March 10, 2002 ~ Grace Christian Reformed Church, Cobourg


Have you ever stood on the shore of a lake and tried to stop the waves? No matter how hard you try the water just rushes past you and runs upon the shore any way. My children and I keep on getting soaked on our vacations but have never yet stopped a wave. By ourselves, with just our own resources, there is very little that we can do to stop the waves.


Have you ever felt that the world around you was rushing headlong to evil and there was nothing you could do to even slow it down? It is a sad reality that we live in a world that has for the most part chosen to completely ignore our God. Even sadder is the idea that we are seemingly unable to do anything but hold on more tightly to our own faith so that, as the world falls away to ruin, we are not carried with it. No matter what we do in this world it seems to have no effect other than to make Christianity ever more the target of scorn and condemnation.


What is even more discouraging is that there is no excuse for this behaviour. The world, in its rejection of God, is flying in the face of the facts. Ray Stedman, in his exposition on Genesis, writes:


[Even] though we cannot feel beyond God -- we cannot think beyond God, we cannot move beyond God, and there is no way to eliminate him from our lives " nevertheless [the attempt is constantly made] to live as though he did not exist. He is the greatest Fact of all, yet we do not want to mention his name, we do not want to talk about his work, we take no cognizance of his mind, his thinking, and his wisdom. How this shows the ignorance, the superficiality, the shallowness of human thought and life.


In his letter to the Roman church Paul wrote very similarly, saying that:


Romans 1:18-21 " 18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 " since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God"s invisible qualities" his eternal power and divine nature" have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.


It has been said time and time again that man is born longing for God, yet by most of mankind God is denied. It is not that God is unknown but that He is avoided. It"s like when we are walking down the street and pretend to be looking at something else when we see someone coming our way that we would rather not see. We cannot deny that person"s reality so we ignore it instead. Those do not put their faith in God have no other reason for doing so than that they wish to live as though He did not; they have seen Him coming their way and have determined to look at something else so as not to see Him.


In such an environment of scorn for the truth and utter denial of the reality of God we may well wonder what effect our testimony could have. Our own human strength is too small for the task and we, even as children of the Creator of all that is, often limit our perception of our abilities by our opinion of our own strength. To use the example of trying to stop the waves again, we typically either want to stop the entire wave or to stop no part of it. If we cannot do it all we are often tempted to not even do a part.


I am here today, however, to say that there is something that we can do. We are, each in our own way, able to shine as beacons into the current darkness. Why? Not because we are so powerful, or eloquent, or famous, or rich. We are able to shine because we are children of the Father of lights and He has given each of us gifts and abilities suitable to the work He has prepared for us. Each in our own distinct way is able through the power of God to serve Him and call the attention of the world around us back to Him. As Paul has written in his letter to the Ephesian church:


Ephesians 2:10 " For we are God"s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.


I want to briefly share with you today a story of a man who lived in an environment of rejection of God that was very similar to ours. This story takes place 120 years after the death of King David, at a time when the kingdom of Israel had been divided and the glorious kingdom that David and Solomon had built upon the worship of God was but a distant memory. His name is Elijah and he lived at a period in Israel"s history when the kings of the northern half of this troubled kingdom had all but obliterated the diligent worship of God in favour of the gods of the pagan nations that surrounded them.


A tremendous insight into Elijah"s character is given in the gospel of Luke. There, in Gabriel"s announcement to Zechariah of the birth of his son, John the Baptist, John"s mission is compared to Elijah"s:


Luke 1:17 " And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous"to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.


This is the kind of man that we will be looking at. A man who walked "before the Lord," or, in the way that the Lord would go. A man who sought to turn the hearts of a lost people back toward their God. Elijah"s purpose was to reintroduce people to the God that they had abandoned and to remove the obstacles that stood in the way of their faith. One of the more significant acts of his career occurred in a contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel:


1 Kings 18:21-24 " 21 " Elijah went before the people and said, "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. 22 Then Elijah said to them, "I am the only one of the LORD"s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire" he is God." Then all the people said, "What you say is good."


Picture in your mind what this contest may have looked like. We have at the top of Mount Carmel two altars. Beside one is standing Elijah, the prophet of the Holy God. Beside the other are crowded 450 prophets of Baal and an additional 400 prophets of other false gods. Surrounding these two altars were many of the people of Israel, among them King Ahab. King Ahab, and his wife Jezebel, were among Elijah"s chief adversaries in the battle for the religious affections of the people of Israel. Due in part to the strength and political wisdom of Ahab, Israel had again become a force to reckon with in the region but its ignorance and carelessness toward God had reached a low from which it would never recover and for which it would ultimately be destroyed. The Bible speaks of Ahab in the following way:


1 Kings 16:29-33 " 29 " In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years. 30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. 31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. 32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.


So we see Elijah on Mount Carmel, alone, surrounded by a nation which had completely abandoned its God, almost 1,000 prophets of the pagan gods, and King Ahab, a murderer and destroyer of those who worshipped God. We might well imagine that Elijah would have been somewhat subdued in the face of so great a number of our opponents, that he would have given up just as we would in trying to stop the waves. But we read that Elijah, as the day wore on, seemed to gain confidence. He ridiculed and jeered at the false prophets. He made fun of them and of their god, belittling this faith in man-made things that had dared to raise itself against the one true God of all the world. He did not act as though he thought that the odds were, by human standards, against him but he acted as though the odds were in his favour.


1 Kings 18:25-29 " 25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, "Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire." 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. "O Baal, answer us!" they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. 27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. "Shout louder!" he said. "Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened." 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.


The only result of the first half of this contest was a resounding silence. The writer of this history summarizes the futility of this effort very effectively when he said that "there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention." That was simply because there was no one to pay attention. 850 prophets of the pagan gods had acted crazy all day long, cutting themselves, chanting and yelling, and there was nothing that they could point to afterwards and say "Look! Look at what our gods have done," for the gods to whom they had devoted their lives did not, in fact, exist. These prophets would have been, for the most part, Israelites. They were men who had rejected God for a lie which now, at the moment of their need, had failed them completely.


Mark the dramatic difference in the way in which Elijah performs in the second half of this contest. His approach is not one of frantic dancing, yelling, or blood-letting but one of quiet reverence founded on the knowledge that his God would answer the fervent prayer of the righteous man.


1 Kings 18:30-39 " 30 Then Elijah said to all the people, "Come here to me." They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which was in ruins. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, "Your name shall be Israel." 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, "Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood." 34 "Do it again," he said, and they did it again. "Do it a third time," he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench. 36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: "O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again." 38 Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. 39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The LORD" he is God! The LORD" he is God!"


The response to Elijah"s faith is both sudden and dramatic. Fire fell from heaven and burned up not only the sacrifice but also the entire altar upon which it was placed. The response of the people is just as sudden, a unified cry that the God that they had abandoned was and is truly God: "The LORD"he is God! The LORD"he is God!" Quite often in the Bible those of whom we read have names in keeping with their purpose. Elijah"s name literally means: The Lord, He is God. If nothing else Elijah had fulfilled his purpose, he had called the attention of the people back toward their God.


In 1 Kings 19 we see what happened to Elijah immediately following the great success of this contest. To summarize: Elijah was threatened with death by Queen Jezebel as a result of his killing of all of the false prophets whose god had failed them. We see Elijah now as a man without hope who has all but given up on his mission. Yet at the end of chapter 19 he was again filled with courage and able to stand boldly before the nation to continue to call them to faith in God. The purpose of chapter 19 is, in part, to remind us that it was God that gave Elijah his power to stand against the prophets of Baal and against all the opposition he would face during his career. On his own he was as weak as you or I would be on our own. But with God he could do amazing things.


Elijah walked in his environment like a tempest. Storms surround him. Major events occur when he is present. Conflicts are brought to the foreground when he speaks. Armies are defeated, kingdoms overthrown. He occupied the battlefront where the holy power of God directly confronted Satan"s hate. He was the one who stood boldly before the nation on behalf of God and called it to repentance. One could not meet Elijah and continue to forget about God for God had sent him specifically to turn the hearts of the people back toward Him. Elijah was a man who could stand in the face of all the evil permitted by those that turned their backs on God and know beyond a doubt that with God on his side he had both the majority and the victory and that it did not matter what would happen so long as he did what he was called to do.


There are many other stories in the Bible that tell of the steadfast faith of the minority in the face of unrelenting evil but I do not want to call your attention any more to the stories of other people. The story I want you to concern yourselves with today is our story. What are we able to do for God? What light are we able to shine in our darkening world? What will people say of our faith and walk with God in the days that follow our deaths? We may have fear of the consequences, or of the size of the work before us, but that should not stop us. Jesus faced death to do His Father"s will. Elijah, in the days that followed the contest, was almost immobilized by fear of death and the impossibility of the work to which he had been called. However, he carried on in the power of God and that is the lesson we need to learn from this message. On our own there is nothing that we are able to do. If we were to try we would be like the pagan prophets on Mount Carmel calling out to nothing to get something done. This is the truly impossible thing, to get nothing to do something. On our own we are powerless but with God we are powerful. Elijah is referred to in the book of James where we read:


James 5:16-19 " 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. 19 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.


Elijah was a man just like us. His power came from his faith in an all powerful God. We may never be called to stand before thousands of people to turn them to faith in God but each of us, every day, meets our neighbour, talks to a sales clerk, pays a gas station attendant, and on and on and on. We meet people who need to have their hearts turned back to God every day, in almost everything that we do. Christians are a minority in this country (the latest statistics place the number of Christians at less than one in twenty) so almost everyone we meet will not know God. We need to remember that we do not need to feel intimidated by those who do not believe but be motivated by God to do what we are called to do to bring them back into the proper way of life. May God bless each of you as you seek His will and call upon His power.