Perhaps you have seen the pictures taken from the air, of entire neighborhoods destroyed by the fires that rage in California, Oregon, and Washington states. Lives completely decimated. Maybe you have seen the pictures of the orange and hazy skies, the golden gate bridge in San Francisco disappearing into the orange smoke. Or maybe it is the firefighters in their yellow shirts, faces grimy with smoke and ash as they pause for a brief moment before beginning again the fight against these beasts. Yesterday I saw a picture taken by a drone of one of the fires and it looked like coals in a barbecue grill, glowing red with heat. But it is the pictures of fire shooting into the sky that shows the power and destruction.
We use fire for many things. It cooks food...there is nothing like the smell of a steak sizzling on the grill. Sometimes we cook hot dogs, and we can hear them pop and spit as they cook. And occasionally we put marshmallows on a stick, get out the graham crackers and the Hershey bars and we make s'mores.
Fire provides warmth. We gather around a fire pit or campfire and share stories, perhaps a song or two. Some of my favorite confirmation memories come from time spent around a campfire. There is nothing like teaching outside and then celebrating communion around the fire. Sometimes the fire is in a fireplace and the family is gathered around.
There are many mentions of fire in the Bible too. God often revealed Himself in fire, a sign of His unapproachable holiness. Think back to Moses as he tended his Father in law’s sheep in Midian. He was minding his own business when he saw a bush on fire, but the bush was not consumed. When Moses went to investigate, he heard the voice of God tell him to remove his sandals because he was standing on holy ground. That account is in Exodus chapter three. In Exodus 24 we read of the Israelites being at Mount Sinai and God’s glory descended on the top of the mountain in what looked like a consuming fire. However, we also see Gods presence among His people as He led them in the wilderness. He went before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. There was the fire that fell from heaven and consumed Elijah's offering in front of the 400 prophets of Baal. That is found in 1 Kings 18. When Daniels three friends are tossed into the fiery furnace, the king sees a fourth person in the fire, no doubt a pre-incarnate Jesus. And of course, we see tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost.
Fire in scripture purifies. When Isaiah is called and he sees the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty he is sure he is a dead man. Because, he has seen the Lord. He cries out that he is a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips. A seraph who was in the presence of God flew to Isaiah, holding a coal from the altar. The seraph touched Isaiah on the lips and his sins were blotted out. You can find this recorded in Isaiah 6.
Fire in scripture is a sign of judgement. We see fire and brimstone rained down on wicked Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. In Leviticus 10 we read the account of Aaron's two sons, Nadab and Abihu, who took the censors used for the incense of worship. They put fire and incense into their censors and offered it before the Lord, but it was not fire from the altar or the incense used only for worship. We read that fire went out from the Lord and devoured them. And there is this from the Book of Revelation. We read in 20:10, "And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of fire, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever.”
Matthew records these words of John the Baptist in 3:11. “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” We see the fires raging on TV and they are frightening. Here in Arizona we have seen the smoke of fires burning closer than we would like. These fires are dangerous and destructive. But the fire of the Holy Spirit both cleanses and purifies. The Holy Spirit is the primary agent of the sanctification of the people of God. That is you and me! Today the Lord uses the Holy Spirit to grow His people to be more like Jesus, refining and cleansing them from in dwelling sin.
You and I, by virtue of our baptisms are continually being cleansed of our sin, refined by holy fire, and being drawn closer to our Lord and Savior. I pray for each of us that we might feel our hearts burning within us, just like the two disciples who were on their way home to Emmaus. The Holy Spirit refines us much like a silversmith would use fire to purge the dross, the impurities, from the precious metal. We are precious to the Lord and He wants us to be like Him. Not all fire is bad, and I pray you will feel the fire and passion that the Holy Spirit brings.
In His grip
Pastor Matt W