When the Fire Falls
Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
But the people said nothing.
Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”
Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”
Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” So they took the bull given them and prepared it.
Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “O Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or travelling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.
Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which was in ruins. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”
“Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.
“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.
At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.
When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”
A God who can’t burn wet wood isn’t worth dry faith. The churches of this day are in desperate need of revival fire—and the more so since the pews are damp with the dew which has settled with the fog of contemporary faith. What we call revival is simply a return to normal Christian life. We have lived so long with subnormal faith that normal faith—was it to be revealed—would seem supernatural. The church of this day is virtually indistinguishable from the world about her. We have accommodated the world, adjusting our faith and practise so as to avoid giving offence to anyone—save the One who redeemed us. We would rather serve God in our own strength than submit to His power. Yet, within the breast of every saint is an unexplained, undefined yearning which cannot be denied as the Spirit of God stirs our hearts from time-to-time.
The professed church of God has surrendered her moral position in the modern world—and the results are disastrous. Political leaders are openly immoral and unethical and we excuse their actions so long as we are undisturbed. Our laws are twisted to meet the expectations of those with the greatest amount of money and the poor have no justice. Speaking on behalf of the poor has become an industry enriching those who speak for the poor. Society has turned a blind eye to the moral decay of the past four decades.
Children are sacrificed to the gods of convenience and pleasure. The elderly are encouraged to do their duty and quickly pass off the scene as youth adopt and expand the attitude of previous generations. Truth is jettisoned in favour of compromise and tolerance of that which dishonours God. Possessions and pleasure have assumed the position of chief gods of the people at the expense of knowledge of the One True God and the transformation which attends His presence. All these attitudes have invaded the pews, and the pulpit is all together too willing to accommodate the views of the pew.
Doctrine is decided by polls as the Word of God is discarded and ridiculed as outdated, biased and of scant value by church leaders. Anyone attempting to stand where the fathers of our Faith stood will discover that the churches have deserted him. Could anyone have imagined forty years ago that sodomites would not only be set apart to sacred duties but also actively courted to fill such positions? Could anyone have imagined forty years ago that women would be sought out to fill the role of pastors in our churches as Christians hasten to renounce the previous two millennia of church practise? Could anyone have imagined forty years ago that the Bible would be challenged and rejected wherever it confronted social mores? Forty years ago it would have been unthinkable for a pastor to fail to invest sufficient time in the Word to bring a message from the Living God, whereas today a book review or some brief commentary on the latest social fad is more than the pew can endure. Character counted for more than credentials forty years ago, though connections are more important today.
By any criteria, the events described in the eighteenth chapter of First Kings constitute a revival during a period of Israel’s deepest spiritual and moral darkness. Conditions were so bad in Israel that but seven thousand individuals remained who had not surrendered to the siren call of the Baals and Asherahs. These seven thousand were, for the most part, unknown to one another. They were assuredly unknown to the powerful, solitary prophet of God—Elijah. Faith in the Living God had become a private affair and was no longer practised openly. Compromise and convenience had replaced confession and character in Jewish society. The gods of pleasure, power and possessions, powerful even in that day, had held sway so long that the people of God were silenced before them.
God had a powerful prophet in Elijah. His language was coarse and his habits were crude in comparison to the courtly sophistication of the prophets of Baal. Nevertheless, it was this rough-hewn man of God who would touch the people and reveal before their startled eyes the power of the True and Living God. Just so, God has a powerful instrument of righteousness held in reserve today. Perhaps that one sits among us this day. Perhaps that one waits to be revealed; though the hour is late and the need is desperate even now. May God reveal His man who will stir His people, rousing them from their lethargy to put down sin and to expose the false prophets of this day!
Confrontation with the False Gods is the Necessary Precursor to Revival. Under Ahab, Israel had embraced false worship and had followed false gods. Ahab had married Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians. She demanded worship of the Baals and the Asherahs to Israel. Ahab had acquiesced to her demands, and the people, having already compromised a little, found it altogether too easy to compromise a little more in order to permit worship of these false gods. If ever the people of God were to be revived it would be necessary to confront the false gods.
At the prompting of the Lord God, Elijah set out to confront these false gods. You will recall that he had pronounced judgement on the land, and for three and one-half years the land was parched by drought. Even kings were reduced to searching for water for the royal herds. At the moment of greatest desperation in the land, the man of God revealed himself to Obadiah—a man who feared God though yet serving the crown. Commanding Obadiah to announce to Ahab that Elijah was again present in the land, the rude man of God pointedly accused the king of being the one who even then was troubling Israel. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals, charged the prophet [1 Kings 18:18]. The prophet of God commanded the king to summon the false prophets for a showdown, and the king complied with the divine command and the prophets of Baal arrived for a showdown.
Resplendent in gaudy vestments designed to promote their own importance, four hundred fifty prophets of Baal arrived atop Carmel in the wilderness. Not one was missing. Every mitre, every scapular, every item displayed on their persons bespoke of intimacy with the gods of power and pleasure. Never had such a contest been witnessed in Israel—nor have many such contests ever been witnessed since that day. Four hundred fifty persons revealing power and position against one drab, unspectacular man of God.
Elijah insisted there was but one God and that there was but one way to please that God. Rebuking spiritual compromise, he insisted that the people of God should be singular in their pursuit of God. If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him, declared the sturdy prophet [1 Kings 18:21]. He spoke of his solitary and singular stand against spiritual prostitution. Then he proposed the contest which would reveal the True and Living God. This was to be a showdown to expose apostasy and to reveal truth.
Implicit in Elijah’s words was the charge of spiritual prostitution on a national scale. The nation had followed false gods and only a spiritual contest to reveal the power of God would suffice to make known the True God of Israel. The tragedy is that the people had, either tacitly or explicitly, compromised with error for so long and followed false gods for so long while listening to the false prophets that they no longer recognised a true prophet of God. They were deaf to the pleas of the man of God, remaining silent before his probing challenge, unable to take a stand for the true and against the false.
Lest we are tempted to think that this situation described in our text has no relevance to us in this day, I need but remind you that the prevailing wisdom of our day says that either all religions are equal or that all religious pursuits should be ignored. Because of the false doctrine of separation of church and state which first infected the American mindset and has eventually contaminated multiplied cultures throughout the world, most people are convinced that religion is a private matter. However, life is not compartmentalised into secular and sacred. Either all of life is under the rule of Christ the Lord or none of life is under His mastery. There is nothing private about the Faith of Christ the Lord. Worship of the One True God can never be a private matter; it will always demand open expression of those adhering to Him. If faith is a private matter, then any faith is equal to every other faith and no faith is as good as great faith.
People have so long heard this error presented as fait accompli until even among the churches of our Lord are found a breathtaking number of professed saints holding the view that faith is a private matter. Consequently, few of the professed people of God seem willing to confront spiritual wickedness or to plead with a lost sinner or to witness even to their own loved ones. While the world continues on its way to hell we Christians give silent assent to its condemnation. Wake up! Jesus Christ is Lord of all. Told that every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father [cf. Philippians 2:11], we must realise that we may now bow the knee and confess Him as Lord. We need not wait until that awful day when His glory is revealed and all mankind is compelled to kneel, confessing in fear that He is Lord.
We must be consumed with our own guilt until we are small enough in our own eyes to seek the Great and Mighty God of Glory. Too many among us are outsiders who have embraced these strange gods of power and possession and position and pleasure, rejecting the Lord of Glory. We who name the Name of Christ have silently acquiesced to this stupefying spiritual sickness. All the while we permit our neighbours, our children and our friends to continue worshipping at the shrines of success in service to these ancient gods. Furthermore we who are Christians have too often worshipped these same gods, having been seduced by their siren cries. It is high time that the false gods of this dying age were confronted. It is time for us to live as those who have seen the glory of the eternal God, having seized that which is unfading.
As a people we must review every action which comes before us as a church. However subtly the challenge may be presented, we must assure ourselves that we give no comfort to those who would worship the gods of wealth and position and power. These illicit gods must not only be confronted, but they must be exposed whenever they are presented as deserving of our support. We must not bow before any power or person other than Him who alone is worthy to be called Lord … Christ Jesus the Son of God.
My personal comfort is not more important than the joy which comes from following Christ and glorifying Him through support of His people. My standing in the world has meaning only so long as that position is offered up to Christ the Lord to the praise of His glory. My possessions are destined for dust and have value only so long as they are surrendered to Christ for His use—without conditions and without strings. Any power is held as a sacred trust to be employed in His service and to the praise of His glory. Every effort to focus on myself and on my own benefit is a perversion of these gracious gifts which Christ has entrusted to me. In so focusing on myself I am surrendering to the siren call of these illicit gods and have thus become an idolater.
Confidence in a Faithful God is the Second Condition Preceding Revival. Great preaching makes a great people, but a mere declaration of the Person of God is insufficient to change a people’s heart. It is not enough to declare the Person of the Holy Spirit; people must see the Spirit’s power revealed in our lives. It is not sufficient to declare Jesus as Lord of life; people must see His Lordship revealed through our lives. One demonstration of Christ’s power is worth a thousand sermons.
Without question, Elijah believed God to be faithful. He boldly confronted Ahab. When Ahab at last met the man of God, he whimpered, Is that you, you troubler of Israel? The prophet of God yielded not a millimetre to the craven king. The man of God asserted, I have not made trouble for Israel. But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals [1 Kings 18:17,18]. The intrepid prophet issued a startling command which the king hastened to obey. Summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table [1 Kings 18:19].
When the people were at last gathered on Mount Carmel, Elijah boldly addressed all who were present that day. How long will you waver between two opinions? he challenged. If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him [1 Kings 18:21]. The people remained silent before this disturbing challenge. So the prophet of God proposed a contest. Don’t try this at home, kiddies, unless you have supreme confidence in the Faithful God. It is one thing to know your enemy; but even more important is that you know the power of God and that you have supreme confidence in Him as God.
Note Elijah’s challenge. How long will you waver between two opinions? The people had attempted to cover all the bases. Calling themselves followers of the Lord God of Israel, they sought to protect themselves by covertly worshipping Baal and Asherah. Even those who did not worship these corrupt Canaanite deities were nevertheless tolerant of others who were unfaithful to the Lord God. There was a Temple in Jerusalem. The priests of God were still present within the Temple. The prescribed rituals were observed with careful regularity. However, there was no power evident in their religion. They tolerated wickedness and quietly struck a treaty of peace with evil. Dear people, you cannot worship two gods if one is the Living God. Jesus Himself has warned, You cannot serve both God and money [Matthew 6:24]. You cannot serve both God and power… or pleasure… or popularity… or position. Christ alone must be Lord.
I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood and not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—He is God [1 Kings 18:22-24]. The people assented to this proposal, no doubt in part because they enjoyed the prospect of a show. I seriously doubt that anyone present that day, except for the man of God, expected to see anything of major import.
Take note of one sobering fact—Elijah stood alone. Anyone can stand against the tide of wickedness—if he thinks others stand with him. Anyone can cling to convictions—if he believes those convictions are shared by even a few fellow saints. Who among us dares stand, boldly trumpeting personal convictions, when we think we stand alone? Mark well that one who stands without visible support. Such a one displays uncommon boldness, for he has seen the unseen God and fears Him above all else.
Elijah was bold. Few in Israel approximated this singular prophet’s boldness. Elijah’s boldness was, however, a far cry from presumption. There is a fine line dividing the two concepts. Much of what passes today as holy boldness is mere human brashness. Because it is brash, it is presumptuous. Brashness endeavours to command God. Boldness obeys God. Brashness draws attention to man’s power over God. Boldness reminds all of God’s power over man. Brashness exalts man. Boldness exalts God.
Many preachers, wishing to display God’s power, indeed speak out against sin in their sermons. I am the first to state that a preacher should stand in opposition to all sin. However, let the preacher openly name the secret sins of the congregation if he loves God and if he wishes to see the people made pure before Holy God. Let the preacher name the “nice” sins and the “acceptable” sins, exposing them to the light of God’s Word, if he will be a true servant of Christ. Then, when the church is purified in the sight of the Lord, let that man speak out openly within the community against the wickedness resident within that society and which is tolerated even by the nice people of society. Tell the people that they are idolaters. Name the idols held dear within that society. Remind the people of God’s call to righteousness. Call the people to faith in the Living God. If necessary, confront spiritual wickedness in high places.
Years ago, Joseph Parker stated, The preacher whose little message is repent had best pledge his head toward Heaven. That statement is true enough within the church proper, and it is even more certain to hold true in society at large. Let the one who thinks himself to be a prophet speak prophetically, and when the tide of popular opinion changes, see if he continues to stand against that tide. Confront the seeping sin which contaminates the people of God, even with deep love for those confronted, and you will soon experience true loneliness. Opposition is certain to come and the only antidote to surrender in the face of such opposition is confidence in the Faithful God.
I level a grave charge against the church of this day, including us who worship with this assembly. I charge that we have scant confidence in a Faithful God. Would we not obey Him if we considered Him faithful? Would we not obey His call to identify with Him in believer’s baptism if we thought Him faithful? Would we not esteem His favour more than the perception of our family and our friends if we thought Him faithful? Would we not obey His command to openly unite with His people if we were convinced of His faithfulness? Would we not obey His call to make disciples if we believed Him to be faithful? Would we not obey His call to exercise utter dependence upon His Word if we believed Him to be faithful? Our very lives testify against us.
The fact that the churches think a noisy crusade to garner a vote is of greater value than obedience to declare His Word and to call the people to righteousness testifies to our disbelief. Disobedience to His command speaks against us as a people. The pressure for churches to unite to pray for unity even while tolerating wickedness within those same religious societies testifies against us. We cannot be faithful to God and link arms with the United Church while they officially ordain sodomites and lesbians to holy orders. We cannot honour God and link arms to the Adventists while they continue to exalt Mary Ellen White as a prophetess of God whose writings are of equal worth as the Word of God. We cannot glorify God and encourage our women to unite in prayer with unbelievers who address their prayers to God as mother. We cannot silently acquiesce to wickedness for the sake of mere appearance. That shows that we love the praise of men more than we love the presence of God. Shame on the church!
Do we actually have confidence in God? Our Lord Jesus Christ has commanded Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age [Matthew 28:19,20]. These brief words repeat the promise of the Risen Son of God. Do we believe Him? We are going each day, but do we believe that He is discipling through us? Do we see that evidence that others are being discipled? Have we confidence of His presence with us? He has promised, but do we believe that He is fulfilling His promise? Our walk will reveal whether we believe Him or whether we harbour in our breasts a mere wish.
The false gods of the Twenty-first Century can hold sway over us only so long as we ascribe power to them. Theirs is an illicit power which we have permitted to be exercised over us and to seduce us from our firm position. Within the church, we think we please God when we appoint leaders according to the thinking of this perishing world. We seek out and appoint leaders on the basis of their position in the world, on the basis of personal wealth, on the basis of popular perception.
If the church of the Living God will experience revival she must confront the false gods of this age and expose them for the poverty of soul which they impose upon those worshipping at their crumbling shrines. This means that each Christian must openly renounce efforts to accommodate popularity with and peace in the world with our Faith, instead confessing absolute trust in the Risen Christ and in the Living God. This means that within the church we must ruthlessly scrutinise every individual seeking to provide leadership within the assembly to ensure that Christ reigns in that heart.
What I believe is seen in what I do—all else is mere talk. Don’t tell me you love God—show me. Don’t tell me you long to see Christ enthroned as Lord of life—show me. Elijah believed that Yahweh was God of Israel and that He had prior claim on the lives of the people. His actions on Carmel demonstrated his belief. He believed that God would honour faith, and he acted in faith before the people that day.
Confirmation from God Shall Always Usher in the Revival we have Sought. The scene played out before the wondering eyes of the people is dramatic in the extreme. The bulls were selected and the prophets of Baal prepared their altar in the sight of all Israel. From morning to noon they prayed, O Baal, answer us. Their cries grew louder and their dancing became more frenetic as the day passed. At noon, the prophet of God began to taunt them. Shout louder! Elijah suggested. No doubt accompanied with loud laughter the prophet of God suggested that perhaps the Canaanite god was perhaps busy with other matters or he had found it necessary to relieve himself. Perhaps, he suggested, he was away on a trip. Why, Baal might even be sleeping and they would need to awaken him.
The response of the religious liars was to become more frantic. They shouted louder, slashed themselves … until their blood flowed. According to the Hebrew text, they fell into a trance, speaking in other languages and dancing with ever-greater frenzy. The text is so quietly dramatic. There was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention [1 Kings 18:29]. Now it was time for the evening sacrifice, about three in the afternoon. For over six hours the four hundred fifty prophets of Baal had tried without success to obtain the answer sought from their god. He had not even acknowledged their presence! Dear people, the false gods of this fallen world can never give an answer which satisfies. The gods of this world must ultimately leave us empty and unfulfilled.
Then Elijah spoke with quiet confidence as he called the people to gather around the altar of God. Taking twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, Elijah built an altar in the Name of the Lord. Next, he dug a trench around it large enough to hold [about fifteen litres]. With deliberate care the courageous man of God arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. The people were addressed as he commanded them to Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood. Once was not enough. The sacrifice and the wood and even the altar would need to be drenched three times with water before Elijah was satisfied. The water ran down … the altar and even filled the trench.
Unlike religious showmen of this day, the prophet prayed with simple power and quiet confidence as he sought confirmation for the challenge which issued from the Living God. O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again. He asked that God reveal Himself in power and that God confirm the prophet’s call and service and that the people be convinced that God was God. He asked only that the people know that God had sent him and that God spoke through him.
Then the fire of the Lord fell. The people were awe-struck, falling face down before the altar of the Lord they cried out, The Lord—He is God! The Lord—He is God! Few of us have ever been awe-struck. We have never witnessed the power of God either in our lives or in the life of the assembly. Assuredly, we do not know His power in our daily routine, for we repeatedly give way to the wicked around us. Yet, secretly, we who are His people long to see His power demonstrated in our midst.
The prophet of God commanded the people to seize the false prophets and to slaughter them in the Kishon Valley. In short, there was to be no more tolerance for sin. Sin was seen as exceedingly black and could no longer be permitted to remain unchecked among the people. Just so, when God has confirmed His presence with us we will no longer be able to tolerate even a little bit of sin among us. The power of the gods of this dying world will need to be broken through rejection and through renouncing their hold over us. That means that some of us will likely need to act in a manner which appears extreme to the inhabitants of this dying world.
If we have never seen the fire of the Lord, perhaps it is because we have never dared confront the false gods resident among us. Perhaps we have yet to demonstrate confidence in the Faithful God and thus we know nothing of the confirmation of God either on our ministry or in our lives. However, of this I am confident: the people of God languish because the power of God is but a rumour among them. We of this congregation need to see the power of God revealed among us.
The power we need to see results in the salvation of lost souls. You have family members who are not Christians, and hinting that they might like to consider Christ is a far cry from bold witness for Him. You have friends and colleagues with whom you work who are now under sentence of death. Suggesting that they might like to sometime attend a service of worship is insufficient to bring them to faith in the Risen Son of God. Let’s confess that we need an injection of holy boldness into our lives. That boldness will come when we determine that it is high time we got alone with Christ, confessed our sin of tolerating the false gods of this day, rejected every vestige of such worship of these gods who condemn us and renounce their power over our lives.
Then, having renounced all evil, let us determine that we will do those things which honour God. Some of us will need to openly confess that we have failed to obey Him in first things and come, seeking to identify with Him in believer’s baptism as He has taught. Others of us will need to confess that we have sinned against Him by holding ourselves aloof from uniting with the people of God. We will need to humble ourselves and openly unite with the congregation that we might fully participate in the life of the Body. Yet others of us will find it necessary to confess that we have injured the work of Christ through doing the work of the devil even within the assembly of Christ. We will need to confess that we have slandered others, gossiped about the people of God and secretly harboured pleasure at the injury of others. Some of us need to release our anger at actions which are long past. Yet, others of us need to confess that we have permitted ourselves the luxury of lethargy too long and seek God’s presence to again stir us.
I am always astonished at the efforts of the first church to insure the power of God among them compared to the attempts of the contemporary church. Those first saints united in prayer for ten days and then were impelled by the Spirit of God to witness with power to the presence of the Risen Christ among them. The result was boldness in those who were previously timid and life for those who were once dead and joy within the Body of Christ. May I ask, are we praying for revival? Are we praying that Christ will have absolute control over our life as a congregation? Are we praying that He will be permitted to work in power among us? Isn’t it time that we began to seek His presence? Amen.