John the Baptist was preparing the way for our lord, Jesus Christ. The Messiah. All Jews were expecting the Messiah to come soon, and the ones in this gathering with John the Baptist wondered if John might be the Messiah.
John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am – so much greater that I am not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (John 3:16, NLT)
The untying of sandals during those days were done only by slaves. John was thus honoring the Messiah by expressing that he is preparing the way, but is no where even close to being the Messiah.
I think we can all fairly easily imagine being filled with the Holy Spirit at baptism, but with fire? I don’t ever remember hearing that word during baptisms at my church. Maybe I’m not paying close attention???
Fire is an image of judgment. It also has the power to cleanse and refine God’s people. Yes, when we are baptized, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, which should set a fire in the soul. (You know what’s coming next…)