Launch text: Malachi 3:1-10
God wants His people back. He wants us to glorify Him, to live in covenant with Him, to bask in the blessings He wants to give us. What God did in Egypt was reclaiming His covenant people from bondage. On Mount Sinai, He established His covenant with His people, creating an environment where He could dwell in their midst in a way that would be a blessing rather than a curse.
But after several centuries go by, there is doubt. Times, places, and events change, so God’s people come to expect Him to change with them. Some tried to combine the worship of God with that of pagan deities. Others rejected God outright. Most, though, wondered what possible relevance “old-time religion” could have on the lives they were living hundreds if not thousands of years after it all began.
What God is trying to do through His prophets – especially the writing prophets – is to get His people to return to Him. The call of Joshua is the call of Elijah is the call of Malachi. “Choose this day whom you will serve.” “If the Lord is God, serve Him.” “Return to me and I will return to you.” The work of John the Baptist was to “return the hearts of the children to their fathers.” On the cross, Jesus sets right the relationship that was undermined by the sin in the Garden of Eden. Nobody is coming to establish something new or to destroy something old. “I came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill.”
The message of the prophets is one not of invention or reformation. They did not come to invent something new or to fix institutions that were broken. The prophets are preachers of restoration. They want to restore human hearts to God. The prophets recognize that broken institutions are symptomatic of broken people. Unless the underlying illness is cured, any symptom that is treated will soon be replaced by another one that is even harder to fix.
Again, sound familiar?
The existence of Churches of Christ is based not on the premise of reformation, nor of conservation, but of restoration. We do not seek to fix broken institutions, nor do we replace old ones with new ones. Likewise, we do not exist simply to maintain what we already have, content with the status quo so long as I fall on the right side of God’s dividing line. Our mission is restoration, particularly restoration of the unity that existed among the first Christians.
The beauty of this idea is that it is not new with us. The prophets had essentially the same task. By studying their example, we can learn how they did what they did with a goal of carrying out restoration in our own day and time.