The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost August 12, 2018
Text: 1 Kings 19:3-8, 9-18 ILCW – A 18:2080
Theme: God May Take Us Down So That He Can Lift Us Up Again
“When I sin, am I still God’s child?” Why would I ask that? I’ve made up my mind not to do that thing again, but I give in and do it. I don’t seem to do what is right.
All Christians have the same problem. We want to obey God all the time and trust Him for everything. But we find that we don’t do it. In fact, we often do the things we don’t want to do. Then we must ask for forgiveness and try again.
Okay. But are we still God’s children even when we keep sinning against Him?
Yes! God always forgives us when we are truly sorry that we do wrong because Christ Jesus died to pay for sin. In fact, He even paid for the sins that I neglect to admit. He took care of all of them.
When you sin, when you get angry, depressed, or even want to give up and die, you are still God’s child. But, make no mistake about it; your sin grieves the Holy Spirit. It makes Him sad.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage…and every form of malice” (Ep.4:30f). Don’t make God sad by sinning. Get rid of that which saddens Him and pulls you away from Him. That’s repentance.
You see, God the Holy Spirit lives in the hearts of those who believe in the Lord Jesus as their Savior (1Co.6:19). When we sin, He doesn’t move out right away. But we make Him sad. And if we refuse to try to get rid of sin and don’t want Him to stay, He will leave. But until you reject Him, you are His child.
That’s Gospel truth to every sinner like Elijah. His sin was such that God Took Him Down So That He Could Lift Him Up Again. Likewise, God Takes Us Down So that He Can Lift Us Up Again. He does it in grace to keep us as His children.
I. When we have had enough…
His children, that’s what He wants us to be; He wants to keep us close as His redeemed children. It’s what He wanted for Israel, too. So, He sent Elijah to them during a dark time in their history.
Ahab was king; Jezebel queen. They were an evil team which sought to drive God from the hearts and minds of His people by turning them to the worship of Baal. There had never been such a wicked king in Israel (16:30f) who sought to wipe out the memory of the true God. They killed God’s prophets (18:4). Yet, the Lord prevailed and raised up Elijah to be His spokesman.
Elijah’s task was to bring the nation back to the Lord. That required a showdown between Baal and the Lord. Who was the true God whom Israel would follow? God sent Elijah for the task.
The showdown was a contest. At Elijah’s invitation 450 prophets of Baal gathered on Mount Carmel. Elijah stood alone against them. The rules were simple. Each side was given a bull to sacrifice. Each would pray to their god. If Baal answered with fire to consume the sacrifice, he would be worshipped. If the Lord answered, He would be worshipped. Baal’s prophets went first.
All morning they prayed, shouted, danced, and even slashed themselves to draw blood, hoping for Baal’s sympathy. Nothing happened. Baal remained silent. Surprised? No! Baal doesn’t exist except as a figment in the imagination of those who oppose God.
Then came Elijah’s turn. He drenched his sacrifice with water three times, and prayed, “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 have done all these things at Your command. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that You are God, and that You are turning their hearts back again” (18:36). Fire fell from heaven, consumed the sacrifice, burned up the stones of the altar, and lapped up all the water. God answered mightily because He wanted His people back as His dearly loved children, even though they had sinned greatly against Him.
An event like this ought to teach us to go against all odds and put our complete trust in the Lord. It seemed to work in Israel that way for a while. But soon the nation went back to worshiping Baal. To top it off, Jezebel was enraged and vowed to kill Elijah that day.
Elijah fled. The farther he ran, the more discouraged he got. He thought he had just won a great victory for the Lord at Mt. Carmel. But the people ignored his preaching and turned back to idols. In Elijah’s mind the priests of the Lord no longer functioned; the prophets no longer spoke; and Elijah had become an enemy of the state. The farther he ran the more distressed and depressed he got. Finally, exhausted at night, alone in the desert, he flopped down under a scraggily tree and prayed to die: “I’ve had enough, O Lord. Take my life; I’m no better than my ancestors.”
Wasted! all his efforts, wasted! Burned out, depressed, Elijah wanted to throw in the towel. “Enough, he said, I’ve had enough! I’m no better than my fathers who went before me.”
What did he mean by that? He was afraid and depressed; the two often seem to go hand in hand. Was he afraid because of the threat on his life? Did he feel empty because he had failed to get rid of evil? Did he feel inadequate or paralyzed because he didn’t have it in him anymore to oppose the godlessness of Israel? Probably all of the above. And in his fear and despondent state he saw his weaknesses, like that of the prophets who had gone before him. It overwhelmed him with feelings of inadequacy.
Can you identify with Elijah? Have you ever shared similar frustrations, distress, and depression in matters of faith? It can come to us many ways.
God’s children often feel it in a world fallen in sin. Tens of millions blindly devote themselves to other gods. Far too many of those we know pay only lip service to the Scriptures while their hearts and lives seem distant from the Savior. And we seem to think that our work for Him or our lives in Him produce little fruit. We see weakness and sin and grow distressed, depressed, and discouraged. What are you going to do, dear friend? Throw in the towel? Pity yourself? Give up when you’ve had enough? None are products of faith. And God may take us down to see it.
But He doesn’t give up on us. He does not throw in the towel like we do. He is faithful. The moment we want to give up may be the moment the Lord has chosen to reveal the glory of His grace. When we have had enough in our time of weakness and sin….
II. He strengthens us in grace so that He can lift us up again.
While Elijah slept the Angel of the Lord came with food and water. Strengthened by that food, Elijah traveled forty days and nights until he arrived at Horeb.
Horeb is better known to you as Mt. Sinai. It was a journey of another 200 miles south. The prophet had already come about 100 miles. So, altogether he traveled some 300 miles on foot, most of it in not-so-friendly desert land. Could a man who “had enough”, who wanted to give up and die under a tree, could such a man perform a feat like that on his own? No. This was not a tribute to Elijah’s resourcefulness. This was to the glory of God who lifted him up and strengthened Elijah in His grace by providing for him.
When he arrived at Horeb, God called out: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Weakly Elijah replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected Your covenant, broken down Your altars, and put Your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left.”
Poor me! Twice Elijah responded. And the Lord called him out on it. He told Elijah to stand before Him on the mountain. God allowed a frightful wind, an earthquake, and a fire to engulf the mountain. But God was not in any of them. Did He send them? Yes. But power and fright are not the tools God uses to return the already frightened and distressed to Him. He uses the gentleness of His words and promises, or what we might call the Gospel to arouse us back in our service to Him. And Elijah, in repentant recognition of God’s mercy, covered his face and came out of the cave to meet God. God received him and sent him on his way.
That is a sign of the Lord’s mercy and grace. To send Elijah again as His prophet to carry out His work reveals God’s forgiveness and desire to strengthen His children and once again lift them up as His people. They are never alone. He is with them and He has many who are still faithful to Him. Don’t ever forget it.
In a similar show of mercy and grace, God went to work to provide us with the Savior when we fail and fall before Him. It’s all a matter of grace, and grace lifts us up again to serve Him.
Some people like to say, “God helps those who help themselves.” They even claim that’s in the Bible. It’s not; and it’s wrong. The truth is God helps those who cannot help themselves. That’s grace. He lets them see that help after He lets them know in no uncertain terms that they cannot help themselves. When God lets us stumble, He does so in order that we might fall into His strong arms. It is the best place to be as He draws us closer to Him – children through faith in Christ Jesus! God grant us that recognition and trust in Him always, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.