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Sunday
Nov262017

The Sovereign Lord

1 Kings 18:1-19.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 26, 2017.

For three and a half years Israel and the surrounding area suffered under a drought and famine that the prophet Elijah had warned would come.  However, he also added that the famine would not quit until he said that it would.  Thus everyone in the area, whether righteous or wicked, had to live through this difficult event.  Yet, we see in Elijah’s life and the widow of Zarephath, that God was taking care of people who put their trust in Him.  Today’s story begins God’s confrontation of King Ahab, his queen Jezebel, and the prophets of Baal.  In this we will see that God doesn’t just send difficulty to make us pay.  Rather, He works in such a way as to get our attention and soften us up to what He has to say.

In ancient times and in modern times, nations and people ignore the God of Israel and could care less what He has to say, but they do so in error.  God is sovereign of the entire universe, both in heaven and on Earth.  Even though He gives mankind room to recognize their own, wicked heart, He is faithful to force the point and bring us to a place of decision.  It is His mercy that forces us to face our sin and make a choice to stand on our own merits, or fall upon His mercy.

God is sovereign over the timing of events

In verse one we see that God is ready to end the famine.  It has lasted over three years and we are not told why God had it last so long.  It is probable that Elijah was not worried about the length.  He trusted God and was receiving supernatural care.  However, other believers who were trying to be faithful to God would find themselves becoming more and more desperate over time.  “God, what are you doing?  When will you end this famine?”  It is precisely in such times that we must recognize that God is not asleep.  Thus in His sovereignty, God makes the choice over the timing of events that happen in our lives, or the life of a nation.  Yet, the Bible also makes the point that God is all-wise, in regard to such decisions.  He is not accountable to us, but He has the good of all involved in mind in His decisions.

So I would point us to the phrase in verse one, “after many days.”  In some ways we can be guilty of reading the Bible and hoping in God only for the amazing events.  When we have such an attitude, we lose sight of the “many days” that come between such huge events.  Whether at the personal level, national level, or global level, there are always “many days” between big events.  To us the centuries of time between the rebuilding of the temple in the 6th century BC and the coming of Jesus, 500 years later, can seem immaterial.  But, the truth is this.  Big events are intended to help us live out the many days in between.  Sometimes they come precisely because we haven’t been obeying in those “many days.”  The famine in this story came because King Ahab had walked away from God and was now leading God’s people into idolatry with the foreign god, Baal.  The flood came to pass, not because God wanted to spice things up, but because of the violence and immorality that was going on before it.  How we live in the “many days” between big events in our life are more important than the big events themselves.  God’s people must wake up every day and commit themselves to living it for the honor of God.  Whether the times are filled with plenty, or they are filled with lack, we must be faithful to the instructions that God has given us already.  Christ died so that we can live for Him in the now, not just for the purpose of us sitting around waiting for His next coming.  Yes, the Second Coming, is a great hope of believers.  But true hope, living hope, enables us to be faithful during those many days.  To us, it may seem that it is easy for Elijah.  He was in direct communication with God, but neither did God give him all the answers.  This story goes on to introduce a new character, Obadiah.  Obadiah was not a prophet, but a righteous man within a wicked administration.  He was trying to do his best to serve God in a dangerous time, both physically and spiritually.  Yes, he hopes for God to intervene by stopping the famine and stopping Ahab’s wicked actions.  But until that happens, he keeps faithful during the many days in between.

God tells Elijah to go to Ahab.  This is not a safe thing.  Ahab is like a bear robbed of its cubs.  He will not see reason, and wants to kill Elijah.  Yet, Elijah does not question and go right away to speak to Ahab.  I would remind us that it is not just prophets who are called to be faithful in dangerous times.  Jesus warned His disciples in Mark 13:13, “You will be hated by all for My name’s sake.  But he who endures to the end shall be saved.”  Yes, he was clearly speaking to his immediate disciples.  But the same dynamics of those days are true today.  In Revelation 2:3 Jesus told the Ephesian church, “You have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.”  Thus the promise that Jesus would be with us even when we are undergoing difficulty for Him, is not just to the disciples who heard Jesus that day.  Rather, it was to all who would hear his words from others and choose to be faithful regardless of the risk.  Jesus promised to be with His disciples even unto the end of the age, and that means He is with us today.

We do not know what our society will become tomorrow.  Will events get worse or get better?  Only God knows.  What about the world?  Things seem to be ratcheting up to huge, watershed, global events.  But for the believer the focus is not on those big events.  The focus is on today and serving God regardless of the risks.  We do not know what will happen specifically, but we do know that we will need to persevere and be faithful in it, no matter what direction it goes.  As we follow this story further we see that Obadiah has had to do just that very thing.

It is interesting to me that Elijah happens to run into Obadiah first and not Ahab.  Sure, there is a 50-50 chance that it would be Obadiah, but I think God had a hand in this.  We are told that Obadiah has been taking on great risk during Ahab’s reign.  Jezebel had instigated Ahab to have all the prophets of the Lord killed.  They couldn’t find Elijah, but they were able to find many others.  In the midst of this, Obadiah secretly hides 100 prophets in two different caves.  He then takes care of this with food and water.  This was a great risk.  Now Elijah shows up and gives him another risk.  Go tell Ahab that I am here.  Obadiah’s fear stems from the recognition that prophets don’t always cooperate with the “agenda” of men.  He is afraid that if he tells Ahab that he found Elijah, and then Elijah takes off, Ahab will have him killed.  Elijah mercifully promises to wait for Ahab.  It is not always easy to follow God’s purpose for us.  Even when we have been successful in the past at being faithful in risky situations, new situations can put us to a deeper test.

Now we are told that Elijah had searched all over the place for Elijah.  He even made the nations around him swear that Elijah wasn’t in their territories.  Little did he know, Elijah was in the territory of his father-in-law.  I bring this up because Ahab thinks that he can just deal with Yahweh and His prophets on his own terms.  But, the lack of communication between Elijah and Ahab during the drought demonstrates that God speaks on His own terms, and not ours.  We are warned in the Bible to seek the Lord while He may be found, and to call upon Him when He is near.  This implies there are times when God cannot be found and He is afar off.  We cannot force God to change the events of our lives or times.  We must patiently wait upon Him for His timing.  In fact, it only seems fair that our insolent desire to pursue wickedness be met with silence from God.  However, this is true even when we are serving God in righteousness.  He is silent at times and waits to see if we will trust Him.  He will speak in due time, it is ours to simply be faithful until He does speak again.  Ahab does not deserve a word from the Lord, much less an end to the famine.  But here it comes anyways because God is the One who is in control.  Ahab in his pride had rejected God’s word, but God uses three and a half years of famine to get his attention.  God has been building a door of repentance through which Ahab can walk through, if he will humble himself.  Of course, we know that he won’t humble himself.  He will only double down on his wickedness.  But think of this the next time you complain to the Lord that He must do something to get you out of a tough time.  In tough times, God is busy building in us and around the things we will need for the next stage.  We must simply be ready to obey and say, “Yes, Lord,” when the time comes.

God confronts Ahab through Elijah

In verses 17 through 19 we see the clash between Ahab and Elijah.  However, next week we will see that this clash has other layers.  There is also the religious clash between those who promote the worship of the Canaanite God Baal, and those who promote the worship of the God of Israel (the One, True God).  But even deeper than that is a spiritual clash between the God of heaven and those wicked spirits that are leading people away from Him.

For King Ahab the days of forsaking God are far behind him.  He is now in a state of hardness towards the things of God.  Even the rebukes of life itself are not enough to get his attention.   Perhaps Jezebel has told him that the real purpose of the famine was because Baal was displeased with Ahab’s inability to capture Elijah.  Somehow he has rationalized that he is on the right path and Elijah is the problem.  Ahab is not the only one to persist in a bad path over the top of the rebukes of life.  God in His mercy often confronts us with a human being because it is easier to ignore natural events and general principles of God’s word than to ignore a human who is now in our face.  Ahab could ignore God, but he couldn’t ignore Elijah.  God has always been faithful to send humans who are in relationship with Him to rebuke those who are persisting in rejecting Him.  In fact, Jesus Himself was the ultimate prophet of God who spoke a word to all mankind.  He has challenged all men everywhere to turn to Him for salvation and not to ignore it.  Some even tell themselves that they are okay with God as they reject His truth in the Bible.  Just know that we are capable of being blinded to the truth, but God in His mercy always sends a human along to challenge us.

Ahab accuses Elijah of being a troubler of Israel.  But Elijah throws it back in his face.  Ahab is the true troubler of Israel.  He has forsaken the worship of God and has taught the people to worship Baal, a foreign, false god.  If we stop and think about it the situation is somewhat humorous.  Who is Elijah?  He is just a mortal, and is not able to control rain clouds with some kind of anti-rain technology.  As I said Ahab probably believes Baal is causing the punishment for some reason.  That is the only thing that makes sense.  Yet, it is Ahab who is the changing dynamic.  Elijah has always served the God of Israel in that sense has done nothing different.  It is Ahab and those who listened to him who have abandoned the God of Israel and begun worshipping a foreign god.  Thus the problem must lie there.  How could God let this attempt to hijack His people go without a response?  He couldn’t and He didn’t. 

What about our own land today?  Or, what about the whole earth today?  It is easy to focus on the bearer of bad news and try to crush them as if they are the ones causing trouble.  All around this world there are people blaming Christians as the problem in their society.  It is nothing new.  Hitler did the same thing with the Jews during the Holocaust.   Christians who are faithful to call the world back from false religions and false ideologies will be hated for Christ’s sake.  Yet, it is not true Christians who are causing the problem in the earth today.  It is those who reject the Son of God and His ultimate message of God’s love and forgiveness.  It is those leaders who love to lead people astray towards everything, but the One, True God and His Son Jesus.  God is calling us all back to Him through Jesus.  Let us cling to Jesus and remember the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:7-11 (NKJV). 

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.  We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.  For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

Sovereign Lord audio

Friday
Nov242017

The Lord of Life

1 Kings 17:17-24.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on November 19, 2017.

In today’s passage tragedy is going to strike.  As is always the case, when calamity comes, we go from cruising through life to crying out in desperation.  Some use the existence of tragedy as a reason to reject the Creator.  However, the Bible teaches us that the All-Wise God knows what He is doing.  Even in the midst of tragedy He is merciful to mankind and has a plan to bring us to a place where tragedy will never again be able to strike us.  We serve the God who has the power of life and reigns supreme over death.  And, though it is clearly His will that all men should die and then face judgment, it is also His will that the righteous be raised up to eternal life.

God is still in control when tragedy strikes

Last week we saw God’s great mercy to this widow who wasn’t a part of the nation of Israel.  He did not just send her a prophet to feed her physical bread, but also to give her the truth.  Thus as the woman eats the miraculous physical bread, she is also the recipient of a miraculous side seat of the prophet Elijah.  Thus the God that Israel served cared even about a gentile widow who was on the verge of dying.  She had proven herself by sharing her last meal with Elijah and now enjoys the happiness of not having to worry about where the next meal for her son will come from.  While she was in this amazing time of joy, things headed in the right direction, and learning about God, things go sideways.  What is God doing?  She was no different than we are today.  What in the world is God doing today?  Well, we know that He is sending out Christians to speak the truth of God’s love to all people and His forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus.  So, why does it look like everything is falling into Chaos?  It looks that way because men’s hearts are evil and create chaos by their actions and choices.  So why doesn’t God stop it?  He doesn’t stop it because if He did there would be no more chance for salvation for them.  This woman was on the good path and could feel that surely she was now immune from difficulties.  The tragedy catches her by surprise, but not God.

It is here and many other places that we see the fact that tragedy strikes both the wicked and the righteous.  The woman’s son comes down with a sickness that quickly takes his life.  The tragedy of famine was already hitting the evil and good alike.  It doesn’t seem fair that God’s punishment of King Ahab and the people of Israel who were going along with him would also affect righteous people.  But, God always takes care of those who put their trust in Him.  Yes, He could supernaturally cause it to rain on just the crops of the righteous, but in His wisdom He often chooses to let it strike both alike.  The wicked in this situation have no hope.  But the righteous can pray and call out for the help that God has promised He will give.  Jesus warned his disciples not to think that tragedy is sent only to destroy sinners.  In Luke 13 he points out two situations in which people tragically died (some at the hands of a wicked king, and others at the accident of a tower collapsing).  He asks the question, “Do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwell in Jerusalem?”  He then goes on to explain that, “I tell you no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”  We should not look on trying to figure out why it happened, but rather let it be a warning to us that our time could come just as unexpectedly.  Am I ready to meet my Maker?  Many people get no advance warning of their deaths.  They have no time to get ready for it.  We need to always be ready to face the Lord.  Now, when tragedy strikes it feels like there is no hope.  But in Christ there is always hope.  With God all things are possible, even life from the dead.

But the widow is not aware of this yet.  She can only see the despairing unfairness of her situation.  She thinks that she is being punished for some past sin.  It is also clear that Elijah the prophet doesn’t know what God is doing either.  Obviously, God had not told him what would happen.  So Elijah, in verse 20, asks God if He had done this.  But, he seems to be asking more of a “Why” question than anything.  Now the truth is that God is ultimately responsible.  He has either primarily caused it to happen, or He has secondarily allowed it to happen.  Either way, because God is a being with complete jurisdiction and power, He bears responsibility for what happens.  Those who try to blame the evil in the world on God only have a partial case.  Yes, it seems that God is failing in His duty even to allow evil to exist.  However, that is a very different then thinking that God does evil or makes people do evil things.  God is never directly or primarily responsible for evil, people and other created beings are.  Yet, even in the argument that He shouldn’t allow evil to occur, the premise is illogical.  Would we call a world where we didn’t have a true choice, good?  If God forced us to do good things, as He defines it, all the time, would we think it was good?  In His wisdom God has determined the best course and made the best decrees for giving mankind freedom and yet holding them accountable for their choices and actions.  We may disagree, but we cannot say He is the source of evil in the sense that He bears primary responsibility.  So is God sleeping at the wheel and doing a bad job of managing the universe?

As hard as it is for us within this world to see beyond it, God sees all.  When a person is going through a problem, they often become stuck in it.  If God directly causes a tragedy, then it is a rebuke to the wicked in order to humble them.  This “shot across the bow” gives them the mercy of rethinking their path.  Repentance becomes an open door before them regardless of whether or not they walk through it.  Sometimes the tragedy is to simply remove the wicked from the scene.  Their time is finished, much like Belshazzar and the mysterious hand, writing on the wall.  It can also be a test to the righteous, to see if they will still follow Him.  Or, sometimes it is merely to remove them from wicked circumstances.  Isaiah 57:1,2 says, “The righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands.  For the righteous man is taken away from calamity, he enters into peace; they rest in their beds who walk in their uprightness.”  God also sometimes does so in order to display his glorious power through healing and deliverance.  Now all these things, and most likely more, can be the possible purpose when God directly causes tragedy.  In fact, it would seem that he often is doing many of them simultaneously in the lives the many different people affected.

Yet, many tragedies are not primarily caused by God, but rather simply allowed to take place by Him.  Whether it is a person simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or evil people preying on others, God has allowed mankind a certain space of freedom.  He is not instantaneous in His judgments and punishments.  He leaves room for people to repent and be saved from their sin.  Yet, if they do not repent, they will find that room to also be the rope by which they hang themselves.  They will be without excuse.  Though it is a grievous burden at times, we should not complain that God gives us such room.  The only other option would be a stifling dictatorship.  So God allows things to happen for much the same reasons as when He directly causes them to happen.  Ultimately He is giving mankind freedom to sin and yet freedom to choose righteousness.  If I only choose righteousness when God protects me in a safe cocoon, then I am not really choosing righteousness.  I am choosing safety, self-preservation.  But, if I choose righteousness even when suffering at the hands of evil, then I truly have chosen righteousness and such a choice truly is commendable.  God is not a dictator at heart.  He does not wish to control mankind, but to have a free relationship with mankind.  It is the devil, who accuses God at every turn, who is the dictator at heart.

The real question is how will I respond

Notice that God does not answer Elijah’s question about whether He did this or not, or why He might have allowed it to happen.  We should see this aspect also in the story of Job.  It is as if the Bible is telling us that even if we did have an answer it is not what is important in our life.  The problem isn’t that we don’t know what God is doing.  The problem is that we often fall to the temptation to doubt His love for us and go our own way.  This story is about how we respond to tragedy, and not why God allows it.  We don’t need to know, as much as we want it, but only what is next.  If the creator of the universe is good and working all things to our good, then we don’t need to understand His plan; only what we should do next. 

The reaction or next step for many people is bitterness, fear, and pushing God away.  This is the path that the widow starts to go down.  She regrets interacting with Elijah.  No matter how nice the miraculous bread was, it would be like gravel now that her son is dead.  You can almost hear her thinking in her mind, “I knew nothing good would come from letting a prophet stay in the house.”  She suspects that her son’s death is a punishment for a past sin.  If we imagine her life, we see a very difficult series of tragedies.  She lives in a pagan country with rampant immorality and abuse.  Her husband then died and left her poor and with a little child.  Then a famine comes and shuts off any hope she had of foraging and scraping out a living.  Yes, a prophet shows up, but now her child is dead.  Her heart begins to push away Elijah and the God that He represents.  They are to blame.  The isolation to which we retreat will wall us off from the goodness of God.  Of course, we should not blame this woman.  She is just a baby in the things of God.  Thus we should contrast her actions with those of Elijah’s.

Elijah is not a spiritual infant.  Yet, no amount of spiritual maturity can make life easy.  He does not respond in walking away from God and being fearful that God is rejecting him.  Rather, he responds in faith and begins fervently praying for God’s act of divine power to save the boy.  Is this how I respond?  Do we keep looking to God until we get an answer either way?  James uses Elijah as a model for believers in every generation.  He is a righteous man whose faith causes him to pray to God in the time of need.  Such prayers of faith accomplish much.  Let’s hear the verses.  James 5:13-18, “Is anyone among you suffering?  Let him pray.  Is anyone cheerful?  Let him sing psalms.  Is anyone among you sick?  Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.  And, if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.  The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.  And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”  Though, James points to the prayers concerning the famine, he could have just as easily pointed to these prayers for God to bring the boy back to life.  We can also pray like Elijah did, with faith in God, and fervency.

Yet, this story is not about being able to get a miracle every time something bad happens.  Ultimately it is a reminder that our God has the power of life even in the face of death.  Even if He does not bring someone back from the dead, He still has the purpose of raising us all up from the dead at the Day of Resurrection.  This boy has not been dead for long and thus we could say he is technically resuscitated.  Now, later at the raising of Lazarus from the dead, it had been 4 days.  This is more than resuscitation.  This would involve a clear rejuvenation of tissue.  In either of these cases the boy and Lazarus would go on and live the rest of their lives and come to death’s door for the second time.  However, this time Elijah or Jesus would not show up.  They are only given mortal life.  Why?  God’s plan for all mankind is greater than keeping us from dying or suffering tragedy.  His plan is to overcome the suffering and tragedy that we may face in life, even death.  Phillips Brooks, an 18th century American, Episcopal clergyman once said, “Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger men.  Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks.  Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you will be a miracle.”  God can handle our many questions asking why.  But, recognize that more important than “why” is what will I do now.  Let’s choose to trust God and be a people who pray with the faith and knowledge of just how great our God is.

Lord of Life audio