New Living Translation (NLT) Matthew 3:
In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!’”
John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them.
“You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire."There's been a lot of talk about elites this year, in various countries' political systems. The main person talking about elites in the USA is a man who has a skyscraper with a golden lift, in New York. And in this country it's been a stockbroker and public schoolboy.
When John the Baptist preaches, the ordinary people of the countryside come out to see him. But then, when he's getting popular, out come the Jewish people's own elites - the Priests and the Pharisees.
They are the ones who have the religious control - the Priests control the Temple, and the Pharisees - through their dedication to enforcing the Law in everyone's actions - they control everyday lives. And out here in the desert there's a challenge to their control. And he's one who has directly rejected their power - John is the son of a priest, he's entitled to hang around awaiting his turn to minister in the Temple. But the power of then priests is compromised - the role of Chief Priest is a stitch-up.
So John's out in the desert, greeting them as vipers. And he has a two-fold message: to us. Maybe to him it's just the one point.
- Repent and produce good fruit.
- The judgement is coming, through the Messiah.
John's saying our actions have consequences. Obviously they have consequences now - if we do a selfish thing then we may feel good, but someone else will suffer. If we do a good thing, it may or may not be good for us - but someone else will benefit.
But at the Judgement - in a time to come when Jesus reigns in glory - then those actions will still be there. And if they're good, and good for others, and they're living our lives for Jesus - then they're going to be stored up in barns - safe as grain for a heavenly feast. But if they're bad, selfish, hurtful - then they're going to whirl in the wind like chaff, burnt up as refuse in fire.
And all the elites really will be torn down in that day - because we will account for what we have done, face to face with our God. And it won't matter who we are - only how we saw Jesus in oir neighbours.
And if you think that's terrifying, that's fair enough. I know I do. I know the pile of grain will be small, and the chaff so big, and will have to cling to Jesus's cross to be saved. But because I believe in him, maybe the grain pile will be a bit bigger, and the chaff a little less. So help me, Lord Jesus, to turn and follow you again and again.