Welcome to Christ’s Community Church as we continue in part two of our series “The Called”. Today’s message is entitled “Quit Wavering” and this is a message that’s very close to the heart of God, because above anything and everything else in our lives he wants to be number one. As a matter of fact, one time, our Lord was debating with some religious folks who are called in the Bible “the Sadducees” and Mark tells us that a teacher of the law heard them debating and not wanting to be left out of a lively conversation, he butted in and asked in Mark chapter 12, verse 28,
“Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" (Mark 12:28).
Jesus answered saying that, “Above anything else in our lives, we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength.” And so, God wants all of us, not just part of us, but how many of you know that we have a very real spiritual enemy?
Jesus said, our spiritual enemy Satan, comes only to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10). And so, Satan finds great joy in trying to steal the hearts of people away from God. He distracts us, he detours us, and he does anything that he can do to deter us from experiencing the blessing of God. But the number one way that our enemy does this, is by enticing us with false gods that promise what only the one true God can provide.
How many of you would agree that money is a pretty popular false god?
You see, money promises us something that only God can provide. It promises that if you have enough money you’ll be happy and secure, but the reality is that even when you’re surrounded by stuff, when you get diagnosed with cancer, or when you lose a loved one, there is no amount of money that can make you happy and secure. And so, it’s a false god promising something that it can’t provide.
This morning, as we look at the life of Elijah, many people were worshipping and serving false gods. In fact, Elijah was called by God to confront an evil king named Ahab, who actually did more evil in the eyes of God than any king in Israel before him. Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, were determined to turn the hearts of the people away from the one true God and turning them toward the false gods of Baal and Asherah. And so, the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were no longer worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but instead they were worshipping these false gods which promised, “If you worship me you’ll have a productive life, your crops will grow, and you’ll live in a fertile land”. And yet, they were promising something that only the one true God can provide.
So, God raises up Elijah to confront the king in his idolatry and tell him, “The Lord, the God whom I serve, sent me to tell you that it’s not going to rain until he tells me.” Of course, this didn’t go over very well with the king, and so God sent Elijah into a period of hiding and preparation in a place called the Kerith Ravine. It was there, during that time, that God humbled him and began developing him into a great man of God.
Last week, we read that sometime later, the brook dried up and God called Elijah to go to a place called Zarephath. It was there that he met a widow through whom God miraculously provided food for him, the widow, and her young son. However, there was more to the story, and one day the widow’s son got terribly sick and died. Elijah, now having developed into a great man of faith, having become the man that God called him to be, took the widow’s son and cried out to God, and God raised this boy from the dead, setting the stage for the next chapter.
Now, as we begin 1 Kings chapter 18 we find out that “after a long time” verse one says,
“In the third year, the word of the Lord came to Elijah: "Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land" (1 Kings 18:1).
Now as we saw last week, Elijah had learned radical obedience at Kerith Ravine, and so he knew that when God says “go” he needed to go, and verse two tells us.
“Elijah went to present himself to Ahab.” So now we are about three years into the drought and the Bible says “Now the famine was severe in Samaria” (1 Kings 18:2).
Skipping ahead to verse 17, the Bible says that King Ahab went out to meet Elijah,
“When he saw Elijah, he said to him, "Is that you, you troubler of Israel?" (1 Kings 18:17).
Now, when King Ahab called Elijah a troubler, that was really just a kind way of saying you low-down snake, because he really didn’t have anything nice to say about Elijah, he was irritated by Elijah because he knew that the drought was his fault, and so he blamed him for causing trouble in Israel. But Elijah wasn’t about to take any of that from the king, and so he turned it right back on him saying,
“I have not made trouble for Israel, but you and your father's family have. You’ve abandoned the Lord's commands and have followed the Baals” (1 Kings 18:18).
And so, he accuses Ahab of idolatry, of worshiping false gods, “It’s you and your families fault. You’ve disobeyed the Lord and you’ve put false gods ahead of the one true God” a sin which was encouraged even more by his wife Jezebel.
Now we need to be mindful that this was Israel, this was the Northern Kingdom, these were God’s people and they knew that there was only one true God, but the bottom line is that they really weren’t much different than we are. You know, as Christians, even though many of us believe in the one true God, we’re also living lives like those in Elijah’s day. Their culture wasn’t as technological as ours, but they were just as equally distracted and divided in their allegiance to God; and so outwardly we may not be a polytheistic culture, we may believe in the living God, but in the day-to-day reality of our lives we worship and serve many false gods. We just present them in a more contemporary and more socially acceptable way.
For example, many people worship the false gods of money and the false gods of material possessions. It could be your house or your car, it could be your image, it could be your favorite sport, your career, or your hobby. It could even be your family. You see, anything that you prioritize before the worship of God, anything that you elevate into the rightful place of God, and anything that you put on the throne of your life besides God is idolatry and unfaithfulness to the one true God. That’s why it’s so important that I ask you this question.
What are the false gods that you serve? What is it that you’ve put ahead of the one true God?
I’m going to level the playing field and be really transparent with you, because I recognized a few idols in my life as I was thinking this week. It’s not easy to admit, but it’s pretty obvious, because in so many different ways I’ve made my job, my ministry to the church, the number one most important thing in my life. I know it’s my calling, I know it’s what I do, and I do it for Jesus, but sometimes I find that serving the church and being the church can easily become an idol in my life.
Another one, is that my family can slip into the most important place in my heart. I know I should love my wife and my kids, but the truth is that sometimes it becomes painfully obvious when making decisions that my family has been an idol to me.
Another false god that I have identified in my life could simply be called security. And honestly, our culture feeds this false god telling us that we need to save, and if I can just save enough, then someday, I’ll have this promise of security. But it’s a false god!
Will you be honest before God this morning? You see, by belief we serve God, but by our practices we often serve many false gods. And so, I’d like you to consider what idols are in your life? What are some false gods that you’ve elevated, that you’ve prioritized, and you’ve placed before the one true God?
Watch Elijah as he prepares to have a good old-fashioned showdown and says to the king in verse 19:
“Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table." So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel” (1 Kings 18:19-20).
Elijah steps up before the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah and he makes this very prophetic statement. He looks at them as they are wavering back and forth and he says with all the authority of God,
"How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." But the people said nothing” (1 Kings 18:21).
And I’ll bet you, if Elijah were here today, he’d say the very same thing to us, “Quit Wavering! How long will you waver between belief and practice?” And it’s as if Elijah were reading our minds, “Quit Wavering” he says, “Quit being a Christian on Sunday and living like the devil on Monday.” “Quit claiming to follow Christ and living like you don’t even know him.” “Quit wanting the benefits but being unwilling to pay the price.” “Quit wavering,” Elijah says, “Take a side.”
If Jesus Christ is the one true God revealed in the flesh, serve him with all of your hearts. Don’t just profess to believe in him and then live as if he doesn’t even exist. Serve him with everything you’ve got!
And so, it’s a showdown, it’s like Elijah is looking directly at us saying, “How long will you waver between two opinions?” And then he says to them in verse 22,
“I am the only one of the Lord's prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire — he is God." Then all the people said, "What you say is good” (1 Kings 18:22-24).
You know, they’re thinking, “We’ve got this. Elijah, you are about to get smoked; don’t you know that Baal is the sun god? You know, that great big ball of fire in the sky!” But notice that Elijah isn’t concerned in the least and in verse 25 he says to the prophets of Baal:
“Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but don’t light the fire." So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. "O Baal, answer us!" they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made” (1 Kings 18:25-26).
And so, they’re dancing around, they’re into it, I mean, this is seriously like the best concert you’ve ever been to, or maybe that game when you had front row seats, you know the time when you took your shirt off and had your face and chest painted with team colors, and so they’re worshiping; they’re jumping, twisting, and shouting, “O Baal, answer us!” They’re totally into it, it’s worship, it’s the most important thing, but the Bible says there was what? “There was no response.” Absolutely nothing happened!
And so, verse 27, I love this. Elijah starts to tease them; he starts messing with them:
“Shout louder!" he said. "Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27).
And you can almost imagine, Elijah trying to keep a straight face, trying not to laugh, and he’s just taunting them. “You know, maybe he’s busy!” And so in verse 28 watch their response:
“So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention” (1 Kings 18:28-29).
“Then Elijah said to all the people, in verse 30, "Come here to me." They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which was in ruins. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, "Your name shall be Israel." With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, "Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood” (1 Kings 18:30-33).
"Do it again," he said in verse 34. And I love this, "Do it a third time," he ordered, and they did it the third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench” (1 Kings 18:34-35).
So finally, at the end of the day, they had shouted, danced, even cut themselves, and nothing happened. And watch as Elijah now in verse 36, stepped forward and prayed. He didn’t jump, dance, or shout; he didn’t cut himself, but the Bible says that he simply 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. 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 18:36-37).
Isn’t that such a raw and powerful prayer? “Answer me, O Lord. Reveal yourself. Let them see your power. Show them who you are; so that you may turn the hearts of the people back again, because they used to know you. They used to walk with you, serve you, and worship you; but these false gods have crept in and taken your place. O God, turn their hearts back again.”
There are some of you who’ve walked with him, but then for one reason or another you walked away, and you’ve put some false god or a combination of false gods on the throne of your life. And right now, God is revealing himself to you so that you will turn your heart back to him again. That was Elijah’s prayer in verse 37, “Turn their hearts back to you again.” And so, he prays and then in verse 38 look at what happens.
“Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The Lord-he is God! The Lord-he is God!" (1 Kings 18:38-39).
God answered that prayer and he revealed himself. This morning, as we close, that’s my prayer, that we would see him for who he is and that every false god would fall, bowing before the one true God, and our hearts would be turned back to him and together we would say, “The Lord, He is God. The Lord, He is God!”
You know, sometimes I wonder why God doesn’t show himself like that today? And yet, as quickly as that thought comes to my mind I realize in how much a greater way that God has showed Himself to us. It was two thousand years ago, when he left Heaven, became one of us in the man Jesus, lived a perfect and sinless life so that he could die for us on a cross and be raised again so that we could know Him. And when you do look to him through the cross, when you know Him through Christ, then all the false gods just seem to fall away. Jesus said it this way,
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
If Elijah were here today, I believe he would tell us, “Quit Wavering.” He’d say, “If you’d look to the Son of Man, if you knew God for who he is, you’d never be tempted to serve these false gods, because the one true God is so much greater.”
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
July 09, 2017
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Ministry Pass, Preaching Library, and PC Study Bible.
Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.