1 Kings 18:41-46

Sermon preached on September 02, 2007 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Not very far from where we vacation every summer is an area known as Washabuckt. There's a book about the area called, "The Highland Heart in Nova Scotia". It was written by a guy who grew up there in the early 1900's. One of the stories he tells us about a man whose nickname was, 'Black Dan, the Clockmaker". He was quite a character who was a jack of all trades, a farmer, fisherman, trapper, humorist, songwriter, gossip and bagpipe player. One of the things that he did every year was to take to the road and go from place to place and spin his tales and songs and fix clocks. Here's how the author described Black Dan (the Piper) servicing his grandfather's clock, (The Highland Heart in Nova Scotia, Neil MacNeil, p. 155-156)

"Grandfather always took the clock down from the wall himself and placed it on the kitchen table, which Grandmother had meanwhile cleared for Black Dan's operations. There the Piper would proceed to disinter its guts, and he would soon have wheels and springs all over the table, and the poor clock would look like an empty and abandoned fruit crate. Looking from a safe distance we boys would wonder if he could get it back together again, but he always did. He would wipe parts of the clock and oil others and reassemble the whole machine with the greatest of ease while keeping up a line of chatter, which was partly technical to impress Grandmother and partly small gossip that he had forgotten about the day before. At last the clock would be placed back on the wall again, and would proceed to tick-tock for another year." "The job done, Grandfather would give the Clockmacker fifty cents, and with his bagpipes and kit of tools he would make his departure and after some minutes disappear up the road.""When he was well out of sight, Grandmother would take the broom and sweep the kitchen." "The last time I was present she swept up two tiny wheels and a delicate spring. She picked them up and looked at them and then looked wonderingly at the clock. It was tick-tocking nonchalantly and seemed none the worse for its experience and the loss of some of its intestines. Perhaps they were unnecessary organs like an appendix or tonsils."

Is prayer like that? Is it something that's not absolutely necessary in the Christian life? Is it superfluous? Is it like those left over wheels and springs—something that doesn't ultimately matter? We who are Calvinists know that God controls all things. We know that He has a plan and that His plan will come to pass. Nothing can stop or thwart it. Indeed, in Psalm 139:16 David said to God,

"All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be."

So, then, how can prayer be indispensable? God is going to work out His plan anyway. How can our prayers be important? How can they affect the outcome of things?

What we see in our text is that the prayers of God's people are vitally important.

God works out His plan through the prayers of His people.

God not only determines the end of things, but He also determines the means to that end. The prayers of God's people are often an indispensable ingredient in the fulfillment of God's purposes.

We see that from our text.
God was determined to send rain on the land. We see this in verse 1 of chapter 18. We read,

"After a long time, in the third year,
the word of the LORD came to Elijah:
'Go and present yourself to Ahab,
and I will send rain on the land.'"

But He also chose to do it through Elijah's prayers. In the previous chapter, (1 Kings 17:1) when Elijah announced the curse to King Ahab, he said,

"As the LORD,
the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve,
there will be neither dew nor rain
in the next few years except at my word."

Elijah had told King Ahab that the rain would come only when he prayed for it. That's what God had told Elijah. So when the time came for rain to come on the land, Elijah knew that he had to pray for it. When he did so he didn't just go through the motions. He prayed very fervently for rain. He went to the top of Mount Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. And then seven times he prayed for rain to come.

Thus we see that

Elijah viewed prayer as being absolutely necessary for the promises of God to be fulfilled.

He did not view prayer as unnecessary or superfluous. God had promised him that there would be rain but Elijah knew that He had to pray for it. The rain would not come without his prayers.

There are two great lessons for us here.

First of all, Christian people, realize the power of your prayers.

Your prayers matter. They are absolutely necessary. God uses them to fulfill His purposes. They are the means through which God accomplishes His purposes. John Calvin writes, (Institutes 3:20:2)

"It is, therefore, by the benefit of prayer that we reach those riches which are laid up for us with the Heavenly Father… we dig up by prayer the treasures that were pointed out by the Lord's gospel, and which our faith has gazed upon."

When Calvin says that we dig up by prayer the treasures that were pointed out by the gospel, he means that we only dig them up by prayer. The section that contains that quote is entitled, "The Necessity of Prayer". So what Calvin is suggesting is that if you don't dig them up by prayer, you don't dig them up at all—you don't get the treasures that you could have gotten. Prayer is absolutely essential for the Christian. It is indispensable.

Christians, what a
great privilege God has given you. You can come before God's great throne and present your requests to Him. Those requests are vitally important in the fulfillment of His plan and the glory of Jesus Christ.

Your prayers make a difference. Indeed, if you don't ask for certain things you won't get them. That's why in
James 4:2-3 James chided some Christians and said,

"You do not have,
because you do not ask God."

They deprived themselves of blessings because they neglected to ask God for them. They were impoverished merely because they did not ask God for the things He was willing to give them.

In Matthew 7:7-12 Jesus encouraged His disciples to pray and said,

"Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives;
he who seeks finds;
and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which of you, if his son asks for bread,
will give him a stone?
Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?
If you, then, though you are evil,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your Father in heaven
give good gifts to those who ask him!"

Christians, be much in prayer. Realize how important it is. Realize what a blessing it is that God has given you access to the throne of grace. Realize that you have been given the same great tool that Elijah was given. In James 5:16-18 the apostle urges us to pray like Elijah did. We read,

"The prayer of a righteous man
is powerful and effective.
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.
Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain,
and the earth produced its crops."

Douglas J. Moo writes, (Pillar New Testament Commentary)

"it is not Elijah's special prophetic endowment or unique place in history that interests James, but the fact that he was a man just like us (Gk. homoiopatheœs; cf. Acts 14:15). As in v. 16b, James emphasizes that every believer has access to the kind of effectiveness in prayer that he is illustrating here."

The second great lesson Elijah teaches us here is that

you are to be persistent in prayer.

When Elijah prayed for rain, he didn't just say the words once, and then get up and wait for the rain. No. He not only prayed for rain, but he prayed persistently for it—until it came. We read,

"Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel,
bent down to the ground
and put his face between his knees.
'Go and look toward the sea,'
he told his servant.
And he went up and looked.
'There is nothing there,' he said.
Seven times Elijah said, 'Go back.'
The seventh time the servant reported,
'A cloud as small as a man's hand
is rising from the sea.'"

Elijah didn't just pray once for rain. He prayed and prayed and prayed. Seven times he sent his servant to go and look toward the sea. John Calvin tells us that this shows us that prayer is absolutely necessary, (Institutes, 3:20:3)

"It will be enough for us to note the single example of Elijah, who, sure of God's purpose, after he has deliberately promised rain to King Ahab, still anxiously prays with his head between his knees, and sends his servant seven times to look not because he would discredit his prophecy, but because he knew it was his duty, lest his faith be sleepy or sluggish, to lay his desires before God."

So the teaching of our text is that we need to be persistent in prayer. We must not just pray about things once and think that we have done our duty. We must be persistent in praying for some things—especially the things that we know that God wants us to have. In Luke 11:13 Jesus said to His disciples,

"If you then, though you are evil,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your Father in heaven
give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

God desires to bless you with the Holy Spirit and the fruits of the Spirit. Pray persistently for such things. God wants you to have them but sometimes he wants you to dig deep in order to get them.

Jesus also taught His disciples this lesson in
Luke 18:1-8 in the parable of the persistent widow. We read,

"Then Jesus told his disciples a parable
to show them that they should
always pray and not give up. He said:
In a certain town there was a judge
who neither feared God nor cared about men.
And there was a widow in that town
who kept coming to him with the plea,
'Grant me justice against my adversary.'
For some time he refused.
But finally he said to himself,
'Even though I don't fear God
or care about men,
yet because this widow keeps bothering me,
I will see that she gets justice,
so that she won't eventually
wear me out with her coming!'
And the Lord said,
'Listen to what the unjust judge says.
And will not God bring about justice
for his chosen ones,
who cry out to him day and night?
Will he keep putting them off?
I tell you, he will see that they get justice,
and quickly.'"

You are to be persistent in your prayers.

But the great question is:

why would God give us this example of Elijah praying seven times, why would He want us to persist in prayer?

It's not that He doesn't hear us the first time, or that He's busy or too tired to help the first time and we need to remind Him to help us. In Psalm 121:2-4 David said,

"My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep."

And in Psalm 139:4 we read,

"Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD."

So being persistent in prayer isn't for God's benefit, so that He will eventually hear us or know what we want. He knows what we want and need even before we ask.

I suggest that there's at least two things going on in this example of Elijah.

First, God wants us to be focused on the fact

that our help comes from Him—that He is our only Savior and Deliverer.

He wants us to realize that we are dependent on Him and acknowledge this dependence. We see this in Paul's thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10. He wrote,

"Three times I pleaded with the Lord
to take it away from me.
But he said to me,
'My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.'
Therefore I will boast
all the more gladly about my weaknesses,
so that Christ's power may rest on me.
That is why, for Christ's sake,
I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships,
in persecutions, in difficulties.
For when I am weak,
then I am strong."

The result of the situation was such that it drew Paul closer to God, made him realize that all his strength came from God, and that his dependence on God, was a good thing, something to glory in.

So in urging us to be persistent in prayer, God is seeking to draw us closer to Him, to set our hearts more on Him—and to realize that our lives are a part of His greater life. Through persistent prayers of dependence you express your unity with Him, you express the fact that He is your life, your all in all.

Secondly, we must not miss the significance of the fact that Elijah prayed seven times. Numbers in the Bible are significant. The number seven is especially significant. Seven is a sacred number. It symbolizes completeness.

But at the same time, it's almost like there's something contradictory in this seven times.

On the one hand
we get a sense of a certain sort of ineffectiveness in Elijah. He prayed once and there was nothing, at least to the human senses. Twice and there was nothing. Three times and there was nothing, and so on. It wasn't until the seventh time that there was a small cloud rising out of the sea.

Now in the wider context, we see that Elijah was prayer for blessing on the land. The people had rebelled against the Lord and had suffered the consequences. Now God was coming in grace to them—He was going to send rain. Yet Elijah couldn't just pray once and have the blessing come. No. In a sense Elijah praying seven times shows his inadequacy. M.B. Van't Veer writes, (My God is Yahweh, p. 308)

"The seven prayers indicate that Elijah himself cannot offer God the completed work He demands. If he could, a single prayer along with a reference to the completed work of restoration would have been sufficient."

Yet at the same time, the number seven points to completeness, fullness.

Thus Elijah's seven prayers point to the future work of Jesus.

M.B. Van't Veer writes,

"The Lord let his interceding prophet approach Him seven times, with growing intensity and power in his prayer. Through the number seven, the prayer of Elijah took on a certain symbolic character. In other words, in his sevenfold prayer the prophet was pointing ahead to the great Intercessor and Prophet who can appear before God with His work completed and can bring about a complete restoration."

Remember how Elijah appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus and Moses? Elijah's whole work was pointing to Jesus, the great prophet who would be the culmination of his work. It's like the teaching here is a parallel to that of Hebrews that teaches us that the Old Testament levitical priesthood was inadequate compared to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Here we see that the Old Testament prophets were inadequate, that they pointed to Christ. M.B. Van't Veer writes,

"Elijah's intercession becomes a foreshadowing and prefiguration of the completed mediatorial work of the Messiah, who would renew the covenant. In Him the number seven would find its fulfillment. Through His work there would be reconciliation; sin would be punished and blessings regained. His work alone is the lawful basis for our living communion with the God of the covenant. He can pray and intercede for the guilty people and thereby offer God the 'labor of His soul'."

Thus Elijah's work of bringing blessing to the people of Israel was pointing to the future, greater work of Jesus. In himself, Elijah was inadequate. Jesus was not. Jesus took the curse of sin for His people. He is worthy and able to bring blessing to His people and deliver and save them. He is able to bring them to the true land of milk and honey where there would be blessings without number, blessings that would never end—blessings that were signified by the great rain that was the result of Elijah's prayer.

Christians, praise God for Jesus! Elijah was pointing to Him. Jesus is the One who bore the fire from heaven and secured blessing to you. It is because of His finished work that you can pray effectively and know that your prayers play a role in the establishment of His kingdom.

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians. This passage shows you that there is only blessing in Christ.

In the time of Elijah blessing came on the land and to the people only came through the prayer of the prophet. Without his prayer there would be no blessing. In that he was a type of Christ.

You need Jesus. You need Him to bring blessing to you. The great question for you is—is Jesus going to ask for you to be blessed? Is He going to go to the Father and intercede for you? He will only do so if you go to Him. As He 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."

Go to Jesus now. He's your only hope.