1 Kings 18:21

1 Kings 18:21

Sermon preached on June 24, 2007 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.newlifeop.org/.

I love the saying,

"I used to think I was indecisive, but now I'm not so sure."

Being indecisive is not good. Aneurin Bevan says,

"We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run over."

During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln was often exasperated with his Major General, George B. McClellan. McClellan was a good organizer and was excellent at training his men and getting the army ready to fight. But the problem with him was that he was indecisive. He consistently overestimated the strength of the opposing forces and missed many opportunities for victory. It was like he was afraid he would lose if he put his army in battle. President Lincoln said about him, (Wikipedia)

"If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time."

Lincoln eventually fired McClellan.

Sometimes indecision is a great flaw. There are times when decisive and forceful action is called for. That's what we see in our text. Elijah seems to have been exasperated with the people. They had had three and a half years of famine because of their disobedience to the Lord. Yet they hadn't learned their lesson. Elijah stands before them and says,

"How long will you waver
between two opinions?
If the LORD is God, follow him;
but if Baal is God, follow him."

The response of the people is awful. Instead of acknowledging that the Lord is God, they remained silent. M.B. Van't Veer says, (My God is Yahweh, p. 213)

"A more disappointing response is hardly imaginable."

They were indecisive at a time when they should have been acknowledging God's greatness.

This passage is very important for all of us here. If you're a Christian this passage should call you to renewed dedication and zeal for God and his glory. If you're not a Christian, this passage should open your eyes to the great obligation and duty that you have to turn to God and serve Him.

So let's look at our text.

The first thing we see here is that

God demands that you embrace Him wholeheartedly.

Elijah criticized the people for waving between two opinions. In doing so Elijah seems to be referring to the way that people move. It could be translated, ESV,

"How long will you go limping between two different opinions?"

M.B. Van't Veer tells us that another translation has, (My God is Yahweh, p. 208)

"How long do you mean to hobble first on one leg and then on the other?"

The idea is of hobbling and limping, not on one leg, but on both, tottering from side to side.

Now if you compare this to how in the New Testament the Holy Spirit likens the Christian life to a race you'll understand how far short the ancient people fell. In Hebrews 12:1 we read,

"Therefore, since we are surrounded
by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders
and the sin that so easily entangles,
and let us run with perseverance
the race marked out for us."

And in 1 Corinthians 9:24 the apostle Paul said,

"Do you not know that in a race
all the runners run,
but only one gets the prize?
Run in such a way as to get the prize."

In our lives we Christians are to be like Olympic runners who are speeding toward their goal—streaking down the track, flying over hurtles, straining toward the prize.

But the ancient Israelites weren't like that. They were hobbling one way and then the other. Instead of Olympic runners,
they were like those animal or frog races that people sometimes try to have. You've seen them. The problem is that some of the participants, whether they be mice, frogs or whatever—have no idea what they're supposed to be doing. Some just sit there after the starting gun goes. Others take a few steps forward and then turn around and go backwards.

Or you could compare them to someone playing
volleyball who is afraid of the ball and who really doesn't really want to play. When the ball is hit near them they first run toward it like they're going to hit it like they're supposed to. But then they, think, "That ball could hit me and hurt me," so they change their mind and then at the last second they run away from the ball.

Instead of running like Olympic runners, the ancient people of Israel were limping and hobbling, not even always going the correct way. They were a mess.

They were supposed to be focusing on God, delighting in Him, going toward Him. In the Old Testament the covenant relationship between the Lord and the people of Israel was often presented as a
marriage relationship. But instead of going toward her husband, Israel was not only flirting with Baal, but was being unfaithful to her husband.

Seen in this light, Elijah's question is seen for what it is. M.B.
Van't Veer writes, (My God is Yahweh, p. 209-210)

"If a married woman, after years of basking in her husband's love, still has to be confronted in deadly earnest with the question she already answered on her wedding day, if she then has to be asked whether she recognizes her lawful husband as such since his status is in question, we cannot say that the basic marriage question is simply being repeated. The question that was a cause of rejoicing on her wedding day is now a cause of great shame."

God had a right to exclusive love and wholehearted obedience from His ancient people. That's what the ancient Israelites were called to. That's what they should have given to God.

The same is true of all of us. The Bible teaches that all of us should be serving Jesus with everything that is in us. We were all created for His glory. John 1:3 John tells us that,

"through Him all things were made…"

In Colossians 1:16-17 we read,

"For by him all things were created:
things in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible,
whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities;
all things were created by him and for him."

You were created, 'for Him'. He is the reason for your existence. What a tragedy for you not to live for Him. Daily He gives you life. John 1:4 says,

"in Him was life…"

Hebrews 1:3 tells us of Jesus,

"sustaining all things
by his powerful word."

And Colossians 1:17 tells us that Jesus,

"is before all things,
and in him
all things hold together."

Without His care we would disintegrate. In his speech in Athens (Acts 17:25) the apostle Paul told us that God gives,

"gives all men life and breath
and everything else."

and that, (Acts 17:28)

"in him we live and move
and have our being.'

James tells us that, (James 1:17)

"Every good and perfect gift
is from above,
coming down from
the Father of the heavenly lights,"

He made us, gives us life, and sustains us, and gives us many blessings. But even more than that, He is patient with us and does not deal with us according to our folly. Psalm 103:10 says,

"he does not treat us
as our sins deserve or repay us
according to our iniquities."

This doesn't just apply to Christians—it applies to all of us. Romans 2:4 tells us that God is kind, patient and tolerant to sinners, seeking to lead them to repentance.

What should be our response to that? As David tells us in Psalm 103:2-5,

"Praise the LORD,
O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's."

Now if you're not a Christian, all of this means that you're not doing your duty. You're not fulfilling the great calling that you were created for. You're missing out on the whole purpose of your existence. You're as bad as the Israelites who were silent in the face of Elijah's command. You're as bad as the people who didn't respond properly when Jesus came to die for sinners. Instead of praising and glorifying Him as they should have—many did not accept Him. In John 1:10-11 John talked about this. He wrote,

"He was in the world,
and though the world was made through him,
the world did not recognize him.
He came to that which was his own,
but his own did not receive him."

What a tragedy!

What you who are not Christians should understand is that
such a situation will not be allowed to stand. If you don't go to God and dedicate your life to His service—you do so at your peril. When they stood before Elijah, the 450 prophets of Baal didn't know they were in mortal danger. After all, it was 450 to 1! If you counted the 400 prophets of Asherah, it was 850 to 1! They didn't know that their souls were going to be forfeited that very day. To them the situation looked normal. They had been serving Baal for many years and weren't the worse for it. Little did they know that they were going to perish that very day.

Today God is calling you to make a choice. You're called to serve God.

If you're not a Christian—understand that you were created to serve Jesus and that God demands that you chose. It's an ultimatum.

"If the LORD is God, follow him;
but if Baal is God, follow him."

Arthur Pink writes, (Elijah, p. 124)

"The Lord is a jealous God, demanding our whole affection, and will not accept a divided empire with Baal. You must be for Him or against Him. He will permit of no compromise. You must declare yourself."

If you don't, you're putting yourself in great peril.

Remember the story of
Jesus and the fig tree? In Matthew 21:18-19 we read,

"Early in the morning,
as he was on his way back to the city,
he was hungry.
Seeing a fig tree by the road,
he went up to it
but found nothing on it except leaves.
Then he said to it,
'May you never bear fruit again!'
Immediately the tree withered."

For that tree not to have figs on it for its Creator was unacceptable. That fig tree was created for Jesus. For Him to be hungry and for the tree not to have any figs for Him showed that it missed the purpose for which it was created. It was right for that tree to be cursed. Mark 11 refers to the same incident and tells us that it was not the season for figs. That shows us that no excuse is acceptable. Many people make excuses about why they put off serving Jesus. None of them are acceptable.

Not serving Jesus Christ puts you in peril. Remember the guy in the story of the
Parable of the Talents who hid his talent in the earth and didn't use it? When his master came back he said to him, (Matthew 25:26-30)

"You wicked, lazy servant!
So you knew that I harvest
where I have not sown and gather
where I have not scattered seed?
Well then, you should have put
my money on deposit with the bankers,
so that when I returned
I would have received it back with interest.
Take the talent from him
and give it to the one who has the ten talents.
For everyone who has will be given more,
and he will have an abundance.
Whoever does not have,
even what he has will be taken from him.
And throw that worthless servant outside,
into the darkness,
where there will be
weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Remember the writing on the wall in Daniel? King Belshazzar had refused to serve God. God was watching and there came a day when it was too late for King Belshazzar. He was weighed in the balances and found wanting his life was taken from him.

The second thing that is implied from our text is that

you have enough information to make this decision.

Someone once asked Bertrand Russell, the English atheistic philosopher, what would he say if he died and immediately found himself before God. Russell responded,

"I will say to him, 'Not enough evidence. Not enough evidence!'"

The people who stood before Elijah were like that. When Elijah demanded that they choose—they remained silent. It was like they were agreeing with Russell, "Not enough evidence."

That's nonsense.
Psalm 19 tells us that the heavens declare the glory of God. It says, (verses 1-4)

"The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world."

Not only that, but Romans 1 and 2 shows us that there are no true, no natural, atheists. The problem wasn't that people didn't know there was a God and turned their back on Him—rather the problem was that they knew Him but rebelled against Him. As we read in Romans 1:21,

"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."

They turned their back on Him in spite of knowing that He was God!

This is what God said about His people in
Isaiah 1:2-6. He declared,

"'I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows his master,
the donkey his owner's manger,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.'
Ah, sinful nation,
a people loaded with guilt,
a brood of evildoers,
children given to corruption!
They have forsaken the LORD;
they have spurned the Holy One of Israel
and turned their backs on him.
Why should you be beaten anymore?
Why do you persist in rebellion?
Your whole head is injured,
your whole heart afflicted.
From the sole of your foot
to the top of your head there is no soundness
— only wounds and welts and open sores,
not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil."

What we should note from our text is that Elijah asked this before God's great display of fire from heaven. It was proper to ask it then. Elijah knew that the real problem wasn't that they didn't know that God was the true God, but that they were rebellious.

In His great grace and love God has given us His Word. His Word is true and is full of grace. You who are not Christians should greatly value the Word and listen to it. In the story of Lazarus and the rich man, Jesus had the rich man, when he was in Hades, asking for Lazarus to be allowed to go back and warn his brothers so that they would not come to that horrible place. Jesus had Abraham replying, (Luke 16:29-31)

"They have Moses and the Prophets;
let them listen to them."

The rich man replied,

"No, father Abraham,
but if someone from the dead goes to them,
they will repent."

But Abraham said,

"If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets,
they will not be convinced
even if someone rises from the dead.'"

That's absolutely true. The display of fire from heaven didn't convince King Ahab to serve the Lord. It didn't convince Queen Jezebel. Indeed, it didn't seem to have a lasting effect on the people at all, for just a few days later Elijah complained to God that he was the only one that was left, the only one that was faithful to Him!

You who are not Christians have enough evidence to decide for the Lord. Consider what His Word says!

Indeed, consider the grace in Elijah's words to the people.

Elijah's actions here are actions of such great and wonderful grace. The people of Israel had rebelled against God. They had forsaken Him. They had refused to repent.

But was there hope for them? Yes. Why? Was it because of anything good in them? No. It was because there was love in God.
Romans 5:10 puts it this way,

"when we were God's enemies,
we were reconciled to him
through the death of his Son,"

The Israelites before Elijah deserved to have lightning come down and consume them. But, instead of that, God came to them in grace. John 3:16,

"For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life."

Go to Jesus. Find life in Him. Don't waste another day of your life. Ask Jesus into your life and acknowledge Him. As Jesus said in Matthew 10:32-33,

"Whoever acknowledges me before men,
I will also acknowledge him
before my Father in heaven.
But whoever disowns me before men,
I will disown him before my Father in heaven."

Lastly, for those of you who are Christians. What you should take from this is that

you need to serve God with everything in you.

You cannot not be half-hearted in your service of God. In Matthew 6:24 Jesus said,

"No one can serve two masters.
Either he will hate the one and love the other,
or he will be devoted to the one
and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and Money."

You need to serve God wholeheartedly. In Revelation 3:14-16, in His message to the angel of the church in Laodicea, Jesus said,

"I know your deeds,
that you are neither cold nor hot.
I wish you were either one or the other!
So, because you are lukewarm—
neither hot nor cold—
I am about to spit you out of my mouth."

You can't be lukewarm in your devotion to Jesus. In John 15:1-2 Jesus told us that we need to bear much fruit. He said,

"I am the true vine,
and my Father is the gardener.
He cuts off every branch in me
that bears no fruit…"

Take your Christian living seriously. Give yourself wholeheartedly to the Lord.