For week of April 23, 2005 / 14 Nisan 5765
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 16:1 - 18:30
Haftarah: Malachi 3:4-24 (English: 3:4 - 4:6)
See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. (Malachi 3:24; English: 4:6).
Passover this year begins the evening of April 23. As people anticipate celebrating this important holiday, there is much to prepare: cleaning house, the buying and preparing of food, as well as all the emotional preparation that goes into getting ready for all the people who will be coming over.
As the celebration of the festival developed over the centuries it became a time to not only remember our deliverance from slavery in Egypt, but also a time to anticipate the coming of the Messiah. The inclusion of this second aspect seems to have come about during the Roman occupation of the Land of Israel two thousand years ago. Living under the control of the Romans in our God-given land, there was great Messianic expectation at that time, which is still expressed in many of the elements of the modern Passover seder (ceremonial meal).
What we anticipate affects our behavior. We can often tell what a person is anticipating by what they do. If someone arrives to work with an umbrella on a sunny day, they are likely expecting rain. Living where I do, I don't usually buy sun screen lotion in January, but I did this year, since I was planning a trip to Southern California.
In this week's Haftarah (excerpt from the biblical prophets), we read about Elijah returning to earth prior to the dramatic events described by the prophet Malachi. Since these events are those associated with the coming of the Messiah, we understand that he will be the one to announce Messiah's coming.
The anticipation of Elijah is one of the elements of the Passover seder I just referred to. There is a an empty chair at the table as well as a special place setting reserved for Elijah. At one point the door is opened in the hope that he will come at that moment.
For over twenty centuries the coming of Elijah has been anticipated. This year again, as the door is opened, children will be encouraged to carefully watch the special goblet of wine left for him in case a sip might be taken. It is things like this that make the seder fun and interesting for children. But it's more than just fun. It is about the fulfillment of a most anticipated and crucial event – the coming of the Messiah.
We all know that by its very nature anticipation is only temporary. The things we anticipate may take a short or long time to come to pass. They may or may not require a great deal of preparation. But at some point the time of preparation comes to an end.
I prepared for my January trip to California only until it was time to leave. There are times when we get caught not being prepared enough, but there is no use continuing to prepare when the thing anticipated comes to pass.
Now of course if we don't know that something we are anticipating has occurred, we might find ourselves still preparing for it. Also it seems to me that some of us at times get so used to the state of preparation that we consciously or unconsciously don't really want to face the reality of the thing anticipated.
This is the case with the Passover seder. We can anticipate Elijah's coming (and the Messiah along with him) all we want, but the fact is he has already come. Before Yeshua of Nazareth began his public teaching and work, his coming was announced by his cousin Yohanan haMatbil (John the Immerser or the Baptist).
According to Yeshua and the New Covenant writings, Malachi's prophecy about Elijah is fulfilled – not in a physical return of Elijah himself but in one who is like Elijah (Matthew 11:14; 17:11-13; Luke 1:17).
I wonder how many things we anticipate today have already come to pass. There are many - even among those who claim faith in Messiah - who act as if he really hasn't come. Not only has the Messiah come as predicted, he has done everything needed to forgive our sins, reconcile us with God, secure our eternal destiny, and equip us by his Spirit to do his will in the world today.
Next week we will take a closer look at how our not fully accepting what God has accomplished is preventing us from living the quality of life God desires for us today.
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