We often have a domesticated view of Jesus. Just google pictures of “Jesus Christ.” He looks like a sissy in every picture. Blond hair, blue eyes, and of course, a sash. I heard someone say it seems like all the artists decided to draw a woman’s face and add a beard. This image seems to go along with the nice, kind Jesus most Americans seem to accept. Jesus is viewed as a sweet and gentle guy who loved people and said some really nice things. Then, we come across passages like Matthew 3:1-12, which make us stop and consider whether or not our view of Jesus does justice to the full scope of God’s revelation.
In Matthew 3:1-12, John the Baptist is preaching about repentance. He lays into the religious leaders, telling them to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance (vs. 8). Then, John the Baptist points people to Jesus, the One who will follow him. But the Jesus he describes in not like the Jesus we are used to hearing about these days. He is not soft and sweet. He is not drinking decaf and driving a Prius. He isn’t checking out Pinterest. Instead, He comes with a winnowing fork and unquenchable fire (vs. 12). Listen to John’s description of Jesus: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier 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 and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (vs. 11-12). I have yet to see an artist portray Jesus like this. Usually He has children in His lap or sheep on His shoulders…not a winnowing fork in His hand!
What are we to make of these images? What do they teach us about Jesus? They certainly teach about His grace and salvation. He will baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire.” This imagery depends on all the Old Testament passages about the Holy Spirit being poured out. Osborne believes “this refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell the believer at conversion (1 Cor 2:12; 12:13; Rom 8:14-17)” (Osborne, Matthew, Kindle Location 2304). If this is the case, John the Baptist is pointing towards Jesus’ saving ministry. But, it also points to judgment. This is where people often start to resist Jesus. Love and grace and forgiveness? Yes! Fire and judgment? No! Yet John the Baptist clearly portrays Jesus as judge. He has a winnowing fork in his hand, which He uses to separate the wheat and the chaff. He puts the wheat in the barn, but He burns up the chaff. Like the other harvest parables, Jesus is portrayed as the judge who punishes the wicked. Jesus is a gracious Savior, but He is also a righteous Judge.
Christians, let’s not adopt a one-sided view of Jesus. Yes, He is gracious and loving and forgiving, but He is also holy and righteous and just. We see both of these aspects (love and justice) at the cross. The justice of God is seen as God punishes Christ for the sin of man. The love of God is seen as Christ willingly suffers for sin. Let us praise God for His grace and warn others of the judgment to come!