Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 2 Study # 5
Thesis: The "ax" (God's instrument of elimination from His orchard) is being applied to the root of the trees on the basis of the "united doctrines" of the "snakiness of man" and the "graciousness of God in Jesus as God's Christ".
Introduction: We have been looking into the message of God through John as he came into prominence in Judea somewhere around A.D. 26 according to our calendar. We have seen that he came on the scene with a relatively "radical" message in terms of its contrast to the "standard Jewish theology" that was prevalent in his day. Standard Jewish theology was all about two "united doctrines": the Justice of God and the Free Will of Man. The inevitable result of these "united doctrines" was pictured by the wilderness into which all had to go in order to hear John preach. That inevitable result was a split reality. On one hand, there were those whose faith in the theology turned them into towering hypocrites of incredible arrogance -- the inevitable result of "faith" in "free will" in the face of divine Justice. These were pictured by the mountains. And on the other hand, there were those whose faith in the theology buried them in an incredible avalanche of despair -- the inevitable result of "faith" in "divine Justice" in the face of free will. These were pictured by the valleys.
John's "radical" message was also a doctrine of two "united doctrines". On the one hand, he declared a pronounced doctrine of the "effective grace of Yahweh" Who was willing to "forgive" both the roots and fruits of the "united doctrines" of apostate Israel. And on the other hand he declared a pronounced doctrine of the "snakiness of Man" as essentially a snake in need of regeneration, not reform.
This morning we are going to dive into another aspect of John's message: his declaration that the ax is already being applied to the roots of the trees. What did he mean?
March 5, 2006
- I. The Metaphor in the Large-History Perspective.
- A. One of the problems of understanding the Word of God results from the fact that God "speaks" simultaneously about the large issues of His overall plan in human history and to the individuals who are in that plan at the particular point of their own personal history (which is limited to approximately 70 years).
- 1. Example One: there is a doctrine of the "Rapture" of the Church in God's words about His Plan. Technically, it will only actually be experienced by one generation of that Church, but it is proclaimed to every generation with an understanding that it will "make a difference" in the lives of those who hear it.
- 2. Example Two: in Genesis three, God told Eve that her "seed" would bruise the head of the serpent, but that "Seed" did not come into the historical scene for 4,000 years. Clearly God wanted His promise to Eve to "make a difference", but, just as clearly, He had no intention of doing what He said in her earthly lifetime.
- B. The "application of the ax" in the Large-History Perspective.
- 1. To understand this, we must understand what the "ax" represents.
- a. The physical reality for the metaphor isn't "hard".
- 1) A man has an orchard from which he desires to harvest "good fruit".
- 2) He discovers over time that his orchard has been corrupted by two kinds of trees: one kind bears an inferior fruit that he despises; and the other kind is barren.
- 3) He determines a "time" in which he will go through his orchard and mark every tree that bears the kind of fruit he seeks (or vice-versa).
- 4) Then he determines a "time" in which he will go through his orchard and use an ax to cut down every despised tree and gather them into a pile and burn them.
- b. The proper understanding of the metaphor is a bit more difficult.
- 1) Israel is God's orchard.
- 2) Israel's "uniting" of the two doctrines of Divine Justice and Human Free Will has produced both the worthless fruit of self-righteousness and the barrenness of despair.
- 3) The "time" of "fruit evaluation" is the "time" of John's preaching and Jesus' manifestation of the grace of God during the sixty-ninth week of Daniel.
- 4) The "time" of the purging of the orchard is the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
- c. The "ax" is Rome's armies as the agent of the destruction of the trees of the orchard.
- 1) Any thing, or event, that removes people from participation in the orchard of God is an "ax".
- 2) The wholesale destruction of the people of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was an unmistakeable "ax".
- 2. The destruction of Judea was one of the Large-History applications of the ax of God.
- II. The Metaphor in the small-history Perspective.
- A. John declares that the "application of the ax" is "already" in progress.
- 1. He either means that "trees" are already being chopped down, or he means that they are being evaluated for their fruitfulness in anticipation of the application of the ax.
- 2. The warning about fruitlessness implies that his meaning is the latter: it is the crisis time when the trees are being evaluated for the "goodness" of their fruit.
- B. John's declaration has a non-A.D.-70 application.
- 1. Ultimately, the "application of the ax" is at the time when God decides that this tree is no longer going to be tolerated.
- 2. The "times" of trees may be set in the A.D. 70 event, or they may be individually set at the choice of the Owner.
- 3. As far as any individual was concerned, it really did not matter whether God reserved him for the Destruction of the City and Nation, or whether He simply cut him off in the privacy of his own small historical setting.
- III. The Meaning of the Application of the Ax.
- A. The cutting of the tree from its roots is, obviously, the "death" of the tree.
- B. The burning with fire is an indication that God is not satisfied with just cutting the tree down.
- C. The critical issue: the cutting of the tree from its "roots" is far more than mere physical death; it is the permanent elimination of the tree from any further participation in God's orchard.
- 1. The "fire" issue in the Bible is invariably an issue of a complete destruction.
- 2. The "complete destruction" of the tree is its "absolute" rejection from the orchard.
- 3. The metaphor breaks down at this point because the Bible makes a strong distinction between God's physical creation and His creation of "spiritual personalities". The physical is to be destroyed; the "personhood" is to endure forever.
- IV. The Determining Criterion.
- A. There is only one determining criterion: legitimate fruit.
- B. When the question of what constitutes "legitimate fruit" comes up, the context allows only one "definition": the fruit that naturally flows from the divine regeneration of snakes into the children of the Friend of God.
- C. The danger here is significant: God does not entrust the "fruit inspection" to frail men who have no ability to see the issues clearly.
- 1. Bad fruit is not hard to "see" (at least in "others").
- 2. Good fruit is another matter because of the heightened skill of hypocrites as well as the subtilty of the work of the Spirit in the lives of believers who often do not even recognize the "goodness" of their actions.
- 3. And, the biblical doctrine is that, as long as our bodies are unregenerated, there is a factual production of both "good" and "bad" fruit that makes the "evaluation" problematical for all but God and those given insight by Him.
- D. John's words were not given to men to evaluate each other: they were given to men so that they might come to a one-on-one interaction of repentance with God Himself.
- 1. Men have an enormous propensity for the "outward look": hearing a sermon and immediately thinking of someone who "needs to hear this".
- 2. Men have an equally enormous propensity for the failure to hear for themselves. [Illustration: the girl who "believed" in taking from those who have to give to those who do not have -- until it came time to take from her.]