The Divine Pyromaniac
There are some words from the lips of Jesus which are preached about frequently and even easily. But there are other words from the lips of Jesus preached about not-so-frequently. And even then, with great difficulty. This is one such word. I read for you just two verses from the twelfth chapter of Luke’s gospel, the verses which are numbered 49 and 50. This is the Word of God. “Jesus said, ‘I came to cast fire upon the earth, and would that it were already kindled. I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how I am constrained until it is accomplished.'”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, oh God, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I looked it up in the dictionary. The word “pyromaniac” means “one who has an irresistible urge to start fires.” Well, on the basis of that definition, I want to suggest to you that Jesus was a divine pyromaniac. Let me explain. Here in the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, we note that Jesus was preaching a sermon. The crowd numbered in the thousands. Luke says the crowd was so large, in fact, that they were trampling all over one another. And yet, mixed into the crowd were Sadducees and Pharisees, individuals who were there in order to make their case against Jesus. And Jesus knew they were there, knew why they were there, knew that the opposition to Him and to His ministry was building rapidly, could feel the pressure closing in upon Him. And as He proceeds through this sermon – a sermon which takes into account the pressures around Him, a sermon which speaks of the difficulty of leading the Christian life in the midst of a world like this.
As He proceeds through this sermon in the midst of this crowd, feeling the pressure around Him, suddenly Jesus stops right in the middle, and He turns to the side, away from those to whom He has been preaching, and He – well, a word just simply bursts out of His heart. It’s a word not addressed to Heaven or to earth. It’s not a prayer, and it’s not a sermon. It’s not a part of the sermon He’s preaching. It’s a word that He speaks audibly, yes. But a word that He speaks almost to Himself. In the midst of the terrible emotion of the moment, feeling the pressure around Him, suddenly He turns and He cries, “I have come to spread fire on the earth. And would to God that it were already ablaze.” That’s the word of a divine pyromaniac. “I have come,” He said, “to spread fire on the earth.”
I want to ask you now to join me in looking at that word of Jesus. It’s a tough one. And so I want us to take what He said and kind of break it down into its separate parts in the hope that perhaps, by God’s grace, we shall understand it a bit better.
First there is this: Jesus said, “I have come to spread fire on all the earth.”
Fire. That’s the key word. Jesus was using a word which has great meaning in Scripture. It’s a word which, in the Old Testament, stood for, represented, the powerful presence of God. You remember Moses? You remember when Moses encountered God? He encountered God in what? In a burning bush. And that same word is used in the New Testament for the same purpose: to represent the powerful presence of God. You remember on Pentecost, the Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit of God came upon the disciples like what? Like flaming tongues of fire.
Always fire represents the powerful presence of God. But here, Jesus takes the word and uses its original meaning, but adds to that meaning. And I think you can see that, because Jesus says, first of all, “I have come to spread fire on the earth. And I wish it were already ablaze.” But then He adds another sentence: “I have a baptism with which I am to be baptized, and I wish that it were already done.” Now scholars are agreed that when Jesus speaks here of baptism, He’s not speaking of the baptism with water, the baptism that we know. No. He’s talking about the baptism of blood. He’s talking about His cross. And so Jesus is saying, “I have come to spread fire on the earth. And I wish it were already ablaze. And My death on the cross will ignite flames. And I wish that it were already done.” Jesus is here saying that fire, the fire He’s come to spread, is both God’s power and God’s love. But they go together, really. Don’t they? I mean, you would agree, would you not, that love is the most powerful thing in the world?
They wanted to break a piece of metal. A hammer was used until, in its fury, it lost its head. A saw was used until, in its anger, it broke its teeth. A chisel was used until, in its frustration, it blunted its edge. Then the flame said, “Let me try.” And the flame proceeded to wrap itself about that metal and embrace it warmly, and wouldn’t leave it until it melted. You know what I’m saying, don’t you? That that heart which will not yield to force or coercion – that that same heart will melt under the warm, loving embrace of love. That’s the power of Christ’s love. That’s the fire He came to spread on the earth. And you want to know what happens when that fire begins to burn in your life? Well, let me give you just one example.
Seventeenth-century France. The man’s name, Blaise Pascal, one of the greatest scientists and mathematicians the world has ever known. It was one night in November when Blaise Pascal, feeling that something was missing in his life, though he had achieved extraordinary prominence as a scientist – feeling that something was quite beyond him, went to his room, closed the door, sat down at his desk, and picked up a Bible and flipped it open, and began to read in the Gospel of John, beginning at the 17th chapter and reading on, and reading about the preparation Jesus made for the cross. And as he read, suddenly he realized he was weeping. And he knew that he was in the grip of something stronger than he was. He felt that he was in the midst of some great spiritual moment. He didn’t understand it. But being the scientist that he was, he wanted to be able to understand it, to analyze it. And so what did he do? He took a pen and a sheet of paper, and he began to write. He began to describe on paper the things that were happening to him from beyond. And he wrote, right at the top of the page, he put the date: 23rd November, 1654. And then the time, 10:30 PM. And then just a little cross. And then he wrote a word, one word in big bold letters, right across the page: “Fire.” That’s what was surrounding him. “Fire.” And then all of the other thoughts that were tumbling through his mind and his heart. They began to pour out through his mind and his heart, and he put them on paper as they came. “Certainty, no doubt. God, Christ, God in Christ. Thy God shall be my God. Only God, only Christ. Joy, peace, certainty, fire.” He was trying, you see, to capture oceans of emotion in just a few atoms of ink. And he wrote on the page all of those words. They just poured out all across the page and around it, up and down. The letters get more and more staggered as he goes. And he cries out, on the paper, “Fire.” And again, “Fire. Joy. Joy. Joy. Tears of joy. Fire.” And then, “I surrender.” And from that moment on, his whole life was transformed. And we know this is true, because you see, when he died, they found sown into his clothing, right next to his heart, that sheet of paper. And Pascal went on to become one of the great saints of the Church. Interesting, isn’t it? Did you catch his name? Blaise Pascal. And yet it was the fire of the love of Jesus Christ that burned in his life that made that name worth remembering.
That’s what happens when you begin to confront the reality of God’s love in Jesus Christ. The flame is kindled within you, and the fire begins to burn. And like the fire does for metal, so the fire of God’s love will do for you. It will begin to soften you. It will begin to melt you. It will begin to remake you and to remold you into something infinitely more wonderful than you ever dreamed you could be. It’s happened again and again throughout history. It can happen here in this place at this moment. The fire of God’s love in Jesus Christ can begin to burn in your life.
That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “I have come to spread fire on all the earth.”
But then there is this. Jesus said, “I have come to spread fire on all the earth.”
The more I study the life of Jesus, the more impressed I am at His worldview. For Jesus, the Kingdom of God was always worldwide. And notice if you will how many times the word world appears on His lips. “I am the Light of the World,” He said. “Go into all the world,” He said. “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world,” He said. “As the Father has sent me into the world, so now I send you into the world,” so He said. Again and again, the world. Jesus always wanted to win the world. “I’ve come to spread fire on all the earth.” You know, I’m convinced that the people of the world are more anxious to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ now than at any time before in human history. I believe that.
Look, for example, at the Muslim world. They build their faith on a book called the Quran. And yet now modern scholars are beginning to apply their skills to that book. They’re beginning to analyze that book. And they’re beginning to make some statements which lead us to believe that the Quran is not what it purports to be. And not only that, but there are a lot of people in the Muslim world who are beginning to feel that the Quran does not provide adequate spiritual resources to them in terms of living in the kind of world we’re living in. There’s a crisis within Islam today. And if you doubt that, then all you have to do is to look at the terrible wars going on as Muslim attacks Muslim in the Middle East today. There’s a crisis there, and I submit to you that’s an opportunity for the Gospel that’s exciting indeed.
Or look at the Far East, where ancient faiths have established caste systems and have denied the reality of human need, and many many people in the Far East today are beginning to call those ancient faiths into question. And they’re beginning to say that Christianity may be the faith for the future in that part of the world.
And if you doubt that, then I would submit to you that all you have to do is to look at the extraordinary explosion of the Christian faith in Korea or in Indonesia. Same thing is happening in other parts of the Far East. Or look at Africa and South America. So many parts of those continents are still trapped in Voodoo worship or strange kinds of superstitions. And yet there are reformations going on in those places. As a matter of fact, sociologists tell us that maybe by the turn of the next century, the majority of people on both of those continents will bear the name of Jesus Christ. It’s an exciting time for the Church of Jesus Christ in our world. “I have come,” Jesus said, “to spread the fire of My love over all the earth.” But we need to remember that for Jesus to spread that fire over all the earth, that means not just across the sea. That also means across the street.
You see, if we believe that Jesus is Lord, if we believe that Jesus meant what He said, that, “No one comes to the Father but by Me,” if we believe that, then we as Christians in America today have no alternative but to go and to sell and to tell the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. Not just across the sea. That too, yes. But also within our own neighborhoods.
D.T. Niles, the great preacher, was speaking to the Christian students at the University of Edinburgh. There was a huge crowd there. And suddenly in the midst of his lecture, he stopped, and he said, “I want to ask you a question. How many of you here have non-Christian friends?” And practically every hand in the house went up. And then D.T. Niles said, “That’s fine. Now I want to ask you a second question. These non-Christian friends of yours. When you stop to think about them, does it make you feel sad?”
That’s the question. That’s the real question. Because you see, I know perfectly well that every single one of us, every one of us, has at least one non-Christian friend. And when we think of these non-Christian friends of ours, do we begin to feel just a little bit sad? I know this is hard for us to think about, and I know it’s even harder for us to do something about. But, well, let me put it to you this way. Let’s just suppose for a moment that you had cancer, and you were in the hospital, being treated there. And your doctor suddenly discovered the cure for cancer, and he then proceeded to use that cure to accomplish your healing. What would your response to that be? Would you keep that secret to yourself and let other people just go on dying because of the lack of knowledge? Or would you, with some kind of false humility, say, “Oh, well, you know, it’s not really my place to let other people know about that. Surely they’ll learn from some other source.” Or will you just stand back and wait, hoping that someone will come up to you and ask you about it, so that then you can give them the answer?
Would you do any of those things? Certainly not. No. You would proceed to tell everyone you know everything you know. Well, my friends, we need to remember that cancer can stop only the body. Evil can stop the soul. Cancer can stop only life on this earth. Evil can stop life eternal. And if we would be so willing to tell others about the one, then why in the name of Almighty God would we not be just as willing to announce the other? That’s what Jesus wants to know. “I have come,” He said, “to spread the fire of My love over all the earth.”
But then there’s this. Jesus said, “I have to spread fire on all the earth. And I wish it were already ablaze.”
He’s saying, “I have come to give my life in order that you might live. And I wish that it were already done. I’m ready to make the sacrifice. And out of that sacrifice, there shall come the victory.” That’s always the way it is. When we stand firm in our faith and make the sacrifices which are required, then we shall know the victory.
I love the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Old Testament. Because of their faith in God, King Nebuchadnezzar had them bound and thrown into the burning, fiery furnace. And not long thereafter, the king looked into the furnace, and he cried out in alarm, “We threw three men into the fire. But now there’s a fourth there. And they’re walking about unharmed. And the fourth looks like the Son of God.” That’s the way it is. When we are willing to immerse ourselves in the fire of sacrifice for the sake of Jesus Christ, there we shall meet the Son of God. He is waiting for us in the midst of the flames. And so no matter how difficult it may be to carry out this mission to the world, if we do it, the victory will come.
Way back in the days of the Roman Empire, not long before Christianity brought that empire to its knees, Caesar the Emperor, out of his own sense of power, decided to order all of the soldiers of the Roman army to bow down and worship him as god. The order went out. All were to do it. Anyone who failed to do it would be sentenced to death. At that point, there was one particular Roman legion stationed up in Switzerland. It was winter. The commanding general of that legion received the order, and it upset him badly, because he knew that within his legion, there was a very special group of men, forty of them. They were called forty Christian wrestlers. They were known far and wide throughout the empire, known for their prowess on the athletic field, known for their heroism on the battlefield, known for their commitment to Christ in the field of faith. They were known far and wide and respected. And that commanding general knew that he didn’t want to have to kill them. But he knew they’d never bow the knee to Caesar. And so he called them forward, and he offered a compromise. He said to them, “Look, I’m not going to make you bow down before Caesar as god. I know you won’t do it. But I’m going to ask you to do this. I’m going to take a cup of wine, and I’m going to give a cup of wine to each one of you. And I’m going to ask you to stand here and, without saying a word, just pour it on the ground as an offering to Caesar. And if you do that, then everything will be all right.” And they wouldn’t do it. And so he knew he had no alternative. And so he decided that he would make their deaths slow, hoping that maybe in the process, they might change their minds. So he had them stripped, and he had them marched out onto the surface of a frozen lake in Switzerland. Remember, the dead of winter. And out there on the surface of that lake, those forty Christian wrestlers locked their arms with one another, and they began to sing. Yes, they began to sing one song. Just one song, over and over and over and over again. One song. “Forty Christian wrestlers wrestling for Thee, oh Christ. For Thee we claim the victory. From Thee we claim the crown.” Over and over and over. “Forty Christian wrestlers wrestling for Thee, oh Christ.” Over and over. And the time passed. And the night came, and the temperatures plummeted. And on and on they sang until just before the dawn’s light, the song grew weaker and weaker and weaker. And then as the sun’s light split the night sky, suddenly no voice was heard anymore. They all died, all forty. But they won the victory. They did. Because you know what happened? The word of what happened on the frozen surface of that lake in Switzerland began to spread like wildfire throughout all of the Roman legions. And more and more of the soldiers of Rome gave themselves to commitment to Jesus Christ. And out of that commitment, ultimately Christianity shattered the power of the Roman Empire. They won the victory, and they claimed the crown. “Forty Christian wrestlers wrestling for Thee, oh Christ.”
Jesus said, “I have come to spread fire on all the earth. And I wish it were already ablaze.” And when I hear Jesus say that, I know that I have no alternative but to say to us right now, “Only those who win for Him the victory shall receive from Him the crown.”
Let us pray. Merciful and most gracious God, let the fire of the love of Jesus Christ be kindled in our hearts this moment. And let us then, as we touch the lives of those around us, set them ablaze with that same love. Our Heavenly Father, lead us as we march forth from this place in the name of the One who came to spread fire over all the earth, even Jesus Christ. Amen.