The Fire Starter
Pentecost - May 23, 2021 The Fire Starter Today is Pentecost, a day when we celebrate the birth of the church by the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is also a day that launched the church's participation in Jesus' mission to the world. While these things are true, Pentecost was celebrated long before the disciples gathered in the upper room. We are going to look at the historical context of Pentecost to understand in more depth what this day means for us. But let's beginning by reading today's passage in Acts 2:1-21 **When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. ** 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 [languages] as the Spirit enabled them. **Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. ** Utterly amazed, they asked: "Aren't all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, **Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" ** Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?" Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine." **Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: **"'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' What an incredible experience this must have been for Christ's followers-and everyone in attendance! There is a lot of symbolism in the celebration of Pentecost. We're going to look at four different symbols in particular: **Harvest Historically, Pentecost was a feast that celebrated the firstfruits or first pick of the grain harvest. Exodus 23:16 tells us that it was also called, "Feast of the Harvest," and it included grain and loaf offerings. **I've learned so much from my experience as a blueberry farmer. For example, the harvesting of blueberries is not a one-and-done deal. The berries continuously ripen over about 4 weeks. My favourite variety is called Blue Crop, and the first berries to ripen are called the "king berries." They are usually the biggest and sweetest and most delicious blueberries. After the king berries are picked, we will return 2, 3, or even 4 more times to the bushes to pick the great harvest that follows. **The disciples and those who gathered in Jerusalem that Pentecost were the "firstfruits"-the first pick of a huge harvest. They were like the "king berries," ripe and ready, and the first of MANY to receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit absolutely TRANSFORMED these average people like you and me, and he's been transforming lives ever since! The harvest, even today, is abundant! It is a huge challenge to find enough workers to gather our blueberry harvest every summer. How much more so with the great spiritual harvest of people who are ready and waiting to be born of the Spirit. [Wind] **Another noteworthy symbol in our Acts 2 passage is wind. The wind is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. **The same Spirit who hovered over the disciples on this Pentecost day hovered over the void at the dawn of creation. In both cases, it was almost like the Holy Spirit was anxiously and JOYOUSLY ANTICIPATING the new thing God was getting ready to do. The wind signaled that the Spirit was there, and he was about to bring about a NEW CREATION-a NEW type of human, made in the NEW humanity forged by Jesus Christ. [Languages] **The speaking in different languages is also significant. Pentecost was the great undoing of the Tower of Babel. **Back then, humans wanted to advance themselves and create a world apart from God. If left unchecked, the entire world would have been united in evil and determined to REJECT and ignore the redemptive plans God had for humanity. In his MERCY, God confused their languages to disrupt their ill-fated plans. **At THIS Pentecost, however, God used languages to bring people to himself. No longer would languages be used to divide people. Now, God would use language to bring people together. [Fire] **Finally, the symbol of fire is most significant, and this is what we will spend the rest of the message on. This fire burned on the disciples, signaling that the age of God dwelling in a physical location like the tabernacle and temple was over. At the inauguration of both the tabernacle and the temple, fire was a symbol God used to signal his presence. So, when the tongues of fire settled upon the disciples, God was announcing a NEW ERA. No longer would God's presence rest in a house made of leather or stone. Now, God's dwelling place would be in the hearts of his people. WE are his temple, the place where heaven and earth meet, the place where God interacts with humanity. **To properly address the topic of fire, we need to go back to the spark that caused the fire. Pentecost did not just happen-rather, it was IGNITED years prior. Before he began his ministry, John the Baptist foretold of a coming Fire Starter, and he told us the kind of ministry he would have. Luke writes: **John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and FIRE. (Luke 3:16) As John predicted, the Fire Starter did come, and his ministry was as John predicted. During his ministry, this Fire Starter spoke of his work and how anxious he was for his fire to be lit. Here's what is recorded in Luke 12: **I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! (Luke 12:49) As you have likely already guessed, Jesus Christ is the Fire Starter. **He is the origin of the fire that blazed on the disciples on the day of Pentecost. It was Jesus' fire that burned in the upper room and signaled the beginning of a new age. Peter, in his message, echoed the voices of the Old Testament writers and called this new era "the Day of the Lord," and this new age was ushered in by wind and fire. But what does this mean? Is fire not destructive? **Does Jesus' fire bring punishment, judgment, and death? If you listen to how some portray the gospel today, you might conclude the answer would be "yes." There are some who believe and preach that the gospel is about FEAR. **They portray God as angry and vengeful, and we are to obey him to avoid harsh judgment. They teach we should be afraid to disobey. To those with this view, the gospel is not "good news" but rather a warning of impending doom. **Thankfully, this view of the gospel and the Fire Starter do not line up with what we find in scripture. They don't realize our obedience is a byproduct of our love for God. In the Bible, the qualities of fire are purification, presence, and power. Understanding these three aspects of fire from a biblical perspective will help us understand what the Holy Spirit unleashed on the day of Pentecost. **[Purification] The fire of Jesus is purifying because it cleanses us of sin. The cross dealt with humanity's sin once for all time. However, because sin still causes pain, God works in each of us to HELP US TURN AWAY from the things that hurt us or cause us to turn away from him. The fire is not violent, burning our sin away and harming us in the process. **Rather, Jesus is a warm hearth fire inviting us to SHED our sin like someone in Canada would shed a heavy winter coat when sitting in front of a cozy fireplace. We GLADLY give up the parts of us oriented AWAY from God in response to HIS goodness. We lose our TASTE for sin as we experience God's love, mercy, and grace. **Presence The fire of Jesus also symbolizes the ENDURING PRESENCE of God. **When God called Moses to shepherd his people out of Egyptian slavery, he appeared to him as a burning bush. Later, when the Israelites were leaving Egypt and did not know where to go, **God appeared in a cloud by day and fire in the sky at night. When they arrived at the place in the desert where God wanted to interact with them, **God revealed himself as a mountain on fire. From the earliest seed of our faith, God has used fire to symbolize his presence. The fire that appeared on Pentecost signaled that GOD WAS WITH HIS DISCIPLES NOW AND FOREVER. Every flickering flame declared God's words captured in the book of Hebrews, **"Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5 NIV) Power **Finally, the fire of Christ represents the POWER of God to SAVE and TRANSFORM. **Those on whom Jesus' fire fell were not the ones a respectable rabbi would choose. At best, they were unremarkable. But something happened to them after they encountered Christ. They were not the same. Jesus made them NEW-not just a cleaned-up version of their old selves-but something entirely different through the Holy Spirit moving in. God equipped them with power to be his WITNESSES throughout the world. **They boldly preached the gospel of Jesus Christ and their words were confirmed by awesome miracles. These formerly mediocre men and women DEFIED the greatest empire the world had ever seen. These unnoticed and underestimated believers CONFRONTED the spiritual forces of darkness without flinching. The sign God gave that he was going to use these individuals to turn the world upside down was the fire of Pentecost. The qualities of Jesus' fire-**Purification, presence and power--work together in EVERYONE who follows Christ. When God gives us faith in Jesus, he purifies and burns away the things that are NOT him so we CAN see him clearly. Then, he kindles the fire of his enduring presence, drawing us nearer to him and reminding us continually that we are children of light. Finally, he uses his power to make us new-to refine us into who we are supposed to be-and empower us with gifts to participate in his work. Each believer has had his or her own personal Pentecost experience and Jesus' fire burns in us through the Holy Spirit. **The fire of Pentecost was not just an individual experience. It was also communal. Those on whom the fire fell immediately went out and boldly proclaimed who Jesus was in various languages because fire spreads. Jesus, the Fire Starter, shared his fire with the church, and the church, in turn, should work to share that fire with others. We should carry the fire of Jesus into every corner of our society so it can burn away injustice, prejudice, oppression, despair, and unbelief. Jesus' fire can never be contained. Praise be to God who invites us to participate in his work to spread his fire to all humanity. **What started in that upper room on Pentecost continues today. The fire that fell on the disciples is kindled in US as well. May God bless us to BURN as brightly. May he cause us to SPREAD that fire in our communities. May that fire PURIFY us, remind us of his PRESENCE, and fill us with his POWER all for his glory.