Every book of the Bible invites us to use different stories, language, themes, and metaphors to describe the good news of what God has done in Jesus. If you’re a youth pastor or small group leader, here are three ways to talk about Jesus as you teach the book of Malachi.
A Book for Teenagers Arguing with God
The book of Malachi contains six arguments between God and his skeptical people. They’re skeptical because they’re rebuilding God’s kingdom in the aftermath of Babylon’s invasion, and it’s not going well. Their nation is on the verge of collapse, their leaders are corrupt, and none of the promises God has made to them seem to be coming true. So when God, speaking through the prophet Malachi, tells his people he loves them, they cynically shoot back “How have you loved us?” (Mal. 1:2-4).
When God confronts his people on their lack of respect, they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong (Mal. 1:6). In fact, they accuse God of allowing injustice to run rampant in the land he’s claimed to love (Mal. 2:17).
Questions about God’s love, God’s commands, and God’s justice are at the top of every teenager’s list. Malachi puts these arguments on the pages of Scripture, answering them with proofs of God’s love, explanations for his commands, and the promise of justice.
Good News For Teenagers Who Question God’s Love
When God’s people ask for proof of his love, Malachi retells the story of Israel’s founding. In love, God chose their forefather Jacob over his brother Esau. Since that time God has protected Jacob’s descendants from the murderous intentions of emperors, kings, and Pharaohs. The fact that their nation still exists is proof of God’s love (Mal. 1:3-5).
It’s easy to judge God’s love by our current circumstances. And the Bible shows teenagers are not the only ones who take the chaos of their lives as a measure of God’s affection. Malachi pointed to God’s founding of Israel as proof of his love. And as Christians, we can point to the founding of the Church as proof that God still loves his people.
God has shown his love to every skeptical teenager in the world by sending his Son Jesus (John 3:16). In love, Jesus entered a world of political and social chaos. In love, he willingly died alone, abandoned by family and friends. And in love, he suffered on the cross so that his enemies could be forgiven.
When our students feel abandoned, when their lives feel chaotic, or when they are persecuted for upholding basic biblical truths in a hostile culture it can be easy for them to accuse God of being unlovingly distant. But that is not true. Because of his great love for his people, God entered into our suffering in history and died so that we can be with him forever. Malachi invites teenagers to consider that God’s love is not measured by the evil around us but by his actions in the past—namely Jesus’ death in our place.
Good News for Teenagers Who Question God’s Commands
When God’s people demand to know how they have disrespected him, God reminds them that their priests have offered mutilated sacrifices on his altar, and that the men of Israel have divorced their Hebrew wives to take pagan ones (Mal. 1:6-14; 2:10-16). Both sins betray a profound lack of trust that God loves them. The people offer blemished sacrifices because they give their best meat to politicians making promises. They divorce their Hebrew wives because they think the gods of different women might improve their situation. Malachi’s message to these men and priests of Israel is stern. Those who violate God’s commands and do violence to their wives will get precisely what they deserve. He promises to clean house and remove from among his people all who fail his commands.
Malachi warns teenagers that we do not get to call God’s commands outdated, immoral, or unloving. If we continue to choose our own version of morality, we will experience consequences for disobeying his commands. But, praise God, there is a way out. Deliverance from this judgment isn’t found in making deals with the powers that be or pursuing new relationships, but in trusting the love of God.
Unlike the dishonorable priests, God gave his people a perfect sacrifice in Jesus (Rom. 8:3). And God accepted that sacrifice to forgive his people’s many sins and to pardon the disrespectful arguments God made against them (Rom. 8:1, 14-16). And Jesus so loved his unfaithful people, he sacrificed his life to make those who trust in his love his bride. The good news is that we can refuse all other powers and loves because we have the unconditional affection of our God. We have been given resurrection power in his Son.
Good News For Teenagers Who Question God’s Justice
In Malachi’s day, priests acted like judges; they were called to enforce God’s laws and to do justice. Their disobedience in offering sacrifices was only a symptom of a broader rejection of God’s laws. But when God tells them to start doing their job, they say “Where is the God of justice?” They claim that since evil is so common in the world, he must approve of it. If God approves of evil, they reason, why should they do justice according to his standards (Malachi 2:17)? God responds that if they want a God of justice, that’s exactly what they’ll get (Mal. 3:4-5). He will soon send a messenger like Elijah to prepare his arrival, and when he arrives he will rid the world of evil, remove them from the priesthood, and begin an era of justice that heals all wrongs (Mal. 3:1-4:5).
The good news for teenagers who question God’s justice is that he will judge all evil, and soon. He promises to send a “messenger” to announce the arrival of perfect justice. We see this promise fulfilled in the historical person of John the Baptist. An angel tells John’s father his son would be the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecies (Luke 1:17). Self-conscious of his role as the Messiah’s predecessor, John wore camel hair tunics just like Elijah (2 Kings 1:8; Matt. 3:4). When John baptizes Jesus, the sky opens up. God announces that people should listen to his Son, the one who will judge all evil.
And he does. On the cross, Jesus judges all the evil of those who trust him, no longer holding it against us. And soon Jesus will judge the evil of all who do not trust him. The book of Revelation says Jesus will strike down all injustice with a sword in his mouth. It’s a symbolic image that says God’s standards of justice and his laws about right and wrong will one day triumph.
Looking for more help with teaching Malachi to teenagers? Our Bible-based youth curriculum on Rooted Reservoir features a package on the prophets.