This Sunday is one of the last in the church year, and it is not at all inappropriate to look at the last book of the Old Testament. And it just so happens that, this Sunday, the Old Testament text is the last verses of the last book of the Old Testament [Malachi 4:1-6].
To turn the page from Malachi, chapter four, to the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter one, seems like a very easy thing. But approximately four hundred years just passed by with that single page turn. And that is why there are sometimes more pages in between those Testaments.
In some bibles, there are entire books in between those two books. These may be called the Apocrypha (a word which means ‘hidden’), and you may find them in a Roman Catholic Bible. You may also find them in a Lutheran Bible—not that they are on the same level as scripture, but they are helpful in understanding scripture. (Martin Luther said they are ‘not held equal to the Scriptures but are useful and good to read.’) There were even enough of these ‘secondary’ books to have a whole book with the title, The Apocrypha. (Saint Louis, Concordia Publishing House, 2012; for the above quote, see page 1).
Have you ever wondered what sort of group the Pharisees were? How did the Sanhedrin come into power? What kind of power did Herod and his family have? Have you ever wondered what living within the Roman Empire was like? These books can help with questions like that.
At the time of Malachi, the Persian Empire was in power. And the nation of Israel was not looking so good. Then the Greeks became great, particularly Alexander the Great, and that is the main reason that most people at the time of Jesus were still speaking that language. And then, during that time, some of the rulers were ‘difficult’ with the Jews (that is an understatement—I do not want to be too graphic), and there was a rebellion by those of Israel. This happened at approximately 167 BC, and the ‘Judeans’ gathered together and regained Jerusalem. They also purified the temple. This purification is called Hanukkah and is still celebrated today. (It is also mentioned in the New Testament, at John 10:22.) The Roman Empire was coming into power, and Israel was in a great position, because of the trade routes, to do quite well. It would never again become an independent nation though.
Since the temple had been destroyed, the Jews started to focus on their sacred writings in small groups. This eventually started the synagogues, a word which really means ‘coming together’. They realized that there is some power in numbers. They tried to keep separate from other nations, and this was easier when they came back to their own country and ‘cleaned up the mess’. They also tried to worship the one God, but you know how that goes. Other ‘gods’ sometimes can seem important—including self.
There are similarities in the words above to the current trends of today. People can separate from others and gain power in numbers. And the medium of media is certainly a powerful thing. Hopefully, from this type of media, you can focus on something other than power. The worship of self is a dead end, literally.
It should be stated that Jesus came once; and Jesus is coming again. Jesus came the first time (and the way was prepared for him by John the Baptist—see Malachi 4:5), and things were very good for those who followed him; he promised some wonderful things. He will come the second time, and things will be very, VERY good for those who follow him.