I was reading in my morning devotional, and spent some time in a chapter which I seldom read. These words contain a beautiful promise and I thought I would share.
”Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” Malachi 4:5-6, NASB
The “Elijah” suggested here certainly refers to John the Baptist (Matthew 11:10). And I think it’s notable that the forerunner of Christ has a fundamental mission of drawing together the hearts of fathers and children.
As the one elected to prepare the way for Christ’s coming, his entire life and mission revolves like the moon around the coming Christ and His Kingdom. The moon spins around the earth and influences tides, weather patterns, animals and human emotion; the moon has as its sole purpose the maintenance of God’s creation. So, too, John’s work was destined for the sole defining purpose of heralding the news of the approaching King.
This King would come as the triumphing Lord of angel armies, reclaiming His domain from the evil prince of darkness. It is no coincidence that such dramatic language is used; the prince of darkness was overthrown from his despotic rule and the Prince of Peace put him to shame by parading his defeat through the earth.
“The prince of darkness was overthrown from his despotic rule and the Prince of Peace put him to shame by parading his defeat through the earth.”
This language is not hyperbole – it is the spiritual reality of what happened when Christ marched into battle at Calvary.
On the face of the event, it appeared to all those blinded by sin that Christ had been brutally embarrassed and murdered in shame. Yet the resurrection day put every such thought to flight among the faithful.
In a heavenly reversal, the “defeat” of Christ was really the most important victory in all of military history. And with His victory, He ascended into heaven and was seated at the throne.
Our King had at last been coronated and His Kingdom could now flourish and thrive.
Which it did! His Kingdom grew exponentially and over two millennia has ruled with no end in sight.
But we are drawn back to the mission of John the Baptist.
Why ought he be concerned with turning the hearts of fathers and sons to each other? He, like everyone else in the prophetic culture, seems to have expected an earthly military and political leader to rescue the faithful from the Empire.
He was anticipating a miraculous and triumphant campaign and may even have expected the armies of heaven to fly into battle overhead. He had the great cosmic victory of Israel in mind as he heralded the good news of the Kingdom – why be concerned with parent-child relationships?
God’s Word spells out the reason as plain as day!
“Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” 1 Corinthians 1:25, NASB
In this verse, Paul points to the reality that the tactics of force and the wisdom of aggression which had worked so well in the years of darkness had now been put to shame.
Among the pagans, the idea that “might makes right” is not a clever slogan – it was and is the reality. Within the borders of the kingdom of darkness, pagans will always believe that it is the fittest who survive and the strongest who dominate.
Yet here stands Paul, saying that such things are foolishness to God. Just as Christ being slaughtered on the cross could never produce victory to the pagan, Paul claimed that the outward violence of the world would only ultimately produce defeat.
“Just as Christ being slaughtered on the cross could never produce victory to the pagan, Paul claimed that the outward violence of the world would only ultimately produce defeat.”
With such a radical change in how we see reality, is it any wonder that the love and affection of fathers and sons is a necessary condition of Christ’s Kingdom?
We are sinners, and grace draws us to God. We are corrupted, and His careful washing cleanses us. We are aggressive and immature, and His gentleness draws us near.
Yet in all the gentleness of God to His children, the church has long taught that human children are property to be herded like cattle by their parents at the threat of violence.
But even worse, when we strike animals, we don’t expect affection from them – we don’t strike animals “out of love”. Yet when Christians strike their precious children, they do so with the expectation of gratitude from their child. I’ve even seen it suggested that if the child in question is not quickly (after being hit) appreciative and loving to the parent, then the child should be hit again. I suggest that, often, house pets are shown more gentleness than the little people we live with.
Pain does not stir affection; if it did, we would strike our spouses. Subjugation does not compel respect; if it did, we would strike our friends. Humiliation does not produce gratitude from the victim; it produces failure for the aggressor and heaps coals on their head. That’s the reality of punitive discipline – it demonstrates the failure of the parent.
Hitting is not constructive; it is destructive. We all know this instinctively; that’s why we discourage aggressive behaviors in our children. We don’t want our little ones hurting other children – so we must set the example of grace and gentleness.
The coming of Christ’s kingdom, which was inaugurated at His ascension into heaven, brings with it grace and freedom from our evil hearts.
We recall that the coming of the Holy Spirit into the hearts of men would write the Law of God on their heart; so that they would no longer need to be instructed by human teachers:
“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”Jeremiah 31:33-34, NASB
Christ doesn’t come to bring the shackles of pain! He came to bring freedom and justice before God! Just as Christ did not come to bring suffering for His children, parents under Christ’s kingdom come to bring the same gentleness which Christ exemplified.
Nothing turns the heart of a child to a parent like the fruits of the Spirit; Malachi proves to us that John the Baptist came to instill love from child to parent and parent to child. Love flows from gratitude, which flows from grace, which flows from the Spirit. We have but a short time to lead our children; will we use the time we have to embody tenderness or harshness?
“Love flows from gratitude, which flows from grace, which flows from the Spirit.”
We parents must remember that we are not raising cattle; we are raising little shepherds who will carry our torch to the next generation. We are not despots who have the divine right to use force against our inferiors. We are leaders preparing the hearts of little leaders who will fill our shoes. Christians desire grace, peace and gentleness – and the amazing thing is – so do our children!
Kingdom parenting is gentle parenting.