Lord, paint upon the eyeballs of my soul the image of Thy Son. – Charles Spurgeon
One day Jesus, gentle, meek, and mild, went to the temple. He had a whip in his hands, and with a violence which the disciples had never seen before, proceeded to overthrow the tables of money changers and flush out thieves from the temple. “Get these out of here!” He thundered. “How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!” (John 2:16, NIV). That was when they remembered from their childhood Sabbath School lessons something written about the Messiah: “And His disciples remembered that it is written [in the Holy Scriptures], Zeal (the fervor of love) for Your house will eat Me up. [I will be consumed with jealousy for the honor of your house.]” (John 2:17, Amplified)
It is important to read John 2:17 from other translations to understand the holy volcano that erupted from Jesus’ heart that day. Here’s a sampler:
- “And it came to the minds of the disciples that the Writings say, ‘I am on fire with passion for your house.’” (Basic English)
- “The disciples then remembered that the Scriptures say, ‘My love for your house burns in me like a fire.’” (CEV)
- “And his disciples remembered, that it is written: The zeal of thy house hath devoured me.” (Murdock)
- “His disciples remembered that Scripture said, ‘Devotion for your house will consume me.’” (God’s Word)
Observe here that a raging fire was burning inside Jesus Christ: a passion for God’s house consumed him and drove him to do the radical things he did that day. It ate him up, devoured him. I don’t believe the disciples ever forgot this scripture verse.
Who could forget that fateful day when the Son of God used a homemade whip to rout a den of thieves? That picture of their master on fire for the glory of God stuck in their minds. The disciples couldn’t think of him and be lukewarm. The same thing that ate him ultimately ate them. The fire that burned in him had been kindled in their own souls. And it was a fire the mighty Roman Empire and the ferocious persecution of the Caesars could not contain. They turned the world upside down.
Fire on the Earth
Jesus declared one of his reasons for coming was to cast a fire into the earth:
“I've come to start a fire on this earth—how I wish it were blazing right now! I've come to change everything, turn everything right side up—how I long for it to be finished! Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I've come to disrupt and confront!” (Luke 12:49-51, The Message, emphasis added)
There is something wrong with the bland Jesus being peddled around today. This Jesus is a mimicry, a far cry from the biblical Jesus. When John saw him on the Isle of Patmos,
“…His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” (Revelation 1:14-16, NIV)
He has eyes of fire. His feet are like bronze glowing in a furnace. Hearts caught fire when he spoke: “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). He sent fire on his disciples on the day of Pentecost: “…there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:3-4).
Where is this burning, consuming fire in the hearts of those that profess Christ? Zeal is a scarce commodity in today’s church. Where there is zeal, it is not for God’s house, but a strange fire for some other worldly or temporal things. Who can fathom what this fire of zeal can accomplish for God and his purposes in our generation?
Zeal is the cloak that drives and propels you to battle after you have put on all the other weapons of our warfare. When things had deteriorated in Israel, divine zeal came to the rescue. We need a similar fire to reverse our declension:
“We know our disobedience; we have denied the Lord our God. We know what rebels we are and how unfair we are, for we carefully plan our lies. Our courts oppose the righteous man; fairness is unknown. Truth falls dead in the streets, and justice is outlawed.
Yes, truth is gone, and anyone who tries a better life is soon attacked. The Lord saw all the evil and was displeased to find no steps taken against sin. He saw no one was helping you and wondered that no one intervened. Therefore he himself stepped in to save you through his mighty power and justice. He put on righteousness as armor and the helmet of salvation on his head. He clothed himself with robes of vengeance and of godly fury.” (Isaiah 59:13-17, TLB)
“For [the Lord] put on righteousness as a breastplate or coat of mail, and salvation as a helmet upon His head; He put on garments of vengeance for clothing and was clad with zeal [and furious divine jealousy] as a cloak.” (John 2:17, Amplified; emphasis added).
He was dressed in these garments of vengeance when he cleansed the temple. It was in this garb of zeal and furious divine jealousy for the purpose of God that he died on the cross to procure our salvation and purchase unto himself, “a peculiar people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). It still burns in his eyes of fire as he sits at the Father’s right hand, from whence he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Fire in My Bones
It seems all the friends of God in every generation were consumed by this fiery zeal for the house of God. Jeremiah wanted to resign from proclaiming the Word due to the indignities and ridicule he suffered at the hands of wicked men for proclaiming the truth God gave him for a backslidden nation. But that option was precluded by something beyond him.
“If I say, I will not make mention of [the Lord] or speak any more in His name, in my mind and heart it is as if there were a burning fire shut up in my bones. And I am weary of enduring and holding it in; I cannot [contain it any longer].” (Jeremiah 20:9, Amplified)
The gospel is presently “contained” inside the vast majority of Christians. The reason is simple: nothing is burning them. They can “hold in” divine agenda while they go about their own enterprises. They look upon a perishing world and continue business as usual. Occasionally, they let out some praise or other godly activity. Then they return to their status quo ante, “containing” the light and life that can save a moribund world.
But not Jeremiah: “If I say, “Forget it! No more GOD-Messages from me!” The words are fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. I'm worn out trying to hold it in. I can't do it any longer!” (Jeremiah 20:9, The Message).
A raging, internal fire made it impossible for this man of God to keep quiet and mind his business. His only relief came through preaching the message, in season and out of season.
Surface fire is hot enough, but “fire in my belly, a burning in my bones”? The bone is a very rigid structure with a narrow cavity. Even pus inside the bone (as happens in osteomyelitis and other medical conditions) is terrible. The pus has no outlet and the pressure mounts on very sensitive nerve endings inside the bone, leading to intense pain relieved only by draining the bone cavity. My younger brother had this condition for years before he was cured permanently. He was miserable while it lasted. How much more fire shut up inside a man’s bones!
It’s obvious why Jeremiah couldn’t quit or keep quiet. Preaching was no longer optional, but a necessity, demanded by the fire that raged in his bones. It’s for the same reason the apostles declared, “We are not able not to speak what we saw and heard” (Acts 4:20, Literal Version, emphasis added).
Notice the double negative. They couldn’t hold it in. Jail or torture was a better option. And it was for the same reason Paul cried, “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16, Literal Version). He wasn’t cursing himself—just renouncing the miserable possibility of trying to contain a raging fire in his soul.
Note that “bones” is plural—“fire shut up in my bones,” not “bone.” Every bone in Jeremiah’s body was burning with this fire. It was unremitting, relentless. It was not an occasional excitement or an emotional high, but a constant, blazing fire that used the man himself for fuel.
What else was there to keep the fire burning if not the ignitable, combustible heart and bones of the prophet? The fire “ate” him; it “ate”—consumed—Jesus. “Flame of God, make me Thy fuel,” Amy Carmichael prayed. “Without wood a fire goes out…charcoal fuels burning coals and wood fuels fire” (Proverbs 26:20-21, God’s Word).
And it just might be this possibility of being used for fuel that keeps the vast majority of Christians from seeking this fire.
My spirit craves the same fire that burned in my master. In a lukewarm age, nauseating to an absolute God, I long for the same devotion to God’s house, purpose, and agenda in my generation. I want it to eat me, consume me, devour me, and motivate me to the highest sacrifice and selfless service for the house of my God.
May Thy rich grace impart
Strength to my fainting heart
My zeal inspire
As Thou hast died for me,
Oh, may my love to Thee
Pure, warm and changeless be
A living fire.1
My earnest expectation is that this living fire will not burn in me alone, but will ignite others as I journey through time to eternity.
1. “My Faith Looks Up to Thee”; words by Ray Palmer, music by Lowell Mason.