With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”
“Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.
“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.
At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.1 Kings 18:32-38
We all may know the historical meaning of this passage. This is when Elijah, a prophet of the Lord, confronts the prophets of Baal. They cried out for their gods to bring fire down on the altar and they could not. Elijah soaks his sacrifice in a deluge of water, calls on the true God to bring down fire, and God answers by sending a consuming fire upon the whole sacrificial altar.
Yet, as I read this passage again, the Lord seemed to highlight the prophetic or metaphorical meaning of this passage. Scripture tends to have lots of layers to it. One layer of this passage is how it points to Easter and Pentecost.
Notice the elements involved: a sacrifice, wood, stones, dirt, water and fire. The sacrifice was laid on the wood. Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice, was also laid on wood as He was nailed to the cross. Just as there were stones and a dirt trench, so too Jesus was placed in a tomb with a stone rolled in front. He was buried in His own kind of dirt trench.
Next we see the water poured three times, symbolically representing the Trinity and the cleansing waters of baptism. What was once a trench in the dirt became a kind of baptismal pool. When Jesus rose from the grave, He enabled us to be buried with Him in baptism and raised into new life.
But God wasn’t done. The final element was fire. The Lord sent fire down for Elijah and sent fire down for the Church at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). Notice what the fire does for Elijah. It was meant to just light the wood and burn the sacrifice, but the fire of the Lord does so much more. This passage says that the fire fell and, “burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.” The fire not only burned up the sacrifice and the wood, but also the stones, the soil and the water.
Metaphorically, the fire of the Holy Spirit enables us to live out the victory of the cross (the sacrifice and wood). The fire of the Holy Spirit also enables us to live out the victory over death and the grave (the stones and soil). Yet, there’s more! The fire of the Holy Spirit is even greater than the cleansing waters of baptism. Baptism in the fire of the Spirit refines us in a way that the waters of baptism never could. It is an all consuming fire!
Lord, turn our hearts back to you!
Lord, may Your fire fall on us once again until we are completely consumed by You!