This blog post is part of a series of posts that will explore the Atonement by studying Christ’s life in the New Testament. If you want to find the assignments, you can download my eBooks for Matthew, Mark, (Luke, and John coming soon).
The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ–Assignment for Matthew 3
Read Matthew 3. Ponder the following questions. Write your own thoughts in your scripture journal.
- In Matthew 3:11-12, we learn that Christ will baptize us with the Holy Ghost. We also learn that He will purge His wheat, and burn the chaff. What does this mean? How does it relate to the Atonement? How does Christ’s Atonement sanctify those who choose to follow Him into the waters of baptism? How does His Atonement save the good and destroy the wicked?
- In verses 13-17, Christ is baptized. How is this a part of the bigger picture of the Atonement that He will perform?
- As you know, Christ was baptized even though He was holy. Think of your own baptism. Who made baptism possible for you? When you are baptized, you are then able to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. How has this Gift helped you in your life? How have the covenant of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost impacted your relationship with the Savior?
I have a few thoughts about this set of scriptures–especially when I think of the Atonement. Mainly, I’m struck by the idea that the Atonement can both cleanse us from our sins and sanctify us.
In Matthew 3:11-12, we read:
” I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” – Matthew 3:11-12
John the Baptist is speaking to a group of people in these verses. They understood the need to be baptized, and came to him to have this ordinance performed. They understood that in order to receive salvation, they would need to be cleansed from their sins through baptism; they knew they needed to covenant with God.
It is Christ’s Atonement that enables us to make this covenant and be cleansed in the water of Baptism. Jesus teaches:
“And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.” – 3 Nephi 27:19
In order to enter into the kingdom of God, we must “wash” our garments in His blood. Christ truly shed His blood for us in the garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross at calvary. We “wash” our garments in His blood when we covenant with Him in the waters of baptism. In this way, we are clean, and then worthy to enter into the kingdom.
But the thing is, we know that it doesn’t end there. John the Baptist teaches that we will not only be baptized by water, but that Christ will baptize us with the Holy Ghost. This leads us to…
In order to be baptized (with water), we must repent and have faith in Christ. The cleansing effect of the baptism by water prepares us for the next step: Sanctification through baptism of fire (or the Holy Ghost).
It is easy to want to think that being cleansed=being sanctified. But…they are different
If you look up the word sanctify in a dictionary, you will find the following definition: “To make holy to set apart as sacred; to consecrate.” When Christ baptizes us with the Holy Ghost and with fire, He sanctifies us. He makes us holy. He sets us apart as sacred beings. He consecrates us. Then we are able to enter into God’s kingdom, as we are both clean and Holy. Again, in 3 Nephi, Jesus taches:
“Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.” – 3 Nephi 27:20
The thing that really strikes me is that the audience who is listening to John, as I mentioned earlier, is pretty much faithful. They are willing to be baptized. They want to covenant with God. Yet, then he teaches about Christ saying, “Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
I’ve always thought of this verse as having to do with those who accept the gospel and Christ vs. those who don’t. And in some ways, I suppose that’s true. But, as I think about this verse, Christ’s role as our Savior, Redeemer, Atoner, and the fact that most of the people hearing John say this are already faithful, then I come away with a new understanding.
Jesus has the fan in his hand. He’s ready to fan the flames. He will turn up the heat, so to speak. We who have covenanted with Him and who are righteous are gathered and saved in the garner. Those who aren’t probably didn’t even make it to the threshing area. They were most likely bundled with the weeds long before.
In this verse, John uses the imagery of wheat and chaff.
Now, time for me to turn to the dictionary again. If you do, then you will learn that chaff is not a separate plant. It isn’t a tare or weed. It is the husk of grain that is separated during threshing.The chaff is, originally, a part of the blade of wheat. So…when it was gathered from the field, it was part of the “good” plant.
However, the chaff is a useless part of the plant. In order to get to the seed, the good and useful part of the plant, then we must get rid of the chaff–exposing the useful, edible part of the plant.
We are like these wheat plants. We have been gathered in, and now we’re being separated–our fruit from the chaff. Through the Atonement of Christ, what is good and useful inside each of us can be made available. Christ will rid us of our chaff–through sanctification: baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost. This purging isn’t always easy. I think that sometimes getting rid of our rough, “useless” edges is kind of hard. We don’t really want to let that stuff go. This purging means that we will begin to recognize the ways that we need to change in order to become more like our Savior and Exemplar. Such change is only possible through Christ’s Atonement. Through His Atonement, the Lord will “thresh” us–separating the “chaff” – or natural man, from the “seed” – our divine nature and true identity.
When we choose to covenant with Christ in the waters of baptism, we let the power of the Atonement work in our lives. In the waters of baptism we are cleansed. After this initial cleansing, we are purified through the Holy Ghost. It is Christ and His Atonement that enables us to be clean and holy.
As you study this scripture block, what do you learn about Christ, the Atonement? How does this knowledge strengthen your relationship with Him?