How would it be with you, if tomorrow morning at 4:30 a.m. you were awakened by a strong voice crying; "Repent! For the day of God's Kingly rule has come!" right outside your bedroom window?
Well somewhat like that John the Baptist ministered in his day and God used him to stir up the pot of human history until it was quite a foam. John was speaking to the hearts of the people in a distressing and disturbing way.
Let's join the scene and if you go into Matthew chapter three you'll be at our text today as we're going through this great book of Matthew. In chapter three and verse one, pick out the words "In those days, John came." In what days? Well, it leads back in our thinking to the previous chapter where the Lord Jesus is taken into Nazareth and He grows up there. So that expression covers quite a few years, through the childhood and the early adulthood of our Lord and then His launching His ministry. And it was during this time or in a larger sense during the period of time, which is the transition between the Old Testament and the New, God sent this man John. He was the pivot man for God. He was a relative of Jesus, since his mother and Jesus' mother were somewhat cousins, and so John and Jesus were related a bit. And this man several months older than Jesus came on the scene ahead of Jesus and was preaching, and notice in verse , two and saying, (it gives us a summation of his message even), "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."
This word, repent, is a very important one in Scripture and it involves not only the conscience, for repentance might begin with a troubling of the conscience and it might be sensible and have to do with our feelings. But it goes much further than that, it extends through the mind until there is a definite, knowing change and it touches the will, a person decides something. They have a change of outlook in mind toward the way they've been living. In particular about their sins. They become conscious and aware of how God looks at sin and then there is an accompanying longing for holiness and to have the Lord Jesus Christ be their Lord and Saviour. There is nothing known in Scripture about any repentance which does not then issue out into a change in living. People who live the same but can tell you of their time when they let Jesus into their lives have not repented and Christ is not living within them. He never lives within a life that is going the wrong way. The Scripture says "Can two walk together, except they be agreed? You cannot serve both God and the enemy. The Scriptures make that very, very clear. So John's message involves repentance because it was an inauguration of the King's coming to rule. God is going to express His Kingly rule in human history in a new way. You notice in verse three, further on, it mentions that this fulfilled Isaiah's great prophecy that 'one would come in the Spirit of Elijah, and this Lord Jesus would come and (that prophesy about Elijah is in Malachi) but this quotation here "this voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight." That is from Isaiah and the prophet there was telling that one day captive people would come out of their exile and they would leave off the shadowy, shoddy, depressing life that they had known and they would walk the king's road back to Jerusalem and this way, this road was going to be prepared by God's prophets who would come and open the way up, in particularly this New Testament Elijah, John the Baptist, was doing that. He was preparing the way for his cousin, he was preparing the way for the very Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, make His paths straight.
It tells us in verse four what a prophet of God might look like. Now not all of them look like that, I hope some of them wear a brown suit once in a while. But this fellow was preaching for God and he was God's own man and he was not dressed acceptably in church. I think if John the Baptist came down and sat down I don't know how many would want to cluster in the pews all around him. I don't think he'd look just right, might not even smell just right. He was a man from way out there, I don't think they had showers and all sorts of shampoos we see on TV. Look at it there, camel's hair. Did you ever sit on a camel? And leather belt about his waist, and I doubt if it was all finished you know, guaranteed genuine on the back, it was just hide. And I can't think of any of those fancy men's attire makers so I won't try that, anyways, but he didn't have any of those. I mean he didn't even shop at K-Mart or anything. It says that even his diet was pretty rugged. I haven't chewed on any grasshoppers lately myself, but this fellow really lived rough. And somehow I think God is trying to get a message on over to us, that the business of repentance, it can be rugged on us, and it does not let us softly rest in the status quo. This was quite a thing, but it brought results. Look what was happening. Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region around Jordan went out to him. Now in our church we've just been discussing, Brother George brought in an idea for publicizing our church, and we're thinking of doing that and we worked on it and brought it to the Board at their last meeting. Here's some kind of a little publicity that we can get printed and then pass out in our area. And it will be a wonderful thing and we hope some of the folks here would be willing to share that. But John the Baptist didn't have any promotion. In fact he had everything to turn off people. He wasn't preaching pretty things and he didn't look very pretty. But how come all the people went out there? Because deep in your heart, and deep in my heart, we want this - we want to be right with God. We hunger for it, but so many things are spoiling our appetites. But here they were in genuine sorrow over their sins, going out into the muddy Jordan and being baptized by him, confessing that they were sinners and believing that God was cleansing them from their sins. And they were new people, I believe, I believe they were genuine, repentant people. I think there was a lot of joy that followed this. And then there were some other eyes looking on and these were hypocrites. And these fellows came and looked at them, and the Pharisees and Saducees, they realized 'Well, the whole country is going after this fellow! We're going to have to get in on it.' So they were going to go out and get baptized too, hypocrites that they were, they just wanted to get in on things, and not be left out, and not stand in the minority. And Jesus looked at them, He said "You are just like snakes, flying through the grass just a few inches ahead of the fire. Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come, you snakes?" And He told them that they needed to have a change in their life and to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance and there again brings out the very nature of repentance. It is accompanied by a life that proves it. No repentance can be claimed in the heart if it isn't shown in the life. That's what John is telling us.
Then as you read down through the passage you come to the great verse 12 and this is my text today. And it will show us why you and I all should turn in repentance to Jesus Christ. And I say we should do it because of the activities of Christ that are mentioned. You will see three activities of Jesus are mentioned there, and each of these have to do with the end of this age.
And it says our Lord is like the grain farmer in verse twelve. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Notice this first activity of Christ; He will thoroughly purge His floor. Let's explain this picture; the floor is not in the barn, its really out in the field, and if you went out in the wheat field say, and there you found an elevated area, perhaps some knoll. And up on that knoll, you discovered that the top of that was to be the threshing area. It was beaten and rolled flat and it might be an extensive area, it might be, if you paced across you might have thirty paces across there, it was a large area. And there they would dump the grain, and this was called the threshing floor. The reason why it was elevated, so that the wind could get to it. Into this the farmer would put in his winnowing shovel and he would heave the grain into the air and the winds would blow the light chaff out of it and the solid good grain would fall in a pile below to be collected and retained by him. This word then, in verse twelve, in some of the translations - fan - means winnowing fork or the shovel for the winnowing. Notice that all of the grain would then be gathered into the floor. All of the fields would yield their supply, everything, including a lot of chaff would be dumped on the floor. Now the floor might represent then the religious people, its the whole mass. And so in the so called church, or in the household of religion there is the large mass, but not all have the germ of life, within them. But they're all there and there's no way of escaping, if people are going to be touched by God one way or another, and many of them make some kind of response.
By the way do you know why farmers keep cats? This is related, it might not just sound that way right off, but farmers keep cats and usually they have lots of them roaming around and some of them are pretty tough, they are not lap cats at all, these are cats to deal with all the mice and the rats and other things. And when a man leaves a lot of grain around there will be rodents and things that love that, as well as the birds. And the little fellows like the loose straw to live in and they like the grain to eat. Why some farms are just ready made invitations, that's the Hilton for the rodent company. And so then he puts, for his lack of cleanliness and thoroughness, he dumps in the cats to keep the things in balance.
It's not that way with Christ. It says that He will thoroughly purge His floor. And I'll tell you there are skinny rats around when it's the Lord's place. He doesn't lose people, He knows every last person by name. And we are that plant and the chaff will go one way and the wheat will go another. He will do a thorough job of it and all of them will be put to the fan and there will be this great separation that will take place. And it will be done openly before all people so that those who have for a while have been in the life of the church and have had apparent religion, it will be found out are we real or are we not real before God. And then everyone will be sent to a final destiny. You see that is next. And all people will go either with God's good wheat to be kept by Him forever or they will be sentenced to eternal destruction and the fire. And some will say 'Well surely, that's not going to happen to us, there's going to be no division. Well, look in verse nine. Jesus says plainly 'Do not think now that oh we have a religious background, a religious heritage. We're Canadian, or we're Americans, or Europeons. We've come from a long history of religion.' "For I say to you God is able to raise up religious children right out of the stones." That's a play on words, from the Aramaic, probably here, possibly anyway, and He just might be saying, I'll just give it a Western twist, but He's saying something like: 'Right out of the stones and the dirt, God can raise up sons and daughters to Himself or who are a religious people for sure.'
Now notice that He goes on, and next He's going to gather His wheat into the barn. Now you see, the farmer is going to give a lot of attention to this wheat business because that's the whole purpose of it. That's why he's in the business, he wants to get that wheat, he's been working for it. And here's some encouragement from this little passage, that little phrase there "He will gather his wheat into the barn." Notice the word 'His' the RSV not withstanding, it is misplaced there, it is very definitely with the word wheat. "He will gather His wheat into the barn." It is His wheat, it belongs to Him, He's paid for it, He's purchased it, He has tended it all along, and He's going to bring it home for Himself forever. Then I noticed something, that He does that first, and I could not help but just think about that for a minute, turn over to the twenty-fourth chapter please. Matthew 24 and look at verse twenty-nine. "Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of man will appear in Heaven and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory and He shall send His angels with the sound of a trumpet and they shall gather together His elect, His chosen, from the four winds, from one end of Heaven to the other."
The thrust and the order of things is important. A premature gathering of the tares from the wheat might result in the destruction of God's own wheat. So he lets us grow together and there are often all kinds of associations and alliances between those who are wheat and those who are chaff, those who are saved, and those who are lost, those who know Christ inwardly and those who just claim Him on the tip of their tongue. But this gathering will take place and men have sometimes had some differences over this in their understanding of prophecy, but we're agreed on one thing. All teachers are agreed that there will be first of all, the gathering of His children, the fact of God's saving, and sparing and protecting His own as well as the order He will gather them out and they shall be His.
Little children like to play in barns, all kids on the farm love the barn. We in the city sometimes think of a barn, well somebody will say 'Oh my home is like a barn', but a barn is a nice place if you're on the farm on a rainy day, go out there and jump onto the hay and I've done that and I didn't grow up on the farm exactly, but I've done a lot of hay loft jumping and you know you roll around in the straw and its nice and warm in there and the rain is beating on the roof. It's a lot of fun. Trouble is when you head home, anything that was wool or flannel is just full of pieces of straw and stubble and chaff. It's got lots of it there. Not here in God's barn. He has thoroughly cleansed out on the floor, and the wheat alone is there and there isn't any of that. The winnowing was perfectly done. And then when we're gathered into that barn and Jesus intends to talk to farmers, and they appreciate it, and I hope you will too. Heaven is a beautiful place, that's God's grainery forever. That's where His select one's are, of just serene and supreme beauty forever. Of just unsurpassed fellowship and relationships of peace and joy, my friend that you've craved and reached for, all your life, and there it will be granted fully.
Somebody says 'I quit my job' and you say 'You quit your job! I thought you liked it there.' 'I did, but no more, I felt fenced in, there was a lid on I couldn't go any place.' You've heard that, you've felt it or experienced it but it won't be that way in Heaven, for it is an ever expanded excitement of attaining and fulfillment to the nth degree and of knowing your God and His grace more and more. What challenges will be there forever? This belongs to the people of God, He's going to gather us into that.
There's one other activity that I must mention, because our Lord mentions it. He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Every word of this counts, the personal pronoun, which is the subject of the sentence; 'He' will do this, is repeatedly used that or its possessive form in verse twelve. Notice it is His winnowing fan, it is His hand. He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor and gather His wheat, He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Jesus Christ as we sing is LORD, He is LORD of All, of everything. There is nothing in existence that He has not made, He is Lord, and creator, and notice also, that in the previous verse, eleven, John says "I am not even worthy to lift His sandels". He says that this Lord is in contrast to me "I baptize, yes in the muddy river Jordan, but He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire!" My friend choose your baptism. This tells us of those, the great multitude going out to be baptized in the lake of fire.
This is an awesome thought and may the Lord grant that I will not preach this without feeling and a heart and may you hear it like this. There are those who are chaff, the Scriptures are saying it. He, Jesus ,will address Himself to them finally. He will burn up the chaff. This means that there will be a fiery and a painful punishment. And the Scriptures make that very clear. For example, in an earlier, or just a little later, it will say these words; "The tares, the ungenuine wheat will be gathered and burned in the fire." The tares will be burned in the fire, so will it be at the end of the age. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. So the Scripture pictures here the Lord Jesus finally going out over the earth and gathering out all of the things that are offensive and those who practice lawlessness and He will cast them into the furnace of fire, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. That is coming from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ, the very one who said "Come unto me, ... you will find rest, ... I am meek and lowly in heart." Then the Scriptures make it clear that the fire will be unquenchable. This means that it will be eternal, that it is not, the Lord never teaches annihilation, that somehow the wicked dead, or those who have left God out, will somehow become non-existent forever. That is not what Scripture teaches. It is that the fire, that which is the infliction of judgment on them will be everlasting and never ceasing. It will be an ongoing suffering. The book of Mark makes that very clear. Let me read this, it says that "if your hand makes you sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than having two hands to go into Hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched." Everywhere the Scriptures mention this eternal judgment, it is an everlasting thing. And the Lord says, later in the same book, He says "Now I'm going to say to those who are left after I've taken the righteous home into glory, I'll say to those whom I've separated off on this side, I'll say to them 'Depart you cursed into everlasting fire, I never knew you, and these will go away into everlasting punishment." That's in Matthew 25. Now the Christians who are reading this today, who are truly believers, now you say 'Well, I don't claim to be of another religion, I would claim to be Christian.' Let me encourage you my friend, if you believe in Christ what kind of Christian ought you to be? Not just a chaff kind of one, what kind ought you to be if these things are real and true? How earnest should you be with your family and your friends? How grateful to God should you be that He has spared you, that He has brought life to you, that He drew you to repent?
And then my friend, those of you who cannot stand the judgment of God, you know
right well that when He puts the fan to you, when he puts the winnowing to you, that the germ of everlasting life is not within your heart yet. Sure you've clung very close to the wheat, you sing the same hymns, maybe there are believers in you family. My friend, the chaff is on the very stalk with the living germ of wheat but it has not the life of God within it. It is chaff, falls by itself, it blows and then it goes to the fire. Let not your life go from the floor, to the fan, to the fire. May God take you this day and bring you to the Lord Jesus Christ. Say 'I will believe in you 0 Lord' and you can invite Him to be your Saviour and your Lord right while you're seated here, this very day, you can do that, you can pass out of the threat of condemnation into the household of God. And whoever believes thus on the Lord Jesus Christ shall never perish but have everlasting life. It can be yours today.
Let me pray for you right now.
Our Father, for those who may be groping toward thee today and who suddenly find
that what they have claimed as faith is not worthy of your inspection, may they
surrender to you now. Help each one of us to say; 'Lord Jesus forgive my sin, I repent and I take the offering of your blood on the cross to pay for my sins.' Help them to believe O Father. Then I would ask Lord if any of us who are your children, have gotten in the way and there has not been within us this ingredient of seriousness that Jesus had and if somehow our deportment has never led people to think this is really real, 0 God forgive us for our falseness and the offence of our lives. May a new zeal come upon us. We pray it through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.