The Dragnet


[Jesus said:] “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 13:47-50 ESV

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15 ESV


Sometimes when a terrible crime has been committed and the person who committed the crime hasn’t been caught, police might do something that is called a dragnet. What this means is that there might be roadblocks in the area where the crime happened and no one is allowed to drive past these roadblocks until the police check them and let them through. Or perhaps all the people in an area will be stopped in their cars or as they are walking and checked out by the police. Good police officers want to separate the good people from the bad people and catch criminals who need to be arrested, while letting innocent people go free.

Jesus talked about the kind of fishing net called a dragnet, and how fishermen threw this net into the water and dragged it along and caught every fish that swam through it. Then the fishermen sat on the shore and kept all the good fish but threw the bad fish back into the water. He said that this was like the end of the world, when God’s angels will bring all the people before his throne and separate the wicked people from the righteous people, and throw the wicked people into hell. While police officers and fishermen might sometimes make a mistake, we can be sure that God and his angels won’t make any mistakes.

It is very frightening to think about this. We know that we are sinful and do wrong things, and we wonder how we can ever be sure that we will be saved from hell and welcomed into heaven. If God judges us by the things we do in our life, we couldn’t ever be saved. But the good news is that God sent Jesus to live the perfect life that we could never live. Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for all our sins and for the sins of the whole world. We who believe in Jesus have all our sins forgiven every day, and because of Jesus we can be sure that we are God’s people and will live forever in his heavenly kingdom.


Dear Jesus, thank you for paying for our sins on the cross so that we can be forgiven and don’t ever have to be afraid of your judgment. Amen.


Weeds and Wheat


He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 ESV

Lord, God of vengeance,
O God of vengeance, shine forth!
Rise up, O judge of the earth;
repay to the proud what they deserve!
Lord, how long shall the wicked,
how long shall the wicked exult?
They pour out their arrogant words;
all the evildoers boast.
They crush your people, O Lord,
and afflict your heritage.
They kill the widow and the sojourner,
and murder the fatherless;
and they say, “The Lord does not see;
the God of Jacob does not perceive.” Psalm 94:1-7 ESV


At the time when King Arthur ruled England in the stories about him, there was peace and justice in his kingdom for many years. People lived securely, and the knights of the round table rode out to help the poor and the powerless and to fight for the rights of people who were oppressed. But this time of goodness and right didn’t last forever, and eventually evil came to King Arthur’s kingdom. A wicked knight named Mordred plotted against the king to get power for himself. Lancelot betrayed King Arthur by falling in love with the king’s wife, Guinevere. Lancelot’s behavior divided the knights of the round table, and they started fighting each other. Lancelot ended up killing his best friend Gawain’s two brothers, and that started a real war among the knights. The evil that entered Camelot spoiled all the good that had come from Arthur’s rule.

King Arthur is only a legend, but his story tells something that is true. Sin and evil often come to ruin and destroy things that are good and right, and it so often just doesn’t seem fair. Jesus told a story about a field of wheat and some weeds to help us understand this. Sometimes we wonder how God could have created a world so full of trouble and pain, and then we remember that the Lord created the world to be good and beautiful, but sin entered the world and spoiled God’s wonderful creation. This is like the enemy that planted weeds in the farmer’s field of good wheat. Then we wonder why God doesn’t just get rid of all the people and things that cause sorrow and pain, just as the farmer’s servants wanted to know if they should go and pull out all the weeds while the wheat was growing. But the farmer said that they might accidentally pull out some of the wheat along with the weeds, and that instead everything should be allowed to grow up together. Only when the harvest time came would the weeds be thrown into the fire.

Sometimes it’s hard to understand why God allows so much evil and wrong in his world, and we often don’t have easy answer for that. But we know that God wants all people to be saved, and he patiently waits for people to come to him in repentance and faith. That’s why he doesn’t immediately destroy evil people when they work against his will. We also know that good things in this world, like schools and families and governments, are often corrupted with evil, but to completely take these things away would cause even more pain and hurt. So God allows evil to happen while his own people live in this world, but the time will come when God will come with judgment and bring all pain and evil to an end. No one could ever escape God’s judgment, because we all are sinful, but Jesus came to live in our broken world and take all of our sins on himself. Jesus died so that our sins could be forgiven, and because of that we can wait for God to bring all evil to an end in his own time.


Dear Heavenly Father, please help us to be patient and to trust you while we wait for your final judgment, and thank you for giving us forgiveness and life in Jesus. In His Name, Amen.

Judgment and Love


In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Luke 7:21-23 ESV

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:16-17 ESV

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. II Peter 3:9 ESV


When you think of the work a police officer does, you might think that he or she is always busy chasing criminals, pulling people over for breaking driving laws, stopping people from committing crimes of robbery and violence, and throwing law-breakers into jail. These are part of a police officer’s job, but there are other things police officers do as well. They might visit schools to explain their work to children and teach them how to obey the law. Police officers help people who are injured because they are able to give first aid. If a child is lost and frightened, a police officer can bring them home and help to make sure the child is safe. Good police officers don’t just try to punish people for breaking the law, but they also work to help and protect people and keep them safe.

When Jesus invited John the Baptist’s followers to watch and see what he did before he sent them back to John, we get a clue as to what made John the Baptist have some doubts about Jesus. John had preached all about God’s law and judgment, and he might have expected Jesus to punish all the evil people and set up a kingdom where God’s law was obeyed. But Jesus didn’t even keep him out of jail or punish the wicked King Herod for all the things he was doing. Jesus instead was teaching about God’s love and healing the sick and raising people from the dead. John wanted to see God’s judgment, and Jesus was showing God’s love and care.

John hadn’t been wrong about the coming judgment of God, and Jesus preached about the Lord’s judgment also. But the greatest of God’s judgment fell on Jesus himself when he took all of our sins onto himself and paid for them at the cross. God’s final judgment will come someday, but he is patient and waiting for as many people as possible to believe in Jesus and have their sins forgiven. We who believe in Jesus don’t have to fear God’s judgment, and we don’t have to be impatient as we wait for God to deal with all the evil in the world. We know that he will do this in his own time, and we rejoice in his patience with us and with others, and share the good news so that many others will also come to know his love.


Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for your patience and love to us. Thank you for sending Jesus to take your judgment on himself. In His Name, Amen.

Woe to the Rich!


[Jesus said:] “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.

“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” Luke 6:24-26 ESV

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you. James 5:1-6 ESV


James Fisk was a man who lived in the 1800s in the United States and became very rich. He is sometimes called a “robber baron,” because his ways of getting rich were not honest, and they hurt other people. For example, he and his partner were able to control a railroad because he sold fake stock in it. He often bribed public officials to do things his way. He and his partner also once caused a collapse of the stock market by driving up the price of gold, and then selling all their gold before the prices fell. When the stock market collapsed, it ruined many people. James Fisk lived a very fancy life. He was heavy and well-fed, he dressed in the best clothes, and many people were fascinated by him. Even though he had a wife, he also became involved with another woman who was an actress. But this actress had another man in her life, and he became jealous. One day this man shot James Fisk, and he died of his wounds.

Jesus warned people who are rich, well-fed, popular, and having a good time that God’s judgment was going to fall on them. He wasn’t talking about people who humbly enjoy the blessings of food and wealth and happiness, but he was talking about people like James Fisk, who misuse God’s gifts in selfish ways and do things to hurt other people for their own benefit. Jesus gave a very stern warning to people who will not follow God’s ways and think that the good things they have are the most important things in life. People who don’t follow God are often selfish and dishonest and hurtful to others, and they don’t live in thankfulness to God for what he’s done for them. Saddest of all, since they only care about the good things they have in life now, they don’t care about the things of God or want his help or forgiveness.

We are all a little like a robber baron sometimes. We all have sin in our lives, and that makes us selfish and hurtful to others, and it makes us want to keep what we have for ourselves and to do whatever we can to make sure we can have everything we want. We stop caring about God or about other people. But Jesus came to die for our sins of selfishness and pride. He sends us his Holy Spirit to give us humble and thankful hearts, hearts that turn to him for forgiveness and want to follow God’s ways instead of our own. The Lord helps us every day to learn to put him first and to use our blessings to help and to serve other people.


Dear Jesus, forgive us for our selfishness and our turning away from you. Please help us to live in humble thanks and service to others. Amen.


Those Who Hear will Live


[Jesus said:] “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” John 5:25-29 ESV

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12:2-3 ESV


The ancient Chinese had many mourning rites that they followed very carefully when someone died. For example, people in mourning had to wear a special mourning cap as well as sackcloth. The other people in the village were not supposed to sing in the lanes or while they were grinding things with a pestle when there had been a death among them. A son was supposed to mourn for his father for three whole years, avoid hard labor, and spend time in meditation during those years. No musical instruments were to be played for about a year when someone was in mourning. One of the most interesting customs of all was that when someone died, the people in mourning tried to call their spirits back. Perhaps they hoped to bring the dead person back to life, or maybe they just wanted to bring the spirits of the dead people close to them again. But no one’s voice can bring a dead person back in any way, no matter how long they call.

Jesus said that a day was coming when people who were dead would hear his voice, and would come out of their graves alive again. Jesus as the Son of God has the power to call dead people back to life, and the day is coming when he will do just that. He said that those who have done good will have everlasting life with him, while those who have done evil will suffer God’s judgment forever.

This is a scary thought. We try to do good, but can we ever do enough good to have everlasting life with Jesus? And we also know that sometimes we do and think and say evil things. In fact, we know that we deserve God’s judgment forever. But Jesus came to save us from God’s judgment by taking all the punishment for our sins on himself when he died on the cross. When we believe in Jesus, we come to life in him, and all our sins are forgiven. He sends us his Holy Spirit to work inside us to do good, and it’s the good that God himself works for us and in us that Jesus will see on judgment day. Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we can look forward to life forever with him.


Dear Jesus, thank you for taking our judgment on yourself so that we can look forward to life forever with you. Amen.


Words of Authority


And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee. Mark 1:21-28 ESV

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. Ephesians 1:16-21 ESV


There are studies that show that there are certain ways of speaking that make others believe that you speak with authority. Some people even give others lessons on how to use your voice so that other people will listen to you and respect what you say. Speaking with authority means sometimes speaking loudly and sometimes more softly–not yelling all the time. It also means speaking at a higher pitch, but not changing the pitch too much. A former prime minister of Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher, took lessons so that she could speak with authority. When she was first the prime minister, her speaking voice made her sound to some people as if she were shrieking, but as time went on her speaking improved because of these lessons.

Jesus spoke with authority, but he didn’t have to take any speaking lessons to do that. His authority came from what his words accomplished. People listened to him because he was different from other teachers that they were used to hearing. Other religious teachers would only quote other teachers from the past, and they would never say anything new or different, but Jesus spoke for himself. He was the Son of God, and he had the authority to speak the word of God to the people. Not only did he teach with authority, but he also proved that he could command evil spirits to come out of people and stop bothering them, and the demons would obey him. When a man with an evil spirit came into the synagogue where Jesus was teaching, he tried to argue with Jesus, but Jesus told the demon to be quiet and come out of the man. The demon cried out and threw the man to the ground, but then he left the man. He had to obey Jesus’ authority.

God’s word still speaks to us with authority. It tells us the way the Lord wants us to live, and it shows us how we fall short of obeying God’s law. When we hear the authority of God’s word, we know that we are sinners and we hear words of the Lord’s judgment on us. But there is another word of authority, and that is the word of forgiveness. Jesus won that forgiveness by dying on the cross for us. When we hear God’s word of love, we know that we are his forgiven people, and that no evil powers can ever hurt us. We belong to Jesus, who has complete authority over death and the devil, and Jesus will protect us and keep us his always.


Dear Jesus, thank you for making us yours and having authority over all the evil that wants to hurt us. Amen.


Coming to the Light


[Jesus said:]  “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” John 3:18-20 ESV

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:5-9 ESV


Some scientists did a study to see if darkness encourages people act to in bad ways. They put some people into two different rooms, one very bright and the other dim, and gave the people a task to do. The people could reward themselves with money for doing the task. The scientists found out that people who were in the dimly-lighted room cheated with money more than people in the brightly-lit room did. Then they did another experiment, and this time everyone was in a brightly-lit room, but some people wore sunglasses that shaded the light from their eyes. The scientists found out that the people who were wearing sunglasses acted more selfishly and unfairly with money than the people who were not wearing sunglasses! It seems as if darkness can actually encourage people to act in some bad ways.

When Jesus was talking to Nicodemus, he talked about people who sin against God as being in the darkness with their evil deeds. God sent light into the world, but people don’t want to come into the light because that would show just how sinful they are. They prefer to stay in the dark and be condemned by God’s judgment. But some people come into the light because God works in them and through them to bring them out of darkness to do his work instead of their own evil deeds.

We know that Jesus is the light, and that coming to Jesus means that we have the forgiveness of our sins. He gave his life for us on the cross so that we could have his forgiveness and love, and when he brings us into the light, we also share his love with each other. We aren’t in the light because we don’t sin, but because we’ve confessed our sins to God and he’s forgiven us for Jesus’ sake.


Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for bringing us out of the darkness and into the light of Jesus. In His Name, Amen.


Not Condemned but Saved


[Jesus said to Nicodemus]: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:16 ESV

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:3-7 ESV


Dave had disobeyed his dad by doing something his dad had told him not to do. He had gotten into the car without permission and started to play with the switches and levers. When his dad came into the garage and saw what he was doing, Dave ran away. He was afraid, and didn’t want to be punished for disobeying. He ran to an empty lot near his home and climbed up a tree. But now Dave was in even more trouble. The limb of the tree that he was sitting on was dead, and it would soon break under his weight. If the limb were to break while he was on it, he would come crashing to the ground and  be seriously hurt. Dave’s dad came looking for him, and when he found him he saw immediately the danger that Dave was in. His dad started to climb the tree to bring his son down, and Dave was really afraid then! He thought his Dad was coming after him to punish him, but instead his dad was coming to save him from being badly hurt.

God, our Heavenly Father, is a lot like Dave’s dad. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that the reason he had come into the world is because of God’s love for everyone. We had all disobeyed God and run away from him to escape the punishment we deserve. But God loved the world so much that he sent Jesus, and everyone who believes in Jesus won’t die forever as a punishment for sin, but instead have a life with God that will have no end. Some people might be afraid that Jesus came to judge and punish sin, but that isn’t the reason at all. Jesus came to save us from our sins by taking them on himself. He took those sins to the cross and took all of God’s judgment for our sins there. Because of Jesus, we are saved, and we have eternal life.

These Bible verses are sometimes called the Gospel in a nutshell. That means that these verses tell us quickly and simply what we most need to know about God’s love for us, and what he did for us through Jesus. They are easy to share with others, and can give us the best of God’s comfort when we feel sad or scared.


Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for loving us so much that you sent Jesus, our Savior. In His Name, Amen.


Zeal for His Father’s House


The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” John 2:13-17 ESV

Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
O Lord God of hosts;
let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me,
O God of Israel.
For it is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
that dishonor has covered my face.
I have become a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my mother’s sons.

For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me. Psalm 69:6-9 ESV


Mr. Corse was the teacher in Almanzo’s school. He was gentle and kind, unlike other teachers Almanzo had had. Other teachers might beat a little boy’s hand with a ruler if he hadn’t learned his lesson well, but Mr. Corse would just tell him to stay in at recess and learn it. There were some rough older boys at Almanzo’s school, and they often broke up the school by badly beating up the teacher. These boys were planning to beat up Mr. Corse, and the other students knew it was going to happen. They were very upset, and some of the little girls were crying. But when the rough boys tried to jump on Mr. Corse and beat him up, the teacher took a blacksnake ox-whip and lashed a couple of them with it. The gang was so upset and frightened that they ran away, and they didn’t hurt Mr. Corse or break up the school.

Jesus is a lot like Mr. Corse. He is gentle and kind with people who are weak, but he is stern with evil. When he saw the business that was going on in the temple, his Father’s house, he became very angry. What was happening in the temple was very wrong. People who traveled from a distance to worship God couldn’t always bring their own animals for sacrifices, so they would buy an ox or a sheep or a pigeon at the temple. They also couldn’t use Roman money to pay the temple tax, because it had the emperor’s image on it, so there were moneychangers at the temple who would exchange Roman money for Jewish money. The temple officials made a big profit out of these businesses because they took advantage of the people who were coming to worship. Jesus took a whip and drove their businesses out of the temple, with all the animals, and he turned over the tables with all the money on them with a crash. The Son of God was angry with these sins, and he carried out God’s judgment on them.

Jesus is gentle and kind with people who come to him for help and forgiveness, but he is stern with people who do evil things and aren’t sorry for them. We all rebel against the Lord’s holy law and deserve his judgment, but Jesus came to take God’s judgment on himself. He went to the cross to die for all the sins in the world, and he offers forgiveness to everyone who turns away from evil. He sends us his Holy Spirit to help us want to stop doing things that are wrong and to make us able to look to Jesus for forgiveness and help. Because of what he’s done on the cross for us, we can be sure that Jesus will be gentle and kind to us when we turn to him.


Dear Jesus, thank you for your love and forgiveness. Amen.


Wilder, Laura Ingalls Farmer Boy New York: Harper and Brothers, 1933.

The Holy Spirit and Fire


But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:7-12 ESV

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. I Peter 1:6-7 ESV

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. I Thessalonians 1:5-8 ESV


There was once a wolf who always wanted to eat some sheep from a flock, but the shepherd was very watchful and the wolf could never catch one. Then one day he found a sheepskin that had been left lying on the ground, and so he put that sheepskin on over his fur and was able to sneak into the flock that way. He caught and ate all the sheep he wanted until one day the shepherd decided to eat one of his sheep for dinner. He happened to take the wolf in sheep’s clothing, and ate him!

We often talk about a wolf in sheep’s clothing when we mean someone who is pretending to be something he or she is not. John the Baptist had some very stern words for the religious leaders of his time. They were coming out to hear him speak and be baptized, but John could tell they were only pretending to be sorry for their sins. He compared them to a bunch of snakes, and he also called them trees who never gave any fruit. This meant that their lives didn’t show any evidence that they had turned away from their sins. He said that they would be cut down with an ax and thrown into the fire, even though they were the descendants of Abraham. God wasn’t interested in who their father was, but instead if they lived in repentance and faith.

John the Baptist used a lot of other pictures in his words. He talked about a winnowing fork that separated grains of wheat from their husks. People who wouldn’t turn away from their sins would be like husks that were thrown into the fires of judgment forever. John said that he baptized people with water, but that someone was coming who would baptize people with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John was pointing ahead to Jesus, and the baptism Jesus gives us through his church gives us the forgiveness of sins, and it also gives us the Holy Spirit so we can have new life in him. Sometimes God allows us to go through tough times, and these times can seem like times of fire, but that fire is helping our faith to be stronger and more pure, the way fire purifies gold. Our faith is more precious to God than all the gold in the world, and the Holy Spirit gives us our faith and helps us stay strong till the end, when we will be like wheat that is taken safely into the barn.


Dear Jesus, help us to be sorry for our sins and to come to you every day for forgiveness. Please send your Holy Spirit to help us stay strong in our faith, no matter what. Amen.