For thousands of years, there was a single process of separating the good part of the wheat from the less useful part of the chaff. The farms would construct something called the threshing floor. It was usually a circular formation of rock and stone like pictured here. All of the harvested wheat would be tossed into this circle and then the workers would use a winnowing fork. The would aggressively stab the fork into whole sections of the wheat and toss in the air. This process was repeated over and over until the wheat grain was stripped away from the chaff. The remaining chaff was then burned in the fire but the wheat went on to do one of two things. The wheat would either be used as seed to grow more wheat or it would be pounded into a fine powder for baking. It would either nourish people or produce more wheat.
When John the Baptist began proclaiming the coming of the Messiah, he used this imagery to describe it. “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.”
(Matt 3:12) Since this region was packed with wheat farmers, this was an image that was crystal clear to these people. The could visualize the analogy and understand the aggressive nature of the process of separating the wheat from the chaff. Most of them were the workers who performed this process.
Although modernization has changed the process some, it’s not all that different today. We have a machine that does it now but the process is the same. Instead of a large stone circle and a man with a winnowing fork, now the wheat is thrown into a machine that repeats the same process that took place on the threshing floor. The usable grain is separated and packaged and the resulting chaff is burned.
John was not giving a farming lesson in this passage. He was using a visual they were very familiar with to help them understand the sorting process that Jesus would do (and the Spirit after Him). This world is the threshing floor. We get aggressively tossed about to separate the grain from the chaff. For some, this process is quick and for others it can take years. But eventually we will ALL be either grain or chaff.
Just like in the image, the chaff will have a single end result. They will burn in the ‘unquenchable fire’. The grain will either be there to produce more grain or to nourish the other members of the body of Christ. There is ranking of priorities here. There is no value or worth ascribed by which purpose the grain provided. In any case, all of the grain is gathered into His barn.
Like all analogies, there is a point where if pushed too far, it breaks down a bit. With grain, it will either be a seed for more grain or ground up to nourish. While a wheat grain can never do both of these, followers of Christ can.
We can focus our energy on doing these two things; nourishing others and producing more grain. Direct your steps in only these two directions. Your actions, the way you live, the things you do… should be aimed to either nourishing other or producing more disciples of Jesus Christ.
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