Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | August 19, 2012

Sermon on 1 Kings 19:3-8

We’re no different than Elijah

  • Order of Service: Common Service, p15
  • Lessons: 1 Kings 19:3-8, Ephesians 4:30-5:2, John 6:41-51
  • Hymns: 34:2-3, 310:8-14, 309, 169

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

Elijah ran for his life.  Why did he run?  What caused such fear?  It was the note sent by the Queen of Israel, Jezebel.  She told Elijah, “You killed my prophets, tomorrow you’ll die.”  So Elijah ran, because Jezebel made no empty threats.  She had already killed a number of the LORD’s prophets and pastors.  So Elijah ran.  He ran south.  He ran 90 miles south from Jezreel to Beersheba.  Then from Beersheba he went another day south. Into the desert.  Alone.  He left the country to escape Jezebel’s assassins.

What must the prophet have been thinking?  Days before he won one of the great victories of all time.  Elijah represented Team True God against the 450 prophets of Baal in a winner-take-all struggle on Mt. Carmel.  The challenge?  Which God would manifest himself first and send fire to eat up a sacrifice?  The prize?  Whichever God proved himself true, that God Israel would follow.  As I hope you know, it turned out to be no contest.  The prophets of Baal danced and shouted and sang.  They cut themselves with knives.  And Baal did nothing.  Because Baal is nothing.  Elijah prayed to the LORD and the LORD sent fire from heaven.  And the people cried out, The LORD – He is God!  The LORD – He is God (1 Kings 18:39, NIV84).  Then they killed all 450 prophets of Baal.  Afterwards, Elijah confronted Ahab, a candidate for worst and most sinful king ever, and said, “The LORD is God and He will finally send rain to end this drought!”  And rain came for the first time in three years, and while Ahab rode in his war chariot back to Jezreel, the LORD gave Elijah the strength to beat him back on foot.

After all that, perhaps Elijah expected sweeping reforms.  The people would rise up against the worship of the false gods.  Either Ahab would return to the worship of the LORD and get rid of the wicked Jezebel, or the people would rise up.  The hiding prophets would come out of hiding and speak the LORD’s Word once more.  It would be the greatest Reformation until the Reformation!

But it didn’t happen.  Ahab went home and whined to Jezebel about Elijah.  Jezebel sent her note to Elijah.  The people remained mired in Baal worship.  And Elijah, the faithful prophet of God, ran for his life.  He’s ready to quit.  He feels burned out.  He despairs.  And He prays for death: I have had enough LORD.  Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors (1 Kings 19:4, NIV84).

“That’s it, I’ve had enough.”  If we polled pastors throughout our Synod, no doubt they’ve uttered those words.  “I’ve had enough; no one’s listening to my sermons.”  “I’ve had enough, these couples won’t stop divorcing.”  “I’ve had enough; they just won’t come back to church.”  “I’ve had enough, no matter what I say Bible class attendance just stays the same.”  I’ve had enough.  I’ve tried my best.

What fuels such frustration?  On the surface, it emanates from trusting the power of God’s Word.  The Spirit says that faith comes from hearing the message and that connected to Christ people bear fruits of faith.  Rightly we expect our ministry to bear fruit.  Rightly we expect church attendance, Bible class attendance, a desire for the Sacrament, faithful offerings, etc.  It is good and right to expect such.  But likely, like Elijah, we expect more.  We expect each sermon to produce a Reformation.  We expect every encouragement to change hearts.  We expect each new idea to be met with cheers and mobs of new faces in church and classes.  We expect heaven to break into earth.  And we expect it right now.  It’s almost as if we don’t reckon with the sinful nature.  Nor do we remember that trees grow slowly and at different speeds.

Pastors aren’t the only ones guilty of this.  Parents think much the same way about children.  They raise up their children in the training and instruction of the LORD, and then the results shock and dishearten.  Children act up.  Children make impulsive, even stupid, decisions.  Children run away from the home, from the parents, from the Word.  Children lose their faith.  And we say, “That’s it, I’ve had enough!  Let me go, Lord!  I’ve tried my hardest and I’ve failed!  Kill me now, Lord.”

And in some ways, it’s understandable.  How many times can you beat your head against the wall?  How many times do you preach the Word of Christ before shaking the dust off your feet?  Israel didn’t want to buy what Elijah was selling.  Why bother anymore?  Why not take it away?  And yet, what terrible thing does Elijah do?  He makes His mind into the LORD’s.  He’s decided that enough is enough.  Just as Jonah did, when he tried to run away from his job in Nineveh, and then grumbled afterwards when the LORD spared the city.  Elijah struggles.  Elijah fails.  Elijah gets depressed.  All things that happen this side of heaven.  But then Elijah quits.  He decides to judge hearts and minds and times.  And he quits.

More famous than this moment in Elijah’s life is what comes next.  Remember, Kings says that the second time the Angel woke Elijah, He told Elijah to get ready for a 40 day journey to Horeb, aka Mt. Sinai.  There the LORD asks Elijah, “What are you doing?”  And Elijah says, “I’ve tried my hardest.  I’ve done what you’ve asked.  But Israel hates you.  They kill your prophets.  I’m the only one left and they’re trying to kill me.”  There the LORD confronts Elijah in that still, small voice.  And in response, still Elijah says, “They hate you.  They hate me.  I’m the only one left.”  And God says, “No.  You’re not.  Seven thousand remain faithful.  I’m going to appoint a new, faithful king.  And I’m going to call an associate pastor for you.”

In other words, the LORD says to Elijah, “It’s not enough yet.  The work isn’t done.”  To communicate that message, the LORD had to overcome Elijah’s struggles and sins.  He did it by touching Elijah.  Go back 40 days, back to our text.  Elijah prays for death and goes to sleep, hoping to wake up in heaven.  An Angel wakes him up and directs him to food sent from God.  Elijah eats and goes back to sleep.  The Angel comes again.  Only this time the Spirit inspires the author to inform us that this is the Angel of the LORD.  We’ve run into this angel before.  The angel of the LORD rescued Hagar and Ishmael.  The angel of the LORD stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac.  The angel of the LORD spoke to Moses in the burning bush.  The angel of the LORD appeared to Deborah, Gideon, and Samson’s parents.  And because this Angel often says things only God can say and promises things only God can promise, we’re led to see the Angel of the LORD as more than just a created angel, but as God Himself.  And of the three Persons of the Trinity, whom might we suspect to act as the messenger of the LORD, the one who appears to folks throughout salvation history?  Why Christ, of course, Jesus, the Word made flesh, the One who comes from the Father with the Father’s Word to do the Father’s work.

Grasp that.  The Lord commands millions of angels.  His angels serve and help His people.  Angels saved Lot at Sodom.  Angels ministered to Christ at the end of His temptation and in Gethsemane.  But now, for Elijah, not just any created angel comes, but the uncreated Angel of the LORD.  The Living Bread from heaven comes with bread both physical and spiritual for Elijah.  He comes to refresh a depressed prophet.  His refreshing words challenge us, however:  Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you (1 Kings 19:7, NIV84).  How refreshing is that?  “You need this because the journey is too much for you.”  But it’s what we need.  We get depressed, worn out, burned out and call for death because we feel like we’ve done everything we can do and we’ve failed.  And Christ comes and says, “Yes, YOU failed.  But I don’t.  I won’t.  Take what I have to give you and you’ll succeed.”  Remember, we don’t live on bread alone, but on the words that come from the mouth of the Father.  They give life, both physical and spiritual.  The words and food of Christ strengthened Elijah for a journey to Sinai, and then for the ministry left to him, as he returns to face Ahab and Jezebel.  More than that, the LORD told Elijah, “Not by your power, but by My power.  I have kept thousands faithful.  I will punish the wicked.  You proclaim my word.”

So too we. We struggle just as much as the prophet.  And God touches us just as often.  He sends the Angel of the LORD to us, in the Word preached, in the Baptismal Word, in the Word fed to us in a never-ending miraculous meal of the Sacrament where we can eat as much as we desire with always plenty left for more.  And there He says, “Yes, you’re no different than Elijah.  On your own, you can’t do it.  Your journey is too much.  But I am here.  I am at your side.”  Thus Jesus says to you today, I am the bread that came down from heaven….  I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died.  But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world (John 6:41, 47-51, NIV84).  In the hunger of our sin, Christ feeds us with His life-giving flesh, sin-forgiving flesh, the flesh He gave on the cross for the life of the world.  Cling to that, believe in that, have faith in that.  Let that Bread refresh you in your struggles.  Let Christ touch you and give you strength for the struggles ahead, confident that He will produce the results He desires through the Word you live and proclaim.  Amen. 

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