When last we encountered our hero, Elijah, he was performing miracles for a widow and her son in Zarephath. Here’s an interesting note I need to make as we begin because today we’ll see another miracle Elijah performs. There are basically three clusters of miracles in the bible. The first is with Moses in Exodus as he leads the people out of bondage and into the promise land. The last cluster is obviously the cluster of miracles in the Gospels surrounding the life of Jesus. The second cluster is found here associated with the life of Elijah and his young protégé, Elisha. Three great miracle workers in the bible—Moses, Elijah and Jesus. That fact, in and of itself, reveals the significance of this prophet from the Old Testament, and is an indication there is much we can and should learn from his life. We learned last week that he was a person of faith, and as we resume the Elijah Chronicles today, we discover a chronicle of courage.
We pick up Elijah’s story today after three years of drought and Elijah gets the call of God to get up and get moving, and go find King Ahab. Once again, Elijah acts and demonstrates the courage to be obedient. Elijah’s life is simply a series of obedient acts, one after another. God says, “Go to the Brook Cherith,” and Elijah goes. God says, “Go to Zarephath,” and Elijah goes. God says, “Go find Ahab,” and Elijah goes. Again and again, Elijah demonstrates obedience to the call of God.
But, watch this! God doesn’t always call us to the easy place, or to take the easy road. Were we to delve more deeply than time allows this morning into the life of Elijah, we’d discover that he was the most wanted person in all Israel. Ahab was looking for Elijah. As a matter of fact, Ahab was looking for all the prophets of the Lord. The first part of chapter 18 reveals that Obadiah (Ahab’s palace chief) had hidden one hundred of the Lord’s prophets when Ahab’s queen, Jezebel, went off the deep end. This was not an easy road Elijah was being asked to walk, yet he had the courage (and the faith, I might add) to go where God was calling. Elijah faced certain death, but perhaps Elijah knew that the will of God would not take him where the grace of God could not keep him.
Nothing makes us more uncertain and insecure than not being sure we are in the will of God, and nothing is more encouraging than knowing that we are. We find it difficult, though, to discern the call of God in our lives. We question where and what God might be calling us to. And, even when we’re certain, we second guess. We second guess because we’re not sure we want to go where God is calling. Like the old Scottish woman who went from house to house across the countryside selling thread, buttons, and shoestrings. When she came to an unmarked crossroad, she would toss a stick into the air and go in the direction the stick pointed when it landed. One day, however, she was seen tossing the stick up several times.
“Why do you toss the stick more than once?” someone asked.
“Because,” replied the woman, “it keeps pointing to the left, and I want to take the road on the right.” She kept throwing the stick into the air until it pointed the way she wanted to go!
Let’s be honest. Our problem is rarely that we don’t hear the voice of God. It is that we lack the courage to follow the voice of God because the voice of God will call us to confront the injustice in the world, and the sin in the world, and even the sin in our own lives. And, it’s not that we don’t have the power to respond in faith, even to overcome the sin in our lives. I love what the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 6:
6 We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. 7 For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. 8 And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. 9 We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him.10 When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. 11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.
It’s not power we lack. Too often, it’s courage.
The sin Elijah had to confront this day was the sin of idolatry. Ahab had led the nation of Israel into idol worship. With his marriage to Jezebel, he had set up temples to Baal in Samaria, and allowed the erection of Asherah poles throughout the region. Baal was the male deity of rain (and its accompanying factors of thunder and lightning), and Asherah was the female counterpart. Elijah was called to confront this sin in the nation, and he demonstrated the courage to do so.
In I Kings 18:20, Elijah has Ahab to summon the prophets of Baal to Mount Carmel. This was about to be the “Showdown at the O. K. Corral.” Why Mount Carmel, though? This mountain sat as the northwestern continuation of the hills of Samaria. It rises to the height of 1,650 feet, and the River Kishon flows at its foot. This mountain had evidently been the site of an altar to Baal from ancient times, but during the early monarchy period, when the whole territory was consolidated, an altar to Yahweh had been built there. That altar had been abandoned and lay in ruins—symbolic of the religious situation in Israel.
This is not a challenge that just popped into Elijah’s head, it was a well thought out, well-prepared challenge. He knew they were not going to say no to this challenge, because he was not only asking for what their god Baal does best, he was also in Baal’s territory. He did not only want to challenge his God against their god, he wanted to completely humiliate them in front of everyone in proving the non-existence of Baal. He was trying to turn the hearts of the people back to God.
It’s not that the people had turned the backs completely on Yahweh. It’s that they were hedging their bets. That’s why Elijah would say, “How long are you going to waver between two opinions?” It’s like they were saying, “Hey, if Yahweh doesn’t come through (and it’s not likely he will—see the altar over there?), we’ll offer sacrifices to Baal just in case.”
We do the same thing, too. We erect our own idols these days. It’s not so much to hedge our bets as it is to simply distract ourselves from the God who calls us. We have to look no further than Wall Street to realize that money can quickly become an idol for us. “Oh, I trust God to provide, but just in case, I’ll have a big bank account.” And, before we know it, we’re bowing down at that idol more and more, depending more and more on it, than on the One who gives us life itself. We can make entertainment and idol. We can make sports and idol.
A recent example suffices here. Baylor University, a private CHRISTIAN university recently fired its football coach, and its president and athletics director stepped down in the shadow of a cover-up of sexual assaults, many by members of the university’s football team. I don’t mean to condemn, and certainly don’t condone their actions, but it demonstrates how easily money and success can distract us from matters of faith. It takes courage to face down the idols around us, and the MANY prophets thereof. Elijah told the people to get off the fence of indecision. You’re either for God, or you’re against Him. It’s time to decide.
Finally, I learn that Elijah had the courage to pray. The only tool Elijah had…the only tool he needed…was prayer. It was a simple, straight-forward prayer. Unlike the prayers of the prophets of Baal. No flowery words. No long intercessions. No special routines and rituals. Simple. Direct. “Lord, prove yourself.” And, the fire fell, and the nation was changed.
I love what Maxie Dunnam posted on Facebook on Friday. Maxie said, “Watch out! It’s dangerous to pray. In prayer God meets us where we are, but does not leave us as we are.” Prayer changes things, and prayer changes us. Here’s a simple question: Do you pray? Not for ten hours, or even for ten minutes, but do you pray this simple prayer—“Lord, prove yourself.” And, not as a last resort, but as a first resort. The most effective weapon we have is prayer. Do we have the courage to use it?
We know that Elijah was a type of Christ. His showdown on Mt. Carmel with the prophets of Baal and Asherah foreshadowed the greatest showdown of all on a hillside outside Jerusalem. It was the cross of Jesus Christ where the enemy of God was defeated by the sacrifice of God’s own Son. Why? Because God had one life with the courage to be obedient, the courage to confront the idolatry of the ages and the courage to pray, “Father, not my will, but Thine be done.” It changed the world, and it changes us.