I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
The fire of the altar was to be kept burning continuously (Leviticus 6:12). It was to never be put out. Even when travelling the fire of the altar was to be kept low under a brass cover with coal still seething in order to use them to light a new fire at the time of the next offering.
The whole idea was to preserve the original fire with which God lit the original first offering (Leviticus 9:23-24). That first fire was not of human origin. It came from the altar above, from Hashem himself, and became the medium by which everything burnt by and on it transcended back to the heavenly realm. Without this fire, the altar is no more than a glorified barbecue pit and nothing burnt on it goes any higher than our atmosphere, much less transcends to the heavenly sphere. It is the meaning behind Yeshua’s mystic saying, "No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven" (John 3:13). This is also why the sons of Aaron were punished for bringing to the altar strange fire, a fire which did not originate from the altar above.
Homiletically speaking, this fire teaches us much. It teaches us that faith in Messiah cannot be something originated from earthly personal emotions or charismatic style gatherings; it must be something kindled by the spiritual reality of Hashem, from the spiritual fire that is from above. This is the whole difference between living faith and dead religion. Our obedience to commandments may be all good and well but without being enflamed by redemptive messianic faith, it is nothing more than meaningless rote rituals; a self-evident truth as of before Yeshua’s manifestation on earth (Rev. 3:14; Rom. 3:2). We can see it in the patriarchs that we know of such as Abraham whose faith was based on belief in the resurrection (Heb. 11: 19), of David who in the Psalms incessantly speaks of Messiah, of Job (Job 19:25), and of a host of others.
In essence spirituality not enflamed by a consuming faith in Messiah's redemptive power is similar to an offering on a cold altar. Godly actions, even in obedience to Torah, consumed by any other elements than this consuming faith in Messiah's work actually becomes idolatry. Maybe this is the idea behind Yeshua’s rejection of many who will come to him in the end all proclaiming their good works for him while lacking faith in his power to redeem them.(Luke 13:26-27; Matt. 7:21-23); they offered strange fire (Lev. 10:1-2).
May our faith be more than an earthly emotional high originating from the mechanics of sounds and lights over-used in today’s pulpits. May our faith come from an all-consuming fire (yet safe and controlled like Moses’ burning bush) to challenge the powers that be, to deliver us from the Pharaoh outside of us and the one inside as well, and lead us, even by night, through to the Promised Land!