THE FIRE DOWN BELOW

THE FIRE DOWN BELOW
A Pentecost sermon based on Acts 2: 1-21
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
May 23, 2021
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our
Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.


When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven
there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. Acts 2: 1-3


FIRE…In pre-scientific days before the advent of physics, the ancients believed that fire—along
with earth, wind and water—was one of the four cardinal elements making up the building blocks of
everything that exists. That understanding of matter and the universe goes all the way back to at least to
the 5th Century BC in the writings of Greek philosopher Empedocles. In many ancient cultures—including
the ancient Hebrew culture—fire was regarded as an aspect of the divine.
On the church calendar, today is Pentecost. This is the day when we celebrate the giving of
God’s Holy Spirit to the Christian believers in a powerful and unmistakable way. It is considered by
Christians of many different denominations to be the birthday of the church. You all no doubt remember
the story. Acts 2 tells us that the believers were gathered together in one place in Jerusalem. They were
holding a prayer meeting and they were following some of Jesus’ last instructions to them. He had told
them to wait in Jerusalem until such time as when they would be baptized by the Holy Spirit.1
And so
that is what they were doing…
In today’s passage, we are told that the coming of the Holy Spirit was accompanied by the sound
of a violent wind that filled the entire house. And then the disciples saw what appeared to be tongues of
fire that came to rest on each of the believers. Then, being filled with the Spirit, they all poured out into
the streets to proclaim Christ to those who were in the city…
Isn’t that interesting? The coming of the Holy Spirit among God’s people was accompanied by
both wind and fire—two of the four elements that the ancients believed made up all of creation. I think
that is significant. It appears to me that God used these two elements of what the ancients believed to
be the building blocks of creation to announce what he was doing—that there was now a new creation
being born. God was signifying that his creation was entering a new phase. The coming of the Holy Spirit
at Pentecost marked the beginning of a new world order. It is the time when the ever-creating, everactive God would work in the hearts of his people from the inside out, changing them more into the
image of his son, Jesus Christ.

1
Acts 1:4-5.P a g e | 2
As we consider the work of the Holy Spirit, I want to clear up a common misconception that
many Christians believe about the Holy Spirit. When many people think of the Holy Spirit today, they
tend to think simply of personal spiritual experiences. This includes charismatic gifts like speaking in
tongues or other powerfully effective spiritual gifts such as healing. Let me be clear at this point. Those
kinds of things are certainly present in the Biblical record for sure. The book of Acts and the writings of
Paul in the New Testament give ample testimony to these phenomena. No question about it. They are
in there and they are a part of the church’s story.
But a careful reading of the New Testament will reveal that the Christian community simply did
not discover and enjoy these gifts primarily for their own sake. That was one of the problems that the
Apostle Paul felt compelled to address in the book of 1 Corinthians. It seems that, in the church at
Corinth, the practice of spiritual gifts had gone out of control with everyone “doing their own thing.”
And chaos ensued. No—the Spirit did not give those gifts primarily for the benefit of the individual. The
Spirit gave those gifts and performed those miracles for a much more important reason.
Instead, the Bible indicates that the gift of the Holy Spirit is about the church living into its
identity as the new people of God. Ultimately it is the Spirit that empowers the church to be able to
give its full allegiance to Jesus as Lord rather than to the kings and chief priests who ruled over the
Jewish world…or to the emperor who ruled over the non-Jewish world. The Spirit enabled Jesus’
followers to do and say things that the authorities, both Jewish and pagan, saw as dangerous
nonsense—just as they saw with Jesus himself. And Jesus consequently paid the ultimate price for it.
And now, the Spirit is working to continue Jesus’ work in bringing the Kingdom of God “on earth as it is
in heaven” in all its fullness and power. The Spirit empowered the early Christians to defy the norms of
society and demonstrate that there is only one true king—and it isn’t Ceasar…2
There is only one true
king—and it isn’t the god of money…or the god of comfort…or the promise of the good life. NO—the
one true king is Jesus and it is the task of the follower of Jesus to declare his saving power to the world.
Equipping us for that mission is ultimately the most important work of the Holy Spirit…
For the rest of our time together today, I want to focus on one of the symbols of the Holy Spirit
that appears in Acts 2. That symbol is FIRE. I want us to think about a couple of questions in relation to
the workings of the Spirit in our lives. Those questions are: How is it that the Holy Spirit is like fire in the
life of the Christian believer? In what ways does the Spirit work in the life of the faith similar to the way
that fire works in the natural world?
One of the aspects of fire is that it can destroy…or it can create…
Over the last several years, the news media has been full of stories about the wildfires that have
swept over parts of California and other western states. For a while, it seemed that every week or so,
some new fire was burning large tracts of land. We have seen the devastation. Hundreds of homes have

2
The ideas in this section were adapted from N. T. Wright, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He
Did, and Why He Matters (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 204.P a g e | 3
been destroyed. Thousands of people have been displaced. Financial losses have climbed into the
billions of dollars. Some of the fires have been due to natural causes like lightning strikes in wilderness
areas. Other fires have been attributed to human causes—whether due to carelessness or being
deliberately set.
The Spirit sometimes works like that in our lives. Sometimes the fire of the Spirit works to purge
us of those things which hinder our growth in the Lord. Habits and unconcern toward others which
inhibit our growth…unChristlike attitudes which result in unChristlike actions…sins of every kind…these
are things which the Spirit points out to us. We may think that we are doing okay—and yet the Spirit can
point the things out to which we have turned a blind eye. The Spirit reveals those things which hinder us
and helps us in our weakness to prevail over them. The Spirit does this in order that we may more fully
obey the command of Jesus to love God with our whole heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and
with all our strength…and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is one of the jobs of the Spirit to help us
purge ourselves of the things that distract us from being the best servants of Christ that we can be.
Malachi 3:2 tells us that God is like a refiner’s fire—burning away all that is not godly and purifying his
people like gold or silver. That purifying is part of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives…
But while fire can destroy, fire can also create. So it is with the Holy Spirit in our lives…
Glass is one of the most common substances in our world. We see glass everywhere we turn
whether we are gazing at the beautiful stained glass windows in the First Baptist sanctuary…or peering
through the windshield of our car…or the utensils that we use every day in our kitchens at home…or the
lenses at the end of our noses to help us see better. Glass is undoubtedly one of the most useful things
in our world.
Interestingly, did you know that glass is made up of totally naturally occurring materials?
Though sometimes other ingredients are added, there are four basic components to making glass:
silica (actually, silicon dioxide, which is a kind of sand containing quartz)
soda ash,
calcium carbonate, and
lime.3
All of these compounds can be found in nature. And when they are combined together, they
create glass. But here’s the thing: you could put all of those elements in a bowl, you could stir it around
in that bowl all day long, and at the end of the day, you still will not have a single scrap of glass. Why is
that? It is because, In order to turn these elements into glass, you have to have fire. Fire transforms
these separate compounds into glass…
And so it is with the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Spirit works with our natural
selves—the raw materials of our lives—and, in a way that resembles the way that fire transforms raw

3 www.historyofglass.com/making-glass-process/glass-ingredients (Accessed May 21, 2021)P a g e | 4
materials into glass, the Holy Spirit transforms the raw materials of our lives into the person whom God
wants us to become. The raw materials of our likes, our desires, our dreams, our aptitudes, and our
aspirations can be transformed into the stuff that God can use to make us more Godly people in service
to the Kingdom. But the fire of the Spirit is necessary to accomplish that goal…Without the fire of the
Spirit, there is no spiritual transformation…
Another thing that fire can do is that fire can strengthen…
For two summers while I was in college, I worked at a metal fabrication plant called Chicago
Bridge and Iron in Birmingham, Alabama. Among the things that the plant made were huge storage
tanks for petroleum refineries and boilers of all shapes and sizes. They also made hydrocrackers.
Hydrocrackers were a type of nuclear reactor used in power plants that generated electricity.
My job was that of grinder. I used a big, heavy air powered grinder to remove the dirt and rust
from surfaces before the welders put down a layer of weld. And then afterward, it was my job to knock
off the layers of flux once the welds were in place. It was hot, dirty and physically demanding work…
On the hydrocrackers, once the welds had been laid down by the welders, they were put on
huge rollers that rotated them slowly around. One of my jobs was to go inside of the hydrocracker and
grind off the flux from the inside. While I did that, there were large flaming gas jets on the outside,
heating up the welds in order to properly strengthen and cure them. (With a nod to Johnny Cash’s
famous song, the welds of the hydrocrackers were surrounded by a huge “burning ring of fire.”) The idea
was to take the individual layers of welds and fuse them together in order to transform them into
something much stronger than it would have been otherwise…
I don’t know how hot it actually got inside the hydrocracker during this process. The workers
who were building the hydrocrackers were encouraged to drink lots of water and were given salt tablets
from time to time to help keep us hydrated. It would only take a few minutes of being inside the
hydrocracker before the soles of my work boots would get really hot. My feet would start burning, and
I’d have to come out to let them cool off for a while before going back in again. As difficult and time
consuming as the process was—and it usually took at least a week or so of constant heat—it was
necessary in order for the hydrocracker to be able to withstand the heat and the pressure of a nuclear
reaction. The fire was part of the process to get it ready…
So it is with the fire of the Spirit. Sometimes God uses the fire of the Spirit in our lives to prepare
us for what’s ahead in our lives. The first disciples of Jesus would face horrible persecution in the 1st
Century. The book of Acts records some of the obstacles that the followers of Jesus faced in sharing the
gospel story. We read of how the initial disciples faced beatings, discrimination, prison and even
execution at the hands of the Jewish authorities.
Secular history reports that it would only get worse before it got better. That would especially
be true once the Roman government outlawed Christianity, beginning with the first great persecution by P a g e | 5
the emperor Nero in 64 AD. Followers of Jesus would continue to face all manner of persecutions for the
next 200 years from the Roman Empire right up until the 4th Century. During those days, to be a
Christian meant to face trials. Many believers faced persecutions and sometimes unspeakably horrible
martyrs’ death in the name of the Savior. But because of the indwelling Holy Spirit, these heroes of the
faith (many of whose names are known only to God) persevered in their dedication to Christ. And they
had been able to do so due to the fire of the Holy Spirit, working in them to toughen them up for the
challenges they faced. Without the tempering of the fire of the Spirit, many would have no doubt been
unable to withstand the pressures and trials of following Jesus. But due to the work of the indwelling
Holy Spirit, they faced death triumphantly and received a crown of glory…
Sometimes the fire of the Spirit also works in us to prepare us for lies ahead in our lives. O I
imagine that most of us will never face a den of hungry lions or be victims of a gladiator fight as many of
the early Christians were. Our struggles will most likely be different. But we will all face struggles in our
lives—times when life takes some strange turns…times when bad things happen to us that we simply
cannot understand—times when we hurt inside when life violently tosses us around. It is also during
these times when the Spirit helps us to cope…to endure… to see us through times of painful heartache
and loss.
The Apostle Paul reminds us of this truth in Romans 8:26-27. In those verses, Paul writes, “The
Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself
intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the
mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”
Today’s worship concludes with the singing of the hymn titled “Baptism by Fire” by renowned
20th Century author and philosopher Elton Trueblood. The tune we will be using is a tune that you all
have sung many times before, the Welsh tune HYFRYDOL. I invite you to look at your hymn insert and
follow along with me silently as I read the first stanza aloud:
Thou, whose purpose is to kindle: now ignite us with Thy fire;
While the earth awaits Thy burning, with Thy passion us inspire.
Overcome our sinful calmness, rouse us with redemptive shame;
Baptize with Thy fiery Spirit, crown our lives with tongues of flame.
May that be our prayer today—on this day of Pentecost…and always…
To God alone be the glory! Amen