Week 25 – Who Really is Your God?
Prayer – Our Father, we love You and as Your people we want to declare that You are God alone. There is no other. Thank You that You do not share Your glory with another. Thank you for Your promise that You will walk with us no matter what. So we ask that our lives would be filled with passion and conviction for Your glory. Grant us ears to hear from You today. In Jesus Name.Amen
We are almost half way through the journey to read the whole Bible in one year and this past week I was so encouraged by a story that I hope you all read in 1 Kings. God used this story to personally renew my hope and challenged me to keep praying with bold faith for His people, the Church. I do not know how God may have used this story in your life or how He will use it today as we walk through this passage but I do know He will use it for something that He wants to accomplish in you, in us as a faith family. Now the reason this story encouraged me so much is because I grieve, pray, and lament over the apathy and self-focused faith among so many professing Christians today in America. I grieve over the ways I have contributed to this concern. I confess that I wonder will God’s people ever wake up and connect the dots that how others view God’s Church and most importantly God Himself is largely based on how they live their lives. God has wrapped His reputation with the obedience of His people. That was and still is God’s decision.
So if you have your Bibles please turn to 1 Kings 18
. I encourage you to follow along. If you forgot your Bibles make a note to bring it with you next week. Until then 1 Kings 18
is on pg. 312 in these Bibles that are located in your seat pockets. I am going to begin reading in v. 16. Now as you turn there let me give you some historical background. The very first king of Israel was Saul, then David, followed by Solomon. During Solomon’s reign God told him that because of his disobedience to His commands and because he followed other gods; God was going to bring His judgment and split Israel into two nations. This is Solomon the wisest person who has ever lived failed to apply the wisdom God to much of his life and therefore, it cost him personally, his family, and the people of God. Sin affects many more people than you and I realize. You can read this heartbreaking conversation between God and Solomon in 1 Kings 11
. However, for the sake of David, God decided to hold back His judgment until Solomon died. And God was faithful to His Word because Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, made an unwise political decision that caused Israel to divide into nations. Now Rehoboam did not know that his decision was all a part of God plan.
So Israel split into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom retained the name Israel and had 10 out of the 12 tribes and Judah, the southern kingdom, consisted of two tribes. The southern kingdom had a few godly kings but they eventually got destroyed in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians because of their disobedience. However, 125 years earlier the northern kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians because not one of the kings did what was right in the sight of God. This was a very dark and depressing chapter in the history of God’s people but there is a bright spot: (show slide 2) God never gave up on His people, He still doesn’t. God was faithful to His people because He sent every king a mouthpiece to speak His heart. These mouthpieces were called prophets. So the passage in 1 Kings 18
is about Ahab, who was the 7th king of Israel (that’s the northern kingdom) and the mouthpiece God assigned to him was Elijah, whose names means the LORD is my God. Ahab was quite the challenge, 1 Kings 16:30
says, (show slide 3) Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. So let’s begin reading this historical encounter that took place around the mid 9th century B.C.
Read vv. 16-21. God through Elijah did not approve of Ahab’s leadership and so Ahab literally tried to kill the messenger. God protected Elijah from death but then one day God told Elijah to go and give Ahab, the one trying to kill you, a message. You may already know this but God will ask you and me to do things that stretch us like talking to someone whom we wouldn’t normally want to. God will mold you and me, just like He is doing with Elijah, into the person He wants us to be. It will be painful but is necessary. So Elijah obeys and we just read their first encounter after years of Elijah hiding from Ahab. There’s no small talk here as Elijah gets right to the point of the message: (Show slide 4) Ahab and Israel, who really is your God? So Elijah challenges Ahab to a showdown to determine if the gods of Baal and Asherah are the real God or is it the God of Israel? Now I doubt any of you here are Baal or Asherah worshippers or even know what those gods represented and because of that there is a tendency to disconnect ourselves from the story and therefore miss what God is saying to you and me.
So who was Baal? He was the fertility god, believed to enable the earth to produce crops and people to have children. Asherah on the other hand was a goddess of the sea. Now let’s not miss the great concern Elijah had which is the same concern I and others have today – the apathy and unbelief of God’s people. God’s people in 9th century B.C. did not flat out reject God. They professed to believe in Him but as Elijah says in v. 21 how long will you waver between two opinions? If God is God, follow Him. If Baal is God, follow him and the people said nothing. That’s apathetic unbelief. Now when you hear the word ‘unbelief’ you may think of someone who refuses to believe in God but it also can be passive like an attitude of: I want to be open-minded. So I will embrace the God of the Bible but I will also embrace the good in other faith traditions. And the combination of all that is the faith I practice. The thought being I have the best of both worlds. Let’s continue to read vv. 22-29.
This showdown that Elijah challenged Ahab to is basically a battle of worship services for the people of God to decide who their God really is. So Elijah invites the 850 prophets to have Baal answer them by fire. Why fire? Baal was known to answer prayer by fire. And as v. 27 tells us the worship service of Baal comes up short despite it being filled with passionate entertainment among the 850 prophets. Now it was Elijah’s turn. Let’s keep reading vv. 30-35. So Elijah took 12 stones, one for each of the twelve tribes and rebuilt the altar of the Lord. This was significant because it was a symbolic sign that God’s people would hopefully return to its true God with total commitment instead of apathetic belief. We also read Elijah telling his servant to pour water on the altar 3 times. This was unnecessary but Elijah did it because he didn’t want anyone to think it would be a trick. Elijah wanted God alone to get the glory. Let’s keep reading vv. 36-37. This prayer of 60 words is revealing because Elijah ask God for 3 things. (show slide 5) 1) Lord, answer me so they’ll know you are the true God. 2) Lord, answer me so they will know that I am your prophet and doing your will and 3) Lord, answer me so that the hearts of the people may be turned back to you. Elijah’s wanted the people to repent, change stories from themselves to God so they could reflect God’s greatness to their fellow Jews and to the nations. And according to v. 39 the response of the people was the answer to Elijah’s prayer.
Personally, I love this part of the story because they did not say, “Elijah – you are such a great speaker, prayer intercessor, or worship leader.” Instead the people were in awe of God’s power. They knew God showed up as Elijah could not have manufactured this with whatever God-given skills he had. This story makes me wonder when you leave Christian gatherings do you find yourself more talking about the people who led the music, gave the message, facilitated the discussion or the power of God? What we see happening on Mt. Carmel between Elijah and the 850 prophets carries into our world in the 21st century. How? Do people look at your life and mine and respond by saying “The Lord – He is God.” To personalize this for myself here is the question I sense the text asking me: (show slide 6) Travis, are others amazed that the Lord is God because of the peace, love, joy, grace, forgiveness, generosity that God has placed in you? I wonder how often you pray for yourself and others that you, they would be so empowered by the Holy Spirit that people would see a noticeable difference in you, in us? I wonder how often we look more like the prophets of Baal running around in religious activity, trying to fix our problems with our own efforts and strength because we do not call on the power of God.
God answered Elijah’s prayer with fire. That’s great but I imagine you don’t need God to answer one of your prayers with fire but maybe instead it needs to be peace, love, generosity, or compassion. (show slide 7) Whatever you need, the point is that God wants to empower you in the Word of God with the Spirit of God to live with passion and conviction for the glory of God. This goes way beyond God helping you and me out a little bit. This requires bold, passionate faith. I do hope you realize the God who Elijah prayed too is the same God we pray too as well. James 5:17
says Elijah was just like us. He had the courage and passion to see God’s people reflect God’s greatness. And that courage and passion can be ours as well. Elijah had no advantage over us. If anything, we are the ones who have the advantage because of who Jesus is and what He did through His death and resurrection. Now I don’t know about you, but I cannot muster up love or manufacture patience. I am not strong or good enough. Instead I need God to continually empower me, to let His love flow in and through me so people, Christians and not yet Christians, would be amazed and say something like, “Your God – He is the Lord.”
Some of you may be wondering if I was going to talk about v. 40 for it says - read. Wow, what a scene that must have been. This had to be more gruesome than the prophets slashing themselves earlier in the day. Now I bring v. 40 up because violence in the O.T. is something some of you struggle with. But remember when someone leads another away from God’s Truth and His redemptive mission God considers that serious and judgment has to follow. Those of you who wish this was just an O.T. thing then consider Jesus words in Luke 17:2
, (show slide 8) “It would be better for the person to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than for them to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves.” God is not asking if you and I like the idea of His judgment but He does want people to know judgment reflects His holiness and His passionate love for people. So as in the days of Elijah so it is with us that God acts in power to save people from their self-destructive beliefs and ways whether they are a Christian or not yet Christian. But there is more to this story - 850 years after this showdown God shows up for another bloody and gruesome showdown. This time God the Son, Jesus, is bearing the wrath of the Trinity on a cross; for you, for the world. This is great news for those who change stories from themselves to God because they no longer are an enemy but now a friend of God. Praise God that He still acts in power to save people from their destructive sins and behaviors.
Now to be clear this story in 1 Kings 18
is not a call to demand that God prove Himself to us in situations. For example, four days ago I had breakfast with 2 religious leaders of a different faith tradition at Einstein Bagels. We have been meeting for the past 9 years and I just said let’s have a contest to see whose really right. So since we all were drinking orange juice I proposed that whoever’s orange juice would evaporate without drinking it would be right then we would know. They agreed and so it was a showdown at the Einstein Bagels in Draper. Now you may be curious to know what happened but really there is nothing to tell because it never happened. That story illustrates a gross misapplication of 1 Kings 18
. This story does not give us permission to go around and demand God to act but rather an encouraging and hopeful reminder that God delights in showing up when people, like Elijah, grieve that God’s people are not reflecting God’s greatness with their words and/or actions. Let us also remember God’s demonstration of power here was to wake up God’s people so they would repent and return to the only story that really matters, God’s. God wants to show His power but only when no one else can steal His glory for God will not share His glory with another. At this time I invite Erin to come up to pray for us because we need it.