Summary: John threatened the Pharisees and Sadducees that God would cut them down. We are all cut down to size from time to time, and we need it.
12.8.19 Matthew 3:10
Already the ax is ready to strike the root of the trees. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
God has compared Himself to a dove, an eagle, a lion, a tower, a fortress, a counselor and a friend. Today God puts on the flannel shirt and boots, grabs an axe in His hands, and plays the part of the great and mighty lumberjack: the Paul Bunyan of heaven. He sharpens His axe and heads out into the forest. He’s ready to chop some trees down. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. If you’ve ever chopped down a tree, you know how refreshing and powerful it can make you feel as they fall to the ground.
In the Old Testament lesson we have a vivid example of God chopping down a tree. God chopped down a mighty tree by the name of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who nobody thought could fall. He was full of pride, as he felt that he had success and riches because of his own power. He thought he was a god of sorts, and he had no qualms about oppressing his people. The true God gave him a vision of a mighty tree being chopped down. When Daniel interpreted the dream, he warned the king that if he didn’t repent, the Lord God of Israel would chop him down to size. Nebuchadnezzar wouldn’t listen, so God made him temporarily insane. He thought he was an animal and ate grass like a cow would. His hair and nails grew out. When God finally restored his sanity, he then realized how weak he was, and how powerful God was. The axe of the Lumberjack had swung.
When John was baptizing by the Jordan River, he said that the Pharisees and the Sadducees were on the chopping block. I’m not sure why they came out to see John baptizing. Did they want to go through baptism too, or were they just going there as an inspection of John? Either way, even if they were planning on being baptized, it was only for show. They didn’t think they really needed baptism, because they thought they were acceptable to God just for being members of the Jewish race. So John threatened them with God the Lumberjack. He said that the axe was at the foot of the tree. God was sizing it up. He also threatened them that they would be thrown into the fires of hell when they were cut off. And that’s the worst part of all.
John must have seemed half crazy, and maybe he had to look that way with the people he was dealing with. He dressed in camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist. He was such an open contrast to the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were all about their flowing gowns and robes. They seemed to me to be very prim and proper. A clean Mormon type of religion. John was anything but that. There was a reason for it. Everything that he was was meant to paint a picture of repentance. He went into a barren land, to represent the barren-ness of sin that was rampant in the land. He wore camel’s hair because he wanted the people to feel uncomfortable about their sins. He didn’t spend time gorging himself on fine food because he wanted the people to see that it was no time to feast when they were about to be judged. But the Pharisees and Sadducees felt that they were the ultimate Jews because of how they behaved and how they dressed. Repentance wasn’t really part of their language. John threatened them. God the lumberjack was going to cut them down.
We need to hear this too, even as Christians. It is the message of Advent. We are more used to the pleasant God, the smiling God, the generous God, the friendly God, who holds us by the hand as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. These are pictures of God that we like - and they’re good pictures that are meant to comfort us. We feel safe with baby Jesus in the crib, lying in a manger. We don’t feel threatened by a God who is dying on a cross and allowing us to crucify Him. What harm is He? He’s all about love and forgiveness. He’s willing to die for me. He loves me with an unconditional love. This God doesn’t scare me at all.
But here, He’s sharpening his axe and He’s getting ready to violently cut someone down right at the roots. He’s scary. He seems much too aggressive for today’s Christian. He looks too mean, too masculine, and too threatening. But when you read God’s Word, He threatens all the time. We’ve lived under so much prosperity, and today’s parents never use threats any more, so younger Christians don’t know how to respond when the Lumberjack comes. They tend to get easily angry or be offended if they are told they are sinning and threatened with God’s wrath. They walk away and ignore the message. They say, “I don’t believe in bullies.”