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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
 www.edmontonimmanuel.ca
 
Title:The Showdown between the Faithful Prophet Elijah, and the Worldly King Ahab
Text:1 Kings 18: 16b - 21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling
 
Preached:2010-07-25
Added:2010-09-24
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Sing:  Psalm 31: 1, 10, 15

Sing: Psalm 81:  1, 4, 6, 8

Read: 1 Kings 18: 1-16a

Sing: Psalm 97: 4, 6

Text: 1 Kings 18:16b-20

Sing: Psalm 115: 2, 5, 6, 7

Sing:  Hymn 45: 1-4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters,

The minister who authored this sermon shared the following story: Some 20 years ago I learned how to ski downhill. But, it took me a while to catch on. I had to overcome my fear of heights and my innate desire to have my feet firmly planted on the ground. The chairlift was one of my greatest initial challenges. The first time I used it I was not shown how, but I learned later that the moment the chair touches the back of your legs you are to sit down and let the chair carry you aloft. But, as I was too hesitant to let my feet leave the ground, I did not do that. This caused the chair to go backwards until my legs could no longer stand the strain. As a result the chair catapulted forward and then like a slingshot hurled me into the air. I hung on for dear life. I tightly gripped the cross slats of the chair until I got to the top. But, as I got to the top and the ground reappeared under my feet, signaling that I had to let go, I discovered that my fingers were firmly wedged between the slats to which I was hanging onto for dear life. In the nick of time I was able to extricate my fingers, without losing any of them.

 
Why do I tell you this story? Well, it illustrates that it is dangerous to be uncommitted to a certain position. When you go on the chairlift you cannot be both on the ground and in the air at the same time. If you try to do so you can seriously injure yourself or even lose your life. You cannot have the best of both worlds. You either have to let go of the one, or be committed to the other. There is no middle way.
 
That is also the way it is regarding our service of the Lord. The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
 
You see, that is what King Ahab was doing, and that is also what the people Israel were doing. They wanted the best of both worlds. They wanted to be friends with the nations of the world, even worshiping their gods, and they also wanted to serve the God of Israel, Yahweh. After all, he is the God of their fathers, isn't he? He is the one who brought them into the Promised Land. They should still serve him as well.
 
But you cannot be devoted to two gods at the same time. That doesn't work. However, to them it seemed that this was working. Because of their alliance with other nations and their gods, especially the Sidonians, Israel was prosperous. They were doing well. Or so they thought.
 
They did not realize that they were courting disaster. They did not realize that this could not last. You cannot maintain two diametrically opposed positions at the same time. You cannot serve the one and only true God, and also the false gods. Those are two totally different worlds. They are two totally different commitments. There is only one true God. And him alone must they serve.
 
That is where Elijah comes in. Ahab was straddling the line between the serving of the Baals and the serving of Yahweh. He thought that he had gotten a good mix; that he had the best of both worlds. He figured that he had it made in the shade. However, he was totally blind to the ramifications of such a duplicitous pursuit. He needed to be shaken out of his self-delusion.
 
It was up to Elijah, as a prophet of the Lord, to do that and to make him commit himself, to shake him up. He would have to make him choose between God or the Baals. It had to be one or the other. He could not sit on the fence. He had to declare himself. Ahab would have to choose whether he would seek the things that are above with its eternal heavenly rewards, or seek the things that are below, with its temporary earthly rewards.
 
The only right thing for him to do, of course, was to commit himself to the Lord God. But that would be very difficult for him because he was so entrenched in pursuing his own course that it would be very hard for him to change direction. That is why a confrontation was necessary. Ahab needed a shock to his system. That is what we will hear about this morning. The theme is as follows:
 
The Showdown between the Faithful Prophet Elijah and the Worldly King Ahab. We will see:
1. Ahab's blind ambition;
2. Elijah's uncompromising position.
 
It had been some 3 1/2 years since Elijah confronted the king. That first time, he showed up, as it were, “out of the blue,” and presented himself to the king at his palace. At that time Elijah, in the name of the Lord, took the initiative. He had told King Ahab that the Lord, the God of Israel would bring drought upon the land. Elijah wanted Ahab to beware of the power of God, that he is the one who sends rain or withholds it. No one else. The Baals have no such power.
 
But now we see that Elijah summons the king. The king now has to come to him. The roles are reversed. As we saw last time, and as we read together, Elijah sent Obadiah, the faithful but cowardly servant of the Lord who was in charge of the palace. He sent Obadiah to tell Ahab that Elijah is here. Obadiah was afraid to be that messenger, because he feared that Elijah would disappear before Ahab could meet him. And then he would have to endure Ahab's anger. It could even cost him his life. However, Elijah assured him that he would most certainly present himself to Ahab on that very day.
 
Elijah was convinced that Ahab would come to him. Why could he be so sure? For of what benefit would it be to Ahab to meet with Elijah? All kinds of speculations have been made by various commentators. None of them give a satisfactory answer. The fact of the matter is that Ahab's motivations are not clearly stated in the Scriptures.
 
But, we do know a lot about him. And the one thing that really stands out about Ahab is that he is a very ambitious man. He is not going to let anybody stand in his way of accomplishing his goal. His ultimate aim, his ambition, is to bring prosperity on himself and on the people Israel. He wants to get as much out of life as he can, by hook or by crook. He also wants power. And his goal is to hang on to that power, no matter what; to hang on to the position that he has as the most powerful man in Israel; or to be the most powerful of the world of that day, if he can accomplish it. He is not willing for one moment to diverge from that path. All of his thoughts and all of his actions are geared towards that end.
 
Elijah, however, stands in the way of that goal. He has the audacity to try to clip his wings. And now Ahab has to figure out a way to neutralize him, or to eliminate him. He knows that he cannot ignore him. Elijah has proven to be quite an obstacle. The words that he spoke the first time he met him came true. He said that a drought would come, and it did. He knew that Elijah would not come out to meet him this time. What is he to do?
 
Well, he goes out to meet Elijah. Perhaps in tackling him in a personal way he will find a way to get rid of him. He will play it by ear.
 
When he saw Elijah he said to him, "Is that you?" That is the same question that Obadiah asked when he met Elijah. Obadiah, however, asked out of respect. He mentions him by name and calls him his lord. Obadiah was not the bravest of men, but nevertheless he was on the same wavelength as Elijah. Elijah and Obadiah are both servants of God, and want to be obedient to the Lord.
 
But Ahab's question is full of scorn and bitterness. He calls Elijah the troubler of Israel. That is quite something, for here you have two men who are both anointed by the Lord God to their respective offices, the one as king, and the other as prophet. But, they work at totally cross purposes. They have totally different ambitions. Ahab was out to serve himself, and Elijah was out to serve the Lord.
 
Ahab knew very well what he was doing. He was a clever and cunning man, wise in the ways of the world. He knew how to get his way and how to get the people that mattered on his side. He was the perfect politician. He was adroit in the exploitation of the weaknesses of the people. He also knew how to forge alliances with other nations in order to bring wealth to Israel. He knew the right things to say and the right things to do. He also knew how to get the people on his side. Humanly speaking he was a great leader. He knew how to hang on to power. He was a popular man. The majority of the people in Israel loved him. They loved the fact that they could fare as well under him as they could. They loved their prosperity, and the freedom that they had to do their own thing. It didn't matter to them that their physical well-being was at the expense of their relationship with the Lord God. They were interested in maintaining the status quo.
 
But Elijah was totally different. He was not a clever politician. He was not someone who was always watching to see which way the wind was blowing. He was not interested in gauging the likes and dislikes of the people. Elijah was interested only in the truth. And he was not compromising in that regard. He was interested in the truth no matter what the consequences. He walked a fine line on the straight and narrow path that God set out for him.
 
And so, seeing the difference between these two leaders, you can understand that a clash, a showdown, was inevitable. Elijah, as a servant of the Lord, was compelled to confront King Ahab. He saw that as his duty as a prophet of God. Elijah knew that he had no choice but to disturb King Ahab. That is why he came with the word of God that there would be drought in the land.
 
And now 3 1/2 years have passed. It had not made any difference to Ahab's way of doing things or to his way of thinking. On the contrary; he hardened his heart. Ahab continued to pursue his own selfish ends. He did not repent.
 
But now Ahab calls Elijah the troubler of Israel. That is what unrepentant people always do. They go on the attack. They blame others. They don't blame themselves. Even if you come with hard and fast evidence, and even if you come with the Word of God, they will turn on you. They don't want anyone or anything to stand in the way of accomplishing their goal, not even God.
 
That is also what happened to the Lord Jesus. The Pharisees also saw him as a troublemaker. They said, for example, in John 11:48, "If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” The Pharisees were interested only in maintaining their own place of power and influence. They were not really interested in serving the Lord God. When the Lord Jesus performed his many miracles, they were in a quandary. They either had to accept him as doing these things through the power of God, or through the power of the devil. They too have to make a choice. Many of them chose for the devil.
 
The Lord God puts us before the choice too, just like he did the people Israel. He said through the mouth of Joshua, in Joshua 24:14 and following, "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods of your forefathers beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, or the God of Israel. But as for me and my household,” said Joshua, “we will serve the Lord." Joshua made a clear choice. That's what God wants from me and you as well. He wants you to commit yourself to one position. You either serve the Lord God, or you don't. You cannot sit on the fence. You cannot go about your daily business and conduct yourself in the same way as the world does, while at the same time you conduct yourself as a Christian. You either are a Christian, or you are not. There is no middle way. If you try to choose the middle way, for a little while that may work, but in the end you will be destroyed. Time and again you have to test what you are doing and the way you are going. You have to test it on the basis of God's Word. Am I interested in doing God's will, or not? And when the minister from the pulpit, or the elder at a visit, rebuke you and instruct you, then you have to test his word to see whether or not it is in accordance with the word of God. You have to ask yourself this on the basis of God's word.
 
Ahab was not interested in that. He did not want to test Elijah to see whether or not he was acting in accordance with the word of God. That is what he should have done. Even though Elijah said that he came with the Word of God, and even though what he said would happen did happen, that did not mean necessarily that Elijah was a prophet of the Lord. For that is what it says in Deuteronomy 13:1-3. It says there that if a prophet would appear among them and tells them that a certain thing will happen, and it does happen, that does not necessarily mean that God has sent him. They still have to test him. They have to test him on the basis of God's word. And therefore Ahab had to listen very carefully to what Elijah had to say.
 
2. That brings us to our second point. Elijah said, "I have not made trouble for Israel, but you and your father's family have. You have abandoned the Lord's commands and have followed the Baals." Elijah hit the nail right on the head. From the word go the northern kings were almost without exception wicked. They brought idolatry into Israel to prevent the people from returning to Jerusalem where the Temple was. The northern kings did not want a reunification with the two southern tribes, with Judah and Benjamin. They did not want to share power with them. They wanted to be independent. And Satan likes nothing better than to have God's people divided. He loves division. He would love it if he could divide us. He would love it if he could work division in the consistory or the council room. He loves it when people are at odds with each other. He especially loves it when it concerns the church. And these kings of the northern tribes were in the service of the devil.
 
But Ahab was worse than all his predecessors. He did not care, for example, that God had forbidden the rebuilding of the walls of Jericho. He went ahead anyway. He saw this as a good political move, for this way he could better secure the land from foreign invaders. In this way he tried to rewrite history. He ignored the past, and thereby he ignored the word of God.
 
And he did not care either that he married Jezebel, a wife who did not want to serve the Lord, but who instead hated the God of Israel. He allowed her to promote Baal worship and at the same time to kill the prophets of the Lord. He even allowed her to put the false priests of Baal on the federal payroll. To Ahab and Jezebel, murder was also acceptable, as long as it served their purposes. There was no end to their wickedness.
 
Ahab was wicked through and through. And Elijah convicts him of his sin on the basis of God's word. For what had the Lord God said? Well, he said to his people Israel in Deuteronomy 11:13-14, "So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today – to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul – then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil." But then he said further in the verses16-17, "Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you."
 
Elijah did nothing else but remind the king of the Word of God. The true cause of Ahab's trouble is that he is unfaithful. He is unfaithful to God's covenant. Elijah did not bring the trouble on Ahab and on the land, but the Lord God himself did so. He had already warned them on numerous occasions that this would happen. The Lord had made a covenant with his people, a contract. He told them that if they would trust in him, that then he would make them prosper, and give them peace. But they did not do that. They broke that covenant. They served other gods. That is why he took away their prosperity. That is why he sent the drought.
 
But Ahab did not listen. And so ultimately it was Ahab who brought the trouble upon himself. He did not keep God's commandments, and especially the commandment that you shall have no other gods before him. He broke that law with impunity.
 
That is also what the nation Israel did. Listen to what it says in Jeremiah 2:12-13, “Be appalled at this, O heavens, and shudder with great horror,” declares the Lord. “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
 
Brothers and sisters, boys and girls, every Sunday morning you also hear the law of God being read. The Lord God gives us these laws because he wants us to take sin against God's law seriously. We have to realize that we need to keep them, even though we do sin against these laws all the time. Nevertheless the Lord God wants us to take his laws seriously. And then, because you take his laws seriously, and you do sin, as you will (for we all do – we are sinners), then you will also ask for the forgiveness of your sins. For then you are truly sorry that you are not keeping God's laws. And at the same time you keep on doing your utmost not to sin against God's laws. That’s why the laws are read. Ultimately they are given to drive you to Christ.
 
It is a blessing that you may hear those laws. Can you imagine if God would leave you in your sins? Then you would be lost forever. And therefore, instead of seeing Elijah as a messenger of doom, Ahab should've seen him as a messenger of love. For God sent Elijah to him and to Israel because of his great love. He wants to call them back to faithfulness. He does not want them to perish.
 
That is what the Lord God wants you and me to do as well. He wants you and me to be faithful. He wants you, for example, to be faithful to the promises you made at the time you publicly professed your faith, when you promised to forsake the world. In other words, when you promised not to be committed to this sinful world, but to the world of God, to his kingdom. And that is why you will not take a boyfriend or girlfriend from the world either. Someone from the world has completely different ambitions, and has a totally different outlook on life. The life and ambitions of a believer and an unbeliever are diametrically opposed to each other. They do not mix.
 
And the Lord God wants you married couples to be faithful to the promises you made when you got married, and promised to be faithful to your husband, or to your wife. He also wants the parents to be faithful to the promises they made at the time of the baptism of their children, when they promised to bring them up in the fear of the Lord.
 
If you truly desire to be faithful in this way, then the Lord God will also bless you. You can only have a peaceful life if you want to serve the Lord. That is also what the prophet of the Lord Isaiah said in chapter 48:18. He said “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.”
 
Elijah commands Ahab to summon the people from all over Israel. Elijah knows how the people have gone along with Ahab’s disobedient ways. How he has been able to manipulate and control them. Therefore they too need to be confronted. There has to be a wholesale reformation. They cannot maintain God’s position and their position as children of the world at the same time. They have to make a choice.
 
Brothers and sisters, boys and girls, the Lord God also wants us to make a choice.  Every day the Lord puts before us the choice to serve him or to serve the devil. If it is your desire to serve the Lord, then the Lord will bless you abundantly, for he also wants you and me to have peace like a river. Such peace can only come about through your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Brothers and sisters, believe and be committed to him and to him alone. And he will save you. Amen



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.edmontonimmanuel.ca

(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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