What if someone could sneak up to you while you were sleeping and pour amazing knowledge into your head? What if that knowledge were specialized and deep, like ... knowing how to perform life-saving surgery with a tube sock and a ball-point pen with one hand tied behind your back? When you wake up, you go out into the world as you normally do, doing the things you normally do. You have no idea that you possess this new knowledge. How will you ever know that you possess this new knowledge? It's in you. Now something has to bring it out of you.
Your car hits a slick spot on the highway just like the car in front of you. You're both out of control and there is an hellacious crash. You stagger out of your vehicle, wincing in pain. Your arm dangles at your side, broken in three places. You catch a glimpse of another victim laying face down on the shoulder of the roadway. You feel for a pulse. You feel the blood. A rush of adrenaline goes through you. You suddenly, inexplicably, rip off your sneaker, jerk off your sock, tossing it between your teeth as your hand dives down into your pocket for a pen.
Now you know. What got poured in came pouring back out.
In today's text, Matthew tells us of Jesus' baptism and wilderness temptation. In the one, Jesus has the Holy Spirit flow down upon Him, in the other He has the demon of hell fly in His face. John the Baptist was baptizing with water so the people could demonstrate their turning from sin and toward faith. But John says of Jesus, "He is more powerful than I." "He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire." How fluid is Matthew's storytelling that after that statement, the Spirit shows up and then, a fiery trial!
The baptism of the Holy Spirit pours something special and deep into you, and the fiery trials of life bring it out of you. Most of what we have abiding in us through the Holy Spirit is a mystery to us. Only when the test comes do we discover what we possess. And as generous as God is at sending His Spirit into those who turn from sin and toward faith in Him, He is just as overjoyed at drawing Him out. I suppose James understood this when he wrote, "2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
What a conundrum! I want to be mature. I want to be complete. But, I do want to lack something -- trials and testing! Nevertheless, Matthew and James are in agreement; no fire, no refinement. no painful struggle, no proven Spirit. OK, then Lord. I've turned from sin and to You. I have demonstrated that by my baptism. And You have baptized me. You have immersed me in your Spirit. Now immerse me in Your flame. I thank you for your Spirit. Teach me how to thank you for the fire.
Pray: Teach me how to thank you for the fire.