In C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, And the Wardrobe, the Penvensie children find themselves magically transported to a foreign world that is currently being ruled by an evil queen, the White Witch. While the White Witch is currently in charge, she is not the rightful ruler. The rightful ruler is Aslan, the true king of the realm. Aslan is the God/Jesus figure in the story, yet he is not what many would suspect. We often expect Jesus to be a loving/kind figure, an innocent grandfather who is constantly dolling out pieces of candy and compliments. Instead, Aslan is a lion; powerful and fierce. When the children discover that Aslan is a lion, and that they are going to meet him, they get nervous and wonder, is he safe. Mr. Beaver replies to them. “Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Lewis captures this reality that we often struggle with, who is Jesus? We want to think of Jesus in almost this cartoon character mold; he’s lovable and kind, the one we always want to be around, and we have nothing to fear. We forget that this same safe and gentle person threw over the tables of the money changers, called the religious leaders a brood of vipers, and even told a Gentile who came for help, your time hasn’t come. As Lewis points out, this Jesus is not always the safe, gentle figure we want to make him out to be. He is in essence one to be feared because he can send your soul to Hell. And yet, he is also good.
It’s the same struggle presented in Luke 3. John the Baptist has been out in the wilderness for some time preaching a baptism of repentance. He was a strange figure, with strange clothes and diet, yet he was clearly sent from God. John was calling the people back to covenant faithfulness. He caused such a stir that many began to wonder, could this be the Messiah. John, however, quickly squelched those rumors by declaring: I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, ready to separate the wheat from the chaff.
It’s not the picture we expect. We want John to say, behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Instead, John says, judgment is coming. The righteous and evil will be separated, and the evil will be burned in unquenchable fire. When we hear this we quickly wonder if we are on the right, or wrong, side.
Yet just a few verses later, Luke speaks of the baptism of Jesus; or actually the moments after baptism. Here, the heavens are opened, the Spirit descends, and the Father declares: this is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. These are not the words of judgement, but of coronation. These are the words that come from Psalm 2 and declare that God is setting the true king on the throne who will make the world right. This is a moment to celebrate. The good and righteous king has come to the throne.
Thus we have these two pictures of Jesus. His judgement; that he has come to judge the earth and his goodness; he is the true king of the world who is pleasing to God. At times we don’t know what to do with what we think are competing pictures: judgment and love; the just and good. We don’t know what to do so we jettison one and cling to the other.
But, perhaps like Aslan, Jesus is both. Jesus did come to judge the world. We can’t ever lose God’s judgment. There is such a thing as right and wrong, and it must be followed. You can’t just live however you want and expect God to say it doesn’t matter. Commitment is important. Commitment to discipleship. Commitment to righteous living. Sexual purity is important. Honesty is important. Faithfulness to family is important. Giving/tithing is important. Sharing resources is important. Offering forgiveness is important. Those who do not honor these traits, and many others, will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Jesus is just. But don’t forget, Jesus is also good. The one judging us is not a tyrant in some far off land who cares nothing for us except that we keep all of the commandments. The one judging us is not a nameless computer who simply needs to make a decision between yes and no, and allows the facts to determine the outcome. The one who has come to judge is also the one who loved us enough to take on flesh and blood, who loved us enough to seek relationship with us, and who loved us enough to become one of us in order to save us. Jesus is just, but he is also good.
The judgment of God is true, and if there is sin in your life it needs to be cut out like a knife, because the Messiah has come and his winnowing fork is already in his hand. But remember, Jesus is also good. And while he judges, he judges with mercy and compassion, longing to save.