Read at beginning of service:
Matthew 16:21-28 (NIV)
21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. 28 I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
For the next few weeks we?re going to be studying the life of a man in the Bible whose single-minded commitment to God will hopefully shock and challenge us. This man was the most famous and dramatic of Israel?s prophets and no one of the Old Testament prophets is so frequently referred to in the New Testament. Elijah was sent to confront, not comfort, and he spoke God?s words to a king who often rejected his message just because he brought it.
Now some of you may be familiar with the story of Elijah and the many spectacular miracles God worked through his life however, I believe that you will be challenged as I was in this study of his life by the deeper miracle of Elijah?s relationship with God ? a miracle that is available to every single one of us.
If you were to think about it I?m sure that you might agree with me that there is a lot of things in this world that distract us from God and seemingly not enough attracting us to Him. I know we often will talk about all the worldly distractions we face as believers, but let me tell you about the greatest distraction I ever faced. This distraction kept me from truly knowing God and loving God in the first 13 years of my life. This distraction was church! The church I grew up did give me lots of knowledge about God ? but there was never really any emphasis on knowing Him. I didn?t read my Bible apart from church, I didn?t really know how to pray, much less pray effectively. I grew up believing that as long as I showed up at church on Sunday morning or at least Sunday School I was fulfilling my duty to God.
It wasn?t until in my later teen years that I was introduced to a church that demonstrated idea of actually having a relationship with God. It was there that I began to fall in love with Him. At this church the focus was on a personal relationship with Christ, not religion or duty to God. When I learned of God?s great love for me and began to understand the great lengths He went through to have a relationship with me it radically changed my life.
I hope you understand, our goal as a fellowship of believers is not to just sing the songs and preach the sermon and go home unchanged and unchallenged. No, the goal is to come together and worship God and have our spiritual perspective radically changed so we can face the world with the challenge of experiencing the life of Christ and sharing the gospel with those around us.
Everybody worships something. God has placed a seed of faith in everyone, everywhere in the world. Many people around us today are worshipping false gods. Here?s an interesting thought ? when the atheist (someone who believes there is no god) is thankful for something he has whom does he thank? He has no one to thank, but maybe himself and he becomes his own god.
Elijah entered into the scene of history rather suddenly in 1 Kings 17:1 during the reign of King Ahab, the seventh king of Israel after the split of the twelve tribes of Israel into two nations, Israel and Judah. Ahab was the most wicked king to ever rule Israel. From the time of David to Ahab the family in Israel had gone downhill fast. David?s son Solomon took many foreign wives that worshipped false gods and this had an impact on the kings of Israel that followed. So Ahab thought it was just a good political move to marry Jezebel who was a Baal worshipper. Then when she came to Israel and married the king guess what she brought with her? The worship of this false god quickly wormed its way into the daily life of Ahab and Israel under the evil influence of Jezebel.
Now it?s also important to mention at this point that Baal was considered to be the god of rain and it?s into this woeful state of the nation and its king that God sends the prophet Elijah. When Elijah first appeared on the scene this is how he is introduced in 1 Kings 17:1,
1 Kings 17:1 (NIV)
1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
There are a few observations I?d like to note about this introduction to Elijah:
HIS PROFESSION: “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives?”
A prophet from the backwater community of Tishbe in Gilead would have no clout in the capital of Israel, Samaria, and definitely would have no influence on the king and queen.
It would be like me going to the Prime Minister?s residence in Ottawa to visit Jean Chretian. I would make it only as far as the front gate. Could you imagine me telling the security person, “I?m Darren Ethier pastor of Hanover Pentecostal Church and I?ve come here with a message from God to the Prime Minister!” There?s no way I would get in, because I have no clout on Sussex Drive. So how did Elijah, a small town prophet, get an audience with the king of Israel?
Elijah?s name means, “My God is Lord.” Elijah was sent from God. He was called and ordained of God, that?s how he made it to the king?s presence. When we follow God?s will for our life he will do extraordinary things with our life to prove Himself.
Elijah was a man of God, with a message from God, who was on a mission with God, who went in the might of God.
When the infidel, Robert G. Ingersoll, was delivering his lectures against Christ and the Bible, his oratorical ability usually assured him of a large crowd. One night after an inflammatory speech in which he severely attacked man?s faith in the Savior, he dramatically took out his watch and said, “I?ll give God a chance to prove that He exists and is almighty. I challenge Him to strike me dead within 5 minutes!” First there was silence, then people became uneasy. Some left the hall, unable to take the nervous strain of the occasion, and one woman fainted. At the end of the allotted time, the atheist exclaimed derisively, “See! There is no God. I am still very much alive!” After the lecture a young fellow said to a Christian lady, “Well, Ingersoll certainly proved something tonight!” Her reply was memorable. “Yes he did,” she said. “He proved God isn?t taking orders from atheists tonight!”
Elijah introduced himself in the King?s presence with a statement of faith as he began saying, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives?” Truly, if God is alive, then Ahab is in trouble.
Elijah right away declared in this profession where he was staking his faith, where he was making his claim. And he was prepared to put everything on the line for that belief. Friends, the world needs to see change in the lives of those who profess to have faith in Christ. This kind of faith results in a lasting character change in our life, attitude and direction. Which brings me to the next observation:
HIS POSITION: “?Whom I serve,?”
Elijah had a burden. He was a servant and in order to be a servant he must have a burden. In order to be a servant we must have a burden. If we have no burden for the things of God we will not serve God!
It?s like when a person loses a loved one to a disease or cancer and then they join or start a campaign to raise money and/or awareness for/about that disease or cancer. Because of their loss and pain they now have a burden to help others and try and prevent others from going through what they or their loved one endured.
It?s too easy for us as Christians to forget what God has done for us and not consider what those around us without Christ are going through and are going to go through everlasting. We lose focus and perspective on eternal things and we don?t have a burden ? without a burden you?ll have a weak position spiritually.
In his book, Fuzzy Memories, Jack Handey writes:
There used to be this bully who would demand my lunch money every day. Since I was smaller, I would give it to him. Then I decided to fight back. I started taking karate lessons. But then the karate lesson guy said I had to start paying him five dollars a lesson. So I just went back to paying the bully.
Too many people feel it is easier just to pay the bully than it is to learn how to defeat him. In the time of Elijah, too many people refused to stand up against Queen Jezebel and King Ahab and the ungodliness rampant in the land.
But not Elijah! Elijah didn?t go to Samaria and stand up against Ahab and Jezebel because he was bored, “Oh, I think I?ll go down and deeply offend the king and queen today and try to live to see tomorrow. Yeah, that will be exciting ? I won?t be bored after that!” Elijah left his home, his community, and his comfortable life because he had a burden for God. He had watched his country turn to false gods to the point that it turned his stomach. Then he heard the call of God to go and do something about it.
The Best ABILITY is AVAILABILITY!
There are always those people who say they?re going to live a silent Christian witness. Now I believe we do need to live out our faith with everything we do. But a person can carry that to an extreme and not back up their life with verbal testimony as to why they live the way they do! To be a true witness to the world you need both credibility and accountability. An effective witness in a court of law is going to speak what they have seen and heard. Jesus wasn?t crucified off in a corner somewhere where no one could see! He was crucified out in public for everyone to see and know what He had done for humans. He spoke the truth not only to His disciples in private, but also to the masses in public.
As we heard read this morning,
Matthew 16:24 (NIV)
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Taking up your cross is a public demonstration of your allegiance to Christ and of your position in Christ ? giving evidence to the fact of His lordship over your life.
Who do you serve?
HIS PRAYER ? “there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
James 5:17 (NIV)
17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.
Elijah was not only putting his life on the line as he went up against the gods of Jezebel but he was putting his faith on the line as well. Elijah didn?t have control of the weather, but he HAD surrendered control of his life over to the One who controlled the weather. Elijah?s willingness to confront King Ahab was a by-product of his prayer life.
And let?s think about his prayer for a moment. Elijah was praying for a national disaster! Could you imagine it not raining for three and a half years? I mean we?re experiencing the effects of having hardly any rain in this past while but that?s still nothing compared to having NO rain! Not only no rain, but no dew on the ground either! Elijah was praying that everyone would become as uncomfortable physically as he was spiritually.
Have you ever noticed how much we pray for our comforts? Home, health, and wealth tend to dominate our prayer life. When these things take center stage in our prayer life our focus starts to sway of of God and onto us. That?s what the enemy wants ? he wants you to focus squarely on self, for self to become your number one concern because when you do that you?re suddenly being mistreated by everyone, including God. Then the world becomes a miserable place and your life becomes a painful existence.
God wants us to place all our faith in Him. Yet how much do we put on the line for God? I want you to hear something this morning ? it?s not necessarily how much faith we have that is important, it is how much of our faith we?re placing in God. Do you see the difference? The difference is always exposed in the midst of trial, in the midst of a test of allegiance, in the midst of the temptation to compromise.
CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
God used Elijah mightily I believe because Elijah was willing to put his whole life on the line for God. Elijah not only professed his faith in God but he also understood and lived out his position in God and demonstrated his reliance on God in prayer.
What kind of people does God use?
1. People who believe.
God will use people who believe they can be used by God and who believe He will use them. God uses people who have a faith received out of a belief in who God is and what He has accomplished through Jesus Christ.
2. People who surrender.
It?s one thing to believe but it?s another thing to surrender to what you believe. For instance I believe that when a 80 km/hr sign is posted that means that the maximum speed allowed for a vehicle traveling on that portion of road is 80 km/hr. I believe that and I?m sure you do too! But surrendering to that belief is actually obeying the posted speed limit no matter what the impulse is to do! I?ll leave that thought with you for a minute!!
Elijah believed that God was alive and Lord over Israel, Elijah believed that God had called Him to speak against the evil that was running rampant through Israel ? but Elijah still had a choice of whether to surrender or not ? Elijah was used mightily by God because he surrendered. He put everything on the line in surrender to God and His purposes!!
It?s too easy to make excuses for why we don?t serve God. The bottom line is you either serve Him or you don?t ? you either have a burden for God and the things of God or you don?t. The truth is when you make yourself available to God through your surrender and obedience then He will do things through you that are far beyond your abilities and what you would even imagine.
3. People who pray beyond their convenience.
It?s easy to pray for things that are convenient but how often do you pray for those things which may be inconvenient? Or, from a different perspective of the same point, how often do you pray when it is inconvenient for you to pray?
A study has been done which made the observation that less than 10% of all Christians are committed to the point that they actively serve their church and daily study their Bibles and pray. And this same study found out that those who were committed were also found to be the happiest.
I want to ask you this morning, how much are you willing to put on the line for God? Now how much are you putting on the line for God?