We invite you to return every day during Advent for this devotional series
Listen to today’s accompanying audio track:
And He Shall Purify The Sons Of Levi
In early 20th century England, Hadley Moule, the Bishop of Durham, was one day stopped on the streets of Durham by a young Salvation Army girl, and asked: “Sir, are you saved?” With a bright twinkle in his eye, the Cambridge theologian and churchman asked: “Lassie, it all depends on what you mean. Do you mean, have I been saved, am I being saved, or will I be saved?”
Moule then kindly explained to the eager young girl the three tenses of salvation – we have been saved – we are being saved – and we will be saved. Here are the past, present, and future effects of Messiah’s saving work. He has saved us from the penalty of our sin. He is now in the present saving us from the power of our sin in daily life. And when Messiah returns He will save us and the world from the presence of sin forever.
Today’s Scripture about Messiah coming to purify contains the three tenses of our salvation. Messiah comes to purify us from the penalty of our sin; He comes to purify us from the power of our sin; and He will come one day to purify us from sin’s presence .
All of this is in the promise of today’s text, to “purify the sons of Levi”. The sons of Levi were the Levitical priests charged with the care of God’s house, and the leading in worship. They represent the people of God. The problem was the Levites were half-hearted in their worship, perfunctorily going through the motions. They offered sacrifices that were second best (Malachi 1:7; 2:13), even asking“what profit is there?” in serving the Lord (Malachi 3:14). God said He preferred they close down the temple and not kindle the fire, rather than pretend at worship any longer (Malachi 1:10).
The heart of their problem was the problem of their heart. So when Messiah comes, He will begin with the heart. Messiah will put “a new heart within” (Ezekiel 36:26). He will write His law “in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33).
Messiah will not come telling people how they can live better lives. The Gospel of Messiah is not behavior modification or encouragement to try harder. Rather, it is the Good News of what Messiah has done. He comes to make new people, from the inside out. It will be as the angel said: “Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). And that is past, present, and future of our salvation!
Rabbi Michael Goldberg, in his book, Jews and Christians: Getting Our Stories Straight, says that, as a Jew, he is impressed how in the Christmas story the actors are utterly passive. The action is all about God and what God is doing. Goldberg thinks this is much like the story of the Old Testament, of how it is God who saves His people.
As a Christian, I too am impressed by how the Christmas story is all about God. It is Messiah who is coming, and Messiah who will purify. And from hearts made new, we will offer “unto the Lord an offering of righteousness”.
The Apostle Peter writes to Christians, assuring them that they are “an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:5).
Know that through Messiah Jesus you can stand before God, pure and holy in His sight. And through Messiah Jesus you can offer up worship and service pleasing to Him.
Today’s text and music are the climax of Malachi’s prophecy of Messiah’s coming, and the chorus joins to sing the promise: “he shall purify the sons of Levi”. We hear hope in the midst of the pain. There is plenty of fire spewing but also the promise of being made pure. Messiah comes with fire not to destroy, but to purify.
The music begins in the minor key similar to yesterday’s cry, “Who may abide?”, yet the accompaniment is brighter, hinting at resolution. Roger Bullard describes the combined effect of today’s music;
All in all its music strikes the right balance. It is serious enough to keep the shaking and the burning in mind, but joyous and light enough to convey the outcome which, though painful, is purification.
In the second line of the music, “he shall purify”, the music leaps up high with hope at the promise of what Messiah will do. This long run of sixteenth notes hammer away, as the refiner pummels and shapes his refined metal. At the conclusion the many voices come together in musical unity to “offer unto the Lord an offering of righteousness”. It is confident and joyful. We have been saved and purified by Messiah. We have been made fit to stand boldly before our God and offer service pleasing to Him.
- What do you sense that God might be saying to you in today’s Scripture text and music from Messiah?
- What do you want to say to God?
- Now take a few moments to be still in God’s presence.