He Set the World on Fire
By Linda Rex
This morning I was reading about an enormous fire in the state of Idaho at Sun Valley. This wildfire is threatening many homes in the mountain resort community, causing many to flee as firefighters attempt to contain the massive blaze.
I was reminded that as a child I used to have nightmares about being caught in one of the wildfires that often frequented the southern California foothills near where I grew up. A fire such as this would burn through the hills above us at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, often burning homes that were in its path. Sometimes the Santa Anita Winds would feed the fire, multiplying the damage it created to catastrophic proportions.
As a child, the loss to fire of all that I knew—home, family, belongings—was a frightening prospect. The only thing that eased the horror of such a prospect was my fledgling faith in a God who would take care of us. Otherwise, it was a concept that for me meant the end of the world as we know it. Having heard that one day the world would end in conflagration, I was rather frightened by the prospect of such a terrifying end.
So why did Jesus say that he came “to set fire to the world, and I wish it were already burning?” God himself is described as a consuming fire. Many scriptures point to the day when all that is evil will be consumed in the fire of God’s wrath. Is God such a wrathful, angry God that he looks forward to burning everything and everyone up?
Not only did Jesus say that he came to set the world on fire. He also said that he had a baptism he had to undergo and he was constrained or bound to complete it before the world could be set ablaze. The baptism he was facing was his own baptism by fire, the crucifixion. Jesus knew that when the time was right he would be unjustly accused and executed like a criminal by the leaders of his own people. In this event, as the One who is fully God and fully man, he would take upon himself all that every human being had ever done or would do that was deserving of death and bear our punishment in our place. He was working diligently every moment toward that end, to complete his commitment to all of humanity to save them from their sins. What drove Jesus to do this was the love of God for all the people he had created to bear his image. God’s great love bore the full extent of God’s wrath upon himself in our place. In Christ, God burned away all our sin, self and evil, not only by his sinless life, but also by his suffering, death and resurrection.
Sometimes a fire reaches a point of such intensity that it cannot be put out, but must be left to burn itself out. A firestorm is a fire out of control. We know that fire consumes all that is burnable in its path. It requires both flammable substances and oxygen in order to burn. Water or other substances that cut off its access to oxygen will snuff a fire out. The fire of God’s love is like a firestorm. It cannot be quenched—it is an unquenchable fire. We may do our best to attempt to quench the fire of God’s love. We may even turn away from and reject his love. But God’s fire will have its way, and will burn away all that mars the perfect image of him in each and every one of us.
After Jesus’ supreme sacrifice, the disciples gathered together to pray. They anticipated Jesus keeping a promise he had made to them—that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist had pointed his followers to Jesus, who would baptize with “the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Now Christ’s followers looked forward to Jesus doing exactly that. The Spirit, when given, was manifested as flames of fire, lighting on each of the believers. Through each of these people who received the Holy Spirit, God set the world ablaze with the fire of his love. And he still does this today.
As a person opens him or herself up to Jesus Christ and his Spirit, God goes to work in that person’s heart and life, and he begins to burn away all that is not in agreement with God’s nature, heart and life. As the flames of God’s love consume all that is not godly, a believer begins to change, from the inside out. It is a process, a journey that is life-long. No matter the ups and downs of life, God never stops working. The fire of his love never changes, though we may live and act in ways that attempt to quench it. When we trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ, when we keep our focus on him, each day sharing in his death and resurrection, dying to self and living to God, we are transformed from our natural glory into ever-increasing glory that reflects our divine Origin.
As believers grow up into Christ, they will begin to change. They will not think the way they used to. What interested them before will not always interest them, because their interests and thoughts will be governed by the Spirit of the God who made them, rather than by what their carnal nature may desire. They will grow up into the image of God they were created to be—they will begin to take on their true identity, being as they were meant to be. They will come fully alive. And the fire lit in their hearts and lives will begin to spread to those around them.
So we see in the book of Acts how the fire Jesus lit in the hearts of his followers began to spread throughout Judea, Samaria and then on into the areas beyond. And followers of Jesus can be found today in many nations throughout the world. Where his people have gone, the fire of God’s love has spread, and will continue to spread as they continue to participate in the life and love of Father, Son and Spirit they were created to share in.
The Love of God is an unquenchable love, an all-consuming fire, and will not cease to work to conform all humanity into the image of God in Christ. In the end, God’s love will destroy anything and everything that stands in opposition to him and that will bring harm to his children or destroy the image of himself his children were created to manifest. This is a conflagration we do not need to fear, as we are united to the God of Love in Christ by the Spirit. This firestorm is our salvation, hope and joy. Praise God!
We praise you, God, that you are an all-consuming Fire, a Fire of Love and Life. Thank you for uniting yourself with us in Jesus so that we need not fear the fire of your wrath, but rather can enjoy the heat and cleansing power of your love. We trust you to finish what you have begun in us to bring us to wholeness in Christ. We pray in his name. Amen.
“I came to set fire to the world, and I wish it were already burning!” Luke 12:49 (NCV)