being baptized into Christ brings you His forgiveness (Acts 2:38, 1 Peter 3:21). It washes you clean, day in and day out, year after year, time after time.

Luther also said that you are to drown the old Adam–that little god within you that wants things your way instead of God’s way. That drowning of the old Adam takes place when you return to your baptism through repentance.

And so, we confess our sins at every Divine Service, trusting in Christ’s forgiveness, granted through baptismal water. It’s better than taking a bath. It’s the soap that gets rid of the grime of your sins. It’s discovering the joy of being cleansed anew.

Malachi compares that soap to a detergent with powerful bleach. It not only cleanses; it brightens. Baptism clothes us in Christ’s brilliant righteousness. It’s as the Apostle Paul says: “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27).

Come clean! Repent! Remember your baptism! But it doesn’t stop there. Live out the cleanness of your cleansing in your everyday life. You do that by being who you are in Christ Jesus. Living in the joyous forgiveness that He gives puts everything in its proper place. In Christ’s forgiveness, the fallen ways of this world that eat away at you shrink and shrivel by the marvelous joy that comes from the grace that forgives.

That joy is a strong undercurrent that stirs within you, even when you are sad. You can be depressed, and yet that joy is still there, somewhere, crying out to be heard. And that joy has its life from Christ. Christ has given you His life. And that changes everything. After all, you know how it all ends!

The world may be beating you down–but you know that when Jesus returns, He will create a new heaven and a new earth. This world beating your backside doesn’t define you. By faith, you know that’s the fallen creation crying to “be set free from corrupting bondage to share the glorious freedom of God’s children” (Romans 8:21).

Your life may be heartache and heartbreak, of walking “through the darkest valley.” And yet you know that God is shepherding you (Psalm 23:1, 4). You know how the story ends: It ends as it started–in Christ Jesus! It ends with the fullness of your salvation on the Last Day, where sin will be no more, where your body of death can no longer betray you with false emotions. Christ Jesus will make everything new.

It’s that joy, the joy of that future reality that invades your darkness with the light of Christ. And if there is light, any amount of light, the darkness is gone. Darkness can only exist in the absence of light. That’s why “if you have faith of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Go from here to there,’ and it will move” (Matthew 17:20).

Jesus didn’t literally mean that you can move a mountain. He was being figurative. What He did mean is that the smallest amount of faith is enough. And that faith, that light that snuffs out the darkness, brings the impact of your future reality into the present, bringing you to live out the cleanness of your cleansing in your everyday life.

That’s what Matthew, chapter 25 reveals. Jesus tells His saints on the Last Day:

“Come, you who have been blessed by my Father! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you welcomed me. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you took care of me. I was in prison, and you visited me.”

But those saints respond, “When did we serve You through those deeds?” That’s because the joy of the life that you have in Christ doesn’t keep track of what you do. You do what God has given you to do in faith, leaving the results to Him. After all, it’s God doing the doing through you (John 15:5). God calls you to be faithful.

Malachi foresaw John preparing the way for Jesus. John points us to Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus is the Soap that purifies us, washing away the dirt of our sins. Repent! Come clean! Remember your baptismal bath daily! Live in, and live out, that cleansing! That’s not just a story from Scripture–it’s also your story! Amen.