God Has a Plan
I have come to the conclusion that people are willing to put up with a certain amount of confusion and chaos if they know that some where there is a plan. You wouldn’t want someone tearing down walls and ripping up carpet in your home unless you knew there was a specific plan of what your renovated house would look like.
I am student of military history. While it sometimes happens, the worst thing an army can do is just fight for the sake of fighting. There has to be a plan, some ultimate goal that this battle is working toward. The D-Day landings at Normandy were not just to make Hitler mad. They were part of a plan to create a second front to relieve the Soviets and to eventually move into Germany.
The same principle is true in our life on this world and our understanding of God. There is a lot of chaos in this world. There is injustice and violence and many indicators that things are not the way they are supposed to be. Sometimes people look at all of this and give up on God. The reason they give up on God is not because the world is too confusing but because they have lost confidence that God has a plan.
Just like all the other areas of life, whether renovations or military offensives, we can deal with the momentary confusion if we know there is a plan, we can do the same thing if we know God has a plan.
Here is the good news for you today. God has a plan.
The Old Testament Plan
You may not know this but our Christian Old Testament has a different order for the books than the Jewish Bible. Whereas our Old Testament ends with Malachi, theirs ends with 2 Chronicles. Listen to how the Bible ends for Jewish people.
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:
“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
“‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up, and may the Lord their God be with them.’” (2 Chronicles 36:22-23)
It ends with a reminder of the Babylonian exile and then God moving in the heart of the Persian king to allow the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem. The exile is over. In some ways, it is a satisfying conclusion.
Except for there are still a lot of problems with the world. It is great that the exile was over, but there was still a lot of problems for the Jewish people, not to mention all of us Gentiles. The end of a 70 year exile doesn’t fix all our problems.
This brings us to Malachi. We don’t know much about Malachi other than his name means “My Messenger” and he is thought to be the last of the prophets. Sort of.
In the conclusion of his book, Malachi looks to two future events. One is the day of the Lord. This is something that is found in many of the prophets. The day of the Lord is something like what we would call judgment day. The Hebrew people knew that the world wasn’t working the way it should. They say the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. What got them through it was that they believed there was a plan and that plan was the day of the Lord. It would be the day everything would be made right. So yes, they looked forward to the end of the physical exile, but they also looked forward to the day of the Lord that would fix far more than the end of the exile ever could.
The second event that Malachi mentions is the return of the prophet Elijah. Elijah was one of the greatest of the Old Testament prophets and one of the few to perform miracles. Elijah was taken up back in 2 Kings. Malachi indicates that Elijah would return before the great day of the Lord. It would be one of the signs that the plan is moving as expected.
The immediate result of this prophecy to the original audience was encouragement to stick with the plan. They might not live to see either event but God still had a plan and that made every difference in the world.
The New Testament Plan
Malachi is our bridge from the Old to New Testaments. I should say that it wasn’t Christians who changed the order but the Jews who translated the Bible from Hebrew to Greek.
Malachi prophesied that before the day of the Lord, Elijah would come. Has Elijah returned? The answer is yes and no. It is no in the sense of the individual with Elijah’s DNA has not physically returned to earth. The answer is yes in that someone has fulfilled his role.
The Gospels indicate that John the Baptist came to prepare the way of the Lord and that he did this in the role of Elijah. In Luke we read:
And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Luke 1:17)
Jesus himself said, “And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.” (Matthew 11:14)
You see, John the Baptist was not just an interesting prophet with some quirky ways of doing ministry. In many ways, John the Baptist was the hinge between two chapters of history. John came not just to baptize, but to prepare the way of the Lord. That Lord was Jesus. It was Jesus that was going to make all the difference. We will get into detail about the words and deeds of Jesus in the coming weeks.
For now, I want to see how this informs our understanding of the day of the Lord. In the Old Testament we are told that the day is coming but almost no other details. In the New Testament (1 Thessalonians 5:2) we are told that the day of the Lord is actually the return of Jesus Christ to this world. On this day, the resurrection will take place. On this day, there will be judgment. The wicked will be punished and the righteous will be rewarded. Basically, everything wrong will be made right on this day. This day is the future for us, just as it was for Malachi. The difference is that Elijah has come through the ministry of John the Baptist. The way of the Lord has been prepared. Jesus Christ, God’s own Son has come, died and is risen. The plan is moving forward. We don’t know when the plan will be completed but it is moving according to God’s schedule.
What does this mean for us? Although we have more information, in many ways we are like Malachi’s original audience. We are just people trying to make it through a difficult world. There is a lot of chaos and confusion. We have no idea what tomorrow brings. If that is all there was, life would be pretty difficult to accept. But there is something more. The plan. God has a plan. Some people get all worked up as to what God’s plan is for us as individuals. I would suggest that we focus on God’s plan for the world and for history. The world is more than a series of random unfortunate events. The world is the setting in which God is unveiling his plan. Knowing Jesus, we have some more insight into the plan. We are still going to have difficult days but at least we know there is a plan and the plan is good.