Thursday, May 04, 2006

People's Hopes Began to Rise

Luke 3:15

As the people's hopes began to rise, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

Luke 12:49

"I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!"
When we love someone, we want to be with them. From the beginning, God planned to be with his people and with all creation. In fact, God constantly was with the people, in many ways showing them evidence they could see, touch, hear and taste. But they kept forgetting, so they needed more proof God was with them and more ways to know God. Therefore, long before the birth of Jesus, God began promising he would come to earth in a perfect, unforgettable way. Messiah, meaning "Christ" or "Anointed," is one of the titles for God's Son who was born in Bethlehem and lived as one of us.

Because God had given them clues, the people in John's time knew about God's promise of Messiah. Because of these hints, or prophecies, they began to wonder if John was Messiah. Although God spoke and acted through John, the son of Zechariah, John says he is not the Promised One. John says Messiah is yet to come. When John says "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire," he talks about Jesus and about us.

John the Baptist tells his congregation although he baptizes with water, Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Then, later in Luke's gospel we hear Jesus saying, "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" What does Jesus mean by calling himself a bringer of fire? We don't have stories in the Bible about God creating fire, but in the Bible we do find stories of fire that demonstrate God's presence on earth with creation. God appears to Moses in a fiery bush, and then transforms Moses into a leader of the Exodus from Egypt. During the trek from slavery into freedom, the long wanderings through the Exodus desert, God shows the people his presence with them, guiding them at night with a very noticeable column of fire.

Throughout scripture fire visibly and audibly points to the Divine presence with creation. When Jesus declares, "I have come to bring fire to the earth," part of what he means is that he brings the Holy Presence of God into the midst of creation.

In nature, especially in forest and in desert habitats, fire is essential to maintaining the cycle of life. In fact, there are plants that cannot reproduce without fire! In many ways fire gives life, though sometimes out of the ashes of death. The Reign of God Jesus brought to earth and charges us to help bring about is like a fire. We need to respond to this kingdom in the same way we need to learn how to live with fire, and also to trust fire's tremendous power to transform us!

Baptize means to immerse. The Bible says we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus into a brand new life. When we hear the word "baptism," we usually think about water baptism. Jesus brings to the world fire that transforms, that clears our lives of non-essentials, and makes new, healthy living possible. This is part of what John the Baptist means when he talks about Jesus baptizing with fire. Jesus' baptism invites us into the water of his birth and into the fire of his death, into the life-changing power of the cross. And we also know Pentecost is a story of fiery tongues of flame resting upon the gathered assembly, as that fire formed some of the evidence of the presence of God's Holy Spirit.

While Jesus lived here on earth, he was the kind of proof humans need of God's being with creation. Because Jesus, God's Son, lived as one of us, people could talk with him, see him and touch him. Jesus chose us and chooses us, his followers, to be evidence that God lives among the people, in exactly the same way Jesus lived. We know the Pentecost story is a story of fire. Baptism with the Holy Spirit means that Christians, Jesus' followers, are immersed in God's Holy Spirit. Living in the power of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to follow the kind of life God shows us in Christ Jesus, the Messiah told about by John. God calls us, Pentecostal people baptized in water and immersed in the Holy Spirit's transforming fire, to live among creation as visible, tangible life-generating fire, to be unmistakable and unforgettable evidence of the Reign of God on earth!

  • What Bible accounts do you remember of God proving his presence with signs of fire?
  • Why did John the Baptist announce Jesus' forthcoming arrival?
  • What does it mean to be immersed in something?
  • What does baptism with the Holy Spirit mean to you?
  • What does baptism in water mean to you?
  • What does baptism into Jesus Christ's death and resurrection mean to you?
  • What are some aspects of fire?
  • How does fire generate life?
  • How can people know God?
  • How is it possible for us to follow Jesus?
  • How can others recognize us as God's presence in the world?

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