It is the fire that brings consecration
Is it not so often the case for us, that our hearts are cold, but when we draw near to the altar we come away with a glowing touch, a heart warmed with Calvary’s love? It certainly was the case for Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Up until Calvary Joseph was a secret disciple; Nicodemus was seven makes a half-hearted confession of Christ. But after coming to the altar their hearts were ablaze! They wanted to identify themselves with Christ in the most public way possible; they wanted all to know, ‘I belong to Him!’
Isaiah came away from the altar on fire for the Lord. In chapter 6 of his prophecy we read that, after having his lips touched with a coal from the altar, he was willing to do anything and go anywhere for God. True consecration can only come at the cross; when we consider Him who gave Himself for us. The only reasonable response is for us to give ourselves for Him.
This seems to be what Paul had in mind when he wrote, ‘For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again’, 2 Cor. 5. 14, 15. The truth of these verses could perhaps be summarized by a well-known motto, ‘One for all, and all for one’. When we enter into what He did for us, there is nothing we can withhold from Him, He must have all.
It is the fire that brings restoration
In a spiritual way we can see the shovel with its warming embers being used in Luke 24 to help discouraged believers. For that couple on the road to Emmaus life had taken an unexpected turn. They were brought into circumstances they had never expected. In such circumstances ‘Jesus himself drew near and went with them’, Luke 24. 15, and brought them to the altar, showing them the true purpose of it all. The couple came away with the fire from the altar and what a testimony was theirs – ‘Did not our heart burn within us?’, Luke 24. 32.
It is the fire that revitalizes
It is true, however, that it does not take long for a fire to go out and a coal to get cold. How often have we found that the same is true of our hearts! We have all known times when we have got particularly near the cross, when our appreciation was real, and we felt we would do anything for Him, but also we find that one experience like that cannot sustain us. We are so prone to grow cold, and we need to visit the altar often. We need to come with the shovel and take away a burning coal.
What a sad day it was for Simon Peter when he got away. Looking at the gospel records we discover it happened gradually. At first he was following, John 18. 15, and then he was following afar off, Luke 22. 54, then standing, just an observer, John 18. 18, and finally, he ‘sat down among them’, Luke 22. 55. How easy it is to get out of touch with Christ. Just hours previously he was sitting in very different company, ‘And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him’, Luke 22. 14. But now, Simon is so cold he is warming himself at the fire of the enemy, Mark 14. 54. If only he had continued following closely, even when things were difficult. Had he had stayed with that little company of believers, and stood steadfastly with them at the foot of the cross, John 19. 25, what heartache and misery he would have been spared. May we learn the lesson. When we grow cold it is easy to go to the crowd, may God give us help rather to go to the cross and have our hearts warmed there.
It is the fire that preserves testimony
We should keep in mind what Paul said to the Galatians in chapter 3. They had made a shocking, sudden departure from God, and Paul says to them, ‘O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth (graphically presented; placarded), crucified among you?’ They had seen it so clearly, they had drawn so near, and yet the question has to be put to them, ‘Where is then the blessedness ye spake of?’, 4. 15. What had happened? They had got away from the cross and their appreciation of that wonderful place had become very meagre. In his letter Paul fills their vision with Calvary. Time and time again, section after section, he brings before them the greatness of the Saviour’s sacrifice – finally telling them that it was all he gloried in, 6. 14. Thus the Spirit would direct them to the altar again so that they may get their shovels filled with the burning coals.
The Ephesian believers had been to the altar and had come away with hearts aflame so that all that was grieving to their newly found Lord was thrown onto the bonfire, Acts 19. This was a fitting symbol of their fiery zeal and burning devotion to Christ. They were probably the most privileged of all the assemblies in the New Testament. They had enjoyed the highest doctrines and the loftiest teaching, yet one day they heard the assessment of the One who walks in the midst of the golden lampstands. The Lord Himself gave His evaluation of their devotion. There was much to commend; He speaks of their works, labour and endurance, Rev. 2. 2, but even in that statement is there a hint that they were merely going through the motions? Was it the case that faith, love and hope were on the decline in Ephesus? The Lord commends, but then must declare, ‘Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love’. What had happened? The activity was all mechanical and lifeless because the fire of devotion was almost out.
We have all been there, and perhaps now some of us look back and remember better days; days of deeper worship, brighter witness, days when thoughts of the Saviour filled and thrilled our hearts. If this is the case for us may God give us help to follow the route to recovery given to the Ephesians, ‘Remember from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works’, Rev. 2. 5. Let us humble ourselves to face up to the coldness and carnality of our hearts; admit our failure and renounce the idols that have taken us away, and just get back to the altar where we started out. Let the warmth of Calvary flood our souls once again.