“The interest of the people by now was building. They were all beginning to wonder, ‘Could this John be the Messiah?’ But John intervened: ‘I’m baptising you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house – 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 trash to be burned.'” Luke 3:15-18.

Just imagine! These were the people who stood on the threshold of a new era in Israel’s history. Messiah was about to be revealed! And they were in on it.

No wonder they ran after John, even putting up with his scathing accusations to hear what he had to say. There was something in the air and they did not want to miss it. But, just like Jesus’ disciples, they all suffered from selective hearing. They associated Messiah so closely with their hope of deliverance from Rome that they conveniently missed the crux of Messiah’s purpose for coming.

John could not have made it clearer: kingdom life; fire; Holy Spirit; changing you from the inside; clean sweep; true/false…all these things had to do with the heart, and attitude, and behaviour, and relationships, and people – the  inner being – and nothing to do with politics and Roman occupation. But they just didn’t get it.

Funny how little has changed. Judging by much of what is propagated by so-called Christian television, the message still has to do with externals – blessing and prosperity and houses and cars and me, me, me; a free passport to heaven and everything I can get out of it now while I wait.

But that’s not what John told them. Messiah was about kingdom life and fire! If we read this like a Hebrew, fire was not about hell for those who don’t believe; fire was about purifying and burning off everything that contradicted the nature of God and His way of doing things; getting rid of the chaff so that the grain can be used. There is no place in His kingdom for anything false, like greed, selfishness, bitterness, anxiety, fear, unforgiveness, unbelief, jealousy, discontent and everything that makes our lives fall apart. It’s got to be burned off, burned up, if we are to have any place in God’s kingdom.

Unless a person is willing to let the fire burn, following Jesus becomes a very uncomfortable business. He’s not afraid to turn up the heat because He is passionate about presenting to His Father a family that resembles Him. If we are not prepared to let the fire burn off what does not resemble Jesus, the alternative is “torment”.

Torment is very much about “hell” now – the unquenchable fire of inner pain and turmoil. Have you ever been there? Jesus’ fire works quickly – it burns off the offending thoughts, attitudes and behaviour that contradict who He is, and peace is the blissful outcome, His peace that makes no sense but it’s real anyway. Hang on to your “stuff” and the fire burns slowly and never stops. It does not consume your issues but it does consume you.

When you think about it, God’s fire is pure mercy. Who, in his right mind, would want to hang onto the things that cause torment anyway? I recently read an article in a popular South African magazine about a woman who spends R3500.00 a month (about $350.00) on tranquillisers because she was raped. I have a young woman in my study group who endured the same terrible experience but she’s free because she allowed Jesus to “burn off” her anger and bitterness, and the torment has gone.

What John was introducing was something far better than a “Romans-free” life. When you are free inside, the outside has no power to enslave, no matter how bad the circumstances are. With shredded backs and their feet in the stocks, Paul and Silas sang in the jail because they were free.

That’s what Messiah came to do!

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Luella Campbell

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