Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Ties that Bind: A Heritage of Fire

My father has always been the one interested in our family's heritage.  More than once in my childhood, I would walk past the dining room to find half the table littered with multi-branched charts taped together, tea-stained pictures of some distant stoic-faced relative, and stacks of photocopies.  Some were of pages in library books, detailed letters from one relative to another, or accounting ledgers.

Most all the interesting pieces were filled with cramped, painfully-consistent cursive handwriting, almost illegible and just like my Great Grandma Maggie's

All of it was my heritage.

Biologically, I can trace my lineage across the oceans to a time before America's formation as a country.

But what about my lineage as a Christian?  That's much harder.

Granted, my own salvation is a direct result of my parent's training me up in the Lord as is their salvation.  From there, though, moving backwards is a bit more difficult, especially since faith isn't always passed down biologically.  Often, one's faith is a direct result of someone of a different bloodline sharing the gospel.

While I can't fill in the gaps in-between, I do believe Scripture provides Gentile Christians like myself with the starting point, the "Adam and Eve," if you will, of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the consuming fire that burns within each Christian.

Consider both the tabernacle and temple in the Old Testament.

When God first deigned to dwell below with His people in the desert, He gave Moses plans to build the tabernacle.  Then, when this temporary dwelling place was completed, He filled the tabernacle with His presence in two ways: by cloud and fire: "Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle...the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel" (Ex. 40:34, 38).

The fire from heaven was not merely a symbol.  It was the only fire permitted to light the lamp stand of God's presence within the Holy place as well as to light the altars of sacrifice wherein people could gain atonement for their sin.  Any other fire on the altars would be considered "strange fire" presented to the Lord, an act punishable by death (Lev. 10:1-2).  

When the priesthood of Aaron first offered burnt offerings to the Lord at the newly completed tabernacle, God sent the needed fire from heaven: "Then fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces" (Lev. 9:24).  Once God lit the fire, making a way for man to find atonement, it was supposed to be permanent: "Fire shall be kept burning continually on the altar; it is not to go out"(Lev. 6:13).

Later, when King Solomon built a permanent dwelling for God, His presence came down in the same manner: "Now when Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the house.  The priests could not enter into the house of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled the Lord’s house" (2 Chron. 7:1-2).

But then, Israel fell into sin.  The fire on the altar was allowed to go out, the temple was ransacked, and God's people were carted away in the chains of slavery.  When the lamp of God's presence flickered its last, there was no longer any potential for atonement for one's sin.

That's when the Father sent His only Son, Jesus, to be God with Us, the ultimate sacrifice, once and for all.

When Christ left, He left His followers with God's comforting presence in the form of the Holy Spirit to light the temple lamp of as many who would come to Him.  This is why Jesus told His followers: "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house" (Matt. 5:14-15).  This is why Paul told Christians, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?" (1 Cor. 6:19).  

When God's Presence came down to fill His earthly temples one last time with the Holy Spirit, it was, again, with fire: "And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:3-4).

Fire filled the temple of God for the third time in recorded Scripture, only this time, the temple was made of flesh and blood.  This time, the lamp lighted with God's presence was you and me.

Just imagine--when the Holy Spirit fell in tongues of fire on those first Christians, he was lighting the first lamps that would stay lit until today.

If you are a Christian, your heritage goes all the way back to that upper room when the Holy Spirit fell on the very first believers in Christ, lighting the lampstand of the new temples of flesh. 

It is an awesome thought.

It's also an awesome responsibility.

Just as the priesthood of Aaron wasn't supposed to let God's fire go out, we Christians today are also charged with keeping our lamps trimmed and mounted high on a stand for all the world to see God's Presence within our temple.

To God be the glory!

1 comment:

  1. I love this! Such a beautiful additional teaching to what I studied (a long time ago!) in Beth Moore's "A Woman's Heart: God's Dwelling Place" about the tabernacle. Thanks for writing it.