Luke 3:15-18 - As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, "I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire." So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.
John the Baptist's sermons don't look very encouraging to me! In fact, they sound downright terrifying. Someone is coming to baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire? Yikes! He's going to clear out the threshing floor and burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire? Double yikes! Even if I don't know much about farming, I know that's a reference to final judgment. The coming Messiah is going to clean up God's universe, and all the bad, spoiled, evil bits will be destroyed. And surely, "unquenchable fire" is a reference to hell.
So why does Luke call this "good news"? Because that's what Luke does. He says, "So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people." I'm almost tempted to think that if that's good news, John can keep it!
But that would be a mistake on my part. In fact, that would be the result of a series of mistakes, the first beginning with the question of where we stand under God's judgment.
Many Christians fear these passages because we automatically think of our own sin and guilt when we hear them. We feel like the chaff in God's universe -- the useless husks that once covered the good grain, but that are not themselves of any value. Our own consciences whisper to us that "chaff" is a good name for us because of all the times we have done wrong. And so, naturally, we fear the fire.
But because of Jesus Christ, that is no longer a correct reading of our circumstances! Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection have transformed all of us who trust in Him. We are no longer chaff; we are the good grain He values. God has changed our very natures, forgave our sins, and made us new creations: valued, loved, wanted, protected.
From that point of view, John's sermon is indeed good news! John is telling us that we don't have so long to wait anymore; Jesus is coming, and He will finally wrap up the long, ugly drama of sin invading human history. He will put an end to all evil and gather us, gather everyone who believes in Him, into His "barn" -- where we will be in His safekeeping. All wrong will be put right, and there will be a new heavens and earth -- the home of righteousness. This is what we look forward to!
THE PRAYER: Holy Father, help me to look forward to Your Son's coming and to trust in Him. Amen.
This Daily Devotion was written by Dr. Kari Vo.
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