Jer 38 :4 - 10, Heb 12 :1 - 4, Lk 12 : 49 - 53.A. PREAMBLECan you imagine a world without fire or light? That was the original state of the universe before creation. - Gen 1 : 1-2 says : 'Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, with a divine wind sweeping over the waters. Then God said, ' Let there be light ', and there was light'. Imagine a world without good men with the fire of perfection and a sense of order? The society will be destroyed in one minute by favouritism, selfish ambitions, wickedness, immorality, stealing, fraud, etc. * Refer to Thomas Hobbe's 'Original State of Nature' where life was nasty, cruel, brutish and short. * Edmund Burke says that 'The only reason for the triumph of evil is that good people sit back, do nothing and say nothing' - simply put, when good people are not 'on fire'.
B. HE WILL BAPTIZE YOU WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT & FIREJohn the Baptist began his evangelical ministry by saying, 'I baptize you with water for repentance but after me is coming one who is more powerful than I... He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire', Matt 3 :11.This is what we want to explain today. Our sacraments of baptism and confirmation are sacraments that should ignite fire in our hearts (That is why the Church's Liturgy presents the candidates with lighted candles). The Church should be an assembly of hearts on fire with love for God and one another - hearts burning with the desire of Christ for the spread of the gospel.
Fire generally has 3 symbols ; (i) Life, (ii) Zeal and (iii) Purification. But in our context, we would expand the concept of Baptism of fire in the following dimensions ;(a) Fire of Prophetism ; It is the fire that enkindles zeal for God's Word, God's work and God's truth. * According to William Barclay, 'A Prophet is the man who has God's wisdom in his mind, God's courage in his heart and God's truth on his lips'. * A prophet is one who comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable. - In Jer 1 :10 God told Jeremiah 'Look, today I have set you over the nations and kingdoms, to uproot and to knock down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant'. (b) Fire of Holiness ; It is the fire that brings perfection and resistance of sin /evil in the world. - Heb 12 :1 - 2 - It makes us throw off everything that weighs us down and the sin that clings so closely to our flesh and persevere to the end with our eyes fixed on Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith. (c) Fire of Purification ; It is the fire that purifies us from sin and consumes the spate of evil in the world. - Is 6 : 1 - 7 - The fire that touched the lips of Isaiah and his guilt was removed and his vocational power was released. - Heb 12 : 29 - The fire that keeps us in reverence and fear of God as the ultimate consuming fire. (d) Fire of Evangelism ; It is the fire that sparks up in us the zeal to spread the Word of God to all nooks and crannies. - Act 2 : 1-4 - Tongues of fire appeared to each of the apostles and all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. - 2 Tim 1 :6 - 9 - We need to fan this fire into flame.. It is the Spirit not of timidity but of power, love and self control. - Rev 3 :21 - Would that you are either hot or cold, not lukewarm. (e) Fire of Love ; This is the fire of divine light that fills a believer with godliness. -Jn 1 :4 - 12 - The Word was the real light that was coming into a world filled with darkness. * St Ignatius of Loyola says 'The fire that must burn in others must begin first in you'. * Bernard Shaw says 'The worst sin is not hatred but indifference'.
C. THE FIRE OF PERSECUTIONElijah and Jeremiah are the 2 greatest Old Testament symbols of the fire of prophetism and societal reformation. They were terribly put under the pressure of persecution and martyrdom but God stood by them.
The pressure continues on the Church today to allow gay marriage, use of contraceptives, divorce, polygamy, single parenthood, transgender mutation, intro - vitro fertilization, abortion, etc. The Church must keep the fire alife to oppose evil, oppression, injustice, favouritism (IM), etc. * For example, the easiest way of killing the standard of education in our Universities and Secondary schools is to allow the Vice chancellors and Principals freedom to employ/admit only their friends and those who have connections to them instead of going for the most qualified.* The easiest way of killing the future of Nigerian democracy is to allow election irregularities to continue. If the Church keeps quite about all these, may be for fear of persecution, the society gradually stays in darkness.
D. CONCLUSIONWe must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. - Heb 12 :1-4 says that we are surrounded by a 'cloud of witnesses', heroes and heroines of of our faith to keep inspiring us in our struggle against sin and evil in our society.
The fire that Jesus came to bring is not the destructive fire but the constructive, life giving fire of the Holy Spirit. The division that the gospel speaks of is not division in a social sense but in a spiritual sense - a kind of initial disintegration of elements that fire causes - the division of consciences under the fire of the Word of God. It is a division that can make father turn against son as long as truth is concerned.
Finally, the Cross must precede the Pentecost. If the fire of the Holy Spirit should descend upon us, then Christ must first ascend the Cross for us to see and copy his example. -Jn 3 :14 - As Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up so that everyone who believes may have eternal life. - Jn 8 :28 - When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am He. - Lk 9 :23 - Anyone who would be my disciple would deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. * The fire of evangelism naturally ends up in martyrdom (or what looks like it). May the Lord keep this fire burning in us.