Luke 3:15-20 (NIV) The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.
But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.
John was the most amazing person most of the people of that time had ever seen. It was like one of the prophets had walked right out of the pages of Scripture and was now holding forth at the Jordan River. It is no surprise that many of them wondered if this could be the Messiah Himself.
The Pharisees were the most direct, asking him straight out if he was indeed the Messiah (John 1:19-27). But John answered them just a clearly with a resounding “no.” As impressive as John was, the one who would follow him, the real Messiah, would be ever more so. John baptized in water, but the Messiah would baptize in the Holy Spirit and fire. John’s job was to get the people ready, but the Messiah would separate the wheat from the chaff among the people, and burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
But John’s preaching was not all fire and brimstone. He absolutely preached the truth about who the Messiah was, and what He would do when He came. And he urged the people to not only toe the line with regards to their actions, but to truly repent so that their hearts would be ready to receive Him when He came.
But John also preached the good news to the people. The good news had three aspects to it. Aspect one was that God had not forgotten His people, but had finally sent His Messiah to them (Luke 3:16). The second aspect is that the Messiah would bring real forgiveness of sins so that people could once again have true fellowship with God (John 1:29). And the third aspect was that, with the coming of the Messiah, God’s kingdom was becoming a here-and-now reality (Matthew 4:17).
All of these aspects were indeed good news to those who were hoping and praying for them. But they would also prove to be a real existential threat to those in the power structure of Palestine, from the king to the priests, whose security and power lay in maintaining the status quo. That was why Herod ended up throwing John into prison – John’s clear confrontation and proclamation of his sins put his very station at risk, and Herod couldn’t risk that.
Father, it’s an interesting point that this threefold good news is only good news to those who don’t have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo to protect their self-interests. To them, even good news can be seen as a threat, and move them to quash things before they get out of hand. We can see this dynamic working clearly in the Jewish leaders in their dealings with Jesus. Help me, Lord, to clearly see anyplace that I feel threatened by the truths in Your word, so that I can immediately repent, and fully partake of ALL of Your good news. Amen.