Tag Archives: John the Baptist

John, Unbendable Reed

 

Reference: Luke 7:19-28

John the Baptist’s public ministry lasted one-to-two years. Jesus went to John to be baptized. Baptizing Jesus was the high point of John’s ministry. Then, King Herod Antipas arrested John and imprisoned him at Machaerus, a walled fortress with special quarters for political prisoners. When King Herod arrested John, the ostensible reason was that John criticized Herod for divorcing his powerful Nabatean wife.

Although King Herod used a personal reason for imprisoning John, getting John out of circulation made political sense. John mandated that individuals, who came to him for baptism, change their behavior.  John advocated economic changes that influenced King Herod’s income. For example, John told tax collectors to collect only the amount of money required by Rome. They should stop lining their pockets and those of King Herod by over-taxing citizens. Soldiers must be content with their pay and stop extorting money from individuals. John had tremendous influence with people in Herod’s kingdom. According to the first century historian, Josephus, Herod feared that John, with his widespread support from the common people, would instigate rebellion against him.5

After John was in prison perhaps 15-18 months, he sent two disciples to Jesus. They asked Jesus if he was the expected Messiah, or if they should look for someone else (Luke 7.19). Jesus didn’t give the disciples a direct “Yes” or “No” answer.  Instead Jesus told the disciples to go back to John and report what they saw and heard, i.e., the blind received their sight, the lame walked, lepers were cured. After John’s messengers left, Jesus asked the crowd what they expected when they went to see John in the desert. Jesus contrasted John the Baptist’s behavior with a reed that blew in the wind, swaying first one way than another.

The reed that Jesus referred to when talking about John was the Arundo donax, known as the giant reed or the Cypress cane. Reed colonies were located on the banks of natural water courses, in floodplains of medium or large sized streams, and in dry river banks far from permanent water sources. Reeds grew throughout Israel from Mount Hermon to the Negev Desert.

Giant Reed

Giant reeds are perennials; they regrow year-after-year. Reeds  reach a height of 20 feet and may grow 10-12 feet in a single season. In frost areas, reeds are smaller. Often, they die back in winter, only to regrow in spring. Like bamboo grass, the giant reed spreads readily. Roots are thick, knobby rhizomes. In nature, this reed often propagates by rhizomes breaking from the main root stock, moving through the water, and taking root in a new location. The central reed stalk is called a culm; culms are about 1 ½ inches in diameter and hollow. Each culm has many leaves that resemble corn stalks; however, leaves have sharp edges that can cut fingers.

Culms and leaves are green in spring and early summer. As drier weather prevails, foliage turns light brown and rattles in the wind. Giant reeds bend with the wind, even when they grow in large colonies. In ancient times, reeds were used to check soil erosion and functioned as wind breaks.

Symbolism: Unbendable

Jesus asked the crowd if they expected to see a reed swaying in the wind when they went out to see John the Baptist. In New Testament times, individuals knew about reeds.  At a minimum, they saw reeds growing along the Jordan River. To them reeds elicited mainly positive thoughts. Perhaps, they remembered how Isaiah associated reeds with humility (Isaiah 58.5).

Jesus denied that John was a swaying reed. John was firm and upright, unlike a reed that swayed in the wind. Jesus averred that John’s beliefs were firm, and he lived by them. John stayed on message (repentance) and on task, (baptism). John didn’t have a politically correct bone in his body. He didn’t pander to public opinion, giving one message to common people and a second one to the rich and powerful. John called the Jerusalem elite “a brood of vipers.” Nor, was John silent when King Herod divorced his first wife, Phasaelis, to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias.  Instead, John labeled Herod an adulterer.

Despite Jesus denying that John was a swaying reed, John’s behavior reflected how reeds were used in ancient Judea and Galilee. By his words and life, John stood against the erosion of godly living. He called ordinary citizens, tax collectors, and civil and religious leaders to a life changed to reflect God’s standards.

Like reeds used as windbreaks, John stood as a buffer between people who were righteous and the secular society of the Roman Empire. The best windbreaks lower wind chill in man, animals, and plants. Everything we know about John the Baptist showed a priest and prophet who lived close to God. As a windbreak John, lowered the chilling effects of the secular Roman society on inhabitants of Galilee and Judea.

Jesus’s comments on John the Baptist included a eulogy for John. In addition to commendatory words given at a memorial service, eulogy means “high praise.” Although John was still alive, Jesus eulogized him by saying of all men (and women) born of woman, there was none greater than John the Baptist. John wasn’t a weak reed, or as we would say in the 21 century, John the Baptist wasn’t a “shrinking violet.”

Reflection: What about you? Do you bend and sway with all types of adversity?

Copyright: 7/26/18; Carolyn A. Roth

Visit my website: CarolynRothMinistry.com

Separating Wheat and Chaff

Bible Reference: Matthew 3:12

In John the Baptist teaching, wheat referred to the kingdom of heaven. John the Baptist discussed separating wheat from chaff. According to John wheat will be taken into God’s storehouse while weeds and chaff are destroyed.

Wheat was the first grain identified in the Old Testament (Genesis 30.14); and one of seven species that Moses told Israelites that they would find growing in the promised land (Deuteronomy 8.8). Wheat was valued because of its high nutrition content. Although an important food source, growing, threshing, winnowing, and grinding wheat required effort.

John referred to Jesus when he said: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather and store his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3.12 ESV).  In ancient Judea, wheat was emmer or einkorn; not the wheat grown in Israel today, nor the wheat grown in the United States.

At harvest,  men cut wheat stalks with a sickle. Farmers with livestock cut stalks close to the ground to use stalks as animal fodder. Farmers without livestock cut stalks close to the seed head to minimize amount of threshing. Children gathered stalks into bundles and took  bundles to the threshing floor, a cleared and compacted parcel of ground up to 40 feet in diameter. Sometimes, one threshing floor served an entire village.

On threshing floors, farmers used an ox-drawn disc or threshing sledge to cut wheat stalks, but not crush grain (Isaiah 28.27-28). Threshing sledges were made of wooden boards with iron or stone projections on the bottom. The projections cut the stalks and allowed grain to separate and fall to the floor. Horses or oxen pulled sledges over grain stalks spread on the threshing floor.

The farmer separated wheat kernels from chaff (dirt, grain hulls) using winnowing. Winnowing consisted of throwing the threshed materials (chaff and grain) into the air with a fork or a basket. Wind separated valuable wheat grains from chaff. Because wheat kernels were heavier than chaff, they fell to the ground or back into the basket. The lighter chaff, dirt, etc., were blown away by wind. At times, farmers used fans to create air currents to separate chaff and other impurities away from valuable wheat kernels. Often, threshing floors were located on a hill top or side to take advantage of wind currents. Finally, the grain was gathered into jars or bins for storage; chaff was burned (Matthew 3.12).

John preached personal acknowledgement and repentance of sins followed by baptism—full body emersion—in water as an outward sign of repentance. Mostly, John baptized individuals in the Jordan River.  Figuratively, the water of baptism washed sins away. John didn’t stop with a message of repentance and physical act of baptism. John exhorted those baptized to change their behavior and bear fruit consistent with repentance (Luke 3.8-14).

Reflection: God doesn’t want any individual to perish. He gives each person time to repent.  Regretfully, individuals who don’t repent and trust in Jesus as their Savior are going to be pulled up, bundled, and destroyed.

Copyright: July 24, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth

Website: CarolynRothMinistry.com

Winnowing Wheat, Winnowing Us

Girl winnowing wheat

Bible Reference: Matthew 3:12

John the Baptist parable on winnowing described separating chaff from wheat:

His winnowing fan (shovel, fork) is in His hand, and He will thoroughly     clear out and clean His threshing floor and gather and store His wheat in His barn, but the chaff He will burn up with fire that cannot be put out. Matthew 3:13 The Amplified Bible.

John spoke this parable to foretell actions of the coming Messiah (Christ). John preached personal acknowledgement and repentance of sins followed by baptism—full body emersion—in water as an outward sign of repentance. The water of baptism washed sins away. John didn’t stop with his message of repentance and physical act of baptism. John exhorted those baptized to change their behavior and bear fruit consistence with repentance (Luke 3:8-14). When the baptized asked him what they should do, John’s answer wasn’t that they quit their jobs; rather in their lives and jobs, they should act honorably, treat others fairly, and share with the less fortunate. For example, John told men with two tunics to give one to the man who had none. Soldiers should stop accusing people falsely and extorting money from them.

John the Baptist spoke bluntly to the multitudes that came to him for baptism; but reserved his worst denunciations for the Jerusalem’s elite, i.e., Pharisees, Sadducees, and priests. He called them vipers (Luke 3:7). The fierceness of his words, suggests firsthand knowledge of their behavior. Perhaps, when he rotated through the Jerusalem temple as a priest, John saw the excesses, insincerity, and, yes, even corruption that infected the leaders of the Herodian-style Jerusalem temple.

Separating Wheat from Chaff

In ancient Judea, wheat kernels (seed, grain) were separated from the chaff (stalks, straw) on threshing floors. Generally, chaff was unusable except as fodder for livestock. The farmer separated the wheat kernels from the chaff using a process called winnowing. Winnowing consisted of throwing the threshed material (chaff and grain) into the air with a fork or a winnowing basket. The wind separated the valuable grains of wheat from the chaff. Because wheat kernels were heavier than chaff, they fell to the ground. The lighter chaff, dirt, etc., were blown away by the wind. At times, farmers used fans to create air currents to blow chaff and other impurities away from the valuable wheat kernels.

Application

When John the Baptists told the parable of winnowing wheat and chaff, the spiritual reality was that the coming Messiah (Christ) would distinguish or separate the righteous from the unrighteous. Christ would critically analyze peoples’ hearts, not pious actions that were outward displays for show. John said that sincere, righteous individuals – the wheat kernels—would be taken and stored in the farmer’s barn, i.e., heaven. In contrast, the chaff, those with pretend piety, will be forever burned.

Reflection: God is not going to accept any dirt, chaff or straw into his barn. Where does that leave you and me?

Check out http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com books on plants.

Copyright August 11, 2016; all rights reserved.

John the Baptist: No Weak Reed

????????????Christ description of John the Baptist as no feeble reed is in Luke 7:18-35.

About to begin his public ministry, Jesus went John to be baptized.  John preached a baptism for the repentance of sin. At first John declined to baptize Jesus recognizing that Christ was the sinless son of God. John persuaded John to baptize him by saying that the baptism was necessary to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:13). To fulfill all righteousness indicated that Jesus was consecrated to God and officially approved by him. 

Soon after the baptism of Christ, King Herod Antipas imprisoned John. John openly disapproved of Herod’s marriage to Herodias, Herod’s brother’s wife (Matthew 14:3-5).  Herod divorced his first wife to marry Herodias. John’s prison was Machaerus, Herod’s fortress-palace on the east side of the Dead Sea. 

While imprisoned, John sent two of his disciples to Galilee to ask Christ, “are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else” (Luke 7:19). Christ did not give John’s disciples a direct “Yes” or “No” answer. Instead he told them to go back to John and report what they saw and heard, e.g., the blind received their sight, the lame walked, and lepers were cured.

After John’s messenger left, Christ asked the crowd what they expected when they went to the desert to see John: a reed swaying in the wind, a man dressed in fine clothes, or a prophet?  When Christ asked the crowd if they expected to see a swaying reed, he was referring to the firmness of John’s conviction and message. John’s message did not depend on his audience. He had the same message for tax collectors, religious leaders, and rulers:  repent, for the kingdom of heaven is a hand. John was not politically correct.  He never altered his message to accommodate an audience. He was a straight reed that did not sway from of his convictions; thus, his imprisonment and death.

The Reed

The reed that Christ alluded to was the Arundo donax, known as the giant reed or the Cypress cane. The giant reed was introduced into the Middle East and Europe from the sub-continent of Asia. The largest colonies are located on the banks of natural water courses, in floodplains of medium or large sized streams, and in dry river banks far from permanent water sources. Often the reed is found where water sources have been physically disturbed or dammed.  In Israel A. donax grows throughout the country from Mount Hermon to the Negev Desert. At one time, botanist thought the giant reed could not tolerate salt and maritime exposure; however, giant reeds have grown on sand dunes near seashores, e.g. the Sharon Plain. It tolerates strong winds and just about any type of soil. The giant reed will not grow in the shade.

Symbolism: Conviction, Convict

In the vignette of John the Baptist and the swaying reed, the symbolism is conviction. A conviction is a firmly held belief that something is true, real, and certain. John lived his convictions; he stayed on message (repentance) and on task (baptizing). My husband calls John “a straight arrow” because John did not deviate from his convictions. John was like the long straight culms of the giant reed which grew along the Jordan River where John baptized repentant sinners. 

Today the world has an even stronger voice than that of John to convict us of sin. The Holy Spirit is in the world to convict individuals of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). The Holy Spirits convicts individuals of original sin and their need to repent, accept Christ as Savior, and be baptized. At the same time Holy Spirit has a convicting role in the lives of Christians as well. If we listen, the Holy Spirit tells us which parts of their lives are righteous and which are sinful. Then we can make sound judgments about aspects of our lives to change.   

Jude wrote that God and his holy ones will convict sinners about the harsh words that they have spoken against him (Jude 1:15). Sometimes Christians speak harshly about God when they do not get their own way, or do not understand reasons for circumstances in their lives.  At times, we laugh at jokes about God. Years ago I heard a joke about the Holy Spirit. I am still stunned that anyone had the temerity to joke about God’s spirit (Mark 3:29). Rarely do we speak up when an individual disrespects God by cursing or discounts the Holy Scriptures. Both laughter and silence imply agreement and can be as harsh as outspoken words against God.      

John could have been silent when Herod divorced his first wife so he could marry his brother’s wife. He wasn’t silent and he paid for his out-spoken convictions with his life. I wonder if we as Christians should speak out more often on the rampant immorality in our world. Yes, we will get push-back and that push-back may label us as intolerant, bigots, etc. Our reputations may be shredded as a result of speaking our convictions. John the Baptist cared more about his convictions than his reputation in the world.

Prayer: God, please give us men and women today who have convictions and beliefs and are not buffeted by winds of change and political correctness. Lord, give our churches and society men and women who will speak up for you.

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright May 13, 2013; Carolyn A. Roht

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