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As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 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. 17 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.”
18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. – Luke 3:15-18 [ESV]
I worked for 7 months at a brick factory. Whenever I think of the Israelites in Egypt being enslaved as brick makers, my heart goes out to them. It is very difficult work. Very. Difficult. Work. Did I say…? Sorry, but it was. One job that was a bit easier was that of sorting bricks as they came off the conveyer belt. Some would go into a jig to be bundled into bales of 500 bricks – steel straps holding them together. The others would go onto a pallet of 500. Stacked in tiers of 50 in a 3X10 & 2X10 alternating layout. Those were not without blemish and would have to be subjected to extra treatment. Some brick bats didn’t even make it to the conveyer belt. They were used as land fill.
The choice in brick culling was relatively easy. The choice in judging for salvation and damnation is a bit more far-reaching, and much too difficult for most people to make. People draw differing conclusions as to how that judgment is made. And while we may easily judge whether or not we would want to be best buddies with someone, we might be a bit more cautious about assigning someone to their eternal destiny. At least I don’t think I’d be very good at it – either way.
In the book, The Shack, Mack (the main character) is put into the judge’s seat and made to judge God and the human race. He is really there for a lesson, and made to realize that God chose to experience the full weight of justice so that all might be saved. That’s what Jesus did for us.
I would rather that there was no need for judgement; that we all behaved properly and were exempt from judgment and surely hell. There are at least two things wrong with that idea. First of all, that’s not the way things truly are. Evil has invaded the world and the human race. People do deplorably-despicable things. And, secondly, we know that and have made that judgment ourselves.
So now comes Jesus. Winnowing forks and unquenchable fire imagery conjures thoughts of judgment. But what of wheat barns? Judgment isn’t just for the evil ones. It’s not all about God giving us justice against those who wrong us. It’s also about being saved, and finding an eternal home in God’s storehouse of life and love. Jesus’ first appearance would challenge the religious self-righteous (judgmental) ones. His second appearing will bring his own into that place of eternal safekeeping – free from every threat to body, heart, and soul. That’s why Luke calls John’s preaching good news. Jesus is coming to save. To judge and separate the chaff to be sure. But most of all to save.
I know of no other judge than Jesus who I would wish to judge me and all people. He knows our frame. He has walked among us. He knows God’s heart. He has come from the Father. I trust his winnowing fork. I yearn for his wheat barn.