Summary: Part 6 in Elijah series - coming back to a first love, whether it be people or God. I preached this Valentine’s Day.
1 Kings 18:20-21, 30-39 – How to Fix Broken Altars
A psychologist and newspaper columnist named George Crane told once of a woman who was full of hatred toward her husband, and wanted to hurt him all she could. He counseled her to act as if she really loved her husband, to tell him how much he meant to her, to praise him for every decent trait, to be kind, considerate, and generous whenever possible. Then, when she’d fully convinced him of her undying love, she’d make her move and file for divorce. With revenge in her eyes she said, "That’s perfect, I’ll do it." Some months later the wife returned to report that all was going well. She had followed the suggested course.
“Good,” said Dr. Crane. “Now’s the time to file for divorce.” “Divorce?” the woman said indignantly. “Never. I love my husband so much!”
You know, I don’t think anybody ever plans to fall out of love. It just happens sometimes. A pull away from the things we cherish the most. Whether it’s friendships, or family, or spouses, or our walk with the Lord, there’s a downward pull that tries to distract us with things that look just as good as, or better than, the relationship we already have. Today, on Valentine’s weekend, I’d like to talk about that downward pull that tugs on us, away from our loved ones, away from our spouses, away from our God, away from our first love. Today we will look at Elijah on Mt.Carmel again, from 1 Kings 18. Let’s read v20-21 and v30-39.
Now, we find Elijah in the middle of the contest with the false prophets of Baal. And he rebuilt an altar of the Lord. Chapter 19 tells us that the people of the land tore the altars of the Lord down. Apparently this was torn down because people did not want it around. Why not? What did it mean? What did an altar of the Lord stand for?
Noah built the first altar to the Lord. Just having survived the flood, Noah was grateful, and he sacrificed a burnt offering to god. Ever since that time, people have built altars. Altars were places of prayer, places of assembly. Altars were considered safe from your enemies. Altars were built out of thankfulness, and altars were often built to commemorate special events in the lives of God’s people. But by and large, the main and most important reason people built altars was for sacrifice. They were meant to be a place, set apart for God, to spill the blood of an innocent animal. It was through blood that people were made right with God – Hebrews 9:22 – “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” So, an altar represented being in a right relationship with God.
Therefore, for Elijah to rebuild a broken altar, that symbolized coming back to God. Being right with Him again. Getting forgiveness for wandering away, and then re-committing in a fresh new way to live for God. It wasn’t always about getting back to Him after the people had wandered. It was about maintaining that relationship.
We have what we call an altar in this church. Other churches call it different things. When it was brought back into use in churches 200 years ago, the originator, evangelist Charles Finney, called it the “anxious” bench or the “mourner’s” bench. It was where people could reconnect with the God who had made them.
Other churches don’t like the term “altar”. They say that the sacrifice was made by Jesus on the cross, and no more sacrifices need ever be made. While it is true that the blood that takes away our sins is the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross 2000 years ago, and we need ever make another animal sacrifice to be right with Him, it is not true that sacrifices never need to be made again.
Romans 12: says these words: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.” That is, instead of offering sacrifices, we are the sacrifice. We are to offer ourselves on the altar. We are to lay our own lives down. We are not our own; we have been bought with a price. The altar today is about giving ourselves away.
But when Elijah rebuilt the altar that day, it wasn’t just about getting right with God. There was another message too. The altar reminded them, yes, of their spiritual backsliding – it was built in the name of the Lord. But the altar reminded them of broken relationships, too. Elijah took 12 stones, one for each of the original 12 tribes of Israel. The altar is not just a place where we get right with God. The plan is, to be right with others too. Sometimes that’s harder. But on this Valentine’s weekend, can we honestly deny the truth of the Word? Can we say that how we treat others doesn’t affect our walk with God? Can we really say that we can hate the people around us and love God at the same time? After all, Jesus Himself said these thoughts about the altar: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matt.5:23-24)