While most will be enjoying a day off of work tomorrow gathering with friends and family for cookouts, we want to take time to remember the true reason for this holiday. At this time, we’re going to take a moment of silence to remember those who gave their all for our great nation followed by a time of prayer for those they left behind.
Of course, we’re incredibly thankful for the civil freedoms that those who gave all earned us, but we’re also going to take time this morning to remember another who gave their all for our total freedom, Jesus Christ.
3 After his suffering, Jesus presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
About this baptism, John said:
I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
We learned about the fulfillment of this promise last week at Pentecost Sunday. There is no experience that can compare to being baptized in the Holy Spirit, being refined by His fire, being filled to overflowing with His very Presence!
Reading through the Old and New Testaments, there is sometimes confusion when it comes to us encountering the Presence of God.
In the Old Testament, it was something to be done once a year at a specific place by only one person and they had to wear bells so that it was known when they would enter and exit it. Approaching the Presence of God was done in fear and trembling and with great preparation and caution. Most people wanted nothing to do with it and even asked God to go away when they were near Him.
In the New Testament, people are getting personally filled with the Presence of God and everyone wants more of it!
The truth is that there is no difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament nor is there any difference with His Presence. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Jesus even said that to see Him was to see the Father, however, many people in the Old Testament said that to see the face of God meant certain death.
What changed is simply our relationship with Him when Jesus spoke those last words, “It is finished.” The law had been fulfilled and the punishment for sin paid in full. It was that sin that separated God’s Presence from His people. That is why when Jesus died, the veil that separated mankind from the Presence of God in the temple was torn!
There is now a new covenant between God and mankind. Paul reminds us of this and explains this reality a bit more to us recalling God’s interactions with His people in the Old Testament. Although our relationship has changed, our view of God should still be in reverence and awe always in mind that there is only one reason that we can boldly come before His throne, the blood shed by Jesus to cover our sin!
It’s kind of like walking into a blazing furnace that would turn you to ash in a second if it weren’t for the protective clothing that you are wearing. Or perhaps the difference between gathering wood and making a fire in the middle of your living room on the floor versus making a fire in the middle of your living room in the fireplace.
Though we eagerly and joyfully enjoy the Presence of God, it is only because of Jesus that it is possible and that is something that we should always be mindful of and so incredibly thankful for.
18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken – that is, created things – so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”
Our God is an all-consuming fire. He spoke to Moses through a bush ablaze, to the Israelites with fire from Mount Sinai, leading the Israelites with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, purified Isaiah’s lips with the touch of coal from the fire, took Elijah to heaven with a chariot of fire, and there were so many other times when God responded by fire in mighty ways!
As we learned last week, at Pentecost, the fire of God transitioned from an outside sign to an infilling of His Presence within us. This is all from God and not from ourselves. It is a gift of God and nothing that we can work to earn by works.
In fact, let’s take a quick look back together to better understand this fact!
God’s people are set free from their Egyptian bondage and God continues the next steps into developing them into His people. He has Moses ordain Aaron and his sons as priests to intercede between the people and God. Moses prepares and performs the required sacrifices as God commanded him to. Moses is preparing Aaron and his sons for ministry and to show them what they are to do in their new role.
They then begin their ministry. At the very first service, they do all that God commanded just how they were shown to by Moses. They prepared the sacrifice and God responded with His glory and fiery Presence:
22 Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. And having sacrificed the sin offering, the burnt offering and the fellowship offering, he stepped down.
23 Moses and Aaron then went into the tent of meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. 24 Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.
Remember the order of their service. Aaron blessed the people, made the sacrifice, presented the offerings, and then went into God’s Presence. When they came out from God’s Presence, the blessed the people from it, the glory of God rested on everyone. Then fire consumed the offerings resulting in great rejoicing and facedown worship and praise to God.
Two of Aaron’s sons apparently enjoyed the glory and fire of the Lord so much that they tried to make it happen again on their own:
1 Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. 2 So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said:
“‘Among those who approach me
I will be proved holy;
in the sight of all the people
I will be honored.’”
Aaron remained silent.
When we simply obey, God responds with His glory, His fiery Presence, and His blessing. It results in joy and worship and praise.
We cannot force these things to happen on our own effort! We will only kill ourselves trying.
God responds to obedience, He honors His word and fulfills His promises.
We cannot reproduce the same results by doing something on our own.
We can zip tie apples to a lemon tree, but it will never produce an apple on its own. In the same way, we can never produce the fruits of the Spirit nor move in the gifts of the Spirit without the Presence of God’s Spirit. Gaining them in any other way is fraudulent and will never produce long-lasting, enduring fruit.
When God’s fire consumed the offering, His glory rested on everyone and there was rejoicing at His response. When man’s fire was placed where God’s fire belonged, it resulted in death and silence.
Nothing gets in the way of a mighty move of God’s Spirit like the ideas and ways of mankind. When we do what we think is best, when we do what we think will produce good fruit, when we do what we want to do, it dishonors God and His word.
The response to being dishonored isn’t just an Old Covenant/Old Testament reality, either. Just ask Ananias and Sapphira what happens when you hold back a little money for yourself and lie about what you give to the Lord. They suffered the same fate under the New Covenant as Nadab and Abihu did under the Old Covenant.
Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.
Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.
This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.
Our role and responsibility is simple obedience to God, doing what He says to do and refraining from what He says not to do. In that place only, can we find joy and purpose. In that place, we won’t be able to help but to joyfully praise and worship Him! There is blessing and life and goodness in obedience to God. There are curses and death and agony in going our own way.
Even regarding communion under the new covenant, Paul warned the church in Corinth:
1 Corinthians 11:27-32
27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.
Moses was insistently commanding the obedience of God’s people and warning them about turning away from God when he reminded them that:
For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
God’s great love burns jealously for you. You are His people, created by Him on purpose and for a purpose. You were created in His very image. To use our lives for our own selfish gain, to live for ourselves or to worship other created things, is to steal away what is God’s. We were created to be filled with the fire of God’s Presence. To fill our lives with anything else is to fill it was unauthorized, strange fire.
Jealousy, not covetousness, is not a sinful attitude. Coveting is desiring something that is not yours and something that you have no right to. Jealousy, in this specific context, is when something that is ours is being given to someone who has no right to it.
When others are flirting with your spouse and trying to initiate inappropriate relationships with them, you will get jealous in a good and healthy way that will cause you to rise up to defend and protect your relationship with that spouse and to fight off its enemies. That is how God feels toward us when we flirt with the things of the world. Many times in His word, He outright calls it prostitution with the world, cheating on Him.
For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
Under the Old Covenant, the fire of God physically killed people in their sin since there was no permanent covering for it. There were only ceremonial acts and sacrifices all made in faith for their sin. Under the New Covenant, the blood of Jesus permanently covers our sin. Now, the fire of God refines us and burns away our old selves revealing the new creation.
Under the Old Covenant, God’s people prepared a sacrifice and presented it as an offering. God responded with His fire.
1 Chronicles 21:26
David built an altar to the Lord there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. He called on the Lord, and the Lord answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering.
2 Chronicles 7:1
When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.
My absolute favorite account:
1 Kings 18:36-39
36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.
39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord – he is God! The Lord – he is God!”
We prepare the sacrifice, we present it as an offering, and God responds with fire turning people back to Him. This remains the case still today under the New Covenant. However, the sacrifice being offered has changed.
Today, WE are the LIVING SACRIFICE
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.
We sacrifice our own will and submit to His in obedience. As we offer up our lives as a sacrificial offering, the fire of God falls and fills us. Those around us can see the evidence of this fire and, like the people who observed Elijah’s offering, they can respond, “The Lord, he is God!”
Don’t let the fire of God go out in your life! Don’t let the things of this world cause it to smolder and flicker! Lay down your life as a living sacrificial offering and watch the fire of God set you ablaze for all to see as a result! Be on fire for the Lord!
This is both an Old and New Covenant reality!
The fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must not go out. Every morning the priest is to add firewood and arrange the burnt offering on the fire and burn the fat of the fellowship offerings on it.
And now Jesus says…
15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
Every day we have the choice to lay ourselves down so that the refining fire of God may work in and through our lives! Don’t be a lukewarm Christian!
Allow the refining fire of God to burn away that old self and reveal to the world that new self that you were created to be, a brand new creation! Fan in to flame the gifts within you and let the world see the fire of the One, True, Living God through your life!