15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
I'm caught by the "wondering" of all the people whether or not John is the Messiah. He's offering encouraging words - which happen to be rather "hell, fire and brimstone." They're black and white and that often makes people feel safe. The personal question for me is "what encouraging words am I listening to right now that I'm confusing with salvation?"
A Buddhist might say it this way, "Don't confuse the finger for the moon."
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