In Luke chapter 12, Jesus says that he has come to “cast fire upon the earth, and would that it were already kindled.” Our first reaction? “Whoa! That sounds scary!” But something surprising is going on. The fire from heaven is none other than the cross. Jesus is speaking not about the wrath of God but about God’s love. Remember the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal found in 1 Kings 18:37ff. There Elijah suggests a contest between God and Baal. He says to the prophets, “You call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the God who answers by fire, he is Lord.” Baal’s prophets go first; all morning long they are crying out. No dice. Elijah then prepares Israel’s altar and burnt offering and prays, “O Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God...that this people may know that thou art God and that thou hast turned back their hearts back.” (emphasis added) The fire, in other words, is not only so they might know who the Lord is, that he still loves them, that he still is their savior, and that they still belong to him, it also a sign, a demonstration, from heaven that God has already forgiven them, and he has already come in and healed their hearts, taking away the sins that kept them from the Lord. When we see the cross, that is what we see. Let's go back to Elijah's story. “Then, the fire of the Lord fell” and it not only consumed the burnt offering, but the altar, and not only the altar, but the water in the surrounding trench. Fire from heaven devoured the offering, the wood, the stones, the dust, it even licked up all the water that was in the trench! When the people see this they fall on their faces and say, “YHWH, he is God, YHWH, he is God!” The cross is like this. First, it shows who the Lord is. Other “gods” demand sacrifices, but the Lord of Israel gives the sacrifice. Second, it is the demonstration of how God has already forgiven us. It is a demonstration of how God has already come in and healed us, “turned back our hearts.” (Romans 5:25b) As it says in Isaiah 40, “Comfort, comfort my people, speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that her warfare is ended and that her iniquity is pardoned. The battle is over and YHWH has won. This is why Jesus says just a verse later in Luke chapter 12 that he is “constrained” until the time of the fire, the time of his “baptism” comes. Like Joseph in Genesis (Genesis 43 &45), he longs to help us, and make us right and heal us but he restrains himself for the right time (Romans 5:6). And when that right time comes he says to us like Joseph did to his brothers, “you meant it for evil” but God meant my cross “for good.” (Genesis 50:20) We Jews and Gentiles, we killed our Lord. He died because of our iniquities but God meant it for our good, to bless us, yes, to bless the killers, killers like you and me, making our stone hearts into a real ones, ones like God’s own.