Matthew 3:7-12 NLT
The “light and fire of the Holy Spirit” is what separates and defines us. Even the word, “holy”, separates and defines us. The original, pre-Christian definition is to “be preserved whole or intact, that cannot be transgressed or violated.”
Problem in the Text
The Pharisees and Sadducees have become too complacent with their position. They thought that they were covered, because they were “descendants of Abraham” and because of their position. John referred to them as a “brood” or group of vipers, basically poisonous snakes. They represented generations of religious leadership that has constantly reinforced the understanding of their own superiority based on birth and position. They were leading others in a misguided religion and not a true relationship.
These leaders considered themselves, and others considered them, holy. They were seen as examples, set apart from the crowd. They saw their holiness as being “better” than others. They considered themselves superior to others.
They have been warned, just as earlier leaders of Israel, of the path that there pride was going to take them. It was pride that destroyed the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
Problem in the World
Calling yourself a Christian or going to church does not make you saved or create salvation. Knowing every new Christian song and the ability to quote whole chapters of the Bible does not make you a “true” believer or “Christ”-follower.
Christians, in today’s world, are taking two paths. They have either: a) pulled so far away from the world that they are no longer relevant or useful to anyone; or b) They are so immersed in the world that their message has become “watered down”, weak and ineffective. Either way, they are not making any difference. This church is losing its’ effectiveness in this world, because of its’ own pride, its’ own “self”-improvement.
Solution in the Text
The text does not provide any solutions or answers. It actually provides a warning. Matthew refers in v. 10 that the “ax of God’s judgment” is ready to cut them off.
John then tells that he baptizes with water. This baptism is another marker of separation. It was an older tradition that now has a new meaning. People knew about “ritual bathing.” This bathing was done in standing baths surrounding the Temple before someone could enter. John was offering something different. He was offering baptism in rivers and lakes. He was offering baptism in living, flowing water. Water that did not stay in one place, but had new life through its’ source.
After speaking of baptism, not only of water, but of light and fire, John says we will all be sorted and separated. If we are useful and “produce good fruit”, we will be “gathered” like “wheat into his barn.” If we are not useful or productive, we will be burned “with never-ending fire.”
These are three different examples of the separation that is to come if we are not “truly separated.”
Solution in the World
This warning applies to us today. The irony is that if we do not separate, then we will be separated.
We are called to in the world, but not of the world. It is possible to live I the world without becoming what the world has become. We must be changed in order to affect change in others.
As Salvationists and Christians, we need to useful in the world, but not used by the world.
Holiness is supposed to be a mark of distinction not a mark of superiority. Christianity should cause our life to produce certain proofs, or fruit. These fruit, or proofs, are what distinguishes us from the world.
The sun represents the “light and fire of the Holy Spirit.” Part of our Army standard is holiness. This is especially important for front-line Christians who serve in a messed-up world every day.