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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
Title:Limping Along
Text:1 Kings 18.19-21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Limping Along


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, every now and then the Lord brings His people to a crossroads, to a point in time where they are forced to choose between two opinions or options. In Joshua 24, after Israel had conquered the land of Canaan, Joshua called the people together to renew the covenant. He said to them: throw away the gods your forefathers worshipped beyond the River and in Egypt… and choose you this day whom you will serve


Or think of Ruth, a young Moabite widow. She was faced with a difficult choice as well. She could choose to remain in Moab with her own people and worship the pagan gods of her youth. Or she could stay by the side of her mother-in-law Naomi, an Israelite woman, and move to Bethlehem and call Naomi’s people her people, and Naomi’s God, her God.


And then there’s the passage we read today. Here, Elijah calls Israel to stop wavering between two opinions and to decide once and for all who is God: Is Baal the real God, or is the Lord the God of Israel the real God? What will they choose? Who will they choose?          


It is important for us to realize as well that someday soon God is going to make His choice. Joel 3:14 speaks of the multitudes standing in the “Valley of Decision”. That passage is pointing forward to the Final Judgment, to the Day of Judgment, when the Lord will come and judge the nations. On that day, all the people from all nations will be summoned before Him, and on that Day God will Choose. On the Day of Decision, the Lord will separate the sheep from the goats; those who know Him and love Him, from those who chose to live their own lives and reject Him.


And the choices we make every day, the decisions about which way to go, the choice of whether we speak up for Christ or remain silent, of deciding who and what we love -- all of those choices will come to light on that great and final day.


That is why the question that this passage posed in this text is so pertinent and so urgent for us as well. Are we also limping along between two opinions? What do our daily choices say about our love and allegiance to God? So let’s take a closer look at our passage. Here Elijah Summons Ahab and All Israel to a Spiritual Showdown on Mt. Carmel. Let’s consider these three points:

1. The Sovereign Summons

2. The Special Setting

3. The Shameful Silence


1. The Sovereign Summons

First, we see the Sovereign Summons. There is something of a surprise here in our text, even a divine mystery at work. As we pointed out last week, Ahab is spiritually blind, meaning that sin has blinded him to the fact that as the King of Israel, he was responsible for Israel’s demise.  


He is blind to the fact that his disobedience to the law and his introduction of Baal worship has brought God’s wrath down upon the land. The land has seen neither dew nor rain for the past 3 years. Elijah told Ahab in chapter 17 that the dew and rain would not return accept at his word.


After that, Elijah disappeared. He left Samaria and withdrew to a brook near the Kerith Ravine east of the Jordan. After the brook dried up, God sent him north to Zarephath in Sidon where he stayed by a widow and her son. And as I Kings 18: 10 says, all this time, Ahab sent people to all nations and kingdoms, searching for Elijah.


But finally, it was Elijah who found Ahab. And it was Elijah who summoned Ahab to come before him. And now it is Elijah who stands before king Ahab and in a most remarkable fashion.  He not only brings charges against the king for his great wickedness, but he commands the king. He instructs Ahab to call the prophets of Baal and Asherah, and all of the people of Israel to gather on Mt. Carmel for this ultimate showdown – to prove once and for all who is God.


A.W. Pink notes that this demonstrates Elijah’s boldness – that he was endowed with extraordinary authority from the Lord. A.W. Pink even cites Luke 1.17 (which talks about John the Baptist), and how John would go forth before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah.


But a question is raised: why did wicked Ahab so willingly comply? Some commentators argue that Ahab was desperate. Ahab had no other choice. He was backed into a corner. But is that really the case here? Isn’t it true, haven’t we ourselves witnessed the fact that many kings, many Prime Ministers and Presidents (even in the midst of desperate situations) still double down on their stupidity and pride and ignorance? They are too stubborn to admit that they are wrong.


I believe that what we see here is something different. I believe that the Lord (through his prophet Elijah) is exercising his sovereign will and dominion over the heart and mind of the king. The Lord -- for the sake of His mercy and compassion upon his people -- is wielding his sovereignty over Ahab, causing him to be complicit.


Just recall how the Lord exercised his sovereignty over Pharaoh in Egypt. Even after Pharoah had agreed to let Israel go, we’re told that the Lord once more hardened Pharoah’s heart against Moses and Israel so that he would not let Israel go.


That resulted in the Lord displaying the power and glory of his name by performing all those powerful signs and wonders in Egypt -- and showing Pharoah and all of Egypt, as well as the Israelites in bondage, that there is but one God, the Lord is God – that He is God even in Egypt, even over Pharoah, and over all the so called gods of Egypt.


God demonstrated his power once more many years later when the people of Judah were in captivity in Babylon. God conquered Babylon with the armies of the Medes and Persians. And then God used Cyrus, whom he called his servant, the king of Persia, to allow the captives to return to Jerusalem, to repair the walls of Zion and rebuild the temple of the Lord.


It was the same way in the days leading up to the birth of Jesus. Boys and girls, remember how the Lord used mighty Caesar – causing him to issue a decree that the whole world should be taxed. That royal decree made Joseph and Mary return to Bethlehem, all to bring about the fulfillment of Scriptures and the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ in the little town of Bethlehem.


And of course, the same was true once more when Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified under Pontius Pilate. God in his sovereignty, according his set purpose and foreknowledge, ordained that His Son would be handed over to sinful men and be crucified to death on the cruel cross, all so that God’s divine plan of salvation could be fulfilled! So that we could be saved!    


I want us to be encouraged by this beloved. I want us to take great comfort and peace and assurance in the knowledge that our God reigns. He reigns over all people, over all nations, and over all kings and political parties – even over the powers and principalities of Satan. Our hope, our deliverance, our future does not depend upon who wins the next election, or who takes up residence at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa or 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington DC.


Yet, it is here where we Christians often show our weakness. We show how little faith we have in God and how shortsighted we can be. We limp between two opinions because we often put too much hope in the political process; or we allow a sense of national pride and patriotism to overshadow our heavenly perspective, and we forget that this nation, like all nations, will rise and fall – but God’s kingdom is eternal.    


Let us remember that the destiny of all nations, the decisions of all kings and Presidents and Prime Ministers is not only known by God, but it is ultimately determined by God. I know that it is easy to be alarmed when we see the direction of all things. And yes, as Christians, whenever possible, should take an active role in our government and we should speak out and let our voice be heard and push for change.


But even if we are ignored at every turn – we need never be discouraged. For, we know that Jesus reigns. Jesus reigns over Canada, over Alberta and over Calgary. The Lord continues to exercise his dominion over the hearts and minds and wills of our rulers. Even though they may do evil and wicked things, and may even persecute us and outlaw Christianity – in the end we may trust and believe that God will use even that to accomplish his perfect ends. So, take heart. Be of good courage and put your faith and trust in God.



2. The Special Setting

Notice secondly, the special setting for this confrontation, for this showdown between Baal and the Lord. Elijah commands Ahab to issue a summons to the prophets of Baal and to the people of Israel to gather at Mt. Carmel. But why here? Mt Carmel was situated right along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and it stretches out for over 11 miles.


It was not the highest peak, but it rose dramatically above the plains below. It was also known for its natural beauty and richness. It is mentioned in Isaiah 25:1-2: The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.


Commentator Dale Ralph Davis writes how this mountain was well known and that it had a long history. The Egyptians called it the ‘Holy Head” suggesting that the way the top of the mountain was spread out that it served more than once as a sanctuary or a place of worship. He also suggests that Mt. Carmel may have been ‘sacred ground’ for Baal. That would add some extra meaning to this location – as Elijah has chosen to battle Baal on his home turf as it were.   


But also, take note of 1 Kings 18:30. It says there was an altar of the Lord there that was in ruins. This altar should have never been built, because God’s people were commanded to bring their sacrifices to Jerusalem. But Elijah will repair this altar and he will use it for this occasion.


A.W. Pink (quoting John Simpson) summed this up: as Elijah designed to put the worship of Jehovah on a firm foundation…it should take place most publicly, and on an elevated spot, on the summit of lofty Carmel, and in the presence of all Israel. He would have them all to be convened on this occasion, that they might witness with their own eyes both the absolute power and sovereignty of Jehovah, who service they had renounced, and the entire vanity of those idolatrous systems which had been substituted for it.


So the scene is set. The summons has been issued. The setting has been chosen. And this is when Elijah puts a question to the people: vs. 21: Elijah went before the people and said: how long will you waver (limp along) between two opinions? If the Lord is God follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him. Then we read: But the people said nothing.


3. The Shameful Silence

This is where we consider the Shameful Silence. Elijah puts this question to the Bride, to the covenant people of the Lord, the very people whom the Lord God delivered out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. The very people whom the Lord guided in the wilderness with his hedge of protection all around them, going before them in a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.


This was the people whom the Lord fed with manna from heaven and water from the Rock – both were divine signs of the Lord’s power and presence – the presence of God’s eternal Son who would reveal Himself as the Living Water and the Manna that came down from heaven!


This was the same Lord who gave them victory in the land over all their enemies, even over the giants in the land. It was the Lord who fought for them -- so that very often the people never had to lift a sword. Again and again, the Lord delivered them. The Lord fought for them. The Lord provided for them. He was gracious and forgiving, all-powerful and everywhere present!


Yet, in Ahab’s day, Israel had forgotten who she was – as the chosen and precious people of the Lord. And she had forgotten her calling to serve and love the Lord. Israel has lost her footing. She is wavering, limping along, ‘sitting on the fence’ is what we usually call it. Yes, there is an awareness of God, but now king Ahab has come along and given them another option.  


He and his wife Jezebel have ushered in an age of enlightenment, a modern age of a plurality of gods. Remember, Baal and Asherah were Jezebels gods, the gods of the Sidonians. And they attributed the same creative power and attributes to Baal as Israel did to the Lord, so why should Israel think that their God was the only God, or that Baal was any less of a god than Israel’s God? So why not be fair and let everyone worship the god or gods they prefer, or both if they wanted! We can see how very modern and forward thinking this is.


And who knows, perhaps the people of Israel liked this new religion. We sinners get bored very easily. Especially when it comes to church and religion -- we tend to be drawn to innovation, and to the promises and perks that there’s something new, something better, something that can really engage us. And Baal had lots to offer.


Baal worship was unlike anything Israel had experienced before. The people believed that Baal was in control of sexuality and fertility, and so Baal worship involved sexual relations and orgies with temple prostitutes – male and female and homosexuals and lesbians. One author said that it also involved sexual relations with children and animals. So, that was certainly something new!


Pastor Philip Ryken explains that the people of Israel had divided hearts. They wanted a little worship of the Lord, but also a little casual worship of Baal on the side. He states: “We too live in a culture that limps between multiple opinions.’


Beloved, we have come to expect this from the world. It is no surprise to see unbelieving neighbors, and social media influencers, and popular movie stars, and sports icons and other celebrities limp along – wavering between two or even many opinions. They are blowing in the wind; they serve whatever gods are trending. Whatever god or fads are politically correct, that get the biggest following. Again, we expect that.


But what about us in the church? What is happening among God’s own people? Are we not also limping along, wavering between opinions? Yes, we have faith in God. We come to church. We praise the Lord as the God of our salvation…but then what?   


Then we go limping along in our work week, wavering in our love and devotion. As a pastor and elders, we claim that we love the Lord and want to serve God, yet we so often lack the zeal to defend the honor of the Lord. We lack the ‘spirit and power of Elijah’ to preach the truth boldly, to make pointed application, or as elders, to go on our home visits and challenge God’s people to stop complaining about the faults or problems with the church and start offering solutions.    


We claim to love and serve God, but I want to do that on my own terms. God has to accept me for who I am. Some people in the church today hold firmly to the belief that they (and even pastors) can be a Christian and be gay or lesbian or whatever sexual identity they are. The worship of Baal is ongoing, isn’t it?  


We claim to love God, yet we allow ourselves to indulge “just a little bit” in our sinful passions and lusts during the week. We watch some porn, but maybe not as much as we once did, or not as much as our friends. We claim to love God, but we still get drunk with our friends – just a little fun.  


We claim to love God, but we refuse to give up control in our lives. We are determined to do things our way, to pursue the course that we think is best – and we pray that God will see the wisdom of us doing things our way, and we have the audacity to ask God to bless us in the end.    


We claim to love God, and we say we have faith in God, but truth is we have deep trust issues. We pray, but we never stop worrying. We confess, “God knows what is best, and always does what is good,” until God does something that we don’t like or that we cannot accept. Then we harbor a spirit of anger and bitterness and resentment against God.


Beloved, I think you realize by now that we could just keep going. In that way, we’re really not that different from Israel are we? Far too often we sit in shameful silence -- not willing to choose; not wanting to choose for the simple reason that we don’t want to give up our sinful ways, or we don’t want to give up our independence.


We say we love God, but we also love our idols and our sinful ways. And we go on limping along each day. Today God calls you and me to stop limping and stop wavering right now.


God calls us to return to Him! To worship Him alone; to love him alone – with all our heart, soul mind and strength. And, while Elijah is about to prove that point on Mt Carmel, our God has already proven that point to us on Mt. Calvary – where Jesus suffered and died for us.


What more does God have to say to us than He has already said! And, what more can God do for us that what He has already done? He has shown us his great love, and he has freely offered up his one and only Son, the greatest gift, the most precious sacrifice imaginable – all for unworthy, undeserving sinners like you and me. And what does God ask of us in return?


God demands all of us, all of the time! Not part of us, part of the time. Or some of us, some of the time. And not with half-heartedness and all our doubts and uncertainty – demanding that God has to prove himself to us again and again.


No. God calls us to love and to serve him and to trust him with all our heart, with all our soul (all our being, all that is within us), and with our mind (our thoughts, our concerns, our wonders and worries – we give them up to Him), and all our strength.


In other words, God calls us to love Him, to serve Him, to worship him and to follow Him with absolute trust and certainty – believing only in Him; never wavering, never doubting. Not because we have such strong faith, but because of who God is. Because God wholly and completely reliable and trustworthy and worthy of our praise and honor and glory and worship.   


Today God comes to you and me at this crossroads of our lives – and He says” stop limping along.  So let us start striding forward in faith -- following hard after God. Let us live our faith “out loud” so to speak, unashamed to live for Christ. Unashamed to show by our daily decisions that we worship the Lord our God, the One True God of heaven and earth. Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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