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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
 www.edmontonimmanuel.ca
 
Title:The Prayer of a Righteous Man, Just like the Prayer of Elijah, Is Very Powerful and Effective.
Text:1 Kings 17: 1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Preached:2010-02-21
Added:2010-08-27
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Sing: Psalm 115: 1, 4, 6

Sing: Psalm 68: 1, 8

Read: James 5:13-18; Deuteronomy 11:13-21; 1 Kings 16:29-34.

Sing: Psalm 74: 11, 12, 13

Text: 1 Kings 17:1

Sing: Hymn 8: 1, 7, 14           

Sing: Hymn 10:1, 9, 10          

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters,

 

Once in a while a newspaper article will appear wherein the power of prayer is ridiculed. They will say that those who pray are not any better off than those who do not. Miracles just don't happen. Some will even supply so-called scientific proof. In order to prove their point they will conduct studies of groups of people, diagnosed with some terminal illness, which they divide into two groups: those who prayed for healing and let others pray for them, and those who do without prayer. The inevitable conclusion is that the two groups are not any different from each other. The one group did not have an advantage over the other. And so, according to them, prayer is worthless. You might as well pray to your dead grandfather or to a rock. It's all the same.

 

They will also come to the conclusion that none of the other claims of the effectiveness of prayer can be scientifically verified either. Take, for example, the simple claim that prayer connects us with God. A recent article in a newspaper stated, "While this claim may have religious or philosophical implications, it doesn't specify any effect that we could measure in the physical world. How can we tell when someone is more connected to God?"

 

How do we deal with such attacks? There may be some among us who think that there is some truth to these claims. They will think about those people who have prayed for certain things, especially for healing, and whose prayers were not answered.

 

And so does God really hear prayer? Is prayer really effective? Does it really have the power that James claims it has? Or is it all a fraud?

 

Brothers and sisters, this morning we will see that prayer is indeed very powerful and effective. We will even see that without the prayer of the righteous by faith, God will not act; without the prayers of the church, God will not fulfill his promises and He will not execute His wrath.

 

The theme for this morning's service is as follows:

The Prayer of a Righteous Man, Just like the Prayer of Elijah, Is Very Powerful and Effective. We will see:

1. Ahab's ungodly rule;

2. Elijah's powerful prayer.

 

If there ever was a time for the need of God's intervention, it was during the reign of Ahab. It was a very wicked time. And it greatly troubled the righteous soul of Elijah the Tishbite. It was only 57 years since the time of the split of the kingdom of Israel, at which time Jeroboam rebelled and broke with his brothers of Judah and Benjamin. But a lot had happened since then. The 10 northern tribes had seen many civil wars wherein several hundreds of thousands of people were killed. The one king was murdered by the next and so during those years two dynasties were eradicated altogether through murder. The northern kingdom, by and large, had also ceased to serve the Lord. It was in constant rebellion against him.

 

But now with Ahab things go from bad to worse. Whereas the former kings of Israel only perpetuated the sin of Jeroboam, that is the sin of calf worship, the worship of the Lord under the image of an ox, Ahab was not satisfied with this. He went much further.

 

Ahab was the son of Omri who was a wicked King. Omri was an ambitious man and politically astute. He built the city of Samaria and made it more beautiful than Jerusalem itself. Isaiah, in chapter 28:1, calls Samaria "a glorious beauty, set on the head of a fertile valley." Omri also had great ambitions for the northern kingdom beyond its borders and made all kinds of alliances with foreign nations and also with his brother Judah in order to achieve that end.

 

One of the alliances that he made was with Ethbaal, the king of the Sidonians, also known as the Phoenicians. This was very astute for the Phoenicians, who were a seafaring nation, had influence and power all over the world of that day. In order to advance that cause, Omri had his son Ahab marry the king's daughter Jezebel. She was as pagan as they come and wanted nothing to do with the God of Israel. She would like nothing better than that the worship of God be totally eradicated.

 

The Sidonians were a particularly idolatrous people. They made Baal their principal deity. He was worshiped as the Sun-god, as the god of life and fertility. Originally this pagan god was symbolized by a pagan tree. The Sidonian king Hiram, who was a contemporary of David and Solomon, went one further and built the Golden pillar in the Temple of Tyre, the capital of Phoenicia. The Golden pillar is much more flattering to the god than a tree trunk.

 

Ahab made a duplicate of that pillar and erected it in the city of Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom. Furthermore Ahab set up an Asherah pole. That was in honour of the goddess Astarte. After all, Baal also needed a wife. To add injury to insult, he also appointed numerous priests to maintain the worship of Baal.

 

Another thing that Ahab did was to rebuild Jericho. The Lord God had mentioned to Joshua that that city was not allowed to be rebuilt. Ahab took no notice. He went right ahead. But then we see fulfilled the curse mentioned in Joshua 16:7 that the builder loses both his oldest and his youngest sons.

 

By rebuilding Jericho, Ahab wanted to rewrite history. The ruins of Jericho served as a reminder to God's people how the Lord had rescued them from Egypt and brought them into the promised land; how he had miraculously defeated the enemies before them. Ahab wanted to erase that memory. For that reason he wanted Jericho to be rebuilt. By rebuilding Jericho, he would also have a fort to protect Israel from the Moabites.

 

That is what those who lead unrepentant lives do. They do not want to deal with the past. They want to forge ahead on their own. For if you examine your past that would mean that you have to examine yourself. That would mean that you would have to evaluate your own motivations.

 

And that's true in our own lives as well. Those with psychological problems have difficulty with their past. They want to forget. They want to pretend certain things didn't happen. But you cannot erase the past. If you want to function as a person, and even as a nation for that matter, then you have to deal with where you came from, with your roots, with your history. Ahab wanted nothing to do with Israel's past. He wanted to forge a new path. And that was his undoing.

 

It is not that Ahab was totally against the worship of the Lord, the God of Israel. He also paid lip service to him. That is clear, for example from the names that he gave to his children. He did not give his children pagan names but rather they were Israelite names that included the Lord's name.

 

As we can read in 1 Kings 18:3 he also had Obadiah in his employ as the one in charge of his palace. Obadiah, it says in the passage, was a devout believer of the Lord. Ahab at times even asked the advice of the prophets of the Lord.

 

No doubt Ahab was pricked in his conscience as he thought about the things he was doing. He knew too much about the Lord God. And so he was a conflicted man. But, it was especially Jezebel who, according to 1 Kings 21:25, urged him on. But as he pursues his political ambitions, he suspends his conscience. Ultimately religion did not interest him. He was interested in achieving his own ends by hook or by crook.

 

The problem with Ahab was that he was in love with the things of this world. He was in love with the beauty that this physical world has to offer. That is why he built an opulent palace in Samaria, which was inlaid with ivory. He loved to be the centre of attention and to be a major player in the world. He loved his comforts. It is those things that drove him. It is those things that made him suspend his conscience. Earthly splendour was much more important to him than divine splendour. He was there to create his own glory, rather than to reflect upon and seek the glory of God.

 

Outside of Israel, Ahab had a good name. In 1 Kings 20:31 we read that the king of Aram refers to him positively as a merciful king. He was admired. He was going places. The northern tribes were becoming a nation to be reckoned with. And it was all due to the clever machinations of Ahab. He was on top of the world. Or so he thought.

 

2. It is at this point that the prophet Elijah enters the picture. He appears unexpectedly. 1 Kings 17:1 is the first time he is mentioned. Normally a prophet is first introduced. We are given a bit of background about his family or other details. That is not the case here with Elijah. We do not know anything about him except that he is a Tishbite from Gilead. Perhaps the Holy Spirit wants to indicate by the abruptness of his appearance the urgency of the situation.

 

We read in the text that he spoke directly to Ahab. That was something quite daring. He went, as it were, right into the lions' den. For he knows he is not welcome there. On the contrary, anybody who speaks against the king puts his life into danger. But nevertheless he goes to Samaria, the centre of rebellion against God, and presents himself at the opulent palace of the king of Israel. He rebukes Ahab in no uncertain terms.

 

He begins by stating, "As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives." Every word he uses here is significant. He first of all uses the word "LORD." Please note that every letter is capitalized. Whenever you see that, then you know that the Hebrew word "Yahweh" is used. The name "Yahweh" is used to accentuate God's covenant relationship with his people. It is the name he used when he spoke the first time to Moses in the burning bush. The name means "I am". The name refers to his presence in the past, the present and the future. It refers to the fact that he is alive. It refers to the fact that he alone is the eternal God.

 

Ahab had treated God as if he did not exist. He believed that it did not matter what god you believed in as long as it furthered your own ambitions. But Elijah says God is alive. He is present now. To underscore his point, Elijah states “He lives”.

 

There stands Elijah before the King of Israel who is attired in all his glory, and who is surrounded by his priests to Baal dressed in all their glory in their silken expensive robes. Elijah however, as we know from other Scripture passages, is dressed in a simple hairy animal's skin with a leather girdle. He comes from the back country of Gilead. Gilead was a territory on the other side of the Jordan. It was rugged mountain country. It was not the land of the sophisticated. It was a country of hunters and fishermen and farmers. Elijah did not appear as a refined man.

 

However, inwardly he was more refined than the opulent King and all his entourage with all its splendour combined. Elijah was full of confidence that the Lord, the Creator of heaven and earth, was with him all the way. That is clear from what he says, for he states that he serves the God of Israel. Other translations have that he stands before him. In other words, Elijah knows himself to be in God's presence. He is one of his servants that does his bidding. When he speaks, it is as if God himself speaks.

 

How can Elijah be so confident? It doesn't say anywhere that the Lord spoke to him directly and commanded him to bring these words to Ahab. That is usually the case when prophets come with their proclamations. Elijah, however, knows the Word of God. He knows his Scripture. He knows what the Lord said just before they came into the promised land, namely that he will provide for them and send them rain in its season. But he also knows that if they do not obey the Lord God, that then, as he says in Deuteronomy 11:17, his anger will burn against them and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain, and so that the ground will not yield its produce.

 

When he speaks his judgement upon Ahab, all Elijah is doing is speaking the word of God. All he is doing is stating unequivocally what the Lord God himself has said in his Word. Elijah basically had no choice. He had to act as he did. How could he do otherwise? For normally you would pray for God's blessings, including the blessings on the crop. That is what we would do for God promises to give blessings to his people. But, he promises that only if you are obedient.

 

But how could Elijah pray for blessings under these circumstances? How can you pray for blessings when the leadership of the nation, and the vast majority of the nation itself, is in rebellion against God? Elijah had to pray for the execution of God's justice for he wants repentance. He wants God’s name to be honoured.

 

This was a critical time in the history of God's people. The northern kingdom was about to totally sever their relationship with the Lord God. There are only a few people who were still serving the Lord. For indeed there are those still alive who lived during the reign of Solomon, before the kingdom was split. People in their late 60s and older would have observed how far the northern kingdom had fallen. If things continued the way they were going, then there would be no one left in Israel to serve the Lord.

 

That is why Elijah was compelled to go to Ahab to come with God's curse. He told them that within the next few years there would be neither dew nor rain. That is what God has said, and therefore Elijah knew that this would also happen.

 

And that, brothers and sisters, is what prayer is. It is recalling the word of God as it applies to any specific situation. And God will hear such a prayer. There is no doubt.

 

That's also the way it is for us. For it says in James that Elijah was a man just like us. He is not any different from you and from me. When you pray, then you do so keeping in mind what God has said in his Word. You keep in mind his promises to those who want to serve him and who believe in him. But, you also keep in mind the curse that is upon those who do not want to serve him. An effective prayer can only be done by those who are in tune with the Word of God, by those who believe.

 

It was Elijah's hope that Ahab and the rest of God's people would repent. But sometimes drastic measures are needed in order to bring others to repentance. That was certainly the case here. Ahab thought that God was impotent, that he would not act. He thought that he could do whatever he wanted without incurring God's wrath. And so he had to realize that God does act; he had to realize the implications, not just for himself but also for God's people; that if they continue to go on the way that they were, God's final curse would come upon them and they would be totally alienated from the Lord God, not only in this life, but in the life to come. The Lord God only wants a people around him who want to glorify him.

 

Brothers and sisters, our prayers have to do with our covenant relationship with the Lord God. When we pray then we are in direct communication with him. Prayer is an expression of the covenant relationship that exists between us. We pray on the basis of what God has told us in his Word what would take place. Just look at what has taken place. The church prayed for hundreds and hundreds of years for the coming of the Messiah and he came and he is now seated at the right hand of God to intercede for us. Through him we have the forgiveness of sins. You can be sure of that. The prayer of a righteous man is very effective. Without our prayers, this world would cease to exist. For that is why he made this creation in the first place. It was made to his honour and glory. And when man does not acknowledge that, then his purpose has been thwarted. And that may never happen. Indeed, that cannot happen. For whatever God has in mind for this world will take place.

 

When Elijah prayed that it would not rain, that is indeed what happened. And we may be sure that whatever we pray for will also be fulfilled. We can trust in God that he will hear us as long as we pray in accordance with his will. It may not happen at the exact time that we want, or in a manner in which we ourselves expect but God promises that he will hear our prayers.

 

But can we put ourselves on the same level as Elijah, Elijah the great prophet of the Old Testament? We cannot expect that God will hear us in the same way, can we?

 

Yes brothers and sisters, we can. Without a doubt. As a matter of fact, God will not execute his justice without the prayers of the saints. That is clear, for example, from Revelation 8. We read there that God executes his judgment only because of the prayers of the saints. For it says that the angel of the Lord offered up the prayers of the saints together with the incense and that he filled the censer with fire from the golden altar before the Lord, and that he hurled it upon the earth. At this time there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. It was God's judgment upon those who did not want to repent from their sins. And it was because of the prayers of the saints that God acted.

 

Does that mean then that whatever we pray for, as long as it is promised in God's Word, will immediately happen? No, it doesn't necessarily mean that. It is true that God only listens to the prayer of believers. Just like with Elijah. And the church has to know that when she prays, that then her prayer is very powerful. That is also the case with individual believers.

 

With Elijah, God's Word was immediately executed. Elijah was completely in tune, not only with God's plan, but also with God's timing. God worked his prayer in his heart. Elijah was inspired by the Holy Spirit. But when we speak about inspiration today, we speak about the inspiration of all of God's Word. And the prophecies in God's Word have their fulfillment in different stages and at different times. We don't know when God is going to execute his plan. We don't know either in what way God is going to save us from calamities. It may be that we want certain things to happen right now, but that does not mean that God's time is ripe yet. For we also have to leave open the possibility of repentance. The Lord God is patient.

 

The same thing is true with regard to our personal prayers for healing. God is the God of miracles. He can, if he wants, save us from impending death when we are terminally ill. He can and he does perform miracles. But that does not necessarily mean that that will happen at a specific point in time according to our schedule. Paul also prayed for the removal of the thorn in his flesh, but that did not happen. That did not mean however that God did not save him, and that he did not keep Paul from harm. That did not mean that he did not hear his prayer. He did. Paul is now experiencing indestructibility. He now tastes eternal life with his Father in heaven. Ultimately God fulfills his promises. But he will do that in his time.

 

Unbelievers do not understand the power of prayer. As a matter of fact they have no clue what prayer is all about. Prayer is only for those who believe and who are in a covenant relationship with the Lord their God.

 

The statistical data of secular scientists are bunk. They base their scientific data on preconceived conceptions. They only prove what they set out to prove. They start out as unbelievers and they are confirmed as unbelievers. Because they do not want to listen to the voice of God, their methodology is flawed from the very start.

 

Such flaws are seen in their analyses wherein they include all kinds of people, those who pray to Buddha or to Allah; and those who pray for silly things such as the winning of a football game. Does God hear those prayers? How can you scientifically prove prayer? It's impossible. It is a matter of faith. It is a matter of understanding and of applying God's Word.

 

Brothers and sisters, boys and girls, the Lord our God is the God full of purpose. He rules all things. And he is going to bring this world to its final destination. All those who have not repented from their sins, who have ridiculed God and his people and who have persecuted them, they will experience God's wrath.

 

The Lord God is a God of justice. He will not allow his name to be blasphemed. He will vindicate himself. And he also will vindicate his children. He will punish those who blatantly and deliberately go against him and who do not want to repent.

 

But in the midst of all this, we as children of the Lord God will be preserved. Just like he preserved Elijah. Elijah was not afraid. And we do not have to be afraid either. The Lord God will rescue us.

 

And so, pray to him when you are afraid. Pray to him when you are in difficulty. He will hear you. And he will answer your prayer. There is no doubt about it. Amen

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.edmontonimmanuel.ca

(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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