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Sermon 2019-07-14 Peter Day

Introduction

Last week Ross introduced a series of sermons which will cover the times of Elijah and Elisha.

So for starters we’re going to look at Elijah.  He’s a really interesting guy who pops up in some interesting places, unannounced, like in our reading and also for example on the Mount of Transfiguration. We’re told he was much like us in many ways. He had his ups and downs. He was a bit like the Grand old Duke of York – when he was up he was up, and when he was down he was down, but when he was only halfway up he was neither up nor down!  But God picked him out as a man who would get done what he wanted done.

So this morning we’re going to look firstly at the context in which Elijah was called to prophesy and in doing so I am going to try and bring out the patience, grace and love God displayed in sending Elijah to His sin-sick people.

Secondly, the Old Testament gives us very little detail about Elijah’s background. However, in James 5 Elijah is used as a great example of an effective prayer warrior. So we’re going to look at what James tells us we can learn from Elijah.

And lastly, we’re going to look at how Elijah’s prayer-answering God is our God.

Since the days of Solomon, the Israelites had turned increasingly away from God and into idolatry. Then Elijah appears very suddenly in 1 Kings 17.  We’re given no introduction or biographical notes other than he was a Tishbite (whatever that was) who came from Gilead. When Elijah appears (out of the blue) he gives King Ahab the long-range weather forecast.  He tells him “As the Lord God of Israel lives there’s going to be neither dew nor rain in the land for the next few years until I say so.”

That’s a pretty bold claim and it proved to be quite true. It was 100% accurate.

The Background

To understand what this was all about we need to look at the background.  The pertinent details are given in the previous chapter, 1 Kings 16: 29-33 which I’ll read;

“When Ahab became King over Israel he did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam but he also married Jezebel the daughter of the king of the Sidonians and began to serve Baal and worship him. He set up an altar for Baal in the temple he built in Samaria.  Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.”

In short, he was an extremely bad dude.

God’s anger and grace

Ahab and his predecessors had seriously provoked God’s anger.  Make no mistake God was very angry with him and with Israel.

God was so angry because Israel was no ordinary nation.  He’d chosen them out of all the nations of the Earth not because of any virtue of their own but because of the promises God had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He’d promised that their descendants would live in a land he would give them and to Abraham, he had promised that in his seed all the nations of the world would be blessed. The children of Israel were the bearers of the promised seed.

In order to fulfil his promises God had miraculously rescued Israel from Egypt and at Mount Sinai had made a covenant with them and it was two-sided.  The first Commandment stated that ‘they should have no other gods but himself. Neither shall you make any carved image; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.’   This was the very foundation of the covenant God had made with them through Moses. In return for them adhering to this God promised to bless them more than any other nation on earth.  They would live in a land flowing with milk and honey.  They would have wonderful houses.  Their animals would have lots of healthy offspring, the crops would grow wonderfully well and amongst a host of other material blessings they would not suffer any of the diseases that had afflicted the Egyptians.

They were a chosen people with a special relationship to God for a very special purpose which was to be the vehicle he would use to redeem the whole world.

Prior to Ahab becoming King the six previous kings of Israel (the northern kingdom) had all turned to idolatry, big-time, thus breaking the very basis of the covenant. And Ahab had gone even further down the road completely reneging on any semblance of conformity with the covenant. To add to his idolatry he married a very strong-minded, wicked woman who insisted that Baal should be worshipped in Israel and she’d brought along with her 400 prophets of Baal. Ahab even built a temple to Baal in Samaria the Promised Land.

Baal was a fertility god.  Baal worship involved not only the usual orgies and profane sexual practices typical of idolatrous cults but also child sacrifices, the intent being that they would get a good harvest.  So God’s chosen people had committed two evils; they had turned from the Lord, the fountain of living waters, and turned to the worship of dumb, useless idols with all the associated profane practices.  And God was angry.

Mary Evans, from the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, wrote; ‘We must be very clear about how seriously God takes sin, how deeply he feels about wrongdoing. Previous generations are sometimes seen as concentrating so much on God’s anger at sin that they forgot to emphasise his love for sinners as well.  Perhaps our generation sometimes concentrates so much on putting across God’s love for all people that we forget to emphasise his anger at sin.’

God had planned for Israel to be a light to the Gentiles but when they turned to idols that light went out.  I realise it’s only conjecture but I wonder how different world history would have been if the light had remained on.

Israel had made God very angry.  But in His wrath, He remembered mercy!!!

When God sent Elijah to King Ahab I don’t believe he was judging Israel, rather he was chastening them.  In Proverbs 3:11 we read; ‘My son do not despise the chastening of the Lord nor detest his correction for whom the Lord loves He corrects.’

In this case, God’s aim was to bring Israel to a place where they would humble themselves and listen to him. God knew that if they continued headlong down the path they were on they were headed for a terrible calamity.  Therefore to try and turn them around God chastened them with drought. It lasted 3½ years but eventually, Israel came to Mount Carmel where they rejected Baal and acknowledged God to be Lord. Isn’t that amazing grace and love? He could have justifiably under the terms of the covenant wiped them out. They were a wicked people who’d horribly abused the grace and goodness of God and yet as we see later at Mt. Carmel he revealed his power and glory to draw them back under the shadow of his wing as a hen gathers her chicks. Can you see there the glory of the grace of God?

We too are partakers of perhaps even greater grace. Left to ourselves we are no less detestable to God than Israel was. But His glory should be even more apparent to us because ‘God commended his love towards us in that whilst we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” May the Holy Spirit open our hearts and minds afresh to grasp the grace and glory of God.

Elijah’s Effective Praying

So now let’s look at Elijah as a person.

The Old Testament gives us some insight into Elijah’s personality. However, the New Testament expands on that.  In James 5:16-20 Elijah’s identified as someone whose prayers are powerful and effective and James also tells us why.  It was because his prayers were fervent and he was righteous.

So let’s look at those characteristics of fervency and righteousness.

  • Someone has rightly said ‘that before God starts any great work he sets his people praying.’ God had a great work to do through Elijah, so he set him praying.  James says Elijah’s prayers were fervent. This indicates he was on fire for God. He had a God-given burning desire for the Israelites’ relationship with God to be restored because he knew from the scriptures that they were heading for disaster.
    In one of his many hymns, Charles Wesley wrote; ‘kindle a flame of sacred love on the mean altar of my heart.’ Before Elijah confronted Ahab; and long before he called down fire from heaven to consume a sacrifice on a soaking wet altar of wood and stone, God kindled a flame of Christ-like love for his sin-sick people in Elijah’s heart. He was a man on fire for God with the love of God burning in his heart.  Elijah was no clanging cymbal, he was a man who loved God and loved his people consequently his prayers were very effective.  We too live in a world that is headed for disaster and judgement. May God in his grace and mercy raise up men and women in our age and kindle a flame of sacred love on the altars of their hearts.
  • Secondly, James tells us Elijah was a righteous man. In Acts 11 Barnabas is given a similar accolade. There we’re told ‘Barnabas was a good man.’

So let’s explore what it means for a Christian to be righteous and good.

John Wesley was, I suppose a type of 18th Century Elijah. He said his mission was to spread ‘scriptural holiness’ i.e. to raise up true Spirit-filled disciples of Jesus. He recorded what he meant and I’ll read it out. You’ll have to forgive the 18th century English. I’m sure Wesley intended it to be gender-neutral;

‘A true Spirit-filled disciple of Christ is one who has the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit given unto him. One who loves the Lord his God with all his heart and soul and mind and strength. He rejoices evermore, prays without ceasing, and in everything gives thanks. His heart is full of love to all mankind and is purified from envy, wrath, malice, and every unkind affection. His one desire and one design of his life are not to do his own will but the will of Him that sent him.  He keeps all God’s commandments from the least to the greatest. He follows not the customs of the world, for vice does not lose its nature by becoming fashionable.  He fares not sumptuously every day. He cannot lay-up treasures upon earth, nor can he adorn himself with gold or costly apparel.  He cannot join in any diversion that has the least tendency to evil. He cannot speak evil of his neighbour any more than he can lie. He cannot utter unkind or evil words.  He does good unto all men, unto neighbours, strangers, friends, and enemies.’  Wow!

I believe Elijah would have been a fine example of what Wesley described, therefore his prayers were very effective.

We can’t expect our prayers to be effective or our relationship with God to be sweet if our lives are contaminated with sin.

I remember when I had my first motor vehicle. It was a 50cc Moped.  My friend also had a similar vehicle with a 2 stroke motor.  Somehow when he filled up, dirty petrol got into the tank of my friend’s bike and we didn’t go far before the engine packed up.

If these pumps were working would you fill your car’s fuel tank from them?  I think you’d be taking a big risk, especially if there was a modern well maintained filling station just down the road.  Why then (in the Lord’s name) would any Christian ever fill up with the trash and filthy fuel the world has to offer, such as internet pornography (which Ross told us last week is a problem for many Christians) or watch trashy soap operas on TV or go to dubious places of entertainment etc. Ephesians 5:18 says ‘don’t be drunk with wine but rather be filled with the Holy Spirit.’

Back to Elijah. He wouldn’t have prayed fervently if he hadn’t cared deeply.  He must have spent a lot of time in prayer before he went to see Ahab and he probably spent a lot of time between meals praying fervently for Israel by the Brook Cherith.

One of the things you’ll have heard Ross say more than once is that he considers the prayer meeting to be the most important meeting in the church. We are not a social club, we are in a spiritual battle. We can’t win a spiritual battle with worldly weapons alone.  2 Corinthians 10:3-4 says; ‘For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. ’   Elijah didn’t raise an army of 7,000 and start a revolution, he fought for his people using heavenly weapons.

Two weeks ago in the prayer and ministry service, my wife received a picture.  In the picture, she was in church and it was full with bright light.  But outside was very dark. However, the light from the church was not penetrating the world outside. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions to that.

In summary, what have we seen so far?   We have seen God’s chosen people walking rough-shod over the covenant God had made with them and that angered Him.  But God revealed his glory not by destroying them but by sending Elijah, a fervent, righteous prayer warrior and prophet to announce a 3½ year drought to chasten them; which was a true expression of his love. He wanted them to repent and come once more under the shadow of His wing.

God’s Healing Balm

One last thing. In Old Testament times Gilead was renowned for the production of a healing balm. In Genesis 37:25-28 we see it was Ishmaelite traders from Gilead who were carrying spices, balm and myrrh who effectively rescued young Joseph and took him to Egypt.

Jeremiah asked rhetorically ‘Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no recovery for the health of the daughter of my people?’

We’re told Elijah came from Gilead, a place where there were abundant supplies of healing balm. By sending Elijah God was showing the sinful children of Israel who had forsaken him that he wanted to heal their self-inflicted wounds and deliver them from an impending disaster.

I wonder if there is someone here who is being tempted to rebel against God? Perhaps someone who used to walk closely with the Lord but recently you’ve started walking roughshod over the grace and goodness of God and you’re grieving the Holy Spirit? My next question is ‘Is He chastening you? Have you lost your peace, are bad things happening to you?  Then rejoice because whom the Lord loves He chastens.  So those bad things that are happening to you may well be a sign of His love for you and he wants you to repent so that your relationship with Him can be restored.

I think the Lord is saying to us today, I’ve not changed.  Yes, there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul. There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.  However, today that balm will not be found in Elijah but it is administered by Jesus. God loved rebellious sinful Israel and wanted to restore them. He loves us too.