Jan. 6 and 7 The Story: God’s Messengers
Scripture: 1 Kings 17: 17-24, 1 Kings 18: 16-39
Well here we are in 2018 and the quest to live differently is fresh in our minds, isn’t it? I don’t know how many of you have resolved to do something differently this year, but I’m guessing you have an idea of how you’d like this year to pan out, which is what makes today’s message so appropriate. Today we’re heading back into a sermon series known as “The Story,” a 31-week journey through God’s Word and we’ve come to a place in Scripture where living differently is the overarching theme. Throughout this sermon series, we’ve seen God call His people Israel and invite them to be His people. That’s what we mean by living differently, and that’s the journey we’re on: Becoming God’s people. If you have your Bibles…
How many of you like going to the doctor? I didn’t think so. I’m the same way. I’m grateful for doctors, but I try to avoid them like the plague, mostly because I don’t want to hear what’s really going on inside of me. I’d rather just not know. You ever feel that way? Last year, I finally reached a point where I couldn’t avoid the doctor anymore, so I made an appointment. We were in the process of making some big decisions and it was taking its toll on me in more ways than I recognized. Looking back, I can see that there were warning signs all over, but somehow I managed to overlook them. Stress. Lack of sleep. Weight gain. And so when I finally saw my physician, he said, “Brett, this isn’t good.” And then he gave me the diagnosis: “You’re blood pressure is too high and you need to make some serious changes.” I was angry and disappointed when I heard those words, but not because of what the doctor told me. I was angry that I had missed the signs.
Warning signs are all around us, aren’t they -on the road, at work or at the doctor’s office? They’re all around us, but yet we manage to miss so many of them. Sometimes we just forget and sometimes we just get lazy. I don’t know how many times I’ve ordered a coffee from Mcdonald’s, only to mishandle the cup, spill some on my hand and think, “Gee, that’s hot!” And staring back at me are the words, “Caution: Contents hot!” Or like one of my dad’s former employees who experienced the sting of hammer hitting his head when it accidentally slipped out of another worker’s hands twenty feet above. Even though he read the sign everyday that said, “Hard Hats Required.” I think you’d be amazed at the sheer number of warning signs and caution signs and danger signs that fill our lives. And the truth is we need them. We might not like them, but warning signs exist for our good. They remind us to pay attention, because if we don’t, we might get burned or hurt. And that’s true of our spiritual lives as well.
When it comes to the grand narrative of Scripture, God’s Word is filled with warning signs that are meant to help us experience God’s vision for creation. We know where we’re headed; we know the end game- an eternal kingdom where there is no darkness, no sin, and no evil. And we’ve also been told the way to get there: Jesus! In Jesus we’re reminded that God has a certain way for us to live, a way of loving God and loving neighbor. And when we live life with that singular focus on love, God is glorified and the world is transformed. But here’s the reality: so often we are distracted from that type of life, which is why God has given us divine warning signs.
Throughout the next few weeks in the Story, we’re going to spend some time with a group of people known as the prophets. The prophets were God’s messengers, divine warning signs who were sent to help us stay on the right path. We’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with prophets because they help us see the reality we don’t often see, or maybe better yet, the reality we don’t want to see. They remind us of God’s ways and they’ll often show up on the scene and say things like, “If you don’t change your ways or stay away from that place, you’ll find destruction and it won’t be good.” You’ll get burned or hurt. It’s important to remember that prophets are God’s instruments meant to call us back to His heart and that’s something we always need. And so over the next few weeks, you’ll hear from some of these prophets, and my hope is that they will help draw us back to God.
The last time we were in the Story, which was just before Thanksgiving, the nation of Israel had divided into two kingdoms- the northern kingdom (called Israel) and the southern kingdom (called Judah). In those days, the epicenter of worship was in Jerusalem, which was in the southern kingdom. That’s where David established the “house of the Lord.” It was the “holy city.” Now what began to happen is that worship in the northern kingdom took place less and less in Jerusalem. The kings began to take shortcuts (for political reasons) and set up new places of worship, and God called it sin. And if you study those kings, you’ll notice that little by little their hearts were drawn away from God and instead were drawn toward the ways of other nations and cultures. More often than not, we see many of those kings described by the following phrase: “and he did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” And that goes on until we come to a king named Ahab, who takes the prize. In 1 Kings 16 we read, “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.” And his biggest crime? Idolatry. Ahab’s wife Jezebel introduced him to other gods, most notably a god named Baal, and Ahab began to worship and serve this god and the people were led astray.
Now, why does any of this matter? It matters because idolatry has always been a problem for God’s people, and God takes idolatry very seriously. We might not think we have an issue with idolatry – we aren’t making golden calf images or setting up altars- but that’s not what idolatry looks like today. Today, idolatry happens whenever God’s authority and position in our lives is replaced with something else. In other words, we’ve created an idol whenever Jesus Christ is no longer first in our lives. This is what the prophets help us to see.
I came across a sermon this week that really helped me put idolatry into perspective. We need to know about idolatry because it’s so easy to let God take a back seat in our lives. So, this pastor asked a series of questions that help us understand what idolatry might look like today. I’d like to share those questions with you. First, where do you experience disappointment? Disappointment happens when we’ve placed our hope in something other than Jesus and that something has let us down. Let me tell you, Jesus is the only hope that won’t let us down, and if you’ve placed your hope in anything else, you’re guilty of idolatry. What do you sacrifice your time and money for? This is probably a good way of defining who or what your god is. Do you sacrifice for work? For your kids? For your own sense of accomplishment? The way you spend your money and your time will tell you who or what you worship. What do you worry about? That’s another good way to determine if your faith is off track. What keeps your from sleeping? What occupies your mind in unhealthy ways? And here’s a big one. Where do you go or what do you do when you hurt? Do you eat? Do you look for sex? Do you drink? Do you go on a shopping spree? Do you turn to God for comfort or to something else? And let me tell you a secret: You can’t have it both ways.
The people of Israel, under Ahab’s leadership, were torn. In some ways, they followed God, but in other ways they did not. So God sent a messenger named Elijah. And Elijah goes before the people and says this, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing. I just want that to sit in our hearts for a second. Choose God or choose this other thing. If the Lord is God, then follow him. But the people said nothing.
That’s scary isn’t it? An answer that should be so clear isn’t clear at all. This silent answer sets the stage for what happens next. Elijah sets up a divine competition to prove once and for all that false gods never give us what we truly want. And he lets the prophets of Baal go first. They sacrifice their bull, put in on the altar and stack it with wood and they begin to call on the name of Baal. All day and all night they ask Baal, who was the so-called ‘god of weather’ to bring a consuming fire…and nothing. You can almost hear them crying out, “Baal, bless us. Bring us fire. Bring us hope. Bring us what we need.” But nothing. No idol can ever do what God can do. And so finally Elijah says, “Get out of the way.” He covers the wood in water, three times so that it is good and drenched, and prays this: “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” (See why we need the prophets? That’s their goal!) And the fire of the Lord fell. “When the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord- He is God. The Lord- He is God!”
As you begin a new year, I want to you to know something, something Elijah wanted those divided-heart Israelites to know: God is going to fight for your heart. And if it takes prophets, warning signs and even fiery moments to get your attention, God is not going to give up until He has your entire heart. That’s how much He loves you. Your heart is of utmost importance to God and He’s not going to settle for any competition. You know why? Because God knows they’ll let your heart down every time. Only Jesus can fill your deepest needs. No person, no career, no team, no substance, no amount of money can bring you a life filled with peace, hope, love and joy. Only Jesus can do that. Your homework for this week is take inventory of your heart. What is it God’s biggest competition for your heart? What is it keeps you from being fully devoted to Jesus? Name it and give yourself fully to Christ. He hasn’t given up on you. He’s waiting to fill your heart with His life. Would you let Him do that today? Amen.