Last week we started a sermon series entitled: “Seer Wars”. The purpose of this Star Wars take-off is to show that God combats the forces of evil today as he did in the prophet Elijah’s day some 2800 years ago. In Episode I: The Phantom Menace, we saw God try to turn King Ahab away from the worship of the idol Baal by sending a drought. Today in Episode II: Attack Of The Clones, God takes on the 450 prophets of Baal (the clones of our story) and exposes their religion as worthless. Ready for Episode II? Here we go.
Some of the scenes in the Star Wars version of Episode II take place on the planet of Tatooine. Tatooine is supposedly the home of Anakin, and later, Luke Skywalker. It’s a planet that’s dry and dusty – much like what Israel must have looked after three and a half years without rain. Rain had not fallen at Elijah’s insistence because of King Ahab’s support and worship of the storm-god Baal. Conditions were so bad in Israel that Ahab himself went out looking for green pastures for his horses.
It was under these circumstances that God directed Elijah to make his second appearance before Ahab. You would expect Ahab to be happy to see Elijah. Especially since Elijah had come to announce that rain was on its way. But even though Ahab had been humbled to the position of grass-finder, something normally only a stable-hand would do, the king remained impenitent. When he saw Elijah he said: “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” (1 Kings 18:17)
Have you ever done what Ahab did? Have you ever thought of faithful messengers of God as troublemakers? We all have. When parents discipline their children for misbehaving they’re considered to be “mean”. When an uncle dares to tell his nephew that it’s not God pleasing for him to live with his girlfriend before marriage, he’s called a “meddler”. Whenever someone points out sin in our lives, our first reaction is to think, “Who are you to tell me how to live?” We get angry with that individual and think that life was just fine before they came along to tell us that what we were doing was wrong. But friends that’s like C3-P0 getting mad at R2-D2 for telling him that the path he’s chosen to take will lead him to danger. Even when C3-P0 did listen to R2 and turned around, he did so with much grumbling as if it was R2’s fault that he was having to exert extra energy when all along it was C3-P0’s fault for straying from the path of safety to begin with. Friends, don’t be an Ahab. Don’t blame faithful messengers of God for your troubles. Don’t get mad at them when they tell you that how you’re living is not God pleasing. Instead thank them when they rebuke you for your sins for they are only putting you back on the right track.
Because Ahab still blamed Elijah for his problems, the prophet should have disappeared for another three and a half years and let Ahab languish in the drought. Elijah didn’t take off, however. The drought would end in spite Ahab’s obstinate attitude towards God. This was an act of God’s grace. Ahab received the opposite of what he deserved. He did not deserve to receive rain, yet that’s what God was going to send – not because Ahab was good, but because God’s goodness towards his people never wavers. Think of how gracious God is to us. Do we really deserve the homes in which we live? Do we deserve the families we have? No. We, like Ahab are often unthankful and ungrateful and yet God continues to bless us.
Rain was coming but not before it was made evident to Ahab and to all the people of Israel that the Lord, and not Baal was responsible for it. How would God accomplish that? God accomplished that through a showdown between his prophet, Elijah, and the 450 prophets of Baal. They met on Mt. Carmel where Elijah and the false prophets each readied a bull for a burnt sacrifice but didn’t actually set fire to it. That would be up to whichever god was the real one.
The prophets of Baal must have thought that winning the showdown would be a cinch. After all, Baal was not only the god who supposedly caused rain, he was also believed to be the god of fire. Plus there were so many of them and only one prophet for the God of Israel. The scene on Mt. Carmel must have looked like one of the scenes in Star Wars where a lone Jedi faces a large number of battle droids or storm troopers. Sure the prophets of Baal thought that victory would be easy but after they had prayed for three hours there was still no answer from their god. So Elijah began to taunt them. He urged them to pray louder saying that their god might be on a journey, sleeping, or deep in thought. When Baal still didn’t answer their amplified prayers, the false prophets began to dance around the altar and cut themselves hoping this would rouse their god to action. This went on for another three hours but to no avail. The sacred writer said of their efforts: “… there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention” (1 Kings 18:29b).
The kind of worship the prophets of Baal offered their god is the worship that takes place in every religion except for Christianity. Every other religion teaches that you must do something to attract God’s attention. Some say that comes through long prayers and chants. Some even say that cutting yourself, as did the prophets of Baal, will help. Most say you can attract God’s attention by doing good deeds. Some even think that’s what Christianity teaches. It doesn’t. We can’t do anything that’s worthy of attracting God’s attention, at least not the kind of attention we want from him. You see our sins attract God’s wrath. So what sets Christianity apart from all other religions? Christianity tells us how God is working hard to get our attention. Wasn’t that what God was doing with Ahab – trying to get his attention? He did that first by causing Elijah to appear before him and call him to repentance. Then God sent the drought so that everyone would see that he, and not Baal, was in charge of the rain. Now on Mt. Carmel the Lord was going to demonstrate once and for all that he, and not Baal was God. Before we get to the miracle God worked on Mt. Carmel, I want to talk about another event on another mountain God used to get our attention. You heard how the prophets of Baal cut themselves to get their god’s attention, well the true God has shed blood too, his Son’s blood, to get our attention. That shedding of blood took place on Mt. Calvary outside of Jerusalem 2,000 year ago. No, Jesus’ death on the cross was not a publicity stunt; it was the necessary payment for our sins to win our salvation. Jesus’ death and his subsequent resurrection is God’s loudest call for our attention for it shows just how much he loves us.
When it became obvious that the prophets of Baal had failed to get their god’s attention, Elijah went to work. After arranging the firewood and butchered bull on the altar, Elijah ordered water to be poured over everything. So much water was poured over the altar that it filled a trench Elijah had dug around the altar. This was Elijah’s way of showing the people that what was about to happen was God’s doing, not slight of hand. Finally Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “O 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 all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again” (1 Kings 18:36b, 37). As soon as Elijah finished praying fire fell from heaven and consumed the bull, the wood, the stones, the soil on which the altar stood, and even the water that had been poured over it! Those of us who have trouble getting a charcoal grill started even with lighter fluid can appreciate what a feat this was.
The people responded accordingly. They shouted: “The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God” (1 Kings 18:39). This was the second miracle God worked that day. Hearts that weren’t committed to him moments before were now on fire for the Lord. They not only confessed their faith in the God of the Bible, they put their faith into action when they executed the 450 prophets of Baal. A great victory had been achieved on Mt. Carmel. Baal’s clones were exposed for what they were, prophets of a false god who were leading people to hell with their brand of religion. Soon after these prophets were put to death, God sent the rain he had promised.
(The paragraph marked with the * below could be inserted here if one wants to say something about Elijah’s run to Jezreel.)
So did Elijah and Ahab live happily ever after working together for the Lord now that it was obvious that he was the real God? No. The Phantom Menace, Queen Jezebel, had something to say about that. Come back for Episode III next Sunday and see how she reacted to the deaths of her prophets. For now know that the true God is dying, actually, did die, for our attention. He loves us so much that he sent his Son, Jesus, who has done everything necessary for God to let us into heaven. Listen to him and his faithful messengers in this life, and put your trust in him for eternal life. Amen.
*How did the showdown at Mt. Carmel affect Ahab? We’re not really told. It seems as if he had been rendered speechless. While Elijah could have taken that opportunity to rub the victory in Ahab’s face, he prayed for rain instead. The rain came but before it hit, Elijah urged Ahab to get in his chariot and hurry the 25 kilometers back to his summer palace in Jezreel. Possessed with a special power from God, Elijah ran the 25 km ahead of Ahab. You’ve heard of going the extra mile, well Elijah went an extra fifteen (miles) for Ahab. This run to Jezreel was Elijah’s way of saying to Ahab “I’m not a troublemaker. I haven’t rebelled against you. I only want to lead you in the worship of the true God.”
Brothers and sisters do we go the extra mile when doing God’s work? Don’t think we have the energy for it? Elijah could have thought that. After all he had had a busy day climbing a mountain, repairing an altar, digging a trench around it, cutting wood, and butchering a bull. Yet it had been God who motivated and empowered Elijah to do all that and run 25 km ahead of the king’s chariot through the wind and rain. The same God has promised to empower us in his work.