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Weekly Word

Entries in Power (14)

Tuesday
Feb062018

Speaking the Truth to Power

1 Kings 21:17-26.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 4, 2018.

Speaking the truth to power is a catch phrase that has come into use from the 1940’s to the 1950’s.  However, it is a concept that has been around since the dawn of governance itself.  Historically, it has been understood that speaking truth to power is a very, dangerous business.  Yet, it is also historically true that many attempts to “speak truth to power” have had other powers working behind the scenes and pushing the events. 

In the Bible, we find a group of individuals called prophets.  Though there are false prophets, the true prophets are not being manipulated by other powers who want to seize power through them, and neither are they being funded and given ideas by them.  Instead, they receive their marching orders from God. Of course throughout history many have used the pretense of a word from God to manipulate individuals and governments.  The biblical prophet was one who proved themselves to be true, by their life actions, and by the things they revealed (did they prove to be true of come to past at some point).  Sometimes they would do miracles or give amazing signs, but often the only sign they gave was that they spoke the truth.  That’s the thing about truth.  No matter how long it is lied about and manipulated, it is a stubborn thing that no amount of curtains, smoke and mirrors can hide it forever.  The truth will eventually come forth.

God confronts Ahab through the prophet

Several times in this book of Scripture, 1 Kings, we have seen Ahab confronted by Elijah, or other prophets, about his failure to follow the God of Israel.  But this event follows on the heels of a great abuse of power.  On one hand kings and rulers make decisions that can mean life or death for thousands of their subjects, like when they decide to go to war.  Now war can be for a good cause, such as defense of your nation, or an ally that is threatened.  But just as wicked as going to war for greedy purposes, is using your power to have an innocent man who is one of your citizens framed and killed, and then to take his property as the spoils of war.

Now we can recognize government as necessary, only so far as it protects us from tyranny.  In fact this is the true origins of government.  Anarchy theoretically means all are completely free.  You have 100% freedom.  Yet, there are people who use their freedom to forcefully take your stuff, or make you their slave.  So groups will cede a portion of their freedom in order to create a coalition, government, which can ensure that the rest will be protected as they go about their business.  Thus you may not have 100% freedom, but you are safer.  This is all theoretically fine.  However, governments sometimes become the source of tyranny to their own citizens.  In such cases there must be those who are bold enough to stand up and call it to account.  Similarly, in ancient Israel, God spoke through prophets to rebuke kings and call them back to a proper authority.  Of course, those kings generally ignored the true prophets and followed the false ones.

In verses 17-19, we find God’s displeasure with the way Ahab and his wife Jezebel had framed Naboth, and then had him killed, just to take a vineyard that Ahab wanted.  As Ahab travels down to Jezereel in order to take possession, the word of the Lord comes to Elijah.  Yes, God could have spoken directly to Ahab if He wanted.  But recognize that Ahab has proven to particularly resistant to God’s word.  Also, the way God does it here (i.e. through another person) Ahab is forced to face the message in a very outward and accountable way.  On top of this the message will live on regardless of Ahab’s choice.  It is done out in the open so that all of Israel and we who read it today can understand God’s displeasure with the abuse of power and with wickedness in general.

God tells Elijah exactly where he can find Ahab and then tells him to ask Ahab this question.  Have you murdered and taken possession?  The question is rhetorical.  It emphasizes the boldness of Ahab and Jezebel’s actions.  It is a risky thing to draw attention to yourself by taking possession of the property of the very man that you had murdered.  Yet, Ahab is fine with doing both.  It is a sign of the degree to which Ahab and Jezebel’s use of power has become immoral and malicious.  Really the question is this.  How dare you be so brazen in your sin?  Sin has a way of making people bolder and bolder in their sinful actions.  It may not lead to murder, as it did in this case.  The person who lives selfishly and for their own flesh will find themselves becoming worse and worse, and ever harder towards repentance.

Lastly, a death sentence is given to Ahab from God.  Just as Naboth was taken outside the city, killed, and dogs licked his blood from the ground, so too Ahab will have a similar fate.  Even more than that, it will happen in the same place Naboth was killed.  We call this poetic justice.  It is not always given in life, but there are times win the punishment fits the crime perfectly.  What Ahab gave to others, he will receive back.  Ahab has crossed a line.  Though God could have struck Ahab dead at that moment, He doesn’t do that.  Ahab is given a warning so that he can repent and adjust his life.  Yes, God knows that Ahab will not repent.  Yet, God is still gracious to give him warning and time to change.  Ahab has no excuse in eternity.

In verse 20 the scene jumps.  Apparently Elijah has left his place and found Ahab at Naboth’s vineyard or close to there.  Ahab refers to Elijah as his enemy.  A person should always take care whom we label as enemy.  We can make the mistake of treating someone as an enemy when they don’t deserve it.  Elijah was not Ahab’s enemy, as if he was trying to usurp the throne or get him killed.  The only thing Elijah is guilty of is obeying God.  Can you imagine how many times Elijah must have thought to himself, “Why doesn’t God just remove Ahab somehow?  Why does God keep giving him grace?  He doesn’t deserve it.”  Yet, each time God told Elijah to go speak to Ahab, Elijah did so faithfully.  Some people you call your enemy could be better friends then you know.  In fact the opposite is true as well.  Some people you call your friends are actually your enemy.  Ahab’s problem is not his inability to discern those who mean him harm versus good.  Ahab’s problem is that he has “sold himself to do evil.”  We will come back to this phrase since it is used again in verse 25.

At this point Elijah continues to share more judgments from God that are coming.  It seems the writer is using a literary device where God’s word to Elijah and Elijah’s word to Ahab are to be understood as the whole conversation of God to Elijah, as well as Elijah to Ahab.  So Ahab knows that God has decreed his death, but there is more.

Elijah tells Ahab that calamity (a generic terms for something bad) will cause the death of every male descendant of Ahab.  This would be the end of his dynasty, which had started with his father, Omri.  In some pretty choice words, Elijah describes that when this calamity strikes every male descendant will be executed whether free or slave, and whether in the city or in the field.  The reference to the house of Jeroboam and Baasha is a term that was understood as dynasty in this context.  These were the two previous dynasties that had been destroyed for similar reasons.  So Ahab is put on notice, your dynasty is next.  In all of these cases God had warned the kings that their kingdoms were in jeopardy and would end in the death of all of their descendants who could lay claim to the throne.

Lastly, Elijah reveals that Jezebel is also going to die.  Here fate is similar, but with one twist.  Jezebel is going to be eaten by the dogs.  Such a humiliating death basically means that either no one cares to bury her or they are commanded not to.  Jezebel will die in the territory of Jezreel and be eaten by dogs.  These prophecies will prove true down the road.

A summary of Ahab’s life

In verses 25 through 26, the writer gives a summary of Ahab’s life.  He hasn’t died yet (that will take place in the next chapter). However, we are given the phrase again that no one sold themselves to do evil like Ahab (at least up to that point).  It is a curious phrase because Ahab is king and therefore the freest person in Israel.  To whom or to what did he sell himself?  We could say that he sold himself to Baal.  Ahab clearly served Baal with much of his life even though he should have served the God of Israel.  This would be true.  However, in light of the New Testament, I think there is a more precise answer.  Ahab had sold himself to sin.  In Romans 6:16 Paul says, “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?”  Sin tempts us with pleasure or some other form of payment by which we sell our souls into slavery.  We are left in bondage to sin, living a life of trying to please the desires of our flesh.  This is similar to the story of God confronting Cain before he killed his brother Abel.  There God told Cain that sin crouched at the door and sought to master him.  God’s advice was for Cain to master sin, in the sense of bringing it under control.  When we serve our own fleshly desires, we become slaves to sin, and as our master, it drives us to destruction.  However when we know the truth about sin and its awful destruction, we can turn to God and repent.  Believers recognize that they have been purchased with the blood of Jesus off of the auction block of sin.  Even though God has purchased us, He is a good master who leads us to freedom, sonship, and eternal life.

The summary of Ahab’s life is also marked by the fact that he was stirred up or instigated by his wife, Jezebel.  This is not meant to justify Ahab in any way.  He is guilty.  Neither should we see this as a female or male thing.  Men are just as capable at instigating women towards evil as Jezebel was.  However, her boldness enabled him to do far worse than he would have done on his own.  This can be true of a spouse or any one that we become close friends with.  Our choices of companionship are extremely critical to our life.  Friends you can walk away from.  But, if you marry someone who stirs you towards evil, what can you do?  You can keep your eyes on Christ and serve him over the top of those instigations and the passions of your own flesh.

This summary ends with the recognition that he worshiped idols in the way that the Amorites did, whom God had cast out before Israel.  The Amorites practiced idolatry, human sacrifices and sexual perversion.  Ahab did not understand or take seriously the inheritance that he had received.  Others were removed so that I could have this place.  That should make me wonder if I could be removed.  Ahab didn’t think about what God thought.  He only thought about what he wanted, as if all of Israel belonged to him by his own power. 

We will all be held accountable for our actions and choices in this life.  What will the summary of my life, or your life, be?  We are not talking about accomplishments, but rather a spiritual summary.  What am I serving, and by what or by whom and I stirred up?  To what am I being stirred?  May God help us to be stirred up by the Holy Spirit to serve the God of heaven and earth.  May we also do our part to stir each other up towards the things of God rather than the things of the flesh.  In this we find that the most critical power that I must speak truth to is my own flesh.  May God help us to be bold.

Truth to Power audio

Tuesday
Jan302018

The Abuse of Power

1 Kings 21:1-16.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 28, 2018.

Abuse of power is often in the news these days, whether we think of politics with the FBI probes into Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, or we think about Hollywood and the cascading revelations of sexual harassment within the business.  Such abuse of power can be found in any environment that is ran by people: businesses, churches, sports, schools, and the police.  However, it can also be found in a mob of people who claim to be standing against the abuse of power.  If we as Americans do not repent of wickedness and turn towards the way of Jesus, we will find this country continuing its rapid decline.  It is not enough to join the cries of those pointing out wickedness and abuse of power.  We must also repent of our own wickedness and abuse of power.  Only then can true healing and change happen in this country. 

Regardless of how the country goes, you are responsible for your own decisions.  If you are not abusing power then be a voice of truth in the midst of people lying to cover themselves.  If you are guilty of abusing your power then deliver yourself from the judgment of God because it will come as sure as the day you were born.

Today’s passage highlights the abuse of power in Northern Israel of the 9th century B.C.  But it could be written about many different cities all across these United States of America.  Let’s hear God’s Word.

Ahab covets his neighbor’s vineyard

In verses 1-4 we see Ahab’s desire for a plot of land that is next to his palace.  Yet, he clearly becomes overly attached to having it, and herein lies the problem.  Let’s look at how he gets there.

Notice that Ahab makes a very reasonable offer to Naboth in order to obtain his vineyard.  He will buy the property for money or swap a better vineyard elsewhere for his.  At this point everything is on the up and up.  Yet, we are told that Naboth declines the offer.  Now, Naboth’s words might seem insolent to us, but we should recognize that property was viewed differently in ancient Israel.  They land was not really sold but actually leased, until the year of Jubilee (which came ever 50 years).  In that year all debts, including land leased to others, would have the debt on it cancelled and return to the original owner.  This was to protect the inheritance that God had given to each tribe and the clans within them.  Typically people did not lease their inheritance unless they were desperate or so rich that they are paying others to tend it.  Naboth will not even entertain the idea.

Now Ahab’s response to the rejection shows us that something is wrong in his heart.  Though his offer is reasonable, his response to rejection is unreasonable.  Just because I make a reasonable offer, it does not follow that the person “owes it to me” to accept.  Naboth does not want another property, or to lose what he has.  He is well within his rights to refuse and, if Ahab’s heart were in the right place, he would understand.  Ahab becomes sullen and depressed.  He goes home and proceeds to lay in bed with his back to the door, refusing to eat.  His desire for a the property has gotten out of bounds and has become coveting.

This leads us to the 10th commandment found in Exodus 20:17.  When we look at this commandment, several things stick out.  It always has an object that doesn’t belong to you: your neighbor’s house, wife, servants, ox, donkey, or anything that belongs to him.  Coveting begins with a desire for something that does not belong to you.  I could be innocent and proper, but there is a boundary past which our desire becomes inordinate or improper.  I should have restrained the desire to stay in the proper boundaries, but instead I have let it go beyond into the area of coveting it.  It is one thing to admire your neighbor’s house, or to recognize that their spouse is very good looking.  But if the desire is unrestrained it can cross the line into improper desire and eventually improper actions. 

There is a virtue that helps lead us away from coveting, like a kind of antidote, and that virtue is thankfulness.  When we are thankful to God for the things we already have, then our desires to have something we do not are far more restrained.  Too many people fall into the habit of looking down upon what they have because it doesn’t seem to be as much or nice as what another has.  This is a trap that sets us up for losing restraint upon our desires.  May God help us to be more thankful for the things that we do have.  If we can obtain other things, then praise God.  But, if not, then praise Him still because what we do have is a blessing.

Jezebel has a wicked plan to get the vineyard

In verses 5-10 Jezebel enters the scene.  She is clearly a take charge kind of person.  When she sees the depression of Ahab, she is determined to fix the problem.  However, in her mind the problem isn’t Ahab’s covetous, unrestrained heart, but rather, Naboth’s refusal to sell.  Our inability to recognize the true problems in our life will lead to poor decisions.  It is easy to think that all my problems are the fault of others around me, but this kind of thinking will hamper our ability to change.

Notice how Jezebel views position and power.  When Ahab tells her why he is depressed, she retorts,  “Do you not reign over Israel?”  In her view Ahab’s problem is that he has forgotten he is king.  To her, position and power are for the benefit of the person who has them.  But God’s Word reveals a different view.  Position and power are not to be used for the benefit of the person who has them, but rather for those over whom you have authority.

Think about parents and their authority over their children.  Parents can fall into the mistake of thinking that the children should benefit them somehow.  If parents want to please God, they must learn to exercise their authority for the benefit of the children.  That doesn’t mean the kids get to tell parents what to do.  Rather, we look to God to help us understand what is best for our kids.  The same should be true for politics.  It is an abuse of power to exercise your authority for your own benefit, and at the expense of those beneath you.

We see Jezebel promise Ahab that she will get him the vineyard.  How does she plan to do so?  She plans to use the power of the king to have Naboth killed.  She sends letters bearing Ahab’s royal seal to the leaders of Jezreel, the city in which this occurs.  They are to proclaim a fast, which would only be done in extreme circumstances in which something was wrong in the city.  They were to seat Naboth in a prominent place.  Then two men were to publicly accuse him of cursing God and the king.  Lastly, the leaders were to take Naboth out and stone him to death.  This is a classic example of the abuse of power.  We can’t put all the blame on Jezebel because she couldn’t have used Ahab’s seal without his approval, whether presently or in the past.  Jezebel couldn’t care less about this vineyard.  But she is willing to kill an innocent man in order to get her husband out of a bad attitude.  It is sad to see a person’s life chewed up in the grinder because someone of power is having a bad hair day.  But they don’t care.  They have the power and you don’t.  God deliver us from such thinking and such people.

When we look closer at the abuse of power, we will see that the order is unlawful.  The laws of most countries stand against such abuse of power.  However, even if a nation made it lawful to do what Jezebel does, there is still the problem that it would be against God’s law.  An unlawful order should never be obeyed, even if it is made lawful by the crooked courts/king of the land.  All laws of mankind are under the authority of the King of kings and Lord of lords, and they carry only as much weight as they are in accordance with the laws of God.

The second thing is that Jezebel goes out of her way to use the “color of law.”  She does not care about what the law says, but she goes through the trouble of making it look like Naboth is a horrible man in front of the citizens of Jezreel.  Of course the leaders know the truth, but they will not say anything if they know what is good for them.  Ahab is enabled to have a fake cloak of righteousness when he takes Naboth’s vineyard.  People will say that wicked Naboth got what he deserved and that God was rewarding Ahab with the vineyard of the one who cursed him.  That is truly justice, right?  But the opposite is the truth.  Many a wicked leader has used trickery to convince the populace that they are following the law, when they are doing everything but that.  We must be careful of knee-jerk responses to spoon-fed information. 

The leaders of Jezreel carry out the plan

In verses 11-16 we see that the leaders carry out the plan.  They do exactly what Jezebel said to do, and have Naboth publicly executed.  When Jezebel is told that the deed is done, she goes in and announces to Ahab that he can take possession of Naboth’s vineyard because he is now dead.  This kind of wicked, civil asset forfeiture is a house of wickedness that uses the law to take that which belongs to people simply because they don’t have the power to stop it.

Ahab suddenly feels good enough to get out of bed.  Who knows, he might have even stuffed his face before he left the palace.  Perhaps he skipped like a little girl to the candy store.  Regardless, Ahab feels better, but he ought to be sickened to his stomach.  His actions testify against him.  He is a wicked man.

This brings up something that can be seen in this passage.  Ahab and Jezebel are both wicked, but Ahab is a weak wicked person and Jezebel is a strong wicked person.  Even in his wickedness Ahab seems to have some boundaries.  But Jezebel is a person who has a very perverted sense of right and wrong that centers on her and what she wants.  However, such people would get little done if it weren’t for the third class of wicked people in this passage.

The leaders of the city become the enablers of Jezebel’s wicked plan.  They are willing and compliant to her wicked plan.  By doing so, the leaders of Jezreel sell out one of their own that they were supposed to protect for the good graces of Ahab and Jezebel.  Their position and power are for the purpose of benefiting the people of Jezreel, but here they are throwing Naboth like a lamb to the wolf. 

Naboth is the true victim in this story, but the public is convinced that Ahab is the victim.  In this life the true victims are rarely noticed.  And, if they are, it is often to be used as public leverage to obtain wicked and selfish ends.  We must not be willing and compliant with those who would do wickedly through us.  We must learn to stand up and hold our ground.  The whole reason for a city mayor is to have people of power to protect the citizens, whether from each other or from outside attack.

Ultimately the Christian’s hope is not in justice from the government of man, but rather justice from the government of God.  God help us to be an ever brighter light of what is true and just.  May He help us not to aid the wicked but rather stand up and bring their evil deeds to light.

Abuse of Power audio

Tuesday
Dec192017

The Results of Spiritual Victory

1 Kings 18:40-46.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 17, 2017.

Last week we saw how God had honored Elijah’s public display of faith by a miraculous fire from heaven coming down upon his sacrifice.  This was all in contrast to the pitiful failure of the prophets of Baal.  Today we will look at the fallout of that momentous event and talk about spiritual victory in our own lives. 

But before we get into that it might help if you familiarize yourself with the geography of this passage.  Click here for an online map from a great website called BibleAtlas.org.  Pay attention that we are in the northern part of Israel west of the Sea of Galilee.  The sacrifice has taken place on Mt. Carmel which is on the left of the map part way down (part of the name has been cut off).  Jezreel is basically in the middle of the map with the Kishon River (thin blue line) flowing from that area past Mt. Carmel and into the Mediterranean Sea (where modern day Haifa sits).

The enemies of God’s work are executed

When we read verse 40 the passage can be shocking to our modern, western sensibilities.  However, I would remind you right up front that we in the West are shocked by things that people in the East are not, and vice versa.  Just because it offends us does not mean it is wrong.  So try and get over the shock that the prophet of God Elijah orders the people to execute all the prophets of Baal and, instead of tossing God’s Word aside, take time to understand what God wants us to understand here.

A big question that often arises from passages such as vs. 40, is that of whether or not Christians are hypocrites when they proclaim peace and yet have such a thing in their “holy book.”    If fact, one of our recent presidents, who also claims to be a Christian, chided Christians about eating shellfish when it is forbidden in the Old Testament.  Others claim that Christians are hypocrites when they promote love for our fellow man because of passages that speak of the death penalty for sexual perversion.  Each of these statements or accusations has a problem in their logic.  They assume that the Bible itself, and more importantly God who is its author, teaches that Christians should obey the Old Testament Laws.  In fact, the Bible teaches the opposite.  You cannot point out one verse and ignore the context of the rest of the Bible and also hold the intellectual high-ground.  If we want to deal with the Bible honestly then we must recognize or determine what God’s purpose was in creating Israel as a nation.  He created then and made a covenant with them in which they promised to obey The Law that God had given them through Moses.  Clearly they did not do such a good job at that, but then we would be casting stones from a glass house.  God’s purpose with Israel and The Law of Moses was not to provide a positive template for all the nations of the world.  The salvation of the world is not found in converting the whole world over to follow the Law of Moses.  The whole purpose of The Law was to shut the mouths of those who claim to be righteous.  Israel had divine laws (i.e. better than the wisest minds of mankind could come up with at the same time period).  Yet, the people of Israel were not divine and there lies the problem.  The Law of Moses failed to save Israel for the same reasons that the Constitution of the United States cannot save us.  Nations are run by people who are weak and condemned by the very laws they claim to follow.

So let’s look back at this situation.  Ahab is completely stunned.  Only moments ago, he held all the power.  He would execute Elijah when this was over with and he would continue to lead Israel into worshipping Baal rather than the God who had created Israel, Yahweh/Jehovah.  Much like a jury nullification of the law, the powerful demonstration of Yahweh’s power nullifies Ahab’s command.  The people and even his soldiers have just seen for themselves the power of God.  Notice that Ahab does not speak until the next chapter.  Even if Ahab would have tried to command for Elijah to be executed, who would have dared to carry it out?  Ahab rolled the dice and they came up “snake eyes,” or “dogs” as the ancient Romans used to say.  The stakes were Ahab’s life against the lives of the prophets of Baal and they lost.

But, Elijah’s command could not come from a truly righteous person could it?  We need to understand that Elijah is not some murderous psychopath who loves killing people.  The Law that God had given Israel (i.e. their constitution) stated that any prophet who led Israel to worship foreign God’s was guilty of a capital crime.  Thus these prophets new they were breaking The Law and committing a capital crime.  However, they could care less because they were under the protection of Israel’s Law-breaking king.  Ahab had been leading Israel in a direction that was illegal and treasonous.  These men have been helping him to commit this treason.  If you want to verify this then read Deuteronomy 13, especially verse 5.  Several times in Deuteronomy 13, 17, and 18 God declares these things a capital crime.  So now that we have exonerated Elijah from the guilt of homicide, we must deal with God.  It was His Law.  Is it barbaric?

Whether or not we agree with such a punishment today, we must agree that this was Israel’s law.  Part of understanding why God commands the death of false prophets is to understand the difference between God’s purpose with Israel and God’s purpose with the Church of Jesus Christ.  Israel was given the task to bring forth the Messiah or Savior for the world.  But, they also modeled to the world the problem with trying to create a perfect society through legislation.  All societies have to have laws to function.  But, even with divine laws it becomes a bloody business filled with hypocrisy.  This is true whether you are looking at the government of Israel or Sidon in the 9th century B.C., or you are looking at the modern governments of The United States of America, Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, et. Al.  In the West we keep telling ourselves that if we just make better laws it will fix everything.  Yet, things keep getting worse and worse (yes, not everything is getting worse, but hear what I am saying).  We have to quit fooling ourselves.  Even divine laws, or laws created by an Artificial Intelligence, will fail to fix mankind because our problem is a spiritual one and is deep in each heart.  The best we can expect from laws is that they will slow down the evil nature of our hearts and give hope for people to see it and seek God’s help.  The only way to change a heart is repentance from our own dead works and turning towards belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  God’s laws of capital punishment on one hand teach us that some sins are worthy of death.  However, the cross teaches us that God does not want to execute us.  He is giving us a choice.  It is appointed unto a person once to live and then the judgment.   Through the Church God is warning the world of a coming judgment or execution.  Yet, He is also giving opportunity for people to make peace with Him by putting their faith in Jesus.  The Church is not about building a perfect kingdom, but rather, it is about calling people to become citizens who are being perfected by God.  Israel focused on a geographical place on earth that required capital punishment to keep it pure, and even that failed.  The Church focuses on the spiritual geography of our own heart.  Definitely Christians should obey the laws of the nation, as long as it doesn’t break God’s commands.  And, we should also work for better laws.  But laws are not our hope.  The return of Jesus our King is the hope that we hold out to the world.  This makes a big difference and makes the Gospel far more potent in light of Israel and The Law.  We await the Kingdom of Heaven to be brought down at the Second Coming of Jesus.  Until then, we do our best to live at peace with even those who disobey God.  Instead of executing those who break God’s command (as God told Israel), Christians speak the truth in love to them, while executing those things within our own heart and mind that would lead us astray from God’s Word.  That is why Christians should be restrained in the amount of laws that they promulgate.

A contrast of character

I spent a lot of time on verse 40 because the contents are important in our day and age.  In the rest of this chapter, we see a sharp contrast between the character of Elijah and that of Ahab.  Elijah is a wise leader and Ahab is a foolish one.  After the execution of the prophets of Baal, Elijah tells Ahab to go eat because of the sound of a great rain.  Now it is clear from the passage that there is no sound of rain at the moment.  What is Elijah talking about?  Elijah is speaking by faith.  Even though there is no outward sign, Elijah is confident that God will keep His word.  God had told him what would happen and we see him acting and speaking upon that.  As I said earlier, Ahab doesn’t speak here.  But his administration has been one, big lack of faith in God’s Word.  Now it is important to guard our heart, mind and our mouth.  We should be careful of our decisions and the way that we speak about things.  Am I trusting in God’s Word or doubting it?  Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  However, speaking by faith is not a matter of wish fulfillment, or only speaking “positive things.”  Christians should not fall into the error that tries to draw good things to us by acting and speaking positively.  Regardless of what you say and do, God is going to do certain things.  God is going to judge all the governments of the world in the future through the Second Coming of Christ.  It will be a great negative thing to those who are not on His side, but a great positive thing to those on the side of Jesus.  Speaking by faith is remembering what God has said and agreeing with it in our speech.  In other words we actually believe that God means what He says, and is not a liar.  May God help us to speak by faith in His word.

Although it is Elijah’s idea, Ahab is a king and can do what he wants.  Notice that King Ahab is feeding his belly while Elijah is praying for the rain to come.  Ahab is a man of the flesh, not because he eats food.  We all eat food and even Elijah ate food.  But something powerful and spiritual has just happened in Israel.  But one man is praying for God’s will and the other is satisfying the will of his stomach.  God’s people can enjoy the physical joys of life within godly boundaries.  However, we must not let our lives be only about them.  Though God has promised rain, Elijah will not rest until it comes.  He goes back up to Mt. Carmel and begins praying for God to fulfill His word.  Then we see a cycle of Elijah praying, and asking his servant to check and see if any rain is coming.  This goes on seven times until the servant notices a small cloud on the horizon of the Mediterranean Sea.  This seven times is intended to highlight that Elijah was not a man who would quit in prayer.  He persevered in prayer until God kept His word.  He waited upon the Lord completely and kept himself watchful through prayer.  We should be the same way concerning the Second Coming of Christ.  We should not be apathetic towards what God has said He will do with a kind of que sera, sera attitude (whatever will be, will be).  Jesus is not coming back for a people who have an intellectual assent that He will do so, but for those who have desired it and have spent their lives praying and watching for it (like Elijah).  When a cloud the size of a man’s hand is seen, then Elijah knows the fulfillment has come.  May God help us also to remain faithful even in the day of small things.  It may not seem like anything big, but God is in it and rejoices to make it happen.

In the end, it is God’s will working with Elijah’s faithfulness that brings rain to the land.  Elijah’s speech and life have been lived by faith in what God had said in the past and what He was personally telling Elijah.  In contrast, it was the unfaithfulness of Ahab and the people of Israel who followed him that led to the drought and famine, both naturally and spiritually.  We must be careful that we do not give up living lives faithful to God and His Word simply because the society around us does not pat us on the back for doing so.  Even in the face of active persecution, the hope of our land depends upon Christians living out lives faithful to Jesus.  We concern ourselves not with just physical rain and dry land, although that is important to people’s livelihood.  We concern ourselves more importantly on spreading the rain of God’s Word into the lives of those who are dry as deserts from years of rejecting or being ignorant of God’s Word.

Lastly we see that God’s power is upon those who are humble.  The power of God comes upon Elijah as the rain comes and he runs ahead of Ahab’s chariot to Jezreel.  Now in our competitive modern minds we would read this as God empowering Elijah to outrun the chariot of Ahab and to be the first to Jezreel.  Now this is no small feat.  Jezreel was about 10-15 miles away.  However, an ancient person reading this would see a servant running ahead of his master.  Elijah is running ahead of Ahab’s chariot, like a servant who is letting people know that the king is coming.  It is as if God is showing Ahab what could be.  God, and His servant Elijah, do not have to be enemies of Ahab.  Elijah was not seeking a crown, though he could have tried to take it after such a powerful display.  Who wouldn’t want a king who could call down fire from heaven?  Instead, Elijah’s run says to Ahab, I will take my place as your servant if you will take your place as God’s servant.  May the Lord help Christians today to have such a humility and empowerment from the Lord.   Instead of seeking to have the highest place, may we be the influence that those who have it need, to become what God wants them to be.

Spiritual Victory audio

Monday
Dec112017

Confrontation of a False God-II

1 Kings 18:30-39.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 10, 2017.

Last week we saw how the prophets of Baal, a false god of the Canaanites, were unable to get an answer of fire from the heavens.  Today we will look at Elijah’s turn, but in truth it is the One, True God’s turn to prove who He is.  As the day is well past, Elijah steps forward and starts the process of setting up the sacrifice, so that he can call upon the God of Israel to show Himself to the people watching.

Israel is drawn back to God

Several phrases throughout this passage make it clear that God does not want to “wow” the crowd.  Rather, He desires to draw Israel back to Him.  We see this in Elijah’s initial address for them to “come near” and also in Elijah’s prayer that Israel would understand that God is turning their hearts back to Him.  This is an important theme throughout the Bible.  Sin has separated man from God, but God calls out to mankind to draw near to Him through His sacrifice, Jesus the Christ.  Every time a person turns to the Lord in repentance, or a group of people turn back to Him in revival, it always begins with the grace of God turning our hearts and calling us to Him.  Of course people must respond.  God will not force people to come back to Him.  But it always starts with His grace to make it possible.  This call comes through the prophet of Elijah.  Come near, and see what God will do.  They deserved judgment for abandoning God and worshipping Baal.  But, instead, God is going to give a great demonstration of His power to them, while calling them back to Him.  Elijah is not the only prophet whom God did this through.

This same theme is highlighted by Jesus and His Apostles after Him.  Let us draw near to the throne of God for mercy.  In John 7:37-38 we see, “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  Also, in Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “Come to Me, all of you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  The Spirit of God is continually calling us to draw near to Him.  He wants to satiate our thirst and give us relief from the burden of our sins.  But do we hear him?  And, better yet, do we respond to Him?  He calls us near so that we can experience the goodness of who He is.

Before Elijah can set up the sacrifice, he has to repair an altar of the Lord that already existed on that site.  It had fallen apart and was in disrepair because of the abandonment of worshipping Him.  The people had grown weary of sacrificing and praying to Yahweh, and so had left off for more popular altars.  Never forget that when we abandon the things of God, their disrepair is a symbol of our lives spiritually.  Think about the abandonment of God’s exclusive institution of marriage for life.  All across this land are the tattered remnants of broken marriages left in the dust, which give us a picture of the hearts that have abandoned it.  We see the same thing with the raising of children.  Broken homes and children raised by single parents and grandparents have become the norm.  The broken kids who come out of dysfunction help us see our hearts.  Of course, we should encourage and help those who step up and care in a situation that is not optimal.    But that does not counter the point I am making.  How about the many churches around the country that are empty and in disrepair?  Sure, some of it is the fault of the churches and those who lead them, but not all of it.  There are many good churches around the country that are preaching the truth of God, but people don’t want to hear it and have abandoned being connected to a church.  The disrepair of such places becomes a prophetic symbol of our hearts and lives.  So Elijah repairs the altar because the altar is the place where an individual or a people gather to meet with God.  How is your altar today?  Is it in disrepair?  I am not talking about a literal altar.  We no longer sacrifice animals as they did in those days.  Our altar is a spiritual thing.  Wherever we draw near to God in prayer becomes our place of altar.  But the altar is about more than prayer.

First it is a place of preparation.  Yes, Elijah repairs the altar.   But then he has to put the wood upon it and then prepare the animal and lay its parts out.  Elijah also adds a strange aspect to this sacrifice.  He has a trench dug around the altar and has water poured out over the sacrifice and filling the trench.  Notice that the altar is not a speedy quick-order place.  It is a place where we spend time preparing ourselves to hear from God.  Don’t be so quick to walk away from the altar when it seems like God isn’t listening.

Of course, the altar is also a place where a sacrifice is made.  The secret is not the animal used, but the heart that prepares it, and the God to whom it is sacrificed.  God had told people to approach Him in that way.  It seems strange to us, but it is highly instructive.  First, it highlighted for them and for us the coming sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, as the Lamb provided by God.  It is also instructive because it always costs us something to approach God.  When our hearts are willing to give to God that which is valuable to us, He sees it from heaven and smiles upon us.  Elijah sacrifices a bull, but it is not the only thing being sacrificed.  The water is very precious on the heels of a 3.5 year drought.  I don’t know if it came from King Ahab’s personal stash, but everyone watching could not help but think of this as a tragic waste.  So what do we sacrifice today?  We no longer sacrifice animals because Jesus is the “once for all” sacrifice for our sins.  We put on the altar of our heart those things that would separate us from God.  Some of those things are sinful.  We should put them on the altar so that God’s fire can burn them out of our lives.  However, some of those things are not sinful in and of themselves.  We still put them on the altar and let them go because we would rather have God than those things.  Some of those things that we put on the altar, that are not sinful, will be given back to us.  We see this with Abraham and the near s sacrifice of Isaac.   When God saw that Abraham would rather have God than the son whom God had promised him for so long, then God told Abraham to stop and gave him a substitute sacrifice.  This is an amazing picture of Christ.  But it also shows that God is not interested in taking things from us.  But rather, He wants our heart to be in right relationship to those good things in our life.  They are not God and they are not our source.  Only God deserves that highest place in our heart.

The altar is also a place of humility.  Elijah publicly risks himself.  Ahab can now put him to death or in prison.  What if this public demonstration fails?  Elijah does not have the ability to bring fire down from heaven.  He hasn’t been practicing in the desert and is now ready.  It took great trust, faith, and humility for Elijah to stand up in the face of a whole nation and declare that the God of Israel is greater than the false god Baal.  The altar is never about our great ability to approach God.  It is about our desperate desire to know God and His great grace to respond to our faithful obedience.

Lastly the altar is a place of prayer.  Once Elijah has everything in place, He calls out upon the Lord.  His prayer is in verses 36-37.  He makes it clear that this is about raising the honor of God and the truth about what has been going on in Israel.  He also makes it clear that this is about God turning the nation’s hearts back to Him again.  Oh that our hearts would be turned towards the Lord in the country, rather than to the world and what we want to do.  There is no shortcut to these things.  There is only a continual going back to the Lord, preparing ourselves in humility and speaking to God about those things in our life.  What is your will Lord?  I trust that You will answer, even when I go long periods of silence.  In fact, when we are waiting for a word from the Lord, it is easy to forget to be faithful to His last set of instructions.  God has told us to live lives that are faithfully following Jesus, not our imaginations of Jesus.  We are to be faithful to Jesus and to share the Gospel with the world around us.  You no longer have to climb up into the heavens to reach Him; He has come down to us in our worst hour.  Instead of running from Him, draw near!

At the end of Elijah’s prayer God responds in great power as fire falls from heaven upon the sacrifice and burns up everything even the water in the trench.  This causes all the people watching to break out in shocked praise of God.  The Lord, He is God!  This phrase is shouted by the people several times.  There was no question on that day just who was God.  It is indeed an amazing time when God demonstrates His great power.  But this demonstration is leading somewhere.  God is about to allow the rains to come back to Israel.  Men love to give credit to everything but the One True God.  In those days they would have accredited it to Baal the storm god, this was precisely his area of strength, water and fire the elements of storms.  Yet it wasn’t Baal who answered by fire that day, and thus the people would know later when the rains begin, that it was Yahweh, not Baal, who had done it.  In our day we would be giving the credit to nature, or to our scientist’s ability to manipulate it.  But, we should remember that God is the God of nature.  As the creator, He is the One who is ultimately in charge.  Nature is following the laws that He put in place from the beginning.  Now we cannot just run out and try to force God to show up in power.  Elijah states clearly that he is following the instructions that God has given him.  So what are our orders?  Though this is a real event that literally happened, there are also spiritual lessons here.  We can use this event as a metaphor for ourselves.  God needs faithful believers who will risk their lives on the altar and publically stand up for Him, whether He promises a powerful sign or not.  When we sacrifice our lives publically before the world and through prayer call upon the God of heaven, the fire from heaven will come down upon us.  This is the Holy Spirit of God.  Instead of destroying us, we are filled with the power to live godly lives and speak powerfully to the world around us.  This is the way that God has determined to turn hearts back to Him.  May we take time to repair the altar in our lives and begin walking with the Lord, rather than telling Him how He should be running things.

Confrontation II audio