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The Baptism of the Reaper

Before Jesus’ baptism, there was confusion over the Christ. The people wondered in their hearts “Is it John the Baptist?” But John says that the coming Christ is mightier than him, and while John’s baptism is a watery rite of repentance and preparation, the Christ comes with a baptism of judgment, by the Holy Spirit and fire. “So stop stealing and abusing your authority,” John warns the people, “Share your wealth, and be content with your wages, because the Christ is coming as the Reaper, testing whether you have value to God, or whether you are destined for the fire.”

John describes the work of Christ as clearing the threshing floor, an image of judgment that captures an important piece of Israel’s history. When King David pridefully took a census, God judged David by sending the Angel of the Lord to administer a plague that swept through Israel, reaping God’s people up to the edges of Jerusalem, until reaching Araunah’s threshing floor. God’s judgment stopped there, and worship started, as David bought it for a place of sacrifice. A generation later, this threshing floor was the site where Solomon built the temple.

And so when Jesus the Reaper comes to the temple/threshing floor, what does He see? Greedy priests stealing widow’s houses, and corrupt merchants turning the temple into a marketplace. The temple is supposed to be the place where judgment stops and worship starts, but instead, they’ve turned a house of prayer into a den of thieves. So what does the Reaper do? He clears His threshing floor.

John the Baptist wasn’t directly prophesying the cleansing of the temple; he was describing the whole nature of Jesus’ ministry. The cleansing of the temple was typical of the work that the Reaper came to do, which helps us understand Luke 3:18. It’s a bit jarring to hear John say “The Reaper is coming with unquenchable fire!” And then the next verse: “And he preached more good news like this.” How is judgment and fire good news?

It’s good news if you hate sin. It’s good news if you are tired of watching religious leaders gobble up widow’s houses, buying private jets with money donated by deceiving vulnerable women. It’s good news if you are tired of tax collectors skinning you alive, or of soldiers and law enforcement abusing their authority. It’s good news if you have a wicked ruler like Herod who adds perversion of marriage to his long list of sins, and throws people in jail for refusing to go along with his wickedness. A Reaper bringing judgment is good news if your heart’s desire is to see sin brought to an end and replaced by true worship.

Immediately following these words, Luke gives us his account of Jesus’ baptism, showing us that this event is the commissioning of the Reaper. Jesus is being washed in preparation for His work of judgment. When the Father speaks from heaven concerning His Son, it is not a sentimental moment, like a new dad looking at his baby. This is a Father watching His Son receive authority and a commission through the descent of the Spirit. The Father loves the Son because He is the one who fills the barn with wheat and burns the chaff, by Spirit and fire.

And so as Jesus is manifested to you as both Reaper and Beloved Son, you should both fear the Reaper, and be pleased in the Son. Fear the Reaper by repenting, being baptized with the Spirit and with fire, and bringing forth the fruits of repentance: share, don’t steal, and be content.

And be pleased in the Son by rejoicing in His work of bringing justice and righteousness to the world. Being harvested as wheat for God’s barn is good news. Because you have repented of your sins, been washed in Jesus’ baptism, and made one with Jesus, God is pleased in you. This means that you no longer need to fear the Reaper by being terrified that He will throw you into the fire because of your sins. You are God’s wheat, and Jesus will not lose you.

But it is also good news that those who reject God will be burned with unquenchable fire. Chaff being burned is good news, because it means that judgment can stop, and worship can start. So be pleased, along with God the Father, that His beloved Son the Reaper has come to cleanse the world with the Spirit and with fire.

Posted on Wednesday, January 13, 2016 by CJ Bowen