Summary: Apart from Christ it is impossible to live the Christian life - but with his strength we are empowered to carry on in the face of a hostile world.
"I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour - his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear - is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies on the field of battle exhausted - victorious." The legendary Coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi once professed those words. With the start of the National Football League Regular season upon us I’m sure we will witness many of these moments in the coming months.
But as insightful as those words are, I don’t know if they always hold true. I’m thinking about the prophet Elijah in our text for this morning. We find him exhausted on the field of battle, victorious - in what should have indeed been one of his finest hours. He had been victorious over his enemies. On Mt. Carmel Elijah had just defeated 450 prophets of Baal by proving that his was the true God. When in answer to his prayer fire fell from the sky and consumed the sacrifice and the altar that Elijah had constructed and drenched in water three times! He should have been at the height of his glory because on that day those 450 prophets of Baal, his archenemies lost their lives. But the Elijah we see seems to be at his lowest. He’s dejected. He’s depressed. He’s discouraged.
Why? Because despite the stunning victory he had over the prophets of Baal not much was going to change. Wicked King Ahab and detestable Queen Jezebel still hated the true God and they hated Elijah. In fact, Jezebel doesn’t even so much as flinch when she hears the news that her prophets of Baal have been put to death at Mt. Carmel before she promises Elijah that within 24 hours he would meet up with the same fate. She would make sure of it! And now it feels like everything he has worked so hard to accomplish to God’s glory through his Christian life has gone up in smoke. Now we’re listening in as Elijah tells God that Living the Christian life in an unbelieving world is an impossible mission. He’s telling God, "I’ve had enough!"
Elijah makes it very clear to God he has had enough of this impossible mission of living the Christian life that seeks to share the Christian faith even in the face of rejection and scorn! It seems like every time he tries to share his Christian faith he’s snubbed. He confesses that despite his best efforts to win the hearts of the Israelites over to the true God they’ve done nothing but turn a deaf ear, especially the leaders in Israel. He goes even further. He confesses to God that despite his best efforts he hasn’t done any better than his fathers in turning this nation around. They’re just as wicked as ever! It’s just Elijah and his servant against this sinful nation. That’s why this impossible mission is a lonely one as well! He’s had enough of this impossible mission with its rejection and loneliness.
There’s more! Elijah has dedicated his life to sharing God’s Word with the people of his nation. He’s spent his life encouraging his fellow countrymen to repent out of love for the eternal good of their souls. What does he get in return? Not only is he snubbed, but he even has his life threatened! He’s had enough. He’s had enough of all the dangers that come with trying to carry out this impossible mission. He’s exhausted from being on the run all of the time. He’s always watching his back. He doesn’t want to have to worry about all the dangers that come with living as a Christian in a wicked world. He doesn’t want to have to deal with the threat from ungrateful, unbelieving people with whom he tries to share his faith any longer. He’s burned out. He ’s ready to be done with the whole thing. He just wants to be in heaven with his Lord where the mission is complete.
Are there many Elijah’s here this morning? It’s tough work being part of a mission congregation having to set up for worship every Saturday and tear down every Sunday. It’s tough work to invite others to join us only to have to tell them that we’re worshiping at a dance studio with no permanent church building to call our own! It’s lonely work when you’re part of a small congregation that is part of a small church body whose roots are in the Upper Midwest and you’re in the deep South. It feels even lonelier when because of our love for the truth and purity of God’s Word we have to separate ourselves from those who are adding man-made rules to God’s Word or taking some of God’s truth out of his Word! It can be frustrating work as it we struggle to make ends meet. It can be disappointing work because the numerical results seem so slow. Are you starting to feel a little disappointed, dejected, even depressed? Does it seem like the mission of this congregation to live the Christian life as a community that strives to share its Christian faith is an impossible mission? Do you sometimes wish God would get on with things and take us home to him in heaven where the mission is complete? Do we sometimes feel that way collectively as a congregation? If we are then we’re experiencing what Elijah was feeling!