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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
 www.bethelurc.org
 
Title:An Ordinary Man; An Extra-Ordinary God
Text:1 Kings 18:41-46 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Preached:2023-03-19
Added:2023-03-23
 

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.


An Ordinary Man; An Extraordinary God

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, it was James, the dear brother of our Lord, who gave us an inspired commentary on the episode we just read a moment ago. In James 5: 17-18 he wrote these words: Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for 3 1/2 years. Again, he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

 

I always find it a little shocking that James would have written that about Elijah, because in my mind – and I think this is probably true for all of us – we don’t consider Elijah to be a person just like us. We tend to see him as a spiritual Super-Hero of sorts. He’s a giant. He was the Lord’s prophet who dared to defy wicked king Ahab and his wife Jezebel. Elijah went toe to toe with the 450 prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel. He performed other miraculous signs (he raised the widow’s son; and even here in this chapter as he outran Ahab’s chariot!).

 

Elijah was also one of two men – Moses being the other – who appeared with our Lord Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. So, it is hard for us to think of him as a man just like us. But James is right of course. In the end, Elijah was only a man.

 

He did not possess divine or super-human powers. He was not a demi-god. He was not larger than life. And, as we shall see coming up in the next chapter, he was also subject to fear, to doubt and even to despair. He wanted to give up. He, too, had his bad days, his days of struggle.  

 

So, what was it then that made Elijah so powerful? What gave Elijah courage? What enabled him to be so bold, so unafraid as to defy Ahab and Jezebel, and stand against the prophets of Baal? It was the very same power that we have at our disposal. It was the power of Almighty God, accessed through the avenue of faithful prayer.

 

Today we are going to consider this passage together, and it is especially fitting given what we witnessed earlier in the service. Little Lincoln Jutras received the covenant sign and seal of baptism, and Jean-David and Susanna took a vow to raise up their son in the fear and knowledge of the Lord.

 

But how will they do this? How will they have the courage, the boldness, the wherewithal to stand against the forces of evil in our culture, to defy the trends of wickedness, and teach their son the truth about God in a world that rejects God and hates Christianity?

 

Do they have to be super-human parents? Do they have to possess divine power? No. Thanks be to God -- they only have to be ordinary parents who trust in and who rely upon a supernatural, extraordinary, all-powerful God. Out theme for today:

 

Theme: Elijah Prophesies that there will be Rain 

1. This Prophecy is Grounded in God’s Promise

2. This Prophecy is Worked Out through Prayerful Persistence

 

1. This Prophecy is Grounded in God’s Promise

As I explained at the outset if the reading, this account follows the dramatic showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. For 6 hours the prophets of Baal had screamed and shouted and danced around trying to get Baal’s attention. They even slashed themselves with spears and words as was their custom. But still Baal would not answer and send down fire from heaven.

 

Then it was Elijah’s turn. He prayed a simple prayer, and the Lord heard him and He answered by sending fire down from heaven and consuming not only the sacrifice, but the wood, the 12 stones, and the soil, and even the water in the trench.

 

In doing so, God revealed that He was the God of Israel, the One true God of heaven and earth – and then all the people of Israel (who had gathered there on Mt. Carmel to watch this confrontation, they all fell in humility and awe to the ground and professed their faith together saying: The Lord, He is God! The Lord He is God!!

 

Then Elijah dispatched the prophets of Baal as Ahab watched and said nothing. That’s an interesting point, isn’t it? Ahab did nothing to intervene. He did not try to save the prophets of Baal. Perhaps he was afraid to intervene based on what he had just witnessed, or he was reluctant to go against the will of the people.

 

But whatever the reason may have been, it’s clear that Ahab was relegated to the role of a spectator and not a king. Ahab is not calling the shots here -- Elijah is. Following all this, we read in verse 41-42: And Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go, eat and drink for there is the sound of a heavy rain. So, Ahab went off to eat and drink…”

 

Although the hour of Ahab’s doom has not yet come, this verse has the ring of judgment and finality. Go up and eat and drink. One commentator wrote that this is all that wicked kings were good for – to go up to their tent and to feast and gorge themselves on delicacies.      

 

But what is of real importance here is the revelation that rain was coming. After more than 3 years the drought is going to end. The Lord would send rain. But notice, Elijah prophesies that there will be rain, and he speaks to Ahab almost as if the threatening thunder clouds were already overhead, as is the sound of thunder was rumbling in the distance.  

 

But as we see in what follows -- the skies are clear. There’s not a could in sight. So, what are we to make of this? How can Elijah be so sure, so confident and speak as if the rain was already falling? It’s because of the sure promises of God. Recall, back in verse 1 of chapter 18 we were told that after a long time had passed, 3 long years since Elijah told Ahab that it would not rain, the Lord told Elijah to go and present himself to Ahab, and He would send rain on the land.

 

Elijah is acting in obedience to the command of the Lord, and in expectation that the Lord will do as He had said. But there’s something else at work here, too. We have to read this entire account against the backdrop of the blessings and curses of the covenant. If God’s people were faithful and loved God with all their heart and walked in his ways – then the blessings of God would be showered upon them.

 

And among the many blessings listed in Deuteronomy 28, we read this in verses 11-12: The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you. The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.

 

And then, among the many curses for disobedience, for turning away from the Lord and worshipping idols, we read this (Deut. 28:22-24): The Lord will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish. The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed.

 

Clearly, Israel has fallen under the curse and judgment of the Lord for their apostacy and disobedience. But we must keep in mind that the curses and judgments of the Lord are not visited upon his people in a vindictive way -- to get revenge or show hatred or animosity. Rather, just as a Father chastises his children in love, so the Lord chastises Israel -- in the hope, and for the purpose that his punishments will cause them to cry out to Him and turn away from their sin.

 

An even more direct reference to this can be found in Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple as recorded in 1 Kings 8:35-36. Solomon prayed: “When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and give praise to your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them,  then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel. Teach them the right way to live, and send rain on the land you gave your people for an inheritance.”    

 

We see then that Elijah can prophesy in confidence because he is acting on the Word and the promises of the Lord. In addition to this, he can tell Ahab that there will be rain because the Lord has accepted the sacrifice that was offered up, and the people have fallen on their face before the Lord and have professed that He is God. Now, the Lord will keep his Word.

 

Do you know what we call that – when we take God at His Word? When we trust that God will do as He has promised even though we not received in yet? We call that faith, don’t we. We call that “Living by faith and not by sight”.

 

Hebrews 11: 1 says Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, certain of what we do not see. There’s no clouds on the horizon. There’s no sign of rain. It hasn’t rained for over 3 years. And yet, Elijah trusts and knows and believes that it’s going to rain because God is faithful.

 

Each one of us is called by God to lives our lives in this confidence, hope and expectation. And the basis of our faith, the source of our hope is not our own spiritual strength. No. It’s the sure and certain promises of God that have all been fulfilled through the finished work of God’s Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.

 

The sole basis of our faith and hope is that Christ has come and He has died on the cross, and He has paid the price for our sins, and by reason of his once for all sacrifice -- the Father has turned his wrath away, and He love us as His own children and heirs. And now He promises to work out all things in our lives for our own good.   

 

As parents, Jean-David and Susanna, you are called to raise up your son in faith, trusting in the plans that the Lord has for him. You have no idea what those plans are. You have no idea what lies ahead – what joys and sorrows, what happiness and heartache, what tragedy and triumph, what gladness or grief.

 

But you know God. You know the character and the goodness and the power of God. And you know that come what may, God will be faithful. God will be by your side. He will lead you and guide you and provide for you and your family in every season of life.       

 

2.This Prophecy is Worked Out through Prayerful Persistence

Secondly I want us to see that Elijah’s prophecy is worked out through Prayerful Persistence. God had spoken. God told Elijah that he was going to send rain on the land. And now Elijah has given that message to Ahab. So now what?

 

He did what he came to do. He has won a great victory for the Lord. He has stuck down the false prophets of Baal. He’s had a very long and exhausting day. But does Elijah retire to his own tent to eat and drink and sleep and wait for it to rain? No.

 

Instead, he kneeled down to the ground, he put his face between his knees and he called upon the Lord in prayer, asking God to send the rain. What a beautiful, powerful demonstration of the way prayer functions in the life of the believer.  We may describe it as a “means to an end.” God has decreed that He will send rain. But what are the means God is pleased to use or employ to bring that rain?

 

Yes, the natural means, the physical means God uses are the clouds that will carry moisture. But the spiritual means God employs to bring about what he decrees is prayer. Dale Ralph Davis put it this way: “We take God’s promise and we turn them into prayers in order that he promises may come to pass. What honor god confers on us, not as robots, but as servants who should have no higher ambition than to pray down his will.” (In other words, and I think this is what he is saying: we have the blessing, the honor, the privilege of praying God’s promises into reality).

 

And Elijah recognizes this. And,  notice as well, he’s not hung up on the theology of it all. He’s not saying: if God has decreed this, if God said it’s going to rain then it’s going to rain no matter if I fall on my knees and pray or if I stand on my head for the next hour. So, what does it matter?

 

No. Elijah understands the way prayer works, and the way the Lord works. He understands that the promises of God do not make prayer unnecessary, in fact, as Philip Ryken says, the promises of God make prayer mandatory! He writes: the prophet understood the implications of God's sovereignty for the ministry of intercession. It is the very promises of God that teach us what to pray. It was just because God had promised rain that Elijah prayed for rain.

 

We are called to take the promises of God and turn them into prayer – for that is the means God has intended and designed for us, His children, to access the heavenly storehouse of blessings that God has promised to bestow upon us.  

Notice as well, Elijah did this with fervency, with persistence. To be honest, I find this part of the text to be absolutely fascinating, and more than a little curious. Why is it that earlier – when Elijah prayed for fire from heaven (vv. 37 – answer me, oh Lord, answer me), the Lord answered him in what seemed like an instant. God sent fire from heaven and consumed the sacrifice.

 

But here, Elijah is on his knees, with his face to the ground, and he’s praying to the same God who hears and answers prayers, accept this time he’s praying for rain, not fire. But this time, his prayer requires persistence. I believe it is meant to teach us (convey to us) something of the nature of prayer, but also of the nature of God.

 

When we come before God in prayer, we come pleading and imploring in reverence and awe and humility. We don’t forget our place, our position. We don’t presume that God is simply going to give us everything we ask for, as if we are submitting our demands and God has to fork it over.

 

Rather, we remember that we deserve nothing from God’s hand; everything we have is a gift that comes down to us from our heavenly Father – even our health, our breath, our children, our freedom, the rain and the sunshine.

 

And we realize as well that while there are times when God sees fit to answer our prayers immediately, or almost immediately, but there are other times God seeks to test our faith, to stretch us and teach us the patience of unanswered prayer and the wisdom of waiting on God and trusting his perfect timing.      

 

And if we ever doubt or wonder if prayer really changes things, or if prayer is really necessary, just remember that Jesus our Savior prayed – and He was the very Son of God. Jesus prayed because even though He was the divine Son of  God, he too was an ordinary man like Elijah, and like us. Jesus was fully human, and as such he was weak, weary, and was tempted and he needed the strength of the Holy Spirit, and the encouragement and communion of His heavenly Father. So, Jesus saw the need to pray -- and so should we.   

 

 

Getting back to the text, after Elijah prayed the first time, he sent his servant to look out over the sea, to gaze at the horizon to see if there is a cloud. But there is nothing. Seven times Elijah prayed and sent him back to look. Elijah prayed earnestly, fervently, and persistently.

 

After the 7th time, the servant reported back that there was a cloud on the horizon the size of a man’s hand. Then as verse 45 says – as Ahab made his way back, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, and a heavy rain came down.

 

God is faithful. God kept His Word, and God answered Elijah’s prayer. God rained down his blessings upon his unfaithful people. Even Ahab received that blessing – but much to his own condemnation.

 

Last week I mentioned that we should stretch ourselves when we pray – and be selfish in prayer for the glory and majesty and greatness of God. We should not be afraid to pray for the impossible for our God is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or even imagine.

 

Today we learn to pray like that and never give up. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 calls us to pray without ceasing. In the parable of the persistent widow, Jesus taught us to be unafraid to bring our petitions before the throne of grace again and again.

 

And just because God does not send the cloud of blessing after six tries, it is no reason to stop praying. Elijah’s prayers were powerful and effective because he kept on praying in faith to a God who hears and answers prayers. And this God is a God who loves us and who loves to answer prayers! And, as we’re about to sing: What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!

 

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://bethelurc.com/?sermonPage

(c) Copyright 2023, Pastor Keith Davis

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