Old Testament: Malachi 4:1-6 (Pentecost 23: Series C)

Reading Time: 5 mins

Only by faith can we believe the mystery that salvation in all it various forms comes through Jesus, the Son of Righteousness.

The key word in this pericope is righteousness. On the Day of the Lord, righteousness will be as clear as the sun shining in all its brilliance. Righteousness will be so evident that no place will be untouched by its light and truth. “The same idea is found in Psalm 37:6: “He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” In Isaiah 58:8 we also read: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.”[1]

The unique character of righteousness in this text is how it will bring about “healing” for all the wounds inflicted by the unrighteous and the world. This connection between “righteousness” and “healing” in Malachi will lead us toward the Gospel in this text. The restoration will come by the Messiah whose healing as the vicarious suffering Servant of the Lord is the salvation God had in mind in our text.[2] Through a turn of phrase, we get to Jesus as the center of our proclamation. The connecting idea is specifically from verse 2, “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” So, with a little pun on sun/son we have a gospel handle. The Son of Righteousness (Jesus Christ) comes with healing in His wings.

Now, we know Jesus is not a bird so how do we get there from here. There is an interesting explanation offered by C. van Gelderen in his commentary on Hosea 4:19. According to him, the figurative meaning of “wings” is not derived from birds but from a common practice among the Jews.[3] A person’s “wing” was also the fold in his garment (also refer to Numbers 15:38; 1 Samuel 15:27; 24:5, 6, 12; Jeremiah 2:34; Ezekiel 5:3; Hosea 4:19; Haggai 2:12; Zechariah 8:23). According to this interpretation, the shining sun of righteousness has a precious gift in the fold of his garment, namely, healing in the all-inclusive sense of the word.[4]

When you look at the word in Malachi for “wing,” כָּנָף (kaw-nawf), it was a word whose semantic range included the idea of something being “in the lap of a Rabbi’s garment. More specifically the edge or wing of his prayer shawl.”[5] If you take this together with the context of Malachi, namely Malachi 3:6–15 which talks about robbing God, you have a very interesting connection into a story of Jesus and two miracles He performed in Capernaum. These miracles are recorded in Mark 5:25–34, Matthew 9:20–22, and Luke 8:43–48. We will read these as a “diatessaron” or a harmony for the purpose of preaching.

The Son of Righteousness (Jesus Christ) comes with healing in His wings.

As Jesus is on His way to heal Jairus’ daughter, who is twelve years old, He is met by an anonymous and unclean woman who has suffered under physicians for twelve years and spent all her living in search of a healing (Luke 8:43). She desires to remain anonymous because of her unclean status and fear. So, the woman comes up behind Jesus, desiring to “touch the fringe of His garment” (Luke 8:44). She was bold because she “was not getting better but rather she was getting worse” (Mark 5:26), and said to herself, “If I touch even His garments, I will be made well” (Mark 5:28). It is likely she thought this because it was as clear to her as the sun which shines in the sky that Jesus was righteous and had healing power (Malachi 4:2; Mark 5:27). She had faith, faith enough to believe she could rob Jesus and get away with it! In Mark 5:30, Jesus had perceived in Himself that power had gone out from Him. This is not because Jesus was a copper-top and needed to recharge. It was because He was actually being robbed. She put her hand to the wing of His tallit and was trying to steal away with a miracle.

Do you hear an echo of Malachi 3:8? “Will a person rob God?” She was robbing Jesus! She crept up behind Jesus to touch the κράσπεδον (kraspedon), the fringe, the edge, the wing, the tassel of His garment, which is the word the LXX (Septuagint) uses when the Old Testament commands the Israelites to place “tassels” on the hems of their garments to remind them of God’s commands (צִיצִית (tzi-Tzit), Numbers 15:38–39; גְּדִלִים (ge-di-Lim), Deuteronomy 22:12). So, this was not just a command to wear a certain type of clothing. There is a twofold meaning here. This is the same Greek word also used in the LXX of Zechariah 8:23 (for כָּנָף).[6] This miracle is a fulfillment of Zechariah 8:20-23. The miracle prophecy it fulfilled speaks of outsiders grasping the tassels of a Jew to entreat the favor of YHWH and learn about the true God in the process. She came believing Zechariah 8:23 was true and it is as if she only had this little word from Malachi 4:2 tucked away in her heart, this belief that the Scriptures were true. But she would soon learn what kind of Messiah God had sent. She would not get away with this robbery, but He was not going to keep her locked away in fear and shame.

After the woman touched Him, Jesus immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing around You, and yet You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” And He looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease” (Mark 5:30–34). Jesus points her out so she might come back from the isolation of her status as unclean, and Jesus gives her back alive, whole, and well again to the community she was cut off from. He heals her and gives her back her life with the people of God. They witness it and are amazed.

But there was another miracle ahead, linked by the number twelve (Jairus’ daughter’s age and the number of years the woman suffered). Jesus would go on to raise Jairus’s daughter from the dead. He takes the hand of the young girl and by His word of command to “arise” (Luke 8:54), He gives her back her life. “Arise” is the same Greek verb used for Jesus’ own resurrection. In this gospel account, both people come into physical contact with Jesus and are saved.

This whole episode is the ministry and mission of Jesus in a microcosm. He heals and creates community, taking the marginalized and bringing them back into the heart of God. All the while, He plans to go and die and rise again so all those who have faith might receive eternal life in Him. What an amazing connection between this great Old Testament text and a real-life fulfillment in Jesus. The preacher can use the promise in Malachi to show a direct fulfillment in Jesus which points forward to what He planned to accomplish by His own death and resurrection for us.

The key teaching for this sermon is faith. It is faith in the God who would fulfill the words of prophecy in Jesus and faith that took ahold of Jesus in trust and received Jesus’ word of resurrection. Only by faith can we believe the mystery that salvation in all it various forms comes through Jesus, the Son of Righteousness. By faith, we receive the righteousness we need which shines like the sun on Easter morning (Malachi 4:2). Faith is the means by which we all may enter the community created by Jesus (Luke 8:19–21). When we cannot understand the prophecy of Scripture, we hear the word Jesus spoke to Jairus: “Do not fear, only believe, and be saved” (Luke 8:50). As the explanation to the Third Article of the Creed emphasizes, the greatest act of faith is to believe any of this and to know that our own resurrection depends on the bodily resurrection of Jesus as the One who died and yet lives forevermore. This gospel news causes us, like the people in the gospel account, to celebrate and go out leaping like calves from the stall (Malachi 4:2).

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Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Malachi 4:1-6.

Concordia Theology- Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Malachi 4:1-6.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Malachi 4:1-6.