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ELIJAH THE PROPHET OF FIRE
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Based on I Kings 18:20-40
Elijah was the Luther of the Old Testament. He was God's man of the hour to begin a reformation and lead the children of Israel back to God. For about 50 years devotion to God had been decreasing. Ahab was now king in Israel, and he was more wicked than all who had gone before him. He married Jezebel, who was the daughter of the king of Tyre, and he let her erect altars to Baal all over the hills of Israel. She was a heathen to the core, and she tired to wipe out all worship of Jehovah by persecuting the people and killing the prophets of Jehovah.
With Jezebel promoting it, and Ahab protecting it, Baal worship became popular among the people. There was a real danger that the people of God would be swallowed up in idolatry. Baal was a non-existent god, but he was having a great influence in the lives of people. Everywhere the people would go they would see altars to Baal. Jezebel put a great deal of wealth into these altars. Their beauty and the elaborate ceremony of the 850 false prophets appealed to the people. Certainly all of this worship must please God is what they thought, and almost unconsciously they began to think of Baal as their god.
It was time for God again to act in history and reveal Himself as the only true God. This He did, and as always, it was through a man of God with courage and conviction. Elijah broke into the atmosphere of human history like a comet. We have no story of his birth or background. His coming was as sudden and mysterious as was his going in the flaming chariot. Out of the blue he appears before Ahab. He said to him that there would be no reign for 3 years, and then he disappears. Now after 3 years of famine, during which Ahab searched the land for him, Elijah comes again and calls for a showdown that will settle the issue once and for all as to who is God. Will it be Jehovah or Baal? Ahab accepts the challenge, and so all the people and the false prophets gather on Mt. Carmel. We want to examine this great incident in the light of three characteristics of Elijah that qualified him for this great battle.
I. HE WAS A MAN OF CONVICTION. v. 21
As soon as the people are gathered Elijah comes and does two things. He charges them with compromise, and then he calls them to commitment. He says, "How long will you halt between two opinions? How long are you going to go limping back and forth between Jehovah and Baal? How long are you going to try and lean both ways?" This lack of conviction that leads to compromise is one of man's greatest curses. To halt between two opinions is to have no opinion. It is to decide for nothing. It is a position of folly when it comes to choosing one's loyalty to God. D. L. Moody said, "I firmly believe that more men are lost by indecision than by anything else." G. Campbell Morgan said, "I have a great deal more hope of winning that man who serves the devil well then the man who stays half-way between God and the devil, and does not know which to serve."
You can be a Democrat one year and a Republican the next. You can golf one year and bowl the next. You can work in an office one year and a factory the next. In politics, sports, and business, and many other facets of life, you can change your tastes, opinions and convictions, but when it comes to faith it is either Jehovah or Baal. It is either the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, or the Baal of money, power, pleasure, or some other idol. It cannot be both, for you cannot serve God and mammon. To be undecided is the worst decision of all. Dante in his Devine Comedy has a place outside of hell, which he calls the Inferno of Contempt. It is for those "without blame and without praise." To be neither good or bad, nor hot or cold is the most dangerous thing in the world.
Elijah was no Mr. Facing Both Ways, but he was a man of deep convictions. His name fits him perfectly for it means "Jehovah is my God." He is a man of conviction and he calls the people to stop being undecided and make a commitment. If the Lord is God then follow him, and if Baal is God then follow him, but make a choice and stop trying to play both sides. It will not work in religion any more than it will work in sports. You have to choose sides. You have to make a choice and follow it. That is the message of the whole Bible. Decide who is God and then commit your life to Him.
There are always furniture stores that are going out of business and their signs scream at you that this is the last chance to get their bargains. If you wait until tomorrow it will be too late, and so act today and buy. They know that the hardest thing to do is to get people to make a decision. Their advertising is designed to get people off the fence and decide. The Bible uses this same psychology and says that today is the day of salvation. The time is now, for it may be too late if you wait. People have to make up their mind and make a decision and a commitment. The Prodigal decided to go home and committed himself to face his father rather than stay with the pigs. Elijah made his choice and he calls all of God's people to do the same. Choose God and make a commitment to Him. Next we see-
II. HE WAS A MAN OF COURAGE. v. 22-29
Elijah explained to the people what he had in mind. The 450 prophets of Baal were to take a bullocks, cut it up, place it on the altar with no fire under it. He was to do the same with another bullocks, and then call on the name of Baal, and he would pray to Jehovah. The one who answered by fire would be the true God. The people thought this would be a fair test, and so Elijah turns to the prophets of Baal, and tells them to choose first, for they were many. It was as if he was saying, "You are the majority, and who am I all alone to go first?"
Elijah, of course, cared nothing about numbers. It made no difference to him, for God's reality and nature are not determined by the majority. Charles Churchill wrote, "Can numbers then change nature's stated laws? Can numbers make the worse the better cause? Vice must be vice, virtue be virtue still, Though thousands rail at good and practice ill."
Elijah let the majority go first because he wanted to show just how wrong the majority can be. He gave them every possible advantage. Baal was the sun god, and so he let them start off in the brightness of the sunlight when their god would supposedly be strong and refreshed. He let them continue at noon when the sun was directly overhead with all of its scorching heat. If Baal was god, he could certainly spare a little fire at that time, but there was no answer.
The prophets began to get worried, and they began to go wild as they cut themselves, were screaming and leaping on the altar. People who serve false gods can be very sincere. These men were as earnest as men could be. They were serious and they were risking their life to defend Baal. They would rather die than admit that their god was worthless and powerless. Men will cling to their false gods with all of their energy. They are dedicated to gods who don't even exist. There have been men of every age that have died for their false gods.
There is a tendency in our day to think that God is just called by different names, and if people are sincere all can be equally accepted. This is not biblical, for the Jehovah of the Old Testament and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament is the only God, and there is no salvation in any other name under heaven than that of Jesus Christ. God had to constantly warn the Jews that should not have any other gods but Him, but they were continually going after the idols of the heathen nations around them.
The prophets were not very polite in dealing with these false gods, and neither was Elijah. Elijah was not just having fun when he mocked the prophets of Baal, and told them to cry louder because maybe their god was sleeping or on a journey. He was very seriously trying to show the people the folly of worshipping anyone but the one true God who never slumbers nor sleeps, but who is ever in control of His universe. God laughs at the folly of the wicked 3 times in the Psalms, and Isaiah mocks the folly of the heathen over and over again. The literature of Judaism is filled with such mockery. Jeremiah says that the gods of heathen are like scarecrows in a cucumber garden. They cannot speak or march or do anything either good or evil. The prophets thought it was better to be impolite and mock the idolatry of the pagans then to let people take them seriously.
The point of all this is that it is not sincerity and dedication in worship that counts, but the reality of the one whom you worship. Elijah let the false prophets go on praying until evening to show to the people that all the ceremony, dancing and shouting in the world will not make a religion true if the god of that religion is not real. The challenge of the Christian church to the rest of the world is not our claim that we have the most beautiful ceremonies or the greatest dedication, though that ought to be true, but that we alone worship the only true God. He is the God who made all creation, acts in history, and who gave His Son for our redemption. God needs men of every generation and every land with the courage of Elijah to keep this truth ever before the people. Next we see,
III. HE WAS A MAN OF CONFIDENCE. v. 31-39
After the utter failure of the prophets of Baal Elijah calls the people to himself, and he builds an altar of 12 stones to represent the 12 tribes of Israel. By it he calls attention to the fact that Jehovah was the God of history who had worked in miraculous events in the past. Then he asked them to pour 4 barrels of water on the offering and the wood. He asked them to do this 3 times and so there were 12 barrels to match the 12 stones. There was so much water that it filled the trench around the altar. All of this was to make sure that no one could charge him with a trick of some kind. Tricks were a common practice of the heathen.
John Chrysostom speaking of later heathenism said, "I speak as an eye witness. In the altars of the idols, there are beneath the altars channels, and underneath a concealed pit. The deceivers enter these, and blow up a fire from beneath upon the altar, by which many are deceived, and believed that the fire comes from heaven. Elijah wanted to make sure that no one could doubt that what was about to happen was the direct work of God. But how could he have the confidence that God would answer? There he stood alone against all the false prophets of the land. Now it was his turn to pray down fire. He knows that if he fails he is a doomed man. They will rush upon him and crush him with the stones of his own altar if fire does not fall. How can he be so calm and confident in such a situation?
The source of his confidence is found in verse 36 where he says, "I have done all these things at thy word." He was simply obeying the Word of God. That is the only way a man can hold his convictions when the majority goes the opposite way. That is the only way a man can have the courage to say, "Where he leads me I will follow." That is the only way a man can have the confidence to face great odds with a calm spirit. Elijah was doing what God told him, and he let God worry about the consequences. Deitrach Bonhoffer, who was killed by the Germans wrote, "When Christ calls us to follow Him He bids us come and die." This is the secret of the courage and confidence of men of God through the ages. They simply obey the Word of God and let the chips fall where they may.
When Martin Luther was summoned by the Emperor Charles V to come to the city of Worms, and be tried before a counsel, his friends tried to persuade him not to go for fear he would be put to death. But Luther was perfectly confident that he had the Word of God to back him up. He said, "If there were as many devils in Worms as there are tiles on the roofs of its houses, I would still go there." You see why Elijah is called the Luther of the Old Testament. They both were leaders in great reformations against great odds, but they were both confident because they both based their actions on the Word of God. Their confidence was not in themselves but in God. They expected God to do what His Word promised.
Elijah expected fire to fall, and so it was no surprise to him when he finished his simple prayer of faith that flames fell and consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the dust, and even licked up all the water in the trench. The God who made the sun did not need it for fire. He can send fire in the cool of the evening as well as at noon. It was a sight that left no doubt in the minds of the people as to who God was. There was a revival and the God of Israel was glorified. God went on working in history from Mt. Carmel to Mr. Calvary where His own Son became the sacrifice. Fifty days later on the day of Pentecost the fire of God fell again in the person of the Holy Spirit, and ever since all the revivals of the people of God are due to this fire which falls from heaven on all who truly present themselves as living sacrifices unto God. May God help us all be people like Elijah with conviction, courage, and confidence based on the Word of God.
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