5th Sunday of Easter
1 Kings 18:16-45
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In Jesus name, dear friends in Christ,
I think GPS maps are a really beneficial thing. But before GPS maps were really popular I worked as a delivery driver so I got used to using conventional maps, so when GPS’s were just coming out I stayed away from using them. I liked the map, I could picture the roads in my mind, I could make my own judgments about the best route and the shortest way to get where I was going. But I find myself putting more and more trust in my GPS to get me to where I want to go with the best route. But there are times when the GPS will direct me one way and I know there’s another way that’s probably almost identical in time and distance and I’ll purposely choose differently than the GPS forcing to say, “Recalculating.” Why would I do that? I think it illustrates a tendency each of us has: WE want to be in control, WE want to do things OUR way, we generally don’t like being told what to do.
In fact, that’s how it’s been since the fall into sin when Adam and Eve wanted to be in control, wanted to be like God knowing good and evil. It’s also something that we see in our text for this morning.
The Israelites wanted to do things their way, not God’s way. God wanted them to completely drive out the Canaanites from the Promised Land because He knew they would become a snare to His people. Well, instead of doing things God’s way, the Israelites left many of the Canaanites alone and even decided to learn agriculture from them. So, over and over again throughout the OT we hear about the Israelites being sucked into idolatry and worshipping false gods and idols. One prominent idol that the Israelites returned to again and again was this false god Baal. Baal was the fertility god of the Canaanites. Baal was supposedly the god who would help your cows and sheep reproduce, who would help your women get pregnant, who would help your crops grow by sending rain on the land. And rain at this time was an essential ingredient to life, in many ways rain meant life, lack of rain meant death. Remember that point.
Well, certain features of worshipping Baal were not unpleasant or distasteful to many Israelites. Not only did Baal worship offer a tangible, physical, visible god to worship rather than the invisible true God, it was also a human-made religion. So, like all human-made religions, it catered to the human sinful nature, it allowed its constituents to give full vent to their sinful nature. Consuming lots of wine getting drunk as well as engaging in promiscuous sexual activity were not just options of following Baal, they were duties.
And the Israelite king at the time of our text had even married a woman who was from a heathen-Canaanite city and a big patron and supporter of Baal worship. We from time to time will hear the opinion, perhaps we even have them at times, that the world is the most corrupt today than it has ever been. But what do we have here? Right in the midst of the very nation that possessed the truth, had God’s Word, the very nation that was to be the cradle of the Savior and the very nation through whom God had promised to send the Savior into the world, right in their midst, what do we have? Rank idolatry, horrid immorality, and a king and queen who were also actually putting to death anyone who was a prophet of the Lord. So much so that in our text we have 450 prophets of Baal and how many for the true God? One. We have a sad spiritual condition here!
So what did God do? They claimed Baal was the fertility god who made it rain and caused things to grow, so through Elijah God told the Israelites there would be no rain and so there wasn’t even a drop of rain for one year, two years, three years. You can imagine if America didn’t have rain for 3 years, we’d be seriously hurting, even though we have irrigations systems and wells! In Israel this 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 he has caused all of this!
But we ask, “Why?” Why this mess? Finally it boils down to control, doesn’t it? They wanted a god that they could control, a god that they could manipulate, a god who would do what they wanted him to do, a god who would allow them to indulge their sinful natures, in essence they wanted a different way in life other than the true God.
And that is so like us humans to want to be in control. We like to pick what we’ll do with our time, where we want to drive to, how to get there, we like to pick what we’ll eat at a restaurant, we like being in control. We don’t like being told what we should do or how we should do it. And does that same attitude carry over into how we view God? Do we think we can control God? Well, if I try to do good, if I go to church, if I pray regularly, if I’m nice to people, then surely God ought to owe me something or at least be compelled to give me something for all I do! Surely God ought to hold up His end of the bargain and make sure that my investments always go up, my health remains good, my friends like me, etc. Those ideas are rooted in this false assumption: God exists in order to make me happy. And having that wrong assumption can even lead to finding excuses to sin: God wants me to be happy and if doing this sin makes me happy it must be ok because after all God wants me to be happy, right? But those ideas are not only wrong, they’re sinful
And there’s one thing that no matter how hard we try we cannot control: Our sinful condition. That’s a problem. We also can’t change or fix our sinful condition. That’s an even bigger problem! Therefore, we cannot control the most important thing of our lives and that’s where we’ll be when we die. Nor could the Israelites. And in such a mess as they were in we’d almost expect God to simply withdraw His presence, withdraw the rain, and even worse withdraw His Word- which is the worst judgment that can fall on any people or any nation. Because without God’s Word people will die in their sins and be condemned to eternal agony, suffering, and death in hell.
But God is a God of grace and as the God of grace not only does God not give us what we deserve, but He actually gives us the very opposite of what we deserve. As we see here. There’s an almost comical display as for hours the Baal prophets scream, dance, even cut themselves in order to try and control their god – but… nothing, no response, no fire, no answer, nothing. And then we watch as Elijah prays a less than 30 second prayer focusing on God and on His faithfulness and God acts not in minimums but extravagantly and powerfully as fire falls from the sky consuming everything: sacrifice, wood, stone, water. So who’s in control? There can be no question. And then something amazing happens, the people shout: The Lord, He is God, the Lord, He is God. God turned their hearts back to faith in Him. Then only after the false prophets of Baal were all dead, God in His grace sent rain.
And so God demonstrated that He as the God of grace remains in control no matter what. There is only one God and He alone is the way, the truth, and the life. We may want to be in control, we may want to do things our way, we may try to manipulate God, we may want to fix our deepest spiritual problem of sin on our own, but how silly because we’ll never be able to, nor will we ever have to. The God who can powerfully send fire from the sky was, is, and always will be in control. Finally, He demonstrated His ultimate control by keeping His promise to send the Savior. God became man to offer himself for you and me! Jesus fixed our greatest problem once and for all by becoming the perfect sacrifice for our sins. So not only does God not give us what we deserve, He gives us freely the exact opposite of what we deserve: eternal life in heaven.
Our God remains in control with His grace and such a God is one we don’t have to selfishly think we can control, for He always has our best interests in mind as He rules the universe with His gracious power. Such a God is one we can come to with all our prayers for He is able to answer our prayers in powerful ways like He did here. Such a God is one we don’t have to try to manipulate, rather we serve Him with our lives. Such a God is one we can trust to be in control, no matter how terrible and awful things might seem on earth or in our lives.
Our God is exclusive He alone is the one way to a true meaningful life on earth, He alone is the one truth in the world of lies and deceptions, He alone is the one life through whom we have eternal life. Thank the Lord that He is in control! Amen.