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In the new series, Profiles in Courage, Pastor Philip explores the lives of biblical figures who exemplify God-given courage. From Genesis to Revelation, these profiles of courage will inspire us to take a stand for righteousness and unwavering faith.
Courage is not limited to a select few; it is a quality all believers must cultivate. It involves putting ourselves at risk, sacrificing comfort, and persevering in the face of opposition. It demands a firm commitment to truth and an unwavering determination to do what others cannot or will not do.
More From This Series
Well, let’s take our Bibles and turn to 1 Kings 18. I’m coming back to finish a message we started last month: “You Can’t Have It Both Ways.” We’ve started a series of messages, which we will work our way through here in 2022, entitled Profiles in Courage. I want to encourage you to be men who are strong in the Word and strong in your witness for Jesus Christ.
This is going to be a pointed message this morning. In fact, a while ago I was reading about preaching and the need to be brief and to the point. The writer told a story about Churchill, who was given an honorary doctorate at Yale University some years ago. When the day came, he was preceded by another gentleman who had earned a doctorate and who himself was a graduate of Yale University. And so, before Churchill received his doctorate, this man received his, and they were each given a few moments to speak.
The first speaker exhausted his moments and went beyond them, and he did this thing. He took the word Yale as an acrostic, and he said, “You know what? The letter Y stands for ‘youth,’ and youth is the launching point of life. Don’t miss it.” Then he said, “The letter A stands for ‘attitude.’ Attitude’s everything in life.” Then he said, “The letter L stands for ‘loyalty.’ We need loyalty among friends and family. That’s one of the foundations and building blocks of life.” Then he said, “The letter E stands for ‘excellence.’ Everything we do, we should do well. Life and family and business deserves our best.” He took several moments to do that, and then he sat down. Churchill got up, and the first thing he says is, “We can be sure glad that our friend didn’t graduate from the Massachusetts Technology Institute.” And the point was, right, be brief and to the point.
And I promise you this morning I’m going to be to the point. That’s all I’m promising. You know our style here at Kindred. Just have your Bible open at 1 Kings 18. We’re back to looking at Elijah and his confrontation on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal and the prophets of Asherah.
In 1990, Margaret Thatcher was at the Aspen Institute in Colorado. So was George H. Bush and several national leaders. While they were there, they were informed that Saddam Hussein had taken his troops and his tanks and crossed the Kuwait border. These were the days leading up to the first Gulf War. George H. Bush asked Mrs. Thatcher for advice, and she says, “George, we can’t let this stand. History tells us that bullies must be confronted. Aggression mustn’t be allowed to stand, or aggressors become more aggressive.”
Now that was what Thatcher spoke into one of his ears. In the other ear, George H. Busch was hearing from his aides and his counselors, and he was being told that the Arab League had sent the message to let the Arab nations get together and bring about an Arab solution. Colin Powell was telling Bush that perhaps the first step should be sanctions.
But Thatcher was having none of it. She knew that the Arab League and an Arab solution was just a delay tactic, and it would go round in circles and circles and circles. She also believed that sanctions don’t always work, and they certainly take time to work. And this issue in Kuwait needed immediate confrontation and immediate solution. Seeing that George H. Bush was a deer in the headlights due to the conflicting advice, sensing his hesitancy, Mrs. Thatcher looked at George H. Bush and said, “Look, George, this is no time to go wobbly.” The lady’s not for turning. This is no time to go wobbly.
Mrs. Thatcher was bold and courageous as a leader because she knew full well that wavering and wobbling are the enemies of the good. She knew that life requires decisive action, and so does leadership. She knew that challenges must be faced with courage and conviction. She believed that neutrality and nuance on the issues of great importance is simply the coward’s way out. “George, this is no time to go wobbly.” I would suggest to you men here at Kindred Community Church and from other churches that have joined us this morning, this is no time to go wobbly. The days in which you and I live require boldness, require backbone, require bravery, and that’s why we’ve started a series entitled Profiles and Courage. We need to be like Joshua, strong and courageous. We need to heed David’s advice to wait on the Lord and be courageous. We need to hear Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians in chapter 16, verse 13, of his first letter: Be strong; act like men.
I say that because as I look out over the landscape of the church and the culture, I’ve concluded, guys, it will take courage to live a life shaped by the absolutes of God’s moral law in an age of ethical relativism. It’s going to take courage to call men to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in an age of godless secularism, growing socialism, and aggressive atheism. It’s going to take courage to preach the glory of Christ and His exclusive claims as the only name under heaven given among men whereby we might be saved. It’s going to take courage to put Him on full display in His offices of prophet, priest, and king in an age of ecumenicalism and religious pluralism. It’s going to take courage. And, I’ll tell you this, it’ll take courage to defend the universal creation mandate regarding heterosexual marriage between a man and a woman as defined by Scripture. It’s going to take courage to do that in a context of gender confusion, LGBT rights. It’s going to take courage to live a righteous life, evangelize, preach the gospel, stand for biblical truth, and defend marriage as God designed it.
This is no time for the faint hearted. Would you agree? This is no time for lockdowns and lukewarmness. This is no time for finding the middle ground. This is no time to be making up your mind. This is a time for courage and conviction—boldness, backbone, and bravery. My friend, your friend, our friend Owen Strachan says this: “The greatest threat to biblical Christianity today is not atheism, militant Islam, the sexual revolution, or a hostile public square. The greatest threat to biblical Christianity today is weak, soft, man-centered, sin-affirming, ear-tickling, flesh-pleasing, self-help theology.” His point is this. The issue is not the wickedness of the culture; the issue is the weakness of the church.
And so we have embarked upon a series entitled Profiles in Courage. What is courage? I came across some simple definitions. I like them. Courage is fear that has said its prayers. Courage is not the absence of fear but the willingness to push on in the face of it. Courage is doing what you are afraid to do but you know must do. Right? Like preach the gospel, evangelize, live a righteous life, stand for biblical ethics and marriage. Courage is overcoming fear through the fear of God. We desperately need it. I’m convinced, the more I read, it’s going to be harder and tougher to be a vocal visible disciple of Jesus Christ in 2022 and in the days to come. We are living in an increasingly cancel Christianity culture.
So, let’s go back to our study in Elijah, which we started last month. We’re working our way through 1 Kings 18. A message entitled “You Can’t Have It Both Ways.” Remember what Elijah says to the people of God? Why halt you between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him. If Baal, follow him. You can’t have it both ways. We need some courage. We need some conviction. We need some clarity.
And so, this is the first profile in courage. We looked at several things. I’m not going to reheat this dinner, but let me go over a few things quickly just to get our bearings in the flow of the text. One, we looked at the command, right? The command. We can see from verse 1 that we’re three years into the famine. It’s an act of God’s judgment upon the idolatrous people of God. Originally, God had told Elijah to go hide himself in chapter 17. Now, he says in chapter 18, verse 1, “Go, present yourself.” Go show yourself. It’s time to break cover. And we notice the rhythm of the text. It’s a rhythm regarding biblical ministry. Hide then present. Wait then work. Listen then speak. Train then serve.
We need to become something before God before we can do something for God. That was what we learned from the command. Men don’t just step into a moment like Elijah does here and change history. They are made for the moment by many other moments prior to that moment. Cherith. Zarephath. I read somewhere God prepares us for all that He’s preparing us for. Everything in this story of Elijah has been leading up to this moment. So, guys, wait your time, learn your lessons, do your reps. Prepare yourself for all that God is preparing you for.
Number two, the contrast, verses 3 to 16. We looked at the contrast between Obadiah and Elijah. Now, there’s nothing in the text that leads me to believe that Obadiah was a compromiser. Some have labeled him a collaborator with the administration of Ahab. I’m not sure that’s fair. There’s nothing in the text that would suggest that, and in fact, Obadiah tells Elijah that he has feared God from his youth. He’s told Elijah that he’s been hiding God’s prophets in a cave. This man is a man of conviction. He’s in the administration of Ahab, but he’s not of it—to borrow the words of Jesus, right? You can be in the world but not of it. God’s got His people in some very strange places. Elijah was in uniform fighting across the battle lines. Obadiah was a resistance fighter fighting behind the lines. Obadiah wasn’t expected to be Elijah. You didn’t need to be an Elijah clone to be fearful.
There are different models, different men. That’s why we’ve got to be careful in the Lord’s work to follow some slavish imitation. It’s foolish. I think I shared with you Alistair Begg speaking at The Master’s Seminary during one winter, and he said, “If you’re going to copy someone, make sure it’s someone you can copy.” It’d be hard to copy Elijah to the extreme, but Obadiah is this quiet, faithful, resistance fighter. I’m challenged by that.
The command, the contrast, the contradiction.
The contradiction is this, that when Elijah meets Ahab, Ahab calls Elijah the source of trouble. He says, “Oh, you’re the one that troubles Israel.” Talk about twisting things to your advantage. Talk about getting it wrong, getting it back to front. He was the trouble. He was the idolator. He married Jezebel. He brought Phoenician gods across the border and into the civil and ceremonial life of Israel. He’s the trouble.
But, didn’t we remind ourselves, don’t be surprised when the world blames the righteous for its troubles, when the saints of God become the scapegoats of society. Remember what they said about the Lord Jesus? Luke 23:2: “And they began to accuse Him, saying, ‘We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.’”
What about Acts 24:5? Speaking of Paul, here’s what they said. “For we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” In an inverted world, right? This is in an inverted world, because according to Isaiah 5:20, we are in a world where often the bad is called good and the good is called bad. It’s inverted. And, if that’s where we’re at, if we are in an inverted world—where God has been dethroned, man has been enthroned, good is bad, bad is good—don’t be surprised when the bad guys are the good guys and the good guys are the bad guys.
Don’t be surprised when that is the message in the news headlines, the newspaper editorial. I just finished the book . . . I’ll commend it to you. I’m always doing that, but I’ll commend this to you. Being the Bad Guys by Stephen McAlpine. The thesis of the book is that the church now has become the bad guys.
And here’s what he does in the opening pages of the book. He says this: The church was once the good guys. For centuries western culture was shaped and formed around Judeo-Christian philosophy and theology. The Ten Commandments reigned in terms of civil law, loving your neighbor, forgiving your enemies. Christianity had a seat at the head of the table. It was respected within the culture. Even if people weren’t professing Christians, they kind of nodded in Christianity’s direction. And then around about the 20th century, the good guys became just one of the other guys. We weren’t expelled out of society. Our voice was considered, but no longer was it considered unquestionably. If Christianity worked for society, society worked with Christianity.
And we still think we’re living during those days, but we’re not. We’ve moved from being the good guys to just being one of the guys, and now we’re the bad guys. We’re the bad guys. A seat at the culture table that we have assumed is no longer available to us. We’re on the wrong side of history, according to society and culture, the wrong side of many issues and conversations.
Bernie Sanders just recently, in recent years, told a candidate for a government position that his Christian convictions disqualified him from being part of the government. Just a little taste of where we’re at. Just want you guys to waken up. Don’t want you to be dreaming. Don’t want you to be dithering. I don’t want you to be fantasizing for the good old days. We’re no longer the good guys. We’re no longer just one of the guys. We’re the bad guys. And that’s why we need to be profiles in courage.
Then, you had the choice. Elijah calls on the nation of Israel to stop dithering and dancing in verses 19 and 20 and 21: “’How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’ But the people answered him not a word.” He wants them to stop riding the fence between two gods. He wants them to awaken to the reality that syncretism and monotheism are incompatible. You can’t serve God and . . . money, whatever. Jesus said, “You’re either for Me, or you’re against Me.”
Have you ever noticed how the Bible, by its very nature, is antithetical? It begins with two trees and a choice. It’s light and darkness. It’s life and death. It’s the broad road. It’s the narrow road. There’s the amount of blessing, there’s the amount of cursing. There’s wisdom from above. There’s wisdom from below. Constantly, it’s antithetical, badgering us to make a choice. There’s no room for neutrality. The Bible and its demands of devotion to God and his son are antithetical. God won’t suffer rivals or split allegiances.
Let me tell you this story quickly. It kind of illustrates what’s going on here, and we’ll trigger then what we’ve got to do to finish this passage. But, some years ago, we were pursuing a naturalization here in the United States. We had been green card holders for a while, and we wanted to go for citizenship. The process required us getting down to the INS offices in LA. We were living in Santa Clarita at the time. So, I knew there would be long lines and long days, and the girls were pretty small at the time. I think they were all in elementary school. We get up one particular morning at four o’clock in the morning to be down there by five o’clock and get in the line. I think the offices opened at about nine. We sat there for four hours in a line with little girls. A line that stretched around the block.
Over time, they began to inch forward, until around about 11 o’clock. We were about 100 yards with this stage to getting in, and somebody came out and told us, “That’s all we’re taking today.” And I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” I think I told the girl to her face, “Is this Kazakhstan or the United States of America?” She says, “I’m sorry.” There was a cop nearby, and I engaged him, and he said, “Hey buddy, if you want to beat the system here, you got to get down the night before. You got to get down here about midnight. Get into the first couple of hundred, and you’ll be good.” I’m going, “Okay. That’s the price for citizenship? Okay.”
And so, we decided to do that. We left it for a few weeks. I needed to calm down a little bit. Seriously, I was so ticked off. And so, a few weeks later, I go down at midnight, get in the line. I had a plan with a buddy friend of mine, a police officer, to drive the girls down with June about five or six o’clock. I’m just in line talking to people, listening to the music, reading. About five o’clock, the cop comes around, same cop I’ve seen a week or two earlier. He says, “By the way, we just want you to know, there’ll be no cutting in the line.” And I went over, and I said, “Hey, I understand that, but I want you to know I’ve just been keeping a spot for my family. I’ve been here since midnight.” He said, “That doesn’t work. They had to be here with you.” I said, “Are you kidding me? Three little girls, midnight, on the concrete? Come on.”
He said, “That’s the rules. No cutting in line.” Well, you know what, I’m about to blow a gasket. He goes away, and I get back in line. Then I get out of line and tell this guy to keep my spot. I chased the cop down. I said, “Come on, what’s going on?” I said, “I don’t know if you remember me. Maybe the accent will help you. But I was here a while ago. You told me to be here at midnight. You didn’t say my family had to be here. What? Come on, this has got to be better than this. I’ve been in line. My girls are 10, 7, and 6. They’re coming down at five o’clock.” He says, “Buddy, that’s the rules.”
And so, I kind of pressured him a little bit, and he says, “I’ll tell you what. Why don’t we go back round, and you can ask the people in the line if they’ll let your family join?” I go, “Are you kidding me?” But he says, “That’s the way it works.” So, I had to go back. The cop is behind me, and I’m canvasing for votes. Seriously. Now, everybody in the front of the line, you can imagine they’re going, “Let the guy in. It’s his family.” Because it doesn’t affect them. A lot of people behind me in the line were going, “No, no, no, no.” It was kind of a split decision, and the cop was kind of . . . And there was this one guy in the middle, and I went up to him. “Buddy, what do you think?” I’ll never forget his answer: “Well, I can see both sides.”
That was crazy. So, next stage, the cop walks away, and I had the sense, so I get on the phone to my friend. I said, “Hey, you need to wake up. I’m waking the girls up and June. Get down here as quick as you can. It’s a code three. Drive as fast as you want.” I said, “Bring your night stick. There’s a guy on the line we’re going to deal with.” No, I didn’t. But he comes down, and eventually we get in. We get in that day, and the process unfolds. But can you believe that? Some guy in the middle. “I can see both sides.” You know what, you’re either for me or against me. That’s what Jesus says.
So, that’s kind of where we’re at here at 1 Kings 18, which brings us to the contest. The choice leads to the contest, and the contest is taking place, verses 19 through 38, on the top of Mount Carmel. Elijah has invited Ahab to gather the clans, to bring the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah to him on Mount Carmel—1,700 feet above the shores of the Mediterranean Sea on the western end of the valley of Jezreel. This is the big showdown on the high ground. It’d make a great TV series, wouldn’t it?
In a religious world of what was marked by multiple choice, Elijah looks for a yes and no answer. You know what? “If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (v. 21). And so he decides on a test. The God who answers by fire is the true God. Now, here’s what’s interesting, by the way. Just a little bit of set up, and then we have four things to look at on the contest, as Elijah looks for one nation under God, indivisible. It’s fitting that he chose Mount Carmel because it lies between Israel and Phoenicia, the lands of the daddies in question.
It was regarded by the Phoenicians as the secret dwelling place of Baal. This was a home game for the prophets of Baal. It was a road game for Elijah. Striking, isn’t it? He cedes to them a definite advantage. “I tell you what. Let’s meet on Carmel.” No doubt, King Ahab was highly pleased because he saw that as a place of advantage. And then the test itself is about fire (v. 24). Baal was known as the god of the sun and the storm. In fact, he was often pictured in ancient depictions as a god who would throw thunder bolts to the earth. In fact, when I was at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, we studied the book of Judges. I remember the professor, K. Lawson Younger, showing us a picture, an old depiction of Baal doing that very thing, throwing thunder bolts to the earth. And so that’s the contest. It’s home advantage for them. Elijah hasn’t made it easy for himself. It’s Carmel, and the test is regarding fire, one of Baal’s strong suits.
Now, there’s four things I want us to see. I think you’ll find these challenging as we talk about a profile in courage. Number one is fearlessness. I want you to see Elijah’s fearlessness. Imagine the scene; we’ve kind of depicted it. He’s standing alone on top of the limestone mountain overlooking the blue and sparkling Mediterranean Sea. He’s encircled by 850 angry prophets of Baal and Asherah, and Israel is in the gallery eating their popcorn, kind of disinterested spectators. In fact, he says in verse 22, “Then Elijah said to the people, ‘I alone am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men.’” Now, that’s not all together true, because we know from Obadiah there were other prophets. And we know when it gets down in the dumps in chapter 19 that the Lord has to remind him, “You know what? There are many who haven’t bowed the knee to Baal.”
But let’s be fair to Elijah. They weren’t there that day. He was alone that day, and there’s a fearlessness there that I want to be challenged by as a man. This man’s courage and fearlessness is striking, isn’t it? His enemies were hostile zealots, snarling like an angry dog. His supposed friends in Israel were gutless. They were silent when asked what side they were on, and there he stands unflinchingly by himself. I love it. If “the fear of man brings a snare” (Prov. 29:25), Elijah didn’t fall into it. How do you explain his bravery? Well, there are several factors, I’m sure, but the most outstanding one is this, and it’s the one that speaks to us most easily and convictingly and convincingly: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10). And if the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the fear of the Lord is the end of fear.
It’s been said, “We fear man too much because we fear God too little.” What is the fear of God? Well, it’s an appreciation for, an appropriation of a right understanding of God’s person and glory. It’s the rightsizing of God. That’s what it is. We understand His majesty, His might, His glory, His sovereignty, His holiness. You understand your littleness before Him. Your sin is ever before you. His holiness is blazing and scary. Fear dethrones God and enthrones man. And I think Elijah had a fear of God. In fact, he lived coram Deo. That’s a Latin term for “before the face of God.”
Go back to chapter 17, verse 1: “And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord God of Israel lives’”—notice this—“‘before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.’” I love the drama of that, too. He’s standing before Ahab. He’s just told him, or he is about to tell him, God’s going to turn the tap off—no water. That means drought. That means famine. That means judgment. That means devastation. And he says, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand.” He was more conscious of the presence of God than he was at the presence of Ahab. And that’s our problem. We’ve become more conscious of the person in front of us—our boss, some social media bully, the majority of the culture, some king, some queen. We become more conscious of them than we are of God, and therefore we backtrack, we compromise, we shade, we bow, we bend.
Not Elijah. This man lived conscious of God’s presence and power. In fact, that little phrase, “before whom I stand,” you can read about that in 1 Kings 10:8 and in 1 Kings 3:16. It speaks about standing before a king. It talks about appealing for an audience with the king in the royal court. So, when Elijah’s in the royal court of King Ahab, he wants him to know, and the text wants us to know, he was more conscious of the King of kings and the Lord of lords. That’s what made him brave.
The unrivaled majesty and might of God was the reference point for Elijah in all situations and struggles. When you and I are alive to God, that will be the death of fear in each of our lives. I love Proverbs 28:1; it talks about the boldness of the righteous, the God-fearing man: “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” What about Psalm 3:6? Again, this idea that when you and I fear God, we fear nothing else. “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. Arise, O Lord; save me . . . . Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Ps. 3:6–8).
Great story that’ll illustrate this, and we’ll move on. Hugh Latimer was an English reformer, wonderful Protestant, during the time of Henry VII. He spoke to the king often in the royal court, and in one particular audience, he offended the king. He was taken aside. He was rebuked, and he was told to come back the next week and apologize and adjust his message. That moment comes, and here’s what happens. Hugh Latimer stands before King Henry VII, and he says this: “Hugh Lattimer, dost thou know before whom thou are this day to speak? To the high and mighty monarch, the king’s most excellent majesty, who can take away thy life, if thou offendest. Therefore, take heed that thou speakest not a word that may displease. But then consider well, Hugh, dost thou not know from whence thou comest—upon Whose message thou are sent? Even by the great and mighty God, Who is all-present and Who beholdeth all thy ways and Who is able to cast thy soul into hell! Therefore, take care that thou deliverest thy message faithfully.”
And he went on to speak the message he spoke the week before. Because, you see, he believed the words of Jesus. Don’t fear him who can kill your body. Fear Him who can kill the soul and the body in hell forever. I’m struck by Elijah’s fearlessness.
Secondly, I’m struck by his faith. I’m struck by the audacity of his trust in God. Elijah was trusting God to manifest Himself in a manner that would leave the people with no ifs, no buts as to who the true God was.
This is verse 19 and following, and you’ve got to love this guy. Elijah didn’t concern himself with the size of the problem, the apathy of the people, or the force of the enemy, for his faith was in God. Let me just go down a few things that shows his audacity. We’ve already touched on this. He’s already picked a region that’s a hotbed of Baalism. The altar of the Lord is broken. The altar of Baal stands tall. Mount Carmel was situated between the Phoenician border and Israel. It was right on Jezebel’s doorstep.
Number two, look at the odds: 850 to one. And don’t forget that the prophets of Baal, according to verse 19, had state sponsorship. We read about them eating from Jezebel’s table. They were the state religion. They had all the authority and the resources of the government behind them.
Number three, he had already conceded not only ground, literally, to Baalism, but the test itself played into the hands of Baalism because, as we’ve said, he’s the storm god.
Number four, from verse 25 on, we read that they were allowed to go first. He gave them the initiative, and they had the balance of the day to do what they were going to do. From early morning to around about the middle of the afternoon, they held court. And then, to top it all, when his time comes, verses 32 to 35, when he builds his altar, rebuilding the broken-down altar, and places his sacrifice on the wood, he tells them to go and get water. And he tells them to do it three times. They were to douse the altar and the sacrifice in water. What’s the point? To show no trickery. To realize that when this thing is done, this is not naturalism; this is supernaturalism. You’ve got to love it. The audacity of all of that, the boldness of it challenges me.
Some years ago in the Europa Hotel in Belfast, I heard the wonderful expositor and Bible teacher Stephen Olford, and he said something I’ve never forgotten. It came back to me this morning. It was this: “If you can explain it, God didn’t do it.” Now, I want to qualify that a little, because I’m big on living faithful, ordinary lives. On the other hand, I like to be challenged here. If too much of our life, too much of our ministry, too much of what we do can be explained by natural things, then where is God? A majestic and mighty God, a sovereign God.
Let me ask you a question. I asked it of myself. Audacity, boldness, risk, expectation—those are words I can associate with Elijah here in what he does. Audacity, boldness, risk, expectation. What about you and me? Does that mark my pastoring? Does that mark your manhood, our discipleship together? Is much of what we do and achieve explained by the natural rather than the supernatural? Are we walking by sight? That is, all around us, what we can see and sense that dominates how we act and react. Are we walking by sight, or are we walking by faith? Do we believe in an invisible God like Moses? I want to be challenged by that.
Listen, as a parting thought here, we don’t need to make things easy for God. That’s what I love about this story. Elijah didn’t make it easy for himself or for God. He cedes home court, Mount Carmel, the test favors Baalism, and when it comes to the sacrifice, he douses his in water. We don’t need to make things easy for God, but we often attempt to do it—rob Him of His glory, the display of His power. Elijah’s task was not to make things easier by his cleverness or his contrivance. In fact, he made things difficult in an act of faith.
I don’t have time to go there, but read the story of Abraham and Sarah. They tried to help God when they were barren. What was the result of that? Ishmael and the Arab nations. And we’re still in Israel, still living with the consequences of them trying to help God. When you try to help God, it usually doesn’t help. God doesn’t need a leg up. “Our Lord God,” Jeremiah says, “thou hast made heavens and the earth by your outstretched hand, and nothing is too difficult for you.” Now that’s going to be balanced, right. We don’t want recklessness. Jesus warned us, “That doesn’t mean you can throw yourself off a building and put God to the test.” On the other hand, I do want to be challenged. How much of my praying and my thinking and my acting has an element of audacity and boldness and risk and big belief in God in it?
Listen to Roger Ellsworth, a Baptist pastor, writing about this. He says, “The lesson we urgently need to draw from Elijah’s action is that revival cannot be produced by human ingenuity and cleverness. Perhaps the primary reason we have not yet seen a great spiritual awakening in this century is that we have not yet reached the water pouring stage. We have not shut ourselves up onto God as our only hope. As long as we think we can produce revival with our clever programs and our innovative promotions, we may rest assured that we will never see it. Only when the church reaches the point of desperation, in which she pours water on her own abilities and casts herself holy upon God, might she see revival.” That’s challenging. We’re not at the water pouring stage yet.
Read the life of William Carey, wonderful Baptist missionary, “father of modern missions.” He wanted to go global with the gospel. His fellow ministers called him a miserable enthusiast, told him to sit down. “If God wants to convert the heathen, He can do it without you.” His ministerial friends thought he was nuts. His family thought he was bonkers, tried to dissuade him from going to India. His wife started to have a hesitancy about following him there. The British commercial interests in India had made it clear that if he gets there, they’re going to make it hard for him. And they did. And, to top it all, when he left English shores, he was supported by the poorest of Baptist churches. The rich churches in London and other major cities had not underwritten his enterprise, just the small country churches. Yet he went and started modern missions. Because, to quote him, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”
Not only his fearlessness, not only his faith. Thirdly, his forwardness. Love this part of it. It kind of plays into my personality, so I’ve got to be careful I don’t ride this too long this morning. But I love his forwardness. It’s just another look at his fearlessness; it’s going to turn his fearlessness inside out. And you see there’s a forwardness to him, a boldness, even a brashness, right? It’s not only seen in his audacious faith; it’s seen in his mockery of the prophets of Baal.
Back to verse 26 and onward:
“So they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, ‘O Baal, hear us!’ But there was no voice; no one answered. Then they leaped about the altar which they had made.
“And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, ‘Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.’ So they cried aloud, and cut themselves, as was their custom, with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them. And when midday was past, they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice.” That’s probably about three o’clock in the afternoon. “But there was no voice.” Because, remember Psalm 115? They have a god who has eyes but doesn’t see, ears but doesn’t hear, and a mouth but doesn’t speak. “But there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention.
“Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come near to me.’”
Did you notice his forwardness and sarcasm? He suggests that Baal was thinking of other things. He was meditating or busy. The Hebrew for “busy” means that he was perhaps relieving himself. Is Baal in the john? You might want to go and get him. Is he traveling? Is he sleeping? Is he on a trip?
In fact, Phoenician sailors believed that Baal traveled with them on the Mediterranean Sea and elsewhere. I love it. Here’s the point. He didn’t spare them any embarrassment. That’s the thing that strikes me, the forwardness of it. Verse 21, the people are silent: “But the people answered him not a word.” No forwardness there, no boldness, no audacity, no conviction. Why? Because they’re in disobedience. When you’re in disobedience, you’re silent. The enemy has taken you out of the game. The people of God were reserved in their disobedience, but the prophet of God was bold and frank in his obedience. And, in a world and a day of religious ambiguity, ethical shading, and moral double speak, I personally think we could deal with a little bit more frankness. I don’t know when that spills over into being rude. I’m not sure, and we would need to be careful of where that is in terms of loving your enemy.
But there seems to be at least strains of truth in God’s Word where frankness, bordering on mockery, is appropriate. Remember what Jesus said about Herod? “Go tell that fox.” Bit frank, isn’t it? “Go tell that fox.” That’s not very flattering. Remember what He said to some of the Jewish leaders, that “You’re a brood of vipers?” Pretty strong. You know what? Jesus needs to be a little bit more filtered. That’s what we’re being told today. We need to filter stuff. We need to nuance. We need to be careful we don’t offend. I was talking to someone the other day about a Christian ministry that’s calling for a public stand. And their take on it was, “Is that not provocative?” Don’t provoke; don’t poke. I don’t know. Elijah seems to provoke and prod and poke. There’s a frankness here that I don’t want to run from.
Listen to old Vance Havner, “God pity the preacher who has grown cross-eyed watching certain faces in his congregation to observe whether the message is acceptable or not. ‘The fear of man bringeth a snare’ (Pr. 29:25), and the chilly countenances of resentful listeners who must not be disturbed have taken the heart out of more preachers than have all the infidels and higher critics. Well did Spurgeon say, ‘We admire a man who was firm in the faith four hundred years ago, but such a man is a nuisance today.’”
Stephen might cry in his day, “Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart. Why do you always resist the Holy Spirit?” But since that day a lot of books have been written on pulpit behavior and ministerial ethics. The devil has arguments of plenty for toning down the message of Christ. Many a preacher started out to be tactful and ends up being tasteless. He aims at being balanced but achieves instead an innocuous collection of harmless sentences that cancel each other out.
Have you ever sat under that kind of preaching? Been in a church where that’s the order of the day? I love John Knox of Scotland. My wife’s a Scott. He tried to rid Scotland of Roman Catholicism. While others, it was said, lopped at the branches of the papistry, Knox swung at the roots to destroy it all. And he so opposed them that they actually arrested him, put him on a French galley to quieten him down, tone him down. And it was said on one occasion that while they were on the French galley, the Protestants were made to kiss an image of the Virgin Mary. Knox refused. In fact, when they put the statue of the Virgin Mary in front of him, he grabbed it, threw it in the river, and said, “Let our lady now save herself. She is light enough. Let her learn how to swim.” That’s frank. That’s bold. And it has its place, and we need to recover it.
Let’s finish here. His fearlessness, his faith, his forwardness. We’ll finish with his focus. His focus is on God’s greatness and glory, expressed in believing prayer. So, we’re going to wrap up, verses 30 to 31, verses 36 to 38. He rebuilds the altar to demonstrate one nation under God. Then he simply prays and prays simply that God would honor his faith as he has sought to honor God’s word through obedience. Look at verses 36 to 37: “And it came to pass, at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, ‘Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel . . .’” That’s the covenant keeping God, by the way. “‘. . . let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.’” Then the fire fell and consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the altar.
No blood-curdling screams, no fanatical chants, no empty gestures, no theatrics, no hysterics, just believing prayer in a sovereign God who keeps covenant with His people. And, if we’re obedient, He’ll keep covenant and demonstrate His power and glory. Guys, the point is this, his prayer took about 30 seconds to speak—30 seconds in contrast to 6 to 8 hours of the antics and hysterics of the prophets of Baal. It’s not that Elijah was casual and they were intense. All right? Man, this guy only prayed for 30 seconds. These guys, they danced and prayed and appealed for 8 hours.
The issue isn’t that Elijah was casual and they were intense. The difference lay in that Elijah knew the nature and the power and the immediacy of the God he believed in. Blabbering and badgering God is unnecessary. This man believed in God’s hesed love for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He believed in God’s mercy and goodness and God’s willingness and faithfulness.
What we have here is echoed by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 6. Don’t pray like the heathen who think that through their much praying that somehow they’ll get an answer. No, just pray, “Your Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom comes, Your will be done on earth. Give us what we need. Forgive us our sins. Deliver us from evil. Show Your power and Your glory.”
Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, said, “Prayer is not the overcoming of God’s reluctance, but the laying hold of God’s willingness.” That’s our focus in these days where challenges are rising, conflicts are coming—where our faith in God is going to be tested, our commitment squeezed. Let your focus be on great and glorious God, and show your trust in Him through simple believing prayer. Now, we would never see ourselves, would we, doing those kind of antics? But as Tony Merida says, “While many Americans are more civil than this, the thought is present. People still try to perform religious activities to merit God’s approval and blessing. They want to do something to absolve the guilt. Praise God, we don’t have to cut ourselves, beat ourselves, or deny ourselves . . . . Blood has already been spilled: Jesus’ blood. His blood and His activity alone allow us to come into God’s presence.”
I love that, blood’s already been spilled. My friend, it’s not that there shouldn’t be some sweat in our prayers and some passion in our appeals to God, but our sweat doesn’t persuade God. The blood of His Son persuades God. And when we pray in Jesus’ name, His power is put on display.
I love the story. It comes out of Scotland, since I mentioned it earlier. Just a—as we would say back in the UK—a washer woman attended this kind of high church, and over a period of time, the pastor’s prayers began to kind of get under her skin. They were long, they were labored, and they were lofty. At an end of herself, she grabbed the pastor’s hand one day, and she said, “Pastor, just call Him Father and ask Him for something.” That’s not a bad theology of prayer. Just call Him Father. He’s already for us in His Son. He’s already declared His love and commitment to us, so ask Him for something. And when you ask Him for something that promotes His glory and advances His kingdom, you can be sure of an answer. Because as old Adrian Rogers said, “The prayers that begin in heaven get to heaven.” That’s what Elijah did. “Lord, it’s time for You to show them you’re God.” And the fire fell.
Let’s pray. Father, we’re excited and challenged by the start of this series because we know it’s going to smack us in the mouth as we look at these biblical profiles in courage. Because there are times when we have ducked. There are times when we have turned back like Ephraim in the day of battle. There are times we have been silent when we should have spoken. And so, Lord, we want to be challenged to be braver. We want to grow our spiritual backbone until it’s like a rod of steel, because we believe the days we’re in and the days that are coming will require it.
We’re not the good guys anymore. We’re not even just one of the guys anymore. We’re becoming the bad guys. The target’s on our back as the church of Jesus Christ—the gospel-preaching, Bible-believing, heaven-and-hell deciding church. And so, we pray that we will have learned some good lessons from Elijah. We see that contrast. Before long he’ll be depressed and ducking, and we’ve got to watch out for those moments of failure and fear and avoid 1 Kings 19 and live 1 Kings 18. Lord, help us to realize we can’t have it both ways. Help us to declare unequivocally by the way we speak, the way we live, and what we think that we are committed disciples of Jesus Christ—we’re for Him, not against Him—and that we are willing to confront and challenge those who are against Him. Help us to reflect on his faith, his fearlessness, his forwardness, his focus, that we might indeed act like men. For we pray and ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.