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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
 www.bethelurc.org
 
Title:God's Turn
Text:1 Kings 18.20-30; Lord's Day 34 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Counterfeit god
 
Preached:2023-03-12
Added:2023-03-14
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Songs (TPH): 

29B

211 

68A (1-2)

68A (7, 8, 12)

 

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


God’s Turn

I Kings 18: 30-40

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, the last words of our text from this morning would make a perfect epitaph on the tombstone of Baal – or of Dagon, the god of the Philistines, and of every other false god found in the Bible or in ancient times or modern times: there was no response. No one answered. No one paid attention.

 

The prophets of Baal had created their own god, and then like little children playing with a toy telephone, they tried talking on the phone for 6 hours. But Baal did not reply. They even tried shouting louder, and dancing harder, and cutting themselves with swords so that Baal could see how desperate and zealous they were – but still they could not get Baal to respond.

 

That’s because false gods are no different than toy phones. You can pretend to be talking to someone on the other end all day long – but there’s no one there. It’s all pretend.  

 

Now that Baal has been exposed as the false and pretend god that he is -- it’s Elijah’s turn – or to be more precise, it’s the Lord’s turn. Here in our passage tonight, we see that Fire from the Lord Reveals that Israel’s God is God Alone!   

 

1. Elijah’s Thorough Preparations

2. Elijah’s Simple Prayer

3. Elijah’s Holy Zeal    

 

1. Elijah’s Thorough Preparations

As the shadows fell across the land, and the time of the evening sacrifice drew near, all the clamor, noise and frenzy of Baal’s worshippers was silenced. They were no doubt exhausted and not a little ashamed and embarrassed. That’s when Elijah called the people to draw near to him. In a way, he was calling them to worship.

 

They gathered round him, and the first thing Elijah did was repair the altar of the Lord. I pointed out in a previous sermon that this altar should not have been there. All of God’s people were to worship the Lord at Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. So, this was an unsanctioned and unauthorized high place. This was a violation of the second commandment – not to worship the Lord in any other way than God commands in his Word. But at this moment, Elijah has a purpose for it.

 

Notice what Elijah did – verse 31: He gathered 12 stones, one to represent each of the tribes descended from Jacob. Jacob was the grandson of Abraham, and it was to Jacob that God had given the name Israel. Elijah took those 12 stones and re-built an altar to the Lord.   

 

Do you notice anything significant or unusual about this – that Elijah gathered 12 stones, not 10? Why is that significant? Many years before this, the kingdom of Israel was torn into two because of Solomon’s sin of idolatry. When Solomon’s son Rehoboam succeeded him as king, that’s when Jeroboam the son of Nebat led a revolt. The 10 tribes in the north gave their allegiance to him, while the two tribes in the south (Judah and Simeon) remained loyal to Rehoboam.

 

But, from that point on, the two kingdoms would remain divided – with each having their own territory, their own kings, and each fighting their own wars, and sometimes even fighting each other. But Elijah gathers 12 stones representing the full house of Israel. AW Pink stated that Elijah viewed Israel from a divine standpoint – and I think that’s a profound point.

 

“In the mind of God, the nation had appeared before Him as One from all eternity. Though outwardly they are two – God sees them as one, and Elijah, who walks by faith and not by sight – also deals with them accordingly.” I think this is a wonderful encouragement and reminder to us about the way God sees his Church on earth.

 

Yes, the church of Jesus Christ on earth is a divided church. We are scattered among the nations – speaking different languages, steeped in our own cultures and traditions. And even here in our own nation, the church of Jesus Christ is divided by theological issues or petty disagreements or by liturgical preferences and thus (due to our own sin and weakness) there are countless little kingdoms all over Canada and the United States and the rest of the nations of the world. Yet, our God sees not many churches, but one church. God sees his Bride, his Flock, His Body, His Royal Priesthood, a Holy Nation, a People belonging to Him -- and God deals with us accordingly.

 

And we can be greatly encouraged to know that each day God continues to gather his stones unto himself, one by one, soul by soul. And God’s design is that on the Great and Glorious Day of His return, He will call all these scattered stones together, from all their various places and denominations, and then his church shall be One. His ‘altar’ shall be repaired and complete.

 

After Elijah gathered the 12 stones to build the altar, he dug a trench around the altar – more on that in a moment. Then he arranged the wood, cut the sacrificial bull into pieces and arranged the pieces on the wood. Now comes the unusual and remarkable part. Elijah ordered whoever was assisting him to fill four large jars with water and to pour it on the offering and on the wood.

 

Now, there’s a few things here that command our attention. The first thing we have to ask is where did Elijah get the water? The entire land had been suffering from a severe drought for the past 3 years. But then we recall that Mt Carmel was situated right along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, so it is almost certain that they used sea water for dowsing the altar.  

 

Notice also, there are 4 large jars which are filled three times and poured out on the altar and the wood – so how many jars of water in total? Twelve again -- just like the 12 stones. While we may not be able to discern the exact meaning of all of this – we know that this was not random. God had a perfect reason for this. He’s calling his people to covenant renewal and faithfulness.

 

But of course, the most unusual and even outrageous aspect of Elijah’s preparation is that he commanded that the altar, the wood, and the sacrifice be drenched with water -- so much so that the water filled the trench that was dug around the altar.

 

Boys and girls, I’m sure many of you have gone camping before, and I’m also sure you know that if you want to start a fire, you need some dry wood, right? And you take some of your kindling, maybe some dry leaves or small sticks, and you get that all set up. Then surrounding that you might lean a few smaller pieces of dry wood that can easily catch fire. And then you’re all set. But what would happen if you took not just one 5 gallon bucket of water – but 3 of them – and dumped that water all over the firewood so that you’ve got a huge puddle around the wood pile. You can try to light that wood on fire, but it’s not going to light. It’s soaking wet. It’s practically impossible to catch fire.

 

And this was Elijah’s point here. In drenching the altar and the wood with hundreds of gallons of water, it would appear that Elijah was once more stacking the odds against himself. But Elijah is not at all fearful or worried, because Elijah knows the power and might of His almighty God – he knows that nothing is impossible for God.  

 

The more implausible and unlikely and even impossible the answer to his prayer would seem to be, the more glorified God would be!! So, go ahead and pour on the water, and then watch as the God of Israel does the impossible!

    

In all of this, we see a very public, a very deliberate expression and confession of the prophet’s faith in the Lord, the God of Israel. And let’s understand, Elijah isn’t doing this for show business. This is not Barnum & Baily. This is not a Vegas show where he’s trying to play the crowd and draw their oohs and aahs. No. He’s trying to win back the hearts and minds of the people. He wants them to stand in awe once more at the power and might of their awesome God!

 

I think there’s a lesson we can learn from this as well. How often do you and I dare to expect such great things from God? How high, how lofty, how grand and impossible are your prayer petition? Have you ever ventured to ask God to do the extraordinary or even the impossible? Is it possible that our prayers too grounded in the ordinary, in the mundane, in the normal day to day   affairs of life – that we don’t venture to ask for greater and glorious things for God!

 

Brothers and sisters, while we know that God’s divine power and might cannot be limited or restricted by our prayers; however, it is quite possible that we limit ourselves; that we limit our vision, our idea, and maybe even our hope for what we believe God can do. I remind you that we serve the One True God, the Creator and Sustainer of heaven and earth and all that is in them.

In Mark 17:20 Jesus said to his disciples: For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.

 

Our prayer life should be that of asking God to move mountains – to do what no one else can do, to do what no one things is possible, to do what we don’t even think is possible, and there’s an infinite number of ways that this can apply to our lives, as you and I face trials and tribulations and heartache and disease and danger and disaster and death and disappointment and doubt and unbelief.

 

Just focusing on unbelief for a moment. How many of us prayer for God to covert all the nations, to turn the heart of every world leader to love Him and serve Him? How many of us pray for the unchurched, and the unreached nations and people groups of this world – praying that God would glorify His Name by giving them a translation of the bible and sending a missionary to preach to them and to save that entire people for himself.

 

Yes, it might seem unlikely, and it might seem a little ambitious – but if ever we are going to be bold and ambitious and ask for the impossible, then most certainly ask for this!! Don’t ask for selfish things for us -- but by all means be selfish for God!! Let’s be selfish for God’s glory and renown; let’s be selfish for God’s majesty and sovereignty – for his claim that He makes on all people and nations. Let us pray that the Lord make might the nations his inheritance!!

 

2. Elijah’s Simple Prayer

It is fitting that we tie this all in with prayer – because that is exactly what we see next in our text. Here we consider our second point: Elijah’s Simple Prayer. At the time of the sacrifice the prophet Elijah stepped forward to pray.

 

One man saying but a single prayer and these were his words:  Lord, the 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, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”       

The first thing to observe about his prayer is the statement that he has done all these things at God’s command. Elijah is a servant of the most high God. His presence represents God’s presence; his Word is as truthful and binding and unchanging as God’s Word, and the power that he wields is the divine power of God himself.

 

In this way, Elijah is not only a forerunner of John the Baptist, but as a prophet he is also a forerunner and foreshadowing of Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, who was the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. Christ embodied the attributes and perfections of His Father, and of the divine Godhead.

 

And of course, Our Savior Jesus Christ prayed – just as Elijah did – I am your servant and I have done all these things at your command – not my will but thy will – and Christ prayed that in the Garden of Gethsemane, and all the way to the cross on Golgotha, all so that He might win our salvation.

 

Another beautiful and touching detail of Elijah’s prayer is the statement of purpose: the revelation that God has brought about this epic battle, this spiritual showdown on Mt. Carmel at this exact time and place, for no greater reason than that He may turn the hearts of His people back to Himself.

 

Beloved, what an astounding, mind-blowing thought this. That almighty God, against whom these people have sinned deeply and dreadfully and immorally; a people who had all-but-forgotten God and had given their hearts and their bodies over in allegiance and worship of a false god – a piece of wood or stone.

 

Yet, Israel’s God is a faithful God; He is faithful even when we are unfaithful. He is gracious and merciful and loving and kind even when we have forsaken him and our affections are placed on other gods and idols of our heart. God remembers His covenant promises, even when we forget them. Praise the Lord for his steadfast love, for his sovereign grace and tender mercy – for in His divine Power it is He who turns the hearts of his people back to him!!  

 

Praise the Lord, beloved! May this precious reminder be a great source of comfort and encouragement and hope to us -- as we pray for the lost, for lost loved ones, for lost co-workers and friends and neighbors. Let us pray with peace and with patient trust, knowing that it is the Lord God alone who turns hearts back to him.

 

And just one final observation about this prayer. It was a simple plea and prayer. Answer me, Oh Lord, Answer me!  One man. a single prayer. A simple prayer. For 6 hours, the 850 prophets of Baal wigged out and ran themselves ragged, screaming and shouting and dancing around like crazed lunatics, cutting themselves in a crazed frenzy all trying to get their gods attention.

 

And we saw how all that craziness ended. It ended in dead silence. Crickets. But Elijah needed just a few moments to prepare the altar and douse it with water, and then he needed only a few seconds to utter his prayer.

 

And then look what happened!! Verse 38! 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!”

 

Now that’s quite an amazing answer to prayer, isn’t it! This was no ordinary fire – no fire from below. This was no manmade fire. It was fire from above. It was the fire of the Lord! It was supernatural fire – and as such it would have been plainly seen and known as such as it consumed everything – the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the soil, the water in the trench.

 

In Deuteronomy 9:3 as the people were about to cross over the Jordan to take possession of the land, Moses told the people: But be assured today that the Lord your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. Hebrews 12:29 picks up on that passage also and says: our God is a consuming fire! He is an awesome, and holy, all powerful, all glorious and majestic. God is so holy that even the sinless cherubim and seraphim who fly about his throne must cover their faces because of the blinding all-consuming radiance of his glory and holiness.

 

I know that we often associate fire with hell – with the place where God punishes sinners who hate Him and refuse to repent of their sins and wickedness. Hell is place where the flame is not quenched. But beloved, whether it is in heaven or hell the flames are the flames of the Lord.

 

And whether those flames will burn or sanctify, whether those flames will punish or save, whether those flames will consume and destroy or purify and strengthen, it all depends upon whether we call this God our God, or whether we reject Him and refuse the bend the knee.

 

And so Elijah prayed a simple prayer. And if we can put this in parallel to what happened previously (vs 29): And this time, there was a response, and there was an answer, because someone was paying attention! And what an incredible response and answer it was – as the Lord God hears and answers the prayers of His people.

 

Now certainly we understand that Elijah’s time and circumstances were unique from ours. Thank the Lord that today we don’t need fire from heaven or powerful prophets performing miraculous sings and wonders – that’s because, as Hebrews 1 tells us, God has spoken His final Word in His Son Jesus Christ, by His death on the cross and by the empty grave, God provided the last signs we will ever need – the sign that God is our Savior and that our salvation is secured in Him!

 

There is no need for any other sign – all we need to do is acknowledge that it is God who has done this – that God sent down His Son from heaven to die upon the cross to satisfy the Father’s wrath, to pay the penalty for our sins, and in the sacrifice and death of His one and only Son, the Father was well pleased! The Father heard the prayers of His Son from the cross – Father into thy hands I commend my commend my spirit, and the father received him into his presence.

 

And in doing so – God’s wrath and judgment is forever turned away from those who are his people. In this case, here, with the Lord accepting Elijah’s sacrifice, it meant that the Lord’s favor was upon Elijah and all those who stood by him. And that is why it is so wonderful to hear the people of israel proclaim and testify:  “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”

 

Earlier, when Elijah said: how long will you go wavering between two opinions, they were silent. They said nothing. Now they are silent no more. The mouths of the fools and idolaters have been silenced – and now the praises of the Lord fill the mouths of the people and their praises ring forth on the heights of Mt. Carmel!

 

3. Elijah’s Holy Zeal    

And what is to become of those who opposed the Lord? Here we consider: Elijah’s holy zeal. The prophets of Baal and Asherah are brought to the Kishon Valley and there they are slaughtered. Elijah vindicates the name of the Lord by removing from the land this blasphemy, this unholy and immoral cult.

 

People of God, these are Old Testament Bible times, and this is the way the Lord saw fit to deal with idolaters who led his people Israel astray. In Deuteronomy 13:12-15 the Lord commanded that those who did such detestable things were to be put to the sword.

 

But in the New Testament times, as the civil and ceremonial laws no longer apply, and as the church of Jesus Christ spread out into all the earth, the Lord does not use physical weapons like swords to strike down his enemies. Now he uses spiritual weaponry.  

 

God strikes down the nations with the Sword of the Spirit. God conquers unbelief and idolatry through the Gospel of peace, by the preaching of the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ to sinners near and far -- proclaiming that there is a Savior, there is freedom from sin, freedom from the enslavement to idols, and the tyranny of Satan. There is a God who is there, who is present, who hears and listens and who pays attention.

 

And as we have talked about the past two Lord’s Days – from Romans 6, there still is a command to kill in regards to idolatry: God commands us to put our own sins to death, to die unto our own idolatry, and to no longer go limping through this life trying to serve God and loving our riches, or trying to serve God and indulge our carnal pleasures.  We are to die to the sins of idolatry and instead cry out: The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!” 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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