Sunday, May 19, 2019

Standing on the Promises - Elijah

The role of the prophet was unique in Scripture. He had the responsibility to speak on behalf of God. He was to go at God’s command. He was to do whatever God said for him to do. Prophets confronted kings, challenged the people and could, when so instructed, change circumstances. But they would be abused, tortured, hunted down, thrown into dungeons, some were even killed because of their faithfulness to God’s message.

·       Nathan pointed his finger in David’s face and told him he was guilty before God. He even laid out the consequences of David’s actions.

·       Elisha predicted a woman would have a child and he would later raise that child from death. He also told a widow her oil wouldn’t run out.

·       Samuel anointed the first king of Israel, then told the people the consequences of that decision.

·       Jonah warned Nineveh of coming disaster and the city repented.

·       Jeremiah explained the captivity Judah faced and gave them a very specific time frame for how long it would last. He also stood in the presence of the king and told him to repent, and as a result was thrown down a well and left to die.

·       Isaiah told about Jesus nearly 700 years before He came.

How did they know this stuff? What gave them such audacious courage not only to believe it but to speak with absolute confidence it would happen?

Somewhere in each of their stories there is a unique phrase: the Word of the Lord came to…or thus saith the Lord.

Having a Word from the Lord was the game changer. These men discovered a boldness with which they could say what God told them to say or do what God told them to do. Why? Because it wasn’t their message. They were speaking and acting on behalf of God. To them, the Word of the Lord was an absolute. God said it; that settles it.

Other than Jonah, you never hear them hesitate or see them tremble or hold back. They know when God speaks things will happen.

One of the more spectacular moments for any prophet came on Mount Carmel. The prophet was Elijah.

Mount Carmel is a flat-topped mountain that overlooks the Valley of Jezreel in northern Israel. The view is breathtaking. As you stand on Mount Carmel facing the valley, the ruins of Megiddo are just a bit down to your right. That’s why the valley is also known as the valley of Megiddo, the anticipated place for Armageddon. But standing here, we are at the highest point in that area. Here’s what happened.

1Kings 18:20-39 So Ahab [King of the northern kingdom of Israel] sent a message among all the sons of Israel and brought the prophets together at Mount Carmel. Elijah came near to all the people and said, "How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him." But the people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, "I alone am left a prophet of the LORD, but Baal's prophets are 450 men. Now let them give us two oxen; and let them choose one ox for themselves and cut it up, and place it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other ox and lay it on the wood, and I will not put a fire under it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, He is God." And all the people said, "That is a good idea." So Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, "Choose one ox for yourselves and prepare it first for you are many, and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it." Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, "O Baal, answer us." But there was no voice and no one answered. And they leaped about the altar which they made. It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, "Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened." So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them. When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention. Then Elijah said to all the people, "Come near to me." So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD which had been torn down. Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, "Israel shall be your name." So with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he made a trench around the altar, large enough to hold two measures of seed. Then he arranged the wood and cut the ox in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, "Fill four pitchers with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood." And he said, "Do it a second time," and they did it a second time. And he said, "Do it a third time," and they did it a third time. The water flowed around the altar and he also filled the trench with water. At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, "O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again." Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, "The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God." 

There’s much we could look at in this story. Like, who was Baal. He was a counterfeit god, a pagan god, the worship of which captivated the hearts of many of God’s people and carried them away into idolatry. But I’m most interested in how Elijah knew God would bring down fire.

Where is Elijah’s authority to obligate God to this contest? To say God will bring down fire is quite a bold promise. If Elijah is simply operating on wishful thinking, having come up with a plan and then asked God to bless it, he would have been setting up a failure with widespread consequences.

Had God not done this, the people would have left Mount Carmel greatly disappointed in Elijah but more so in God. Their faith would have been trashed. Elijah would have actually given credibility to Baal worship – see, God is no better than Baal. Remember, this was a contest to decide which was the real God. So why do this?

Remember those words that are unique to the prophets: the Word of the Lord came to…

In his prayer Elijah said: I have done all these things at Your word. 

That’s the prophets’ foundation. That’s where he stands. That’s what makes a prophet a prophet. Not a title or position, but a man or woman who will obligate him or herself to what God has said. A couple of chapters earlier it says: The word of the LORD came to Elijah, saying There was a whole series of actions God laid out for Elijah, awaiting the moment God wanted them enacted. One was stopping the rain, another fire.

James 5:16-18 The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish 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 earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. 

That was true, but also misleading. It makes us think the rain stopped because Elijah decided the rain needed to be stopped and asked God to stop it. No. The rain was stopped, then the rain was resumed, at the command of God. He didn’t give God a prayer request, but an affirmation of God’s intentions.

Neither did Elijah decide it would be a great idea to have a contest by fire and then ask God to come through. No. The fire came at the command of God.

Prophets were not loose cannons. They were men and women who heard the word of the Lord and spoke it.

Two prophets explained this: 2Ch 18:12-13 Then the messenger who went to summon Micaiah spoke to him saying, "Behold, the words of the prophets are uniformly favorable to the king. So please let your word be like one of them and speak favorably." But Micaiah said, "As the LORD lives, what my God says, that I will speak." 

Num 22:18  Balaam replied to the servants of Balak, "Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, either small or great, contrary to the command of the LORD my God. 

Balaam isn’t a very good example of a faithful prophet, but the words he says are true for any prophet. In both examples, a prophet will say what God wants said and do what God wants done or he is not a true prophet of God.

Not everyone who claimed a word from the Lord was a true prophet. Jeremiah expressed God’s distain for those who claimed they spoke for the Lord, yet hadn’t heard a word He said. They would say, “Peace,” when God had said “Distress.” They would say, “Prosperity,” when God would say “Captivity.”

Jer 23:30-37 Therefore behold, I am against the prophets," declares the LORD, "who steal My words from each other. Behold, I am against the prophets," declares the LORD, "who use their tongues and declare, 'The Lord declares.' Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams," declares the LORD, "and related them and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting; yet I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit," declares the LORD. For you will no longer remember the oracle of the LORD, because every man's own word will become the oracle, and you have perverted the words of the living God, the LORD of hosts, our God. Thus you will say to that prophet'What has the LORD spoken?' 

The benefit of the prophet was to relay God’s word to the situation. The prophet’s word was of little or no value. God’s Word was the only true word and the only word with power to accomplish God’s purposes.

There is a unique way in which Elijah spoke in his prayer. He said: I have done this at Your word…, which was his response to what God had told him.

The tense of the verb Elijah used describes something that has already happened but affects things in the future. It’s comparable to how our salvation is described. We were saved, we are saved, we will be saved. A past action secures a future fulfillment.

For the prophets, once God has spoken, in their minds, it is as though it’s already been done. They could count on it as though they are speaking about it after it happened.

It’s like watching the rerun of a game where you already know who wins and you can say with confidence: watch – he’s going to hit a walk off home run.

Having done these things at Your word meant he was doing what God said would happen and announcing in advance what the outcome would be so when it did happen everyone would know it was God who did it.

What’s that got to do with us? We’re not prophets, and we know who God is. Yes, but the challenge is for us to expect, with the same confidence as a prophet, what God’s Word will do in our lives. 1Thess 2:13 For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. 

“Yea, but I’m just an ordinary Christian.” An ordinary Christian has all the privileges and provisions of an extraordinary Christian.

There aren’t separate categories within Christianity. There is no select class within God’s family that gets greater benefits than others. God has leveled the playing field of faith. Believers – all who fit in that category – have the privilege of seeing the Word of God perform its work in their lives.

“Well, I haven’t been very faithful.” Our past doesn’t define us, our failures aren’t who we are, only what we will do with this moment. Will we take God at His word? Will we stand on His promises as though they are already accomplished, our confidence found in what the Lord has said?

So, I can call down fire? Not unless God says call down fire. And if He does, you might want to stand back.

  1. Though we may not have the role of prophet, we each can have the audacious courage to trust God like a prophet.
  2. One advantage we have over the prophet is, we have the Words of God recorded in a Book.
  3. When we want to know what God would say about our situations, we can ask Him, open our Bibles and read His Word.
  4. The only thing that needs to be added would be our determination to stand on the promises we discover.

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