Agonizomai: Malachi 4:5 - A Terrible Day

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Malachi 4:5 - A Terrible Day

Malachi 4:5 - A Terrible Day

Malachi 4:5 "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes."

Not literally the person of Elijah, but someone with the same power and spirit as he. When the Lord Himself stated at its fulfillment, when asked, that Elijah had come and that they did to him as they pleased He was referring to John the Baptist. John, like Elijah, was a wild and fiery wilderness dweller - a fearless prophet who confronted the culture and its apostasy regardless of the rank or power of his hearers.

But what is the "great and awesome day of the Lord"? It is not necessarily the final judgement, because it is linked to John the Baptist and the incarnation of Christ. Does it refer to the moment the incarnation started? Does it refer to the moment of the Lord’s death? His resurrection? What?

Well, it probably refers to the moment the incarnation of Christ began, when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and she conceived. I suppose it could refer to the Lord’s birth or even to the beginning of His public ministry, because John naturally preceded the Lord in all of these things, since John was conceived, born and began preaching about 6 months before Jesus.

The point is that the coming of Messiah is such an important event that it requires introduction by a prophet assigned specifically to the task. And not just any prophet, but one of the power and spirit of Elijah, and greater than whom is none that has been born of woman. This is part of what makes the "day" both great and terrible. Great events require great announcements. The greatest event in history requires a nonpareil prophet of outstanding qualities - the ne plus ultra of messengers.

But the incarnation is great and terrible (or awesome, or better awe-full, or dreadful or fearful) in more ways than this. Most people think of the cute little manger scene and of gentle Jesus, meek and mild, born in a stable and laid in a lowly feeding trough. It is endearing. It is poignant. It is comfortable because the great and infinite and Almighty God that made the universe is sort of bound up - not in, but by the perceived helplessness of His estate.

O, what a profane and uninformed picture that is! Can we not see that the day is terrible precisely because the infinite and Almighty God in the Person of His Son, has laid aside all the glories of heaven without becoming less than God and constrained Himself to live a human life by faith. And He has not done this as if it were the greatest risk anybody could ever take because of the uncertainty of the result. He came in order to die upon a cross and in order to save His people from their sins. It was His express purpose. Not to make possible the salvation of His people, but to actually and effectually save them.

This means that there is a sense in which He was the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. It was ordained. It was purposed by an Almighty God and it could not be stopped by all the demons of hell, nor the will of man. The Lord did indeed have to walk in what God had ordained, but the end was written from eternity. He would accomplish all the purpose for which He came.

What makes the day of the incarnation, birth and commencement of ministry (whichever you regard as that day) terrible is precisely what makes it so poignant. God is doing something that transcends mere human understanding; He is forging eternal sons; He is stopping all the mouths of his creatures; He is answering the accusations about permitting evil; He is showing the immeasurable meekness and lowliness of His heart; He is displaying His wisdom; He is setting at naught the works of the devil; He is reconciling the world to Himself; He is demonstrating grace; He is epitomizing agape love; He is judging the world as it rejects the light; He is gathering His elect into His barn; He is glorifying His Name before the principalities and powers - both holy and fallen. He is working all things for and through Jesus Christ that in all things He might have the preeminence. We can barely see a snow flake on the tip of the iceberg that lies in the ocean of God’s purposes in Christ Jesus - but His coming into history is a day that is both great and terrible for all of these reasons.


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