Evangelist Billy Sunday: “The well-known village atheist was seen running vigorously to the site of a burning church building, intent on joining with others in helping to extinguish the flames. A neighbor, observing him, exclaimed in amazement, “This is something new for YOU!–I never saw you going to church before!” The atheist replied, “Well, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a church on FIRE before!”
Leonard Ravenhill was an English evangelist and author. He focused much of his ministry on prayer and revival. (1907 – 1994). Perhaps his most notable book was Why Revival Tarries. Ravenhill once asked, “Do you go to church to meet God or to hear a sermon about Him? How many come to church expecting a confrontation with God?” Again he asked, “When did you last tip-toe out of the sanctuary? (When) you couldn’t say a word to anybody (because) you were so overwhelmed (with the glory of God).”
I believe a church on fire is a church so thick with the manifestation of God’s glory that everyone who comes in cries “Holy.” It is a church where it is inevitable to have a living encounter with Jesus Christ. It is a church where hearts beat passionately for the lost to be saved, and the saved to be discipled. It is a church that is full to overflowing because God is manifesting His Presence.
Let’s talk about how the Bible presents the concept of “Fire,” as it might relate to the people of God, the church. Although the writers of the Bible speak of fire in many different ways, when it came to the spiritual use of fire, they often attributed fire to God. Yahweh manifested Himself in various forms of fire on many different occasions.
Consider some of these manifestations: the making of the Covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15:17), the burning bush (Exo. 3:2-4), pillar of fire (Exo. 13:21), on Sinai (Exo.19:18), in the flame on the altar (Judg. 13:20), and Yahweh answering by fire (1 Kings 18:24, 38)
Leviticus speaks of “Fire” on the altar where the Israelites brought their “Burnt Offering.” This offering represents Total Surrender.The New Testament parallel is likely Romans 12:1.(Not a place of ‘blessing’ as much as ‘death to self’)
In Leviticus 6:12 we read, “The fire on the altar is to be kept burning; it must not go out.” The instruction is repeated in v. 13. “Fire must be kept burning on the altar continually; it must not go out.” One reason this perpetual fire was so important is because it was started directly by God: “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” (Leviticus 9:24).
I want to suggest Three Realities fire represents in the Scripture:
1. God’s Matchless Person.
We read in Leviticus, God said, “I will demonstrate my holiness to those who are near me . . .” (10:3a) Holiness as it relates to God is difficult to define. It is used to speak of God’s absolute uniqueness. It speaks of His distinctness from the rest of creation. It references God’s majesty and His absolute deity. It is also used to describe His ethical nature. That He is absolutely righteous and always good. God is light.
Some words are easy to: a Baseball. I can tell you a baseball is a sphere approximately 3 inches (7 cm) in diameter with a twine-covered center of cork covered by stitched horsehide. It is used in a popular game and I could describe the diamond, and the bases, and all aspects of the game, and you would formulate a pretty good picture in your mind.
But how do you define “Beauty.” The dictionary says, “a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight.” That really doesn’t tell us much. And as they say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
It is like that with “Holy”. But our text says, “I will demonstrate my holiness to those who are near me, and I will reveal my glory before all the people.” (10:3) But we gain some understanding of “Holy” when we think of the word “glory”.
John Piper says, “The glory of God is the manifest beauty of His holiness.” “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” (Isa. 6:3)
Holy is what God is that no one or nothing else is. It is His quality of perfection that can’t be improved upon and can’t be imitated; His quality that is incomparable, that determines all that He is and is determined by nothing from outside Him. It signifies His infinite worth, His intrinsic, infinite worth, his intrinsic, infinite value. But we cannot see that. Glory is the going public of his holiness. Notice again what Isaiah says . . . (6:3)
Fire often symbolizes God’s glory. And God’s glory is a representation of His Person. It is the revealing of His holiness.
2. God’s Manifest Presence.
Fire also signifies God’s (manifest) presence. “God is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24). The Shekinah glory was visible in the fire at the altar of burnt offering. This ongoing presence of God reminded the Israelites that salvation is of the Lord. The atonement made at the burnt offering could only be made through Him.
In the NT John the Baptist declared the Messiah would baptize with the Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16).
Fire often served as a sign of judgment and refining, but it also reminds us of the Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost in the form of “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3).
The continuously burning divine fire at the altar of burnt offering helped remind the Israelites of the reality of God’s presence and of their need for God.But there were also times when the pillar of fire would rest upon the Tent of Meeting, and God’s glory would be visibly manifest.
This sacred fire on the altar endured throughout the 40 years in the desert and likely beyond that, as tabernacle worship continued until the time of King Solomon and the building of the Jewish temple. When the temple was dedicated, God once again lit the fire on the altar (2 Chronicles 7:1). (EZEKIEL !) – GLORY DEPARTS
A.W. Tozer reminds us “The Presence and the manifestation of the Presence are not the same. There can be the one without the other. God is here when we are wholly unaware of it. He is manifest only when and as we are aware of His Presence.”
3. God’s Mighty Power
The fire on the altar also served as a constant reminder of God’s (mighty) power. It was a gift from heaven. No other source of fire was acceptable to God (see Numbers 3:4). I believe this is why Jesus tells the disciples right before His ascension; linger before God until the Holy Spirit has come. And when He comes, you will receive power . . .
A church on fire is a church ignited with the power of God for evangelism and mission. And there is huge a difference between (1)Spirit (Supernatural) fire from God and (2)Strange fire worked up by God’s people. Ravenhill said, “I believe every church is either supernatural or superficial. I don’t believe there’s any middle ground.”