Near the beginning of the last chapter in the last book of the Old Testament, the Lord speaks through the prophet Malachi and gives his people a beautiful promise:
You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall
I'm not from an agricultural background, but I can easily picture a young calf, cooped up in a stall, springing with delight when the gate is opened and the green pasture with lovely spring flowers becomes the stage of running, bouncing and playing. Malachi is saying that when we experience what God has on offer, this is how we'll feel. Summarised in one word: FREEDOM!
Just before this promise, there is another promise:
for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings
This promise of healing draws on the words of Isaiah, written 300 years before this, who looked forward to God's provision of a Saviour:
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5
So we have these two, beautiful, powerful promises: God's people will experience healing and peace with God through the work of Christ on the cross; the freedom that comes from this healing will be expressed in exuberant joy.
But both healing and freedom are the answers to problems - sickness and bondage. And this is the focus of Malachi's message - that God's people are still sick with sin and in bondage to sin. They need purification (Malachi 3:1-4); they need God's help.
Malachi is speaking to God's pople in Jerusalem after they have returned from Babylon following 70 years of captivity. They rebuilt the alter, they rebuilt the temple, they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. They even had Ezra come and preach to them. But their lives are still marked with sin (Malachi 3:5) - spiritual sin, sexual sin, personal sin, economic sin, social sin. Even though they aspired to be God's people, they weren't living like it.
The promise to purify like a refiner purifies gold (Malachi 3:1-4) indicates that God tolerates mixture - temporarily - but eventually, He will have his people, and he will purify his people, and He will make them like himself. Why? Because God is pure - unmixed - and cannot by definition participate in impurity. In short, the Godness of God cannot be set us aside. Since he has destined us to fellowship with himself (John 17:21), we must be pure as he is pure (1 Peter 1:16).
All of this makes Malachi's final exhortation more remarkable. He writes, 'Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel' (Malachi 4:4). Why would Malachi tell the people to remember a law they have been unable to keep?
The law - and the entire Old Testament:
- Reminds us that God is holy.
- Reminds us that we are sinful.
- Reminds us that we need a Saviour.
By ending the Old Testament with the reminder to remember the law, the Lord is setting his people up for a Saviour. They have been, and remain unable to - keep God's law. The law is perfect (Psalm 19:7), and holy and righteous and good (Romans 7:12), because it reflects God's character. But it is weak in that law does not transform; God will have to change the hearts of his people by work of the Spirit (Jeremiah 31:34).
In some ways, this seems an anti-climactic way to end 1500 years of revelation. And this was followed by 450 years of silence. God had not forgotten his people, and God was not done with his people. He was, however, quite happy to let them experience the impossibility of self-salvation. So when they were once again dominated by a foreign power, things started to happen. This is how Paul describes it:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:4-7
Jesus, born under the law, would redeem those under the law who had never been able to fulfil the law. How? As the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45-49; Romans 5:12-21), he would live the life they should have lived, perfectly fulfilling the law; he would die a death in their place, paying the penalty for their sin; he would be gloriously resurrected, demonstrating his victory over death, hell, and the grave.
That's why these are happy days. Not because we are happy every day, but because Jesus has purchased for us adoption in the family of God. And through what he has done - we are set free from the bondage to sin. Not that we never sin again (1 John 1:8-10), but we are set free from sin's domination (Romans 6:6-7). Here's how Paul summarises it:
It was for freedom that Christ set us free.
So go ahead. Jump up down. Dance with delight. Shout joyfully to the Lord. Do your 'calf bounding across the green pasture' imitation. In Christ, we have been set free - not only from a law we couldn't keep - but to the holiness we need to know and fellowship with God (1 Corinthians 1:30). Oh happy day! Or, in calf-speak: MOOOOOO!