On fire for Christ

Luke 12:49-56 On fire for Christ or…

 

Fire is fascinating.  (talk about the bonfire last night) Have you ever lost yourself as you stare into a fire; losing all sense of time and worry as you gaze into the flickering coals of a camp fire?  What makes fire fascinating for you?

For me, its the way it seems to dance about above a burning log, suspended in midair, like a kite dances when held tight by its string in the wind.  Flames whip, flicker, rise and drop, they change colours from blue through to bright white.  And what about the warmth we get from fire, nothing is better!  There is a lot about fire that attracts us; it gives us life, light, heat and energy.  But we have to treat fire with caution and respect.  We have to understand fire, know its properties, anticipate its burn rate and heat.  You see, fire is two faced; it heats, but it also burns!  It shines light, but it also blinds.  It gives life, but also takes away. We know that fire gives warmth, but we also know that if we stand too close to fire and ignore the heat for the sake of comfort, we will burn and die.

Have you heard about the ‘boiling frog’?  The boiling frog story is a widespread tale describing a frog slowly being boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The boiling frog story is generally told in a symbolic context, with the upshot being that people should make themselves aware of gradual change, lest they suffer eventual undesirable consequences. (Wikipedia)

The world is on fire…don’t worry Ros, it wasn’t because of your bonfire.  Jesus’ mission to the world has kindled the earth into a great big bonfire.  John the Baptist prepared his listeners for this declaring “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come,…and will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire…he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Jesus fulfils John’s prediction saying “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” 

There is indeed fire upon the earth, but at this point in Jesus ministry, he had yet to kindle it.  There had to be an ignition point, a flint strike from which his fire would ignite.  Jesus knew exactly when, how and where he would strike the fire saying “I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!”  His death on the cross was to be Jesus’ ignition point; the event in which he would set the world ablaze.  In a way, Jesus is portraying himself as the match stick that had to strike a box ,and the striking point was the cross; his death as judgment for the world’s sin, as foretold in Isaiah 53 “he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Well, I hope you and I are not frogs in boiling water and about to be boiled alive, because I can’t feel any heat…what about you?  Yet perhaps we are, and if so we had better recognize, acknowledge and respond appropriately to the fire, or as the boiling frog story tells, we will suffer undesirable consequences!   St Paul reveals to us the fire of Jesus in 1 Corinthian 1:15 ‘the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

The gospel message of the cross is the fire of Jesus that now rages around us.  We can not ignore its seduction and draw; the gospel flame burns with an intensity that calls us to either life or death; to burn for Christ or burn in hell; it is foolishness to those who don’t believe, but it is the power to salvation for those who place their hope in Christ.  We are either spiritually blind, ignorant of the cross’ saving power and so, like frogs in boiling water, are doomed to death, or we respond the cross in repentance and faith and so be saved by the power of God. 

If we were to translate directly from the Greek, Jesus described his death on the cross as ‘throwing fire upon the earth’.  The message of the cross is fire, because it is two faced like fire.  It does one of two things, it warms, but it burns; it empowers, but also destroys; it brings life, but it kills.  Some will hear, confess their sins thinking; if God’s own Son had to die for my sin, there must be no other way to heaven than repent, be baptised into Jesus death and believe.  Others will reject the cross as stupidity and a remnant of our primitive society.

Jesus foretold the effect of his cross’ fire saying “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three.” Has this happened to you?  In your family? Among your friends?  Have you lost the urge to speak about your faith because people reject your testimony?  Have you stopped encouraging others to come to church because nothing happened?  Perhaps you may have put the cross further down the list of priorities in life because its fire is too confronting, unreasonable, getting in the way or even powerless to help in life?

If this is you; if you are experiencing division, rejection or feeling your faith being challenge by the world, then you are experiencing the fire of the cross; its power and heat are upon you and you need to interpret it as the power of salvation; that the gospel message of the cross is burning its way through your life and you can either remain ignorant and indifferent, like the frog, boiling to death in our Western culture’s indifference to Christ, or you can interpret your division, suffering and even failures as the marks of the cross for blessing and salvation.  Jesus said, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. How is it then! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. Yet you don’t know how to interpret this present time?”

Without spiritual understanding and faith in the cross, our present time, with many rejecting the gospel, turning away from regular church attendance; where sport, sex, wealth and good times are promoted as the first priority for our lives, we would be tempted to conclude that Jesus’ fire of the cross has been extinguished.  But don’t be fooled.  These very events and signs Jesus wants us to take note of and to interpret, that the message of the cross is taking effect; to respond with repentance and faith in the message of the cross and to not give in to today’s indifference as, well ‘sign of the times.’  It is the fire of the cross causing the division, with some repenting and believing, while others are rejecting and persecuting. 

St Paul always proclaimed Christ and him crucified and nothing else.  He passionately proclaimed that the only way to salvation is through the message of the cross, announcing “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”  He chose to preach and live the cross and so spread the fire of the gospel.  However, in doing so, he had to endure the marks of the cross; suffering as Christ did, enduring the scars and pain that the fire of the message inflicts.  Instead of giving in, he interpreted his suffering as signs from God that the fire of the cross was alight and spreading.  

In 2 Corinthians 6 St Paul gives us an account of what it means to be faithful in enduring the shame and fire of the cross  for the sake of spreading the gospel “as servants of God, he writes, “we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger;  in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Fire gives light, heat and life, it burns, destroys and kills, it gives and it takes away.  So it is with the message of the cross; it gives and takes away…yet blessed be the name of the Lord!  We all have scares, burns and wounds, suffered for the sake of the cross, but we all hold steady to the cross of Christ, for through it Jesus has redeemed us, let us not forget or be indifferent, but rejoice in this present time, and hold firm in faith saying together the words of the hymn O the old rugged cross by George Bennard

“O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.

In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.”

 

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