"I came to cast fire upon the earth; and
what do I desire, if it is already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized
with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" (Luke 12:49-50).
"But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what
ye ask. Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink? Or to be baptized with the
baptism that I am baptized with?" (Mark 10:38).
"Or are ye ignorant that all we who were
baptized into Christ were baptized into his death?" (Rom. 6:3).
Turning back to the first passage in Luke
12:49-50, it is necessary to say a very brief word about the translation of this
statement of the Lord, for as it stands, it is not quite clear and there is a
diversity of interpretation. "I came to cast fire upon the earth" - the
better rendering would be - "and how I wish that it were already kindled! But
I have a baptism to be baptized with." You see, there is a strange break
here in the narrative. The Lord Jesus has been saying a number of things very
largely in the form of parable and interpretation and explanation. So suddenly
at this point, it is as though He checked Himself, paused and looked right on.
His heart grew large and suddenly burst forth in these words which seem to have
no connection with what He had been saying: "I came to cast fire upon the
earth, and how I wish it were already kindled, but I have a baptism to be
baptized with", inferring that there was something through which He was to
pass before the desire of His heart and the purpose of His coming could be
His statement falls quite simply into its own parts. "I came to
cast fire" - the purpose of His coming. "I have a baptism to be baptised
with" - the passion related to the purpose. "How am I straitened till it
be accomplished!" - the way of His release or the release of the fire.
will now look at those parts of the statement briefly.
The Purpose of Christ's Coming
The purpose - "I came to cast fire upon the
earth." At different times our Lord made some statement as to the purpose of
His coming. "The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost"
(Luke 19:10). "I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly"
(John 10:10), and so on. Here is one of those declarations as to purpose in His
coming, 'I came, with all the other things for which I came, I came to cast fire
on the earth.' I think the best explanation of what He meant by casting fire on
the earth is to be found in what did actually happen. We follow through to the
afterward of His passion when the fire most certainly was scattered on the
earth, and we look to see exactly how that worked out and what that meant, and it
is quite clear in the first place that it was the fire of an irrepressible,
irresistible expansion of His Kingdom. Fire has a way like that, you know, if it
really gets a hold it takes a lot of stopping. It is irresistible and
irrepressible. It is a feature and a characteristic of fire when it is scattered on
the earth, especially if the earth is as it was in those days and still is -
very dry and very flammable. And so we see that when the fire came down from
heaven on the day of Pentecost, and was scattered on the earth through those in
whose hearts it was kindled, it spread with this irresistible expansion. The
Lord Jesus said, 'I came for that.'
I always feel that these statements are really
challenges; that is, they find us out. Let us put it quite simply, that, if the
purpose for which Christ came is having a clear way by the Holy Spirit doing His
work unhindered, there must be this something which is irresistible and
irrepressible. There is something which goes on, extends and expands. This thing
cannot be shut up; it cannot be straitened. It is something released in the
earth. That is what the Lord meant by the full statement - something released -
release this fire and things will happen.
I remember a man went to see Mr. Spurgeon on
one occasion as the representative of the "Defence of the Bible", and asked him
if he would become a vice-president of a Society for the Defence of the Bible.
Mr. Spurgeon looked at him in the way in which he did look at people sometimes,
especially those people, and he said, "My dear brother, does a lion need
defending? Just loose him, and that is all that is necessary." I think that is
capable of transference to this. Give the Holy Spirit a way, and see what
happens! Allow the release of the Lord, and things will be irresistible and
irrepressible. Indeed, they will get beyond us and beyond us. We will not be
able to cope with them.
There are various figures of speech and
metaphors used in connection with the Holy Spirit. He is not only spoken of as
fire, or symbolised by fire. On the day of Pentecost He was symbolised by a
mighty rushing wind. You get in a mighty rushing wind and you just know that you
cannot cope with that; that is beyond you.
There is a word here used later by the Lord, to
which we will come presently, but it is appropriate to note it now. "How am I
straitened till it be accomplished!" That word 'straitened' is very
interesting in the New Testament. It is given to us in various forms. It means
'constrained', and that word is found in the gospels when the woman, pressing
through the crowd with her infirmity, stretched forth her hand and touched the
Lord and He turned and said, "Who touched Me?" His disciples said, "Master,
the throng press Thee, how sayest Thou, Who touched Me?" And that word
'press' is exactly the same Greek word as 'straitened'. You know what it is to
get in a crowd. Perhaps you have had some experience recently. Get in a mighty
crowd, and see just whether you can resist it, whether you can hold it. No, it
is like that; get in a crowd, and you have got to go with the crowd. It is no
use, you have just got to go.
The same word is used about those who took charge
of Jesus in the day of His passion and delivering up. It says that the men that
held Jesus mocked Him. The men that held Jesus; it is our word again:
straitened, constrained. And you know the type of men that they were; not very
much use trying to resist those men. They were of the toughest type. They would
not brook any resistance. The only thing to do with such men is to yield to
them, let them have their way. The men that held, the men that straitened,
constrained, or pent up. It is the same word that Paul used when he said, "The
love of Christ constraineth us" (2 Cor. 5:14). This is the word, this word
which means just holding in, obtaining possession and mastery. That is what it
meant here. "I came to cast fire", and it takes possession, and there is
no resisting when that fire really gets a hold and gets its way.
The Fire of Discrimination
It was the fire of unerring and avoidable
discrimination. Fire always finds things out. As it creeps and encroaches and
overtakes, it makes one discrimination between things that it can devour and
things over which it has no power. It puts them into those categories; the
finding out, the classifying, the deciding. Look at the context, Luke 12:51 - "Think
ye that I am come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather
division." He goes on - "There shall be from henceforth five in one house
divided, three against two, and two against three. They shall be divided, father
against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter
against her mother; mother in law against her daughter in law, and daughter in
law against her mother in law..." - discriminating, setting things in the
category to which they belong.
One category is that which can go on and abide
and endure because it is of God. The other will be licked up by the fire, and
simply pass out of existence. "The fire shall try every man's work", said
Paul (1 Cor. 3:13). The fire of unavoidable and unerring discrimination. That
has ever been the effect of a work of the Holy Spirit; to put us into the place
to which we belong. It is a kind of dividing thing all the time. Are you for or
are you against? Are you with or are you not with the Lord? Are you going on
with the Lord, or are you not going on with the Lord? The Holy Spirit is
pursuing that course all the time to find us out and to just classify us like
this, so that when the Holy Spirit has worked we are in definite categories.
Division has come, and it is unavoidable.
It is no use, dear friends, our trying
to avoid this. You see, here is a terrible statement. "I came not to send
peace, but a sword" (Matt. 10:34), dividing even families and households.
You cannot avoid it; it is no use trying to. If you are going on with the Lord,
this sort of thing is going to happen, and in the world it is going to become
perfectly clear and pronounced where we are. It is of no use just trying to keep
and avoid, you have got to yield to the work of the Spirit, and it is costly in
your own home with the clear division on the ground of whether the Lord is
having His way or not - clear division in the family anywhere, everywhere - you
just cannot avoid it. It is a part of what we are going to say in a minute about
The Fire of Provocation
It was the fire of inevitable provocation. No
sooner had the Spirit come, the fire fallen and begun to move over the earth,
than there was tremendous and terrific uprising of antagonism. It is inevitable.
If you and I are going to be men and women of the Spirit, we are not going to
have an easy time. Hell will see to that. At once the clash arises and it is
true that the more the Holy Spirit is able to have His way in us and to lead us
into all the will of God, the more we find this opposition, this antagonism. And
it not only comes between us and the world, it sometimes comes in the circle of
the Lord's own people. It is inevitable provocation. You wonder why, sometimes.
As you read the New Testament you wonder, 'What is the matter with these people?
Why should they be so upset and so annoyed? And why should it be so spontaneous,
this thing? And persistent; so unreasonable?', but there it is. There is the
fact. It is inevitable.
You see, this thing that the Lord came to do
and is doing, will not allow for any neutrality. It is going to be one thing or
the other. It is going to be for or against. The eyes of flame (here the fire
comes in again) the eyes of flame will not allow lukewarmness or anything that
is of the Laodicean character. The fire is a positive element always, and it
will create positive situations. If everything is all just nice and quiet, no
disturbance, no trouble and no antagonism and opposition, you have reason to
question whether the Holy Spirit is doing much, because He does aim at such a
positiveness, which is a very, very costly thing. It is either with the Lord, or
not with the Lord, and there is nothing between. It is going to come out sooner
or later and be precipitated.
Now, the Lord says that is what He came to do.
This is not an accident, a chance or things having gone wrong or miscarried. This
is exactly what He came to do - to scatter fire on the earth and these are the
inevitable effects of the fire. They are going to work out.
The Passion of Christ and His Church
"I have a baptism to be baptized with" -
and this really is the main point in my own heart for this hour: the passion.
Quite clearly from His words to His disciples as we read in Mark 10:38, this
baptism related to His Cross: "Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink? Or
to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?", clearly referring
to the Cross, the passion. It is the way, and the only way, of the scattering of
the fire; the fire being cast upon the earth - this mighty thing of irresistible
growth and progress and expansion. All that we have said about the fire entirely
depends upon the passion. It was true in the case of our Lord.
And then we have our next Scripture: "Are ye
ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death?"
That means baptism into the meaning of His Cross, baptism into all the cost of
the Cross, all the agony of the Cross as well as all the issues and values of
the Cross. You see, it is very true that, while we are not one with Him in His
atoning work and have no part in that, that is His own unique prerogative and
work; there is no doubt about it that our identification with Christ goes beyond
our salvation, our justification, our redemption. It carries us right into the
passion, "filling up... that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ...
for his body's sake, which is the church" (Col. 1:24). The point is this,
that there is no expansion and progress possible without passion, without agony,
without travail. There is no mighty conviction in this world apart from the
Passion. There is none of this work of discrimination and dividing and setting
things in their place and making them quite apparent as to where they are and
what they are without deep cost on the part of the church and the Lord's
servants; and so they found it.
Stephen found it like that, did he not? Very
soon that became apparent, that what it had cost his Lord, in measure much more
limited perhaps, but up to the hilt in his own life it was costing Stephen and
the rest. And it has always done that. This fire has got to get such a hold of
us that we are not only glad and privileged to believe on the Lord Jesus, but
also to suffer for His sake (Phil. 1:29); the fire which consumes us to suffer,
if needs be, on His behalf. No individual life will become effective in the
sense in which fire is effective except as that life is baptized into the
passion of Christ. No local company will ever be effective in the sense in which
fire is effective except in so far as that company, that local company, shares
the passion of its Lord and knows His suffering in fellowship.
And so it is true of the whole church. It just
must be like this. The history of the church is the history of a long succession
of baptisms into passion, baptisms of blood, baptisms of suffering. With what
result? Every time expansion, every time new effectiveness. It has always been
like that; it always will be like that. We were baptized into His death, and
into all that it means to be in union with Christ in His death. It means this
also, that we were baptized also into His sufferings, into His passion. It is no
use trying to avoid it, there it is.
The Way of Release
Then He says that the Cross for Him was the way
of release, "How am I straitened, how am I held in, pent up, until it be
accomplished!" The passion of the Cross is the way of our release, and if
you consider your own spiritual experience, those of you who have any experience
of a walk with God, you know quite well that it has been through times of deep
and acute suffering that you have found fresh releases; fresh releases in your
spiritual life. Is it not true? Yes, we pass into a time of excruciating
spiritual and soul suffering. We do not know what the Lord is doing, what He
means by this, what He is after, but we know the features of our experience and
know what it is that we are suffering, and it goes on. We, of course, ask the
Lord to stop it, to bring it to a quick end, to deliver us from it. He takes no notice
of us, and it is only those people who get out the other end who say, 'Thank
God, He did not take any notice.' In the meantime, we think He is anything but
kind and good and doing the right thing, but as we get on under His hand, we
begin to see and to sense that He is dealing with something. Maybe He is dealing
with our pride, our independence, or our irresponsibility, for example. That is
the issue that comes up, and we are faced all the time with something about
ourselves that is almost devastating. We would not have believed that that was
so strong in us.
Oh, of course we were always ready to believe
that that is in mankind and in us as a part of mankind in a general way. Yes, we
would never have resented being told that there was pride or something like that
about us, but we would never have believed how deeply rooted and terribly strong
that thing is until it was put to a fiery test and everything was held up, and
we saw that everything in our life and work for God was held up on that point. A
Do you know what I am speaking about? And when
we have come to see quite clearly what the issue at that given time really is,
and are able to bring it to the Lord as a clearly defined matter and concentrate
upon it, to have that dealt with fully and finally, when we are able to do that
we see a new door open - a new sense of release and new possibilities. And we know
quite well that what the Lord was after was not the pulverising of us, as we
thought, the winding up of us, but to bring about enlargement, to bring about
release, and release always lies along the line of the Cross, the passion.
Enlargement always lies in that direction.
Our being baptised into His Cross,
into His passion and sufferings becomes a very practical thing like that upon
this issue and that issue, and another issue all the way along. And whenever
those issues are hedged round, clearly defined, and become the thing upon which
everything else hangs and are dealt with before the Lord on that ground, that
whatever else there may be (and there may be a very great deal more) nothing is
possible until this is cleared up. When it is like that, and we really have very
thorough-going dealings with the Lord on that matter upon which He has put His
finger, has put His Cross, and brought us into the passion of it. We begin on
the one side to understand the meaning of Christ's Cross to Himself, that He was
dealing with the whole universe of obstructions and limitations to God's full
Now, we have come into that piecemeal, so to
speak, on this point and on that point. It was all included there, but now it is
applied, it is applied Calvary, it is applied union with Christ in death. And
the result? - Well, as I say, release. "How am I straitened till it be
accomplished", and we can say that very truly over this matter and that.
'How am I held up, and held in until the Cross has effected my release
concerning this and that.' The Cross is a way of release.
But it is a cup, and it is a bitter cup. It is
into His death. I think that if we could grasp what is being said, we should
understand what a terrible thing the death of Christ was to Him. We are today
thinking of His death, His Cross, His crucifixion, His sufferings, and of the
aspects and stages. But oh, dear friends, we have only got to go through the
Cross on one point in our lives to be smashed to pieces! One point - our
pride, as I have mentioned - just one point, something in our lives that is not
the Cross, that is not really crucified, the ordeal of that one thing is
sufficient to simply devastate us. To think in His Cross He summed up all such
things! Who can count them? Who can remember them? Who can fathom them? All
those things were concentrated in His Cross when He was made sin for us. How
terrible must have been His Cross when considered spiritually; the spiritual
meaning of it. No wonder His very physical frame broke down under it. The strain
was too much for His soul in His blood, and it broke. Yes, but what a tremendous
thing through that breaking, what a release!
You see, what I want to finish with is this:
that the outcome, the issue, the tremendous power that went out into the earth
was commensurate with the immensity of the thing which was done in the Cross.
The Cross is an immense thing! The sufferings of Christ are immense sufferings.
No other could stand even a part of them without disintegrating. Tremendous!
Then the effect of the Cross ought to be commensurate with that - so effective,
so telling - as we have said: so irresistible.
Well, what does it all amount to at the end?
That you and I have got to have a fresh apprehension of the meaning of the
Cross. We have to enter more understandingly into the meaning of the Cross of
our Lord Jesus. The Cross, as we have so often said, is not just the elementary
thing of the Christian life, where "at the Cross we first saw the light, and the
burden of our sin rolled away", and that is the beginning and the end of the
Cross. Make no mistake - that is only the beginning. But here the Cross is not
for our deprivation. It is not something that is to be a weight that breaks us.
The Cross of the Lord Jesus is meant to be the way of our liberation, of our
enlargement, of our escape.
"I came to cast fire." That is the
purpose. Incidentally to the purpose: the passion; but that is only a way - that
is not the end. The end is the purpose realized. But it is always through the
Cross, always on the ground of the Cross. Enlargement, expansion, increase in
power and effectiveness, and all these things; the Cross brought into our lives
in these very practical ways. If the Lord is leading us through a difficult time
and you feel that it is all breaking and crushing and emptying, do believe that,
if Good Friday says anything at all, if Calvary says anything at all, it says
this: that this suffering, this bad time, in the whole purpose of the Lord is
pointing directly to release and enlargement. Believe that. You may frustrate
that, you may frustrate the purpose of God, but that is His purpose, and that is
what He means, and it is not narrowing down and limiting, and crushing. It is
release that is in view; it is enlargement. "How am I straitened till it be
We can all say that about this and that thing,
"How am I straitened until" this thing is done. When this thing is done,
this fresh application of the meaning of the Cross, then I will be enlarged, I
will be free, there will be something more of the Lord in life and in service -
there will be more fire, mighty fire.