Sermon from August 19th, 2018

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“The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful #13: Elijah and the Battle of the gods”

1 Kings 18:16-39


By Pastor John Bent



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Sermon Text
Good morning! Thanks for coming to church today!  We’re glad you’re here!  Grace and I took a few days of vacation this last week to see our grandkids down in Big Sky.  Despite the smoke, we are glad to be back!

Over 70 of our church family are down at Flathead Bible camp this morning for our summer retreat!  We head down right after church for the picnic and baptisms. I hope you’ll come.

Let’s open our Bibles to 1 Kings 18.  Last week, Pastor Ralph got us started on the story of Elijah. It’s less than a 100 years since King David sat on the throne, but Israel has gone down tubes spiritually. The nation is split in half – 10 tribes in the north, 2 in the south.

The 10 northern tribes around Galilee are being ruled by the worst king in Israel’s history. His name was Ahab. He had married a Canaanite princess named Jezebel who had brought with her over 800 pagan priests to promote the detestable worship of Baal.

Baal claimed to be the god of fire, the god of the thunderstorm, the god of fertility. In order to make your crops grow, he demanded infants sacrifice on his altars. He demanded child prostitution. Instead of seeing the depravity in all this, many Israelites saw these appalling things as a progressive move toward modernity, freedom and emancipation.

So the Lord raised up a man named Elijah. His name means, “Yahweh is God!”  The Baal priests were teaching “Baal is God!” The Lord told Elijah, “Go tell King Ahab there will be no rain in Israel until I say so!”   Remember, Baal was supposedly the one who made it rain. Well, Baal was trumped because for 3½ years it didn’t rain in Israel. That’s a long drought!

Then the Lord sent Elijah back to Ahab. When Ahab saw Elijah coming he said, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?”  Elijah shoots back, “I’m not the one troubling Israel, its you! You have abandoned the LORD and followed Baal.” (meaning the demons behind the Baal cult)

Then Elijah proposes a duel between Baal, the supposed god of fire and rain, and Yahweh, the Lord God of Israel and the whole world!

“Summon the people and all the 850 prophets of Baal and meet me on top of Mt. Carmel.”  Mt Carmel was a ridge that rose 1800 ft above the Mediterranean coast in northern Israel. It was the perfect place for a battle between the gods of fire and rain! Let’s pick up the action at 1 Kings 18:21.

“Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him! But the people said nothing.”1 Kings 18:21

From Genesis to Revelation, the Lord warns us. You can’t live your life halfway between God and idols, between obedience and disobedience, between worshiping God and worshiping the things of this world. You have to make a decision who you will serve.

“Elijah said, “How long will you limp back and forth between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him. But the people said nothing.”

Their silence was deafening. I think they were convicted. I think they knew Baal was a fraud, but they used him to justify their wickedness.  They had drifted away from the Lord. They knew they were wrong, but they were unwilling to repent and come back to the Lord.

This begs the question: Where are you looking to provide the rain in your life?  Every day we are bombarded with phony promises from phony gods to provide us with the life we crave, but they can’t deliver.

Let me illustrate. “If you just had more money, then you would be happier!”  But more money won’t make it rain. And without rain, you will dry up and blow away - physically and spiritually. How about pleasure? How about happiness? The praise of others? How about power or success? Can any of these things bring the water of life to a drought stricken soul? NO!

Only God can bring the rain, only God can bring meaning, joy, abundance to our lives. Ahab seemed to have it all, money, sex, power. But he couldn’t make it rain and the demon god Baal that he worshipped couldn’t make it rain, either.

Only God can make it rain. And when we rebel against him and go our own way, when we disobey him and make believe we can create our own abundance without him, we are only fooling ourselves. The Scriptures says we become dry and empty, like leaky cisterns.

So Elijah challenges the 450 prophets of Baal to a duel, a shootout on Mt Carmel. Who is the true God of fire and rain? Elijah told the people, “I am the only one of the LORD’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls. Let Baal’s prophets choose one.  Let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it.

I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God.” 1 Kings 18:22-24

Remember Baal was supposedly the God of fire and rain and thunderstorm. Elijah finally gets a response from the silent people. They said, “That’s good, let’s do it!”

The priests of Baal prepared their altar. They sacrificed their bull. They laid the pieces on the altar. From 9 until noon they danced and chanted and yelled, “O Baal, answer us! O Baal, answer us!”  But there was no answer, no response, nothing!

At noon, Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!  Maybe he’s preoccupied, or busy, or away on a trip.  Maybe he’s in the bathroom or asleep. Maybe you need to wake him up!”

So they danced harder, they shouted louder, they slashed themselves with knives so that their blood flowed but there was no answer. No one paid attention.

Its late afternoon. Elijah calls the people around him. He repairs the altar of the LORD, which was in ruins. He takes 12 stones representing the 12 tribes of Israel and sets each one in place in the name of the LORD God of Israel. Then he arranges the wood, slaughters the bull and puts the pieces on the altar.  He has the people drench the wood, the altar, and the bull with water. Then he had them do it a second time, and a third until the whole thing, the bull, the wood, the altar, the trench is a big soggy, muddy mess.

Then Elijah prayed, “LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done 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

The only way we can make any move toward God is if God empowers us and calls us. Paul said, “When we were dead in our sins, God made us alive”.  Luther wrote “I believe I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

How amazing that God loves us enough to keep coming to where we have strayed and turning our hearts away from Satan’s lies and back to the truth. Like the rain after the drought, He alone is the life-giver!

Suddenly, the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and licked up the water in the trench. When the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD – he is God! The LORD – he is God!”

This story of Elijah and the prophets of Ball is a powerful illustration of the mess we make of our lives and the world around us when we refuse to become radically and completely devoted to God!

If you are trying to get your worth, your fire, your passion, your fulfillment from anything other than the living God, you will waste your life limping along between the truth of God and the lies of Satan.  Your life will end in emptiness and your children will suffer your folly.

God loves us too much to allow us to play footsie with sin. A day is coming when God will destroy this world with the fire of his righteous judgment. On that day his judgment will be just and absolute. People may ask “Why did God destroy these 850 pagan priests?”  Because they had murdered tens of thousands of innocent babies on their pagan altars! When we reject God’s way we will always end up being overwhelmed by our own depravity!

I find 5 important lessons in this story that are as relevant today as they were 2800 yrs ago!

1.    God cares about his people. His purpose is to bless us. He loves us enough to confront us when he stray and bring us back. The truth is we will always wander away and our lives will become dry and dusty. But the Lord loves us enough to do whatever it takes to turn our wayward hearts back to himself, even to the point of sending Jesus to the cross for us.
 
2.    What’s wrong in America today is no different than what was wrong in ancient Israel.  We have made idols of the gifts God has given us. We have strayed from the LORD and given our allegiance to the Baals of power, sex, and money.

3.    We have a choice to make. We cannot continue to limp along, half in/half out. If the LORD is God, then we must devote ourselves to loving him, obeying him, and serving him.

4.    For the sake of our children, our church, our nation, we must leave the silent uncommitted crowd and step up to the plate.  The stakes are too high for us to remain silent!


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