Saturday, November 10, 2007

Matthew 3:10-12 John’s Rebuke Part II

A common trend in modern evangelism is to concentrate on telling people the good news of Jesus and His love. In fact, the pastor of America’s largest church has said publicly that people already know how bad they are. They don’t need to be told about sin. God’s goodness is what will draw people to God. I imagine if John the Baptist were to evaluate that statement he would find it quite unbiblical. In fact, we can see from his rebuke of the Pharisees that rebuking people because of their sin and proclaiming God’s righteous judgment on that sin were core parts of his message. While we recognize that God is love and He is ready willing and able to forgive a truly repentant sinner, He is also too holy to allow sin to go unpunished. We see in these verses the hopelessness and helplessness of those who must face God’s judgment with their own righteousness rather than the righteousness of Christ.

John proclaims the hopelessness of the lost person in verse 10 of this chapter. He says that “the axe is laid to the root of the tree.” Trees are pretty defenseless against people with axes. I mean, they’re about as mobile as Drew Bledsoe. They are not going to dodge or get away from the One wielding this axe. They are also not going to recover from this judgment because the axe is laid at the “root” of the tree. This is final and absolute. And there is going to be no “faking it” during this judgment because the One wielding the axe is going to evaluate each tree based on whether the tree bears good fruit and that “every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” This is a picture of hopeless, absolutely final judgment. We know that judgment of the lost will include punishment in the lake of fire as described in the book of Revelation. The judgment will include total separation from God for all eternity. The lost will not be completely destroyed but instead will suffer forever in torment.

John teaches them that the baptism he brings was a picture of the coming future baptism which would come upon true believers. He performed a wet baptism whereby the person being baptized declared themselves to be a sinner in need of God’s saving grace. The Person (Jesus) who would come after him would perform the permanent baptism when He would baptize the believer with the “Holy Spirit”. The King James and New King James are based on a Greek text which adds “and with fire”. I’m not going to get into some huge discussion of textual criticism. I will say, however, that the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit does provide the means to purify us from sin and allow us to live holy lives. In that sense, the Holy Spirit is like a fire. In any case, John wanted the Pharisees to know that his baptism was a physical picture of the kind of spiritual reality that Christ would usher in with His death, burial, and resurrection.

Finally, John described the helplessness of the lost person facing the judgment of God. He states that the Messiah will come with His “winnowing fan in His hand” and that He would “thoroughly clean out His threshing floor.” Here is a picture of a farmer after harvest. He is on his threshing floor and with his winnowing fan he lifts the bundles of wheat and chaff on the floor into the air. The chaff is then caught by the wind and blow away. Therefore, he is able to separate the good from the bad. The Messiah used His winnowing fan (the gospel) to separate the wheat (the elect who were saved) from the chaff (those who rejected the gospel). And just to make sure they didn’t miss the point, he tells them the wheat will be gathered into the barn, but the chaff would be “burned up with unquenchable fire”.

The judgment of God on sin is not a popular conversation starter. Most people don’t like to be confronted with their own sin. However, the knowledge of our personal sin and the fact that it separates us from God is paramount. Unless we realize that fact, we will not repent. God is sovereign in the area of salvation and He will work His work in the lives of the elect. However, as Christians, we must follow John’s example and be willing to lovingly confront sin and proclaim God’s judgment in order to create what Paul calls in 2 Corinthians a “godly sorrow” that leads to repentance.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good insights
A person can't possibly know true freedom from their past until they face up to their sin and turn, (repent)
Thanks for teaching the truth