While Jesus is not a judgmental figure, the whole world is judged by its response to him. He does “separate the wheat from the chaff,” simply by being who he is.
When we trust Jesus and continue on in that trust, God the Father includes us in all the grace and blessings of Jesus.
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Matthew #6. 3:11-17
Some people have called John the Baptist “The Last Old Testament Prophet.” The Old Testament prophets often pointed out the sins of the Israelites, and of the nations around them, and warned that God would bring judgment upon them if they did not repent. John had a similar message, but there were two key differences. First, while the Old Testament prophets aimed their message at whole nations, John’s message is for individuals. He isn’t calling the nation of Israel to repent – he is calling you to repent. Second, the Old Testament prophets predicted (correctly, it turns out) that judgment would come about through war and destruction. But the judgment that John saw coming was to come about from an individual – the Messiah.
Matthew records a difference between John’s baptism and that of Jesus: John’s was symbolic of repentance; the baptism of Jesus would accomplish something internally – it would bring “the Holy Spirit and fire.” John says some things about Jesus that may seem a little strange to us:
“His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn. But the chaff he will burn up with fire that never goes out.”
First, this is strange to us, because we don’t know what a winnowing shovel is, and maybe not even chaff. Back in those days, when people harvested wheat, they would generally take it to a threshing floor. Usually, this was simply a cleared, flat area on a hilltop. They would beat the heads of the grain, either by gathering stalks and bashing the heads on the ground, or maybe by hitting the heads with a stick or wooden hammer. They would throw the empty stalks aside. What was left was a mixture of wheat grains, very short pieces of stalk and pieces of the outer part of the wheat seed structure, called “chaff.” At this point, the famers would take a winnowing shovel. They would scoop up the mixture of wheat grains and chaff, and throw it up into the wind that blew across the hilltop. The chaff is lighter than the wheat grain, so the wind would carry that away, while the grain fell back to the ground on the threshing floor. Obviously, the grain was collected and stored. The chaff was sometimes burned up. This picture is one of getting rid of useless material that you do not want, and refining and saving what you do want.
Now that we understand what John is saying, it is still strange to us, in that we often do not think of Jesus as bringing judgment. There is no question that judgment is what John means. Those who belong to God are going to found and refined and saved, and those who do not are going to blow off in the wind, and, after, be burned in the fire. John’s main point is: “It’s time to get ready! Repent, be among those who are saved!”
I think in our modern times, we view Jesus as just mellow and loving and sort of “all encompassing.” That is reinforced by many bible verses in which Jesus declares God’s love, and many other bible verses which teach that grace and forgiveness come through Jesus Christ.
But the bible also teaches that Jesus is the dividing point between those who will be saved, and those who won’t. Jesus is the meeting point for both grace and judgment, salvation and condemnation. Even Jesus taught this:
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6, HCSB)
In Jesus, we know the way, the truth and life. But without Jesus, we are lost. This is both grace and judgment. It is important to understand though, that the judgment and condemnation come only when we reject Jesus. John explains in his gospel:
For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God. “This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. (John 3:17-19, HCSB)
Thus, everyone in the whole world is judged by how they respond to Jesus. If they respond in faith, the result is grace and salvation. But those who reject Jesus are separating themselves from God’s grace and life:
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1John 5:11-13, HCSB)
So, while Jesus is not a judgmental figure, the whole world is judged by its response to him. He does “separate the wheat from the chaff,” simply by being who he is. If you are in Jesus, you are the wheat, you are safe in God’s storehouse. If you are not in Jesus, you are the chaff.
Throughout history, Jesus has been this dividing point. Many people are willing to look at Jesus as a good moral teacher. Many more are happy to acknowledge him as a prophet. But when it comes to putting faith in Him as fully God (God the Son, one God along with the Father and the Spirit) and as a personal savior, many people seem to balk. I have had many cordial conversations about religion with my Muslim friends. One time, a friend and I had a long talk, and he said, “Tom, we have so much in common. But there is just one point that is a problem. You worship Jesus as God. According to Islam this is the one thing that will send you to hell.”
I said to him, “That’s interesting, Abdul, because that is the one problem I see, also. You don’t worship Jesus as God, and according to Christianity, this is the one thing that will send you to hell.”
Neither one of us was upset with the other. Most Muslims I have met in America are very open to talk about religion without getting upset. But we had both arrived at the same conclusion: Jesus was the point of division. How we respond to Jesus meant life or death, heaven or hell. Though we differed on which response went which way, we agreed that our attitude toward Jesus was the defining thing. Jesus’ very life and message sorts out who belongs to God and who does not.
If you haven’t put your trust in Jesus, if you haven’t surrendered your life to him, now would be the time. You are either in Christ, or you are not. If you are in Jesus, you are in God’s favor. If you are not in Jesus, you are not in God’s favor, and you are in judgment.
By in Jesus, I mean you are continually trusting him as you go through life. It is a daily (sometimes hourly) habit of continuing to believe who Jesus is, what he has done for us, how he feels about us, and continuing to rest upon it. This is not a one shot deal. This is not a situation where you just say, “Well I got baptized, so I’m good now.” Or “Well, I got saved five years ago, so I’m good now.” This is a process of continually putting our trust in Jesus, day by day. That is what it means to be “in Jesus,” and we are saved and safe, only in Jesus. I’m not saying that you have to work hard and live the Christian life on your own strength in order to be in Jesus. But I am saying that to be in Jesus, you need to continually rest in Him with trust in what his Word says, and in what he has done for us.
After John has been talking about Jesus, Jesus himself showed up and asked to be baptized. I’ve mentioned previously that John and Jesus probably knew each other before this; in fact John responded in faith to Jesus when they were both still babies in the womb! So when Jesus asks to be baptized, John is shocked.
But John tried to stop Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and yet You come to me? ” Jesus answered him, “Allow it for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him to be baptized. (Matt 3:14-15, HCSB)
I think what Jesus was saying there was all about his mission, his very reason for coming into the world. He came to take on humanity, and the sin of humanity. Jesus entered into repentance for that on our behalf. He identified with us through John’s baptism. It was the first public step in fulfilling his mission to bring righteousness to the world. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says:
God made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2Cor 5:21, HCSB)
Jesus was baptized as part of that “becoming sin” for us. I don’t mean he became sinful, but I mean he identified with our sinful humanity, and God eventually (at the cross) placed all of the sin of the world upon him, so that we could be called righteous by placing our faith in him.
After Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on Him. And there came a voice from heaven: This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him! (Matt 3:16-17, HCSB)
“This is my Beloved son, I take delight in him!” These words came from heaven not only at Jesus’ baptism, but also again, on a mountainside, as recorded in Matthew 17:5-6.
While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said: This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him. Listen to Him! When the disciples heard it, they fell facedown and were terrified. (Matt 17:5-6, HCSB)
The apostle Peter wrote about this in his second letter. He says that the repetition of this voice from heaven means that the message is “strongly confirmed.”
For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, a voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory: This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him! And we heard this voice when it came from heaven while we were with Him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic word strongly confirmed. You will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dismal place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2Pet 1:16-19, HCSB)
Peter says we would do well to pay attention to this. So let’s pay attention to it.
First, I think this reminds us that it’s all about Jesus. Sometimes we get confused, and we think faith is all about what Jesus did for us. That’s important, but when we look at things that way, it puts the focus on ourselves. Quite apart from us, Jesus is focal point of history. This word from heaven reminds us that.
Second in Jesus (see above) this is God’s attitude toward us. When we trust Jesus and continue on in that trust, God the Father includes us in all the grace and blessings of Jesus.
Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved. We have redemption in Him through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding… We have also received an inheritance in Him (Eph 1:3-8,11 HCSB)
The New Testament is full of verses explaining that in Christ, we have what God gives Christ. In other words, if we are in Christ, God looks at us, and has the same attitude toward us that he has toward Jesus himself. So, in Jesus, God is looking at us, and saying “You are my son, my daughter. I am so pleased with you.” Really. I know we are inclined to think that can’t be right, but listen to the Holy Spirit through Isaiah:
Let the wicked one abandon his way and the sinful one his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, so He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will freely forgive. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways.” This is the LORD’s declaration. (Isa 55:7-8, HCSB)
God viewing us “through the lens of Jesus,” so to speak, doesn’t make sense to us. But it makes sense to him. So, if you trust Jesus today, I want you to hear these words spoken to Jesus, applied also to you: You are his beloved son or daughter. He looks at you, in Jesus Christ, and say, “I am so pleased with you.”
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