1 Kings 18:30-39

Sermon preached on August 19, 2007 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

When I was on vacation in July my friend Brad showed me one of the best card tricks I have ever seen. It was really neat, one that I couldn't figure out at all. It involved him guessing three cards which seemed absolutely impossible because if I remember correctly, he got me to cut the cards, once each time before he put the cards in piles. He'd have three cards in three piles- and before he looked at the first one he would tell you that what it was. Then he would tell you what the top card on the second pile was, and then he would tell you what the top card on the third pile was. He did the trick repeatedly and every time he would tell you what the three cards were. Thankfully, my friend Brad is a really nice guy and at the end he showed us how he did the trick. It was really slick and basically involved two parts. The key to the trick was to know one of the three cards on top of the piles. That's all you had to know. You didn't have to know the three of them, you just had to know one. So the first part of the trick was to look at the bottom card of the deck, and make sure that that card got on top of one of the piles. You also had to remember which pile you put it on. With the other two piles, you could get the participants to cut the deck, shuffle it or whatever, and put any two cards on top of the other piles. You didn't have to know what they were. So the guy doing the trick had three piles and he was supposed to know the top card on each pile. But he only knew one card. Here's the ingenious part. He would pick one of the piles which he didn't know what card was on top. Before he peeked under it, he would tell you that it was the card that he knew, say the 10 of clubs and then he would peek under it and tell you that it was the 10 of clubs. But it really wasn't. When he peeked under, he would look at what card it was, and then he would point to the next card, the other card he didn't know, and he would tell you it was the card that he had just looked at. Then he would peek at it, remember what it was, and confirm it was what he said it was, then he would look at the top card on the third pile and tell you that it was the card he had just looked at. So then he would know what all three cards were and not only that, but he had told them to the audience. Then he would then pick up all three, hold them in his hand and show them to you. If you didn't know how he did it, it seemed amazing. But it was just a trick.

One of the things that the Holy Spirit teaches here us is this passage is that Christianity is not based on tricks. Elijah was doing this in front of all of many people, including the prophets of Baal. To show that no tricks were involved in calling down fire from heaven, Elijah gave orders to pour water on the altar. Before he did that he ordered a trench all around the altar so that the water wouldn't just run off but would fill the trench and stay there, surrounding the altar. Then Elijah ordered them to fill four large jugs with water and pour them over the altar. He told them to do it a second and then a third time. The altar was soaked with water and surrounded by it. Humanly speaking, it would be impossible to light the wood on the altar, at least with the technology they had at the time. God was showing them that no trick could be involved. After Elijah prayed, we read, (verse 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."

It was an incredible demonstration of God's power.

One of the great truths we are shown here is that

God fulfills His promises.

Elijah was doing all this at God's command. We see this from Elijah's prayer in verses 36 and 37. Elijah 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."

In preparing the altar, in pouring the water on the altar, Elijah was doing what God told him to do. He had a promise from God. God fulfilled His promise by sending fire from heaven. The water soaking the altar could not stop God's promise from being fulfilled. God answered by fire and it was not a questionable demonstration. The fire burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and even licked up the water in the trench. It proved decisively that the Lord was God.

This shows us that

in judging the promises of God, we must not judge by human possibilities.

The water soaking the altar was not a problem for God. In fulfilling His promises God can overcome all the forces of nature. Nothing can stop His promises from being fulfilled.

We are taught this in many places in Scripture. One of the first is in
Genesis 18 where God gave a promise to Abraham that his wife Sarah would have a son the next year. We read, (Genesis 18:10-14)

"Now Sarah was listening
at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him.
Abraham and Sarah were already old
and well advanced in years,
and Sarah was past the age of childbearing.
So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought,
'After I am worn out and my master is old,
will I now have this pleasure?'
Then the LORD said to Abraham,
'Why did Sarah laugh and say,
'Will I really have a child, now that I am old?'
Is anything too hard for the LORD?
I will return to you at the appointed time next year
and Sarah will have a son.''"

Sarah didn't believe the promise. She thought it was impossible for her to have a child at her age. She was past child bearing age. If my memory is correct, she was 90 when she had Isaac.

The fact that Sarah was past child-bearing age wasn't a problem for Abraham and his faith. This is what the apostle Paul wrote about it in
Romans 4:18-21,

"Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed
and so became the father of many nations,
just as it had been said to him,
So shall your offspring be.
Without weakening in his faith,
he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—
since he was about a hundred years old—
and that Sarah's womb was also dead.
Yet he did not waver through unbelief
regarding the promise of God,
but was strengthened in his faith
and gave glory to God,
being fully persuaded that God had power to do
what he had promised."

That's what our faith is to be like. As far as the promises of God are concerned, we ought to be completely assured that God will do what He has promised. We ought to have no doubt about it no matter how impossible it seems.

That was also the way with Abraham when he was tested concerning Isaac.
Hebrews 11:17-19 says,

"By faith Abraham,
when God tested him,
offered Isaac as a sacrifice.
He who had received the promises
was about to sacrifice his one and only son,
even though God had said to him,
'It is through Isaac
that your offspring will be reckoned.'
Abraham reasoned that God
could raise the dead…"

Abraham knew that Isaac had to live and have children. In Genesis 17 God told Abraham that it was with Isaac that His covenant would be established—it was through Isaac that all the families of the earth would be blessed. Abraham could not reconcile this with God's command to sacrifice Isaac. But one thing that He absolutely knew and was assured of was that God's promise would be fulfilled. If God had to raise Isaac from the dead He would do it. Isaac being dead could not stop the promise of God from being fulfilled.

Now what this means for you is that

You are to have a great confidence as you live your life.

The great truth that underlies this passage is that God is faithful. He is a God of truth who keeps His Word. He is a God of love who maintains His love to His people. He never abandons them but is always with them to help them.

Consider the context here. Elijah's return to Israel is about God sending His grace to a rebellious people. For three and a half years there had been a drought in the land. Yet, in spite of that, the people had not repented. But God still returns with grace. We see this especially in Elijah's prayer in
verse 37. He said,

"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."

This is all about grace to a rebellious, undeserving people. God did not give up on them. He was seeking them out. Although not all in Israel were going to respond to God's grace, God had His people there. God did not abandon those rebels. They were His and although Satan tried his best to ruin them, God's grace saved them.

The situation here reminds me of Peter's rebellion against the Lord when he denied Him. Satan desired to have Peter, to destroy Him. But Jesus prayed for Peter. He died for Peter. He sent His grace to Peter and saved him. That's what God is like. He is faithful to His promises, to His people.

This truth should greatly impact how you live. You should live with a confidence and boldness. God is your God and He is going to save you and honor His great name.

By that I don't mean that you should be presumptuous and misapply the great truth that we see here. That's what many Christians do today. When some Christians get sick they believe that God will heal them. Other well-meaning Christians will also tell them that they're going to be healed and they will tell others about it too. They tell people that God is going to work a great miracle and honor His name by doing so. They seem to have great faith, but their faith is misguided. Their faith in the healing is not rooted in a promise that God has given them. They don't have a specific promise like Elijah did, like Abraham did.

What usually happens is that the person who is sick grows worse and then dies. Then some people will blame him and say that he didn't have enough faith. The whole affair, instead of resulting in God's glory, is an embarrassment to Christianity and to Christ's cause.

The whole reason it ends up that way is because of presumption and a misapplication of the truth we see in our passage. Our passage was never meant to teach that God will send down fire from heaven (or work a miracle) every time that a Christian prays for it. No. Elijah had a specific promise. For a Christian today to try to recreate what Elijah did would be utter folly.

Often it is not God's will to heal His people or to deliver them from trouble.

You'll remember how Jesus' predicted the kind of death that Peter would die. He said to Peter, (John 21:18-19)

"I tell you the truth,
when you were younger you dressed yourself
and went where you wanted;
but when you are old
you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.
Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death
by which Peter would glorify God."

Jesus said that there would come a time when it wouldn't be God's will for Peter to be delivered from prison—like he was in Acts 12, when an angel led him out of prison—but that it would be God's will that Peter to be imprisoned and then be led out to be crucified. Jesus said that there would be a time when it would be God's will for Peter to suffer and die for God's glory.

When he was diagnosed with liver cancer,
James Montgomery Boice said, (May 7, 2000)

"A relevant question, I guess, when you pray is pray for what? Should you pray for a miracle? Well, you're free to do that, of course. My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles—and He certainly can—is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place. So although miracles do happen, they're rare by definition. A miracle has to be an unusual thing."

Boice recognized that the cancer he was diagnosed with may have been God's way to bring him to glory. He was correct. He died shortly afterwards.

So we shouldn't be presumptuous and assume we know what God will do when we have no specific promise in that regard.

But, nevertheless, you should live with confidence, boldly and courageously because God is working out His plan and saving His people.

That's what He was doing in Elijah's day and that's what He's doing today. You Christians are part of that plan. Your faith should be like Elijah's and Abraham's because you serve the same God. He is not limited by human possibilities. As we read about Abraham in Romans 4:17,

"He is our father in the sight of God,
in whom he believed—
the God who gives life to the dead
and calls things that are not
as though they were."

God has marshaled His power for His Son Jesus. In Ephesians 1:16-19 Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians and said,

"I keep asking that the God
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the glorious Father,
may give you the Spirit
of wisdom and revelation,
so that you may know him better.
I pray also that the eyes of your heart
may be enlightened in order that
you may know the hope
to which he has called you,
the riches of his glorious inheritance
in the saints,
and his incomparably great power
for us who believe."

We need to have our eyes opened to these things. We need to take them to heart. Paul continued and wrote about the exaltation of our Lord Jesus, (verses 22-23)

"And God placed all things under his feet
and appointed him to be head over everything
for the church…"

Christ is head over everything for the church. Your salvation is connected to His glory.

Yet what we should realize is that it's not always in the dramatic, the seemingly miraculous, that God works out His glorious plan that leads to victory. It's also in the ordinary things, even in the disappointing things that happen to you. James Montgomery Boice also said about his sickness and how it related to God's glory.

"Above all, I would say pray for the glory of God. If you think of God glorifying Himself in history and you say, where in all of history has God most glorified Himself? He did it at the cross of Jesus Christ, and it wasn't by delivering Jesus from the cross, though He could have. Jesus said, 'Don't you think I could call down from my Father ten legions of angels for my defense?' But He didn't do that. And yet that's where God is most glorified."

Jesus is working out His plan. Christian, you are His and you are included in that plan. Both your life and your death can be used by Him for that purpose. As the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:20,

"I eagerly expect and hope
that I will in no way be ashamed,
but will have sufficient courage
so that now as always
Christ will be exalted in my body,
whether by life or by death."

Jesus is ruling all things. He is building His church. He is bringing everything under His rule. He is bringing everything to its proper consummation. Your lives are in His hands and He is using them as part of that process. So you Christians should serve Him without fear, without reservation—but rather with great confidence, knowing that our God, as the apostle Paul said in Ephesians 3:20,

"is able to do immeasurably more
than all we ask or imagine,
according to his power
that is at work within us,"

You ought to be like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego before King Nebuchadnezzar. They said, (Daniel 3:16-18)

"O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need
to defend ourselves before you in this matter.
If we are thrown into the blazing furnace,
the God we serve is able to save us from it,
and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.
But even if he does not,
we want you to know, O king,
that we will not serve your gods
or worship the image of gold you have set up."

You Christians should live with confidence, with boldness, knowing that your God is not limited by human possibilities.

For those of you who are not Christians, this passage shows that

you ought to go to Jesus.

The prophets of Baal were disappointed. What they hoped in was proved to be false. Elijah and the fire from heaven showed all the people that the Lord was the only true God.

Now, I haven't called down fire from heaven before you today. I can't do that. But that doesn't mean that your unbelief is acceptable. God's Word tells you that the Lord is the only true God. That's enough. In the story of Lazarus and the rich man, Jesus said that if people don't believe Moses and the prophets, they won't believe even if someone were to rise from the dead. So you have enough to believe.

But, more than that, this story shows you that you need to believe before it's too late. Once the fire from heaven fell, it was too late for the prophets of Baal. They were doomed. There was no hope for them.

Don't let that happen to you. Go to Jesus now. As the apostle Paul wrote in
2 Corinthians 6:2,

"now is the time of God's favor,
now is the day of salvation."

Don't let it slip away.