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By Ted Schroder,
Pentecost, May 15, 2016

Jesus told the disciples, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. and you will be my witnesses....to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). At Pentecost it happened!
"They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them." (Acts 2:3) Fire denotes the power of the presence of God. Moses saw it: "There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush (Ex.3:2). The people of Israel saw it: "On earth he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words from out of the fire" (Deut.4:36 cf. Ex.19:18,19). "John the Baptist said, 'One more powerful than I will come....He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire'"(Luke 3:16)
The Bible describes God's throne as 'fiery flames', its wheels 'burning fire,' 'a river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him' (Dan.7:9,10). God's angelic servants are 'flames of fire' (Heb.1:7). Between the cherubim are fire and coals of fire (Ezek.10:2,6,7). The 'seven spirits of God' are 'torches of fire' (Rev.4:5). Heavenly chariots are made of fire. The eyes of the glorified Jesus are like flames of fire (Rev.1:14).

Fire is a frequent symbol of God. Abraham saw a burning lamp and Moses beheld a burning bush. When Solomon had built his holy and beautiful house, its consecration lay in the fire of God descending upon the sacrifice to mark that the Lord was there, for when the Lord had dwelt before in the Tabernacle, which was superseded by the Temple, He revealed Himself in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. "Our God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:29) Hence the symbol of fire is a fit emblem of God the Holy Spirit.

Tongues of flame sitting on each man's head symbolized a personal visitation to the mind and heart of each one of the chosen company. The fires came not to consume them, for no one was injured by the flaming tongue--to men whom the Lord has prepared for His approach, there is no danger in His visitations. They see God and their lives are preserved. They feel His fires and are not consumed. This is the privilege of only those who have been prepared and purified for such fellowship with God. The intention of the symbol was to show them that the Holy Spirit would illuminate them as fire gives light. "He shall lead you into all truth." From then on they were not to be untrained children, but to be teachers in Israel, instructors of the nations whom they were to disciple unto Christ--and, therefore, the Spirit of the Light of God was upon them!

But fire does more than give light--it inflames--and the flames which sat upon each showed them that they were to be ablaze with love, intense with zeal, burning with self-sacrifice and that they were to go forth among men to speak not with the chill tongue of deliberate logic, but with burning tongues of passionate pleading, persuading and entreating men to come to Christ that they might live! The fire signified Inspiration. God was about to make them speak under a Divine influence, to speak as the Spirit of God should give them utterance.

Note that the emblem was not only fire, but a tongue of fire, for God meant to have a speaking Church. Not a Church that would fight with the sword, like the church of Islam, but a Church that should have a sword proceeding out of its mouth, whose one weapon should be the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Fire, intensity, zeal, passion as much as you will--but as for aiming at effect by polished phrases and brilliant periods--these are fitter for those who would deceive men than for those who would tell them the message of the Most High! The style of the Holy Spirit is one which conveys the Truth of God to the mind in the most forcible manner--it is plain, but flaming, simple but consuming! The Holy Spirit has never written a cold period throughout the whole Bible and never did He speak by a man a lifeless Word--He always gives and blesses the tongue of fire. (C.H. Spurgeon)

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote: "Do not quench the fire, do not quench the Spirit...Christianity means warmth, it means a glow...The Apostle Paul breaks some of the rules of grammar; he interrupts his own argument. It is because of the fire. We are so decorous, we are so controlled, we do everything with such decency and order that there is no life, there is no warmth, there is no power! But that is not New Testament Christianity...Does your faith melt and move your heart? Does it get rid of the ice that is in you, the coldness in your heart, and the stiffness? The essence of New Testament Christianity is this warmth that is invariably the result of the presence of the Spirit" (The Christian Warfare, p.273f.)

What is the effect of the fire of the Spirit on us?

First, the fire of the Spirit converts raw energy into useful energy, e.g. coal into electricity. God, the Holy Spirit takes our natural energies and converts them into something useful. He takes our natural abilities and turns them into forms of service to others. Just as incense becomes fragrant when touched by fire, so our lives can become fragrant offerings to God when we are transformed by the fire of the Spirit.

Second, the fire of the Spirit refines us, purifies us, and cleanses us. Fire turns rough iron into stainless steel. The fire of the Spirit consumes the dross in our lives so that we can become strong. Iron is rough, steel is tough. Iron is brittle, steel is flexible. As we allow ourselves to enter in the crucible of the Spirit, we are made tough and flexible, more useful, more refined. We become what we are meant to be.

Third, the fire of the Spirit regenerates. The warm sun of spring causes the seed to germinate and the buds to blossom. The warmth of the mother hen incubates and hatches the chick. The fire of the Spirit produces and quickens life. God the Holy Spirit nurses us, draws us, and awakens us to life in all its fullness. As we receive the warmth of the Spirit we are enabled to blossom and be fruitful.

All this requires Ignition. Matter requires the spark of fire to produce energy and light. Not until the vapor is ignited in the engine can the pistons be turned in the motor to drive the machinery. Not until the match is applied to the paper can the hearth be warmed. The fire of the Spirit was necessary to get the apostles moving, to get the Church going. These men had spent three years with Jesus, but they seemed incapable of producing anything earthshaking. It took the coming of the fire of the Spirit to spark them off.

We may go for years not comprehending the significance of Jesus and his Gospel until the day the fire of the Spirit falls upon us, and our eyes are opened. There are people who have attended church for years, but they don't understand the Gospel. Then one day there is an "Aha!" experience. Suddenly they see it in glorious technicolor and they wonder why it took so long. I am sure the apostles felt the same way.

In ancient days fire was kindled by lightning, by the sun or by friction. When lightning strikes it is unexpected and sometimes frightening. Events can happen in our lives that come as bolts from the blue. But they show us the light of the truth about Jesus in a flash. When the sun shines through a burning glass and focuses upon a combustible material it will cause it to smolder. When God's revelation in the Scripture or through Nature shines in a focused way to us we begin to catch fire. When flint is struck against steel a spark is produced by which a fire may be started. By the friction and strikes of life, our tests and our trials, we are driven closer to Jesus and are set on fire by his love.

"Do not put out the Spirit's fire" (1 Thess.5:19). Stoke the presence and power of God by being filled with the Spirit.

The Rev. Ted Schroder is pastor of Amelia Chapel on Amelia Island Plantation, Florida

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