Tongues of fire

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Luke 3:16-17 (NIV)

Water cleans.

John’s baptism was and still is symbolic of a spiritual cleansing, but it could never be anything more. We use water baptism as an outward symbol of an inner change. Our minds and our souls (mind, will, and emotions) must be engaged when we make the choice to be baptised in water. It is a sign of commitment to Christ.

Fire purifies.

It is only the baptism of the Holy Spirit that brings about true purification. All three parts of our being—body, soul, and spirit—must be engaged to receive this baptism. It is a sign of reliance on Christ.

Anyone can be baptised in water. Some experience great change and profess to feel something more than wet when they resurface. To some, it is merely a public declaration of their commitment to Jesus.

Anyone can be baptised in the Holy Spirit, but not everyone will display the evidence of it—tongues.

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.

Acts 2:3-4 (NIV)

Holy Spirit baptism connects us to the Father in a way that nothing else can. The fire of the Spirit, the one John spoke of in the Gospel of Luke, cleanses us from within. If we allow it, it will burn away the impurities from our lives. But the key is submission and complete reliance. So long as we fight for control, we will never allow the Spirit to work in us.

There are those who would seek to tame and control the power of the Holy Spirit, but it is not ours to control. Rather, we must give ourselves over to His control. As contradictory as it may seem, there is no greater freedom to be found than when we give over control of our lives to the Spirit of God. It is only then that we have an even greater bond with the Father and an ability to pray His perfect will.

Neither water baptism nor baptism in the Holy Spirit are required of us to gain entrance into Heaven. But if God has provided for us a way to be even closer to Him, why would we not jump at the opportunity?

Read: Joshua 9-10, Luke 3

Spirit and fire

Read: Genesis 6-8, Matthew 3

Matthew 3:11

There are many in the Church that stay away from any discussion involving the Holy Spirit. For some people, it can be a sticky point of discussion. I’m not one of those people. If we have believed Jesus for salvation, why would we not believe him for the power of the Spirit that he promised to us?

Even John the Baptist knew that the water baptism he offered paled in comparison to what Jesus would bring.

Cleansing with water—water baptism—is an outward symbol of an inward change. But water can only do so much. It can wash the dirt from the outside, but can do very little to cleanse what’s on the inside. That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in.

The Bible speaks often of the refiner’s fire. Refining is a process in which raw ore dug from the earth is heated to a melting point. The heavy precious metal stays at the bottom while the impurities rise to the top. Once cooled, those impurities can be wiped or knocked off leaving pure precious metal behind.

This is the power of the Holy Spirit within us.

The baptism “with fire” would convey, in its turn, the thought of a power at once destroying evil and purifying good…

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers

The Holy Spirit burns away what is evil and purifies what is good. In Acts 2, where we read the account of the 120 in the upper room experiencing tongues of fire, we see Joel’s prophecy fulfilled.

And afterward
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see vision.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

Joel 2:28-29 (NIV)

These are those days. God poured out His Spirit on His people in the book of Acts and He never took His Spirit back. So why should we shy away from that which God sent to us to give us power? It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can accomplish what Jesus said we would.

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

John 14:12 (NIV)

As members of the Church, we should all seek and strive to see and do even greater things than Jesus did while he walked the earth. We need the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our churches if we’re going to see the miraculous like the disciples did. If we want Jesus to come back to earth to take us to heaven, we must first call down heaven to earth. The only way that is possible is with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Look!

It’s nice to have people around (if you’re a people person, anyway). It can make you feel important or somehow special to not only have people around, but to have people follow you. Once you get used to having people following you, hanging on your every word, it can be difficult to let that go. But that is exactly what John the Baptist did.

John, Jesus’ cousin, was only a few months older than Jesus. God commissioned him to go ahead of Jesus to proclaim the Messiah, the new King of the Jews, the Son of God. In doing this, John amassed followers—people who believed in his message and allowed John to baptise them in water. These people would follow him around and would help to collect even more followers.

Then Jesus’ time came.

John had a choice to make. He could cling to his followers and continue preparing the way for the Lord or he could do as he did and let go.

The following day, John was again standing with two of his disciples. As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and then declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!”

John 1:35-36 (NLT)

John knew that it wasn’t up to him to keep collecting disciples for himself, but rather to make disciples for Christ. He carried no animosity whatsoever toward his cousin and he willinging allowed his followers to go.

Then John’s two disciples turned and followed Jesus.

John 1:37 (NLT)

Just like that. John lost two followers and Jesus gained two.

Our Commission is the same a John’s—prepare the way for the Son of God and point Him out to any who will listen. But then the difficult part comes, when they’ve met Jesus, we need to let them go. I don’t mean to say that we introduce people to Jesus and then walk away, leaving them to struggle in their newfound faith. New believers need to be taught the Word of God. They need to learn how to be followers of Jesus. But once they have an understanding of the new life they have gained, we don’t get to “keep” them. They are no longer our followers, but Jesus’ followers.

Like John, we need to be able to point and say, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” And then we need to allow those people to follow Christ, not us. It can be difficult sometimes when those people choose a direction we may not have chosen for them. John had probably grown close to Andrew and Peter as they followed him. It is quite possible that they were both followers and friends. Yet, when the time came, he did not hold them back, but pointed at Jesus. Look! John had done his work well because, without question, Andrew and Peter stepped away from John and into step with Jesus.

Daily Bible reading: 1 Kings 16-18, John 1:29-51

Prove it

We are often so caught up in our activities that we tend to worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.

Charles Swindoll

Do you live a life that reflects the glory of God? Would people know you’re saved just by the way you speak and act? Why? Why not?

John the Baptist went ahead of Jesus preparing the way for the Messiah.

Prove by the way you live that you have really turned from your sins and turned to God. Don’t say, ‘We’re safe—we’re the descendants of Abraham.’ That proves nothing. God can change these stones here into children of Abraham.

John 3:8 (NLT)

That would be similar to me saying, “I’m good. My parents are Christians. My grandfather was a pastor.” While that statement is all fine and good, it says nothing at all about my personal relationship with Jesus. The fact that my parents are Christians doesn’t necessarily reflect in my own life. People won’t know that about me simply by the way I act.

My faith must be my own. It’s great if you have a heritage of faith in your family—mine goes back almost as far as we can trace—but even if you don’t, even if you’re the first of your family to find salvation, that fact should be proven by the way you live.

Remember what you have been saved from and always put before you what you have been saved into—a new family with a rich heritage and an even richer inheritance. You have a Father with unlimited power and supply and a Brother who can raise the dead. Don’t you want to prove that to everyone you know?

Daily Bible reading: Joshua 9-10, Luke 3

Gone Ahead

Do you ever wonder how much preparation God has done on your behalf? If you’re like me, probably not at all. But what if He has. What if, like with Israel, God has gone ahead of you and prepared something great? What if there is one person, like John the Baptist, cousin of Jesus, who has set out before you and made a way where there was no way? What if we really believed that God is for us?

“I know the Lord has given you this land,” [Rahab] told them. “We are all afraid of you. Everyone is living in terror for we have heard how the Lord made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt…”

Joshua 2:9-10a (NLT)

I tend to forget just how much preparation went into Israel’s settlement in the Promised Land. For 40 years, rumours of their exploits went through the nations, and like any good story, it probably got embellished along the way. By the time these stories reached Jericho, it was no wonder the inhabitants were living in terror.

Israel was a huge nation who had left Egypt and crossed a sea on dry land. They’d been led in the wilderness for a full generation by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. They’d been fed with manna that arrived like the dew every morning. They drank sweet water from a rock. They defeated every enemy the Lord set them up against.

While these stories were working fear into the hearts of their enemies, they were building strength and courage in Israel.

I command you—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9 (NLT)

This is why, in the previous verse, Israel is reminded to meditated on God’s Word. To study it day and night so that they would be able to obey it and remember it and with it, have success.

The same stands true for us today. God has gone ahead of us—whether we’re aware of it or not. The closer we keep His Word to us, the stronger we’ll be. The more courageous we will be. The more confident we will be in the God who has made plans for good and not disaster, to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

The enemy before us is already terrified. They’ve already lost the battle. If we go in confident in the One who sent us and His Word for us, we can’t lose.

Daily Bible reading: Joshua 1-3, Luke 1:57-80