Winnowing (Matthew 3:12)

Photo by Robert Wiedemann on Unsplash

John continues his reasons why we ought to be earnestly repentant, saying of Messiah, “His winnowing fork is in his hand.” A winnowing fork is a multi-pronged wooden pitchfork used to toss threshed (beaten or crushed) grain, “into the air so that the wind can separate the lighter straw from the heaver grain.”  Winnowing (the act of using the winnowing fork) is a separation process. It is the removal of what is unnecessary and unwanted from the valuable and wanted. 

A clearer metaphor could not be wished for in an agrarian society (as Israel was in John’s day). The One to come after John the Baptist will be about separating the covenant children of God from the condemned. The context of the statement allows that it builds on John’s previous comments; Christ’s arrival is imminent, which means the opportunity to ensure that you are on the right side of that separation process is urgent, because the decision will shortly be taken out of your hands. The urgent nature of John’s ministry is all the more highlighted when one realizes that all it takes for anyone to begin the transition from chaff to grain is wholehearted repentance. 

It is one thing to lose out on an opportunity when you do not have the means to win. If all of life depended on you winning an olympic race, you may well have a case that there was no point in even trying. But all of life does not depend on the accomplishment of such a high and lofty goal. It depends merely on your willingness to lay down your pride and turn to God. It depends entirely on repentance. 

Billy Graham used to have a radio show called “Hour of Decision” in which he preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ over the airwaves and called on people to make a personal decision for Christ. That ministry started in 1950 and ran till 2015. Through it many souls have been saved, and it continues today in syndication.  Of course, Billy Graham and his association do not have a monopoly on the call to repentance anymore than John did in his day. To call others to a single critical decision for God Most High is something all of God’s own can do just as easily as they themselves can repent. What is more, such a call is just as – if not more – urgent in our day than it was in John’s. For Christ’s second appearing and the final judgment are just as close to us as Christ’s first appearing was for John. 

That reality means what while we can, we must do all we can, to prepare people for Christ’s imminent return. Just as John pointed out, the day draws near when such work will end, and His work of separating the grain from the chaff will suddenly begin. Then it will be too late for all those around us who have not yet repented, and it will also be too late for us to have enjoined His mission. The time to repent of sins is now, and the time to repent of inaction is now. Today is the day of salvation for those who repent of their sins, and today is the day of engagement for those who repent of inaction.

Your piety is worthless unless it leads you to wish that the same mercy which has been extended to you may bless the whole world.

Charles Spurgeon

APPLICATION: Intentionality

If you knew for certain Christ would come back in the next few years, what would you want to set about doing? Who do you yet need to speak to? What stops you from doing it now?

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