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Fire on the earth

January 1970 | by Thomas Harding

Christ came to redeem his people and give them peace with God and eternal life. He says this very clearly in John 10:10: ‘I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.’ This is very reassuring for those who are his ‘sheep’; those who have been given to the Son by the Father and for whom he laid down his life.

But this is not all our Lord said about his ministry. In Luke 12:49 he says, ‘I came to send fire on the earth.’ This may seem to be a surprising statement. Why fire? Jeremiah 23:29 helps us to answer this question. In this passage God says, ‘Is not my word like a fire?’

It is therefore the Word of God which is like a fire, both as it is contained in Scripture and also in the person of Christ, who is the Word who was with God from the beginning and who is God (John 1:1). In what ways, then, can the Word of God, and Christ himself, be compared to fire?

1. One of the qualities of fire is that itgives light. In the Holy Place in the temple it was through the burning of oil on the candlestick that the whole place was lighted. This was the only source of light.

Christ and the Scriptures are the only source of real light for this sin-darkened world. Those who do not have Christ live in darkness. It is the gospel which reveals to us the nature of God and the only way of salvation which he has provided through his Son.

The gospel also reveals to us the true nature of man, in all his depravity and sinfulness in the eyes of a holy God (Romans 3:9-19). Sinners may close their eyes to the gospel light, or turn away from it, but in doing so their darkness will be all the greater.

2. Fire can be warming and comforting. The blessed gospel of the glory of God gives real comfort to sinners who are chilled at the knowledge of their guilt before a holy God. What greater comfort and assurance can be found than to know that our Lord Jesus Christ made a victorious, effectual, eternal sacrifice to put away our sins (Hebrews 9:12). Those who have long lived in the cold night of sin and disobedience rejoice in the warmth and comfort of the gospel of Christ.

3. Fire, when kindled, sends its flames upward. When the gospel has kindled a flame of fire in our hearts, it immediately causes us to look upward and to set our affections on things above, not on things of this earth (Colossians 3:1-2). When God is pleased to do a work of grace in our hearts, it causes an intense fire of burning love towards him (Luke 24:32). The truth of the gospel sets the soul on fire with gratitude and joy. We see the most astonishing display of divine mercy and judgement mingled together in Christ and his atoning work. The only way that a righteous and holy God could be merciful to sinners is through the perfect ransom paid by his own sinless Son.

4. Fireconsumes. Fire can burn off dross to purify, like gold, but it can also consume. Sinners who reject Christ will meet God as a ‘consuming fire’ (Hebrews 12:29). The fire which brings warmth and comfort to repentant sinners will be a consuming fire for those outside of the mercy of God in Christ. They will be faced with the consuming fire of the righteous judgement of God.

Do not play with fire.