“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).

John knew that his baptism was, like the water in which he immersed, cold and incapable of giving life. It symbolized, but did not effect cleansing any more than his preaching righteousness. But the King would come, bringing the gift of a mighty Spirit whose life-giving energy, transforming dead matter into its own likeness, burning out the foul stains from character, and melting cold hearts into radiant warmth, should do all that John’s poor, cold, outward baptism only shadowed. This great promise gathers up many Old Testament utterances. From of old, fire had been the emblem of divine nature, not only, nor chiefly, as destructive, but rather as life-giving, cleansing, gladdening, transforming. It speaks of the might of His transforming power, the melting and vitalizing influence of His communicated grace, the warmth of His conquering love. From of old, the promise of the divine Spirit poured out on all flesh had been connected with the kingdom of Messiah, and John but reiterates the uniform voice of prophecy, even as he anticipates the crowning gift of the gospel. So, where is the Spirit that was poured out on Pentecost? Where is the flame that Christ died to light up? Has it burned down to gray ashes? Has it gone out after a little ineffectual crackling without ever reaching the solid mass of obstinate coal? Where? The question is not difficult to answer. His promise remains faithful. But our sin, our negligence, our absorption with worldly cares, and our withdrawal of mind and heart from the patient contemplation of His truth have quenched the Spirit. Is it not so? We sit frostbitten and almost dead among the snows, and all the while the gracious sun shines pouring down that which is able to melt the white death that covers us and to free us from the bonds that hold us prisoned in their numbing grasp. Are our souls on fire with the love of God? Aglow with the ardor caught from Christ’s love?

Adapted from “In His Presence”