The raw ancient element of fire that offers comfort, protection and provision. Firepit is a journey to uncover the fire stories of the Bible and personally connect with the God behind them.
Ever heard someone described as fiery and easily ignited? Let me tell you about a guy in the Bible who was a bit like that. His name was John the Baptist. This is Firebrand. John the Baptist is one of those characters often depicted in religious paintings and stained glass windows with a halo around his head. I hope I don’t offend anybody when I say it isn’t a very accurate image of him. So, let’s discover what this guy was all about. Many people thought he was the one but he was just the warm up act. John’s role was to herald who was about to show up, the imminent arrival of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Saviour of the World, the one who everyone was waiting for, the one we all need.
Apparently, John and Jesus had some similarities, they were pretty much the same age for starters but there was more. The Great Prophet Isaiah, as he stared into the future horizon, predicted with pinpoint accuracy many things about Jesus. Where he would be born, how he would grow up, the things he would say, how he would live, who his friends would be and his death on the cross. Some people call the Book of Isaiah the fifth Gospel because it is so full of Jesus references but Isaiah also spoke about John the Baptist. Here’s what the Bible says:
"John the Baptist came in the wilderness and began preaching. His message was this, “Turn to God for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!”
So, Fiery John was not exactly a pious, softly spoken shrinking violet. Someone who was not overly bothered with maintaining the status quo. A man who burned with the fire of God and everyone knew when he was in town. He was big news and he couldn’t be ignored. Thirty or so years later people were comparing and even confusing Jesus and John. On one occasion, Jesus asked his disciples a question “Who do people say I am?” “Some think you are John the Baptist” they replied. King of challenges the typical impression people have of Jesus doesn’t it? But far from being a self-promoting first century A Lister, John was quick to deflect the attention off of himself continually pointing to Jesus. This is how his story and his words are recorded by both Matthew and Luke.
"People from Jerusalem, the surrounding area and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. When they confessed their sins, he baptised them in the River Jordan. I’m baptising you here in the river, turning your old life in for a Kingdom of God life but the real action comes next. The main character in this drama who compared to him I’m just a stagehand. He will ignite this kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean the house and make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God. Everything false he’ll put out with the rubbish to be burned."
John was branded with the fire of God and he had a powerful magnetic draw. Far from being an oddball people avoided, he was the exact opposite. Even the religious big cheeses were up for listening to him. Now, they absolutely didn’t agree with him, nor him with them,but maybe he was entertaining. John Wesley, another fiery preacher and founder of the Methodist Church two hundred or so years ago. He had 600 full time evangelists working with him and most of them had been converted at Wesley’s open air meetings. On one occasion he preached to an open air crowd in excess of 30,000 at the site of a disused tin mine in Cornwall.
John Wesley said this to his trainee preachers “Set yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles around to watch you burn." He didn’t mean literally, or at least I hope he didn’t, but I bet he was thinking of John the Baptist when he said it.
George Whitfield was a close friend of John Wesley. He burned with the fire of God as well. He would preach the message of Jesus to the queues outside the theatres. They were so captivated that when the show started inside they stayed outside to listen to him. John the Baptist knew what his purpose was. He told his listeners one was coming who he was not worthy to bend down and lace up his boots. I am nothing compared to Jesus he said. But then when Jesus came he didn’t behave like the headline act that he was. Jesus came as a servant.
John said he wasn’t fit to bend down a lace up his boots but Jesus did something that shocked everyone. He washed the feet of his disciples telling them that the first shall be last and greatness is only attainable through humility. Ultimately, John the Baptist was put to death but yet another power mad ruler, hell-bent on holding onto power. King Herod was scared to death of him and so were the corrupt leaders of the day who were preoccupied with enforcing a system that kept the ordinary people in their place.
Radical men and women who follow Jesus are always effective because they value his truth beyond their own reputation and are prepared to speak out. When confronted with God’s truth you really only have two options. You either surrender your life to him or you have to live like he doesn’t exist. You too can be filled with the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead. He’s the one who can rescue you, sort you out, and fill you with fire. That fire will burn away the rubbish, purify the other stuff and put you on a completely different path. Pray this prayer along with me today.
Lord Jesus I acknowledge you as the Christ, the one sent from Heaven to burn up everything that is evil in the world. Fill me and baptise me with the fire of Heaven that I would live as a child of God and a follower of Jesus. Amen