Summary: God can take ordinary people to do extraordinary things
Sermon: “God can take ordinary people to do extraordinary things”
I was looking at our lectionary readings for today and one verse stood out and that was from the New Testament reading from the book of James.
That’s why we didn’t have a Gospel reading today
And it is the verse where James tells us that “Elijah was a man just like us”
My first reaction when I read that was:
Who have to be – I’m not even in the same league as Elijah
Who then was Elijah?
He was the greatest of the Old Testament prophets.
You’ll find his story in the two Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Kings.
And between those two events he becomes the
greatest prophet Israel has ever seen.
Elijah (Hebrew: àìéäå, Eliyahu) – the name is made up of El and Jah = God is king - was a prophet in Israel in the 9th century BC.
The Chronicler in 1 and 2 Kings records various feats that Elijah did like
raising the dead,
causing fire to come down from heaven, and
ascending into heaven in a whirlwind.
But it doesn’t end there. We see Elijah again in the New Testament together with Moses and Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration.
On the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah represent the Old Covenant – the Law and the Prophets (Mk 9:1-13) and Jesus represents the New Covenant.
The Prophet Malachi – in the last book in the Old Testament - foretold Elijah’s coming as a precursor to the coming of the Messiah. (Mal 3:22-24).
And Jesus equated the coming of John the Baptist as that precursor- return of the Prophet Elijah.
Story: Even today in every Orthodox Jewish home at Passover, when they put the chairs around the table one chair is kept empty.
Because they are waiting for Elijah to come.
Elijah, the OT prophet of God, was a very special person.
And yet, there is this amazing statement in James 5:17 that says, "Elijah was a man just like us."
If James had said “Peter was a man like us”,
I could understand that - because Peter often got things wrong
He said some good things and he made some monumental howlers. And the Bible is so honest about them
If James had said that “David was a man like us”
I could understand that too.
David writes in the Psalms of his joys and frustrations.
I can relate to that because I have these too
I find David searching for God’s will and trying to do it. And I have this goal too
We find him famously – or infamously - commiting adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband, his close commander Uriah the Hittite
Whilst I haven’t committed adultery – you will be pleased to hear – I too know how the sense of failure at letting God down by my sins
David had trouble with his kids. I can identify with that.
If you told me David was a man just like us – I could quite easily agree.
But James ONLY says: "Elijah was a man just like us."
And if we try to get Scripture to interpret Scripture we find that phrase, "just like us," used only in one other time in the Bible.
It appears in the Book of Acts – in Acts 14.
Paul & Barnabas are in the city of Lystra.
They have healed a crippled man and the miracle so amazed the citizens of Lystra that they started to believe that Paul and Barnabas were gods.
They called Paul "Mercury" and Barnabas "Jupiter".
And they started to worship and offer sacrifices to them.
But as the crowd surrounded them, Paul cried out,
"Wait. We’re not gods. We’re men, just like you." (Acts 14:15))
So WHAT does James mean when he says,
"Elijah was a man just like us?"
Even the great men of God – are men they are human with their faults as well as their strengths
My picture of Elijah is of this awesome man with tremendous faith and a powerful relationship with God
James reinforces that when he tells us that when Elijah prayed earnestly that it would not rain, God held back the rain.
Then three and a half years later, Elijah prayed that it would rain and did it rain!!.
I think James’ message is simply this
“ God can take ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things, if only we will let him do so”
Elijah was an ordinary human being
So let’s take a closer look at Elijah.
What was the key to his success?