The presence of God is symbolized by fire and thunder. What does fire do? As we noted in yesterday’s study, it does a number of things, including bringing light.
2. Fire brings warmth. The second important use of fire in the ancient world was for warmth. If you were a Bedouin camped out by a tent at night, you had a fire and drew near it to keep warm. In the same way, when the Holy Spirit is at work, one thing people notice is what we can call “the warming of one’s heart.” It is what John Wesley experienced when the Lord reached him in that little chapel at Aldersgate in London. He said, as a result of hearing the Gospel explained on that occasion: “My heart was strangely warmed.”
This is important, because the problem is not just that the world we know is in darkness. The world is certainly in darkness—as black as any night when the sun goes down. But the world is also, well, we have an image for it, “out in the cold”—unwarmed, unloved, uncomforted—until God, after whom our hearts long and in whose image we are made, draws near to warm us.
Christianity is meant to be a spreading flame. The Lord Jesus Christ said on one occasion, “I have come to bring fire on the earth” (Luke 12:49). Some of our translations say, “I came to cast fire on the earth.” When I read that I think back to John the Baptist’s testimony: “I baptize you with water…. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I…. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matt. 3:11).
That is what Pentecost was about. When Jesus said that he had come to pour fire on the earth, he meant a fire which was destined to sweep over all the earth. How do we know? We know because of the way He spoke in giving the Great Commission. He said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This prophesied expansion of the Christian Gospel began at Pentecost. That is why the second paragraph of Acts 2 talks about the many different people who were present in Jerusalem and who heard the Gospel in their own language on that day: “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs” (vv. 9-11)—that is, people from all over the world, all the way to Rome and even beyond it. These individuals, reached for the first time at Pentecost, spread out in all directions like ripples on a pond. And so does Acts itself, until the Apostle Paul finally gets to Rome.
The point is that, when the Holy Spirit comes in power, what we are to have is not some particularly intense experience—speaking in tongues, for example, so that in a miraculous way everybody will hear our words in his or her language—but rather a widespread speaking about Jesus. The point is that everyone will hear as the Gospel spreads through the testimony of those who are obeying the Great Commission. That is what you and I are called upon to do. That is the task to which the Lord Jesus Christ sends us.
Elton Trueblood has written a book called The Incendiary Fellowship.1 It describes the character and company of those who are filled by the Holy Spirit. “Incendiary” means “set ablaze.” It refers to Christians themselves. But “incendiary” also means the act of setting other people ablaze. It refers to those in whom the fire of the Holy Spirit is so intense and so meaningful that they just cannot keep the message of the Spirit to themselves. So they speak of Jesus, and, as a result, here and there little fires spring up. And pretty soon there is a great raging fire of revival that spreads across the world. I do not think we have a raging fire in our time, though there are some places in the world where it may be beginning. But there is a fire. The Holy Spirit is working. We need to be part of that working and see the flames spread.
1Elton Trueblood, The Incendiary Fellowship (New York: Harper & Row, 1967).