12th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Last fall I had the opportunity to use one of these things (hold up a gun scope). I had the opportunity to go deer hunting twice, once with Leonard and once with Tom. While I was sitting in the deer stand with Leonard I learned something about a scope. It was nearing dusk and as the sun went down it got more and more difficult to see. So you could stare at a certain place in the woods wondering if there was a deer there or not, but the lack of light made it very difficult. But when you look through a scope at a certain place it actually made it look brighter and easier to see. The scope makes your eyes focus just on one area and makes that one area brighter and clearer. But there’s also a problem then. When you look through that scope you can no longer see the big picture. You could be so focused on that one area that you completely miss a deer walk by in a different place. The same phenomenon can happen in our lives as well. We can so focus on one area, one thing, and see it so clearly but at the same time miss the big picture, blind ourselves to the full reality.
This happened to one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament times. Elijah served as God’s prophet during a time of incredible rebellion against God. The northern kingdom of Israel had for the most part turned away from God. Under the wicked leadership of people like Ahab and Jezebel things got even worse. Jezebel actually sought out the Lord’s prophets to put them to death. In judgment on their unbelief and their worship of false gods like Baal God sent a famine all over Israel. Then Elijah under God’s direction set up a test between the false god Baal and the true God. Two altars were built and an offering placed on each and whichever God consumed the sacrifice would be the true God. Well obviously nothing happened to Baal’s altar, but when Elijah prayed to God fire came down from the sky and burned everything up, the altar, the stones, the sacrifice, even the water that he had poured on top of it. Wow! What an awesome display of God’s power and God’s might!
If you were Elijah at that point, how do you think you’d be feeling? I’m guessing pretty good! Elijah’s zeal for the Lord and for the Lord’s work and for the truth paid off in an awesome visible demonstration of God’s power. Life is great! And in his zeal Elijah had the 450 prophets of Baal put to death for leading people away from God. Then after this Baal worship had been struck a devastating blow God sent rain on the land once again. Things are looking good! What a turnaround! Now God will be honored! Now Baal worship in Israel will cease! Now Elijah will be respected and appreciated and looked to for advice and intercession to God! But…now the very land which Elijah had prayed to God to send rain for became too hot for him and he was forced to flee. Ahab reported to Jezebel everything who then put out a death warrant on Elijah’s head. Arrogantly she called down a curse on herself if Elijah would not be dead in 24 hours. Ouch!
Elijah goes from cloud 9 to the dumps. Here is now a low point in Elijah’s career. He was afraid, defeated, “burned out,” and ready to give up and throw in the towel. So he ran for his life all the way to Beersheba which was the southernmost border of the southern kingdom of Judah. He left his servant there and then went another 15-20 miles into the desert wilderness. Finally he sat down underneath a “broom tree.” In the Hebrew it says, “One broom” tree in order to stress that it was an isolated tree in the middle of nowhere that would provide a little shelter for Elijah. Then he prayed to God that he might die- prayed that God might take his life and not Jezebel or her cronies. “I have had enough, Lord,” Elijah said, “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Humbly Elijah recognized his inability on his own to accomplish anything; his efforts at calling the people back seemed fruitless. Elijah’s great zeal didn’t seem to be accomplishing anything! He felt like he was fighting a losing battle- why not just put it to an end?
So he laid down under the tree and fell asleep. But then all at once, in the Hebrew it uses a word that means “Behold! Look!” to introduce something extraordinary, an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat!” He got up and “Behold! Look!” right by his head was some freshly baked bread and a jar of water! What an astounding miracle! Here in the middle of the desert where there is literally nothing to eat, God provides Elijah with food and water to sustain him. Elijah wanted to die, but God sustained his life. So he ate and drank and then…went back to sleep. The angel came a second time, woke him up, told him to eat and drink again and he did. Then to top it off Elijah wandered around this desert for forty days and nights until he reached the mountain of Horeb, which is also Mount Sinai where God appeared to Moses and gave Moses the 10 commandments. But notice that God miraculously strengthened him with that little food to travel 40 days! What patience of God! What caring love for his despairing servant!
This text helps us in a number of ways. It helps us recognize that the people of the Bible were real people, with real feelings, who faced real situations. It helps us because we too face real challenging situations in our lives. But here we get yet another lesson of how God deals with us as He dealt with Elijah in his despair and turmoil.
We, too, as God’s people find ourselves in situations and predicaments that distract us from some of the fundamental and comforting truths from God. Elijah was so overwhelmed by his current situation and the setbacks and temptations that he lost sight of the gospel and God’s loving patience. Even though Elijah had witnessed many of God’s great works- God preserved his life by having ravens bring him food, by miraculously providing for the widow at Zarapheth, by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice- even though he had seen God’s great works he doubted and despaired that God was no longer able to protect him nor able to work good out of this threat on his life. If this happened to Elijah, one of the great prophets of the OT, then it certainly can and has happened to each one of us too.
There are times when we too lose sight of the big picture and focus on our temporary and current situations. It’s times like these when we forget the fundamental and comforting truths of God’s Word. We can relate to Elijah because there are times when we are burned out, defeated, distressed, and depressed. The constant weight of peer pressure effects us all, young and old, trying to do what is right and God-pleasing. We face struggles at work or struggle with lack of work when all we are trying to do is earn enough to provide for ourselves and our families. We face physical limitations that prevent us from doing the things we want to. We face the mockery and condescension from people who have no respect for God or His Word. We try again and again to do what is right and best and again and again it seems to back fire on us. All those things and many more take their toll. Add to that our frustrations when we constantly want something else and are never satisfied with what we have or the feelings of thinking we need something more to truly be happy. And even worse than all of this is the fact that we face the realization that we often fail in our service to the Lord, failing to serve Him the way He deserves to be served, and when we realize our failing we’re faced with guilt.
All these things can lead us to run and hide down the road of distress and despair. We too are no better than Elijah, we were born from the same first parents, Adam and Eve, and from them we inherited sin that lives inside us and it distracts us and gives us tunnel vision so we ignore the big picture.
So what does God do? In the same great patience that He had for Elijah, He also deals with us. In love God worked to open Elijah’s eyes a little further. If God miraculously provided him with food, does God not care deeply about his well-being? If God was able to work a miracle like this and give him food, would God not also take care of him? If God is sending angels to aid and help Elijah, would those same powerful angels not protect him from Jezebel?
God opens our eyes too. He wants us to move back from the scope, to not get caught dwelling on the temporary, current situation we’re in but step back and see the big picture. How does He do this? We have food to eat and more in the pantry and more in the fridge. Why? Because of God’s constant providing hand, because God cares about you. We survived that calamity or that accident. Why? Because we’re lucky? NO! Because God sends His angels with the express purpose to serve and protect you! And why does God care about us so much? Only because of the bread of life. It is only because Jesus came and paid for our sins completely on the cross and forgave us that God has anything to do with us. Because Jesus paid for our sins, we are now part of God’s family and He deeply cares for each one of us. With Jesus we have everything- even if all we had were taken from us!
So He gives us these examples of His providential care in our everyday lives, he sustains us physically, gives us physical blessings that we might see them, realize they are from Him, and be reminded of His constant care and His power to do what He has promised to do, to lead us to a fuller appreciation of the spiritual blessings He has given us which far outweigh the physical and temporary.
It is then by recognizing the God we have who is in control of all things completely – both physically and spiritually- that we begin to appreciate the things He does for us, we thank Him in our prayers and in our attitudes for the physical blessings He gives us because they remind us of Him and His care for us, we change our outlook on life. No longer do we face life with fear and despair as if all is lost and there is no point to keep going, but we face life confidently, we face life knowing that our God remains in control and will continually provide for us body and soul. We face life knowing that this life is merely temporary and will one day pass away, but what God has given us – our faith, our hope, our life, our joy, our salvation, our home in heaven- those cannot be taken from us no matter who or what threatens us. So step back from the scope, open your eyes to the big picture, and keep a God-focused perspective on your life! Amen!