Elijah: Marks of the Living God

Good Morning and welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here at Journey, and it’s a joy to share with you the good news about Jesus.  We started Journey a little over ten years ago with the intent of helping people move beyond their skepticism about God or cynicism about the church.  At Journey we promise to treat you with respect no matter where you are in your faith Journey – because we understand that you have reasons to believe, or not believe, the way you do.  And we are going to do our best to present to you the God of the Bible as you weigh out your options for believing the way you do.

Today we are starting a new series about the lives of two of Israel’s prophets – Elijah and Elisha.  We’re going to be reading from the book of 1 and 2 Kings.  In our bible it’s separated into two books – But they really tell one story.

The book of Kings is the story of how Israel fell to pieces.  It tells the story of how Israel went from a strong, united Kingdom under the realm of King David;  how it digressed into civil war that eventually led to two separate countries – and how both of those countries were eventually defeated and deported into exile – the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians in 722bc.  And the Southern Kingdom by the Babylonians in 586bc.

This is the story, basically, of how the nation of Israel fell to pieces.

We see in 1 Kings 1-11 the story of how David passes the kingdom to his son Solomon, and instructs Solomon to be sure to keep the agreement Israel made with God that He would be their God and they would be his people.

Solomon comes to reign and begins well – by building Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem.  But eventually Solomon becomes utterly corrupted by his power – and becomes the wealthiest person in Israel by taxing his people and then to consolidate power with neighboring kingdoms he marries women from all of these neighboring countries, and really by the end of his life Solomon resembles Pharaoh more than he does his father David.

And shortly after Solomon dies there is a power struggle and the nation of Israel divides into two separate countries.  The Northern Kingdom, which is called Israel, and the Southern Kingdom, called Judah.  The book of Kings then chronicles each of the twenty or so kings that came to power in each of these two countries.  And the book evaluates the kings based on criteria like,

Did they worship the God of Israel alone or did they worship other Gods.  Did they deal with Idolatry?  Did they remain faithful to the covenant like David?  Or were they corrupt and unjust.

And sadly, we see these kings, one worse than the other.  And of the forty or so kings in both countries, very few were evaluated as good.  In fact the Northern Kingdom went 0-20 as far as good and godly kings.  They immediately set up idol worship and no subsequent king stopped it.  The southern Kingdom faired slightly better.  Not must though.  Out of about 20 kings – 8 were evaluated as being good Kings.

So who were Elijah and Elisha?  They were prophets – they spoke on God’s behalf – challenging the King and Israel’s people to return to God.

So this morning, we will read about Elijah – who appears on the scene rather abruptly here in 1 Kings 17 – and he shows up about the year 875bc.  He appears during the reign of Ahab – who was one of the worse Kings eva!  Wicked, evil, corrupt, ungodly murderer.

And the deal is that Ahab marries a woman named Jezebel, who was from a neighboring country – on the map it’s the top left corner – near present day Beirut.

Ahab marries her in an effort to strengthen political ties with Tyre and Sidon – but together – she and Ahab introduce a systematic policy to get the people to stop worshipping the God of the Bible and to begin to worship instead –  Baal.  They are trying to swing Israel from the worship of God to the worship of Baal.

Now why, you might ask, would they want to do this?  Well, for one thing, the God of the Bible instructs people to travel to Jerusalem for sacrifices.  And Jerusalem now falls within the boundaries of another country – Judah – with whom Israel is constantly fighting.  So to be freed from the God of the Bible is to be freed once and for all from Jerusalem and Judah.

But I think more than that – religion is a way to control people.  Ahab and Jezebel employ 450 priests – they work for the king.  The God of the Bible though – people who follow Him will always place their allegiance with Him before their King.  So Ahab sees a way of controlling people through Baal worship.

This is a picture of an image of Baal that is in the Louvre in France.  And usually you find images of Baal with his arm raised and he will have a thunderbolt in his hand because he was purported to be the God of the weather system.  And when you live in an agrarian society like they lived in, weather was everything.  So people worshipped Baal in hopes that he would bring the rain that the crops required, and keep hail and wind and storms away.

So let’s jump in and begin reading in 1 Kings 17. Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, “As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!”

So what’s happening here?  Elijah is saying, oh, you worship the God of rain.  I’ll show you who is in charge of rain.  No rain for you!

But why is he doing this?  He loves his people too much to see them bowing down to a God that is no God at all.  And he sends Elijah in an attempt to get his people attention.  to draw them back to himself.

God is living.  He is alive, living and breathing, and he desires a daily, dynamic, two way relationship with us.  And as a living God he will go to great lengths to get our attention – to call us out of idolatry and into a living, breathing, dynamic friendship with Him.

Now for this story to have any meaning to us today we have to be willing to see that we are not above falling into the same trap of Idolatry that the Israelites fell into.  We are not above falling into idolatry – the worship of a God that is no God at all.

Now maybe you are thinking, Idolatry?  Me?  Come on.  We are too sophisticated to ever worship an Idol – especially one of Wood or Bronze?

But let me just say this – there is more than one-way to fashion a God.  Some people use their hands.  Others use their imagination.  What do I mean?  Some people have fashioned in their mind an image of what they want God to be like – they fictionalize God.

In other words someone might read the Bible and say, Oh I don’t like the way the Bible is portraying God.  I don’t like the fact that in the Bible God is portrayed as a judge.  My God would never judge anyone.

But I’d say – that God you fashioned in your imagination is just as dead as the one fashioned by hand.  God has revealed himself to us in this book.  If we have an image in our head of a God that always agrees with us, who never asks us to do something or lead us through something we don’t want to go through, then that is a surest sign that the God we are bowing down to is dead.  Not living.

The God of the Bible is untamable.  But he is good.

So here in this section – the first thing we read is Elijah claiming that he serves the one true living God, and he is announcing that God will not stand still and watch his people bow down to a piece of metal without doing everything in his power to get their attention.

So what do we learn about this living, knowable, loving and good God of Israel and the God of the Universe?

First, – Because God is living and loving, sometimes he will use hardship to get our attention.

Here God says, no rain for you.  Now will this not introduce hardship?  Yes, it most certainly will.  Is God therefore unloving that he is introducing a drought that will cause hardship.  No – he’s doing it BECAUSE he is loving.  Sometimes it is only through hardship that God is able to get our attention.

In what way?  Have you ever heard of highway hypnotism?  You ever drive a long way and it’s white line white line white line – it can hypnotize you – and all of a sudden something happens and you snap out of it – and you think – I just drive how many miles?  I don’t remember.

Well you don’t think that can happen in life too?  You just get in a rhythm.  Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.  Sometimes God has to snap us out of it and bring us back to reality.  Wake us up.

Sometimes God uses hardship to snap us out of religion.  You know what religion is?  Here’s religion in a nutshell, and why it always sucks the life out of people.  Religion says – if I’m a good boy, God will bless me.

If I don’t do anything wrong, God owes me!  But the God of the Bible has not called us to a religion.  It’s as dead as that bronze statue.  He has called us into a dynamic, living, relationship with Him.  And sometimes, frankly, we forget – and God has to use hardship to get our attention.

Think of your own life.  Has God ever used a crisis to draw you closer to himself?

Now – this needs to be addressed – I want you to understand what I’m saying – if God uses crisis to get our attention, does that mean that every time something bad happens to me, it’s because I’ve sinned or done something wrong?  And the answer is no.  No.

I remember in the days following 9/11 when the topic on television was, is God punishing us as a country for our sins?  And there were no shortage of preachers on television claiming – see – God is punishing us for our sins – we need to return to him!

But that’s not being a prophet.  That’s being a blowhard.  Look at this situation.  Elijah doesn’t show up after the fact to announce that God brought this drought to get our attention!  He announces it before hand.

And that, by the way, was the way we knew Elijah was a true prophet.  The bible is really clear – it has only one test for a prophet.  If someone claims to speak for God – and they predict something will happen – the bible says – okay – if it doesn’t happen – then stone them to death.  Harsh you say?  Well, it certainly had a way of keeping false prophets at bay.

So this thing between Elijah and Ahab – is pretty unique.  Because Elijah is declaring, before it happens, that God’s about to bring the hardship in order to prove to us that Baal never brought a drop of this rain you’ve taken for granted for years and years.

Sometimes God uses hardship to wake us up to his existence.

Now maybe you think – couldn’t God use blessing to teach us about his presence?  And yes, he does. When was the last time the rain caused us to be thankful.  It ought to but often times blessings and goodness – that God causes to fall on even wicked people – it’s like a whisper.  And often hardship is the megaphone that God uses to get our attention.

But that’s just one way.  And it’s not even the best way – in fact sometimes hardship causes a person to harden their heart toward God.  Hardship often time exerts pressure on us that will crowd us either toward or away from the cross.  Decide now to allow crisis to crowd us to the cross.

Hardship is one way – it’s not the only way, or the best way, but it is one way that a living and loving, yes loving – God uses to wake us up.

Let’s keep reading.

Then the Lord said to Elijah, “Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. I have instructed a widow there to feed you.”

10 So he went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the gates of the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks, and he asked her, “Would you please bring me a little water in a cup?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called to her, “Bring me a bite of bread, too.”

12 But she said, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.”

13 But Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!”

15 So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her family continued to eat for many days. 16 There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.

Because God is living and loving and desires for us to know Him, he will go to great lengths to get our attention.

More often however is the second way that God uses to get our attention.  Sometimes God asks us to take a step of faith in order to show us that he is living and loving.

Not a leap of faith.  A leap of faith implies to me – stop thinking and just start believing – act like it’s true, even if you don’t think its true.  And that’s not at all what God has called us toward.  God never asks us to stop thinking and start believing.  Thinking and believing go hand in hand.

Not a leap of faith – But a step of faith.  In other words- this woman – she is about to be saved.  Literally.  Her life is about to be forever changed.  She is going to see God do amazing things.  But first – it’s going to require a step of faith.  It’s a step of faith for her to give up her oil and flour and bread to Elijah first.

What would it look like for someone in this room to take a step of faith?

  • Maybe it’s by starting to pray. Lord, I don’t know if you exist, but I will pray.  Teach me the difference between prayer and worrying out loud.
  • Maybe it’s reading a book – we have a book out there by Timothy Keller called reasons to believe. You are going to read with an open mind –
  • Maybe the step of faith is simply – Lord I am giving you permission to change my heart and mind. I am not ready to take that step across the line of faith – but I’m willing to be willing.  Work in me.
  • Maybe you already took a step of faith today – maybe you are here and it’s your first time in church since forever. And the sermon is all about how God is real and alive and loves you and wants you to know he exists.  But will you believe that happened, or maybe it’s just a coincidence?

Now let’s move on to the last way that God shows us he is living and loving.

17 Some time later the woman’s son became sick. He grew worse and worse, and finally he died. 18 Then she said to Elijah, “O man of God, what have you done to me? Have you come here to point out my sins and kill my son?”

19 But Elijah replied, “Give me your son.” And he took the child’s body from her arms, carried him up the stairs to the room where he was staying, and laid the body on his bed. 20 Then Elijah cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, why have you brought tragedy to this widow who has opened her home to me, causing her son to die?”

Now I want you to notice – you have the woman – she is a pagan Gentile – non Israelite woman.  He son dies and she asks – did God do this to me because of my sins?

And Elijah – the seminarian – the religious expert says, give the boy to me and runs him upstairs and closes the doors and says, “Is this why the boy died, was it because of their sins?

Neither she nor Elijah turns to God and says, Why did you do this to me!  I deserve better!  I followed all your commands – I’ve fed this Elijah – and THIS is how you repay me?

Why not?  They were in touch with the biblical truth that they did deserve to die.  That their sin was so grievous to God that they would have had no argument – they would have had no leg to stand on in a court of law.

Sometimes, because God is living and loving, he convicts us of our sins. 

Listen – this is a work of a loving God.  To convict us of our sin.  To shake us out of the illusion of self- sufficiency.   Has God gotten you in touch with the dark corners of your heart?

Until you come to realize that you are far more sinful than you ever thought, you will never experience the living God.  You will never experience the Good News.  You will never escape religion.  Because Religion says, I’m basically a good person and deserve to be rewarded for it.

Christianity – the bible, Jesus, teaches that we are desperately sinful and deserve nothing other than death.  The wages of our sin is death.  Until we empty ourselves of all forms of self-righteousness we will never be able to receive by grace the free gift of salvation through faith in Jesus.

Because God is loving, he convicts us of our sins, and strips us of the illusion of self-sufficiency.

But the story doesn’t end there…  There is yet another way that God shows himself to be the one true living and loving God.

21 And he stretched himself out over the child three times and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, please let this child’s life return to him.” 22 The Lord heard Elijah’s prayer, and the life of the child returned, and he revived! 23 Then Elijah brought him down from the upper room and gave him to his mother. “Look!” he said. “Your son is alive!”

24 Then the woman told Elijah, “Now I know for sure that you are a man of God, and that the Lord truly speaks through you.”

Lastly, we need to look beyond this story and see what this story is pointing toward.

What was the ultimate way God demonstrated to us that he is the living, loving one true God?

He stretched himself out for us.

Don’t you see.  Don’t you see the length that God went to get your attention?  To bring you into a relationship with a loving and living God?

Oh how loved you are.  Oh how precious you are to God.  Run to him.  Surrender to him.  In the name of Jesus, Turn to Him.  In the name of Jesus, Return to Him.