14th November 2021 – Ashford Community Church
On 31st March 2019 I promised to finish a series of talks about Elijah. I had spoken to you about his life through the trials of being confronted by the evil practices of King Ahab and his Queen Jezebel but we hadn’t reached the climax of the story. Then we had Covid 19 and so my plans to conclude this series were changed just as eveything changed during that time. Reading – 1 Kings 18.
1. A great exercise for all of us would be to describe the story of Carmel in as few words as possible. In essence the people of Israel had abandoned God so he sent Elijah the Prophet to warn King Ahab about his evil ways. In warning Ahab Elijah told the King that there would be neither rain nor dew until he said so. This was a disaster for the people of Israel and surrounding countries because no rain or dew meant drought. Drought meant no water and no food and ultimately it meant death. Elijah then hid from Ahab but:
a) God will provide. He provided food and drink for Elijah at Cherith and Zarapheth. He provides all that we need and he will continue to do so in a physical sense but also in our spiritual lives. God can be trusted.
b) Elijah was a prophet and he was bold. The role of the prophet was to be a watchman, speaking on God’s behalf and calling out idolatry. Elijah was bold to go to Zarapheth which was Jezebel’s home and was bold in his dealings with the woman at Zarapheth, announcing that her food would not run out – and miraculously it didn’t and also bringing her son back to life after he had stopped breathing. But in Chapter 18 we will see him become even bolder. We may never be as bold as Elijah or Peter at Pentecost but we can and should be bold in our witness to those around us.
For the nation of Israel the criteria for whether a king was good or bad were: i) did the King worship God alone; ii) did he rid the nation of ideolatry?; iii) was he faithful to the covenant between Israel and God? After Solomon when Israel spilt into two Kingdoms (North and South), the North had 20 Kings and all of them were bad. In the South there were also 20 kings and 8 of them were good, 12 were bad.
c) Jesus is Lord. There are no other Gods but there are lots of ‘would be’ gods. Some are more obvious than others and we must never bow down to these little gods that would take us away from our Saviour and Lord.
- So we come to Chapter 18. Here we see: continual boldness starting in v8 “Yes,” he replied. “Go tell your master, ‘Elijah is here. and v15 Elijah said, “As the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today.” Then in v18 when he neets with Ahab: “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals. 19 Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table. He confronts Ahab and accuses him of being the troubler of Israel and telling him to assemble the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. Finally we see Elijah challenging these prophets to a public test of who the real God is. This is more than just boldness it demonstrates Elijah’s complete trust in God.
- He had trusted that God would send a drought and God sent a drought but now he had an audience and he trusted God again to act in power.
- We all love the story of Mount Carmel as God demonstrates that he is the true God and the prophets of Baal are ridiculed. Elijah’s sarcasm doesn’t go unnoticed – ‘perhaps your god is asleep’. The symbolism of the 12 stones representing the tribes of Israel, the 4 large jars of water poured 3 times over the sacrifice – and 3 x 4 is 12! And as the test is conclusively won by Elijah and the people recognise that God is the true God we see him returning to the subject of drought and telling Ahab that the drought is over. 7 times he sends his servant to look for the clouds – another symbolic number.
- But why do we love the story? Some of us just like a good ending with good being victorious over evil. Don’t we just love the films where there is victory for the hero of the story and the baddies get their ‘come uppance’.
- But we need to dig deeper to know the full meaning of this passage and what it might say to us today.
- At the heart of the story are number 1: evil, number 2: subtlety and superstition and number 3: hearts and minds being turned.
- EVIL – reading from 1 Kings 16: 29 In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years. 30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. 31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. 32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him. Ahab and Jezebel were the worst of the worst. They committed awful crimes but worst of all they abandoned the true God.
- There has always been evil in our world since the original sin in the garden of Eden. There have been times such as just before the flood, when evil has been at a peak and I suspect Christians in every generation have felt that they are living in the worst of times. But today we do have justification for thinking that we live in times of great evil. We only need to turn on the news or read it on our mobile phones and there is evidence of terrible evil. 9/11; ISIS; terrorism in general; sexual abuse even within churches; modern day slavery. You know that I could compile a huge list of examples of other evil in our world.
- Should we be surprised by such evil? No – it is the consequence of sin. We like to believe that everyone is good or has good within them and the fact is that there is some good within even the most evil of people. But there is also evil and sin within the best of people. Are we above all that? By no means. We are still sinners but we are saved by God’s grace or I could say we are saved by God’s grace but we are still sinners.
- So there was great evil in Ahab and Jezebel.
- SUBTLETY and SUPERSTITION – The gods that were worshipped by peoples of that day were usually believed to possess particular qualities. Baal was seen as a god of fertility and of the rain and dew. If you prayed to Baal he would bring fertility to the land and your crops would be good, your cattle would increase and give lots of milk or provide good food. He would bring rain at the right time so that your crops would grow and your cattle would be watered because water is vital for life. In the Middle East, dew was also a vital source of water for fertility. I know how much water there is in dew when I go for a walk early in the morning and my boots are soon very wet.
- But Baal was in a constant battle with a god called Mot who was the god of death and sterility and whoever won the battle would determine whether there was drought or fertility for the next 7 years. Fascinating to see that 7 year cycles of drought are still a feature in our world today. Baal was also the king of the gods because of a battle he won with the god of the sea. So Baal was indeed the great pretender, the god that was set up to be the true ‘one and only’ God rather than just one of many gods.
- And so when crops failed, the people were drawn to pray to Baal so that the rains and the dew would come. You could say that this was superstition and whilst none of you may be superstitious it must be recognised that many are. Polls suggest that at least 1 in 4 UK residents are very superstitious and as many as 1 in 3 Americans are very superstitious.
- But are there other things that would draw people to Baal worship? Clearly superstition and desperation would draw many but the worship of Baal involved worldly and evil acts including sexual orgies. There are even worse things than that but you can look that up on line if you wish. But the worldly nature of the worship was a draw for many. It was subtle!
- So we have EVIL and SUBTLETY and SUPERSTITION but we also have the fact that many of the Israelites were being sucked into the worship of Baal by the subtlety and superstition and that their Hearts and Minds were being turned. They abandoned the true God to worship Baal and their hearts grew cold to Yahweh.
- For God this was the ultimate disappointment that aroused his anger. I can’t help but be also drawn to the similarities between Carmel and Calvary. Two great showdowns with the forces of evil and in both instances there was a tremendous victory BUT not exactly in the way that was expected. At Calvary Jesus overcame the forces of evil and made a way for us to have our hearts and minds turned to God……
- So what lessons can we learn from this story? Is any of it applicable today?
- EVIL, as I said earlier, is prevalent today. ISIS, Al Quaeda, abuse of many people. But one of the most obvious things is the way in which television and social media are changing. Anne and I find ourselves turning off many TV programmes when their content becomes unsavoury and it seems that so many programme makers feel they have to include all the evils and perversions of today’s world and that if they are not included they may face a backlash because the programme isn’t representative of today’s world. But all that does is to normalise those evils and perversions and so they spread. We are living in a world where evil abounds and is in stark contrast to the purity and holiness of our Lord.
- We too are affected by this and most of us can easily be sucked into believing that the world we see on TV represents normal life. It doesn’t! As Christians we are called to be in this world but NOT of this world and we need to examine our own consciences and change our own behaviour so that we live as God intended and stand out from the crowd. Don’t believe that everyone will see us as old fashioned – or worse – because we behave differently to the crowd. The old song began ‘Dare to be a Daniel …’ but if we could just ‘Dare to be different ..’ that will be a witness to those around us.
- SUBTLETY and SUPERSTITION: My guess is that very few of you are at all superstitious but that all of us are prone to be swayed by the devil’s subtlety. In churches throughout the world I’m certain that the devil would gain the greatest satisfaction from Christians at war with each other. This can happen so quickly and so easily and we end up being disharmonious rather than loving. It happens so easily and yet God commands us to love each other and we read ‘by this will all men know that you are my disciples: if you have love, one for another.’ We must take heed of this and be aware of the devil’s subtlety. He doesn’t want the world to know that God is real and that we love each other because of his great love for us.
- I believe that one of the greatest attacks of the devil is in terms of bringing worldliness into our churches. We can’t live in the way we did 400 years ago and must change with the times but we must be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves as we do this. In a church that I know of there was a Youth Group set up that was for children of Christian parents but also for the children from the area who were not from Christian homes. The aim was of course to preach the gospel to these non-Christians and to show them love. For a while this went very well while the number of children from Christian homes was much greater. In time the ratio changed and there were very few children from Christian homes. What happened was that instead of the non Christians being influenced by the Christians the reverse happened and drink and drugs came into the Youth Club. Even some of the children from Christian homes were drawn into this wordly life.
- We would do well to be wary of copying the ways of the world. I expect that the people of Israel didn’t initially see Baal as a god who would draw them away from worship of the true God – maybe they saw him as an optional extra – but as time went on Baal replaced God in their hearts. Bringing into our churches some practices that work well in the world, expecting them to work well in church is dangerous because they will eventually lead us away from our God. In the area of music churches need to be particularly wary and not believe that great music is a way of attracting people to the church, expecting them later to hear the gospel and be converted. Some recent statistical research found that over 75% of traditional songs, hymns and spritual songs contained reference to heaven and hell, the Trinity and the gospel whereas less than 4% of some styles of modern worship song mention those same things. The devil is subtle and would be very happy with this watering down of the gospel, but the ways of this world must be examined carefully.
- HEARTS and MINDS: In verses 37 & 38 we read: 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.
- The people of Israel had their hearts and minds turned back again. This is exactly the picture that can best be described in one word as REPENTANCE.
- It is my greatest prayer and God’s greatest desire that people will REPENT. Today this is a word hardly heard in many churches and rarely found in any of the very recent popular worship songs; but it is of the utmost importance.
- Maybe someone here has been drifting towards the ways of the world. Towards the Baal like worship where some thing has replaced God in the centre of their lives.Maybe that is a love of money and possessions, maybe it is an addiction to unsavoury content on the Internet; there are many many ways in which our hearts can be turned.
- (Ephesians 2:4–5) But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved. EVEN when we were dead in our trespasses; EVEN if you are currently dead in your trespasses and sin is dominating your life, GOD can make you alive. This is the gospel of our God. Whether you have never known Jesus as your Saviour and Lord or whether you have allowed little gods to creep into your life there is a need for REPENTANCE. The WIKIPEDIA definition is: Repentance is reviewing one’s actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs, which is accompanied by commitment to and actual actions that show and prove a change for the better. For me the concept of repentance is one of an overwhelming desire to change, to turn around and walk the other way, to have our hearts turned away from the gods of this world and towards the true God who created us, who loved us enough to die on the cross of Calvary and who longs to see us right with Him..
- The conclusion to all that I have said is straightforward. We need to be right with God and we then need the boldness and faith of Elijah to reach out to those that we know, and those we don’t know, to demonstrate God’s love and to share the gospel of our God. To share the bad news that all are sinners and polluted by this world and to then share the good news that there is a way for us to rise to that sublime abode, an offering and a sacrifice, a Holy Spirit’s energies, an advocate with God.
- I spoke earlier about modern songs that don’t tell us the gospel. Colossians 3 v 16 says: Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. In this church, many years ago we sang the song we’re about to sing now and the words tell the whole gospel: Let’s sing this song in a moment and if anyone needs to repent, sing these words as a promise to God that your heart is turning to Him. Let me explain some of the words to you:
1 Eternal Light! Eternal Light! How pure the soul must be, when, placed within Your searching sight, it shrinks not, but with calm delight can face such majesty. GOD is PURE like LIGHT
2 The spirits who surround Your throne may bear that burning bliss; but that is surely theirs alone, since they have never, never known a fallen world like this. WE ARE IMPURE living in a SINFUL WORLD
3 O how shall I, whose dwelling here is dark, whose mind is dim, before the face of God appear and on my human spirit bear The uncreated beam? WE CANNOT APPEAR BEFORE GOD
4 There is a way for us to rise to that sublime abode: an offering and a sacrifice, a Holy Spirit’s energies, an advocate with God. Oh YES WE CAN – there is a way
5 Such grace prepares us for the sight of holiness above; those once in ignorance and night can dwell in the eternal Light, through the eternal Love. GOD’s GRACE makes it possible