'And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.' (Luke 24:25-27)

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Can the real God please step forward? (1 Kings 18: 1-46)

I don’t know if you have seen the movie “catch me if you can”? It’s about a man born in the USA called Frank Abagnale. He was a famous impostor. During five years in the 1960’s Abagnale forged checks in 26 different countries around the world to a value of $2.5 million.

But as he was doing this he also masqueraded as a teacher, airline pilot, Doctor and a lawyer. He forged university certificated from Harvard law school and nearly killed a baby when he was impersonating a doctor in a Georgia hospital, and all this from the age of 19-24.

He used his money to fund a lavish life style where he dated air hostesses, dined at expensive restaurants and worn expensive clothes. He looked like the real thing! But he was only an impostor! He wasn’t the genuine article, and he was caught eventually in France, and all 26 countries where he was wanted issued documentation for extradition!

It’s quite a story but Frank Abagnale is a bit like Baal in the Story of I Kings, he’s an impostor, not the real deal. Baal was said to be the one who controlled the rains and therefore gave fertility to the land and the crops.

But he really was a lump of rock masquerading as a god! An impostor who had no power what so ever. In this chapter of 1 Kings we have a God war in progress. The Question laid before the people is: Who is the real God.

And that’s the point of this whole passage, is Baal the one who has power over nature and the one who withhold the rain from the land at his command? Or is it the LORD who is sovereign over all?

So I want to look at this passage in terms of 4 main points

1. The servant of the real God (1-15)
2. The challenge of the real God (16-24)
3. The Provision of the real God (25-39)
4. The Promise of the real God (40-46)

So after 3 years of drought the LORD tells Elijah that its time to go and confront Ahab and the drought will be brought to an end. So of Elijah Goes and he meets Ahab’s palace official if you like Obadiah.

Now it seems a bit strange as to why we have this conversation with Obadiah here. But I think this is an example of the Believing remnant in the nation. Obadiah might have served Ahab as his palace official, but he still was a devoted servant of the LORD.

And we can see here just how committed to the LORD Obadiah was, he had taken 100 of the prophets of the LORD and hidden them in 2 caves so that Jezebel couldn't get her hands on them.

And more than this he had feed and watered them, can you imagine just how daring this was. Here was a royal official actively working against his queen and out of his own pocket feeding 100 men in a time of severe famine and drought in the land.

Obadiah was showing a lot of courage in serving the LORD this way. He seems to have been well thought of by Ahab as we see Ahab commends him to go and search for grass so the animals in the royal court would not die because of the famine.

But behind Ahab’s back Obadiah was working for the LORD. And we can notice a great contrast between Obadiah and Ahab here. Ahab was concerned with his animals, it did not seem to matter that most of the people were starving and had no water! All he could think about was his animals and keeping them alive!

His priorities were all wrong, Ahab as the King was the Shepard who was to look after his people! But he had a different kind of shepherding in mind! Indeed in looking after his own animals in this way he was really looking after his own prosperity! Ahab was not going to let this famine hit his wallet!

But Obadiah on the other hand feared the LORD greatly and at his own expense keeps alive 100 prophets of the LORD. You see where Obadiah’s priorities are? Even in the midst of a great famine when I’m sure he was suffering as well, he made provision for the prophets of God.

He feared the LORD and was willing to sacrifice his and his family’s provisions for the LORDS work. And sometimes Christians are called to serve in this way, to be salt and light by engaging in the political and social systems of this world and serving the LORD quietly and faithfully behind the scenes.

Not all Gods Servants must be like Elijah, confrontationilist. Sometimes we are called just to work within the system and serve the LORD Faithfully. Making sure like Obadiah our priorities are in the right place, they are in God and His Kingdom and not in our own interests.

Sometimes we by necessity may have to stand up and be confrontational even if it costs us our Jobs and our lively hoods in order to be faithful, that time may come. And there will always be the danger for people like Obadiah working away behind the scenes that we can begin to fear for our jobs or our popularity more than we fear the LORD.

Jesus was very clear on this we cannot serve two masters, and we can see here Obadiah maybe was in danger of fearing Ahab more than the LORD.

When he stumbles on Elijah and is told to go and get Ahab he is afraid that if God takes Elijah away, Ahab will kill him! And he was most likely right. Ahab would have killed him as he had looked everywhere for Elijah.

I think Obadiah here may well have just been in danger, he was running the risk of fearing the Wrath of Ahab more than the Wrath of God. And it’s a danger all who work like Obadiah have to face, be it in your work place or in school or where ever.

Are we prepared to make the sacrifice to serve the Lord of are we to afraid of not being popular or keeping our Job? Remember what Jesus told his disciples in Luke 12: 4-9

4"I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies[a]? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

8"I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. 9But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.

There is a cost to following Christ in this World. Obadiah experienced that as he sought to save the prophets of the LORD from Jezebel, yet maybe he had an unhealthy fear of Ahab which caused him to doubt here?

Yet he submits as Elijah gives him the assurance that he will indeed present himself to Ahab verse 15.

Which brings us to our second point in this passage: the Challenge of the real God.
Elijah and Ahab meet and exchange pleasantries! Ahab blames Elijah for all the trouble that had beset the northern Kingdom. How often the voice of those who speak up for the truth of God and His Word are derided or blamed in society!

But Elijah makes it plain the drought is here because of the Ahab’s unfaithfulness to the LORD and his commandments. Ahab has brought in a false religion and the LORD is bringing his judgement on the nation. And now there will be a final contest to see if this religion actually is true!

Here we have the great stand off, in the blue corner we have the challenger, Baal the Canaanite storm god and in the red corner we have the LORD the covenant God, who redeemed his people Israel out of slavery and brought them into the Promised Land.

But here then is the question, which one is the real God? The stage is set the people are gathered to Mount Carmel, right in the heart of Baal territory on the boarder between Israel and Sidon. The Prophets of Baal are gathered for this show down.

And in front of all the people Elijah says to the people verse 21

How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.

You see in Israel at this time its not that the worship of the LORD was completely taken away, but the people wanted the best of both worlds. They wanted the best of baalisim and Yahwehism! But here is the problem both cannot be right!

Either Yahweh is God and is the sovereign God, the one who brings the rain and the dew on the land or he is not! The people cannot waver between these two any longer. They cannot follow both, only one or the other.

Baalisim was in fact quite appealing, after all baalisim as a religion was thought to bring prosperity, Baal was the storm God who brought the rain and allowed the crops to grow and the animals to multiply! So it was good or the economy and peoples pockets! And what could be more relevant to an agricultural society!

Baalism had the royal sanction; remember Ahab built the temple of Baal in the northern Capital. And power tends to be persuasive, if you wonted to get on in society, you needed to be able to have the correct credentials with the establishment, that meant worshipping Baal!

And Baalisim also appealed to the peoples sensuality, sex and prostitution where built into the liturgical rites of the Baal cult. At the temples you could have sexual intercourse with a cult prostitute and it wasn’t denounced as wrong in fact it was a good thing in the Baal worship! How appealing would that have been!

But however good that sounded it does not answer the big question who is the real God, who is the one who send the rains and brings the blessing on the Land Baal or Yahweh?

This is what must be decided and the People cannot have it both ways, there is no sitting on the fence for Christians, true as it maybe that baalisim is not a big issue today in the modern world, but we still have our own idols which we devote ourselves to.

IF we broke up all our time this week and seen how much we devoted to the LORD and how much to our own pleasures, or material gain, or popularity, how devoted to the LORD are we?

An idol can be anything which prevents us from devoting ourselves completely to the LORD, and we all have them! What are yours? And how devoted to it are you? Because as far as God is concerned he demands total commitment to Christ!

There is no sitting on the fence, we can’t be religious on Sunday and forget about God on Monday! We can’t Lover our Neighbour on Monday and massacre him on Tuesday!

If we say we Trust in Jesus then we must follow him! What we believe must dictate the way we live our lives! There is no point in believing that the wall exists and then trying to walk through it! Our belief must correspond to reality, the same is true of our belief in God, if we believe in God then we must act on that believe and live our lives accordingly!

We can’t just have the good bits and leave the rest; we can have Jesus as our saviour and all that nice stuff and not have Jesus as our LORD, who demands our obedience! How long will we waver between two opinions says Elijah?

If Jesus is God then follow him, devote your life to him, not to the idols of wood and stone, or pleasure and prosperity, popularity and success! You can’t box God into a nice manageable size that fits your demands, Let God be God, for if we try and make God fit our ideas then we don’t have God at all, just another idol we have created for our benefit!

But see the people’s response, they said nothing, it was just apathy they did not seem to care. It was going to take something a lot more powerful to demonstrate that the LORD is God and cause them to turn away from their false Idols and worship the LORD whole heartily again.

Elijah makes the way for the final show down between himself, the LORDS prophet, and the prophets of Baal! The God who answers by Fire is the true God. Verses 22 -24

So of go the Prophets of Baal then and they make up there sacrifice and dance round it till there blue in the face! Then Elijah mocks them because nothing happens! There is no response from Baal. So they go into even more of a frenzy and start cutting themselves with swords and spears but still nothing happens.

Now if we look at baalisim for a moment here we can see just how telling this silence from Baal was. Firstly they were 450 prophets of Baal, Elijah was just one. So if numbers had anything to do with it surely Baal should have listened, but no Just because something has a lot of People following it does not necessarily make it correct.

Secondly Baal was the storm God, who was in control of lightning and thunder according to Canaanite mythology, so really sending fire from heaven to consume this sacrifice should not have been much of a problem to him, but still there was no response.

Thirdly the prophets were very very sincere in what they were doing, they were prepared to cut themselves and dance into a frenzy, but they were very sincerely wrong! Just because someone holds to some opinion sincerely and passionately does not make it true. Still nothing from Baal.

And finally this was all taking place in Baal’s on territory, he had home team advantage here. so surely you would expect him to be able to win this on his one turf? But no Baal has noting to say at all, there is no fire, nothing.

So now its time for the real God to step forward, Elijah rebuilds the alter that had been broken down with 12 stones. Each stone standing for each tribe of Israel. There may have been a political division between the northern and southern Kingdom at this time but before God Israel was still one people!

And Elijah prepares the sacrifice and loads up the alter. He heaps the odds even further in Baal’s favour by soaking the whole thing in water verse 33 -35

And then he just prays. There is no attempt at manipulation, no mass frenzy, just a simple prayer verses 36, 37:

"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."

Elijah Prays here that God would reveal himself and that the people who again worship and serve only Yahweh. His desire is for the Glory of God again to be shown in Israel. And that’s what happens in verse 38

The fire fell and consumed the sacrifice and the alter and the water! And the result was the people fell on their faces and cried out the LORD he is God! Baal had been seen for the pile of rubble he was! And the People has realised that it was the LORD who gives the rain and the blessing to Israel and it is the LORD who can withhold it!

The real God has stepped forward, and he is no impostor! But there is more happening here than just a display of the sovereign power of Yahweh, we also see in this a provision of the real God.

Israel was in an awful state; they were worshipping other gods, and therefore had broken the first commandment! And now Yahweh has preformed this great miracle before them to turn them back, but how was the LORD going to receive them back after they had broken his commandments.

Technically the LORD should have reigned down fire on the people of Israel because they should have been punished! After all they were his people and were meant to be a light to the nations a royal priest hood and people chosen by God. A people who were Holy and devoted exclusively to Yahweh.

So when they rejected God he should have punished them! But in this act of Yahweh’s power sending fire to consume the sacrifice we also see his grace.

For in accepting the sacrifice of Elijah he was in fact providing the way for the people to come back to him, by means of the alter. By means of a sacrifice where the animal was offered up rather than the people. God was providing atonement for the people so that they could again be in a right relationship with himself!

As God accepts the offering on the Alter with 12 stones standing for the 12 tribes. What he is doing is by his free grace making atonement for the sins of the people so that they could again be his people, so that he could again be their God!

Without this, Israel Gods people, would still be under his wrath as they are still guilty of breaking the commandments, but now there has been reconciliation through the sacrifice on the alter. Indeed on more than one occasion in Israel’s history God has already worked like this.

In Leviticus 9: 24 after the first service at the tabernacle where Aaron Moses brother was the priest the Fire consumed the sacrifice showing the LORD's acceptance of the sacrificial system. So here again Yahweh has made provision for his people.

And we don’t have to stretch our minds to far to see as new testament believers that God has indeed made the final provision of His people at the cross of Calvary where Jesus made atonement for the sin of His people. And God accepted him as he rose from the Grave victorious.

By Gods Grace again we to can be reconciled with God, even when we have run after our own false idols and broken the LORDs commandment he made a way for us to come back to him by sending Christ to die in our place on the Cross.

We no longer need alters or animals Jesus has paid the price and like the Israelites here in this story, we to can turn back to God in repentance and trust in his gracious provision for us in Christ! So that we can be in that new covenant relationship with him.

And finally we see the promise of the real God. The people has turned back to Yahweh, atonement had been made for the wrongs they had done and now Elijah prays on the top of mount Carmel and the LORD sends the Rains.

With repentance and Faith come the Blessing of God, the richest of his grace and mercy on his people. The drought was over and now the land would again bring a harvest and the animals would again multiply. For the LORD keeps his promises.

And for us we to can receive the blessing of God in Christ if we will turn from our idols and trust in him as he makes provision for us in Christ and we walk in obedience to our Lord Jesus the wrath of God is turned away and we are free from sin and death and condemnation.

This is what God has promised us in Christ, forgiveness and grace for sinful rebels who break his commandments and worship idols. And just imagine the hope this would have inspired in the lives of the exiled people of God.

Remember these things were written when Judah was in captivity in Babylon. Here were the people of God in a foreign land surrounded by false Gods and being squeezed into worshipping them.

Being tempted to compromise on there holiness and total devotion to the Lord by the pagans around them. But here was the story of Yahweh the covenant Lord who is the real God the only God even when they were in a foreign land, aliens and strangers they could trust Yahweh to make provision for them.

And it’s no different for us as New Testament believers today. With all the sophisticated Gods of 21 century Britain we to are tempted, pressed to give in and compromise our love for Jesus.

Church of Scotland people at this very moment are being pressed to compromise on sexuality and the bible. How often are we tempted to love money and not Yahweh in this nation build completely on it economy.

But we also know the Christ is the risen conquering son. Very God of very God. And we have been called to love him only, with heart, mind, soul and strength in this world knowing that he has made a way for us to be his people and for him to be our God.