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They Walked with God: Elijah

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Elijah is presented as a man of courage, faith and prayer who was rewarded by God in spite of his imperfections. He is held up as an example for us to follow.

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Text: I Kings 17:1
Theme: Elijah is presented as a man of courage, faith and prayer who was rewarded by God in spite of his imperfections. He is held up as an example for us to follow.
Elijah walked with God. He was God’s man for the times. He was a man used by God to turn an entire nation back to God. We need such men today ... godly men, Christian men willing to stand in the gap and challenge the evil of our day. At a time of desperate spiritual need in his nation, Elijah stood in the gap, virtually alone, for the cause of the Lord. His world was very different from ours, but the issues that called him to stand with courage and conviction remain relevant to the 21st century.
Of all the biblical characters we have considered this summer, Elijah’s life provides us the greatest wealth of material even though we know very little about the prophet himself. His story begins in 1 Kings, chapter seventeen and runs through the end of the book and into the second chapter of 2 Kings — seven full chapters of amazing events.
It is his challenge to Ahab and the prophets of Baal I want us to look at this morning, and the lessons we can learn from Elijah’s confrontation with idolatry.

I. ELIJAH’S BACKSTORY

“In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years. 30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him.” (1 Kings 16:29–30, NIV84)
ILLUS. Charles Dickens’s novel A Tale of Two Cities begins with the famous line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The same could be said about the kingly reigns of Omri and his son Ahab.

A. ONE PEOPLE, TWO KINGDOMS

1. God’s chosen people had become a fractured people
a. Rehoboam, son of Solomon, was forty years old when he ascended to the throne of a unified Israel
b. he was not nearly the wise ruler his father was
1) while building the Temple in Jerusalem, Solomon had conscripted laborers from all over Israel
2) now that the Temple was finished, and Solomon dead the leaders of the ten northern tribes petitioned Rehoboam for relief from their labors
3) he wouldn’t give it
a) his response was ... My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’ ” (1 Kings 12:11, NIV84)
b) the people’s response was ... “When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, they answered the king: “What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse’s son? To your tents, O Israel! Look after your own house, O David!” So the Israelites went home.” (1 Kings 12:16, NIV84)
c. the nation breaks apart — the ten northern tribes become Israel, and two southern tribes become the nation of Judah
2 by the time we arrive at chapter sixteen, it is approximately one-hundred years later and Omri has claimed the throne of Israel after a brief power struggle
a. he reigns for twelve years, he dies and his son, Ahab, comes to power and he reigns for twenty-two years
1) with the rise of the Omri dynasty, Israel entered a time of piece with its southern neighbor, Judah
2) Israel becomes a regional power, raises to international prominence, and economic prosperity
3) during his twenty-two year reign Ahab expands the nation and builds one of the most powerful armies in the region
4) oh ... yeah ... let’s not forget that he also marries a woman named Jezebel
b. almost any secular historian would look at Ahab’s accomplishments and give him a good review for political and national leadership
1) this all is the best of times
3. but God is more concerned with the spiritual success of His people than their stately success
a. spiritually speaking things are not well in the Northern Kingdom of Israel
1) the Kings of Israel have abandoned the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
“Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. 31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. 32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.” (1 Kings 16:30–33, NIV84)
2) all of the Kings of the Northern Kingdom were wicked, but Ahab has the distinction of being the most wicked of them all
3) this was the worst of times
4. this is the milieu of Elijah’s times — national prosperity, but spiritual poverty
a. how reminiscent of our own era

II. ELIJAH’S BATTLE

1. in our text, Elijah is not only going to battle against the King of Israel, not only against 450 false prophets of a false religion, but he’s going to do battle with unseen spiritual forces in high places
2. Israel’s idolatry is a stench in the nostrils of God

A. ONE TRUE GOD, BUT WAVERING BETWEEN TWO OPINIONS

1. enter Elijah — after Moses, Israel’s greatest prophet
“Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” 2 Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah: 3 “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan.” (1 Kings 17:1–3, NIV84)
a. Elijah is something like Melchizedek in the Book of Genesis in that he seems to appear out of nowhere
1) he’s a Thishbite living in Tishbe and suddenly he’s thrust into the political limelight of the nation
b. of his personal life, 1 Kings 17:1 tells us everything we know about the prophet’s personal life
1) his name is Elijah which means "my God is Yahweh"
a) as we will see his name fits his character and his mission
2) he is a Tishbite from the village of Tishbe — a small Hebrew village in the hill-country of Gilead of the tribe of Gad
a) he’s a “goat-roper” from the sticks ... in the world’s eyes an unimportant man from an unimportant community
3) he is a servant of the Lord
a) Elijah has not abandoned the worship of Yahweh as so many of his countrymen have done
b) he believes that he is literally the last true believer in Israel though he will find out later that there are 7,000 others who have not bowed the knew to Baal
4) he is a prophet
a) God’s Spirit has moved Elijah to travel to the City of Samaria, to seek an audience with King Ahab
b) he speaks in the name of Yahweh and announces that there will be no more rain or even dew until he gives the command
2. why choose a drought to manifest God’s judgment on an idolatress king, and a nation who has followed his example?
a. Ahab and Jezebel have turned to the worship of Baal (1 Kings. 16:31)
b. Baal was the Canaanite storm God — the deity in charge of rain
1) Elijah is going to attack Israel’s idolatry at its theological center
2) Elijah is going to show that it is Yahweh who is in charge of the rain, not Baal, and that the true God of Israel is not afraid of a challenge
c. in three years hence there is going to be a challenge delivered to Ahab and the priests of Baal — put-up-or-shut-up!
3. the story is found in 1 Kings, chapter eighteen — it describes the world’s first great “grudge match”
a. life in Israel has become desperate, vs. 2 telling us that the famine was severe in Samaria
1) Baal had not come through — all the sheep and all the goats sacrificed over the last three years hadn’t worked
2) we know from history and archeology that when the sacrifice of sheep and goats didn’t work, they tried sacrificing their children
a) it was a detestable and wicked religion that Israel had chosen to follow
3) but God has not forgotten His people — in 1 Kings 8:1 the promise is, “I will send rain on the land”
b. when Ahab and Elijah meet, accusations quickly begin to fly
“When he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” 18 “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “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, NIV84)
4. the challenge
“Now 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.” 20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 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.” (1 Kings 18:19–21, NIV84)
a. all of Israel, from the least to the greatest, are invited to the event
b. oh, and Ahab ... while you’re at it invite all your pagan prophets as well, all 850 of them between Baal and his cohort Asherah (the prophets of Asherah are the backup team)
1) this is going to be a major spectacle
2) one against 850 — not great odds if you’re Elijah, but just the kind of odds God loves
c. at issue? ... Israel can’t make up its mind — how long will you waver, how long will you remain wishy-washy about which god you will serve?
1) it’s interesting that the word waver used in most modern translations, (it’s the word halt in the King James), literally means to limp — it’s the idea of gimping around on crutches
2) it’s a Hebrew idiom whose meaning is similar to the English idiom sitting on the fence
d. Elijah is demanding that Israel choose ... one or the other ... but choose
1) he’s essentially telling Israel to “man up” — choose one god and go all in with that god
2) what a tragedy to be a fence-sitter about spiritual things
5. the contest
“Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the LORD’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 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. 24 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.” 25 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.”” (1 Kings 18:22–25, NIV84)
a. seems like a reasonable challenge, right? the god of the storm vs. the god of the wilderness
b. the Prophets of Baal are the “visiting team” and they get to go first, and nothing happens (surprise, surprise)
1) for hours they have prayed and pleaded ... and Baal does not answer
2) at noon Elijah begins to mock their god (vs. 27-29)
a) maybe Baal is deep in thought
b) maybe Baal is relieving himself — visiting the Baal out-house
c) maybe Baal is on a road trip — he’s out of town and not left a forwarding address
d) maybe Baal is sleepy — he’s hung out the do not disturb sign
c. Elijah’s taunts just drive them into a deeper frenzy of self-mutilation and blood-letting (vs. 28-29)
1) but nothing happens ... no fire from the sky ... no conflagration ... no sacrifice consumed
d. then it’s Elijah’s turn
“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. 31 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.” 32 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. 33 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.” 34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again. “Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.” (1 Kings 18:30–35, NIV84)
1) what is Elijah up to? ... he is disadvantaging himself with every barrel of water poured over the sacrifice — at least give God a fighting chance!
2) then Elijah prays
“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. 37 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.”” (1 Kings 18:36–37, NIV84)
3) vs. 37 gives us the purpose for this entire three-year ordeal in Israel
a) no rain ... no dew has touched the land, streams have dried up, springs only trickle
b) crops have shriveled, meadows are parched, trees have withered, and livestock have died
c) famine and pestilence have overwhelmed the people of Israel
d) why?
4) so ... these ... people ... will ... know
6. the consecration
a. and the fire falls, and the people are no longer fence-sitters
“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. 39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!”” (1 Kings 18:38–39, NIV84)
1) yes, He is
2) and the God of this story is sovereign, and reigning over His creation, and His Church right now!
b. the false prophets of a false religion are slaughtered, and before darkness descends the rain begins to fall

III. THE LESSONS OF ELIJAH’S MT. CARMEL EXPERIENCE

A. NEVER BE SURPRISED WHEN THOSE WHO PROMOTE EVIL ACCUSE THE RIGHTEOUS OF BEING THE PROBLEM

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20, NIV84)
1. this is exactly what Ahab does when he meets Elijah the second time
a. he accuses the prophet of being the problem ... drought, famine, misery, death ... it’s all Elijah’s fault — Elijah is the troubler of Israel
b. Ahab will not even remotely entertain the notion that it’s his own wickedness and idolatry that has brought God’s judgment upon himself and the nation
1) but that’s the issue; the Ahabs of this world rarely, if ever, see their behavior as wicked
2) in 1 Timothy, chapter four, the Apostle Paul speaks of those people whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron (1 Ti 4:2)
2. that Confessing Christians and Churches are the “problem” in America today is a notion that permeates the thoughts of the progressives of our own day
a. many secularists — certainly not all — but many see Confessing Christians as hateful, judgmental bigots who are on the wrong side of every moral issue
b. we’re considered hateful, judgmental bigots because the Confessing Church still chooses to call sin, sin ... specifically sexual sins
1) we are constantly chided by the secular left and religious liberals that Jesus loved sinners and Jesus forgave sinners
a) yes he did
2) he also told sinners to go and sin no more which most opponents of the Confessing Church conveniently leave out
3. one striking feature of left-wing hostility to Confessing Christianity is its insistence that our opposition to their secular progressive morality is considered proof of malign intent on our part
a. i.e. ... we’re the problem
ILLUS. Earlier this year, we watched two progressive senators openly dismiss a Christian judicial nominee’s fitness to serve on the Federal Bench because they she was an active Catholic. Sen. Nancy Feinstein told Appeals nominee Amy Coney Barrett, “When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Translation? You actually believe what the Catholic Church teaches about life, and we can’t have someone like you serving on a Federal Court.
ILLUS. On July 30, 2019 — just over a week ago — the California general assembly passed a resolution primarily blaming the Christian community in that state for the high suicide rate in the LGBT community. In an astonishing bid to shame people of faith into conform to the pervading progressive culture, the legislators blamed religious individuals and organizations for many of the issues faced by those in the LGBT community today — including suicide. In other words, if the Church would just shut up about sin in general, and sexual sin in particular, folks in the LGBT community would end their suicide attempts and all would be fine.
4. must we, should we be sensitive to those individuals in our culture struggling with their sexual identity?
a. yes, absolutely ... they remain image-bearers of God, and deserve basic respect
b. but we do not owe them our acquiescence to define themselves in ways that we are thoroughly convinced goes against God’s created order so that they can feel good about themselves
c. what we owe them is a gospel that can change their lives
5. Never Be Surprised When Those Who Promote Evil Accuse the Righteous of Being the Problem and When They Do, Be an Elijah and Stay True to God

B. WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE THE ONLY CHRISTIAN STANDING UP FOR GOD KNOW THAT YOU’RE NOT

“Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”” (1 Kings 19:18, NIV84)
1. God always has a remnant of faithful where ever you find yourself

C. IF THE LORD IS GOD SERVE HIM ALONE WITH ALL YOUR HEART

1. as Søren Kierkegaard so wonderfully once put it, Christ seeks followers not admirers
a. there can be no such thing as a casual Christian
b. if Jesus Christ is Lord, we need to take up our cross and follow Him; but if he’s not, it doesn’t matter
ILLUS. Tim Keller, in his book The Reason for God, gets it spot on when he says, “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but on whether or not he rose from the dead.”
2. if we believe that Jesus is alive and the loving ruler of all, then we need to start living in accordance with that reality
3. if Jesus is alive, risen from the dead and exalted at God’s right hand, then he is Lord and we need to start treating him as the Lord of our lives instead of all the other things we put there instead
These are the things that the Prophet Elijah teaches us, may we “man up” an live them out.
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