In this week’s text from Luke 3, John the Baptizer’s message of separating the wheat from chaff and the possibility of an unquenchable fire sounds like it’s all about division, good and evil, us and them. He seems to be saying, “You better watch out! The Messiah’s coming and He’s going to set you straight!”
I have a sense that John expected Jesus to condemn to hell those he thought needed to be punished forever. And, I bet John thought that Jesus would reward those who- like John himself- thought they deserved grace. I wonder if John the Baptizer may have underestimated the grace-filled love of God.
Could it be that he was shocked by the grace that was shown to him and others? His words proclaimed one thing- fire and damnation- but what we know of Jesus, His love, mercy, and grace is all-inclusive; available to all.
For God so loved the world … not just some of us, and certainly not just those that deserve God’s love, mercy and grace, but the world! He sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3: 16-17)
While John’s sermon wasn’t “warm and fuzzy,” I believe his message reminds us that when our hearts and minds are changed by God’s grace — through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit- our actions change, too.
Jesus, the One who comes — the One who John felt unworthy to even untie the straps of His sandals — is God’s Help from Heaven; Emmanuel, God with Us.
The One who sings over us with delight.
The One who came to save us.
Phillip Gulley and James Mulholland share this story in their book If Grace is True:
“When my son was five, we were preparing to attend a function where we all needed to be well-dressed. We gave my son a bath and put on his nicest clothes, and then my wife and I began to prepare ourselves. Our son, bored and impatient, asked to go outside and play. We finally gave in but made it clear that he was not to get dirty. He promised to be good. About five minutes after he went outside, our doorbell rang. Standing at our door was our neighbor and a little boy with mud caked from the top of his head to the tip of his toe. He had tried to jump over a puddle and failed. Our neighbor asked, ‘Is this your son?’
For a moment, I thought about saying no. But grace won out. I took him by the hand and led him upstairs to his second bath. I claimed him and I cleaned him. His filthy condition did not change our relationship. Indeed, it only emphasized how much he needed me.” [And, how much Daddy loved him].
That’s the good news of the gospel, my Friends! May God’s grace overwhelm us as the Holy Spirit comforts, convicts, challenges, and transforms us.
Let not your hands grow weak.
The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness;
He will quiet you by His love;
He will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17 (ESV)