As I sit here, listening to Count Basie's famous band playing "April in Paris," I have been recounting my recent discoveries, as well as my past reflections and understandings, of this great phenom called, "Tongues of Fire." In light of the recent cadence to the Easter season, often called "Pentecost," I thought I'd reflect on some readings in Isaiah that have caught my attention.
[Just an aside... It's interesting that this occurrance took place without my really asking for it, but it did, and I'm forever grateful.] Acts 2 begins with a recount of the famous event that sparked a phenom that pastors upon pastors have been dreading over the past 2000 or so years - the tongues of fire. Here's what it says:
"When the day of Pentecost came, they [Jesus' followers] were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them" (emphasis mine).
In this great portion of Scripture, we have Jesus' followers witnessing a physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Wow! I can't imagine what this would look like. But, a looming miscommunication has stumped us. For many decades, my Assembly of God pastors and lay theologians have laid claim to the fact that the "tongues of fire" were the "tongue," or "language," that each receiver was to speak. I suppose this makes sense, taking into account the language used to describe the Holy Spirit's presence.
However, as I was challenging myself to reread through Isaiah (a very daunting challenge, indeed), I came across several ideas that Luke may have used in his description of the Holy Spirit's presence at Pentecost. Let's look.
Isaiah 5:21-24 states this, "Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent. Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw and as dry grass sinks down in the flames, so their roots will decay and their flowers blow away like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel" (emphasis mine).
Check out Isaiah's illiteration of that phrase - tongues of fire. I love the idea of fire being a consuming element - licking up straw and drying grass sinking down into the flames, flowers blowing away like dust. The play on words that the tongues of fire "lick up" straw is wild, isn't it?
Check out 10:17-19:
"The Light of Israel will become a fire, their Holy One a flame; in a single day it will burn and consume his thorns and briers. The splendor of his forests and fertile fields it will completely destroy, as when a sick man wastes away. And the remaining trees of his forests will be so few that a child could write them down" (emphasis mine).
There are several things want to get at here. First, the verse clearly refers to our Redeemer God. What, again, does fire do? It cleanses, purifies, and consumes anything in its path. Secondly, check out the second part of verse 17: "In a single day it will burn and consume his thorns and briers." Wow! What a prediction of the day of Pentecost! I mean, think about it! In one day - no, in one minute! - the Holy Spirit lands as fire upon the believer's heads, seemingly consumes them, and gives them boldness to speak other tongues in the midst of people who would do nothing but defy them and their God. Wow! Thirdly, the description of the fire's ability consume, destroy, "cleanse" should be a scary reminder of the kind of God we serve. As one character puts it in C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle, "Aslan is not tame, but he is good." Our God created us! We should not be living, but out God desires that we return to our roots - HIM! Jesus came to give us an example of how life should have been before the fall. No sin, and nothing but true, Godly love! Yet, we remain in our sin-filled state. But, over and over, our Lord declares that we be made holy as He is holy, and it's only by the Holy Spirit's power in our lives that this can happen.
One more thing, Isaiah 11:2 gives us a reflection on David's life. Isaiah gives all praise to the Holy Spirit for David's reign as king and his walk with the Master.
"The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him - the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord - and he will delight in the fear of the Lord" (emphasis mine).
Then, check out what Jesus says concerning all believers in Acts 1:8 (what Jose Zayas calls the A1:8 challenge):
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you..."
Oh, what hope we have, beloved, that God's Spirit is, and will be, with us. It's not only a prediction of something to come, but a promise of something great! Think about it - the Spirit not only rested on King David, but will rest on all believers upon salvation. We are subject to the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord - and we will DELIGHT in the fear of the Lord! Why? Because God gave us the priviledge of being His adopted children. Because He loves us! Because He made us! It all connects. But, now we have to be willing to step out in faith and follow His orders as his army of love, as his goodwill ambassadors, as his witness on the earth.