2018-2-11 When at the End of Ourselves

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          February 11, 2018“

“When at the End of Ourselves”
1 Kings 19:1-18[1]

The Word of God tells us—and I can testify personally to the same—that we have blessings unspeakable and unparalleled in Christ.  Think of our spiritual blessings.  We have rescue from sin, from death and the grave, and from hell and the evil one.  We have the blessed nearness of His presence, and we have by grace the sense of His favor.  Think also of our temporal blessings.  We have all that we need in this world from His good hand.  We have favorable providential circumstances; things fall out well for us.  It is a good thing to abide as a lamb in the flock of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

Yet, as Steve Brown says, “Life is not fair, and we are not Home.”  Trials, difficulties, and the like come—even, sometimes, when we pray with all our might that they may not come.  Some of these become so intense, or so protracted, that they threaten to overwhelm us.  We wonder how we can take the next step—or the next breath.  What then?  Let’s find out as we hear this portion of God’s Word.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

The passage opens with Elijah just after a literal mountaintop experience.  The Lord just has worked a great victory through him on Mt. Carmel against the prophets of the false god Baal (a Canaanite fertility god).  All present on the mount, whether Baal-worshipper or LORD-worshipper, cry, “The LORD, He is God!  The LORD, He is God!”  This—literally and figuratively—truly is a mountaintop experience for Elijah.  Moreover, this mountaintop miracle of God is the latest in a lengthening train of miracles to and through Elijah.  God fed Elijah by ravens at Kerith Ravine, and He fed him and others in the house of the widow of Zarephath on a day-by-day basis.  God even worked through Elijah to raise the widow’s son from the dead.  Truly, as some of say around here, Elijah is a man blessed and highly favored.

Into this scene of blessing and favor comes a threat against Elijah—and we must note his surprising response.  Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab and herself a noted Baal-worshipper, threatens Elijah’s life—with sentence to be executed inside twenty-four hours.  Note her artful declaration of the same, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”  Elijah’s response surprises us.  He does not utter a thunderous, “Thus saith the Lord,” with Jezebel keeling over dead or something similar.  Rather, we read that Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.  This is not what we expect from such a spiritual giant as Elijah.

However, there are mitigating circumstances.  Elijah has just expended must spiritual and emotional energy at Mt. Carmel—not to mention the expenditures over the previous three years.  He has expended much physical energy running ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.  Now, under threat from Jezebel, he runs clear from Jezreel in the north to Beersheba.  Elijah is exhausted, physically and spiritually, and he simply cannot meet the providential challenge of Jezebel just now.  Hence, somewhere outside Beersheba, Elijah cries unto God, “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

Now note the mercies of God to the depleted, threatened Elijah.  First, God gives rest.  Elijah lay down under a broom tree and slept.  When in trouble, we can by God’s grace lie down and sleep, for the Lord makes us to dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8).  He gives sleep to His beloved (Psalm 127:2)—and He gives good things to His beloved ones in their sleep.  Second, God gives Elijah nourishment.  An angel wakes him and draws his attention to water and to hot bread baked over coals.  What a feast presents itself to Elijah’s battered soul and depleted body.  After eating, Elijah rests again; then the angel wakes him again for seconds.  This restores Elijah’s physical strength, and he runs in the strength of food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God (or Sinai, where God gave the Ten Commandments, among others, unto Moses).

At Horeb God gives Elijah a third mercy—namely, shelter or refuge.  Elijah, led by the Spirit, comes to Horeb, finds a cave in the mountain, and lodges in it.  God then bestows His fourth mercy upon Elijah—audience with Himself.  God, knowing full well the answer, asks Elijah, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  Elijah responds with his complaint.  God’s covenant people, says Elijah, forsake the covenant, break down the altars, kill the prophets with the sword, and seek his life too—the last prophet standing.  When Elijah completes his complaint, God gives His fifth mercy—direction.

God directs Elijah first to stand on the mount before the Lord.  This Elijah does, and the Lord passes by the spot.  Wind, earthquake, and fire occur at the spot, but the Holy Spirit tells us that the Lord is not in these.  After these a still small voice (so the King James Version) speaks, and at this Elijah wraps his face in his cloak and goes to the entrance of the cave to meet the Lord.  There God repeats his earlier question to Elijah, and Elijah repeats his complaint to God.

Then God gives explicit direction to be discharged upon Elijah’s return.  God tells Elijah to go to the Desert of Damascus, and there he will anoint Hazael to be king over Syria.  Then he will anoint Jehu son of Nimshi to be king over Israel, and then he will anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel-Meholah to be prophet in his place.  God further notes that the one escaping the sword of Hazael will be put to death by Jehu, and the one escaping the sword of Jehu will be put to death by Elisha.

Sixth, God gives to Elijah fellowship.  God tells Elijah that he reserves seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.  Elijah thinks himself alone, and the devil would love nothing more than to keep Elijah thinking this, for isolation is a favored tactic of his.  God shows Elijah that he is not alone.  He has another seven thousand of like faith commitment as himself.  He will have the company of the redeemed in his ongoing walk with the Lord and in his ongoing ministerial labor.  Hence, we who are in Christ are not alone.

Some well-meaning Christians will tell you, if all be well between you and our triune God, then there will be no trial, difficulty, suffering, or overwhelmed state.  This, though well-intentioned, is untrue.  After all, Jesus Himself suffered while here.  He suffered hunger and thirst during His wilderness temptation.  He suffered fatigue at Jacob’s well in Samaria one mid-day.  Jesus suffered spiritually from the temptations in the wilderness.  He suffered in the garden of Gethsemane from the weight of His coming agony.  These sufferings, temporal and spiritual, meet to unspeakable degree at the Cross, where Jesus endured horrific physical agony and even greater spiritual agony at becoming sin for us—even though He knew no sin.  Jesus suffered like none other who walked the earth.

We are not above our Master.  We too will endure difficulty.  Yet let us recall these blessed consolations.  First, God Himself is with us.  In fact, one of Jesus’ Names, Immanuel, is a near-exact cognate of the Hebrew for God with us.  Moreover, He promises never to leave us or to forsake us (Joshua 1:5), even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).  Second, His mercies fail not.  They are new every morning; great is His faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).  We see numerous mercies to Elijah in his weakness.  These, and more according to our need and His delight, are ours as well.  Therefore, when we find ourselves at the end of ourselves, may we, by God’s grace, remember His presence with us and His mercies unto us—and may these gladden and strengthen our souls.

AMEN.

[1] For the mercies of God mentioned in this sermon—and Elijah’s physical and spiritual state—I am indebted to Dr. Tim Hudson, campus minister at Christian Campus Fellowship, The University of Georgia, in his teaching on this text delivered sometime in 1989.

 


1 Kings 19:1-18[1]

The Word of God tells us—and I can testify personally to the same—that we have blessings unspeakable and unparalleled in Christ.  Think of our spiritual blessings.  We have rescue from sin, from death and the grave, and from hell and the evil one.  We have the blessed nearness of His presence, and we have by grace the sense of His favor.  Think also of our temporal blessings.  We have all that we need in this world from His good hand.  We have favorable providential circumstances; things fall out well for us.  It is a good thing to abide as a lamb in the flock of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

Yet, as Steve Brown says, “Life is not fair, and we are not Home.”  Trials, difficulties, and the like come—even, sometimes, when we pray with all our might that they may not come.  Some of these become so intense, or so protracted, that they threaten to overwhelm us.  We wonder how we can take the next step—or the next breath.  What then?  Let’s find out as we hear this portion of God’s Word.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

The passage opens with Elijah just after a literal mountaintop experience.  The Lord just has worked a great victory through him on Mt. Carmel against the prophets of the false god Baal (a Canaanite fertility god).  All present on the mount, whether Baal-worshipper or LORD-worshipper, cry, “The LORD, He is God!  The LORD, He is God!”  This—literally and figuratively—truly is a mountaintop experience for Elijah.  Moreover, this mountaintop miracle of God is the latest in a lengthening train of miracles to and through Elijah.  God fed Elijah by ravens at Kerith Ravine, and He fed him and others in the house of the widow of Zarephath on a day-by-day basis.  God even worked through Elijah to raise the widow’s son from the dead.  Truly, as some of say around here, Elijah is a man blessed and highly favored.

Into this scene of blessing and favor comes a threat against Elijah—and we must note his surprising response.  Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab and herself a noted Baal-worshipper, threatens Elijah’s life—with sentence to be executed inside twenty-four hours.  Note her artful declaration of the same, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”  Elijah’s response surprises us.  He does not utter a thunderous, “Thus saith the Lord,” with Jezebel keeling over dead or something similar.  Rather, we read that Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.  This is not what we expect from such a spiritual giant as Elijah.

However, there are mitigating circumstances.  Elijah has just expended must spiritual and emotional energy at Mt. Carmel—not to mention the expenditures over the previous three years.  He has expended much physical energy running ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.  Now, under threat from Jezebel, he runs clear from Jezreel in the north to Beersheba.  Elijah is exhausted, physically and spiritually, and he simply cannot meet the providential challenge of Jezebel just now.  Hence, somewhere outside Beersheba, Elijah cries unto God, “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

Now note the mercies of God to the depleted, threatened Elijah.  First, God gives rest.  Elijah lay down under a broom tree and slept.  When in trouble, we can by God’s grace lie down and sleep, for the Lord makes us to dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8).  He gives sleep to His beloved (Psalm 127:2)—and He gives good things to His beloved ones in their sleep.  Second, God gives Elijah nourishment.  An angel wakes him and draws his attention to water and to hot bread baked over coals.  What a feast presents itself to Elijah’s battered soul and depleted body.  After eating, Elijah rests again; then the angel wakes him again for seconds.  This restores Elijah’s physical strength, and he runs in the strength of food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God (or Sinai, where God gave the Ten Commandments, among others, unto Moses).

At Horeb God gives Elijah a third mercy—namely, shelter or refuge.  Elijah, led by the Spirit, comes to Horeb, finds a cave in the mountain, and lodges in it.  God then bestows His fourth mercy upon Elijah—audience with Himself.  God, knowing full well the answer, asks Elijah, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  Elijah responds with his complaint.  God’s covenant people, says Elijah, forsake the covenant, break down the altars, kill the prophets with the sword, and seek his life too—the last prophet standing.  When Elijah completes his complaint, God gives His fifth mercy—direction.

God directs Elijah first to stand on the mount before the Lord.  This Elijah does, and the Lord passes by the spot.  Wind, earthquake, and fire occur at the spot, but the Holy Spirit tells us that the Lord is not in these.  After these a still small voice (so the King James Version) speaks, and at this Elijah wraps his face in his cloak and goes to the entrance of the cave to meet the Lord.  There God repeats his earlier question to Elijah, and Elijah repeats his complaint to God.

Then God gives explicit direction to be discharged upon Elijah’s return.  God tells Elijah to go to the Desert of Damascus, and there he will anoint Hazael to be king over Syria.  Then he will anoint Jehu son of Nimshi to be king over Israel, and then he will anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel-Meholah to be prophet in his place.  God further notes that the one escaping the sword of Hazael will be put to death by Jehu, and the one escaping the sword of Jehu will be put to death by Elisha.

Sixth, God gives to Elijah fellowship.  God tells Elijah that he reserves seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.  Elijah thinks himself alone, and the devil would love nothing more than to keep Elijah thinking this, for isolation is a favored tactic of his.  God shows Elijah that he is not alone.  He has another seven thousand of like faith commitment as himself.  He will have the company of the redeemed in his ongoing walk with the Lord and in his ongoing ministerial labor.  Hence, we who are in Christ are not alone.

Some well-meaning Christians will tell you, if all be well between you and our triune God, then there will be no trial, difficulty, suffering, or overwhelmed state.  This, though well-intentioned, is untrue.  After all, Jesus Himself suffered while here.  He suffered hunger and thirst during His wilderness temptation.  He suffered fatigue at Jacob’s well in Samaria one mid-day.  Jesus suffered spiritually from the temptations in the wilderness.  He suffered in the garden of Gethsemane from the weight of His coming agony.  These sufferings, temporal and spiritual, meet to unspeakable degree at the Cross, where Jesus endured horrific physical agony and even greater spiritual agony at becoming sin for us—even though He knew no sin.  Jesus suffered like none other who walked the earth.

We are not above our Master.  We too will endure difficulty.  Yet let us recall these blessed consolations.  First, God Himself is with us.  In fact, one of Jesus’ Names, Immanuel, is a near-exact cognate of the Hebrew for God with us.  Moreover, He promises never to leave us or to forsake us (Joshua 1:5), even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).  Second, His mercies fail not.  They are new every morning; great is His faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).  We see numerous mercies to Elijah in his weakness.  These, and more according to our need and His delight, are ours as well.  Therefore, when we find ourselves at the end of ourselves, may we, by God’s grace, remember His presence with us and His mercies unto us—and may these gladden and strengthen our souls.

AMEN.

[1] For the mercies of God mentioned in this sermon—and Elijah’s physical and spiritual state—I am indebted to Dr. Tim Hudson, campus minister at Christian Campus Fellowship, The University of Georgia, in his teaching on this text delivered sometime in 1989.

 

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