Showdown on Carmel (Part Three)

1 Kings 18:25-40

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be knowntoday that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again” (1 Kings 18:36-37 NIV).

Next we read Elijah’s prayer for fire from heaven. Too often we assume that prayer for “big things” must be spectacular. And we suppose that if we can add a lot of religious or spiritual stuff to our prayer, we have a better chance of getting what we want from God. Any pastor can tell you that people come to him asking for him to prayer, because they presume that the prayers of a “holy man” are more powerful than those of average Christians. Elijah’s short prayer ought to end those wrong ideas. We should also learn that superstition overflows with ceremonies; faith uses the means of prayer.

First, think about the way Elijah addressed God. He spoke to God as the covenant Lord of his people, Israel.  He was saying, “Lord, you are faithful to your covenant. Remind these people of your faithfulness.” We are able to plead a better and eternal covenant in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:20). He prayed plainly, directly and reverently, yet with emotion. There is nothing wrong with emotion, provided it is in response to the truth. The elder, To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth—because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever… (2 John 1:1-2 NIV). It was only a short prayer, especially as compared to the prayers of Baal’s prophets. Their ritual was six hours long; Elijah’s prayer was less than a minute. The length of a prayer is unimportant, provided that its duration is not done to be seen of people. God is most concerned about the content, your attitude, and your faith. The length of a prayer is a secondary matter.

Second, listen to his requests. Elijah asked for the glory of God, that the Lord would clearly demonstrate that he is God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6 NIV, my emphasis). He prayed for the vindication of the word. He wanted the Lord to testify that Elijah was his prophet and that his actions were in conformity with God’s word to him. This was not self-centered, but a matter of the truth of God’s word. He asked for a work of grace. He cared about his people. He longed that the Lord would turn the hearts of the people back to God. Conversion (repentance and faith) begins with God’s supernatural act of the new birth from above. This was a God-centered prayer. This is the crucial concept. Are we seeking first the honor of God? Our foremost concern should not be for the prosperity of our church or our lives, but for the honor of the Lord (John 8:50; 12:28; 14:13;15:8; 17:4).

Third, we see God’s answer (18:38-40). The fire had a supernatural character. An ordinary fire simply doesn’t produce such an effect. I had many fires in my fireplace, and the bricks easily outlasted every fire! It was also a controlled fire, because it did not harm any of the people, even Ahab and his pagan prophets.

The people outwardly acknowledged the supremacy of the living God. The indisputable happening constrained the people to worship the Lord. How many of them were truly converted is not stated in this passage. An outward confession is no proof of grace; they could have just been overwhelmed by what occurred (cf. Mark 5:16-17; John 6). A miracle alone cannot change a heart. Ahab saw the fire fall, yet he did not repent. Consider the unbelief at the raising of Lazarus (John 11:47-48). We need to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who alone produces regenerate hearts, instead of praying for  miracles or judgments.

The end was the execution of the false prophets. Elijah had a firm Biblical warrant for this action (Deuteronomy 13). The law or old covenant was a ministry of death (2 Corinthians 3).

What are some lessons we should learn?

  • Let every Christian be encouraged to put their trust in God and to go forth in his strength to live for him in this ungodly age.
  • Let us not underestimate the power of faith in the Sovereign Lord. Nothing is too hard for him! Therefore, we ought to believe and pray.
  • Let everyone fear the living God who has such power. Hear the words of Jesus. I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But 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 (Luke 12:4-5 NIV).
  • Let everyone find acceptance with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon (Isaiah 55:6-7 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

Showdown on Carmel (Part Two)

1 Kings 18:25-40

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down. Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord (1 Kings 18:30-32a ESV).

Elijah led the return to the worship of the true and living God. This was a much bigger and better goal than simply proving that he was the Lord’s prophet. It is too easy for humans to have desires for personal vindication. At this moment, he was spiritually on course. Elijah was motivated by the desire to see God exalted.

Elijah prepared the means of worship. We need to remember the time in which Elijah lived. It was the time of the law or old covenant. Israel was the people of God, if they obeyed the Lord (Exodus 19:1-6; etc.) Worship and fellowship with the Almighty, Holy God was only possible through the offering of an animal sacrifice presented in the proper way. As God’s prophet (cf. similar acts by Samuel), Elijah could do this on special occasions, though only the priests could minister at the altar in Jerusalem. The Lord graciously called his people back into covenant fellowship with the enemies of God and his people watching. Churches do not hesitate to have new covenant practices (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) on display before unbelievers. In fact, such times have often been the occasion for unbelievers to turn to the Lord Jesus and be saved.

Elijah did everything very openly so that no one could accuse him of trickery. He called the people near. Truth does not fear investigation. He thoroughly doused the altar, wood and sacrifice with water. (Certainly, the people would have come with much water to drink.) It seems like Elijah was trying to make it “harder” for the Lord. There was no possibility of a spark on that altar.

He acted to show the people that the Lord was still their God (18:30-31). It was kind of a covenant renewal service. Remember what Moses did when the law covenant was given. And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early the next morning and set up an altar and twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel at the base of the mountain (Exodus 24:4 CSB). The people had broken the covenant by following other gods, but God is rich in mercy. He welcomes back those who return to him in faith. Elijah proclaimed by this action that there was hope for the people. They still could rightly be called Israel. God had named the people, and so they could rebuild an altar in his name. Worship could be restored.

Too often when we read the Scriptures, we can skip over what is important. We need to slow down, reread, and think. Notice how the writer described Israel: to whom the word of the Lord came. Having the word of the living God was preeminent among Israel’s privileges. What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God (Romans 3:1-2 NIV). In the Holy Writings given to the Jews, we have the words of the God who speaks! A core problem of Israel in Elijah’s time was their failure to hear and to obey God’s word. For three years there had been no rain, in fulfillment of a covenant threat (Deuteronomy 28:22-24). But the writer reminds us that God’s people have his word and can and ought to return to the Lord.

What of us? Do we value God’s word? Do we read it daily? To we by faith listen to its message? May God give us grace to treasure God’s word in our hearts!

Grace and peace, David

Showdown on Carmel (Part One)

1 Kings 18:25-40

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 traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27 NIV).

The scene before us in this text is one of the most dramatic and moving in the Scriptures. Picture what happened in your imaginations. Four hundred fifty richly robed prophets of Baal versus one simply and sternly clothed prophet of the Lord. And there sits the powerful king of Israel, Ahab, who is surrounded by his court and people. The crowd anxiously waits to see who will win this contest.

What we have here is a tremendous act of mercy on the part of the Lord. To think that he, the Creator and Preserver of all things, would stoop to allow himself to be so tested! Yet he did this for the benefit of those people, and for us as well. Come, let us worship the Lord who displayed his glory at the showdown on Carmel.

The contest opens with exposure of the false gods. After the terms of the contest were accepted, Elijah allowed them to go first. What happened next was a worthless effort by the pagan priests.

The writer described them in two ways. First, they had a unity of purpose. Unity can be used by evil as much as division. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (cf. Acts 19:34) The majority was in full agreement among themselves, but the majority was wrong. Second, they were sincerely and seriously devoted to their god. They called on Baal, they shouted, they danced, they slashed themselves, they frantically prophesied. What zeal; what ignorance! For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge (Romans 10:2 NIV).

In spite of their efforts, they failed. Sincerity and seriousness of purpose is no evidence of truth. You can seriously and sincerely take medication, but if it is useless as a remedy for your illness, your seriousness and sincerity do nothing to help you. They might even harm you. Ritual involvement and emotional displays lack value before the Lord. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23 ESV; cf. Matthew 15:8). Many in our day place a high value on grand displays of ritual or exciting entertainment in religion. The prophets of Baal will always offer such flesh-pleasing diversions. You should ask instead, “Is the grace of God in the gospel of Christ being preached in truth?”

They received a stinging rebuke by Elijah. He used sarcasm to help expose the ridiculous nature  of their false religion.   Sarcasm is a dangerous verbal weapon and should be used only with great caution. But there are times that it must be used to expose error and to convince people of their sin in pursuing a lie. His mockery of Baal’s priests represented the Lord’s attitude toward false religion. The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them (Psalm 2:4 NIV; cf. Proverbs 1:22-27).

Why did the false prophets and priests fail? They did not serve the only one true and living God (Psalm 115:1-8). There is no reason to fear false gods. Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good (Jeremiah 10:5 NIV).

Is your trust in the living, sovereign God?

Grace and peace, David

Wavering Between Two Opinions (Part Three)

1 Kings 18:16-24

Next, let’s consider the object of the contest between the Lord’s prophet, Elijah, and the false prophets encouraged by Ahab and Jezebel. This is an unpopular topic in this day of the “intolerance of tolerance” (D.A. Carson). Political correctness in North America and Europe has reduced the level of communicating ideas to the level of complete silliness. If you say anything that disagrees with the opinions of the self-appointed intellectuals and pop celebrities, you are branded a bigot, intolerant, or worse and then roasted alive in social media. A truly open-minded person is willing to join in a discussion and to listen and to talk without inflammatory words.

Elijah acted in order that the reality of the worship of the Lord would be clear. True Christians are against violence and trying to coerce people to believe. We think that all people are free moral agents and must grasp the superiority of Jesus Christ and the gospel, if they are to follow him. No one can follow the Lord, unless they are convinced in their minds to follow him. Having said that, we also state that the worship of the living God is just not another religion to be tolerated. It is the right one. All others are wrong.

Someone might ask, “Isn’t that being rather narrow-minded?” Let’s use an illustration. If we had a table before us with 20 glasses on it, one filled with pure water and 19 with deadly poison, would it be narrow-minded to drink only the one filled pure water? If God’s word is truth, then all other religions are deadly error. Should Christians then work for the suppression of other religions? Israel was so ordered in the old covenant (Deuteronomy 13). No, because we live under a different covenant, which is not a ministry of death, but of life (2 Corinthians 3). The new covenant way is to avoid false teachers (2 John).

During the old covenant, God demonstrated his ability to effectively deal with sin. He operates in space and time. He reserves to himself the right to tell us how to interact with people who oppose him and truth. We are to love our enemies (Matthew 5).

In our time, we are in the midst of a great struggle within professing Christianity. Here are a few examples.

  • Is the object of religion to love God or oneself?
  • Is the Bible the word of God or a mixture of truth and error?
  • Can we even say that there is any such thing as absolute truth?
  • Is there eternal punishment for the unsaved or merely annihilation or even universal salvation?
  • Is a Christian someone who merely assents to the “Apostles’ Creed” or one who trusts in Jesus Christ alone in order to be right with God?
  • Is there any value in or purpose for being heavenly-minded?
  • Was Christ’s death and resurrection necessary to save us, or were they only moral examples?
  • Does God really care about sexual immorality?

Elijah acted in order that the people would serve God only. His demand was based upon a basic principle of the old covenant: “if… then follow…” (1 Kings 18:24). The law covenant prohibited the worship of any other gods and the making of idols and images (Deuteronomy 5:1-10). Once you know what is right, you must live in conformity with the truth. Jesus taught this same truth: no person can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). You must be for the Lord and live for him, or be for a false god and live for him.

What should we learn from this uncomfortable incident?

  • It is not enough to be brought up in a Christian home, and just to drift along with the tide when out in the world. You yourself must know Christ by faith and decidedly live for him.
  • It is insufficient to have an orthodox creed and to live a wicked life (Titus 1:16). True faith produces godliness.
  • It is not acceptable to be a Christian on Sunday, and yet fail to confess the Lord Jesus Christ during the week (Matthew 10:32-33).
  • Don’t waver between two opinions. Worship the living God and live for him!

Grace and peace, David

Wavering Between Two Opinions (Part Two)

1 Kings 18:16-24

We have considered the need for this confrontation between the Lord’s prophet, Elijah, on one side, and the prophets of the false god and goddess, Baal and Asherah, on the other. God acted to call his people Israel back to himself when they were far away. Let us give thanks to our God that he seeks people!

Next, let’s look at the terms of the confrontation. We should notice the fairness of the terms.

  • Elijah allowed himself to be opposed by a greater number of pagan priests (18:22). Baal had four hundred fifty priests against the lone prophet of the Lord The odds of “strength in numbers” were decidedly on the side of the Baal’s priests.
  • The test should have been something that Baal could have done if he was a god. Why worship someone who can’t demonstrate his power and defend his own honor?
  • The results would be highly visible. Anyone could “Go and touch the smoldering remains.” This was not a debate about philosophical and religious systems. People love to sit back and assume that they are capable of making such evaluations. No, this would furnish indisputable evidence in the real world.

The specifications for the confrontation were identical (18:23-24).

  • There was the same sacrifice: One bull. Elijah allowed his opponents to choose which one they wanted. This would prevent charges about him choosing the best for the Lord and the worst for Baal.
  • They were to use the same method: Sacrifice the bull and pray for fire.
  • Both sides were forbidden to “help” their God or god win. Neither could use fire.

The test clarified. Why can’t we have the same contest today? First, we have no right to demand such a contest. The Lord has already given ample evidence. After he had suffered, he also presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3 CSB). Someone might wish, “If only the resurrection of Christ had happened today! All could have been photographed and videotaped.” I answer, “Would you then believe? Or would you object that it all was a computer-generated deceit?” Second, this miracle was given for the confirmation of the word of God. God acted at this time to prepare Israel for the coming of his Son through them. So then, the principle holds true that was written about the appearance of the Messiah. How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:3-4 ESV). At times of giving new revelation, the Lord testified to its reality by signs, wonders and various miracles. Elijah stood for the Lord at the time when the prophets began their ministry.

Grace and peace, David

Wavering Between Two Opinions (Part One)

1 Kings 18:16-24

It is easy for Christians to frustrate themselves as they view world conditions and the response of non-Christians to those conditions. If the times are good, then we think that they should give thanks to the Lord for his goodness, because we know that it is meant to lead people to repentance. Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4 NIV) And if God’s judgments are present, we think that they will surely turn to God for help. My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness (Isaiah 26:9 ESV).

The difficulty in both cases is that we underestimate the power of sin over unbelievers. Examine the context in both of those cases. Sin is not something external to man. It is not a slight problem that can be removed by some external pressure (whether mercy or judgment.) But the unsaved are slaves of sin and captives of the devil. Jesus responded, “Truly I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34 CSB); Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will (2 Timothy 2:25-26 NIV). It takes more than good or bad times to change a person; instead, you must be born again!

Elijah had been sent by the Lord to confront a people who had turned away from him. We need to learn from Elijah’s boldness for the faith. Such a stand requires a firm trust in the living God. Let us learn to stand for God boldly as we consider these verses.

Let’s begin with the need for the confrontation between the Lord’s prophet and the false prophets in the presence of the people of Israel. In general, we might think it was strange that such an event was needed at all.

  • Since they were the visible people of God (Romans 3:1-2; 9:4-5). There lack of positive response to the Lord would be like my children demanding that I produce their birth certificates or DNA testing that they might know that I am their father.
  • Since God had done so much for them in the past (Psalm 78). God had blessed his people through many generations. They ought to have sought the one who had made them his own and provided for them.
  • Since God was fulfilling the “curses of the covenant” upon them (Deuteronomy 28:15, 22-24). It was time to seek the Lord.

All these were intended to define how they looked at themselves and the world.

God had other particular reasons for this public clash between Elijah and the false prophets.

The Lord desired to vindicate Elijah (18:17). God desired to make known that Elijah was God’s prophet and that he was right in withholding rain. Don’t be surprised, Christian, if you are called a trouble maker (cf. Matthew 5:11-12).

It would serve as a public condemnation of Ahab and his ways (18:18). His sin would specifically be pointed out. Ahab had turned from God to idols. He was involved in both apostasy and idolatry. Blame was placed on him. The Bible teaches human responsibility. If you violate God’s laws, you are guilty.

It would display the condition of the people (18:21). Indifference sets in the hearts of people during a time of religious declension. Various explanations could be given for the people’s silence: They were guilty and didn’t care or want to change. They were guilty but afraid of Ahab. They were guilty and didn’t know how to respond. But in any case, they did not repent.

Let us learn this lesson. We should know the danger of spiritual indifference, which in one way is to be swayed by the visible and sensational rather than the word of God. Let the Scriptures influence your mind, heart, and the choices you make.

Grace and peace, David

Where Sin Increased (Part Two)

1 Kings 18:1-15

But where sin increased, grace increased all the more… (Romans 5:20 NIV).

Sin had greatly increased in Israel, and it seemed like there was no hope. The Lord, their covenant God, had sent his prophet Elijah to announce a horrible drought, which was one of the curses, if Israel disregarded God’s covenant with him. The sky above you will be bronze, and the earth beneath you iron. The Lord will turn the rain of your land into falling dust; it will descend on you from the sky until you are destroyed (Deuteronomy 28:23-24). Yet, at this terrible time, the Lord showed his grrace. We see three evidences of his grace.

First, God preserved Elijah for further service to him. God had fed him at the brook and at Zarephath. The Lord also kept Ahab and Jezebel from killing his prophet. He also had taught Elijah valuable lessons about faith that he needed to know in service to God. Elijah was now prepared for the coming contest of God versus Baal on Carmel.

Second, the Lord placed Obadiah in Ahab’s court to protect other of his prophets. When we think all is lost, we can fail to see faithful people whom the Lord has placed near us to help us. Consider Obadiah’s character. He was a godly man (18:3). Like Joseph, Nehemiah and Daniel, Obadiah was faithful to God in a pagan palace. “There is nothing wrong in a child of God holding a position of influence if he can do so without the sacrifice of principle” (Pink). The Lord often has his saints in unlikely places, as in Caesar’s household (Philippians 4:22). We can be in the world and not of the world. Obadiah was consistent over a long period of time, for he had worshipped God since his youth (18:12). I am glad to see girls and boys in attendance, when their parents gather to worship the Lord. It is good to begin to serve God when you are young. Don’t let sin ruin you for years! Seek the Lord before the chains of sin harden around you and your mind is polluted with a great deal of sin. Think also of Obadiah’s accomplishments (8:4, 13). He hid the prophets and provided for them. He had bold faith. We thank God for those who have risked their lives to protect God’s persecuted people.

Third, God purposed to send rain again on the land. This was an act of sovereign mercy, for the people still had not called on him in repentance for their idolatry. If we need to wait for any nation to repent before God would act, there would be no hope for any people group. If we even had to wait for the professing church to return to him, we might despair. But God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy (Romans 9:15)! Our hope is in the Sovereign God, not in people! Remember this when you gather with others to pray. This was also an act of faithfulness to Elijah. The prophet had said that there would only be rain at his word (see 17:1), and so the Lord sent Elijah to announce the coming of rain. Here is a principle: God will honor those who honor him (cf. 1 Samuel 2:30).

Let us thank God for the godly who still remain in the nations of the world! Every follower of Christ is a witness to the power of God’s saving grace! If God could save you, my friends, he can save anyone. The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD (Psalm 37:39 NIV). Let us pray fervently for God to send a new great awakening. Greed, self-love and sexual immorality bind the wills of people. They will not come to him and have life (John 5:40). But King Jesus is able to break those chains, for he is the Great God and Savior! Now is the time to seek the Lord!

Grace and peace, David

Where Sin Increased (Part One)

1 Kings 18:1-15

There are times when the followers of Christ can feel as though there is little hope for the cause of God and truth in their land. They want to cry out, as David did, Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men (Psalm 12:1 NIV). Indeed, it seems like the godly will be wiped from the face of the earth. Who would have thought that Luther could survive when both the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Church were seeking his death? What hope was there for evangelicalism in England when Mary I (“Bloody Mary”) was putting to death its leaders?

The Bible instructs us to trust in the sovereign God, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few (1 Samuel 14:6). Where sin is on the rise and the triumph of evil seems certain, even there the Lord God is able to carry out his purposes. Our text is another example of God’s all-ability.

Sin was hard at work in the Northern Kingdom of Israel at that time. There was no public place where people could gather to worship the living God. From the time of Jeroboam I, the officially sanctioned religion was an idolatrous substitute for God and the covenant he had made with Israel (cf. 1 Kings 12:26-33). As we have observed, Ahab and Jezebel had forced Israel into deeper idolatry (cf. 1 Kings 1629-34). Without public worship and teaching, it became very difficult to maintain faithfulness to the God of Israel. It was a horrible time. Let’s think about this more.

There was no apparent concern for the glory of God or the good of men in Israel at that time. King Ahab was chiefly concerned about his property—that none of his animals would have to be killed because of the famine. 18:2b, 5. Now, there is nothing at all wrong with caring for animals. Proverbs 12:10 tells us A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal… (NIV). The problem was Ahab’s lack of a deeper concern—the glory of God and the good of his subjects. Contrast wicked Ahab with godly David (cf. 2 Samuel 24:17). Scripture teaches this principle: When you reject God, you eventually lose concern for the worth of people. Study, for example, Romans 1:18-19, 28-31.

There was no national repentance in Israel for their sins. National repentance was essential for the old covenant nation. Today in the new covenant, the church is God’s people, and not any of the nations of the world. What does the church need to repent of today? For some ideas, read Revelation 2-3. The physical suffering during the famine, a covenant curse (Leviticus 26:18-20), had not induced them to repent. Ahab was intent on ridding the earth of Elijah, not on confessing and forsaking his own sins (18:9-10). Unless the Lord gives heart changing grace along with the trial, people will not have a change of mind. At first, they might consider the trouble as a freak of nature. But later, if they think of God at all, they probably will grow bitter against him (cf. Revelation 16:9). However, people are sure to perish, unless they repent. No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well (Luke 13:3 CSB).

There was a policy of persecution against God’s prophets. This is seen in Ahab’s fanatical desire to find Elijah (18:10), and in Jezebel’s murder of the Lord’s prophets (18:4, 13). How could the godly survive an onslaught driven by fanatical hatred?

God has not placed believers in “heaven on earth”. No, we live in a world filled with rejection of God, refusal to love God, and rebellion against God and his ways. We must rid our minds of the deceptive notion that life here will be easy and that we will lack spiritual opposition. Oh, I know that Christians will agree with this in theory, but there is far too much hand-wringing and moaning in churches today. The Lord never told us that it would be easy. In fact, listen to what the apostles Paul and Barnabas told the churches they had started. “It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 CSB).

Grace and peace, David

Elijah’s Greatest Challenge (Part Three)

1 Kings 17:17-24

Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth” (17:24 NIV).

Elijah found himself in a situation that no one had previously confronted. God had promised to provide for him through a widow and her flour and oil. But the widow’s son died unexpectedly. She blamed him for her son’s death, and it appeared that God’s promise had miscarried. Did the true God only give the Gentile woman an illusion of hope? How could he demonstrate that God was worthy of her trust? What could Elijah do or even say? Could the dead be raised? His response provides a helpful pattern for us. Elijah prayed effectively.

  • It was a fervent prayer, for “he cried out to the Lord”. The typical “church prayers” (Sunday service or small group) very rarely are spoken passionately. They are lukewarm, boring, and impersonal. People get more excited about junk mail or telemarketer calls than praying to the true and living God!
  • It was a personal prayer. He addressed his God—“O Lord my God”. He knew God, for he had waited on the Lord for daily provision. He knew that God understood his condition and believed that God cared about the widow and him. In contrast, “church prayers” seem like a phone call to some unknown person at a utility company. “With whom am I speaking?”
  • It was a bold prayer—“have you brought tragedy…?” Elijah didn’t whitewash the tragedy to appear reverent. He talked with the Lord in the hideous pain of the loss of the widow’s son. Why pray this way? Because God wants us to be real with him.
  • It was importunate prayer: “three times”. Some mistakenly suppose that prayer is a once spoken request, like the less they pray the more faith they’re supposed to have. Such wrong ideas come from a misunderstanding of Matthew 6:7, which they suppose “excuses” them from wrestling with God in prayer (cf. Colossians 4:12). Yet Jesus himself prayed repeatedly!
  • It was a specific prayer: “let this boy’s life return to him!” He didn’t pray glib, trite, vague requests. He asked for something precise. God wants us to pray this way.

Elijah received a miraculous answer. The means was the prayer of faith. By faith… Women received their dead, raised to life again (Hebrews 11:33-35). Elijah had the same faith Abraham did—that God could raise the dead (cf. Hebrews 11:17-19). This is the same faith that every believer has—faith that God can and will raise the dead. He had the great faith to trust God for what had never happened before. Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know (Jeremiah 33:3 NASB). Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV).

The cause was solely the power of God. Elijah’s faith by itself did nothing, but he had faith in the One who was, is and always will be All-powerful (cf. Acts 26:6-8). This exercise of faith showed the truth of God’s word (17:24). It showed he was really God’s prophet. It led the widow to a greater faith in the Lord.

With an ending like the one in this passage, it is easy to see the truth of Romans 8:28. But we must remember what the all things are which Paul includes in that reference. Read Romans 8:31-39 very carefully. Is your confidence in the living God who has all things under his control?

Are you worshipping the Sovereign God? Are you giving glory to him? “The whole life of a Christian should be nothing but praises and thanks to God; we should neither eat nor drink nor sleep, but eat to God and sleep to God and work to God and talk to God, do all to his glory and praise” (Sibbes).

Grace and peace, David

Elijah’s Greatest Challenge (Part Three)

1 Kings 17:17-24

Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth” (17:24 NIV).

Elijah found himself in a situation that no one had previously confronted. God had promised to provide for him through a widow and her flour and oil. But the widow’s son died unexpectedly. She blamed him for her son’s death, and it appeared that God’s promise had miscarried. Did the true God only give the Gentile woman an illusion of hope? How could he demonstrate that God was worthy of her trust? What could Elijah do or even say? Could the dead be raised? His response provides a helpful pattern for us. Elijah prayed effectively.

  • It was a fervent prayer, for “he cried out to the Lord”. The typical “church prayers” (Sunday service or small group) very rarely are spoken passionately. They are lukewarm, boring, and impersonal. People get more excited about junk mail or telemarketer calls than praying to the true and living God!
  • It was a personal prayer. He addressed his God—“O Lord my God”. He knew God, for he had waited on the Lord for daily provision. He knew that God understood his condition and believed that God cared about the widow and him. In contrast, “church prayers” seem like a phone call to some unknown person at a utility company. “With whom am I speaking?”
  • It was a bold prayer—“have you brought tragedy…?” Elijah didn’t whitewash the tragedy to appear reverent. He talked with the Lord in the hideous pain of the loss of the widow’s son. Why pray this way? Because God wants us to be real with him.
  • It was importunate prayer: “three times”. Some mistakenly suppose that prayer is a once spoken request, like the less they pray the more faith they’re supposed to have. Such wrong ideas come from a misunderstanding of Matthew 6:7, which they suppose “excuses” them from wrestling with God in prayer (cf. Colossians 4:12). Yet Jesus himself prayed repeatedly!
  • It was a specific prayer: “let this boy’s life return to him!” He didn’t pray glib, trite, vague requests. He asked for something precise. God wants us to pray this way.

Elijah received a miraculous answer. The means was the prayer of faith. By faith… Women received their dead, raised to life again (Hebrews 11:33-35). Elijah had the same faith Abraham did—that God could raise the dead (cf. Hebrews 11:17-19). This is the same faith that every believer has—faith that God can and will raise the dead. He had the great faith to trust God for what had never happened before. Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know (Jeremiah 33:3 NASB). Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV).

The cause was solely the power of God. Elijah’s faith by itself did nothing, but he had faith in the One who was, is and always will be All-powerful (cf. Acts 26:6-8). This exercise of faith showed the truth of God’s word (17:24). It showed he was really God’s prophet. It led the widow to a greater faith in the Lord.

With an ending like the one in this passage, it is easy to see the truth of Romans 8:28. But we must remember what the all things are which Paul includes in that reference. Read Romans 8:31-39 very carefully. Is your confidence in the living God who has all things under his control?

Are you worshipping the Sovereign God? Are you giving glory to him? “The whole life of a Christian should be nothing but praises and thanks to God; we should neither eat nor drink nor sleep, but eat to God and sleep to God and work to God and talk to God, do all to his glory and praise” (Sibbes).

Grace and peace, David