In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” ’ Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
John is setting a clear delineation between himself and Jesus. John can baptize and people can repent while that is happening, but Jesus will usher in a new day. When Jesus baptizes, all bets are off. Our lives will be completely upended…the chaff in our lives will be burned away and only the wheat will remain. The startling fact is that we can repent all we want, but it is Jesus who does the changing in our lives. It is Jesus who takes that which is broken and unusable and makes us whole and vital. It used to scare me – the unquenchable fire. Now, I am grateful that Jesus is bold enough to burn away the parts of me that truly have no place anymore.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we pray for openness to your love, a love that will burn away the chaff in our lives. Make us new. Make us beautifully useful and bountifully whole. Amen.