June 6, 2004
In the centuries following the division of Israel’s kingdom, most of the Israelites turned away from God. Wrapping up the Old Testament portion of our biblical survey, Alistair Begg dives into the prophetic books that trace the years of bad kings, defeat, and exile. Through great upheaval, God preserved a remnant of the faithful and brought them back to their promised land and a rebuilt temple. The true fulfillment of God’s promises, however, was yet to come.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Well, here we go again. I’m absolutely determined to get to the end of the Old Testament, and you’re either staying with me or you’ll have to leave. But I have my sights set firmly on Malachi before we share Communion, so we better get immediately… This is no joke. It’s no good having small ambitions; it fires no one’s imagination. The coach of the 1980 Olympic hockey team would never have led it to victory were it not for the fact that he believed that this ragtag and bobtail group could defeat the Soviet Union—a team that in forty-four consecutive attempts had defeated everyone that had stood in their way. So, with similar resolve, and with a similar motley crew…
The prophets were speaking of the ultimate fulfillment of the promises of God concerning his kingdom, and we should not be surprised if I tell you that they tackled it on all three fronts—namely, they brought the word of God to bear on the issue of God’s people and on the issue of God’s place and on the matter of God’s rule and blessing. And as I’ve been saying to you all along, what I’m trying to do is do what any useful teacher would do, and that is try and give you at least an inkling of things so that your own personal study would be rewarded. Clearly, we’re flying at a high altitude, albeit flying not as fast as we might like.
But the story of God’s people is the story of the remnant. Some of you are familiar with the phrase “the remnant,” and it simply means that despite God’s intervention and judgment, despite what he did in the fulfillment of his word, he does not—he cannot—destroy his people completely. And so the prophets speak of a remnant that is preserved even when God acts in these quite devastating ways. And he speaks of the survivors in, for example, Isaiah chapter 10—I’ll give you references, I’m not assuming you’re going to turn all the time—but in Isaiah chapter 10, for example, in verse 20, he says, “In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of the house of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down but will … rely [truly] on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. [And] a remnant will return, a remnant of Jacob will return to the Mighty God.”
Now, these survivors are marked, you will notice, by two things: they are characterized by faith—they are now relying on the Lord—and they are characterized by repentance—they are returning to the Lord. And when you think of the people of God, you must think of it in those terms. Also, when they are describing all that God is doing with his people, the prophets are speaking continually of a new exodus. And we left the people in Babylon, as you will recall; the plight of the people in the exile in Babylon is very similar, as the Scriptures point out, to the predicament that faced the people when they were enslaved in Egypt. God came down and rescued them before, and the prophets want them to know that God is going to rescue them again.
And so, for example, in Jeremiah and in chapter 16, the prophet speaks of the intervention of God in this way in verses 14 and 15: “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when men will no longer say, “As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,” but [instead] they will say, “As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.”’” So the history of the people of God was going along, and to this point they were all saying, “As surely as the God who delivered us from Egypt lives,” and he says, “Now what they are going to say is, ‘As surely as the God who rescued us from the bondage in Babylon lives.’” So dramatic was the intervention of God in this way.
And the salvation that God is exercising is quite dramatic. Later in the same chapter:
Lord, my strength and my fortress,
my refuge in [times] of distress,
to you the nations will come
from the ends of the earth and say,
“Our fathers possessed nothing but false gods,
worthless idols that did them no good.
Do men make their own gods?
Yes, but [they’re] not gods!”
“Therefore I will teach them—
this time I will teach them
my power and might.
Then they will know
that my name is the Lord.”
And if we had time, we could stop here and ponder the way in which the prophet speaks of salvation, first of all from the nations—that the people of God are rescued from the grip of the opponents around them—but at the same time, they speak of salvation for the nations—that God is going to bring not only this people that he has focused upon, but he is going to bring the nations to his footstool.
And I have here “Isaiah 49:6” in my notes, and for the life of me I don’t know what it is, so I’m just going to look it up to see what it says, and hopefully it’s something worth quoting. “[God] says: ‘[Is it] too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept.’” Oh, here it is; I know now why I put it down: “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” See what God is doing? He is redeeming them from the nations, and he is rescuing them for the nations. It’s a wonderful reminder to us, it is an anticipation of what we find—namely, that God saves us, not in order that we might sit around and rub one another’s backs, but he saves us in order that we, in part, might become his missionary force within the place of God’s appointing.
And so, he speaks of the remnant, they speak of the exodus, and they speak of the servant who is to come. You have this as much in Isaiah as in any other place, stressing that the new exodus will be achieved by a mysterious figure who is referred to as “the servant.” And somewhat enigmatically in the Prophets, you find that every so often “the servant” is a description of Israel as a nation, and then elsewhere, and primarily, “the servant” is a description of an individual who will be used by God to rescue the remnant of Israel. And this rescue is going to be accomplished by the servant’s death.
And that is why I read from Isaiah chapter 53. The rescue that God is going to ultimately effect for his people is a rescue that is centered in his servant: a servant who is alone in his sufferings; a servant who, as we read in Isaiah 53, acts by means of the substitution of himself; a servant who deals with every aspect of our need—infirmities, sorrows, moral and spiritual wrong, the guilt that alienates us from God; and a servant whose work fulfills the very will of God. And anybody who’s reading their Bible and gets to Isaiah chapter 53 and doesn’t know must find themselves saying, “Who is this person? Is this actually,” says someone, a newcomer to the Bible, reading Isaiah 53, “Is this speaking of someone that I think it’s speaking of? Is this pointing forward to Jesus?” Well, yes, of course it is. Jesus steps onto the stage of human history, and he says, “[For] the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
And the work of the prophets as they speak about the ultimate fulfillment of the purposes of God in relationship to his people are weaving all that they say around these elements: the fact of this remnant; the fact of an exodus, once achieved, if you like, reinforced in the return from exile, and yet still not ultimately fulfilled, looking forward to something that will ultimately be; and then the introduction of this servant, who is actually the key to the experience of this ultimate exodus.
And sometimes, as I’ve said to you before, a hymn just helps to crystallize it, doesn’t it? When you think about this in terms of Isaiah 53, you surely say, don’t you,
I cannot tell why he, whom angels worship,
Should set his love upon the sons of men,
Or why, as Shepherd, he should seek the wanderers,
To bring them back, [I] know not how [nor] when.
Or as the writer goes on to say, “I cannot tell how he will win the nations, how he will claim his earthly heritage.”
It’s an immense thought. It is a far greater thought than what for most of us was a mind-boggling thought to which I referred this morning—it’s fixed in my mind, I guess, and many of our minds—but did you ever really think, after all that time, that that horrible, barbed-wire Berlin Wall was ever coming down? Did you ever think, in your lifetime? Do you remember how you felt when they were breaking it up? You said, “This is immense! How can this be? I thought the Cold War was forever. I can’t tell how this could be!”
That pales into insignificance in comparison to this vast promise, that around the throne of God, in the ultimate fulfillment of his purposes from all of eternity according to the eternal counsel of his will, there will be men and women from Iraq and from Iran and from Saudi Arabia, from the deepest central parts of Africa, from the southern tip of India, from every nation and language and tribe and tongue, and they will all be together declaring salvation to him who belongs on the throne. What a thought! What an immense thought! And that everything that God is doing, and everything that God is allowing in your life, and in the life of a congregation, and in the nature of his church, is all focused on that ultimate objective. There will be a day when he says, “That’s the last one I had planned,” and he wraps it up. He’s not working arbitrarily; nothing is taking him by surprise, nothing is out of control, nothing ever will be out of control. And the prophets stand six, seven, eight hundred years before a Christ they have never seen, and they declare this with unbelievable conviction. Why? Because God put his words in their mouths, and then they said what he told them to say. And we are the beneficiaries of it; otherwise, we couldn’t read Isaiah. It’s fantastic.
God’s people, and God’s place. When we think of God’s place, what do they tell us about? Well, they tell us about a new temple. Now, here we could go to the book of Ezekiel, if you want. Someone says, “No, well, I don’t really want.” Well, that’s fine; I’ll give you the whole book of Ezekiel as your homework. Now, that’s what they do in America, I know: they give great chunks of reading, more than any sensible person can ever read. And since I am now part of this great community, I’m just assigning a different kind of homework from before. You would have liked me much better before, I can assure you. But if you read the book of Ezekiel—and I don’t suppose many of you are going to do the forty-eight chapters before you fall asleep—but you will find, if you do not already know, that the book of Ezekiel begins with a vision of the glory of God leaving the temple in Jerusalem. God acts in judgment, and he withdraws from his people. The building is now a shell, and it’s only a matter of time before the Babylonians come and destroy it.
If you go to the very end of Ezekiel, you find that Ezekiel now finishes with another vision. He’s on the upside, on the upswing; it finishes not with despair, but with great hope. And the book ends with a succession of chapters concerning a vision of a new temple that is more magnificent than the First Temple ever was. And this is essentially chapters 40 to 48 of Ezekiel. And Ezekiel sees God entering this immense structure, and from this structure a river flows, and it gives life to the world. All right?
Now, one school of interpretation sees in these closing chapters of Ezekiel the promise of the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem at the second coming of Christ as an exact fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy. Now, if your Bible is open in Ezekiel, you should just notice a couple of things. For example—and it’s a lot of material—but if your Bible is open there in Ezekiel chapter 45, you will see that there is then given very explicit instructions in the course of this vision for the celebration of burnt offerings and the celebration of holy days: the taking of young bulls without blemish that are to be sanctified and then to be offered up, the priest taking the blood of the sin offering, putting on the doorposts of the temple, and so on. All right?
Let me ask you a question. If that interpretation is accurate—namely, that the end of Ezekiel is speaking of the reconstruction of a literal temple back in a literal Jerusalem at a period of time—that interpretation has to answer a number of questions, has to address a number of issues. That interpretation is challenged, says E. J. Young, whose name some of you will know, by certain fundamental principles of the New Testament. One, the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ has annulled all sacrifices forever. True or false? True. Okay. There is now no other sacrifice for sin. That was all before. The book of Hebrews says, “That was how they were doing it, this is what he did; therefore, once and for all, an atoning sacrifice for sin.” All right. So how, then, do you square that with the reintroduction of a sacrificial system in a literal temple in Jerusalem?
Secondly, the heirs of the kingdom are no longer the Jewish nation, but the church, the new Israel in which the old Israel finds its place, so that now both Jew and Gentile are gathered into one community of faith. That’s why, for example, in 1 Peter 2, Peter writes and he says, “You are a holy nation, a people belonging to God, a chosen generation, because God has called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light.” He takes all of these pictures—all of these metaphors, if you like—of the Old Testament people of God, he writes to the scattered believers of his day in Bithynia and Cappadocia and so on—a combination of both Jew and Gentile—and he says to them, “You are the people of God.”
Thirdly, in the book of Revelation, John takes these closing chapters of Ezekiel, and he uses them to describe the church in the kingdom of God, and he actually removes them from all the aspects of Judaism. Now, we’re at a kind of honors level here, and I’m only going to take another thirty seconds at the honors course, and then we’ll move back to just the pass degree. What we do not want to say—what we cannot say—is that the chapters at the end of Ezekiel, in all of this detail, are somehow or another just symbolism. They’re clearly not just symbolism. I personally think it makes most sense to understand these chapters in Ezekiel as a true prediction of the kingdom of God given by Ezekiel in the thought forms with which the prophet was familiar. Their essential truth then embodied in the kingdom of God, experienced and described by John, looking forward into heaven in thought forms that are still dramatic—are like a gigantic comic book—but they are now taken up and out of the framework of Judaism that once marked the understanding of the prophet. Now, that’s probably enough just to confuse you and annoy some others.
God’s place: the new temple. What about the new creation? Well, God’s plan is not limited simply to the Israelites, or even to human beings; God’s plan, as Creator, is for everything. He’s determined to completely undo the effects of the fall and to renew the whole world. That’s why, for example, in Isaiah 65, God says, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth”—“new heavens and a new earth.”
Now, I want to reread to you something that I read probably a year and a half ago now, from a book that we have recommended to you in our bulletin and suggested that you pick it up in the bookstore, the book by John Dixon, If I Were God, I’d End All the Pain. When we think in terms of a new creation and all that God purposes to do, many of us can identify with Dixon. And I purposefully reread this; this is not to fill in. I certainly don’t need anything to fill in. But I want to read this again because we’re slow learners, and some of us have never considered this:
For many of us, even for some long-term believers, our picture of God’s kingdom to come derives from an unlikely combination of ancient Greek philosophy and modern Hollywood movies. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato taught that the physical world is a kind of grubby reflection of the ultimate non-physical reality to which everything is headed. Buddhism and Hinduism, with their goal of nirvana, share a similar outlook. Somehow, Hollywood got hold of this idea and now almost always portrays the afterlife as an airy-fairy fourth-dimensional existence with clouds, halos, bright lights, and the ever-present harp music.
In the years after I came to believe in Christ, it always troubled me that I was now meant to enjoy the thought of escaping the physical world and entering a spiritual one called heaven. I love the taste, smell, sight, sound, and touch of this world. And here I was being told to look forward to losing these five senses and having them replaced by a spiritual sixth sense. I wasn’t terribly excited about it. Then someone challenged me to point to biblical texts that describe the afterlife as a disembodied nirvana-like bliss. I couldn’t. Every passage I turned to challenged the Hollywood version of heaven.
It turns out that the biblical coming kingdom is not an ethereal place of clouds and ghosts, but a tangible place of real existence. It is a new creation. Whether or not we gain a sixth sense, I’ve no idea, but I think we can count on keeping the other five senses. This is a future I can get excited about. It is life in the fullest sense of the world, a reality in which the moral and physical tensions of our current world will be resolved through an extraordinary act of divine recreation. And when I find myself doubting that such a fantastic hope could ever become a reality, I need only … go down to the beach near where I live, or look up at the glorious night sky, and remind myself that God has already done it once. The proof is right there before my eyes. Why should I question his ability to do it a second time?
Now, I find that tremendously helpful; I hope some of you do also. Because in your heart of hearts, if you admit it, the sort of standard notion of heaven, with swinging chandeliers and streets of gold and stuff like that, it doesn’t seem to grab you, does it? And you start to condemn yourself: “Well, if I was a good Christian, I’d be looking forward to this! I mean, I’m sure I like alabaster if I see it up close. I mean, I don’t know, but it’s—yeah, yeah, yeah, I do, I like it, yes.” He says, “I don’t like it. I wouldn’t even know it if I bumped into it.” You see how important it is when I tell you, “You are sensible people; you better ‘examine the Scriptures for yourselves to see if these things are so’”?
Finally, the prophets not only spoke concerning God’s people in God’s place, but they also spoke concerning God’s rule and God’s blessing. And it is in this context that we address the issue of the new covenant. There is no more straightforward reference to this in the Prophets than Jeremiah 31:31:
“The time is coming,’ declares the Lord, “
when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them.”
God says, “As a husband, I fulfilled my part of the bargain, but as a wife, they were absolutely hopeless.”
“This is the covenant [that] I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
[And] I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.”
Now, that verb “know” is a key verb in Hebrew, and it is there right from the very beginning, in Genesis. This is not simply a polite euphemism; this is a straightforward statement concerning the conjugal relations between Adam and Eve—that Adam “knew” his wife and they bore children. That is the intimacy and the level of the relationship. And what God is saying is that when the people that he sets his love upon come to an understanding of this, they will not simply be doing Bible studies at arm’s length and off the top of their heads, but they will be people who know God. And this is his purpose in the fulfilling of his new covenant: that there will be men and women and boys and girls who are able to say, “I know God.”
The covenant is not a completely new start, because clearly God is not abandoning the promises he’s made. But the obvious question is, how can he fulfill the promises that he’s made—promises to bless his people—given the fact that his people continue to sin? “How am I gonna do this?” if you like, you know. “Now, I’m blessing the people, but the people keep sinning.”
Motyer says, significantly, this passage is not about a new law, but it is about a new covenant. And then listen to this purple sentence; this is worth the price of the book Look to the Rock, which we suggested you would enjoy, and which you can get in the bookstore: “When his people could not rise to the height of his standards, the Lord does not lower his standards to match their ability; he transforms his people.” That’s double-underlining time.
O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
A second Adam to the fight
And to the rescue came.
“When they could not rise to the height of his standards, he did not lower his standards to match their abilities; he instead transformed his people.” And what this speaks of, way back in Jeremiah 31, is the purpose and promise of God to work a work of regeneration, to bring about an inner transformation, to recreate the human constitution in such a way that the heart of man is made the perfect shape to absorb the law of God: “I will write my law upon your heart. I will put it in there.” He takes, if you like, our hearts, and he makes them the very perfect shape, just like dropping a piece in a jigsaw puzzle, so that his law becomes a delight to us as he places it within us. And that new covenant is inaugurated by the death of the Lord Jesus.
And for any who may be thinking, “Well, I’m not so sure about this idea of the law coming in that way and being written in our hearts and placed on our hearts,” well, let me commend to you as part of your homework Hebrews chapter 10. And you will notice that it is in chapter 10, after having proclaimed the finished work of Christ in atonement, that he then—the writer—says, “And let me just underscore this for you by having the Holy Spirit testify to it.” He writes this down: the work of redemption is completed; the high priest had been offering all these sacrifices, they couldn’t take away sins; Jesus, priest, offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, sat down at the right hand of God; from that time, he waits until his enemies become his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect those who are being sanctified or holy. And then he says, “And let me call as my witness the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity.” And the third member of the Trinity comes in, and he speaks to the issue. And what does the third member of the Trinity do? He quotes the Bible, quotes Jeremiah 31: “Thank you for the opportunity to speak in defense of this proposition,” he says. “Let me quote to you what the prophet Isaiah said: ‘This is the covenant I will make with them. I will put my laws in their hearts and I will write them on their minds. And wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, their sins and their lawless acts I will remember no more. And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.’”
A new covenant and a new king. God had ruled through a king in the past; he’s going to do it again in the new covenant era. And the prophets build on the promise that God had made to David in 2 Samuel 7. For example, Isaiah 9—you turn the page in Isaiah: “For unto us a child is born, and unto us a son is given: and the government will be upon his shoulder: and his name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the extent and rule and reign of his government, there is no end—there shall be no end.” And the wonderful classical music picks it up: “And he shall reign forever and ever.”
It’s a mind-boggling thought. It’s a fantastic concept. It is immense. When you put your head on the pillow at night, just remind yourself that you know the living God, by his grace, that you know the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and that he knows your name, and he knows your needs, and he is committed to your well-being, and he bears your name before the Father, despite everything that he knows about you, because of all he is and because of all he has done. What kind of king is this? It’s wonderful! I say to you again, it is beyond our ability to convey.
Daniel sees him as “one like unto the son of man”—no ordinary king. The psalmist, in Psalm 24, looks forward; he says,
Ye gates, lift up your heads on high;
Ye doors that last for aye,
Be lifted up, that so the King
Of glory enter may.
But who is he, this king?
The king of glory, it is he.
It is antiphonal. It’s fantastic.
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Doth his successive journeys run;
[And] his kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
So they spoke of a new covenant and a new king and of great blessing. The time of fulfillment when this kingdom is ushered in, in all of its perfection, will be marked in a way that God’s rule is established and everything falls into place. The peace and prosperity with which the world was there, in all of its pristine originality, will be restored. That’s the significance, incidentally, of Isaiah chapter 11 and the section around verse 6: the reconciliation of old hostilities and the removal of all those old fears. The predators and the prey are hanging out together. The lions and the lambs are in the same little place. There’s actually a change of nature that is described, insofar as when you read that—and as part of your homework, again, in Isaiah 11—you read that the cow and the bear are eating the same food. Now, I don’t know much about cows and bears, but I know that probably they’re not on the same menu, the same diet, you know? And furthermore, the lion and the ox are eating straw. Have you ever seen a lion eating straw? And the curse of Genesis 3 is removed, and the child plays with the serpent.
When God makes all things new, it’s inconceivable, isn’t it?
Now we come to Malachi. Because the prophets are speaking at the time when there is this expectation of a return from exile: 538 BC, six decades after they’d been carried away, the return takes place in part—now you’re in Ezra and Nehemiah. Now you’ve got the story of Ezra. If you read that, Cyrus of Persia comes in, he defeats the Babylonians, he introduces a whole process of repatriation. He doesn’t let everybody go, but he lets some people go. Ezra goes back down there. It’s a time of restoration. It’s good, but it’s not great. It’s successful, but it’s not as triumphant as the prophets had apparently been suggesting. The numbers are small, the opposition is significant, the temple is rebuilt, God’s law is rediscovered, Ezra begins to preach on the strength of that—and then it all kind of goes away again.
Then Nehemiah, you will remember, he gets a shot at it; he goes up to Jerusalem, picks up where some had left off, does the work of the rebuilding of the wall. But those who had heard the story of the “good old days” who are now working on the project realize that as good as the project is, it doesn’t seem to fit what people said about what it was like before. When they’d listened to their grandfather, he sat ’em on their knee, and he said, “You know, I remember back then. Man, did we have a temple then! I mean, you ain’t seen no temple like we had back then, son. I’m telling you, Solomon, he built this honking great thing. It was fan-tastic!” Well, they had remembered that; now they’re working on this. They put their trowel down, they go home; they go, “This is okay, but it’s not that. We’re actually going backwards, we’re not going forwards.”
And interestingly, in Ezra chapter 3, when the foundations for this new temple are laid, some of the young people are going, “Hey-hey, we’re building the temple,” but we’re told that the older, wiser people wept when they laid the foundations—they wept at the laying of the foundations. Why? ’Cause they knew: this does not meet the great expectations of the prophets. “The prophets,” they would say to one another, “were on about something far more significant than this.” They know it can’t be the temple of Ezekiel’s prophecy, ’cause it’s smaller than Solomon’s jolly temple. And the end of Ezekiel’s got, you know, the mother of all temples. Now they’re building a temple—but it doesn’t fit. And furthermore, the people have sinful, unbelieving hearts. And when you get to the end of the book of Nehemiah—and there’s wonderful parts in it—but when you get to Nehemiah chapter 13, the books ends in disappointment. Nehemiah’s throwing people around, chuckin’ people out, they’re disobeying the Sabbath laws, they’re messing around something cruel, and it just ends in chaos. Such a great start; such a strange end.
Now, it’s at this time, post-exile, that the wee prophets, the Minor Prophets—Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi—prophesy. And what are they saying? Well, they’re basically saying the same thing that their predecessors were saying before they went into exile: “You guys are crazy. You keep breaking the covenant. And if you keep breaking the covenant, God is going to come in judgment.” But, as we saw this morning, their message was not only judgment, but it was also hope. And they held out hope of a God who was going to act to fulfill his promise so that his people might enjoy his blessings.
Now, the Hebrew Old Testament—and don’t let this be unsettling to you—but the Hebrew Old Testament ends not with Malachi, but with 2 Chronicles. Okay? And the end of 2 Chronicles (and you must check) gives to us a promise that the exile is soon going to be over. So the Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures end with the promise that the exile will soon be over. What, you mean, over like in 538 BC? Well, no, because that’s not this great exodus that the prophets were speaking of. Spiritually speaking, the people are still in exile. They’re waiting for the Lord to return and to fulfill all the promises of salvation. God’s kingdom still hasn’t come in the way that the prophets have been speaking of it, and the answer is because God’s King hasn’t come. But the last of the prophets, Malachi, insists that this King will appear. And he says in Malachi 3, “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.”
Four hundred years of silence in the intertestamental period: people are born, go about their business, work, die, are born, work, die, are born, work, die. People say to one another, “What about that business, ‘I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me’?” And a few of them are walking down to the market, and this funny-looking character with this strange outfit on, eating a health-food diet, appears in the streets quoting the Old Testament: “[See] it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way’—
‘a voice of one calling in the desert,
“Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.”’
And so John came.” And after John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee proclaiming what? The good news of what? What? The kingdom of God. Which is what? God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule, enjoying God’s blessing.
Father, what a privilege to have such a patient congregation. I pray that in this mad dash to the end of the Old Testament that we may not have in any way spoiled or marred the beauty and the clarity of your Word. We pray that you will make us Berean, examining the Scriptures every day, just as they did after Paul had preached; they said, “We’d better check that and see if it’s in the Bible”—very important that we’re doing the same thing.
But we thank you that, to the extent that we get this picture here, that everything is unfolding, moving towards this final, great, wonderful celebration in the presence of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And we pray that this anticipation may stir our hearts in holy living and in zealous evangelism. And when we think about the servant achieving this great salvation, we have got nothing to say in our defense, we’ve got nothing that we can bring to offer as a basis for entry into your kingdom. Frankly, we need insight, because our minds are blind, our lives are unhealthy by sin. We really have got no basis at all on which to come to you, except our one plea is that Jesus died for sinners, and we know ourselves to be sinners, and we have come to trust in his atoning sacrifice.
This is our only confidence as we proceed to gather ’round this table and crown the worship of this day. And we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Jeremiah 16:19–21 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 20:28 (NIV 1984).
 William Y. Fullerton, “I Cannot Tell” (c. 1920).
 See, for instance, Edward J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (1949; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1960), 248.
 Hebrews 10:11–12 (paraphrased).
 1 Peter 2:9 (paraphrased).
 Isaiah 65:17 (NIV 1984).
 John Dixon, If I Were God, I’d End All the Pain: Struggling with Evil, Suffering and Faith (Kingsford, Australia: Matthias Media, 2001), 57.
 Acts 17:11 (paraphrased).
 Genesis 4:1 (KJV).
 Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1996), 58–59.
 John Henry Newman, “Praise to the Holiest in the Height” (1865).
 Hebrews 10:12–14 (paraphrased).
 Hebrews 10:15–18 (paraphrased).
 Isaiah 9:6–7 (paraphrased).
 Daniel 7:13 (paraphrased).
 Author Unknown, “Ye Gates, Lift Up Your Heads” (c. 1650). Paraphrased.
 Isaac Watts, “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun” (1719).
 Malachi 3:1 (NIV 1984).
 Mark 1:2–4 (NIV 1984).
 Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom: A Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1981), 47.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.