A FEW GOOD MEN SERMON SERIES
AGAINST ALL GODS – ELIJAH
HOW TO STAND UP IN DIFFICULT TIMES
MAY 22, 1994
About four years ago Lisa and I traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada. For a convention, let me add. While we were in Las Vegas one of the biggest fights of the decade was taking place, a bout that featured Sugar Ray Leonard against Thomas “the hit man” Hearns. The pre-fight hype had hit a fever pitch level led by boxing icon and promoter, Don King. Talk on the street was, who you were betting on, who was going to win. And everyone had their opinion. I tried to get tickets, however they were kind of out of my price range. Wwe are talking about $500 a ticket! But the fight definitely lived up to its billing because it was one of the greatest boxing matches of the decade.
Today, though, all of you, that’s right, all of you have ringside seats to a bout that would make that championship bout in Las Vegas look like a scuffle on an elementary school playground. You’ve got tickets to a bout that occurred about 3000 years ago, not in Las Vegas but on Mt. Carmel. In fact, if Don King would have been living 3000 years ago, he might have called this fight, “The Cosmic Conflict On Carmel”. As we watch this match we are going to get up close and personal to one of the fighters. We are going to watch his punches in slow motion, because this man is one of God’s true gladiators. His name is Elijah. And Elijah, through this nip and tuck battle, is going to reveal to us how to stand up in difficult times. I am not sure if you have noticed it yet but life if full of difficult times. We can’t dodge them, we can’t run from them, they are right here at us. Just for a moment think about a difficult situation you are in at this very moment. Just for a second, think about it. It could be in a relationship, at work, maybe in your home. It could be a business transaction, it could be problems with your thought life. Whatever it is, just think about it.
This match takes place in I Kings 18, so take your scripture outlines, they are disguised there in your bulletins, probably the last insert that you have. You will see the title AGAINST ALL GODS, that is your scripture outline. All these scriptures are from the New International Version except there is one from the New American Standard. But I want us all to be reading from the same translation, and the same page.
Let’s set the situation and set the stage for this match. You’ll see the first verse there, which is verse 16, says that “Ahab went to meet Elijah.” Well, this begins round one. And after every round I am going to share with you a principle that we can learn, that we need to know about standing up. So after I have described round one, then I will come back to the principle, then you take your pen or pencil, fill in the word and we can move on.
Round one. The Bible says that Ahab saw Elijah. First question. Who in the world is Ahab? Ahab was the king in Israel and he had great potential. However, he made a serious mistake. The decision was to marry a lady named Jezebel, and it was the last decision old Ahab ever made. Jezebel was beautiful, rebellious, ruthless and involved in something called Baal worship. Baal worship centered around power, sex, lust. Baal was the fire god and Jezebel was really into it. She was into it so much that old Ahab adopted Baal worship as the state religion of Israel. Here we have God’s king, God’s nation, and they had kind of iced Him out, elbowed Him out, and now they are putting in Baal worship. Who ran the country? Jezebel. Might that sound familiar to anybody? (laughter) I just wanted to see if you all were listening. (more laughter) Anyway, Jezebel did not like the priests and the followers of the Lord. And she and Ahab had hundreds of them murdered, massacred.
It was in such a climate that God’s gladiator, our man Elijah, bursts onto the scene and he confronts these two. He says, “Because of your rebellion, because you are following Baal, and because you have kicked out the true God, it is not going to rain for three and one-half years in Palestine.” Ahab and Jezebel said, “Yea, right, right, you Hebrew hillbilly. Leave us alone.” And Elijah runs off. They do not see Elijah for three and one-half years. Guess what happens. It does not rain for three and one-half years. And this sets the stage for this encounter. Here is old Ahab walking around Israel. It has been declared a national disaster area, the whole nation, dead carcass of livestock, the flies. And all the brooks and the rivers had dried up. He is really feeling depressed and then he hears that Elijah is in the area. And Elijah, through, a servant meets Ahab and that brings us to our text in round one. Ahab went to meet Elijah, “When he saw Elijah”, circle the word saw. When he saw him, I guarantee you Ahab thought about how many times he had messed up. He thought about the fact that he disobeyed God and married an ungodly woman. And I have seen this occur in so many different lives throughout my ministry, people marrying the wrong person, an ungodly person. Ninety-nine point ninety-nine percent of the time it does not work, because the ungodly party in the relationship will slowly drag the godly party down and then the formerly godly person will end up in the Baal worship thing. Baal worship is not some old day, ancient deal, it can be a modern day situation. I know many people who are worshiping Baal while I speak, the Baals of pleasure, the Baals of power, the Baals of lust. I believe we can look around and point our fingers and say, hey, that’s Baal worship, that’s 90’s Baal worship. Baal worship is something that has happened ever since the fall of man. So Ahab was reminded of that as he saw God’s prophet, that he had messed up, he had married the wrong person. Then he was reminded that he had killed, he had massacred God’s followers. Elijah reminded him of his sin. And you can tell when they locked eyes, the battle was happening.
As a kid growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, I used to venture down to Township Auditorium to watch professional wrestling. I used to marvel at Chief WaHoo MacDaniel. Nature boy, wow, Rick Flare. And, of course, Johnny “the hammer” Ballentine. We would go to Township Auditorium and wait. We would get so excited when we knew the battle was beginning. And we knew the matches would begin once a little man with white hair would stand up and slowly make his way to the ring apron, take a hammer and hit that bell four times, Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang. And then the announcer would say, “OK, Columbia, South Carolina, let’s welcome professional wrestling.” And the crowd would go nuts. If that little man with the white hair had been living during this time, when he saw old Ahab and when he saw old Elijah lock eyes, he would Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang and say, “The battle has begun, sports fans.”
And here, our man Ahab tried to start out with the first punch which is really weak. He said to him, “Elijah, is that you, you troubler of Israel?” You see Ahab was doing something that I like to do and you like to do when we are confronted with our sin. We want to point the finger at someone else. It’s your fault, you are the one who made me do it, and we make excuses. We like to point out in other peoples lives, problems and rebellions, oftentimes that are problems and rebellions in our own lives, don’t we? Maybe in a marital situation, maybe in a business partnership, we point the finger. Elijah, though, returns this punch. Elijah says, “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. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel.” This could be kind if the pre-fight press conference. He is going, “OK Ahab, you, me, the prophets of Baal, Carmel, let’s do it, let’s get it on. “And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” This shows you how prevalent Baal worship was, 850 people dined at the table of Ahab and Jezebel, every day. Asherah was the female counterpart of Baal. So Elijah, this Hebrew hillbilly, God’s gladiator, he puts down the gauntlet and says, “OK we are going for it.”
Mount Carmel. What is the principle here? Round one. Standing up leads to conflict. That’s the principle. Standing up leads to conflict. If you stand up for God, if you follow the Lord Jesus Christ, you will have conflict, I will have conflict. If you are not experiencing some conflict right now in your life, then something is wrong. Something is wrong. Because when you stand you are going to do battle. That is why the Christian life is called warfare. That is why it is referred to by the Apostle Paul as a wrestling match. It is a battle. Light and darkness. You will meet those Ahabs, you will meet those Jezebels, you will meet those people who will try to throw stones at you, shoot arrows at you, talk behind your back, because you are standing. Are you experiencing conflict? Are you?
Let’s go to the second round. The second round takes place in verse 20. The Bible says; So Ahab sent a message. Highlight that word message. Highlight that word message, circle it, put an exclamation point by it. So Ahab sent a message among all the sons of Israel, and brought the prophets together at Mount Carmel. The Christian life, ladies and gentlemen, is a swim upstream. It really is. And you should feel the current pushing against you.
About five years ago I went trout fishing in Colorado. I was with a friend of mine who is an expert fly-fisherman, and I had never fly-fished before, especially in conditions like this. I stepped into the waters with these waders on and ooooh, I was down stream. I started laughing and he said, “Ed, it is going to take you a couple of hours to get your river legs.” And he taught me how to walk against the current. And for four days, while I was fly-fishing, I had to walk against the current, I felt the push, I felt the drive.
As I was studying the text this past week I thought about the Christian life, that’s that conflict, that’s that push. But also the second principle in round two. Standing up sends a message. Standing up sends a message, because people are watching you, they are watching me. Scores and scores of people, they know we are Christian, they know we follow the Lord Jesus Christ and when we come to an opportunity to either stand or to falter, to have courage or to cower, they watch and see. Is this stuff for real, is this man truly a man of God, is this woman truly a woman of God? Round two. Here is what happened. Ahab sent a message to the entire nation. Mount Carmel. Mount Carmel, 17,000 feet. It juts out over the Mediterranean, it would make the Mirage look bad. Flowering trees and greenery still grows there today. The nation of Israel packed the Mount. They were probably serving camel dogs and everything. And maybe a modern day boxing announcer might have said this. “Welcome to the Cosmic Conflict at Carmel. In this corner fighting out of Satan’s camp, they have on the white robes, the gold medallions, let’s put our hands together, the bad boys from Baal. Their opponent, the sole solitary figure, God’s gladiator, the Hebrew hillbilly, he is wearing the camel hair coat with the leather belt, Elijah.” And then they come together and they fight.
Get the picture now. On one side you have the prophets of Baal, 450 of them. They are ready to go. And behind them are the prophets of Asherah, “Go, go, beat Jehovah, go go.” And they begin to look at Elijah and they begin this conflict. They have on long white robes, pointed hats and they wore giant gold medallions that reflected the sun and these medallions would embarrass any modern-day rapper. Remember Baal was the god of the sun, god of fire, and for this reason they wore these giant medallions. So here they are dressed in this beautiful attire with all the regalia. On the other hand is our man, Elijah, hadn’t bathed in three or four days, rack head you know, kind of those steely eyes. But the people watched, they really watched. And look at the message they saw from God’s man. One man or one woman plus God equals a majority. I don’t care if you are facing 400 modern day prophets of Baal and 400 modern day prophets of Asherah, one plus the Lord equals a majority and that is great news. Many times we face situations, you know, when the peer pressure begins to circle, like a school of tiger sharks. What do you do? You rely on God. Standing up sends a message.
Let’s go to round three. Round three begins. Elijah went before the people and said (this is a classic, classic verse and phrase) “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” Or let’s say it this way, you do Satan a favor if you waver. Elijah walks up to the entire nation of Israel and he says how long are you going to waver between two opinions. You see the people, they wanted to put one foot in Baal worship, sensuality, pleasure, materialism, bowing down and worshiping those gods but at the same time they wanted to accommodate a little bit of Jehovah, a little bit of the Lord, and kind of mesh everything together. But Elijah said no. That is making a mockery of God. That is committing cosmic treason. And when he put this question to the people, how long will you waver, listen to their response. “But the people said nothing.” But the people said nothing. Are you wavering between two opinions? It will get you nowhere.
Every week my wife and I have a date and one of the biggest challenges we face is choosing the restaurant. We’ll drive around. “Lisa, where do you want to eat, honey.” “No, where do you want to eat.” “Well, really where you want to eat is where I want to eat.” “No, where you…..” And we will waste 25 minutes! This past week I drove with some guys here in this church from Branson, Missouri to Bull Shoals, Arkansas. We had a map, but none of us had a clue where we were going. None of us had a good sense of direction and we were too macho to ask anyone for advice. And we drove for over three hours down a long, winding road to nowhere. If you waver, if you say, well I am going to follow God some, and follow Baal some, it will nail you. And this is what happened in round three.
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. But the people said nothing.” They were sideline people, sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the dust to settle. Sound familiar? ‘Well, once the battle takes place, Elijah, then we will see which side we are on.’ Then Elijah said to them, ‘Am I the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has 450 prophets?’ Then he says, ‘Get two bulls for us.’ I’m thinking, Elijah, where are the gloves, you’re talking about two bulls, what is the deal here? Elijah said this, “You know, Baal boys, your god is a god of fire, right?” They go, “Yes, he’s the god of fire.” He said, “Let’s do a challenge. You take one bull, I’ll take one bull, I’ll let you go first. You build an altar, cut the bull up into pieces, you pray and if your god answers by fire, he is the true god, or if my God answers by fire after I build a sacrifice, well He’s the true God.” And the Baal boys go, “Oh, no problem, we’ll win.” So they take the bull, chop him up, put him on the altar and they begin to pray and dance and cut themselves, blood flowing. They are going crazy, standing on the altar, jumping up and down. No one was home. This went on for hours and hours and hours, and I love what old Elijah said, because you thought trash talking was a 90’s thing? Listen to what Elijah said. At noon, Elijah began to taunt them, “Shout louder”, he said, “surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought or busy, or traveling.” (laughter) You laugh, let me tell you what this means in the original Hebrew. Most translators were afraid to really translate what this phrase meant. Elijah was saying maybe Baal is in the men’s room or maybe Asherah is in the ladies room. That’s what the Bible says. The bad boys from Baal didn’t like that, but nothing happened.
Elijah said “Ok, calm down, nothing has happened.” Then he takes the bull. He built, the Bible says in the original text, he rebuilt the altar, and how many people here need to rebuild an altar of commitment, of love, of worship to God in our families. He rebuilt the altar, put the bull on it, and at the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah steps forward, circle those words, steps forward and prayed. He was praying that God would answer by fire to show who was the true God. He had the people drench his sacrifice three times with water, water was dripping off of it, dripping over into a trench around the altar. Then, boom, God answers by fire. All the water, all the sacrifice, the altar is consumed. And guess what the children of Israel did. “All right, we were with you God, we were there all the time. Hallelujah, praise God. I knew, I knew, I knew He was the one.” And they began to do the wave, and all that stuff, and “Oh, yes, we follow you Lord.” That sounds just like humans, doesn’t it. See these humans, I feel so sorry for them, the children of Israel, they missed an opportunity to really step out on faith, to really do what God wanted them to do, to say OK I am with you, God has done so many great things for our nation, for our people. I have seen Him guide us, I have seen Him direct us. But they stood over. They waited and then when everything looked cool, “OK we are with you God.” You know what scares me? This is going to happen in some of your lives over the next year, exactly what happened to the children of Israel, it will happen to your life. Many here, over the next year. What am I talking about? Our church, The Fellowship of Las Colinas, has been blessed in an awesome way. Like few churches I have heard about or seen. And we have just purchased 159 acres where five major freeways come together. And we in this next year or year and a half are going to build on that property, our first phase. And it is time for God’s people to give, to say I am following God, I believe in God’s vision, I am going to give of my time, of my talents and of my treasure. And a lot of us will get in on it, we will sacrifice, we will give. But some will sit over here, on the sidelines, and kind of wait for the dust to settle. And then when all these people have sacrificed and prayed and given and the building is there, you will come off of the sidelines and out on the field and say, “Oh yeah, I was with you the whole time, Ed. Sure we were with you Fellowship of Los Colinas. Oh, I didn’t give anything, I didn’t pray, I didn’t sacrifice. Oh, isn’t this great, this building here, man alive, thousands of people are being saved, thousands of peoples lives are being touched, I was with you, oh yeah, I was there.” Will you let that happen to you? Please don’t, I beg you don’t, I’ve been there before, I’ve blown it before, so have you. Take advantage of this opportunity.
And here is the third principle. Standing up demands a decision. Standing up demands a decision. And the question I ask you today is this, how long will you waver between two opinions? If God is God, serve Him, follow Him, in your marriage, in your finances, in your relationships, emotionally, spiritually, follow Him. If Baal is god, go ahead and follow him. Don’t try to be someone you are not. Either say I am in or I am out.
So we have learned today three valuable truths, something we really need to know from these three rounds. Now I want to tell you what you need to do. It is great to know these things but what do I need to do? I came across a verse this week that blew me away. The last verse on this outline. James 5:17. “Elijah was a man just like us.” Is that a powerful verse? Elijah was a man just like us. Ah. That gives me some relief, doesn’t it? Elijah through his life, inspired by the Holy Spirit, I believe, is leading us to do three things. First, we have got to be pray-pared. That is right, we have got to be pray-pared. This is the story of Elijah. Elijah did not walk around and then one day, oh, man, we have a conflict at Carmel. Oh, oh, dear God, please give me the strength, I hope we win the battle, Lord, please answer by fire, please, please, please. He didn’t do that. Read and study his life. He walked with God, he talked with God, he knew where God wanted him to move, he knew when he wanted him to stand, he knew when he wanted him to relax, and to replenish himself. But because he walked with Him, because he was pray-pared, he was ready. And he was pray-pared, and pray-pared himself in the out-of-the-way places. I am talking about back on the hillside, away from all the crowd. And because he pray-pared himself in the small things, when he got to the major league thing he was ready to go.
Number two. Be available. Be pray-pared, number one. Number two, be available. God is not concerned about your ability, He is concerned about your availability. Elijah was a man just like me, just like you. And how often, have I done this? Again, I have sat on this proverbial stool and I have said; oh there is no way I can do that, I don’t have the ability to stand up for three services and say this and lead you. You’ve done the same thing before. God is not concerned about that. We are just whining. God says, “Ed, if you are available.” “Elijah, if you are available.” “Susan, if you are available.” What can He do? He can take an ordinary human being and use us in extraordinary ways. That’s Elijah. Are you available? We should live our lives in this posture, with our hands upward toward heaven saying OK God, I am available. No, I don’t know the words today, but I am available. And watch what happens.
Number three, be decisive. Elijah was decisive. He stepped out there. He took a risk. He followed God. He was decisive. A good friend of mine has been a part of this church for three years. In fact, when our church only had less that 100 members, he and his family joined this church even though we didn’t have a lot of stuff going on for the family. Now we do, we have many, many activities for the kids. If you are knee-high to tree-high, we have it all here. But he joined and took a step of faith and I watched this man and his leadership grow and move within our church. About eight months ago he came to me and he said, “Ed, I have an incredible opportunity to move to Chicago.” And this man was the CEO of a company here, a very successful company that does over $50 million in sales a year. But he was going to Chicago for even a better deal. And so he left. It was very tough to see him go. And he was in Chicago and lived up there for about two months when he felt he had made a bad choice. I mean a bad choice. He said, “Ed, I feel like I am out of God’s will.” And so, this man, you talk about standing up, walked before he superiors, of which he has only a few, and he told them, I have a higher calling first of all to God, secondly to my family and thirdly to The Fellowship of Las Colinas and I am giving up this position and moving back to the metroplex. And he did. And God has blessed his life in a mighty, mighty way. You talk about sending a message to people. You talk about making a decision. He can tell you. But he would say these words, and I would say these words to you, it is worth it. It is worth it. So church, who are you going to serve – God or Baal? How long will you waver between two opinions?