Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity September 27, 1998
1 Kings 18:20-40
So Ahab sent for all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together on Mount Carmel. And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people answered him not a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I alone am left a prophet of the LORD; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Therefore let them give us two bulls; and let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other bull, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it. Then you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD; and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” So all the people answered and said, “It is well spoken.” Now Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one bull for yourselves and prepare it first, for you are many; and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it.” So they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, “O Baal, hear us!” But there was no voice; no one answered. Then they leaped about the altar which they had made. And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they cried aloud, and cut themselves, as was their custom, with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them. And when midday was past, they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice. But there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention. Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down. And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, “Israel shall be your name.” Then with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD; and he made a trench around the altar large enough to hold two seahs of seed. And he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood, and said, “Fill four waterpots with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice and on the wood.” Then he said, “Do it a second time,” and they did it a second time; and he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. So the water ran all around the altar; and he also filled the trench with water. And it came to pass, at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, “LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that You are the LORD God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.” Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The LORD, He is God! The LORD, He is God!” And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal! Do not let one of them escape!” So they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Brook Kishon and executed them there.
In the name of the triune God, who stands above all things as Lord of heaven and earth, dear Christian friends, dear fellow redeemed.
They say that competition is healthy in some areas of life. It’s good, for example, to have competition in the market place. Competition between factories and businesses is good for the economy and ultimately good for your pocket book. It results in lower prices, a wider variety of products, and better quality of goods and services. If we had no competition, then businesses might become monopolies. And monopolies would lead to poorer products at higher prices. Competition forces businesses and factories to do what’s right for you and me, the consumer.
There is one place, however, where competition is no good, totally ineffective, even harmful. You cannot let your soul become a market place where you bid for the best possible god. You can’t go shopping for a bargain religion. Here the monopoly of Christ is the only way to go. In your everyday life you switch brands of soap or cereal or toothpaste all the time. But in your spiritual life, switching to a different “brand” of god would be foolish and fatal. We need the reminder of our text: the Lord stands alone as the only God there is!
It sounds like an obvious thing to say that the triune God is the only God there is. Doesn’t everyone know that? Doesn’t everyone believe that? Well, it may surprise you to know that only 25% of the world’s population claims to be Christian. That means only 1 out of 4 people believe that the triune God is the real God. Even in our own country we have the Muslim who believes in Allah, the Jew who rejects Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the evolutionist who denies the Creator, and many others who offer a brand of God other than the God of Christianity.
What shall we make of this? Are they all legitimate Gods who compete for the hearts of people? You know the answer, don’t you. You’ve heard what the Scripture says on this: “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; besides Me there is no God.’” (Isaiah 44:6) The Lord God makes the claim that He alone is God. He has no equals. He has no rivals worthy of our attention. Unfortunately, that truth does not stop people from inventing gods of their own liking. Much to God’s displeasure, He is in constant competition with man-made idols.
We could try to understand this from God’s point of view. Here the Lord had created the world with man as the center of His loving attention. Here He had promised a Savior when man fell into sin. To fulfill that promise, He had chosen the nation of Israel and led them safely through every obstacle which they faced. He had proven His dependability over and over again; yet they decided to try some other god. They were willing to follow Baal—a totally foolish choice since Baal was nothing. The Jews had every reason to hang in there with Jehovah, but they let the Lord go for the sake of a worthless idol. Now how do you think God feels when He’s despised and rejected like that? He has every right to be upset with His people. They’re being so foolish and rebellious. They’re trading the real thing for a fake and a fraud. They’re committing the sin of idolatry, which God forbids when He says, “I am the LORD, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images.” (Is. 42:8)
Man has always created an unhealthy, unwanted competition with God by running after the false gods of idolatry. The Jews did this centuries ago, and people continue the same practice today. The Muslim, the Hindu, the Mormon, and the Jehovah’s Witness are all breaking the First Commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods.” They do it by replacing the true God with some altered version, a god like Allah who does not exist or the idea that God is separate from Jesus Christ.
However, we’d be very careless and negligent if we looked at the idolatry of other people and failed to notice our own. So let’s pose the question. Are we guilty of idolatry? In all fairness we must say that we don’t bow down to Allah. We are not Hindu or Mormon. But what about the lure of money? What about our love for fun and pleasure? What about our attitude toward work and business? What about ourselves and our personal relationships? Here’s the key test that you and I should apply to our own situation. Whatever you love the most, whatever drives you, whatever controls your life and your actions—that is in essence your god. For most people, their god is themselves. You can tell by the way they act. They won’t let God tell them what to do. They’ll do their own thing. We fit this category too. Every time you insist on doing things your way rather than God’s way, you’re breaking the First Commandment. You’re committing that sin of idolatry by loving yourself more than God.
So we shouldn’t look at the ancient Jews as a bunch of fools. We should view them as a mirror reflection of ourselves. No, we don’t have a stone idol named Baal. But we do have the Almighty Dollar, we do have the love of ourselves. We turn family, fun, and work into an idol of some degree. We’ve all let something else compete with God for the attention of our hearts. Thankfully, God does not treat us the same way that we treat Him. Instead He has a loving plan to cure the problem that we have. God will demonstrate His qualifications as the one true God and convince us that He’s the only God there is.
We’re in the middle of the campaign season. Two candidates will square off and try to show the voters that they are the right man for the job. In a couple of weeks, we’ll see a few presidential debates on TV. The debates can become a test of the candidate’s worth. Now going back to the moment of our text, we see the challenge that Elijah raises with the people of Israel and the prophets of Baal. Elijah said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” Were they going to see a debate between two legitimate candidates? I don’t think so. They were going to see an expose of a fraud and a revelation of the truth. They were going to see that Baal was a waste of time and Jehovah was the only God there is.
It must have been quite a spectacle. 450 prophets yelling the same prayer for hours and hours, dancing around the altar, cutting themselves until they bled. Elijah had to point out how silly this was: “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.” That statement reveals something about human nature. Man will remake God according to his sinful image. Man will always create idols that act like men. But over and above this worthless idolatry, God would stand tall. God would stand all by Himself, with no rival to take His place, no competitor who could possibly outdo Him. Notice what Elijah does to make the power of God stand out. He commands that the altar and the sacrifice be soaked with water three times. There would be no mistaking the miraculous power of the triune God. The outcome of this story is a ringing tribute: “The fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench.”
Have you ever noticed? God has a way of doing big things on mountains and hilltops. At Mt. Carmel He flexed His muscle and demonstrated His almighty power. At Mt. Sinai He gave to Moses and to us the Ten Commandments. On the hill of Calvary, He revealed His grace. He carried out, once and for all, the sacrifice of Jesus. Through that sacrifice He punished, once and for all, the sins that we have done. Now that’s unusual. That should jump out at you as a very striking feature of God. We commit the sin, but God doesn’t say, “Make up for your sin,” as the false religions of idolatry claim. He transfers our guilt and our punishment to His Son. We deserve the penalty, but Jesus takes the penalty for us. Now that’s different! That’s unusual. That, dear Christians, is the Lord God keeping His promise. That, my friends, is the Lord God proving His grace.
You have a God of unlimited power… and it isn’t your money. You have a God of unlimited love… and it isn’t your family. You have a God you can trust completely. How do you know? Because He talks to you and tells you the truth. Unlike the Baal of old, unlike the Allah of today, this God in the Bible is not made up. Moses did not invent Jehovah. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not create some myth about Jesus. God and His Son and the Holy Spirit have always existed. This triune God has come to us with all the goods. He tells us who He is and through the Bible He shows us what He does. The Bible serves as an accurate testimony. The Bible is God’s resume. It declares the objective facts of who God is, and those facts do all the convincing. God’s record is crystal clear. He has proven Himself. He has demonstrated His qualifications as the one true God, yes, the only God there is.
With the football season underway, we get to see our favorite teams in action. We get to see how they stack up against the competition. Nebraska vs. Michigan State. Nebraska vs. Arizona State. Nebraska vs. Colorado. In each case there’s a rival team on the field, with every right to be there, every right to play the game and see if they can pull off the upset. However, when God faces His rivals, there’s simply no contest. It isn’t even close. God vs. Baal? There is no Baal. God vs. Allah? There is no Allah. God vs. evolution? There is no evolution. God stands alone. He’s the only competitor. He’s the monopoly who will do wondrous things for us. Therefore He deserves our complete loyalty as His “fans,” better yet, His faithful followers.
Do you understand what God deserves from you? Let’s be clear on this. God is worthy of your constant adoration, your praise and worship, your everyday obedience. We should applaud what He has done in our life. We should be in a constant mode of thanksgiving and prayer. God deserves your heart. If He has that, everything else falls into place. If we respect Him above all things, if we love Him above all things, then our words of praise and thanks, our worship, and our obedience will surely follow. The trouble is—our heart has other ideas. Our sinful flesh gets in the way and goes after those modern-day idols that we mentioned before. The loyalty that God deserves, we fail to give.
But God has a way of fixing that. He doesn’t force you into submission with threats of punishment. He works from the inside out. He grabs hold of your heart and molds it with faith. He flushes out the idolatry with His love and His grace. The loyalty that He rightly deserves from us, He actually creates within us. Look what happened in the case of the Jews. Elijah prayed, “Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that You are the LORD God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.”
God will turn our hearts back to Himself. When the heart is filled with doubt, God will come with the truth. He will convince us through the powerful truth of His Word. When the heart is filled with guilt over sin and the fear of God’s judgment, God will break through and attract us to Himself. He does it through His Son. He shows you Jesus on the cross—the sure reason that your sins are forgiven, the sure reason that you are claimed as God’s child and God’s follower. And by the way, when God claims you as His follower, He leads you to become His follower. He turns you by the Spirit and renews in your heart and mind the loyalty that He deserves.
So let’s stop and compare God to every possible idol that we have. Compare Jesus to your money, your work, your fun and yourself. There’s only one conclusion to draw: no comparison, no contest. The Savior will outdo and outlove and outbless every earthly thing and every human person. It’s time to recognize how great the Lord is. It’s time to realize how worthless the idols are. It’s time to see that the Lord stands alone. He’s the only God there is. He has proven Himself again and again. He is worthy of the #1 place in our heart and the #1 place in our life. Let’s consider it our privilege to give Him what He deserves. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.