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Tongues of Fire
They saw what
seemed to be
tongues of fire that separated
and came to rest on each of them.
Rulers wear crowns; heroes are given laurels and wreaths. Even if we do not come from a ruler clan or are not heroes, every human being on earth struggles for honour, glitter and glory; everyone reaches for a crown. Our hearts beat faster when we are wreathed with honour.
Is that a sinful inclination? Is that allowed? Or must a child of God surrender such ambitions? Paul the Apostle answers, “No, absolutely not! It does not have to be surrendered.” He brazenly affirms this attitude. Even he himself, after he entered into the service of Jesus, was aiming for a crown and struggled to attain one. In fact, he was animated by the hope of one day receiving his crown (1 Corinthians 9:25; Philippians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:19; 2 Timothy 4:8).
But—and here’s the difference—he did not expect one until the end of this dispensation. His crown will not be placed on his head by the hands of friends, but by those of the righteous Judge. That crown will not bring him some pseudo-splendour but will truly make him king: “And (He) has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father” (Revelations 1:6).
You see, there are two kinds of light, two kinds of splendour, two kinds of honour. The first one comes from below, is generated in the fire of ambition, fanned by imaginative honour and recognized in the glitter of metal or jewel. This is the glamour of artificial light that will soon lose its brilliance and be extinguished. It is a pseudo glitter that flares up one moment and is quenched in the next. But there is another splendour that does not originate from below but from above, with the Father of all lights, from the chambers of eternal splendour. It radiates our way from the depth of the holy Unseen and outshines the sun by far, while it is not consumed throughout eternity.
He whose eye is captivated from below, is blind to that higher splendour. For him it does not exist and since he does not notice it, it cannot captivate him either. But take a godless person who comes to Christ and now is desirous of that nobler splendour. For him, that bright earthly glamour pales and wanes immediately. He turns away from it. For him, it no longer has glamour. What once seemed pleasing glitter, has become dull and lost its glamour for him.
Do realize that all this is more than speaking in metaphors; we are talking reality. You cannot think of Christ in His glory with a dull and worried face. When you consider Him, you cannot but imagine Him radiating a wreath of soft and holy light, glittering in a glow greater than diamonds, not by means of fantasy, no, but radiating from within His innermost Being. It is like His holy Person stepping outside of Himself with the fragrance of anointing surrounding Him. Even the mediator of the Old Covenant, Moses, according to the Holy Scriptures, when he descended from the mountain, such bright light shone on and around his face, so that the people could not tolerate seeing his face. He had to cover his face in order to address the people face to face (Exodus 34: 29-35).
For this reason, the Church of Christ has accustomed us from ancient times on to depict the holy Patriarchs and the Martyrs, the holy Apostles and Prophets with halos around their heads. The point was that those people were the pure of heart who had climbed up the mountain of God’s holiness and had caught a reflection of the light of the glory of the Eternal One on their faces. Tender, pious, God-fearing men and women who were appointed as beacons of light in the midst of the Church, have sometimes left the impression of having something higher radiating from their eyes and of having an expression of holiness on their faces. They may be compared to angels, those heralds from Heaven who are seldom seen on earth, but who have a higher glory surrounding them that even emanates from their robes.
Whenever it pleases God to take someone home and the deceased enters into the rest of the Lord, sometimes we witness a kind of radiance around him during or even after his going, so that greeters are jealous and rapt.
When the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost and divided tongues fire settled on each believer, the latter had an experience similar to that of the disciples at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36; II Peter 1:16-18).
At the Transfiguration, the Lord received His crown and radiated heavenly glory, while on Pentecost the believers, who constituted the kernel of the Church, were baptized with glory like princes and rulers, and received the heavenly diadem of light on their foreheads, so that no crown or wreath from below would ever be coveted by those purchased by Jesus.
The Church of Christ declines in spiritual power when worldly wreaths are disseminated in her midst by human hands, but she increases in spiritual power as earthly glitter fades from her midst and tongues of fire and the luster of the spiritual diadem of light once again appear among believers. The cross of Jesus is powerless and the blood of reconciliation without effect when people kneel at the cross who seek honour with the finest of worldly ornaments and who are decorated with wreath and crown by their fellow sinners. But that cross blesses and the effect of the divine blood penetrates deeply, when those who kneel at the cross first take off all those ornaments, wreaths and crowns and throw them at the foot of the cross.
And you, my brother, my sister, what shines and glitters on you? By what glory do you see yourself surrounded? Is yours still earthly glitter? Oh, tremble for your soul! For then you are still craving earthly honour; then you cannot believe and will perish. Then everything about you is still shell, still useless wild splendour, and the dew of the eternal morning does not yet adorn your face.
And now, did you receive a Pentecost blessing? If so, then allow these fiery tongues to be seen on you and the image of heavenly glory envelop your face. That light is not harshly blinding, but soft; it does not flare, but feels congenial. To see those tongues of fire on each of us would constitute the most glorious witness to God’s tender mercy. It would also represent a glorious precursor of dying in the glow of His glorious light, something like a transfiguration on your deathbed before you pass through the dark portal of death into the heavenly Jerusalem.
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