1 Kings 18:16-39
So . . . Ahab went to meet Elijah. And it came about, when Ahab saw Elijah that Ahab said to him, "Is this you, you troubler of Israel?" And he said, "I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father's house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and you have followed the Baals. Now then send and gather to me all Israel at Mount Carmel, together with 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table." So Ahab sent a message among all the sons of Israel, and brought the prophets together at Mount Carmel.
And 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 answered and 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. And 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. And it came about when midday was past, that 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. And 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. And the water flowed around the altar, and he also filled the trench with water. Then it came about at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, "O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that Thou art God in Israel, and that I am Thy servant, and that I have done all these things at Thy word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that Thou, O LORD, art God, and that Thou hast 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. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, "The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God."
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Those who call themselves Christian, or claim to be believers in some sense are statistically a minority of all who live on earth. Those who are actually Christians, in the sense that they believe or even claim to believe what Bible teaches, are a minority even among those who claim to be Christian. Those who actually believe the Christian faith and trust in God and hope in Jesus Christ are a minority even among those who claim to believe what the Bible teaches. So, if you are going to stand firm in the faith, and confess Jesus, you will know something about standing faithful in the face of overwhelming opposition.
The assertions I just presented to you are rejected overwhelmingly by "Christians" everywhere, even though the Bible teaches precisely the same thing - and Jesus even says something very much like it. Standing faithful in matters of the truth and of God is very difficult - and very lonely. Our Mountain of Faith tonight is Mount Carmel. It was on Mount Carmel that Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal. It was there that God painted for us the picture of standing faithful against overwhelming opposition.
Elijah is our example. He lived at a time in Israel where faithfulness to the God of Israel was not only uncommon, it was dangerous. The prophets of God had been executed. The worship of the Baals - and there were many Baals, practically a different one for any occasion - was widespread and popular. Baal worship was so sensual. The ceremonies were flashy and entertaining, rather like contemporary worship in many places today. The promises of blessings were extravagant and enticing, like the theology of health and wealth preached on television and in many churches today. The various rituals involved pleasures - good food, ritual sex. And it was the Queen's religion, which made it the King's religion. Ahab was a immature, violent, and pouty man who could be led and manipulated easily, if you knew how - and his queen, Jezebel, knew how.
Elijah tells us in the text that he alone was left among the prophets of God. Baal had 450 prophets under the queen's protection, and Asherah, Baal's female counterpart who was worshipped in ritual prostitution under special trees called "the Asherim", had 400 prophets that ate with the queen. Elijah had to take a stand against those eight hundred and fifty men, against popular opinion, and against the queen. That was overwhelming opposition.
It had to be difficult for Elijah. Sure, the plan was God's, but that doesn't make it easy to stand in such danger and under such pressure and scrutiny. Think about your own life. Think about how difficult it is to stand up and draw attention to yourself for being a Christian out in society, or being a Lutheran even among those you know are members of the other churches in the community, or even being Missouri Synod in a company of those other Lutherans. The danger is not near as great as it was for Elijah. The pressure in our circumstances is mostly self-imposed, and yet it is still so very hard to stand up and stand faithful.
The abortion debate challenges us. How often do we hear people say that they would not personally want one, but they don't want to decide for someone else? The issue of homosexuality confronts us. The Bible teaches us to hate the sin but have compassion for the sinner. How often do we see people simply accepting homosexuality rather than face the label of homophobe, or the accusation of prejudice? But to openly accept homosexuality as simply another reasonable choice in life is to reject the clear Word of God on that issue.
Or how many of us stand faithfully on the issue of chastity and fidelity? The Bible teaches that fornication is a fundamental immorality from which we are diligently to flee. But how do we respond when our children cohabitate with another, playing husband and wife without marriage? How do we respond when we hear that our neighbor or a relative is getting a divorce? What do we say when children are born out of wedlock? What sort of stand do we take when adultery confronts us in the person of a fellow member of the Church - or false doctrine - or gossip? Outright, automatic condemnation and rejection of the sinner is not right, but neither is pretending that the sin does not exist, or pretending that the sinner does not exist and is invisible either.
If you examine how you feel in these situations, you can probably understand just how difficult it was for Elijah to stand faithful on Mount Carmel. He challenged the people to stop sitting on the fence, and choose who they thought was God — and they would not answer him a word. He stood alone. Everyone thought the challenge was a good idea. Either they thought that the Baals would answer, or they figured Elijah would have no more success that they did.
Sometimes, we get the impression from reading the Bible that miracles and visions were oh-so-common in those days, but they were not. That perception comes from having over three thousand years of God's revealing of Himself to His unique and chosen people summarized briefly in one book. If extraordinary miracles were common, God would have had few successful challengers. The issue then, as now, was faith.
No, none of the people present, or of the prophets of Baal and Asherah, probably had ever seen a miracle, except Elijah. God provided miraculously for him through the miracle of the oil that did not run out and the bowl of flour that lasted for three years with the widow of Zarephath. Elijah also raised her son from death by the power of God. But no one else had seen it, and no one else was accustomed to seeing miracles. Cheap parlor tricks done to amaze and amuse and baffle the simple was a close as any of them got to the miraculous. Even Elijah did not see many miracles. But even if he had, when you see the same miracle day after day, it becomes ordinary and unimpressive -- like television, or cell-phones, or the internet.
Elijah had to believe God would do what He had promised - and frankly, what He had promised was pretty extraordinary and huge! You and I are called on to do the same, believe that God will do what He has promised to do, only the specific promises we face are different. You have to admit, though, that God does know how to make an impression. The prophets of Baal prayed and danced all morning. It was a good show, but no fire. Elijah poked fun at them, saying that maybe their god was asleep, and they should get louder. They broke into their best "put on a show" mode. They screamed and cried and sang. They cut themselves with swords and pierced each other with spears and pokers. They grew desperate because not only were they being embarrassed in front of the crowd, but the king was there. They had probably never asked for a miracle, and never expected one before, but they had always believed that it was possible, or so it seemed.
When evening came, it was Elijah's turn. The people had grown bored with the prophets of Baal. They were now really curious as to what Elijah would do. And Elijah began by building the altar - basically a bunch of stones laid out in a circle on the dirt. He used twelve stones - one for each tribe in Israel. He probably explained what it was that he was doing and what the symbols meant, so the people would get the point. It pointed them back to the Exodus, and to their covenant with God. Then he dug a trench around the altar, about a foot wide and a foot deep. Then he laid out the sacrifice on the wood on the altar. Then he asked them to pour four pitchers of water on the whole thing -- not a good idea for starting a fire. Then four more, and then another four! Everything was soaked, and the trench was overflowing with water.
Then Elijah simply prayed. He called on God and said, "Let them see that You are God and I am Your Servant. Answer me so that they can see that You are really God and so that they will turn back to You." That is all he said, and immediately the fire of the Lord fell. Was it a flame or was it lightning? Scholars debate, but the Bible doesn't say. What "the fire from the Lord" did, however, was to burn up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones of the altar, the loose dust, and even the water in the trench that Elijah had dug.
God doesn't generally do that kind of thing anymore. He didn't generally do it back then. But He did it that time, and had it recorded so that we can look back and see it through the prophet's eyes. What this display by Elijah required of Elijah was that He would trust God to do what He had promised to do. It was all on the line there. If God had let him down, the last prophet of the Lord would have been executed that day, instead of the prophets of Baal and of Asherah. Elijah simply had to trust God. The miracle was by God's power.
We have simply to trust God, as well. Faith is about taking God at His Word and expecting Him to do what He has promised to do even though we have not personally seen Him do it before. I know, you want to say, "Well, if I were Elijah . . ." or "If I had seen the miracles Elijah saw or heard the voice or God like Elijah must have, then I would trust like Elijah!" The answer of Scriptures is, No, you would not have, if you do not trust God like that now. Let me dispel certain myths. We do not know how God communicated with Elijah. It could have been a voice in his head, or in a dream. How would you like to risk life and limb in that very immediate fashion on a dream? Besides, you do hear the voice of God in your ears -- in this congregation it sounds like me, as I preach His Word, God chooses to use my voice to speak it to you.
As for the faith of Elijah, after this miracle, Jezebel threatened to execute Elijah - she said, "May the gods do to me what you did to those prophets and more if I do not make you dead, just like you made them dead, by this time tomorrow." The man of faith, Elijah, ran for his life all the way to Mount Horeb, about a month's journey on foot. He ran because he had no specific word from God about whether Jezebel would succeed or not, and he was frightened that she might!
You have only the promises of God, contained in the Gospel. These are promises of love, of blessing, of guidance and protection, that God will keep you through life and into death, and will raise you to new and eternal life on the last day. He has not promised what will happen to you if you confess Jesus, except vague promises of suffering and crosses. He has not promised how you will fare in health or popularity if you stand faithfully for Him. He has only promised guidance, protection, blessings and eternal life for those who remain faithful. He has also promised those who do not remain faithful will not see life but will face death and hell.
Like Elijah, you have been called to stand faithful in the face of what certainly seems at times to be overwhelming opposition. You are called to trust God no matter how it looks, or whether it seems likely that faithfulness is the wisest choice at the moment. The test of the moment may be some sort of threat or danger to you socially if you stand firm and faithful, or financial trouble if you don't compromise or accommodate something you know is not right, it may bethat you are challenged by bad health, or confronted with grave physical danger -- or it could just be that you find yourself in the place and time to stand for what is good and right and true, and it seems like you will have to stand alone if you take that stand.
Remember Elijah. It wasn't even a long prayer. It was simply the prayer of faith, and then it was all up to God. Mount Carmel is one mountain of faith that really demonstrates for us what faith is all about. Our God promises, and our God will do what He has promised. You can trust Him, and you must trust Him if you hope to see Him fulfill His promises. That is the lesson we can see taught loudly and clearly on Mount Carmel.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
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