During this season, we remember John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus. In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John says: “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I…will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16 (NIV); Mathew 3:11; Mark 1:7-8) I can find nothing in scripture, however, about Jesus ever baptizing anyone with the Holy Spirit and fire.
I must confess that the baptism of the Holy Spirit has been difficult for me to understand. The fact that John says this baptism will be accompanied by fire makes it harder for me. Part of my confusion comes from the drama on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. The Holy Spirit filled those present like a violent wind from heaven. There were tongues of fire. This was an explosive event, something I’ve never experienced.
I know I’m not alone in struggling with the meaning of Holy Spirit baptism. I’ve come to believe that baptism by the Holy Spirit accompanies baptism by water. The Holy Spirit then becomes an intercessor and a quiet, sometimes forceful, guide.
I recently heard a sermon on this subject. The minister focused on the aspect of fire as part of Holy Spirit baptism. He was thinking of a good fire in a fireplace or at a campsite. If you place a big log on the fire, it takes it a while to catch, longer to become small embers.
His point was that, like the fire, the baptism of the Holy Spirit can take a while to envelope us. The fire needs stoking and building before it accomplishes its purpose. For some Christians, this is true with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I don’t know if his explanation is right, but it’s given me a lot to think about.