The Lord, He is God

Sermon 1715 1 Kings 18.20-46 October 4, 2020

Perspective. It is something we often lose in the heat of battle, whether it is a battle against enemy armies or a battle against an unseen virus. We forget about the way things were. We can’t imagine a future any different from the way things are now. Zealotry, gung-ho overboard, for a cause, any cause, often results from a lack of perspective.

The people of Israel in our Sunday School text for today weren’t in the grips of a pandemic, but they were in the grips of a drought and famine. It had been three years since God’s prophet Elijah announced divine judgment upon godless King Ahab. A secret meeting was arranged. Ahab comes face to face with Elijah, his hated enemy. The prophet of God offers the challenge. The diabolical king accepts. The prophets of Baal and all Israel will gather on Mount Carmel and see

The Lord, He is God.

  1. Zeal is not the test of truth (18.20-30).

  2. Look to deeds in the past (31-32).

  3. Look to deeds in the present (33-40).

“Get two bulls for us. Let the prophets of Baal 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 (23-24).”

The prophets of Baal are not hypocrites. If they didn’t believe in their gods, they would be the biggest fools to agree to the challenge offered by the king. If they didn’t believe in their gods, but felt pressured by the king to accept a challenge they knew they couldn’t win, they would have tried to change the terms of the challenge or resort to some sort of magic ala David Copperfield to appear victorious. But they accepted the challenge on the terms offered. They firmly believe in their gods.

They are zealous for their gods. All four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and four hundred priestesses in the king’s direct employ show up. They butcher the bull and prepare the offering. But they do not set it on fire. Then they call upon their god, “O Baal, answer us!” Their singing and dancing around the altar goes on from morning until noon. Elijah can’t restrain himself. “Shout louder! Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping, and must be awakened (27).” Their zeal shows even more. They shout louder. “They slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom until their blood flowed (28).” This wasn’t something unusual. They regularly did this. We talk about putting your money where your mouth. Their wounds, their blood, was their currency. The prophets of Baal meant business. Their zeal proved it.

But zeal is not the test of truth. “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 (29).”

No one answered because there was no Baal. False gods are either figments of the imagination or demons who fail their worshippers in almost every possible need.

But how many times haven’t we heard people say (maybe even ourselves), there must be something to their faith—look how zealous they are! That’s the way it always has been. Paul warned the Colossians about those whose angelic worship was harsh on the body. Roman pagans mutilated themselves in the ecstatic worship of imported Egyptian gods. Even in America, it seems those religions that are the farthest from the teachings of the Bible have the most stringent rules, be they staying away from certain foods or drinks, renouncing modern technology or adopting drab dress or vows mandating they do not marry.

Bank robbers firmly believe. They firmly believe they can get away with it. Every nation in the 20th century that began a war firmly believed they would win (none of them did). My fellow Minnesotan, Harold Stassen, firmly believed he could be the Republican party’s candidate for President nine times, from 1948 through 1992. Harold Stassen didn’t get the nomination. Not once.

The world views extremism as zeal. When you follow the rules, when you are modest about how you go about life, when you exhibit humility towards others, the world will never call that zeal. When your practice of your faith is between you and your God, not to be seen by man, the world will never call that zeal. But isn’t that a description of the Christian life? Jesus was the perfect human being and there were only two times the disciples recalled his zeal the way the world looks at extraordinary zeal, the two times he drove the money changers and sellers of sacrificial animals out of the Temple. “Zeal for your house has consumed me,” they recalled the prophetic prediction. It was more a case of Jesus being pushed rather than him leading the charge.

Even when he was crucified for our sins, he submitted himself to both his Father’s just and holy will and to the twisted, corrupt will of his country’s legal system. If you are looking for something to be the test of truth, zeal is not it.

Look to the deeds of the past to see the Lord, he is God.

“Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘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 (30-31).’”

There had been an altar to the Lord on the slopes of Mount Carmel. We don’t know when it was built. But it was no longer standing. Its stones were strewn around. Elijah gathers up the stones, one for each of the Twelve Tribes of Jacob. The Lord had made a promise to those tribes. This land would be their land. He would be their God. The Lord had acted on behalf of those tribes. He had redeemed them from the house of slavery in Egypt. He led them through the Red Sea with a mighty hand. He had given his laws on Mount Sinai with fire and thunder and the trumpet blast of angels. He had kept them alive for forty years in the desert and brought them into a good and spacious land, defeating thirty-one kings before them. History matters. If a god is truly God, he must leave his footprints in the record of this world. Here’s today’s “Aha” moment: God’s Word is the record of that history. God’s Word is the record of that history.

History still matters. I did not have to spend a lot of time explaining God’s goodness to the Children of Israel under Moses and Joshua, because that is part of the history of all believers, your history and my history. Our God has left his mark on this world. God’s Word is the record of that history. For those who believe in him that mark is the token of their salvation, the seal of their deliverance. For those who reject him, that mark is a rock, a cliff, falling upon them and crushing them to pieces. I could go to the New Testament as I direct you to look to deeds of the past. Jesus’ tomb was empty. The apostles spread the message in Jerusalem and Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Generations of believers built a way of life which pointed to the truth: the Lord, he is God.

Does not our own experience, our personal history, prove it? We were baptized, we were sealed, we were claimed by the Lord through that washing of water and the Word. That is why we are what we are. The child is father to the man, as one of our own poets have said. No false god ever lifted a finger for even one of the Lord’s people. Only the Lord has acted in the past on behalf of his own. Search his Word for that record. The Lord, he is God.

The Lord, he is God. Look to deeds in the present.

What a display the Lord produced before the very eyes of Israel! Elijah’s bull was sacrificed and arranged as the first one had been. No fire here, either. Elijah did add one feature to his altar—he dug a trench around the altar. Then he ordered that the sacrifice be drenched with water, not once, but three times. Not only was the meat dripping, the wood soaked, the stones wet and the trench was overflowing with water. Then Elijah 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.’

“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 (36-38).”

The bull was gone. The wood was gone. The stones were gone. The water was gone. Even the soil was burned up. The Lord is not subtle. It must have been like a small nuclear bomb, without the radioactive fallout. It was clear to everyone. Baal was no god. The Lord, he is God.

We know the false gods, the idols of this world, cannot do anything for us. Beer cannot take away guilt. Football cannot offer forgiveness of sins. Successfully following a celebrity chef’s secret recipes to produce a delightful meal cannot give us moral guidance in this world. Money can’t buy eternal life. We know all of these things and everything like them, trust in politics, reliance on medicine, faith in science, these are unworthy of taking first place in our hearts. Even family and friends must come in at a second place when we think about our Lord.

Look to his deeds in the present. God daily and fully forgives all sins to me and all believers. My Christian friendships remain intact, though both I and my friends strain the fabric of friendship through our thoughtless actions. I am forgiven. I have no guilt before my Lord or before my friends. God hears all my prayers. Why is it when I wake up in the middle of the night because I am worried about the next day, I never get back to a good sleep unless I pray to Jesus that he give me restfulness? God makes me courageous. We could dig a hole and crawl into it until this is all over. We could say to the hills “hide us!” and to the mountains, “cover us!” But instead, we venture out. Yes, we take precautions, because we don’t want to inadvertently cause trouble for anyone we meet in the course of daily lives. But we venture out, to the grocery store, to the workplace, to church. We find safety from our Lord, even in the midst of a pandemic, as he protects us through our own actions, frequent hand washing, wearing of face coverings and maintaining a distance between people outside our immediate family, and as he protects us in ways only he can control. We enter operating rooms with hope. We leave hospitals with thanksgiving. We even face our own end with confidence. We will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Faith, hope, love. That’s what the Lord, our God, does for us. What idol can do that?

The Lord, He is God

  1. Zeal is not the test of truth (18.20-30).

  2. Look to deeds in the past (31-32).

  3. Look to deeds in the present (33-40).

Lose our perspective in the midst of a crisis? Run to gods who are not? Search for comfort in places where there is none? Not us! We have seen and know the Lord, he is God.

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