Wednesday, March 26, 2014

No Match for the Lord


Bret Toman offers this -- Braveheart is the story of Scotland’s pursuit of freedom from the tyranny of the English under the leadership of William Wallace, played by Mel Gibson. There is a scene where Wallace and his men were fighting the English. Wallace thought he had the backing of the Scottish nobles, but they had been bought off by the King and betrayed him on the battlefield, leaving Wallace and his men to be routed by the English. The leader of the nobles, Robert the Bruce, takes his act of betrayal particularly hard. He owns his betrayal but doesn’t let it define him…consider what he has to say --Robert Bruce, Sr.: I’m the one who’s rotting, but I think your face looks graver than mine. Son, we must have alliance with England to prevail here. You achieved that. You saved your family, increased your land. In time, you will have all the power in Scotland. Robert the Bruce: Lands, titles, men, power...mean nothing. Robert Bruce, Sr.: Nothing? Robert the Bruce: I have nothing. Men fight for me because if they do not, I throw them off my land and I starve their wives and children. Those men who bled…at Falkirk fought for William Wallace. He fights for something that I never had. And I took it from him when I betrayed him. I saw it in his face on the battlefield, and it’s tearing me apart. Robert Bruce, Sr.: All men betray. All lose heart. Robert the Bruce: I don’t want to lose heart!!! I want to believe as he does. I will never be on the wrong side again.

Perhaps that is the cry of your heart this morning. You’ve chased after everything you thought would satisfy your soul, and it’s left you empty…with nothing. You and I have been idolaters in the past. We’ve built our own cisterns and they don’t hold water. They leave us empty-hearted. Maybe you're even saying to yourself, "I don’t want to lose heart. I want to believe. I will never be on the wrong side again." The prophet Elijah could relate.  In a sense, he was the William Wallace of his time.  Facing unbelievable odds, Elijah matches up against nearly 500 antagonists that oppose the will of God (1 Kings 18:17-40). He stands firm and challenges the false prophets of Ahab and Jezebel, as one of the greatest dramas in all of Scripture unfolds.

Elijah has had his meeting with King Ahab, and everything he has done has been according to the Word of the Lord…and this includes confronting the evil king and inviting his false priests to come meet with him on Mt. Carmel. In what is an amazing twist of irony, King Ahab calls Elijah the “troublemaker of Israel.” Yet, it is Ahab’s sin and defiance of the Lord that has brought significant trouble upon Israel. Mt. Carmel is located near the border of Israel and Phoenicia to the north, so it an appropriate place for the Phoenician god Baal to meet the God of Israel. Elijah tells Ahab not only to bring the 450 prophets of Baal, but also 400 prophets of Asherah.  This is to be one big happy family gathering of heathens. But, it appears only the prophets of Baal show up. Elijah addresses representatives of all ten tribes from the northern kingdom of Israel.  His purpose is not only to expose Baal as a false god, but also to bring the straying people back to the one true God. The Israelites have been “straying between two opinions”.  They are wanting to worship Baal as god and Yahweh as God, and this is obviously not going to work. Elijah weighs the contest in favor of the prophets of Baal as he allows them to build their altar, select their sacrifice and offer it to their god.  They could take all the time they needed in order to accomplish this. When Elijah says that he is the only prophet of the Lord, he is not discounting all those who have come before him, the prophets that Obadiah had hidden and protected…he is stating that he is the only one openly serving the Lord. Still, one prophet of God alongside the God of the universe is a majority.

Meanwhile, the prophets of Baal are dancing about, cutting themselves with swords and spears, and yet, nothing is happening. By noon, still nothing is happening for the prophets of Baal, and in one of the best scenes in the Bible, Elijah begins to taunt them. Elijah suggests that Baal cannot hear them because he is deep in thought (like the Thinker, perhaps), or that he has gone on a trip, or that he is asleep. Or…best of all…that he has “gone aside”, which translated literally means, “Perhaps Baal has gone to the bathroom.” At 3 o’clock…which, not so ironically, is the time of the evening sacrifice in Jerusalem, Elijah steps forward and takes charge. The altar that once stood there has been taken down, probably by the false prophets, so Elijah rebuilds it and sanctifies it. Elijah has already given the prophets of Baal some advantages, and now to prove his point further, he gives himself some disadvantages, handicaps. He has a trench dug around the altar and fills it with water.  He puts the sacrifice on the wood on the altar and has everything drenched in water. At the time of the sacrifice, he lifts up his voice in prayer to the Lord, and requests that God be glorified as the God of Israel, and make it known that Elijah is his servant. Even more, by sending fire from heaven, the Lord will tell his people that He forgives them, and would invite them back to worshipping Him. Suddenly, fire falls from heaven, totally devours the sacrifice, the altar, and the water -- the whole ball of wax. There is nothing left that anybody could turn into a relic or shrine.  The prophets of Baal are stunned, while the people of Israel fall on their faces and acknowledge that “the Lord, He is God!” But, the story is not over, for Elijah commands the people to pursue the prophets of Baal and slay them, which is what takes place according to the command of the Lord (Deuteronomy 13:13-18, 17:2-5).

Elijah was called to a huge task, but most of the time we are not called to such large activities.  Yet, we need to take care of the little things that matter in life…because they can be big things. Dr. Neil Anderson shared an important concept about the will of God with his seminary students, "Bloom where you are planted." Be the best you can be at your present assignment, and stay there until God calls you elsewhere. Why? “It is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 4:2). This is a good principle for Christians to understand and apply.  As we have seen, this is precisely how Elijah lived his life. Anderson goes on to say, “Often a student will say, ‘There are no openings to serve at my church!’ My response is, ‘Yes there are. They're probably begging for someone to teach third-graders.’ The momentary silence reveals this thought: ‘But anyone can teach third-grade boys. I had something bigger in mind.’ ‘Take the opportunity before you and teach those third-grade boys. Decide to be the best teacher they've ever had. You may start with only three little boys, but at the end of that year you've got 12 boys excited about God, Sunday school and church. Next year, when the personnel committee needs to fill leadership positions, they say, ‘We need some new life on the Christian education committee.’ Somebody aware of the fruit you are bearing says, ‘There's this guy doing a bang-up job with our third graders. Let's ask him to be on the committee.’” And so it goes. God guides those who bloom where they are planted. (Dr. Anderson, Freedom in Christ and Harvest House Publishers)

The test for the people of Elijah’s day was fair – the test for the prophets of Baal, who are exposed as idolaters, and pay the well as for the people who are able to come back to the Lord. And the test for you and me is also fair – do we trust the Lord’s faithfulness to work in, with and through us to accomplish His will, as he did with Elijah, whether we are faced with great tasks, or the small ones from day to day?  We may be called upon to face significant challenges in life, and it is much easier to face challenges knowing that the Lord is on our side, fighting for us. 

Blessings, Don

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