Before Jesus began his earthly ministry, his cousin, John the Baptist, prepared the people for the coming Christ. Luke, in his Gospel, reports that the Baptizer's sermons were anything but user-friendly. He called the crowds a "brood of vipers," and challenged them to do works that confirmed their professed repentance.
These deeds included radical generosity: whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise (Luke 3:10). They included radical honesty: [tax collectors should] collect no more than you are authorized to do (Luke 3:13). They included radical restraint of power and lack of greed: [soldiers should not] extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages (Luke 3:14).
But the Baptizer gets even more radical. He describes Jesus' superior greatness in terms of His baptizing people with the Holy Spirit and with fire. In baptizing people with the Holy Spirit and with fire, Jesus will brandish his winnowing fork, He will clear the threshing floor, He will gather His wheat into His barn, and He will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.
No wonder the Baptizer wore burlap and ate bugs. He probably was not given the key to many cities.
But Luke describes John's harshness this way: "with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people" (Luke 3:18).
"Good news"? Seriously?
John's exhortations -- even that Jesus will clear the threshing floor and burn chaff with fire -- point to the more glorious truth that Jesus will gather his wheat into his barn. No doubt. No uncertainty. No question. He will do it. He will save his people.
How do you know whether you are "Jesus' wheat"? Repent, and believe the good news.