Summary: FIRE- brings light, warmth, love, gives direction, tests faith, represents wrath, is a holy calling, preparation for holy work, conveys truth and brings pardon.
Jesus declared in Luke 12:49, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”
We think of the meek and mild Bethlehem Babe coming to bring peace on earth, good-will to men. Jesus did indeed bring peace, but hardly the way anyone expected. Sometimes when we least expect it, God blazes up. He enters our lives and sets our hearts aflame.
Jesus came with a mission to set the world on fire--not with destruction--but devotion. He came to kindle a fire within His followers. While Jesus taught and healed, there was a spark; but after the cross and the empty tomb, a fire raged, consuming all it touched. At Pentecost, flames of fire appeared above the apostles, and their fiery, powerful message converted thousands that holy day. In Italy on Pentecost Sunday, churches observe the custom of throwing red rose petals from the ceiling, to commemorate the tongues of flame.
One principle of Biblical interpretation: Images don't always mean the same thing. The symbol of fire in Scripture means many things...
Fire brings light; it removes our darkness. We can finally see what's what. Isaiah 9:2 says, “Those who've walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” The light of the world is Jesus.
Fire brings warmth to cold hearts. We live in a cold, often cruel world. We spend much time in the bitter chill of grief, pain, loss. But God is the warmth of the universe--He is a warm, healing glow in our hearts; His fire warms our souls. God melts hatred and bitterness from our hearts, and turns anger into tenderness.
Fire brings love. We think of fire in terms of passion. Are we “on fire” for God? Are we passionate about our Lord? Are we disciples, or Christians-in-name-only? Has our initial excitement cooled down? In some, it seems the flame is nearly extinguished.
Fire gives direction. During the Exodus, in the wilderness journey to the Promised Land, God appeared before His people as a pillar of fire to light their way. God will always give us enough light to take the next step.
Fire tests the genuineness of our faith. In I Corinthians, Paul talks of fire melting precious metals to remove impurities. Paul is saying, “If you use cheap or inferior materials, you'll be found out.” What are we doing that will have lasting value? “Only one life, will soon be past; only what's done for Christ will last.”
Fire is a symbol of punishment, the sober image of Hell. To speak of God as a “consuming fire” refers to His holy wrath, burning up all that's unholy. Jesus spoke often of Hell; He wasn't shocked by its existence, but by the hardness of people's hearts, that they would choose Hell over Heaven. God doesn't send people to Hell; He honors their choice. Hell has a door locked on the inside. For some people, the threat of hell-fire is what causes them to turn to God. To flee God's wrath, seek His love.
Fire is a holy calling. John Wesley (founder of Methodism) spoke of his calling as a “burning heart.” He was inflamed with a blazing desire to proclaim Christ to the lost. Do we have such an urgency to share the Good News? And do we see our vocations as divine callings? God has a plan for each of us, and He often puts a fiery desire within us to do His will.
Fire is preparation for the work God has for us. Paul told his friend Timothy: “Fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of hands,” II Timothy 1:6. When we know what our purpose is in life, we'll do whatever it takes to get ready for it. Think of a dying campfire on a cold night. You blow on the glowing embers to get the flame rekindled. At times our passion for Christ needs to be rekindled.
Fire conveys truth. Fire brought truth to Moses. The burning bush revealed God; it was an unconsuming fire that awakened Moses' soul. It sent him on a mission to rescue his people and release them from bondage. When we're convinced that God's word is truth, it burns within us and moves us to take action. The fire of truth transforms us.
Fire brings pardon. Fire consumed the Temple sacrifices for sin, as burnt offerings. These were substitutionary sacrifices. The lambs slain by the priests took the punishment of the people. In the same way, the death of Jesus, the Lamb of God, took our punishment as He died in our place on the altar of the cross. In Christ the wrath of God was satisfied.