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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
 www.edmontonimmanuel.ca
 
Title:Respect the Office Bearer Who Comes with the Truth of the Word of God
Text:1 Kings 17: 17-24 (View)
Occasion:Ordination (Elder/Deacon)
Topic:Administering God's Blessing
 
Preached:2010-06-06
Added:2010-09-24
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Sing:  Psalm 86: 1, 4

Sing: Psalm 103: 1, 2, 4, 6, 7

 Read: 1 Kings 17: 1-16

Sing: Psalm 42: 1, 2, 3, 5

Text: 1 Kings 17: 17-24

Sing: Psalm 105: 6, 7, 8

Sing: Psalm 134: 1, 2, 3

Sing: Psalm : 40: 1, 2, 4

* 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 and Saviour Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters,


It is wonderful to be an office bearer. That is why Paul also says in his letter to Timothy that he who sets his heart on being an overseer desires a noble task (1Timothy 3:1). But, it is not always easy. For in this role you also expose yourself to criticism. As an office bearer you stand out from the rest and become a lightning rod. You will attract both praise and criticism. It's not hard to take praise but criticism is something else. That can be hard and demoralizing. Especially when you receive criticism for trying to do good.


 That is also what Elijah found. He truly was a man of God. He was eager to do good and to be God's mouthpiece. Israel was in the grip of Satan and had to be brought back on the right path. Otherwise the Israelites would be lost. They would be under the condemnation of the Lord God, just like the heathen nations. Israel had to come to repentance and especially Israel's king, Ahab. And so as a warning Elijah proclaimed that there would be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at his word.

 

But that is not a popular message. On the contrary. It makes Ahab very angry. That often happens when an office bearer has to come with warnings to those who are going astray. Because of our sinful nature we do not like those warnings. We don't like to be thought of as being in the wrong. We do not like others to interfere in our lives. When an office bearer comes with the truth then we may become angry, especially if we are unrepentant and want to continue along the same path.

 

That certainly was the case with Ahab. He was very angry at the words of Elijah. Therefore Elijah had to go into hiding. First he hid in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. There the Lord, in a miraculous way, provided him with food and drink by enabling him to drink from the brook and sending the ravens to feed him. Then the Lord God sent him to Zarephath in the heathen country of Sidon. He sent him to a starving widow and her son. He also performed a miracle there. All that the widow had was a jar of flour and a jug of oil. But the Lord made sure that that jar of flour was not used up and that the jug of oil did not run dry. She was prepared to die, together with her son. She was resigned to the fact that she would starve to death. But then the Lord God proves himself to be the God of life. In a miraculous way he provides for her and her son, and for Elijah. She had no choice but to admit that this miracle was from God, the God of Israel. There was no doubt in her mind.

 

But now in our text we see that the Lord God not only gives life, but he also takes life. He takes the life of her son. And that makes her angry and bitter. First the Lord God made sure that she is kept alive. But now death enters into the picture, the death of her son. How can the Lord God, the God of Israel, do that to her? She is confused and angry and she lashes out at Elijah. She accuses him of being judgmental and arrogant. She accuses him of reminding her of her sin.

 

Her dispute, of course, is actually with the Lord God. He is the one who took the life of the boy. Elijah is only God's mouthpiece, his messenger. But Elijah is a much easier target than the Lord.

 

What do you think her problem is? The problem is that she lacks faith. She does not understand the ways of God. By accusing Elijah she accuses the Lord God. She does not respect the God of Israel, and therefore she does not respect his messenger either.

 

And so, how can Elijah get her to respect him in his office, and thereby also respect the Word of God? For if you do not respect the office bearer who comes with the Word of God then you reject God himself. That is what we will deal with this morning. The theme is as follows:

 

Respect the Office Bearer Who Comes with the Truth of the Word of God. We will see:

1. The tension in God's word;

2. The authority of God's word;

3. The power of God's word.

 

What a difference Elijah's presence made in the life of the widow and her son. At one time there was nothing but doom and gloom. The land was doomed because of the drought. Crops could not grow. People, especially the poor people who could not afford the rising prices of food, were dying of hunger.

 

That was also the fate of the widow of Zarephath. Can you imagine being in a situation like that? She felt helpless. There was nothing she could do. She would have wondered why this was happening to her and her son and her people. She would have wondered if they had done something wrong, and that therefore the gods were against them. The Sidonians, just like all the other heathen nations around Israel, believed that your fate was in the hands of the capricious gods. They rewarded you and punished you according to the things that you have done. And the people believed that you had to appease them with various sacrifices and rituals. Maybe they didn’t do enough, the widow may have wondered.

 

But suddenly everything changes, at least in regard to the widow and her son. Elijah appears out of nowhere and he gives her hope and life. Because of him there is once again food on the table. She understands that this came about because he was a man of God, a man of the God of Israel. At least that God smiled favourably upon her and her son. He had given her and her son their lives back. He had given her hope and security and peace. Elijah had once again brought joy into her home. He befriended her and her son. He was kind to her and treated her with respect.

 

But then things changed again. Her son died. It was only a brief illness. The one day he was healthy and vibrant and the next day he was dead. She right away perceived that this has everything to do with Elijah and the God of Israel. It was his doing. And so she blames Elijah and says to him in effect, "If you had not been here, the child would not have died." She was full of bitterness and anger. She had been promised life, but instead she received death. She thought that God was rewarding her for her obedience in making a meal for this man of God. She did this even though it was, as far as she knew, from the last of the flour and the last of the oil. But what does she now receive instead? She receives punishment. At least, that is how she sees it from her perspective. For that is the kind of theology that she had been brought up with. That is the theology of the heathens. That is how the gods of the heathens deal with the people.

 

Now she translates that same kind of thinking to the God of Israel. She comes to the conclusion that God's word is unreliable and untrue. And she identifies God with Elijah. Rightly so, for Elijah did come in the name of the Lord, and he did make the Lord's name known to her.

 

However, Elijah himself is also in the dark. Elijah did not immediately have an answer. He is perplexed as well. He does not understand why God is doing this either.

 

Indeed, that is often the way it is. We do not always have the answers. For we too at times wonder why certain things happen to us and not to others. When a loved one dies, especially if it is unexpected, we wonder "Why us?" "What have we done to deserve this?" Or when other calamities happen to us: an accident, financial ruin, poverty, sexual or other abuse at the hands of loved ones then we grope for answers. "Why?" "Why did that have to happen to me?" And we do not have a direct answer from God. He leaves us in the dark, or so it seems.

 

That's also the way it was for Elijah. Even though Elijah was a prophet of God and an office bearer of his church, he did not have a specific answer either. That is clear from what he said in his prayer to God. He cried out to the Lord asking him why he brought tragedy upon this widow by causing her son to die. He was just as perplexed as the widow.

 

But he does not ask what God has against him, like the widow does. And that is the difference between him and her. Elijah asks in faith. He seeks his answer with God because he knows that only with God, the God of Israel, the God of truth, will the answer be found. That is also what Job did in the midst of his many troubles. He continued to seek the Lord. He continued to seek answers with him. He allowed himself to be led by the Word of God as he clung on to the promises of God confessing in the midst of calamity the knowledge that his Redeemer lives.

 

In the midst of tragedy we also can and are allowed to ask God why these things happen to us. Even the Lord Jesus Christ himself cried out on the cross, "Why have you forsaken me?" But he also asked in faith. He even knew exactly what purpose God the Father had in having him hang on the cross. He knew that he had to die for the sins of the people. His question was designed to draw attention to his suffering.

 

That is the case here with Elijah as well. Elijah knows that the Lord God is a just God and deals with his children in compassion. He knows that God is not punishing anyone in this. It is the result of sin that these kinds of things happen. When adversity strikes, we may know that that happens because of the sin that we ourselves brought into the world. But we also know that the Lord will turn to our good whatever adversity comes our way. How he will turn it into our good is not always immediately clear. It usually becomes clear later. That is also the case here. The Lord had a specific purpose in taking the life of the widow’s son. That brings us to the second point, namely the authority of God's Word.

 

2. What purpose would God have in taking the life of the widow's son? It does seem odd and contradictory. First he saves them through the miracle of the replenishing flour and oil, and then he brings about the death of the child.

 

From the text, God's purpose is clear. Look at what it says in verse 24. After Elijah revived the child the widow exclaims that now she is convinced that Elijah is a man of God and that the word of the Lord from his mouth is the truth. That's the conclusion she was forced to come to.

 

You see, up until this she only believed in Elijah's God because of the sign, because of the miracle that he performed every day by making sure that the flour and the oil would not be used up. That daily miracle was a sign of God's goodness, and God's control over all things. It was a sign of his power and majesty. But that sign was given for a purpose. It was given to make her understand something very important. Through this widow the Lord wanted to show Israel and all believers that God's miracles have a purpose. A sign points to something. We may not depend on the sign itself, but on what it signifies, on what it points to.

 

Israel had been given many signs from God. The Lord God had performed many miracles among them. And yet, look at what happened. They were no longer serving the Lord. For example, the Lord God gave the Ark of the Covenant as a sign of his presence. So they removed the Ark from the holy of holies and took it along in a battle against the Philistines. They depended on the sign and not on God himself. How the Lord punished them for this, for they did not realize the significance of the sign. That sign of God's presence was meant for them to lead holy lives, for them to lead lives that show that they trust in the Lord God who is able to save them from destruction, from Satan, from sin.

 

The same thing we find today. There are those who make more of the sign of God's presence than they are supposed to. Take the sign and the seal of baptism as an example. That is also a sign of God's presence and of his benevolence towards us. It signifies that God is true to his promises. It signifies that we are children of God and that he loves us.

 

And yet, we can become complacent and think that because we have the sign and the seal on our foreheads and are God's children that therefore we don't have to worry so much about how we live. We are his children anyway. We belong to the true church and so we can relax and live like the world a little bit. We can have the best of both worlds. What can happen to us? We can do whatever we want with our possessions and live like the world. As long as we go to church, it doesn't really matter what we do.

 

The widow believed in God only because of the miracle, because of the sign. It is for that reason that the Lord God had to interfere in her life. She had to come to true faith. She could not just believe in God because of the sign that he gave to her of his presence, of his goodness. No, she had to go beyond that. She had to believe in the real thing. She had to believe in God himself. She had to believe that everything is in God's control, both life and death; that he is the one who is in control of her life and that she must honour and give glory to his name in all circumstances of life. She had to understand how God deals with his people. He does not act in a capricious or whimsical way. He does not punish us, as the Psalm says, and also as we sang together, in Psalm 104, according to our transgressions. He is a merciful God. He is a loving God, a God who wants to lead us to the truth.

 

Our lives here on earth are temporary. It is like a breath. And he the Lord God wants us to realize that. Therefore we have to put our trust in God.

 

At this point the widow had no inkling yet of these things. She believed in God only because of the miracle. But as soon as calamity struck, she was confused and angry. She had the wrong view of God. And therefore she also had the wrong view of God's prophet. She did not yet fully grasp the power of God and the power of his word spoken through the prophet who comes with the truth of God. That brings us to our third and final point.

 

3. As I said, Elijah himself was perplexed as to why God did what he did. But, he knew that the Lord God had a specific purpose with the death of the boy. And he also knew that he had to continue to put his trust in the Lord God. And so what did he do? He went into action and took the boy into the upper room where he was staying and laid him on his bed. And then he prayed to the Lord. He implored him to let the boy's life return. By stretching himself out on the boy three times it is as if he wills his own life to flow into the dead body of the boy. But Elijah knows that only God can put breath back into the boy's body for there is no doubt that at this point the boy is truly dead. For the Hebrew literally says that no breath remained in the body.

 

The Lord hears Elijah's cry for help. He grants him his wish. The life returns to the boy. It is a great moment. It is a moment of triumph. This is the first time in the history of God's people that someone was actually brought back from death to life. And the Lord God performed this miracle by means of the office that he had established. While he brought about the death of the child directly, without using any office bearer, in this case he used the prophet Elijah to restore life. For it was clear that this was a direct answer to Elijah's prayer.

 

Why did the Lord God do that? Why did he use Elijah to restore life? He did that first of all, so that the widow could affirm not only the truth of God, but also the truth of the words of God spoken by Elijah. It was to make Elijah effective in her eyes. She had to see him as an instrument in God's hand. She had to know that God speaks through him. And that therefore he is very special.

 

That is also what Israel had to know. For this is also a sign to them. Israel had to know that Elijah is a man of God who comes with the word of God, with his authority, and with his power. Office bearers are important instruments in God's hand to come with the truth. That is important to remember also with regard to the office bearers that we have in front of us here this morning and who are about to enter into their office. They are mere men, they are sinful men but so was Elijah. It says about Elijah in James 5:17 that Elijah was a man just like us. He was not any different. In other words he did not have any more power than anyone else. He was just as sinful as everybody else.

 

But do you know what made Elijah so special? Elijah was a man of prayer. He believed in the power of prayer. It was only for that reason that God granted him his wish. Without prayer Elijah could not have been as effective as he was.

 

That is true for office bearers as well. These office bearers are also mere men. They are not any different from any of us. They are not more worthy, less sinful, or more deserving. But because of God's power, and because God wants to use them as instruments in his hand, they are very important. They are essential in the life of the church for they too can come to you with the Word of God. They too can speak about the words of life when they come into your homes for their visits, and as they counsel you, and as they speak to you and with you about your concerns.

 

You may say, but with Elijah we could see direct results. God performed a miracle when he prayed. He brought the boy from death to life. We couldn't do that. Indeed, it is true that we cannot expect the exact same result. Elijah worked at a time when God's word was scarce. At that time they did not have the complete Bible. God spoke to his people through the prophets.

 

But now we do have the complete Word of God. And therefore we do not have to perform obvious signs or miracles. Ultimately it is not the miracles that bring people to faith. We see that throughout the Old Testament. No, as a matter of fact, miracles can sometimes stand in the way. As we saw it can make people complacent. Actually, miracles happen every day. The way that God creates life and sustains life is miraculous. The way this creation is put together is totally awesome. We see God's power and majesty all around us. But most people are blind to these things. So the office bearer has to help open their eyes to the fact that God is alive and is involved in its creation, and he is especially involved with his people. Oh sure, this world is marred by sin and the effects of sin. But God’s love and care for his creation is still so obvious.

 

For now we live after the complete victory of the Lord Jesus Christ over sin and death. And we know that the final manifestation of his victory is just around the corner. The Lord Jesus is going to come again. We are so much richer than the Old Testament believer. For now an office bearer can point to the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ over the effects of sin. The author of the letter to the Hebrews says in Chapter 2:14 that the Lord Jesus Christ shared in our humanity, and here it comes, "so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death -- that is, the devil -- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death."

 

Office bearers come with the words of life. They may speak to the people about the fact that God has created life, and that he also renews life. That applies not only to physical life, but also and especially to our spiritual life. We are surrounded by death. At times we bury our loved ones. The great hope that you and I may come with is that God gives life to those who believe. "How beautiful are the feet of those who come with good news!"

 

That doesn't just apply to the minister. That applies to the office bearer as well. You too may be an instrument of God's hand to bring about renewed spiritual life. Those people who are bogged down in their sins and who have difficulty clawing their way out of the deep hole that they have dug for themselves, can be lifted up and renewed as you share with them the word of God.

 

The task of an office bearer is a wonderful task. But don't think that you will always be appreciated. Don't think that you won't be met with opposition at times and that you won't be criticized. People do not always want to hear the truth. Bringing someone from death to life means that at times you have to warn and exhort and apply discipline.

 

As an office bearer you have to walk a straight line. You are not in office to please people first of all, but to please the Lord your God. At all times you have to be focused on God's Word and his promises, just like Elijah did. And then the Lord God will also bless your ministry. Don't be discouraged by the naysayers, the complainers, and the negative people; by those who give you their condolences because you have been chosen as an office bearer. No, you may be congratulated, congratulated that God wants to use you as an instrument in his hand to make the life in his congregation flourish.

 

And the Lord God wants you to be diligent in the way that you apply this word. For we are sinful people and we need to be directed and redirected by the word of God. For sometimes office bearers make mistakes and then we have to get back on the right path. Office bearers are not always tactful and considerate enough. But love covers a multitude of sins.

 

God loves his people. And he also wants us to love one another.  He showed his love through Elijah. He wanted his people to live. Therefore he took drastic measures to get their attention. He gave them drought to bring them on their knees. But after drought comes rain – Life. And that's what he gives to his people who listen to him and to those whom he sends. 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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