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Sermon 2019-07-28 Geoff Follas

THE PRAYER THAT BROUGHT HEAVEN DOWN.

It has been very interesting to follow the story of the Wallabies star player Israel Folau, a committed Christian who quoted the words of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 condemning some of the moral sins that are condoned by our culture.

As most of you know he has been censured and dismissed by the Australian Rugby Union. And the gay community which consists of around 2.6 percent of the population according to The 2016 New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, have labelled him a bigoted trouble maker.

I may not agree with the way Israel went about it, but a large number of people have criticised and denounced him for publicly expressing his beliefs calling it hate speech.

Isn’t it strange that the person who speaks up for the Lord and what the Bibles says is now the bad guy while those who are opposed to what the Bible teaches are the good guys?

In this passage, the nation of Israel had been going through a 3½ year drought because they had turned away from the Lord and were worshipping and serving Baal with all the evils that this involved.

And when King Ahab met Elijah he accused him of causing all the trouble in Israel. “You trouble maker of Israel.”

Ahab and his wife Jezebel had encouraged the people to reject the Lord and follow the religion of Baal with all its immoral and cruel practices, and the result was a 3½ year drought. So who was really causing the trouble in Israel?

It’s also interesting that Baal was a fertility god and was called the Lord of the rain and dew, 2 elements essential for fertile soil and yet Baal hadn’t been able to produce a drop of rain or dew for 3½ years. Baal was a powerless idol and Elijah was going to prove it.

 

THE CHALLENGE v16-24

Elijah challenged Ahab to gather the people of Israel and the prophets of Baal at Mt Carmel to prove who really was God; the Lord or Baal.

Ahab took up the challenge and this huge crowd gathered at Mt Carmel and Elijah said to the people, “How much longer are you going to sit on the fence? If the Lord is God then follow Him, but if Baal is God then follow him.”

I remember talking to someone about the Lord and encouraging them to commit their life to Christ. “If you are willing to turn from everything you know is wrong in your life and put your and trust in Jesus and follow Him, God is willing to forgive you, and when you die you will not be condemned for your sins, but you will go to be with Christ forever.” They answered, “I’ll wait and see.”

There are millions of people in this world who have adopted this attitude. Agnostics. They don’t know and they are not prepared to examine the evidence for the life and teaching of Jesus. So they say, “I’ll way and see.”

This is as crazy as a man who intends to climb Mt Everest and is told he would need to take thermal clothing, oxygen, and special equipment or he will die of exposure. And he answers, “I’ll take my chances and wait and see.”  Too late mate.

The people of Israel had been sitting on the fence for too long. They prayed to the Lord, but they also prayed to Baal. They were keeping their options open.

Elijah challenged them. If the Lord is God then follow him, but if Baal is God then follow him. As Jesus said, ‘You can’t serve two masters at the same time.”

This is where a lot of Catholic missionaries went wrong, especially in Latin America. Instead of insisting that the Native Americans renounced their animistic religion, they allowed them to have it both ways and today all through Latin America you have this mixture of Catholicism and paganism. The result is that the majority have never been truly converted to Christ.

The same is true in India. Most Hindus respect Christian missionaries and will even agree with their teaching, but will simply add Christ to their collection of gods. Real conversion comes when they abandon and renounce their Hindu idols and commit themselves fully to Christ.

This was where Israel was when Elijah spoke to them.

So Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Let us prove who is the real God. You get two bulls, cut up one of them and lay it on your altar and I will do the same with the other on my altar. And you call on Baal to send fire and burn up the sacrifice and I will do the same. The God who answers our prayers is the true God.”

 

THE COMMENCEMENT 25-29

Well, early the next day the prophets of Baal went first and cut up the bull and placed it on the wood on the altar and began to call upon Baal to send the fire to burn up the sacrifice. For 4 or 5 hours they pleaded, yelled and shouted to Baal to send the fire. They worked themselves up into quite a frenzy, dancing and leaping and hobbling around the altar but nothing happened.

At midday, Elijah decided to have a bit of fun with them. “ Shout louder, perhaps Baal is deaf, or he’s gone to the toilet, or he’s not home, or perhaps he’s asleep and you need to wake him up if he really is a living god.

So they shouted louder and louder and in their frenzied state, they began to mutilate themselves, hoping that by shedding their own blood it might incite Baal to act. This performance went on all day until evening and there was no response from Baal.

 

THE CHANGEOVER v30-37

After almost 12 hours of frenzied hysteria, Baal’s prophets must have been utterly exhausted and done in. It was then that Elijah took over.

He built an altar with 12 stones representing the 12 tribes of Israel. He dug a trench around the altar large enough to hold 18 litres of water. He piled on the wood and cut up the bull and laid it on top. Then he ordered that the sacrifice be drenched with water 3 times just to show there was no way anyone could set it on fire.

And then Elijah walked up to the altar and prayed,

“O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command.  O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”

Let’s look at Elijah’s prayer. What was the motive behind Elijah’s prayer? He wanted the people to know that the Lord was the only true God and that they would turn back to Him.

As I have prayed over the years I have had to examine my motives for praying and I saw that some of my motives were wrong. I prayed that I would be successful as a pastor to build up my self-confidence. I prayed that the church would grow so we could look good in the stats. In fact I used to look at the Baptist yearbook to see how we were doing compared to others. I prayed that some difficult circumstances would change so that I wouldn’t feel so stressed. Many of my motives were concerned with me, my image, my happiness, my comfort, my success.  

In time I realised that the supreme motive behind prayer must always be the glory of God. Will this bring glory and honour and praise to God? Will this cause others to turn to Him, to honour and praise him?

It is interesting that when Jesus taught His disciples to pray the very first thing He said was “Our Father in heaven, may your name, your reputation be held in the highest esteem, may you be revered, honoured and glorified above all else.

I would venture to say that the reason many of our prayers are not answered is because we ask from lesser motives.

James 4:3 says that we ask and do not receive because our motives are wrong we are asking for what will please us and satisfy our selfish desires.

For 50 odd years I have prayed for revival in the church and nation and often my motives have been good but not the best. I have wanted to see the moral decline in our nation reversed, I have wanted to see Christians re-enthused, I have wanted to see the churches grow, I have wanted more of God’s miracle power displayed. And although many of these motives are fine, the motive that should drive our prayers above all else is that Jesus name, Jesus reputation, should be honoured, glorified, even if I gain nothing from it myself.

We often point to scriptures like John 14:13 as an open chequebook to ask God for anything “Ask anything in my name and I will do it.” but we don’t quote the rest of the verse “So that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”

Am I asking God for this because I want to see God glorified, to see others turn to Him and trust him, praise Him and follow Him?

It’s all about the Lord, not about us.

What was the motive behind Elijah’s prayer? He expressed it in 1 Kings 19:10 “I have been very jealous for the Lord God Almighty.”

There is a place for jealousy in this sense. Envy is when you want something that doesn’t belong to you. Jealousy is when you want something that does belong to you but has been taken from you.

A spouse is right to feel jealous if their partner has an affair with someone else. God is right to feel jealous when His people turn to idols and false religion. You have a right to feel jealous when you see the people who God created and loves, who Jesus died for, chasing after other gods and idols.

That is how Elijah felt. He was jealous for God. He wanted to see God glorified, exalted in the nation and given His rightful place in the lives of the people He created and loves.

Are we jealous for The Lord? Does it hurt when we hear people blaspheme His name? Does our heart ache when we see people take the glory and honour that rightfully belongs to God and give it human beings? Does it break our hearts when we see people deceived and led away from God by the lies and tricks of the evil one? Does it upset us when we see Christians behaving in ways that bring disrepute and dishonour to the name of Jesus?

If you feel that way then you are jealous for the Lord.

 

THE CLIMAX v38-40

Well, when Elijah prayed, the fire of God fell on the sacrifice and totally wiped out the bull, the wood, the stones and the water. There wasn’t a trace of anything left.

For over 100 years archaeologists have been digging around the Dead Sea looking for the remains of Sodom and Gomorrah. Because of that, some have even questioned they even existed. Somehow I don’t think they will find any remains because when the fire of God’s judgement falls nothing is left.

Incidentally, archaeologists have found the remains of a large cemetery on the shores of the Dead Sea but they haven’t worked out where the bodies came from.

When the fires of God’s judgement fell upon Jesus at the cross, every tiny trace of your sin and mine was completely wiped out. Erased, obliterated forever, never again to be remembered.

When the people saw this they fell face down on the ground crying out, “The Lord – He is God.” Then Elijah commanded that every vestige of Baal worship including its false prophets be got rid of.

 

THE CONCLUSION v41-46

Now that the religion of Baal had been exposed as a fraud and the people had turned back to the Lord, Elijah told King Ahab that rain was on the way and he climbed to the top of Mt Carmel and began to pray that God would fulfil His promise to send the rain.

As Elijah prayed he sent his servant to the summit of the mountain seven times to look for the sign of rain coming. On the seventh time the servant reported that a cloud was on the way.

  1. Elijah prayed according to God’s Will. God had told Elijah that there would be no rain for 3½ years and the 3½ years were up.

When we pray we need to be sure we are praying according to Gods Will. 1 John 5:14-15 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

  1. Elijah prayed with expectancy. You could say that he watched and prayed. He prayed and kept looking for and believing for the answer.

During the late 1800s, George Muller and the children in Ashley Down Orphanage gathered for breakfast. The tables were set with plates, cups and cutlery, but there was not a scrap of food in the place, nor was there any money in the home’s account. George Muller asked the children to bow their heads while he gave thanks for the food. He  prayed, “Dear Father, we thank You for what you are going to give us to eat.” Almost immediately they heard a knock at the door. When they opened it, there stood the local baker. “Mr. Muller,” he said, “I couldn’t sleep last night. Somehow I felt you had no bread for breakfast, so I got up at 2 o’clock and baked fresh bread. Here it is.” Muller thanked him and praised God. Soon, a second knock was heard. It was the milkman. His cart had broken down in front of the orphanage. He said he would like to give the children the milk so he could empty the cart and repair it. This was a regular occurrence in the life of George Muller. They prayed with expectancy.

I like the story of the little town in the American mid-west where they had been going through a drought that threatened to ruin the farmers. In desperation, the local church called for a special prayer meeting to pray for rain. Among those who came was a small girl who was carrying an umbrella. Someone said to her, “Why have you brought an umbrella,” and she answered with childlike faith, Well, aren’t we going to pray for rain.” Expectant prayer

  1. Elijah kept praying until the answer came. He kept sending his servant to the summit to look for a sign of answered prayer. He persevered. He didn’t give up. He kept going even when there was no sign of rain.

 

Bob Gass writes these words:

“The problem with most of us that we are far too impatient. If God doesn’t speak in the first 5 minutes we get up, shake ourselves and decide that He isn’t talking today. Where is the tenacity, the perseverance, the determination of the old saints who would take hold of God in prayer and refuse to let go until they received a sure word from Him? Blighted by a microwave mentality, we want everything overnight, including Christian maturity. We have deleted from our Bibles and from our thoughts all those passages of scripture that command us to wait on the Lord through the difficult and tough times until the answer comes.”

Finally –

  1. Elijah prayed that God would be glorified through it all.

During the Welsh Revival God used a little known coal miner name Evan Roberts to spearhead one of the greatest Christian revivals in history. Soon Evan became well known throughout Wales, but whenever he turned up to speak at a meeting and sensed that the people had come mainly to hear him he would refuse to speak. The last thing he wanted was to be the centre of attention. He was so determined that God and God alone should receive all the attention, the glory, the praise and the credit that he would walk out of the meeting and not go back.

J. S. Bach said, “All music should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the soul’s refreshment; where this is not remembered there is no real music but only a devilish hub-bub.”

He headed his compositions: “J. J.” “Jesus Juva” which means “Jesus help me.”

He ended them “S. D. G.” “Soli Dei gratia” which means “To God alone be the praise.”