Good morning and Welcome to Journey Church. My name is Phil and I’m one of the pastors here on staff. And it’s my great pleasure and joy to be able to speak with you today about God. There is a God. He is living and he is living and he has gone to great lengths to reveal himself to you.
Ahh – you might be thinking to yourself. What do you know? What does anyone know about religion and about God. I mean there are tons of religions out there. No body knows nothing!
If that’s you – then great. We started this church with you in mind. Really! We love skeptical people like you and we promise to do our best to present our arguments that there is a God and that he is alive and loving, and that Jesus is God in the flesh – and we will do our best to help you get to know the real Jesus – because frankly, we find the real Jesus to be irresistible.
We will do our best to respectfully present the evidence – and you ultimately will have to make the call when it comes to your own opinion about faith.
Now this morning we are in our second week on a sermon series based on the lives of two of Israel’s prophets that lived more than 3000 years ago – two guys – one named Elijah and the other Elijah.
We are going to read about a King that came to power in Israel named Ahab – who married a wife named Jezebel – and they tried their best to make Israel a pluralistic society – they introduced others Gods to Israel – God’s other than the God of the Bible – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
This by the way totally goes against everything the Nation of Israel was founded upon. I mean, the ‘constitution’ of Israel was simply God saying – “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” And yet here is an Israelite King breaking the constitution and introducing Baal worship.
Last week we read about Elijah – who confronts the evil King Ahab and tells him – oh, you want to Worship Baal? Oh – and Baal is the God of the weather? Baal is supposed to control the rain? I see. No rain for you!
And so there is this drought. Why? Because God wants his people to know that baal is powerless. There is one God – and he controls all things – and he is the God os Israel. The God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob! And this Baal is a fraud!
The drought lasts three years. And today we are reading about the dramatic end to the drought – and it happens after Elijah calls out the prophets of Baal and challenges them to a test on top of Mount Carmel. Elijah versus 450 Prophets of Baal. It’s a showdown!
Let’s read and then we can chat about it…
Later on, in the third year of the drought, the Lord said to Elijah, “Go and present yourself to King Ahab. Tell him that I will soon send rain!” 2 So Elijah went to appear before Ahab. Meanwhile, the famine had become very severe in Samaria.
17 When Ahab saw him, he exclaimed, “So, is it really you, you troublemaker of Israel?”
18 “I have made no trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “You and your family are the troublemakers, for you have refused to obey the commands of the Lord and have worshiped the images of Baal instead. 19 Now summon all Israel to join me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who are supported by Jezebel.”
20 So Ahab summoned all the people of Israel and the prophets to Mount Carmel.
This is a picture of Mt Carmel, by the way. It looks like a great stage for a showdown to me. And when they – being the prophets of Baal, and the people – climb to the top of the mountain, Elijah throws down this important question.
21 Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent.
So let’s stop here for a minute and talk about that underlined question. It’s a very important question and really, the point of the showdown is to give roof – once and for all – to the Israelites that Yahweh is the Lord. Elijah asks – How long will you waver – hobbling between two opinions?
We here a Journey often say – it’s okay if you aren’t sure. Take your time to have questions answered about Jesus – get to know him. But – and this is what we learn from Elijah’s question – eventually we are going to have to make the call.
Indecision – spiritual indecision – is harmful to our souls. Now remember – it’s been three years of God patiently waiting for Ahab and Jezebel and the Prophets of Baal and the people = to see that there is a God – he is the God of the bible and he and only he is living and loving. And for three years without a drop of rain, you would think it would have convinced people that Elijah is representing the true God.
But no – they continue to waver in between two spiritual worlds.
And I say this because you might still be processing whether God can be real, and if Jesus really is Him. And you would say – you’ve kind of been straddling two worldviews for a number of years now.
Okay – but the harsh reality is that the longer you stay there, the more dangerous it becomes to your soul. You can’t be spiritually neutral. You are built to worship. And you are worshipping something. And maybe today is the day you will decide to worship the Triune God – God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
God calls us to get off the fence. And it’s always been this way. God has always drawn a line in the sand so to speak – whether it’s Joshua who tells the people of Israel – choose you this day whom you will choose. As for me and my house we will choose the Lord. or it’s Jesus who preached – no one can serve two masters. You will serve one or the other. Don’t fool yourself into thinking it doesn’t matter.
Now what does it look like for people now to have two masters? To waffle between two opinions – and first – I think this is important – that isn’t the person who is failing and falling and tripping over themselves as they grow in spiritual maturity in the Lord. In other words – you can sincerely love God and yet – it doesn’t mean you are going to live a perfect life. And so – maybe you fall sometimes- what will happen? Does that mean God says – Get out of here! Do us all a favor and be on your way!
No – listen – that’s not Christianity at all – that’s religion. Religion says – oh you were a bad boy! Bad things will come your way. Faith in Jesus means that you can, Like Peter, disown Jesus three times in one night within earshot of Jesus and when Jesus resurrects from the Dead Jesus says, go tell the Disciples- and make sure you tell Peter, that I am alive and will meet them all shortly.
Christianity is grace and mercy. And we fall down and we are assured that God forgives us.
But falling on our face as we learn to honor God is a far cry from the one who says – I will honor God on Sunday. But Monday through Saturday? Those are “me” days. I will go to church, to ensure that all will be well with me in the afterlife, but I don’t let it interfere with my decisions regarding my sex life, my money, my career, my time. God gets an hour. Twice a month.
That’s a waffle – that’s quicksand. That’s intellectually, so disingenuous to do that. You can’t say there is a God and I follow Jesus so long as he doesn’t meddle. Stay in your lane Jesus!
I mean, at one point Jesus had throngs of people coming to him. And then one day Jesus began to tell people, if you want to follow me, then leave everything behind – give it all away – leave your mother and father – come follow me. Die to yourself and live for me! And crowds started murmuring and leaving – who does this guy think he is? So many left that at one point Jesus turns to the disciples and says – what about you guys. You leaving or staying?
Choose you this day! And Peter says – where would we possibly go? You have the words that lead to eternal life.
Well said Peter. He was right. Peter is announcing – we’ve already cast our lot with you. Jesus either has the words that lead to life, or he doesn’t. And that means that sometimes we might hear something we struggle to receive but we are the ones who bend our will to His. Jesus never gives us the option of saying – we like these words, but not those. We will follow these teaching, and reject those. So long as you accept 51% of my teachings, then we’re good.
No! No waffling. It’s not fair. Choose you this day whom you will serve.
Now listen – don’t make this common mistake in an effort to escape having to choose. There are three common mistakes people make when trying to avoid having to choose their spiritual wordview.
The first: Sometimes people say – listen – no religion has gotten it completely right. Therefore they are all wrong. No one can see the complete picture. It’s like five blind people trying to describe an elephant. One person, hugging the leg, says it’s like a tree. And another – holding the trunk says – it’s like a snake.
The problem, of course, is that no religion agrees with you. Every religion feels they see the complete picture – but the bigger problem is that in order for this to be accurate – you, apparently – are the only one who sees the entire picture. Why?
So people who try to say this get into trouble because they are making an exclusive claim to the truth.
Secondly – don’t make the mistake of thinking – “Ahh, they are all the same. You are all praying to the same God anyway.” Because not only will you be revealing that you don’t know the least about these religions. Because no one who is the least bit familiar with the tenets of Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, or Hinduism would agree with you,
…but the real issue is that as soon as you say they are all the same – that no one religion sees the whole picture, you are claiming that somehow YOU see the whole picture, and in reality you’ve created your own religion.
And maybe you’re tempted to think – well okay then – all religions are wrong! There is no God at all. And I’d simply say – that’s at least an intellectually honest decision. That is getting off the fence. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that isn’t a spiritual worldview. Because to claim there is no God is also a religious claim.
You are claiming to be right and everyone else is wrong. And you end up doing the very thing you hate about proponents of one religion over another.
We can’t escape the reality that we are going to have to make call at some point and decide which faith system is the right one.
And even if you choose to say – there is no God – the problem is that – good luck actually living like you believe it. Because the reality is – people say – Religion leads to wars and death! Well – look at Cambodia and Russia and China – and every nation that tried to live without God – as much blood has flowed in the streets in the name of Atheism as has ever flowed in the name of any other religion.
Which means that there’s probably something going on in the Human heart – that causes us to kill to gain power and control. And I’d say – that the bible calls is sin – and that the Bible is one long story of humanity’s sinful rebellion against God and God’s self sacrificing efforts to redeem us and recreate us into the kind of humans that – love – love yes – even our enemies.
The point – you have to choose. Stop waffling. We are built to worship – and sometimes our heart chooses the wrong thing.
- I’ve decided to follow Jesus. I’ll never waffle again!
Ahhh – but be careful here. Sometimes our hearts can latch onto something and inch by inch crowd Jesus off the trophy shelf in our heart.
What’s an idol? Anything that is so essential to you that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. It can be your career. The ones that seem to be in the top of the charts in our culture are things like money. Success. Careers. Relationships. Children. I heard one pastor say rather bluntly that he felt I America we have only two religions – Christianity and Sex. I’m not sure he’s right, but I’ll leave it to you to decide. And don’t forget to ask yourself if any of the completeing idols are taking up room in your own heart.
Elijah is making a statement here that it’s dangerous to just let them be. It will damage your soul to try to waffle between two opinions. Choose who is God.
So what happens here to Elijah? Great story…
22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only prophet of the Lord who is left, but Baal has 450 prophets. 23 Now bring two bulls. The prophets of Baal may choose whichever one they wish and cut it into pieces and lay it on the wood of their altar, but without setting fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood on the altar, but not set fire to it. 24 Then call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by setting fire to the wood is the true God!” And all the people agreed.
25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “You go first, for there are many of you. Choose one of the bulls, and prepare it and call on the name of your god. But do not set fire to the wood.”
26 So they prepared one of the bulls and placed it on the altar. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning until noontime, shouting, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no reply of any kind. Then they danced, hobbling around the altar they had made.
Let’s pause here and note: What do we learn? It doesn’t matter how much faith you have, it’s who you have faith in. In other words – It doesn’t matter how hard you believe something. Not one of us in this room had as much religious fervor as a single one of these prophets. And yet – no answer. Why? They were zealous for the wrong thing. Their God is no God.
There’s something terribly sad here really. No matter how hard they danced – no reply.
27 About noontime Elijah began mocking them. “You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”
Wait, what? Oh snap – Elijah throwing down some first century trash talk.
28 So they shouted louder, and following their normal custom, they cut themselves with knives and swords until the blood gushed out. 29 They raved all afternoon until the time of the evening sacrifice, but still there was no sound, no reply, no response.
30 Then Elijah called to the people, “Come over here!” They all crowded around him as he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been torn down. 31 He took twelve stones, one to represent each of the tribes of Israel, 32 and he used the stones to rebuild the altar in the name of the Lord. Then he dug a trench around the altar large enough to hold about three gallons. 33 He piled wood on the altar, cut the bull into pieces, and laid the pieces on the wood.
Then he said, “Fill four large jars with water, and pour the water over the offering and the wood.”
34 After they had done this, he said, “Do the same thing again!” And when they were finished, he said, “Now do it a third time!” So they did as he said, 35 and the water ran around the altar and even filled the trench.
36 At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet 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. 37 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.”
38 Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench! 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, “The Lord—he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!”
Elijah begins this contest by asking the people to choose. To stop waffling. To lay down their idols and return to the One true God.
And for those of you in the room debating between which side you will go with… let me tell you why I think you should see that the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob – the God of Jesus. The triune God – why you should choose him.
What is the fire, so to speak, that should show you that the Lord, yes He is God?
I’d suggest you ask this question. Which way does the blood flow? Who is shedding blood for whom?
The prophets of baal were shedding their own blood in an effort to get Baal to love them. Jesus shed his own blood for us – so that we might be cleansed from and rid of our sins once for all – He shed his blood that ours might never need to.
No other religion even comes close to the idea of a self sacrificing God. A God who gives up his life in order to save the Human race? Who is that Kind of God? Jesus says, I am. I am.
Jesus says – I’ll take the whippings for you. No need for that. Just believe what I’ve done is enough. Receive this free gift – and make the call.
You can step across the line of faith right now. Silently – pray to God and admit that you have been waffling between opinions. Thank him for patiently waiting for you to figure things out. Ask him to lead you across the line of faith and to teach you what it means to follow him with a whole heart.
Maybe you are a believer but you’ve allowed your heart to wander from Him – you’ve allowed something to become an idol. Aren’t you glad the fire from Heaven isn’t going to fall on you? Why didn’t the fire in Elijah’s day fall on the people for their stubborn and sinful ways? Instead it falls on the sacrifice.
Jesus is the sacrifice who took the fire for you. Confess your sins. And ask him for the courage to do whatever it takes to choose Him this day and forever more.