Lesson: Malachi 3:1-4
1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight– indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. 2 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; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
The Book of Malachi is the last book of the 12 “Minor” Prophets – so called because these books are much shorter than the three “Major” Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel). Malachi’s name literally means “my messenger” and the book appears to have been written in the 5th Century BCE, after the Second Temple was built around 505 BCE.
Malachi asserted that the “Day of the Lord” was coming soon, and the “messenger” of the Day of the Lord was identified as Elijah (4:5). In most prophetic books, the Day of the Lord was presented as a time of wrath, darkness, fear, and trembling.
In today’s reading, Malachi described YHWH’s messenger (v.2) as one who is like “refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap.” (Fuller’s soap is a harsh clay/soap/lye used to whiten clothes or remove impurities from wool.) After the refining and cleansing, the offerings of Judah/Jerusalem would again be pleasing to YHWH (v.4).
In the Synoptic Gospels, the “messenger” was identified as John the Baptist (Matt.11:10-14; Mark 1:2-4; Luke 1:17, 76). John the Baptist was described in many ways as a “new Elijah.”
Epistle: Philippians 1:3-11
3 I thank my God every time I remember you, 4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. 9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
Philippi was a major city in Macedonia on the Roman road to Byzantium (Istanbul). Paul wrote this letter from prison. For this reason, many think the letter was written from Rome around 62 CE. Other scholars note that Paul was also imprisoned earlier in Ephesus and made a number of trips to Philippi from Ephesus. Paul offered himself and Jesus the Christ as examples of courage and self-surrender in the face of suffering and death.
Paul had a deep affection for the Jesus Followers in Philippi and thanked them for gifts sent to him in prison (4:18). In today’s reading, Paul referred to the “day of Jesus Christ” (v.6) and the “day of Christ” (v.10).
Many of the Messianic changes that most Jews (including Paul) expected (unification of the 12 Tribes; ouster of the Romans; peace and justice) had not fully occurred when Jesus was on earth. For this reason, Paul and others waited for a “Second Coming” of the Christ (Greek for “Messiah”) which Paul believed would occur soon. Accordingly, he hoped the Philippians would be pure and blameless on that day.
Gospel: Luke 3:1-6
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”
The Gospel According to Luke is generally regarded as having been written around 85 CE. Its author also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Both books were written in elegant and deliberatively crafted Greek and presented Jesus of Nazareth as the universal savior of humanity. Both emphasized the Holy Spirit as the “driving force” for events.
The Gospel followed the same general chronology of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the Gospel of Mark, and more than 50% of Luke’s Gospel was based on Mark. The other portions of Luke include (a) sayings shared with the Gospel According to Matthew but not found in Mark and (b) stories that are unique to Luke such as the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Presentation in the Temple, the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan.
Today’s reading began by setting an historical stage (vv.1-2a). Tiberius reigned from 14 to 37 CE, so depending on the manner of reckoning years, a time between 26 and 29 CE is indicated. Pontius Pilate was governor from 26 to 36 CE. Caiaphas was High Priest from 18 to 36 CE.
The depiction of John the Baptist as a messenger of repentance was derived from Isaiah and Baruch. The words of Isaiah (vv.4-6) are a paraphrase of Isaiah 40:3-5. The reference to “all flesh” (v.6) emphasized the universality of salvation, a common theme in Luke.
“Baptism of repentance” had antecedents in the Jewish practice of miqveh – a immersion cleansing for ritual purity – but was different in that John’s baptism was a one-time event and a public testimony of repentance. Scholars suggest that baptism as a rite of initiation into the Jesus Follower Movement likely arose after the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE.