Clearing the Path

There is a farm in Pennsylvania that sits on 16 acres of beautiful hills and open fields. A creek runs through it, and when you climb to the highest point of the property you can see miles and miles of pastoral farmland in every direction. When my husband’s grandmother was alive, we would visit this place on weekends when we were in college and hike a well-groomed path through patches of trees and blackberry bushes to glimpse the vista.

His grandfather had carefully laid out the path many decades before, taking advantage of the natural topography so that the walker would experience the best parts of the land. The path was maintained every spring with mowing and clearing so that when you walked it, you were safe and protected. When you emerged from the trees to the open fields, all of God’s beauty was spread out before you.

Throughout Biblical history, God has been clearing out paths between us and heaven itself. God’s word, will, prophecies, and plans are all designed to lead us from the darkness of sin and death to new life through Christ. God carefully designs and grooms the way to salvation in a clearly defined path. Are we wise enough to follow?

Our scripture today comes from the book of Malachi. According to Britannica.com, Malachi was written to address the impending day of judgment in an effort to prepare the nation for what was to come:

The book consists of six distinct sections, each in the form of a question-and-answer discussion. With the aid of this unusual discussion technique, the prophet defends the justice of God to a community that had begun to doubt that justice because its eschatological (end of the world) expectations were still unfulfilled. The author calls for fidelity to Yahweh’s covenant. He emphasizes the necessity of proper worship, condemns divorce, and announces that the day of judgment is imminent. Faithfulness to these ritual and moral responsibilities will be rewarded; unfaithfulness will bring a curse.

When you read this, look for how God is clearing a path for the people to follow:

Malachi 3:1-4 (Common English Bible)

Look, I am sending my messenger who will clear the path before me;
        suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple.
        The messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight is coming,
says the Lord of heavenly forces.

It was always the mission of the Old and New Testament prophets to bring God’s message of covenant and reversal. God established a covenant through Abraham, reinforced it through Joseph, and defined it through Moses. The covenant promise continues through the major and minor prophets and always carries both warnings and hope. New life will happen, but a cleansing must occur first. We know that in a reversal of their expectations, God sent Jesus.

Who can endure the day of his coming?
        Who can withstand his appearance?
He is like the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap.
He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver.
        He will purify the Levites
            and refine them like gold and silver.
            They will belong to the Lord,
                presenting a righteous offering.

We see this prophecy fulfilled in the form of Jesus, who was sent to do the final and ultimate refining. Those who repent and believe in him will never perish, but will have eternal life. They will become a righteous and pleasing offering to the Lord. Only in this way can any of us endure the day of his coming. Sounds scary, yes? But hang on….the hope is coming.

The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord
        as in ancient days and in former years.

God’s covenant with Judah and Jerusalem will be fulfilled in the second coming of Christ. We can count on it! The ancient relationship between God and God’s people will come full circle when Jesus returns to claim us. What we need to do in the meantime is submit to the refining process.

Where is God trying to refine you right now? What hot, cleansing fire are you in? Is he trying to purge impurities out of your life so that you will be ready for a blessing?

Pay attention. You belong to the Lord. God has cleared out this path so that you are safe and protected as you follow his ways…you have nothing to fear.

Liquid Gold by Michelle Robertson

Standard of Giving

TAXES. The old joke goes that there are only two things guaranteed in life: death and taxes. It is no wonder that a politician’s campaign and career can be made or broken by the promises he or she makes about taxes. We all understand the necessity of paying them but that doesn’t mean we have to like it!

Taxes are the subject in this passage in the book of Matthew. The Pharisees (it’s ALWAYS the Pharisees!) were trying to trap Jesus into speaking out against the Roman government. They hoped to be able to make a case for sedition and treason and so they asked him about paying taxes. Notice how they buttered him up first with false flattery:

Matthew 22 (Common English Bible)

15 Then the Pharisees met together to find a way to trap Jesus in his words. 16 They sent their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are genuine and that you teach God’s way as it really is. We know that you are not swayed by people’s opinions, because you don’t show favoritism. 17 So tell us what you think: Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Silly Pharisees. Jesus can read your hearts and minds, so of course he is wise to what you are trying to do. His response is epic:

18 Knowing their evil motives, Jesus replied, “Why do you test me, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” And they brought him a denarion. 20 “Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked.

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”22 When they heard this they were astonished, and they departed.

All Pharisees (including us) should take this to heart. When Jesus reminds them that we should give unto God what belongs to God, he is referring to a very well known standard of giving set forth in Malachi that refers to tithing:

Malachi 3 (New International Version)

10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.

Perhaps the better question is about tithing. God’s word instructs us to bring the whole tithe of ten percent into his storehouse. How are you doing with that? If you’re not there yet are you working toward it?

God throws open the floodgates of heaven to those who read and heed his word in all things. He loves to pour out blessings on his people. This is something you can absolutely count on! Taxes, death, and blessings…all of life’s guarantees.

Floodgates of Blessings by Becca Ziegler