The title of our sermon today is “The LORD is God.” It comes from Elijah’s famous admonition of the nation of Isreal when he said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” You can’t serve both Baal and God. Choose. Jesus said you can’t serve God and money. Choose. John said, “Keep away from idols.” (1 John 5:21). Choose. James warned about double-mindedness (1:5-8). Choose. Make up your mind and choose who you will serve.
What is going on in 1 Kings 18? It is the famous “showdown” between the famous prophet Elijah and the hundreds of pagan prophets. Elijah is the prophet who called down fire from heaven, and was taken up to heaven in fire. It is said that though taken up to heaven he was to return before Christ would appear.
The situation is this: Israel was led out of Egypt by God, planted in the land, protected by God through judges. Then Israel wanted a king, so Saul was their first king, then David, then Solomon. After Solomon the nation split into two kingdoms: the northern and southern kingdom.
After a long list of kings, King Ahab is now ruling over the northern kingdom, Israel. Ahab is literally the worst king in Israel’s history, which is saying something (16:29-33). As judgment against him the prophet Elijah told him there would be no rain in the land unless he said so (17:1). As a result, Ahab wanted to kill the prophet and so Elijah became a hunted man on the run. Ahab searched the four corners of the world for him (17:2 – 18:14) without success. Then in chapter 18 Elijah presents himself to Ahab and calls for a contest. In order to turn the hearts of the people back to God Elijah wants a showdown between himself and all 850 false prophets in the land. Yes: one man verse 850. Its another version of David and Goliath. They would basically setup two altars: one for God and one for Baal, then each would call upon their God and see which one responded. Spoiler alert: Baal did not respond, and God did. Dramatically too.
We’re going to go under 4 headings: 1) Calling A Contest, 2) The Sound of Silence, 3) The Fire of God, and 4) The results. The we’ll go into Communion.
(1) CALLING A CONTEST (16-24)
First we see Elijah calls for a contest. Follow along in verses 16-24.
See first the boldness of Elijah. So Elijah comes to Ahab without flinching, without the slightest trepidation. Ahab calls him a troublemaker and Elijah retorts “No pal, you’re the troublemaker!” This kind of fearlessness on Elijah’s part is directly related to his confidence in God and his faith that God is with Him. Like David before Goliath, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego before Nebuchadnezzar, and Elijah before Ahab, anyone who knows God is with them will fear absolutely no man.
APPLICATION: Overcome fear of man by faith in God.
Second we see the rules of the contest. There were two opposing sides, two altars, two bulls. On one side was 850 pagan prophets of Baal. On the other side was one single, solitary man. But he was no ordinary man, he was a man of God, God’s man.
APPLICATION: Victory is not in numbers! It lies with God. He needs no man, nor an army of men to triumph.
Third, pay attention to the purpose of the contest. Notice verse 21, “Elijah went before the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” Turning the hearts of the Israelites back to God – that was the purpose of this contest. They had been captured by false worship and idolatry and this whole episode was meant to powerfully display to the Israelites the One God is the One whom they should worship.
APPLICATION: Do not be double-minded. Elijah rebukes them for being double-minded. We should not be double-minded. “You cannot serve both God and money.” “Do not This was the problem throughout Israel’s history: not so much that they rejected God and traded him in for different gods. But often they just added other gods alongside him and worshipped other gods along with worshipping him. This was a violation of the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Don’t place any gods above him, before him in importance, but also “before me” as in “in my presence and in my proximity.”
(2) THE SOUND OF SILENCE (25-29)
Now we see the Sound of Silence. Read 25-29…
Oh there was a lot of noise for sure. But not one peep from their god. Crickets.
First they spent the whole morning from breakfast til lunch calling upon Baal. They danced their pagan dance around the altar as the sun rose higher and higher and shouted and summoned and invoked and invited and did everything they could to get Baal’s attention. But the only sound from heaven was silence. It reminds you of the camp of Israel at the base of Mount Sinai while Moses was up with God getting the 10 commandments. It says in Exodus 32 they got impatient waiting and so they made a golden calf and began a huge party: there was singing and dancing and drunken revelry around the calf as they worshipped it.
Of course, in addition to the prophets’ noise, Elijah was making a lot of noise too: taunting them and ridiculing them. I imagine him relaxing in a beach chair, sunglasses, sunscreen on his nose, sipping some iced tea, laughing and shaking his head amused by all the pagan idiocy going on. “Call louder boys! Wake him up! He can’t hear you. Go on, make a bigger fuss. Maybe he’s lost in thought, maybe he’s busy (relieving himself), or away on vacation! Come on now, fellas – louder!”
Insulted and angered, the prophets kick their pagan ritual into high gear. They start shouting louder and then in a common pagan practice they began to slash themselves. One commentator describes an ancient practice among pagan prophets where groups of them would holler and wail and scream and run around wildly, dragging their hair on the ground and moving in circles. Then they would start to bite their arms and bleed, then use their swords to cut themselves all over their bodies, until it climaxed with wild confessions of sin and begging their god or goddess to answer them. The whole ritual was to get the attention of their deity, and make their deity willing to answer them by mutilating their own bodies for their sins in case they were preventing them from being heard.
APPLICATION: God hears someone who comes to Him through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, who is walking in obedience to His commands. God does not hear someone because they’ve sufficiently beat themselves up. That doesn’t “move” God. He doesn’t hear someone because they’ve ritualistically cut themselves and bled all over. He doesn’t hear anyone who literally crucifies himself on a cross at easter like you see every year in some countries. He doesn’t hear anyone who carries out the Catholic practice of self-mortification or self-flagellation, the process of using a whip on yourself, or a sharp-spiked strap wrapped tight around your leg or any other means of self-harm or self-suffering. A little more common among Evangelicals is the practice of self-mortifying through “Oh, I’m so bad I could never forgive myself. I know God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself.” It’s a form of self-flagellation in your conscience. All of this to one degree or another is akin to what pagan prophets do in cutting themselves so their god will have pity on them and forgive them.
APPLICATION: When you worship false gods you will incorporate false worship methods. Cutting yourself was not something God commanded the Israelites to do. They learned that foreign practice when they started worshipping foreign gods. True worship methods comes from worshipping the true God.
(3)THE FIRE OF GOD (30-38)
Third we see the Fire of God. Read 30-38…
It may be that this incident is the basis for the Apostles John and James asking Jesus if he wanted *them* to call fire down from heaven on a Samaritan town that was unwelcoming. Our God is a consuming fire” Hebrews 12:29 declares. Jesus’s eyes are like blazing fire in Revelation 1. Revelation 20 says that at the end of the Millennial Kingdom of Jesus’ reign on earth Jerusalem will be surrounded by the armies of the world and fire will come down from heaven and consume them (20:9).
So Elijah has had enough. He stands up and tells the false prophets to take a break. He calls the Israelites closer – they probably backed away. And I would too if I saw how crazy all those prophets had been acting. Or maybe people just started getting bored and wandering off. Either way, Elijah wants them all to come up real close and see what he’s doing.
He gets his altar built up: twelve stones – one for each tribe in Israel. He gets the bull prepped. No one with a lighter or anything flammable is allowed near it. Then he orders them to soak it. Soak it with water. Not once. Not twice. But three times they drench the whole setup using four large jars of water. That’s a total of 12 times the altar and sacrifice were drenched – one for each tribe of Israel.
You have to imagine the looks on their faces. Confused. Maybe giggling at Elijah. Curious. Maybe awed. Anticipation was building.
You have to imagine the look on Elijah’s face. There was not hint of fear, no hint of doubt, no hint of “will this work?” He wasn’t crossing his fingers hoping. He was a man with absolute certainty that God was about to answer him when he called.
And what a call. I want you to notice first and foremost that Elijah’s concern is that the people see God. Verse 36, “Let it be known today that YOU are God in Israel….” Verse 37, “Answer me, LORD, answer me SO these people will know that YOU, Lord, are God…” It is all about getting people to see God. It was John the Baptist, “I must decrease, you, O God must increase.” (John 3) It was the Apostle Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Its the natural world all around us, as Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Look AT God! Look TO God!
But where the eyes are, the heart is. Elijah is praying that the Israelites would repent. Verse 37, “and that you are turning their hearts back again.” He wants them to see that God is turning their hearts back.
How is he doing that? By overwhelming them with a display of terrifying power. Verse 38 says, “The fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil and licked up the water in the trench.” What did Hebrews 12 say again? Quoting Deuteronomy 4 it says, “Our God is a consuming fire.” Indeed he is.
Talking about the nations surrounding Jerusalem in the future at the end of the MK, Revelation 20:9 says “Fire came down from heaven and devoured them.” Second Peter 3 says that “the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire” (7), and “the heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire” (10), and then in verse 12 says, “That day [Day of the Lord] will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire and the elements will melt in its heat.” God’s fire is coming. First Corinthians 3 says that when we stand before Christ and our works are judged by fire and that the FIRE will test the quality of each man’s work.
(4)THE RESULTS (39-46)
First, the Israelites repent. Notice verse 39…. Shock and awe. Overwhelming force. The response is almost automatic. Fall in terror on the ground and cry out: “The LORD – He is God! The LORD – He is God! Don’t kill us!” Here’s the point: If the point of the contest was to turn their hearts back to him and make them forsake Baal and follow God only then….it worked!
You’re seeing here that characteristic of Jews where they really respond to power. First Corinthians 1 says, “Jews demand signs [power], Greek look for wisdom.” How many times reading the Gospels do you see the Pharisees saying to Jesus, “Show us a sign and prove you’re from God.” Nicodemus said in John 3, “Jesus, we know you’re from God because no one could do the miraculous signs you’re doing if God was not with him.” Peter told the crowd of Jews on Pentecost, “Jesus was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, signs and wonders, which God did among you through Him.” It doesn’t mean that Gentiles don’t look for miracles, power or signs either. It’s just that Jews are particularly desirous of signs. Well did God give them a sign that day at Mount Carmel when Elijah prayed!
Second, the false prophets are slaughtered. As they should’ve been. They were responsible for blaspheming God, promoting idolatry among the Israelites, and altogether arousing the jealous wrath of God. Just like the Law of Moses commanded, they should be killed. Just to be clear: we don’t kill false teachers today as the Church. God will do that on Judgment Day. Today we cut them to pieces with the sword of truth: the word of God.
Third, the rain returns (v45). Remember, this all got started because Elijah stopped it from raining in Israel and evil King Ahab was hunting him down for it. Here’s the key in all this: Baal, the false god that the Israelites were committing idolatry with, and king Ahab was promoting in the nation, and the false prophets were leading the people to worship – Baal was the god of rain. So not only has Baal been humiliated at this contest, but for 3 ½ years he had been humiliated because as the god of rain he couldn’t make it rain when the God of Israel said “No rain.” And you know why? Because the God of Israel is the true God of rain.
- God is the Judge and He will judge.
- God wants rebels to repent
- Turn your own heart to God.
***Is there a better way to lead us into communion than turning our hearts towards God?