Jesus Overwhelmed with Sorrow (Part Two)

Mark 14:32-42

He went a little farther, fell to the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will.” Then he came and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Couldn’t you stay awake one hour? Stay awake and pray so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Once again he went away and prayed, saying the same thing (14:35-39 CSB).

View the manner in which he faced this supreme trial.

Jesus faced it with complete self-control. You can see this part in his interaction with his disciples. Though he faced unspeakable horror, he also exercised self-control, so that he could minister to them. Such self-control is certainly the fruit of the Holy Spirit, through whom Jesus exercised his ministry. A day is coming in your life when you will need such a strong Savior to get you through life’s hardest times. Some of you are in or almost in the hardest time of life: old age. This is the season of life when you lose your friends, you lose your spouse, you lose your money, and you lose your health. But in such a time, you can rely on Jesus. He has the strength you need.

Jesus faced it with prayer. Jesus did not hesitate to bring this concern to his Father. He spoke that tender word of affection: “Abba”. This is awe-inspiring! Though he knows that the Father’s all-powerful hand is posed to strike him, Christ walks toward that hand in humble prayer. It is too great a thought for me to present. May God give you grace to understand! Jesus continued in prayer. Three times he prayed the same thing. And Luke tells us that each time, his intensity increased.

How are your prayers? Are they increasing in number and fervency? Is your trust deepening as you pray? Move toward the Father. Draw near. Jesus died so that we go boldly to the throne of grace.

View his submission to do God’s will.

It is impossible to understand fully what the Lord Christ experienced here (14:36). Part of the difficulty is that he is unique—both God and man. How his two natures interacted in his one person is beyond our categories of thought. How much of divine knowledge mingled with his Spirit-given understanding of God’s word is not revealed.

However, Christ Jesus truly experienced great conflict at the thought of his penal-substitutionary suffering for sinners. He, pure and holy, had to bear human sin—the sin of many—and pay the full price. Consider Hebrews 5:7. During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission (NIV). Yet in all this he was obedient. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8 NIV).

In spite of the conflict, Christ determined to God’s will. He left all options to God’s will (Mark 14:36; cf. Matthew 26:39, 42). We all have too much of a demanding attitude in our prayers. We can fall apart when we don’t get our way. How precious is God’s will to you? Christians get so wrapped up in wanting to know God’s will for their lives—until it crosses theirs. I could give many examples, but I’d probably pick out ones that I haven’t had problems with, at least yet anyway. But be honest with yourself before God. Are you willing to let God choose for you and then to be content? Really?

In God’s will, Jesus would drink the cup. This cup is spoken of in the Old Testament (Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15-16) and in the New Testament (Mark 10:38; Revelation 14:10; 16:19). Is anyone glad for the Savior who would drink the cup in the place of people like you and me? And so, Jesus went forth to do God’s will (14:42)! Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ!

My friend, have you ever really turned from your rebellion against God to seek undeserved mercy at the feet of the Lord Jesus? I plead with you now. Today is the day of salvation. Come and receive the free gift of salvation.

Grace and peace,
David

Who, Then, Is This? (Part Three)

Luke 9:1-17

Then he told his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” They did what he said, and had them all sit down. Then he took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he blessed and broke them. He kept giving them to the disciples to set before the crowd. Everyone ate and was filled. They picked up twelve baskets of leftover pieces (9:14b-17 CSB).

Jesus is someone who is able to satisfy (9:12-17). This is the only miracle, except Christ’s resurrection, that is recorded in all Four Gospels. Clearly the Holy Spirit considers this to be a significant event. Consider also that this miracle occurs within the context of Jesus seeking to provide his disciples with rest. This is another example of his compassion. Notice also that Jesus welcomed the crowds.

Christ demonstrated their insufficiency (9:12-14a). The disciples acted in a manner that is psychologically and emotionally accurate. They were tired after their journey and the long day, and they were concerned about the people. As they heard their own stomachs growling, they thought of others being hungry.

The Lord Jesus seized this opportunity to teach his disciples and to provide for another teaching occasion with the crowds. (He also gave what is called “The Bread of Life Discourse” in John 6 following this; first came the sign and then the word to explain it). Luke focuses on the apostles. It’s as if Jesus said, “Good thinking, men! Now what are you going to do about it?” The apostles look at their own resources and present two facts to show their own insufficiency.

  • First, Philip takes out his “smartphone”, opens the “calculator app”, and figures out that it would take eight months wages to feed a crowd that large. “We don’t have that much money!”
  • Second, Andrew finds a boy who still has five small loaves of bread and two fish. Obviously, that’s not enough to feed the crowd. “We only have a little!”

If you look at your own resources, you are only going to see how much you need and how little you have. We will never attempt great things for God with that kind of outlook. To follow the Lord requires faith. Jesus acted in this way to lead them to him, to the One who could provide and for whom they could minister to others in need. Too often Christians become mired in talk of “we never did that before” or “we could never do that”. And so the world goes on unreached into deeper evil, while the church is stuck in her lack of vision and faith in the Lord. It is imperative that we break out of this swamp of depression immediately! The current pandemic is a time to believe and to obey.

The Lord Jesus demonstrated his all-sufficiency (9:14b-17).

  • Christ prayed and gave thanks (cf. John 6:11) for the food. His prayer pointed people to seek God for the meeting of their needs. Jesus was always “making room” for God in the lives of people.
  • Then he constantly broke the bread and the fish, while the apostles passed the food out as the people sat in one hundred rows of fifty each. “They all ate and were filled or satisfied!” Everyone had enough, and each apostle had his own lunch box filled.

Who, then, is this Jesus? Clearly, he has a great message and a great vision, but he is also able to greatly satisfy! Is the lunch box of your heart empty? Jesus is able to satisfy, though money, possessions, vacations, entertainment, sports, drugs, alcohol, and sex cannot. Think about our current situation. People cannot go on vacation, cannot watch live sporting events, and cannot go out for entertainment, like casinos, bars, and movies. It is an excellent opportunity to evaluate how you’ve been spending your life. Why not change your mind about your life, turn and trust in Christ, and receive a full life? Christian, why not use this time to make the Lord the center of your life and lifestyle? Focus on the Lord today. Look at a world filled with fear and hate, and then get down on your knees and plead with God for mercy! Pray for the salvation of men and women, and girls and boys everywhere.

Grace and peace,
David

Who, Then, Is This? (Part One)

Luke 9:1-17

When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus all that they had done. He took them along and withdrew privately to a town called Bethsaida. When the crowds found out, they followed him. He welcomed them, spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing (Luke 9:10-11 CSB).

The Gospel writers wrote their books to convince people that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. The Gospels urge people everywhere to know that there is hope of eternal life in the Lord Jesus.

The past four blog posts we have examined the power and the compassion of Jesus. In chapter nine, Luke records a question that was raised by Herod, a regional ruler of that time. He asked, “Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” And Luke wants you and me to answer that question according to the historical evidence about Jesus. Let us think and then act on the first line of evidence he presents in this chapter.

Jesus is someone with a great message (9:10-11). It is obvious from Luke’s Gospel that Jesus was a very popular person. People crowded to hear him from all parts of Israel, and also from beyond its borders. However, when someone becomes popular, what the person stands for can get lost in a desire for entertainment. Jesus took action to prevent that from happening.

The Messiah’s chief concern was to teach about the kingdom of God. What is meant by the phrase “the kingdom of God”? God is the Lord of all and his purpose is to demonstrate his lordship for his glory. In this present age he does this through the gospel by the Spirit, bringing people to the obedience that comes from faith (Romans 16:26). Salvation is not the result of human effort and strict obedience to the law, but a product of God’s work in human hearts. At the end of the age, the Lord will destroy all remaining opposition and everyone will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 NIV).

Why is it important to teach about the kingdom of God? This is the way that we bring honor to God and do the most good to our fellow humans. The best thing we can do is to tell them how to be right with God now, instead of being judged by God later.

Do we share Jesus’ vision? You and I can find the answer to that question by how much we pray for God the Father’s kingdom to come. In the Model Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), Jesus taught his followers to pray to that end. Do we? Does your own prayer list and your church’s prayer list have this right up at the top? We only deceive ourselves that we share Christ’s vision when we do not pray for what he told us to pray about.

Jesus’ miraculous signs were given to support his teaching. We need to read the Bible in a “real life” setting. What would it be like for a man wearing a polo shirt, khakis and sandals to appear in our time and to claim to be the Son of God? How would we know his claim was true? That is the first reason for his miraculous signs (Matthew 11:2-6).

Along with this, his miraculous signs were a demonstration or acted revelation of his teaching. Jesus always taught that God cares for his people as a wise, kind, and sufficient Father. How could they experience this truth? They could know it by his miracles.

In our time, we no longer need miraculous signs. We have the chief sign, the resurrection of the crucified Christ, and the completed Scriptures. Whenever anyone is saved, a great miracle occurs, because they pass from death to life. We show the reality of this new life by showing its qualities to others. Are you? Is there “enough evidence to convict you” of being kind, compassionate and forgiving, and so being a follower of Jesus Christ?

Grace and peace,
David

We Need to Talk (Part One)

Ephesians 5:22-33

This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church (5:32 NIV).

The Biblical passage from which we begin this series is often used to talk about the marital relationship between a husband and a wife. Clearly, it does provide crucial teaching on the sharing of life between the two partners in the marriage covenant. But there is more to these words than the relationship of two humans. Their union is a picture of the greater union of the Lord Jesus Christ and his people. Christ is the husband and the church is his bride. As a man and a woman share life in their marital union, so Christ and his people share life. Marriage is about knowing a person and being known by that same person. Our eternal life with God is about personal knowledge (John 17:3) And knowledge involves communication. So, in this series think of Christ saying to his dearly loved bride, “We need to talk.”

Now on the human side of things, when a man or a woman says to their spouse, “We need to talk,” it is because there is a problem of some kind. Some might be small and others very serious. When one says this phrase, the other might begin to think, “Now what have I done,” and “how can I defend myself?” To ease into this, imagine that a married couple is a party. The husband tells a joke of some sort, that he assumes is simply funny and harmless. But the next thing he knows, his wife comes up to his side and whispers in his ear, “Dear, we need to talk.” Immediately, by her tone, the husband knows he is in trouble! And he is ignorant, and thinking, “Oh no, what did I do or say now?”

In that situation, the husband is probably guilty of some social faux pas. However, we the church are united to the Lord of glory, who is all-wise and never makes mistakes, even when we fail to comprehend his ways. On the other hand, we commit many sins and errors, which require our repentance and faith in his grace to restore our fellowship with him.

For our constant benefit, the Lord Jesus talks to his church through the living Word of God. We don’t need to find a time to talk with him in a busy schedule, which can be difficult for married couples in the busyness of our fast-paced lives. His words are always available, and we can always talk with him (prayer).

This series does not directly speak to the issue of reading the Bible and prayer. A discussion about the latter usually turns into a guilt trip (hardly anyone prays like we all know we should), an excessive concentration on the physical and financial needs of others (who prays for spiritual matters?), or a mystical quest (there are many forms of mysticism in prayer that have little or no connection with the Bible). Dare I even mention attempting to get “Bible believing” Christians involved in reading the Bible regularly? I think it would be easier to encourage believers to wade waist deep through a horrifically smelling swamp for a year than to read the Bible daily for three months! We have a serious problem with distraction or disinterest or disillusionment when it comes to reading God’s word in a consistent manner. Do you think I’m joking? All right… Read First Thessalonians every day for a month. The Spirit might use it to change your life.

Instead, I want to think with you about teachings of the Scriptures that the Lord wants us to pay attention to, as he talks with his dearly loved bride, the church. Christ says to us, “We need to talk;” that is, we need to listen to him about our relationship with him, our worship, our fears, our pride, our lack of passion, our brotherly love, and our need for wisdom. May God our Father give us hearts to listen and grace to change!

Grace and peace, David

Mercy After Judgment

1 Kings 18:41-46

Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful (Luke 6:36 CSB).

God’s prophet Elijah acted boldly for the cause of God and truth, in the face of strong opposition. Hundreds of false prophets had opposed him. Yet the Lord vindicated Elijah’s stand for him and that he was a true prophet. Then Elijah led the people to carry out the doom of the law covenant upon the teachers of error (1 Kings 18:40; cf. Deuteronomy 13). Was it time for the Lord to pour out judgment on the people who had also worshiped false gods?

God had the right, the authority, and the power to do that. Yes, the people deserved wrath. But God is also merciful. Sometimes we hear of people asking God to judge his enemies in our time, like the disciples wanted Jesus to judge the Samaritan village (Luke 9:51-56). Anger and hatred reside in the human heart, and their preferred objects are people that cause us problems. This makes us forget the character of God. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made (Psalm 145:8-9 NIV).

The mercy of God is seen in the sending of rain for the good of his people. What caused the rain to come?

It was not due to a change of direction in Israel’s leadership. There wasn’t any positive change. We read no record of repentance, thanksgiving or prayer on Ahab’s part. As we will see, Ahab was not softened by wrath or mercy. He steadily became worse. The evil king’s chief concern was for eating and drinking (18:42). Ahab was a materially-minded man, like those Paul later described. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things (Philippians 3:19 ESV). Elijah grants him liberty to pursue his pleasures. To be given material benefits without spiritual blessings is slippery ground (cf. Psalm 73:18). History is filled with many examples of this preference for partying over praying. Consider Belshazzar (Daniel 5); or those in London during World War II who partied during the air raids.

Sending rain was an act of the kindness of God. The covenant Lord had taken the initiative (18:1) in this entire event. It pleased him to do this. God is in control of the weather (Psalm 148:8; Matthew 5:45). He had withheld rain for three years and six months, and then he chose to send it. Yet at the same time, rain came because of the prayers of Elijah. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit (James 5:18 ESV). The God who ordered the end also ordered the means to that end. Prayer is part of God’s plan.

How did Elijah pray?

  • With a posture of humility (18:42). Though Elijah had experienced great blessings from the Lord, he did not lose a high regard for God’s majesty.
  • With persistence (18:43-44. cf. Luke 18:1-8). Notice the difference in the length of this prayer with his prayer in 18:36-37. God does not always answer when we expect. Even Elijah did not always receive an immediate answer to prayer.
  • With faith. (James 5:15-18). By faith Elijah heard the sound of heavy rain (18:41). Faith looks at things future, at things not yet seen, and reasons that God will bring them to be, and so acts as if they already were.
  • With fervency (James 5:17).
  • With a definite request (James 5:17-18). For example, every follower of Christ should always pray for the salvation of five people. Your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers form a fine place to start your list.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to pray as Elijah did. Let us have faith in God. With him all things are possible! Read Jeremiah 32:17, 26-27; 33:3.

Grace and peace, David

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

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

Elijah’s Greatest Challenge (Part Two)

1 Kings 17:17-24

We can know God, trust God fervently, and yet come into situations where our faith in God is incredibly tested. We may even know that God has done miracles in response to our faith in him, but we wonder, “Can God provide the help I need now?” Faced with the death of the widow’s son, Elijah knew that  he must trust the living God for a greater miracle. So, Elijah said a powerful prayer. He believed that prayer was more worthwhile than the other actions he could have engaged in. We need to rid ourselves of the saying, “All we can do now is pray.” Stop it. Ideas like that corrupt our minds. Prayer is the best thing we can do.

  • Elijah prayed instead of argued. We need to follow Christ when we cannot understand the ways of God. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23 ESV). It’s a good rule not to take offense at the words of a grieving person. Not every saint is able to bow before the Lord as meekly as Job was able to (cf. Job 1:21; 2:10). Love should cover sorrowful, bitter words that occur at a time of grief.
  • He prayed instead of debated. Some are under the totally misguided notion that all times are opportunities for theological debate. As he was passing by, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1-2 CSB) Sadly, I have observed this attitude. Don’t dispute in the face of suffering. Show mercy! Humbly, let us remember people need compassion rather than our knowledge. Some think they are being “bold for the Lord” when they are merely being brash for themselves. Christ was compassionate; imitate him.
  • He prayed instead of complained. Some would complain, “Now I’m in such a mess! She’s blaming all this on me, and I didn’t do anything. Poor me!” Does it really matter what someone thinks about you, when they need your help?
  • He prayed instead of questioned. “Why did this happen Lord?” It’s very natural to ask, “Why?” But it may be better to invest the greater part of our energies in asking, “What do you want me to do now, Lord?” Or better, “What will You do now, Lord?”

Elijah refused to look at second causes. Then Elijah cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, why have you brought tragedy to this widow who has opened her home to me, causing her son to die?” (17:20 NLT) Elijah believed that God is in control, even including the hard events of life. We need to have a larger view of the sovereign God in our thoughts and viewpoints. Think on what the Spirit has written in the Word.

  • [Job] said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing (Job 1:21-22 NIV).
  • I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things (Isaiah 45:7 NIV).
  • When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it? (Amos 3:6 NIV).

The time of trouble and trials is the time to worship the Lord as God over all, and to call upon him as the Ruler of all.

“Whatsoever is good for God’s children they shall have it, for all is theirs to further them to heaven; therefore, if poverty be good, they shall have it; if disgrace be good, they shall have it; if crosses be good, they shall have them; if misery be good, they shall have it; for all is ours, to serve for our greatest good” (Sibbes).

Grace and peace, David

Elijah: A Man of Courage (Part Two)

1 Kings 17:1

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” (NIV).

We have looked at Israel’s horrible spiritual condition, and the way the Lord responded to it by sending a prophet, Elijah, who would point the people back to God. We have seen that Elijah was fully convinced of the Lord’s existence and power to bring about change. That was a crucial starting point. Two other qualities were necessary for an effective ministry in a very troubled time.

Elijah was conscious of being God’s messenger. He knew his position in God’s work. This helped in two ways:

  • It kept him focused on the work at hand. He did not have to bother with building his own little kingdom, but the kingdom of God. The apostle is another example of this kingdom focus. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:15-16 ESV).
  • It directed him to live for the one who would judge his work, and not to be concerned with what people thought. We must see ourselves as God’s servants. To use a common illustration, we serve for “an audience of one.” This must be kept within the boundaries that Scripture sets for our actions. No one has the right to pretend, “I am God’s servant and can do whatever I desire.” Such an attitude reveals a heart in which one’s own desires and God’s written will are in conflict. We speak of boldness to do exactly what God desires.

Elijah knew his authority. He spoke and acted for God, as God’s prophet. He had a mission that the Lord wanted him to do. He was compelled to do it, like Jeremiah was. For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot (Jeremiah 20:8-9 ESV). This sense of authority encouraged him to act boldly. He had the courage to personally confront Ahab with his message. He had the courage to announce a great judgment.  Consider how unpopular the doctrine of hell is today, even in supposedly evangelical churches. And not only is the Biblical teaching about hell despised, but also the reality of sin. If you attend a so-called church where sin, condemnation, and God’s wrath are not preached and believed, you are not in a church but a religious social club. Leave it.

Elijah was confident of God’s faithfulness. His confidence was Bible-based. Be careful that you are not enticed to turn aside, serve, and bow in worship to other gods. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you. He will shut the sky, and there will be no rain; the land will not yield its produce, and you will perish quickly from the good land the Lord is giving you (Deuteronomy (11:16-17 CSB). The world cannot understand the godly man or woman because it does not share its view of God’s word as truth. Elijah did, he took God’s word seriously. He knew that God meant what he said. He also was confident that God would judge sin. Elijah’s prayer to withhold rain and dew from the land must be seen in this light. It had its foundation in the “curses of the law covenant” (cf. Deuteronomy 28:15-68).

For this reason, Elijah prayed in conformity with God’s revealed word. Making requests in true prayer involves having faith to claim the promises in the word of God, and then asking him to do as he has said. This was the motivation behind his fervent prayer (James 5:17.)

Pink in his writings about Elijah made the following three points:

  • “He prayed because he was assured that the Lord God lived and ruled over all.”
  • “He prayed because he realized that God is almighty and that with Him all things are possible.”
  • “He prayed because he felt his own weakness and insufficiency and therefore turned to One who is clothed with might and is infinitely self-sufficient.”

Do we have the same world view that Elijah had? Do we pray like Elijah did? Say what you want, but Christians no longer gather to pray because God is not in control in their world and life view. May we pray together as the early church and the church in times of revival prayed!

Grace and peace, David