When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Yesterday we observed Pentecost—the end of the Easter season on the Christian calendar and in ancient times, the day when the promised Holy Spirit was first received by Jesus’ followers.
But before Pentecost was a Christian holy day, it was a Jewish holy day, commemorating the giving by God of the Ten Commandments and the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses. See my Wednesday POST for more on the history of Pentecost.
THE FIRE OF GOD
God frequently appeared as fire in scripture.
Genesis 15:17: God’s covenant with Abraham
Exodus 3:2: God’s appearance to Moses in the burning bush
Exodus and Numbers: leading the Israelites through the desert as a pillar of fire
Exodus and Deuteronomy: God’s appearance on Mt. Sinai
God is elsewhere linked to fire, such as His destruction of the bull during Elijah’s challenge to the Baal prophets (1 Kings 18:22-39) and references to refining silver in fire (Isaiah 13:9).
In fact, Deuteronomy 4:24 tells us that the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
So if God appears as fire and uses fire for His purposes why do we think of fire as something which represents evil?
FIRE AND BRIMSTONE
Perhaps we fear fire because of the image of Hell. We envision Hell as an eternal fire filled with—hellfire, not surprisingly—and brimstone. We have this image partly because of the Book of Revelation, where the Apostle John shared his vision with us.
But we forget that everything in the universe is God-created, including Hell. God created Hell as a place to set aside evil in the end times. And just as God chose to appear as fire, He can use fire for His holy purpose. To purify. In the end times, God will purify the universe by sending evil to Hell where it will be consumed by His own power.
FIRE IS GOOD
At both events commemorating Pentecost—the giving of the Ten Commandments and the giving of the Holy Spirit—God made His appearance as fire. Both events are celebrated as “Pentecost.”
At the giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:18: Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire.
At the giving of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:3: They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.
This last fire/Holy Spirit combo was prophesied by John the Baptist in Luke 3:15-16:
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them saying, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
John, referring to Jesus, said that only Jesus had the power to baptize people into the presence of God, to be convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit and to be then purified by the fire of God’s righteousness.
Seen from the view of scripture, purification is a righteous process; a godly, just and loving occurrence. As it relates to John the Baptist’s prophecy of baptism by the Holy Spirit and fire, we look again at Acts.
They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
John’s prophecy was fulfilled on Pentecost. Those early Christians not only were baptized with the Holy Spirit, but tongues of fire from God came to rest on each of them, baptizing them also in holy fire.
OH, NOW I GET IT!
I love this image of the Christians sitting in the house, a sound like a mighty wind filling their ears when all at once a tongue of fire settled over each of their heads.
Folks back then didn’t have electricity. They could have no “light bulb over their heads” moment like our modern cartoons show.
But I like to think of this as one of those ancient “a-ha light bulb moments” where, instead of a modern light bulb, they had what the ancient people used to light their homes—a flame.
To me, this was the early Christian’s light bulb moment. When they received the Holy Spirit they realized, “Oh, NOW I get it!”
Do we get it?
If we have received Christ into our hearts, we too have received the Holy Spirit. But do we get it? Do we understand the power of God within us? Are we open to His leading? Attuned to His presence?
Are we set on fire by God in us?
PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for your presence, whether by fire or the Holy Spirit. Jesus, thank you for sending the Holy Spirit to us. Please help us, Spirit, attune our lives to you. Purify us and use us for your good purpose. Amen.
WHAT ABOUT YOU? Do you have a favorite passage of scripture in which God uses fire for His purpose?