5th Sunday of Easter
1 Kings 18:21-39
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, do you like options? Did you know that if you take into account all the different variables, there are over 80,000 different drink options you can order at a Starbucks coffee shop? Think about your closet. I’m guessing you don’t have simply 1 or 2 different clothes options- I’m guessing that each of us has literally hundreds of different clothing options in our closets. Think about the grocery store. At the grocery store you don’t have only a handful of options of food- you literally have thousands of options! Very few restaurants would probably survive if they only had one option on their menu. I think it’s safe to say that we humans like options, right? I wonder why. Why do we like having so many options? Perhaps it stems from our desire to have control. We like to be in control. We like things to go OUR way, we don’t like being told what to do.
In fact, we can trace this all the way back to Adam and Eve. Why did they take that fruit off the tree? Because they wanted to be like God, they wanted to be in control. There was only one clearly good option, but they chose to turn away from God. We also see that very thing going in our lives. We are faced with many options every day, we’re faced with many decisions every day: honor God or give into sin, be unselfish or be selfish, speak well of someone or tear them down. We also see this same thing going on in our text this morning.
The Israelites had an option: do things God’s way or do things their own way. What God wanted was for them to completely drive out the heathen Canaanites from the Promised Land because He knew those people would become a snare to them. Well, instead of doing this God’s way, the Israelites left many of those Canaanites alone and even went one step further: they decided to learn agriculture from them. So, again and again in the OT we hear about how the Israelites were sucked into idolatry and worshipped false gods and idols. One of those prominent idols that we hear about again and again is the false god Baal. Baal was the fertility god of the Canaanites. Baal was the one who supposedly would help your cows and sheep reproduce, who would help your women get pregnant, and help your crops grow by sending rain. And rain, at this time, in many ways meant life, lack of rain meant death.
Well, there were also certain features of Baal worship that weren’t so distasteful to the Israelites. You see, Baal worship offered a physical, visible god to worship rather than the invisible true God. Baal worship also offered a god you could manipulate and control, while the true God is uncontrollable and not manipulated by our behavior. But it was also a human-made religion. And you’ll notice that any human-made religion invariably caters to the sinful nature. Part of “worshipping” Baal was consuming lots of alcohol as well as engaging in promiscuous sexual activity.
Add to all of this that the Israelite king at this time had even married a woman named Jezebel who was from a heathen-Canaanite city and a big patron and supporter of Baal worship. So, right in the midst of the very nation that had the truth, had God’s Word, had the promises of God, and was the nation through whom God promised to send the Savior into the world, right in their midst, we have what? Rank idolatry, horrid immorality, and a king and a queen who were actually putting to death anyone who was a prophet of the Lord. And we see right in our text that Baal had 450 prophets, but for the true God? One.
So what did God do? In incredible love God sent a drought. They claimed Baal was the fertility god who made it rain and caused things to grow, so God had Elijah pronounce that there would not be a drop of rain for not just one year, not just two years, but three years. Now, imagine if America didn’t have any rain for 3 years, we’d be seriously hurting, even though we have irrigations systems and wells. In Israel- no rain meant death, no water to drink, no food to grow. But instead of repenting and turning to the true God what happens? Ahab blames Elijah! “You troubler of Israel!” As if Elijah caused all these troubles!
Elijah has everyone gather at Mount Carmel. And notice what he says to them: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him. If Baal is god, follow him.” Now, perhaps we’re shaking our heads and thinking, “There’s clearly really only one option here” right? Ah, but then we have to examine our own lives. This question could be asked of us too, can’t it? “How long will you waver between two opinions?” The word used for waver here is the same used later on to describe the prophets of Baal dancing before their altar and it literally means to “limp” back and forth. Do we do that? Do you do that? Every day you’re faced with many options. Let’s see: serve my spouse OR serve myself, defend that classmate or join in making fun of him, open my Bible or turn on the TV, listen to my parents or do my own thing, respond in love and kindness or get angry and get revenge. You see, the people in our text aren’t the only ones with divided religious loyalties. Each of us here tries to have God plus something else. But Jesus says it clearly: You can’t have two masters, either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. But how often haven’t we wavered trying to have God and our sin? And notice what happens when you pick the option away from God? You’ll always be burned. Look at this! It’s almost comical! The prophets of Baal are dancing around their altar, they’re shouting louder and louder, they begin to slash themselves with swords and spears until their blood flowed and notice that this was their custom! That’s what following a false god will do to you- hurt you and often literally.
But notice something. Nothing can snap people out of their divided religious loyalties except the intervening of God Himself. The people had not come to the logical conclusion that after 3 ½ years of drought that Baal did not exist. The all-day long chanting, slashing and shouting session of the prophets of Baal didn’t convince them. The LORD must intervene. And He did boldly and powerfully. Fire from the LORD consumed Elijah’s sacrifice, the wood, the stone, the dirt, and even the water he had poured on the altar! And the people responded: “The Lord – He is God! The Lord – He is God!”
But as powerful and dramatic as this was, God intervened in a much more powerful and persuasive way when he consumed a greater sacrifice than the one Elijah offered. He himself offered this sacrifice. It was His own Son that He brought down from heaven and placed on the altar of the cross. It was this sacrifice, His Son Jesus, who was consumed by God’s burning wrath over sin. And it is this sacrifice, Jesus that leads double-minded people to respond, like the Israelites: “The Lord- He is God! The Lord- He is God!” And we have seen it. On Good Friday we saw how God intervened into human history for His double minded, fickle people. On Easter Sunday Jesus powerfully came back to life forgiving all your sins of wavering and mine!
This week, when your mind is tempted to trust in two different gods, respond like Israel on Mt. Carmel. When you are tempted to trust in the LORD and in your money, let Elijah’s words run through your mind: “How long will you waver between two opinions?” And then say, “The LORD – He is God! The LORD – He is God!” When you’re family is tempted to dive into their electronic devices instead of having a family devotion, let Elijah’s words echo in your ears: “How long will you waver between two opinions?” And then answer confidently, “The Lord – He is God! The Lord – He is God!” When you’re raising your head off your pillow next Sunday and you think, “Should I go to church or not?” Listen to Elijah’s words to you, “How long will you waver between two opinions?” And say to yourself, “The LORD – He is God! The LORD – He is God!” You see, there is nothing to be gained by lingering unnecessarily over two options. Lingering over trust in two different forces only benefits the wrong side. He who hesitates is lost. There is really only one clear option in most situations we face in life. “How long will you waver between two opinions?” Let’s say it together, “The LORD – He is God! The LORD – He is God!” Amen.