When Christ Comes His People Will Worship Him

When Christ was born in Bethlehem he was joined by the shepherds who came and bowed down before Him. Matthew tells us of the magi from the East who came and brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In worship we bring our offerings before Him. This refers to presenting, not just an overflow of what he has given us, but our very lives.

“3 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. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.” Malachi 3:3-4 (ESV)

Notice that only after being purified by the refiners fire is our worship acceptable and pleasing to God “as in the days of old.” It is striking that many times we may enter worship with unconfessed unrepented sin in our lives and expect God to be glorified. Our worship brings no honor to God while we raise hands that are stained. We must first deal with our sin, confessing, repenting, and seeking His forgiveness. Only then will our offerings be pleasing to the Lord. It reminds me of a passage from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says,

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)

As we prepare for Christmas this year, let’s deal with our sin and then lavishly worship our Savior. Let’s bring our gifts to him like the magi. Let’s celebrate his coming like the shepherds.

The Lord Is Coming to Purify His People

As we have been looking at the prophet Malachi, notice he does not say that the Messiah who was to come was going to come in and destroy their enemies or restore their national identity or power. Jesus’ primary mission in coming to earth was to purify His people.

“But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For 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.” Malachi 3:2-3 (ESV)

Malachi uses two images to describe what the Messiah is going to do when He comes. First, he is going to cleanse His people using fuller’s soap.  I hope I’m not the only one who had to look that one up in the dictionary. A fuller is one who “cleans, shrinks, and thickens, or dyes cloth or newly shorn wool.” He would do this using strong lye soap, after which the clothes would be placed on rocks and beaten with sticks. I don’t know about you, but it does not strike me as a pleasant experience to be placed on a rock and beaten with sticks.

The second image Malachi uses is that of the refiner’s fire. What does it mean to pass through the refiner’s fire? In the refining process the blacksmith would take a precious metal and literally burn out all the impurities and imperfections. What does this tell us about Christmas, why Jesus was born? It means that when He came, to borrow from Gary Thomas, his purpose was not to make his people happy, but to make them holy.

What would Christmas look like if we allowed Christ to do His purifying work in our lives? Are we willing to go through that purifying process even though it may mean that it is going to be difficult and may cause pain as He burns away the sin that we have allowed to take root in our lives?

The Lord Is Coming

Malachi’s message, was a message of hope in a dark time. It had been thousands of years since the promised Messiah had been first prophesied. The people were starting to return from Exile, but Jerusalem and the Temple the exiles had erected were shadows of their former glory. Though they longed for the Messiah, it would be another 400 years before He would come.

“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.” Malachi 3:1 (ESV)

Throughout history, God entered and reminded his people that He was going to keep His promise. Just when they thought the night could not get any darker, that is when the dawn broke. As we approach Christmas we remember the point at which Christ broke through from heaven to earth. Though it has been a long time since then, we can take heart, because Jesus is coming again!

Preparing for Christmas

I don’t know about you but a lot goes in to preparing for Christmas. Before we left for Thanksgiving I made my annual trek out to storage and brought in the two artificial pre-lit trees, the christmas ornament organizer, and boxes and boxes of Amy’s various decorations that will soon take over the house. I also pulled out my strands of beautifully blue-hinted LED outdoor Christmas lights which are attached to a timer that automagically turns on the lights at dark and runs them for six hours. I like going to bed with the glow of Christmas coming in from the windows.
Before Jesus was born at Christmas over 2,000 years ago, his people had to get ready. God sent them the prophet Malachi who reminded them that God was going to keep His promise and one day would send His messenger to help them prepare.

“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.” (Malachi 3:1 ESV)

When Malachi writes that God’s messenger will “prepare the way” it literally means “to clear a path.” In the ancient world, a herald would often go ahead of the king and announce his coming ahead of time-so that the people might make themselves ready. Can you hear the herald? “Make way! The King is Coming!” The prophecy of a messenger heralding the coming Messiah would be fulfilled 400 years later in John the Baptist, as Mark 1:3 describes as the voice of one crying in the wilderness who would herald: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,  make his paths straight,”

How did John the Baptist prepare the way for Jesus to come? I believe there were three ways in which John prepared the way for Christ:

1. He taught a message of repentance. When he preached he called the people to repent of their sins. If we are to ready our hearts or our homes for Christ, we must first repent of our sins.

2. He pointed people toward Christ, not himself. He could have easily been interested in building his own kingdom here, his own “ministry” or business. Though he did have his own disciples, he pointed people to the Messiah. Likewise, we can help prepare the way for Christmas by pointing people to Christ! We can make Christmas about so many other things, when He is the real reason that we celebrate.

3. He had an attitude of humility. John would so esteem Jesus that he would be quoted as saying, “the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (Luke 3:16 ESV). The ancient practice of footwashing was performed by the lowest servant of member of the host family. John was in essence saying that he wasn’t even worthy enough to be the lowest servant of Jesus. In a world filled with arrogance, hubris, and pride, a healthy dose of humility is what sets our Savior apart. We can truly prepare for Christmas this year when we recognize that He is God and we are not. When we put Christ in the proper place in our lives–first, where He belongs, we will be ready and prepared to celebrate Christmas this year.

Though I hope that you go all-out this year, with decorations, presents, parties, and food. I hope that while you are spending the next few weeks preparing for Christmas that you will take a moment and make sure that spiritually you are ready to worship the King of kings and Lord of lords.