February 25, 2024 | Doug Sauder
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“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”—Matthew 3:11–12 (NIV)
We’ve been seeing how John the Baptist stepped onto the spiritual stage of Israel, which had been dominated by the religious sect of rulers known as the Pharisees. Up until now, their word was law . . . God’s law, or so they and others thought. Initially, they based their leadership on what all right leadership should be based on, the Word of God.
But over time, over the generations and centuries, things started to creep in. Man thought God’s Word wasn’t quite enough to go by. So, those entrusted with its interpretation and social application began to add to it here and there. “Well, we need to clarify and elaborate on this. We need to tighten things up when it comes to that.” This went on and on until the traditions of men eventually came to eclipse the heart of God. And when that happens, man will find a way to advance his own agenda and manipulate the system for his own gain.
Quite literally, this is what was happening here among the Jewish people as John spoke these words. The spiritual system that was meant to lead the people in God’s ways had become corrupt. It had gone toxic, and John is announcing that God won’t tolerate this for much longer! They all saw what John was doing and what he stood for: “Repent! Confess your sin and get right now!” Why now? Because as surely as he had come, another One was also coming. Only this One would be more powerful and He wouldn’t baptize them with water, but with fire, instead.
Now, it’s pretty clear that John is referring to Jesus here. But what may not be so clear is what baptism by fire is. Some suggest the fire John speaks of here is the Holy Spirit, because later on in the Book of Acts we see the Holy Spirit appear in the form of fire on the Day of Pentecost.
Of course, we do know Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and John even mentions that. But he says “and fire,” indicating this “fire” is something separate from the Holy Spirit. Taking the context of corruption into account, and connecting this with the imagery of threshing grain, it’s clear that this fire represents judgment! John is both making a promise and giving a warning. Judgment is coming, and that’s either good news or bad news depending on which side of God’s justice you’re on!
The obvious application is to ensure you’re on the right side of God’s justice. If you’ve confessed your need for God’s forgiveness and have trusted in what Jesus did on the cross to secure that for you, then you are—that’s the good news! But if that’s not something you’ve done, if you haven’t trusted in Christ’s sacrifice on your behalf, judgment will come—that’s the bad news. It doesn’t need to be. A choice to see your need for what Jesus did on the cross and a decision to trust in Him to save you and set you on the right side of God’s justice is all that’s needed.
Pause: Are John’s words good news or bad news to you?
Practice: If Christ’s judgment is good news for you, thank Him! If not, consider the following prayer.
Pray: Dear God, I know I need to be made right with You and that my sin keeps me from being able to do that. But I believe You sent Your sinless Son to die and pay the debt of my sin for me, and that this happens as I put my trust in this. Please forgive me, accept me, cleanse me, and lead me in a new life with You, because of what Jesus has done for me. Amen.
Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.