FIRE ON THE EARTH
Luke 12:49 53
Jesus came to set the world on fire. He was a heavenly arsonist. HowŽever this part of His mission became a
source of frustration to Him for awhile. We learn this from this very personal passage. In the passage it is almost
as if these words are spoken out loud to Himself. He is reflecting upon Who He is and what He come to do. He
says, "I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? But I have a baptism to be
baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" After speaking these words to Himself, He then
addresses His disciples again.
These words give us a profound revelation concerning the ministry of Our Lord. They also prepare us for the
realities of the Christian life. Let's look at the details of the passage.
I. THE FIRE ON THE EARTH IS THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Not all scholars will agree with the statement I have made. You will find various
interpretations of the fire in this passage. Probably the one most commonly held is that this is a reference to the
judgment. It is true that fire is often associated
with judgment in the scripture. It is also true that a part of our Lord's mission
surely did include the bringing of judgment upon the evil in the world. This was a primary theme in the preaching
of John the Baptist as he prepared the way for His coming. However, this just does not seem to fit in this passage.
It is hard to imŽagine the Lord Jesus frustrated because He had not been able to pour out the fire of judgment
upon the earth. The latter part of the verse can be translated, "how I wish that it were already kindled." The fire
on the earth must embody some special favor that the Lord longed to bestow upon His own.
To see the fire as the gift of the Holy Spirit that He longed to pour out upon them fits in this passage. It fits
because the presence of the Holy Spirit is often associŽated with fire. The Holy Spirit is the earthly manifestation
of the presence of the eternal God. In the Old Testament His presence was often expressed in fire. Fire fell upon
the altar at the dedication of both the tabernacle and the temple. There was a manifestation of fire on Mount
Carmel under the ministry of Elijah. When the Holy Spirit was finally given by our Lord on the day of Pentecost,
there was a maniŽfestation of the tongues of fire. Surely what our Lord is stating is that He had come to bestow
upon the earth the gift of Pentecost, even upon a special group of people on the earth, the blessed gift of the
Holy Spirit. When you explore this figure of the fire a little more fully, you will see that this makes sense.
Fire is the emblem of enthusiasm. As you may know, our word enthusiasm actually comes from two Greek words
that mean God in you. This is precisely what happened when the Holy Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost.
That waiting group of Galileans were transformed by His presence. They suddenly became filled with a passion to
share Christ with the whole world. There was a fire burning in them that could not be quenched. This is what
Jesus so desperately desired to bestow upon them.
Fire is the emblem of energy. Again this is the work of the Holy Spirit. He enerŽgizes the people of God for the
task God has given them to do. They do the work God has assigned in the power that He provides. Oh, how
Jesus wanted His disciples to have the power to live the godly life and to serve the purposes of God. For this
reason He has come to bring the "fire".
Fire is the emblem of purity. Fire purifies. It burns out the gross. It will conŽsume all that is combustible, but will
purify that which cannot be burned. This too is the work of the Holy Spirit. As He finds a place in your life, He
consumes all that is displeasing to the Lord and perfects all that is pleasing. He will produce in you a
genuineness and purity and becomes the joy of the heart of God.
It was the deep desire of the Son of God to bestow this fire upon the disciples. He wanted the earth to have a
manifestation of God in human life. He longed for this to become a reality. So we can have no doubt about our
Lord's desire concerning us. He does want us to be filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit.
II. THE FIRE ON THE EARTH REQUIRED THE DEATH OF CHRIST
But there is something that must happen before the Lord can cast His fire upon the earth. He describes it as His
baptism. "But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished.''
Jesus uses this figure of baptism to set forth His death. To baptize is to immerse. In order to be able to give the
Holy Spirit, He must be immersed in death. This gives some insight into the nature of His death. His death will be
complete. He will not be sprinkled with death, or have death poured on Him, rather He will be immersed in it. He
will utterly die.
It also gives us a suggestion about the importance of His death. The implication is that the death was a necessity
if He was to be in a position to cast the heavenly fire upon the earth. This reminds us that there was a sin burden
upon us that must be removed before we could be given the fire of the Spirit. A sacrifice for sin must be offered to
prepare the sinners for the coming of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The words of explanation added by the Lord let us see the centrality of this in the mind of Jesus. He said, "And
how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" "StraitŽened" is the key word. It means to be under pressure, to be
seized, to be hemmed in. In the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, a helpful translation is suggested. "I
am totally governed by this until it be finished." The Cross was ever on the mind of the Lord. Every decision was
made in light of this. He knew it to be the will of His Father that He be offered for the sins of the world, so He set
His face steadŽfastly toward it. He so wanted the fire of God to be given to the earth that He was ready to
undergo the dark baptism of blood, to become a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
What a gift! Surely a gift that cost so much should be received gratefully and handled carefully. It is no small thing
that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, that we have the fire of God burning in our hearts. It is no small thing that
we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. In order for this to be a reality it was necessary that the Son of Man be
baptized in the death of the Cross. He voluntarily underwent the same to bring us to a position where it could
III. THE FIRE ON THE EARTH PRODUCES DIVISION
This confronts us with one of the more surprising statements that our Lord ever made. "Suppose ye that I am
come to give peace on earth?" The question is not surprising, but the answer that Jesus gave to this rhetorical
question is a surprise. Since He is the Prince of peace, and offered peace to men, surely we can say that He
came to bring peace on earth. But Jesus says, "Nay, but rather division." This is to be understood in connection
with what He has just said. The result of the giving of the fire of the Holy Spirit will be division. The division will be
painful. It will inŽvolve separation right in the family circle. It will cause a father to turn against his son and a son
against his father. It will cause division between mother and daughter, and daughter and mother. It will cause
families to be split in every imaginable way. Jesus did not come to bring peace at any price, but rather came to
call for such a radical commitment to Him that those who refuse to make the commitment will cast out those who
do. Those who receive the fire of God in their hearts will be so different in their life style that they will become
intolerable to the world.
A little reflection will help us understand this. The Holy Spirit will lead those upon whom He falls to have a radical
new center and devotion for their lives. He will make them the people of Jesus Christ in such a special way that
they will become different from the people about them. The primary concern of their lives will become to be
pleasing in His sight. They will be marked by their obedience to Him. People who refuse to walk in the broad way
become offensive to those who walk the broad way.
Out of this there will come a whole new set of values. The man who is under the fire just does not value this world
too much. He will use the world as the Creator inŽtended, but he does not place supreme value upon it. The
things that others desire so deeply and work for so earnestly just do not interest him. He has set his affections on
things above. Their value systems will soon be in obvious conflict.
Out of this there will come a new set of goals for life. The man under the fire has goals that involve eternity. He
does not live for this world, but for the world to come. You can really sum it up by saying that the Holy Spirit
produces a whole new world perspective, a new way of viewing reality. The man in the Spirit looks at everything
Since the family circle is the place where we come into closest contact with perŽspective of others, this is the
place that division may first show up. However, it will extend into other relationships. The world will exclude you
from their circles. It happened like that when Jesus gave the fire in the New Testament and it will happen that way
I have a fear for us. I fear that we have attempted to produce a Christianity without the fire. We want a Christianity
that will get us elected most likely to succeed or outstanding young man of the year. We want a nice religious
image but not really the fire. Jesus knew what we needed. He knew that man's real need was the fire of God, the
Holy Spirit. Since He knew this, He went to the terrible ordeal of the Cross to make it possible. Then according to
His promise, He poured out the fire on His waiting disciples on the day of Pentecost. He is still with us. We must
not quench him, but rather give him our full cooperation as He does the work of God through us.
My prayer is "Lord, let the fire fall!''