1 Kings 18:22-29

Sermon preached on July 1, 2007 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

My girls are very messy and untidy. It's true. Marg and I are fighting a losing battle in trying to get them to keep their rooms organized and tidy. Normally their rooms look like a hand grenade exploded there. Their mess even extends to our family room. They keep it so messy and it's like our admonitions fall on deaf ears. I've almost given up—except for one area in the family room. I have a desk there that I use for collating and stapling the sermons that I distribute every week. I keep telling them that that's my desk—they each have their own desks—and that I want my desk kept clear—that they're not allowed to put their clutter on it. Last Sunday morning I went to collate and staple my sermons and found that they had some of their junk on it—but this time my desk was piled high with their junk. They must have cleaned up the floor to do yoga and they put all the junk on my desk. There were these Starbuck coffee bottles, a bag of opened cat food, a bag of used cans of cat food, many empty cans of cat food that weren't in a bag and various other pieces of garbage. But rather than throw all the junk in the garbage, I decided to teach them a lesson. I took all the junk and arranged it all around their computers. Their desks were messy anyway, and I actually had a hard time finding places to put the junk—but I took my time and put it all around both of their computers—so that they would have to move it before they could use their computers. Then I went and collated and stapled my sermons on my desk. I forgot about the incident until four days later when we were all in the family room and I remembered what I had done. So I asked the girls if they noticed that I had put all that junk—and there was a lot of it—on their desks around their computers. They started laughing because they hadn't even noticed. I think it was Natalia who said,

"That's just like the joke on the movie Dumb and Dumber. The guy was in Harry and Lloyd's apartment and said that he was going to trash it in order to send them a message. The girl who was with him looked around at the mess that the apartment was in and said, "I don't think they're going to get that message."

Sometimes we don't get the message we're supposed to learn. That's okay with things of little or no consequence—but it's disastrous with big things. In our text we have a big lesson—one of the utmost importance. They shouldn't have missed it and we shouldn't miss it. On Mount Carmel God was teaching the people of Israel both about His grace and His wrath. It's primarily about grace—but it shows that it comes at a cost, not at a cost to us—but at a great cost nevertheless.

The overarching theme we see here is

the return of God's unmerited and undeserved grace to Israel.

Note that well. It was grace that was unmerited and undeserved. (As grace always is.) For three and a half years God's grace had been withdrawn because of the sin of the people. Elijah had appeared before King Ahab and told him that there would be no rain except at his word. Then God ordered Elijah to leave Israel. But now God's grace had returned. Elijah had come back to pray for rain and bring an end to the great famine. This was in spite of the fact that the people had not repented of their sin. God was going to end the drought in spite of the rebellion of His people. God was going to bless them with rain even though they didn't deserve it.

But that was just the beginning. God was going to do more than bring the people relief from the drought. To do that alone wouldn't have been much help to the idolatrous people of Israel—they would have had rain but they still would have been mired in their sin and they would have perished.

No, God was going to open their eyes to their folly and show them that He is the only God. He shows them that He is the God that they should be serving. He did it with a great demonstration of fire from heaven in a contest with the prophets of Baal.
In that demonstration He revealed both grace and wrath!

Let's consider the aspects of that grace.

The first thing that shows us God's remarkable grace is

the fact that the prophets of Baal were not able to bring down fire from heaven.

Why weren't the prophets of Baal able to bring down fire from heaven? Elijah's challenge was appropriate for them. Baal was called the god of the sun. Such a god should be able to answer with fire from heaven.

But even apart from that, Satan was behind Baal worship. Satan is a great and powerful creature. He can appear as a great angel of light and do many wonders. He can give his followers great powers as well. We see this in
Revelation 13 which describes two great, evil and monstrous beasts. The first beast comes out of the sea and is described as a dragon who blasphemes and deceives the whole world. He will make war on the saints and have great victories. Then we read about another beast, who comes out of the earth, whose number is 666. John writes about him, (Revelation 13:11-17)

"Then I saw another beast,
coming out of the earth.
He had two horns like a lamb,
but he spoke like a dragon.
He exercised all the authority
of the first beast on his behalf,
and made the earth
and its inhabitants worship the first beast,
whose fatal wound had been healed."

Then we read,

"And he performed great and miraculous signs,
even causing fire to come down
from heaven to earth in full view of men.
Because of the signs
he was given power to do
on behalf of the first beast,
he deceived the inhabitants of the earth."

He had the power to bring down fire from heaven and thereby deceive the inhabitants of the earth. It is not impossible for Satan or for his followers to make fire come down from heaven. It will happen in the future.

But God did not allow the people of Israel in Elijah's time to be deceived. Why weren't the prophets of Baal able to bring down fire? The answer has to be that
God did not permit Satan to do so. Although Satan is a great and powerful adversary God can prevent him from using his power. You'll remember that Satan had to ask God for permission to afflict Job and that at first God ordered him not to touch Job himself. Later, Satan asked God to place Job in his hands and God did so, but ordered that Satan not take Job's life. (Job 1)

So what we see here is that God was sending great grace to Israel by not letting Satan deceive them any longer. On Mount Carmel God showed that He was the One true God. At the end of it everyone knew that the Lord was God. As the people shouted after fire consumed Elijah's sacrifice, (1 Kings 18:39)

"The Lord—he is God!
The Lord—he is God!"

God bound Satan. He was not allowed to deceive the people of Israel. Elijah showed them the true God. There was great grace in that.

The second thing that shows us the remarkable grace of God here was the fact that

the sacrifice was consumed—and not the people.

The great point that we should understand here is that the people deserved to have fire come down and consume them. They had rebelled and sinned against the Lord by serving Baal. The wages of sin is death. When Elijah asked them if the Lord was God—they had remained silent. In spite of irrefutable proof that the Lord was God, given in the three and a half years of famine—they people refused to acknowledge God before Elijah. When he asked if the Lord was God, they did not answer, they were not moved to serve and praise God.

Thus the people of Israel standing before Elijah on Mount Carmel deserved to have the fire from heaven come down and consume them. They were sinners.
They were in open rebellion against God. The people deserved death just like the soldiers who came to arrest Elijah in 2 Kings 1. Wicked King Ahaziah sent them to bring Elijah to him. When the captain and fifty men found Elijah, he was sitting on the top of a hill. When they commanded him to come down, he replied,

"If I am a man of God,
may fire come from down from heaven
and consume you and your fifty men!

That's what happened. It then happened to the second fifty men that the king sent.

The people standing before Elijah deserved the same fate as those 250 rebels who were against Moses in the rebellion of
Korah, Dathan and Abiram. You'll remember that the earth opened its mouth and swallowed Korah, Dathan and Abiram, their families and possessions. It swallowed them alive and then closed up over them. Then, we read about their fellow rebels, the ones who were offering incense, (Numbers 16:35)

"And fire came out from the LORD
and consumed the 250 men
who were offering the incense."

So what we should understand is that the people of Israel before Elijah deserved that fire from heaven should come down and consumed them. But it didn't. It consumed the sacrifice that Elijah had prepared.

The fire from heaven represented God's wrath and His anger against sin. We see that in many places in Scripture. In
Leviticus 10:1-3 we read,

"Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers,
put fire in them and added incense;
and they offered unauthorized fire
before the LORD,
contrary to his command.
So fire came out
from the presence of the LORD
and consumed them,
and they died before the LORD."

We see the same thing in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10. It speaks of the last Day and the relief that will come to His troubled people. We read,

"This will happen when the Lord Jesus
is revealed from heaven in blazing fire
with his powerful angels.
He will punish those who do not know God
and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
They will be punished with everlasting destruction
and shut out from the presence of the Lord
and from the majesty of his power
on the day he comes to be glorified
in his holy people and to be marveled at
among all those who have believed."

So the fact that the people before Elijah were not consumed was an act of remarkable grace.

Thirdly, and paradoxically, the next thing that shows us there was remarkable grace here is the fact that

the fire from heaven pointed to the wrath of God poured out on Jesus when He suffered on the cross.

The Old Testament sacrificial system pointed to Jesus and was fulfilled in Him. This incident on Mount Carmel perfectly illustrated the meaning of the Old Testament sacrifices that pointed to the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Arthur Pink writes, (Elijah, p. 131)

"this leads us to the deeper meaning of this remarkable parable. There can be no reconciliation between a holy God and sinners save on the ground of atonement, and there can be no atonement or remission of sins except by the shedding of blood. Divine justice must be satisfied: the penalty of the broken law must be inflicted—either on the guilty culprit or upon an innocent substitute… the fire of God's wrath must fall either on the guilty people or on a sacrificial substitute."

Elijah killed a bull and put it on the altar. The significance of this is explained in Leviticus 16. There we were told how Aaron was to approach the sanctuary area—with a young bull for a sin offering, a young goat for a burnt offering and another goat to be the scapegoat. He was to slaughter the bull to make atonement for his sins and the sin of his household. He was to slaughter the goat for the sins of the people to make atonement for their sins. He was to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat's head. Then the goat was to be sent away outside the camp.

These things pointed to Christ. The Old Testament people knew that
the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins. (Hebrews 10:4) They knew that these things pointed to the Messiah who would come to die for their sins and save them. These sacrifices pointed to substitutionary atonement that would come in Jesus Christ.

The fire from heaven that consumed the bull before Elijah and the people of Israel gives us an insight into the awful suffering that Jesus endured on the cross.
The fire from heaven consumed the bull, the wood, the stones, the soil and the water. What wrath was there.

That was pointing to the wrath of God that was due to sin that would be satisfied in Jesus. How horrible it was. The thought of it in the Garden of Gethsemane overwhelmed His soul with sorrow to the point of death. His sweat was like great drops of blood. He asked His Father if it were possible for the cup to be taken from Him.

In Elijah's day it the bull was killed and placed among the wood, the stones, the soil and the water. When Jesus came to Calvary the nails were driven in, the cross raised and dropped in place—suffering endured, death embraced.

The physical part of it was most horrible. Yet that was only part of it. On the cross His main complaint was, (quoting from Psalm 22)

"My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?"

The fire of God's wrath was poured out on Him. What God's grace to sinners cost Him! As the apostle Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 5:21,

"God made him who had no sin
to be sin for us,"

The spotless lamb of God took our sins on Himself. How horrible that must have been to Him. He took ours sins and was punished for them—He faced the fire from God for our sins. As the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 3:13,

"Christ redeemed us
from the curse of the law
by becoming a curse for us."

Fire came from heaven and consumed the sacrifice. Jesus embraced the curse of death. He bore the fire of God's wrath, willingly, in the place of His people. God's wrath against our sin was satisfied.

What remarkable grace—the fire consumed the bull and not the people.

Now what all does this mean for us?

First, for those of you who are not Christians, what you should realize from this is that

your hopes, whatever they are, are going to be disappointed.

This passage shows us the disappointment that inevitably comes from following a false religion.

The prophets of Baal failed to get Baal to send fire from heaven. Can you imagine how they felt after crying out to Baal all morning and he never answered? Can you imagine how they felt when they saw Elijah pray for fire and it immediately fell and consumed the sacrifice and all the water? They were doomed. Their fate was sealed.

How are you going to feel on the last day when you stand before the Lord and hear the words, (Matthew 25:41)

"Depart from me,
you who are cursed,
into the eternal fire
prepared for the devil and his angels."

God's grace is costly even though it's free. The wages of sin is death. It cannot be any other way. Your sins require death. If you don't go to Jesus and trust in Him, appropriate His death for your sin—then that means that you're going to have to suffer eternal death for your sins. God's grace is only available in Jesus. You're not basing your hope of eternal life on Jesus and therefore it's going to be disappointed. In John 14:6 Jesus said,

"I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father
except through me."

And in Acts 4:12 Peter declared,

"Salvation is found in no one else,
for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

What are you basing your hope on? Perhaps you think there's no god, no heaven, no hell. You're wrong. There is a God. He made you in His image and gave you opportunities to serve Him, to be saved from your sins, to know Jesus.

Perhaps you think that God is such that you believe that if He does exist,
you'll be fine even though you didn't believe in Jesus. That's discounting Jesus' agony, His words in the Garden, "Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me."

Perhaps you're waiting for a better time to accept Jesus. Perhaps you think that you have lots of time left. But you may not. Jesus said about the rich man, (Luke 12:20)

"You fool!
This very night your life
will be demanded from you."

If you don't go to Jesus soon, perhaps even now—your hopes, whatever they are, will be disappointed. You will be lost.

Secondly, Christians, how you should appreciate God's grace to you.

He has not treated you as your sins deserve or repaid you according to our iniquities. He has given you grace. Instead of the fire of God's wrath coming on you—it fell on Jesus.

Love Jesus. Rejoice in Him. Serve Him with everything in you. What a Savior you have in Jesus.