Elijah and Elisha 5.
Please turn to 1 Kings 18. [P] We are in some of the darkest days of Israel. A wicked idolatrous regime is ruling that is intent on stamping out all traces of the worship of יהוה! I love passages where we see יהוה’s mighty hand at work, His glory being revealed. But last time we saw none of that; nor do we today. יהוה is about to act; but before He did; the false religion of the day had one last desperate display. That is how it will be in the end time; before יהוה intervenes, in the Person of Jesus Christ returning in glory, the false gods, the pretenders, have their last desperate moment. [P] You recall that last time Elijah told king Ahab to call all Israel, including the prophets of Baal and Asherah to Mount Carmel. Let's pick it up at: [1 Kings 18:20–30 So Ahab sent a message among all the sons of Israel and brought the prophets together at Mount Carmel. [P] Elijah came near to all the people and said, [P] “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If יהוה is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, [P] “I alone am left a prophet of יהוה, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. “Now let them give us two oxen; and let them choose one ox for themselves and cut it up, and place it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other ox and lay it on the wood, and I will not put a fire under it. “Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of יהוה, and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” And all the people said, [P]“That is a good idea.” So Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one ox for yourselves and prepare it first for you are many, and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it.” Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, [P] “O Baal, answer us.” But there was no voice and no one answered. And they leaped about the altar which they made. It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, [P] “Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.” [P] So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them. When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention. Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” So all the people came near to him. [P] And he repaired the altar of יהוה which had been torn down.] We have been looking at the story of Elijah [P]. We looked at the characteristics of the man of God [P], at the one who found life by faith [P], the Gentile widow; last time we looked at the characteristics of the servant of יהוה [P]. I said last time that Elijah appears at a time of transition and that he will appear again in the end times. What happens here is a picture of the way thing will be at the end. Revelation, particularly ch.17, indicates at the end people will be highly commercialized, godless; yet they will still be very religious. We need to be careful that we don’t confuse Christianity with religion – can you tell the difference? What are the marks of false religion? Faith is found in individuals, like the widow and Elijah. A nation as a whole cannot have faith. You can have a state religion but it will not be faith. You cannot impose or decree faith in Christ. Israel as a nation was religious but it was false religion. They worshipped, as everyone must, but it was not יהוה, they had rejected Him for another. The question of this passage is: Who is God? [P] For there is only one! The foundational verse of the Israelite faith is the “shema”: [Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel! יהוה our God, יהוה is one!] [1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,]. You recall that last time Elijah told Ahab to call all Israel, including the prophets of Baal and Asherah to Mount Carmel. The national, officially sponsored, false religion – that is how it will be at the end [P] – a one world religion; but it will have nothing to do with יהוה, so it will be false. What are the characteristics of false religion? What will it be like at in the end time? [1 Kings 18:20 So Ahab sent a message among all the sons of Israel and brought the prophets together at Mount Carmel.] [P] Lack of commitment Ahab had got to desperation point. At one time he would have paid scant attention to the rugged prophet: "Who does he think he is ordering everyone to come?" But now he obeys implicitly what Elijah says. He gathered the whole nation including the prophets. I wonder how they like being dictated to by a prophet of יהוה? But they came. Ahab and the nation had been brought low; they couldn’t afford not to listen and comply anymore. How often it is that it is only when we are brought very low that we begin to listen to what the word of the LORD says. Now they were ready to listen – it had taken three and a half years. [1 Kings 18:21 Elijah came near to all the people and said,[P] “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If יהוה is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” [P] (There is the issue: Who is God?) But the people did not answer him a word.] All Israel is there, presumably Obadiah and the 100 prophets of יהוה as well, but no one answered, not a word, not a dickey-bird! What is it? Apathy, lack of commitment! No one was willing to decide – they were hesitating between two opinions. They didn’t want to commit themselves. Look, we live in what is proudly called a “pluralistic society” – everyone’s viewpoint is considered valid, every faith respected, all religions are tolerated. We consider this virtuous! We are not going to judge between one and another. But God calls us to! If יהוה is God – then follow Him! You have to decide! And your decision has consequences! You decide who is God and if He is God, you have to walk in His ways, walk after Him. Humanism tolerates all viewpoints, takes the middle ground, compromises, doesn’t want to cause offense – so we allow all opinions, tolerate all gods – we will not come down hard and fast on one side or another. That is judgemental, intolerant, narrow minded! But years before Joshua issued a challenge to Israel when they were in the land of Israel – you will notice that he acknowledged that they were currently idolatrous – he told them to choose between one set of idols and other idols: [P] [Joshua 24:15 “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve יהוה, [P] choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve יהוה.” ] But he wasn’t going to serve either – he was going to serve יהוה. Everyone, atheists as well, all have a god – Bob Dylan sang: “ya gotta serve somebody” – the one that you serve is your god. There is a multiplicity of gods that people can serve – that is religion – but Joshua was going to serve none of them! There is only ONE! Not pluralism but exclusivism! Jesus said: [John 14:6 I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.] We read it earlier: “there is One mediator between God and man: the Man Christ Jesus!" There used to be the bumper sticker “one way” – it is exclusive. [Exodus 34:14 —for you shall not worship any other god, for יהוה, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God— ] יהוה is a jealous God – He tolerates no rivals! That does not sit well in a pluralistic society or with the religious. Elijah called Israel to mount Carmel along with the idolatrous false prophets for a confrontation. All were gathered there. This was a show down to demonstrate once and for all who was God. A contest between impotent Baal and the Living, All Powerful, יהוה. The people of Israel were thoroughly syncretistic: [P] they had a bit of יהוה worship and a bit of Baal; they mixed them up. They covered their bases, kept all options covered. Insurance policy Christians – they don’t totally reject Jesus; they are in the world but have a bit of Christianity just in case. Have a bit of everything then you’re sure to have the right one amongst them. They accommodate any view, just add it to the mix. It does not work like that! Because יהוה is a jealous God demanding exclusive allegiance. You cannot have יהוה and something else as well. As soon as you have something else, you no longer have יהוה. Yes we trust Jesus; but also our savings, our insurance, our technology and science; the welfare system. If we have a problem, then we look to government to do something about it, the Doctor, or more often today: Dr. Google is the one who has the answers. Our trust is in many things other than יהוה alone. You cannot have a foot in both camps. Here Elijah calls the people to choose – to choose between יהוה and Baal. Make up your mind, you cannot have it both ways because the two are mutually exclusive. If יהוה is God, then no one else can be. But the people would not make a decision – "but they answered him not one word". After three and a half years of no rain they still were not convinced of the power of יהוה to withhold the rain and of the impotence of Baal to supply it! Despite the devastating drought they still had not been brought low enough to repent, to turn from their allegiance to Baal and give themselves to following יהוה alone! What does it take to convince the stubborn human heart?! How many earthquakes do we need?! With all that hard hitting evidence and the desperateness of their plight they would not make a decision, a commitment. They preferred to continue on in their misery and death. So too is it with those who reject Jesus today. To make no decision is to reject יהוה. The decision had to, of necessity, be followed through with action, total commitment, an allegiance of lifestyle: if יהוה be God go after Him, if Baal be God go after him. Whoever we honour as God, that one we worship, that one we serve, that one we go after – our whole life taken up in pursuit and following of him. But like today, people were unwilling to make a TOTAL COMMITMENT. How long will you waver between two opinions? If יהוה be God FOLLOW HIM! The choice is ours and all consequences are determined by this mother of choices. [1 Kings 18:22 Then Elijah said to the people, “I alone am left a prophet of יהוה, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men.] Where was Obadiah and the 100 prophets? Elijah was ALONE in his allegiance to יהוה. No one among all Israel would side with him. They wouldn’t make a choice. They just went with the flow [P] Like sheep they followed the prevailing influence. It takes character to stand alone in opposition to unanimous contrary opinion; to make a stand for יהוה. We are used to democracy where the majority opinion goes – what most people think is deemed to be the truth. Do we change the flag, is it the right thing to do? – we hold a referendum. The majority decides what is right. But the overwhelming majority can be totally wrong! Elijah was the only one left who heard יהוה’s voice – how tragic! But how akin to our own situation. Everybody believes we evolved from a single celled organism over millions of years . Life is by chance, a cosmic accident! It precludes the intervention of a supernatural God who designed and created with a purpose. "Everybody" was following Baal, the prophets of Baal vastly outnumbered the true prophet, the people are convinced by this strength of numbers ("so many cannot be wrong"). [1 Kings 18:23 “Now let them give us two oxen; and let them choose one ox for themselves and cut it up, and place it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other ox and lay it on the wood, and I will not put a fire under it. ] So Elijah proposed a contest to prove which god was real, true. Does your God stand up to scrutiny? Are you prepared to put your God on the line? End up with egg on your face if He doesn't come through? That is faith! Proving your God to be real! Both would do the same: the people would provide two bullocks and one would go to each, each would prepare them, cut them up and lay them on the wood ready to sacrifice and neither would set fire to the wood. [1 Kings 18:24 “Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of יהוה, and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” (there is the issue again: who is God? this contest would determine who was God and who was not) And all the people said, “That is a good idea.”] Both groups were to pray to their god. The priests of Baal would call on the name of their god. But Elijah would call on the name of יהוה! The one which answered, answered by sending fire to ignite the sacrifice, that one was to be recognised as God If God is real, is true; then He must be able to hear and answer. Everyone thought that this was a great idea. Delight in show [P] Yes, the people love a show, a spectacle, something dramatic, supernatural. They love a show down. People long to see evidence that God is real – to see something convincing. They need to see. [Matthew 16:4 “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; (something they can see, something impressive, miraculous) and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” And He left them and went away.] Jesus left them, He was not going to cater to their desire to see a show. Religion loves a show: be it impressive vestments, buildings and intricate ceremonies; or the showmanship of a faith-healer, miracle-worker, people being slain in the spirit. People flock to see the show – the hype the light and music show. False religion is always attended by a show – that’s what attracts the crowds. To them this was a good idea. Man always wants to see; he prefers to walk by sight and not by faith. But [2 Corinthians 5:7 for we walk by faith, not by sight— ] The people really believed that their idol had power, they actually were convinced that it could bring fire down – how deluded! And because religion is false, they will be deluded. [2 Thessalonians 2:9– the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.] And because of the overwhelming support for the idea by the people who love a show, the man serving religionists had to go along with it because they are dictated to by public opinion. There was no way for them to back down without Baal seeming impotent. They were trapped into going along with the idea. But there was overwhelming evidence of the convincing and supernatural kind if the people wanted to see it: what better showed the impotence of Baal to produce rain and of יהוה’s power to withhold it at His word than a three and a half year period with no rain?! But people don’t see (nor want to see) the overwhelming witness all around them every day. No, they want the spectacular show and refuse the daily consistent evidence such as each sunrise, each breath etc. [1 Kings 18:25–26 So Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one ox for yourselves and prepare it first for you are many, and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it.” Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, “O Baal, answer us.” But there was no voice and no one answered. And they leaped about the altar which they made. ] There was No response [P] So the prophets of Baal set to and called upon the name of Baal: "Oh Baal! Answer us!". They were at it all morning but there was no response: "No voice, no answer." They limped around the altar, but it was futile, it achieved nothing, nothing happened! It never will when we call on an idol, a god that is no god – yet still we rely upon that which is not God! There is no voice, no answer. How pathetic and tragic when people earnestly call on someone who isn’t there, who doesn’t have any existence except in the imaginations of men. [1 Kings 18:27 It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; (there is the issue again: who is God?) either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.”] Elijah sat back and watched the spectacle – it was a ridiculous carry on and he made fun of them, mocking them and their so called god. He taunted them: perhaps their god was asleep, or meditating, gone to the toilet, or on a journey, or temporarily slipped out for something – pray louder! Attract his attention. What type of god is it that is not omnipotent, knowing all things, who doesn’t hear, who is like a mere man, getting busy and tied up with his own business? Their concept of god was very little different to a man – he was weak and impotent, small and puny even in their own minds, let alone in reality. The tragedy was they took it all so seriously, they took Elijah’s mocking seriously, not realising what an indictment it was on Baal. They took his advice and prayed all the louder in order to gain his attention. We today make a lot of noise and fuss calling upon God – perhaps the volume and performance indicate how impotent our god really is – it is not the God of Elijah! The multiplication of noise is a substitute for the lack of evident power and response - hence the preoccupation with loud noise in churches today. I am old enough to remember when churches operated quite effectively without a sound system. [1 Kings 19:12 After the earthquake a fire, but יהוה was not in the fire; (not in the impressive and show) and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing.] No loud carry on – but real power, not an impressive show. Religion has much show and loud noise but no real power. Nothing happens because nobody is there! Based on works [P] [1 Kings 18:28 So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them.] They cried out louder and louder, just as Elijah egged them on to do. They cut themselves until their blood flowed as their cruel and barbaric cult demanded. That is another mark of false religion: It depends upon your own efforts. Exacting requirements, harsh treatment, impressive sacrifices and deeds. False religion is based on works. They were desperate to be heard! Sincere [P]They cannot be accused of being insincere. They were absolutely sincere and genuine in their belief of Baal – utterly devoted with a dedication which went beyond personal regard. They cut themselves, their blood flowed! So much for those who say that as long as you have faith, as long as you are sincere; as long as you are genuine in your seeking, full of zeal, passion and dedication it doesn’t matter what you call your god. God sees your earnestness and honours that. Oh yes it does matter! Despite their undeniable sincerity and devotion – it was to just a block of wood not to the Living God. Their zeal was utterly misplaced and the results are tragic. Speaking about the false religion of Judaism Paul said: [Romans 10:2 For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.] And Hosea said: [Hosea 4:6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge!] Yes they were sincere, but sincerely wrong! Deluded! There is no reward for genuineness of motive. There is only one God and only one way to Him. People can be utterly convinced they are right and be devoted to their beliefs; but when they are, in fact, in error; it is tragic indeed and there is little you can do to persuade them otherwise despite the patent futility of the results. It doesn’t work despite all the shouting and harsh self treatment. It is Futile and empty [P] [1 Kings 18:29 When midday was past, they raved (or prophesied, in many translations) until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; (all day they had been at it!) but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention.] Absolutely no response! All that zeal, sincerity, personal sacrifice, pain and hardship! And it accomplished precisely nothing! Noon passed, they still carried on, in spiritual frenzy that they had hyped themselves up into; they prophesied – but still no fire. So it came time for the evening sacrifice – they had been at it all day BUT NOTHING HAPPENED! Still there was no voice, no answer, no one paid attention. There was no voice because there was NO ONE there! No one answered because there was NO ONE to answer, no one paid attention because there was NO ONE! What utter futility! What a waste of time, effort, blood – all expended on someone who didn’t even exist! Tragic in the extreme! So called "spiritual" men receive "revelation", are utterly devoted but their prophecy is false – it is the result of hyping themselves up into a state whereby they are open to demonic influence. It may impress, but it is false! There was plenty of prophecy but no fulfilment – much like the charismatic church today. Nothing actually happens! NO ONE is there to hear, to answer, to pay attention. Why spend so much time, energy and resources on what can never produce anything? What utter futility! We hear "prophecy" but no one has spoken – it is all the product of man hyping himself into a frenzy. Deliberate rejection of God [P] [1 Kings 18:30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of יהוה which had been torn down.] I want to pick things up at this verse next time, but just to notice one thing: that the altar of יהוה had been torn down - a deliberate rejection of יהוה. So after a day long calling upon Baal, Elijah’s turn came to call upon His God. Elijah called the people close – for there was to be no loud demonstrative ranting. He wanted them to see and hear what took place. To see God’s deeds, to hear His voice, we must come near. We are told to draw near in: [James 4:8–10 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (a verse that is often quoted, but it is not a verse, it is only half a verse! It goes on to say:) Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.] It is a call for repentance! The altar of יהוה had been torn down. It hadn’t fallen down, fallen into disrepair. It was torn down: a deliberate and wilful act. It was a deliberate rejection of the worship of יהוה. It wasn’t broken down from neglect but by vehement opposition, violent antagonism, a determined campaign to wipe out every vestige of יהוה worship [1 Kings 18:4 for when Jezebel destroyed the prophets of יהוה, …. ] [1 Kings 19:2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them (that is the prophets of Baal who Elijah had killed with a sword) by tomorrow about this time.” ] It was all out spiritual war! When the drought came Jezebel was determined to wipe out all opposition to Baal, wipe out this יהוה who dared challenge her god. But though you can remove Baal by destroying idols and though you can tear down places where יהוה is worshipped and kill His followers, you cannot get rid of יהוה because He is God! He is I AM! Hallelujah! He exists, He is present everywhere, He cannot be destroyed! Religion is false and therefore ultimately futile - it is a lie; it isn't real! Yet it consumes the lives of countless people. You may have noticed some contradictory things: a lack of commitment, compromise, going with the flow- yet this utter dedication and sincerity and harsh treatment. A lie is contradictory, it is not consistent. Humanism is the great end time religion - man is worshipped. We can solve anything, with our knowledge, our science, our technology. If only we cooperate (as they did at Babel) we can make utopia - world peace; one people with one government, one religion where we tolerate and respect all. But here is that contradictory element again: have you noticed this great push to tolerate all opinions, faiths, sexual preferences, that exists today? Yet there is at the same time it is extremely intolerant. The Catholics and Anglicans can meet together, along with the eastern orthodox, Christians and Muslims, east and west - but there is one thing that they will absolutely not tolerate: that is these Christian fundamentalists, the true believer whose faith is in Christ and His Word alone. Who does not rely on His own efforts but on the finished perfect work of Jesus in His place. There is toleration of all – but not really! They mix with all in their syncretism, EXCEPT! Go along with all, go with the flow but not with those who hold to God’s word, who worship יהוה alone. That is false religion there is NO REALITY. What point is there in religion which is meant to be the worship of God when there is no GOD there?! Religion enslaves, it occupies and preoccupies yet all it is; is a distraction from the real issue. It seems pleasant and wholesome, noble and good but it tears down the altar of יהוה! It is adamantly opposed to the true GOD. Who did Jesus have the most strife from when here on earth? From the religious! Who did He have the harshest criticism for? The religious! Talking of religion Paul said: [Colossians 2:23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance (appears but isn’t really – it deceives) of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. ] It doesn’t actually work – there is no reality! Jesus said: [Matthew 15:7–9 “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honours Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ ” ] It will become increasingly lonely and increasingly difficult to remain true; to not go along with the flow, to compromise; as false religion has it's final day, pervades the world. The ultimate show-down is coming! יהוה is about to act, to intervene! Jesus Himself is going to return in glory! Will you be found faithful? About one thing Bob Dylan was right: [P] "Ya gotta serve somebody!" It may be the devil or it may be the LORD; but ya gotta serve somebody!" We go out to the prison at Rolleston - there at Rolleston there is a set of points in the railway, the two lines run close to each other for a way, but one line ends up in Invercargill the other on the West Coast. At first it can seem like there is little difference - but the ultimate destination is very different. Religion may seem very fine - but it is false! You need to decide WHO IS GOD! If יהוה be God then serve Him!