The Lord is always encouraging us 1 Kings 19: 1-8 First St Johns August 9, 2015

[For the audio of this sermon please click on the above link)

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who make a faithful witness to Jesus said … AMEN!

My last sermon I talked about Noah, how God destroyed all the living creatures. Man had become entirely and irredeemably wicked and God had had enough. These people had gone over the top and God, unlike the world that is just in love with “tolerance” which it very loosely applies, God’s tolerance was exhausted. In today’s Old Testament reading we see the same thing on a lesser scale. Quick back story, Jezebel had become Queen of Israel. She was pretty obnoxious and over the top and her husband Ahab, was pretty much of a milk toast, “yes dear, no dear”. In direct defiance of God, Ahab allowed Jezebel to maintain a staff of 450 priests of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah. The Jewish Encyclopedia describes some of this “religion”: “there was placed side by side with the Ba’al a corresponding female symbol, the Ashtoreth (Babyl. “Ashtar”) and the relation between the two deities was set forth as the example and the motive of unbridled sensuality. The evil became all the worse when in the popular view Yhwh himself was regarded as one of the Ba’als.”[1] Of course this violates the first two of the ten commandments, you shall worship God and you shall not worship idols. Baal and Asherah are idols, they aren’t “gods”, some evidence would be that no one worships either of them anymore. If they were truly “god” they would certainly be powerful enough to assert their worship. Baal worship is described as: “This pagan nature worship was purposefully described with such graphic sexual language precisely because cult prostitution and sexual mysticism was a big part of the nature worship process. Sexual fertility cults and the desire for a corresponding agricultural fertility were weaved together into a pornographic nature worship scheme that corrupted the entire nation and its people.”[2] Sound familiar? Sound like the world today? It was, straight up, worship that not only allowed, but encouraged any sort of sexual practice. “in addition to sexual abandon, the worship of Baal also incorporated harsh ascetic practices into their nature worship as well. Ecstatic pleasure and bloody pain were used to propitiate the nature gods for the sake of fair weather (1 Kings 18:25-29). Thus, Baal nature worship was completely indulgent with regard to sexual mysticism on the one hand, but overly strict, harsh, and severe on the other hand with regard to ascetic practices, with occasional bouts of human sacrifice along the way (2 Kings 17:28-41).”[3] Obviously this is a violation of the seventh commandment, thou shalt not commit adultery. The commandment is about marital faithfulness and also about fornication, sex between two unmarried people. Obviously in our day and age, there isn’t a “church of Baal”, but the practices of our age are certainly all about what was practiced in Old Testament times by Baal worshippers.

God gave us the ten commandments. He wasn’t mumbling when He put them on stone tablets and gave them to Moses. God, Yahweh, God the Father of Jesus Christ is unequivocally perfect, perfectly holy and will not tolerate sin. We are all sinners, we all have our personal violations of the ten commandments, but we who are in Christ are forgiven, Jesus died for our sins and when we confess and repent of those sins, we are absolved of those sins, we have forgiveness because Jesus died to pay the price for those sins. But while there are those in the world who feel that any and everything should be tolerated, should be allowed, we who are Christians know that while there is sin, and there is forgiveness, that we also offend and fail God the Father when we commit these sins. God will not tolerate anyone who simply flouts His commandments and chooses to do whatever he or she pleases to do. The world around us, tells us that’s silly, but the world has no hope, no promise, no other way to deal with it’s sin and those in the world die to those sins and are eternally condemned.

So we can wag our finger and cluck our tongue and presume to chastise God when He destroys the world because it has become so consumed with its sins, or we can take Him at His word. He gives us the hope and promise of eternal life, the world simply tells us to do what makes us happy and that’s just ok. When you die, you’re dead whatever happens then, well tough luck! A little back story, you might remember, how Elijah set up a challenge with Baal’s prophets? We each sacrifice an ox, I’m sure you’ve seen how huge an ox is, we lay it on the altar and whichever God completely consumes the ox with fire, then that God must truly be God. Well Baal’s priests dance around for hours, finally drop from exhaustion, and nothing, big old bagel, zero, nada. Elijah had a great time just kicking back and telling the priests of Baal how messed up this is. Hey! Baal’s so great, what’s the problem? How come he can’t just burn up an ox? Finally Elijah takes his turn, says a short prayer of about fifty words, then woosh “…Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil and also licked up the water in the trench.” (1 Kings 18:38) Kind of God’s way of putting an exclamation point on the whole event. Then Elijah, following God’s directions, I’m sure with his own men, drives about 990 priests and prophets of Baal and Asherah down the mountain they were on to a creek and kills them all. A little harsh? Not really. These priests along with the queen Jezebel are determined to impose these enormously sinful practices on Yahweh’s people, the people of Israel, essentially condemning them to eternal death and Yahweh will not tolerate it! No more than He tolerates the same behavior today. But, praise God, we have salvation in Jesus, He is our strength, our power, our Elijah who keeps His people away from these grossly immoral practices. He is our redemption, the One who paid the price for our sin. For homework this week, read 1 Kings 18:16-40.

But it does show what a gross biblical ignorance and illiteracy there is today, when you have people, who probably aren’t Christians, making up stereotypes about Christian pastors and Christians in general. Furthermore you see how they are treated by the world in today’s reading. We aren’t to tolerate the gross immorality that we see around us today, we are to speak out. When non-Christians try to stereotype you and basically tell you to shut up, keep it to yourself, they say Christians are supposed to be meek and humble. Well first off they don’t know what they’re talking about. Jesus had no problems holding people accountable for sexual and other sins. John the Baptist called Herod out for marrying his brother’s wife. Heck by today’s standards, that’s a pretty venal sin.  John the Baptist had no problem calling out one of the most powerful men in the country and he lost his head for it. Paul certainly didn’t pull any punches with churches like the Corinthians.

Elijah was faithful to God and His direction, not to the world’s opinion. Elijah was driven out by the world, harassed by the world, and Christians are and will be today. Not because the world is right, but because the world is hateful and ignorant and will do whatever it takes to shut a faithful person up. But God strengthens and encourages us. Can you imagine how Elijah felt? He had been hounded, driven away, threatened with death. He feels abandoned, alone, feels as if he is the only one of Yahweh’s people left. An angel wakes him up, one of Yahweh’s powerful warrior angels, provides him with food and water and rest, and also to remind him that God is watching over him, just as He watches over us when we take an unpopular stand for His Son Jesus and Jesus’ church. The world loves drama, it loves to spite God, it loves to have its own way and it hates anyone who is faithful to the Lord Jesus. We have to accept that, deal with that and trust that God will provide and protect us as He did with Elijah and continue to be a faithful witness to Him in a world that is increasingly hostile to Jesus.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom.

[1] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/2236-ba-al-and-ba-al-worship

[2] http://www.theignorantfishermen.com/2010/12/baalisms-suicidal-nature-worship-and.html

[3] Ibid

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