Light from heaven

Scriptures: 1 Kings 18:20-39; Mark 9:2-8

That story from Mark is one of my favorites, as it talks about Jesus’ transfiguration. You’ll get to hear that again, after Christmas at some time, when we have what’s called Transfiguration Sunday. I’ll be going into it in depth at that time.

For today, I want to focus on another time the light and power of God was made apparent to the people, and that was in this event with Elijah. I want to share some thoughts about this passage today.

Elijah was a prophet in the northern kingdom. He was a prophet during the time of Ahab, who was known as one of the most wicked kings in the history of the northern kingdom.

I have to say, he had a lot of help with that, because his biggest mistake, I think, was marrying Jezebel. Jezebel was not Jewish. She was a foreigner. She was a follower of Baal and Asteroth, and she was very pious. She was zealous for her gods.

Because of the influence she had on the king, she turned the king’s heart – which was probably not all that difficult, given other things we know – and basically instituted the worship of Baal through the northern kingdom.

The Jewish people, as a whole, followed along with that. The Jewish rulers – that is, their religious rulers, their prophets, as well – were all scared, and so what they did is they bowed to the, shall we say, politically correct culture of the time, and they said, “peace, peace, everything’s cool.”

There was only a remnant of true believers left in the land at the time. Elijah was the only prophet that was making himself known at the time, who was faithful to God.

Elijah and Ahab had some history before this. God had set Himself against the gods of Jezebel already, prior to this. Elijah had come to the king and basically prophesied to him. Baal was the god of rain and fertility. Asteroth was a god of rain and crops, and things like that.

So Elijah went to the king and said, “Guess what? Because you have fallen away from the Lord your God, it will not rain for three and a half years.” And it hadn’t rained. So apparently the God of Israel was stronger than these gods, and yet the people still followed Baal.

It was during this time – there was famine in the land, as well, because of the lack of rain – that Elijah puts forth his challenge. It wasn’t part of our reading today, but at one point, when Obadiah, who is his servant, is taking messages back and forth, Ahab calls Elijah “the troubler of Israel.”

That’s because Elijah was standing firm for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the people of Israel, at a time when its leadership was not. So he was called a troubler.

He puts forth this really wild challenge. He tells the people, gather every prophet of Baal, and the prophets of Asteroth (but they only number the prophets of Baal), and we’re going to have this contest, and see whose god is really God.

Sometimes I wish we could do that today. I know that we’re supposedly no longer in the age of miracles, extraordinary miracles like that, but it would be kind of cool, to be able to make God’s presence so clearly known.

So they set up these altars, with their bulls. The prophets of Baal do their thing, slashing their wrists and causing blood to flow for their sacrifice. Then Elijah begins to taunt them. I love this, in verse 27. We have, through our translators, so sanitized what’s in the actual Hebrew.

We have “’Shout louder,’ he said. ‘Surely he is a god. Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling.’” Well, that’s not exactly what it says. What it says is perhaps he’s meditating or he’s gone to the bathroom. Which, of course, gods shouldn’t have to do, so he’s really cutting them low.

“Or maybe he’s sleeping and must be awakened.” There again, what god needs to sleep? So he’s basically calling them, saying “you’re worshiping false idols.” He is cutting them to the core of their belief in their gods, as he taunts them.

They shouted even louder, and danced even harder. And you know what? Nothing happened. There was no response. No one answered, and no one paid attention.

Now, I also want to note that before they did that, he said, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you, and call upon the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” That’s an important thing too, because sometimes they wanted to help their god along.

Have we ever wanted to help God along? We think we see what we’re supposed to get done, but God may not have given us a clear sign that this is what we’re to do, or maybe He’s given us a sign that this isn’t, but we’re going to help God along. So we start a fire ourselves.

These guys had a habit of starting a fire and then of course it could grow on its own, if the right conditions are met. So Elijah wanted to make it very clear that it was only the power of God, and not the power of the people, of the prophets there, that were making this happen.

So they did their sacrifice and their rituals, and nothing happened. Then Elijah tells the people, “Come here to me.” And I get this idea, of not quite like a football field, but this big open area, and they have one altar over here, and they have one altar over there.

Elijah had apparently picked a spot near where the altar of the people of Israel already was, one that fell into disrepair. The people are just in a giant circle around it, or maybe they’re all gathered in a big group like people watching a football game.

First they were there watching the spectacle of the prophets of Baal, and then Elijah says, “My turn. Come over here.” And everybody goes [sidles over to the other side], and they all gather around Elijah.

He repairs the altar of the Lord, which was in ruins, using the twelve stones, as it notes, designating the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he dug a trench around it, large enough to hold two seahs of seed, which is about fifteen liters per seah, so about thirty liters. Call it about eight gallons. It probably wasn’t a very deep trench, a very big-around trench. But that wasn’t the point of it, to make it like a moat.

Then Elijah makes a very hard request. “Fill four large jars with water and put it on the offering and wood.” Now these large jars usually held like 45 gallons or so. They were huge – kind of like a 55-gallon drum. So imagine that in your head – four of these things.

Now also remember, there had been no rain for over three years. Water was an extremely precious commodity. And here’s Elijah telling them, give me 200 gallons of water. And pour it all over the bull.

So they gathered the water together. Now I imagine this took a little while. I don’t think they probably had these things on hand. So it took a little while. Then Elijah said, “Do it again.” And they probably went [some noise of exasperation].

So they went and they got some more, another 200 gallons of water. Some people are probably grumbling, “Man, does he know what he’s doing with all this? This is precious stuff.”

Then he says, “Do it a third time.” And the bull was so wet, it says the water just ran off and ran into this trench that was around the altar. The wood was soaking. The bull was soaking. And remember, in this day and age, they would coat their shields with bull hides, then they would soak them down, so that flaming arrows and things that hit would not light.

Basically, he was making it as hard as could be to light the bull and the wood. And they had just spent 600 gallons of water, roughly. That’s a lot of water, especially in a time of famine. Elijah had forced them to give sacrificially to their God, to see some response. Not blood, but water.

Elijah prays to the Lord, “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 I have done all these things at your command. Answer me.” And it says the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice.

It burned up the bull, it burned up the wood, it burned up the stones and the soil and licked the water up in the trench. So imagine a blast of fire, almost like a lightning bolt, only of flame, come down. It’s so large, so powerful, that everything is obliterated, disintegrated.

The water is gone, maybe a poof of steam. The bull – nothing but cinders, and there’s a pile of ash there. And the rocks are all cracked and scorched. Any grass that might have remained in the area around the altar – gone and torched.

That was a pretty impressive display of power, by any measure, as God showed that He was God of not just the people, but of the rain, of water, of fire, of earth. He’s the God of all things, and the Creator of all things. He is the one to whom the people were called to follow.

The people had their wake-up call at that time, and said, “the Lord, He is God. The Lord, He is God.” And they fell prostrate, too – that means they fell flat on their bellies and put their faces on the ground, and said, “The Lord, He is God.”

I really wish, as I said earlier, that we might be able to have some kind of event like that today. Because I can’t help but feel that in many ways, we in churches like this are the remnant that is spoken of in the time of Kings here.

That we in the church are those that were faithful and we are few, and the people, the religious leaders and the people at large, have fallen prey to the gods of this world, and they worship the gods of this world.

And the leaders of our church say, “Peace, peace. Don’t make any waves. Let’s try to reach them, without having to teach them. Let them believe what they want. It’s OK. God is big enough for everyone.”

Well, no. God may be big enough for everyone, but He’s big enough for everyone that follows Him. He calls us to follow Him and He calls us to do it in a specific way. And any one of you who is willing to stand up, and stand firm for the truth in the face of these prophets of idolatry, is an Elijah.

Because we believe in the priesthood of all believers and the ministry of every member of the church. The Spirit of the Lord is no longer falling upon single individuals who had a particular role to play, like during the time of Elijah.

But the Spirit of God, as at Pentecost, came down to infuse every single one of us. Not just to give us His wisdom and His guidance, but to give us power and authority.

There is a need today, a challenge, to people in the culture. There’s a need today to challenge and say, “You set up your altars and I’ll set up mine, and let’s see which God answers prayer.”

There’s a need in our culture today and in our church today, to stand firm for the tenets of what God has called us to do and be, as followers of Jesus Christ.

The light of God shone through Elijah that day with utmost clarity. But now, the light of God is upon each one of us, and needs to shine through us. And you know what? We probably, like Elijah, will be called troublers, because God’s holiness make people uncomfortable. God’s demands make people uncomfortable.

Because God demands to be first in people’s lives. He demands to be the center. He deserves it as the Creator. But, you know, we like to be in control, and it’s every person doing what’s right in his own eyes, as it said at the end of Judges, and we certainly see that today.

We need to stand for God. I really believe that there is a call to each one of us in this passage, and that if we stay faithful and if we stay firm and if we call people to account, yes, there will be people that don’t like us, don’t want us, that call us troublers.

I have to note that Elijah had to flee immediately after this, because Jezebel sent her armies after him, and he went through a very low period in his life, right after this high.

But he stayed faithful, and so do we. You’re going to have highs, you’re going to have lows. But the point is, you remain a true witness to the word of God, and God will honor you, and you will make a difference in this world and in the lives of people.

There will be some who, when they see you and they hear you, will say, “The Lord, He is God,” and give praise to the Father who is in heaven, for all the wondrous things He has done.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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