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Turn the Hearts of the Fathers Back to the Childre

When the angel Gabriel revealed to the priest Zacharias that his wife Elizabeth would bear a son, Gabriel foretold of the great mission that this son would accomplish for the Lord.  Gabriel said that Zacharias’ son would be named John, he would be great in the sight of the Lord, he would drink no alcohol, and he would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before birth (Luke 1:13-15).  Most importantly, John would perform a great work.  Notice the words of Gabriel to Zacharias in Luke 1:16-17:

“And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God.  It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

In this mission statement for John the baptist, Gabriel quoted from the prophecy of Malachi 4:6 when he said that John would “turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children.”  Perhaps the meaning of this is not immediately apparent to us, but one thing is quite evident: it is obvious that the hearts of the fathers were turned away from their children in John’s day, and this needed to be corrected in order for the people to be prepared for the Lord.  To determine how John turned the hearts of the fathers back to the children, let us consider the prophecy of Malachi and the work of John.

In the context of Malachi’s prophecy, God gave instructions to those who feared Him to prepare them for coming punishment of the wicked and the healing of the righteous.  To this end, God said to them, 

“Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.  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.” (Mal. 4:4-6)

Notice that there is an implied connection between remembering the law of Moses, which was the law of God, and the turning of the hearts of both the fathers and the children.  Keep this in mind as we consider John’s work, which fulfilled this prophecy.

When John the baptist conducted his ministry, he came into the district of Judea around the Jordan River and preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2).  He also preached “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3).  Furthermore, he told the multitudes to “bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8) and to share clothing and food with those who had none (Luke 3:11).  He told the tax-gatherers to collect no more than was due (Luke 3:12) and the soldiers to not to abuse their power for money (Luke 3:14).  Most importantly, he declared the imminent coming of the Christ (Luke 3:16-17; John 1:29).  In doing these things, John was directing the people to return to God’s ways of righteousness and justice in order to be prepared to receive the Christ (thus fulfilling Isa. 40:3-5).

So then, how did John’s ministry turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children?  His primary instruction to the people was to repent, or, in other words, to turn back.  They were to turn back to God’s ways of righteousness and justice found in the law of Moses.  The people had selfishly turned away from these things in pursuit of their own worldly gratification.  This selfish departure from God’s ways included the failure of fathers to carry out their God-given duties toward their children.  Fathers were to diligently and constantly teach their children the word of God (Deut. 6:4-9).  They were to tell their children of the history of God’s people (Ex. 12:26-27; 13:14; Josh. 4:6-7).  The duty of the fathers was to prepare their children to serve God through instruction and godly examples, and the generation of fathers in John’s time had failed to do so.  Thus, John’s message of repentance turned the hearts of the fathers back to the children.

Dear readers, surely we can all see that today there is once again a dire need to turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children.  Like those to whom John preached, the present generation of fathers has abandoned their God-given responsibilities toward their children in favor of their own selfish pursuits.  In fact, a 2008 report from the Center for Disease Control found that 45% of pregnancies in the United States occurred among unmarried women.  Most of these children will have little or no rearing from their fathers.  Moreover, many children who have fathers in the home with them are not receiving the fatherly nurture they need, and this is even true among some so-called Christians.  This problem can be solved only through fathers heeding the instruction of God: “And, fathers, do no provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).  If the careless fathers of John’s generation could not receive Christ without turning their hearts back to their children, then how can fathers today expect to receive Him while their hearts are far removed from their own children?  Think about it!

Stacey E. Durham



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