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JUNE 19 2016 ELIJAH PART THREE

Elijah Part Three

 

Who is the greatest of all the prophets in the Old Testament? That would have to be Elijah. He appeared on the mount of transfiguration with Moses and spoke with Jesus. Jesus Himself was thought to be Elijah because of the miracles that he performed. John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah.

 

We have been considering his life and have found his life to be quite instructive to our own. Last week we looked at his experiences in the wilderness and gathered that:

 

  • God takes care of his servants. He does so both naturally and supernaturally.
  • God’s judgment upon the world reaches even the innocent. Do not be surprised when difficult times come. Yet trust Him!
  • God’s people must follow God’s direction even when it is not agreeable to flesh and blood. If you recall, Elijah was commanded to leave his safe and secure place at the brook Cherith and travel 90 or so miles by foot in the midst of a severe drought to a foreign nation that was idolatrous. It was the land of his enemy, Jezebel, and her father was the king of that land. But Elijah obeyed and went. God’s people must follow God’s direction even when it is not agreeable to flesh and blood. This is a hard truth to embrace by people in the West since we are so accustomed to having self-centered lives. Yet, it is not about us. It is not about you or your feelings. It is not about you not getting what you want out of life! It is about the Lord and how you have been directed to serve and obey Him. Let us all be more like Elijah! God’s people must follow God’s direction even when it is not agreeable to flesh and blood.

 

This morning our Scripture reading is I Kings 17:17-24.

 

Elijah was commanded to dwell with, and to be taken care of, by a heathen widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. When he first meets her she tells him that she only has enough flour for a tiny loaf of bread, which she planned to eat with her son and they foresaw their own death, since there was a famine in the land.

 

God miraculously made the flour and the oil last for months, maybe a year thus far in our story. The text tells us little about what transpired in the widow’s home. But, knowing God, knowing Elijah, and knowing something about the widow we can surmise with confidence the nature of their time together.

 

[I.] All went well for a long while but, eventually, matters turn.

[A.] Knowing God, the state of the widow’s soul was a concern to Him and God desires to see her made right with Him. In the book of Jonah the prophet is commanded to go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it. He runs away because he hates the Ninevites. After all, if he preaches against them they might repent and avoid the judgment of God! Jonah tries to avoid his responsibility but you know the story. He cannot. Three days in the putrid, stinking belly of a giant fish changes his mind. He preaches. Nineveh repents. God has compassion on them. Jonah gets angry. He wanted them to experience the wrath of God!

 

How does God teach Jonah? He makes a vine to grow to cover Jonah in the blistering heat. Then it dies. Then we read:

 

            And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

(Jonah 4:10-11 ESV)

 

God cares about the lost of every nation. He has pity on them. Indeed, the events recorded in Jonah take place not too long after the ministry of Elijah. God cared about this widow and he sent Elijah to her not merely to care for Elijah. For, is it not obvious that he could have had an Israelite woman to feed and provide drink for Elijah? But Jesus said,

 

            But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.

(Luke 4:25-26 ESV)

 

God cared about this woman’s soul.

 

[B.] Knowing Elijah, he would have spoken to this widow about Yahweh, the true God. We can imagine she, Elijah, and her son eating their meals together and around that dinner table Elijah speaking of Yahweh, sin, righteousness, and judgment. He would have explained to her that God was merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6) who would forgive iniquity and sin for those who come to him in faith and trust.

 

[C.] Knowing the widow, she would have listened to him with interest. After all, the Lord had somehow communicated to her that she was to feed this man and she saw the miracle day after day after day of the oil that did not run dry and the flour that did not run out. Consider!

 

  • God had given her a dream or some other communication.
  • She served a prophet.
  • She heard the words of God, not just once per week, as we are accustomed, but daily.
  • She observed miracles not just on a television, but before her eyes.

 

She was a woman of piety. She was religious. She knew something of the true God. Despite all this, she was full of doubt and had not yet fully given herself in faith to God.

 

But, we get ahead of ourselves. We can perceive that all was well in this household. Food, drink, and pleasant company were present while all around, in both Sidon and in Israel, famine, drought and death reigned. God’s protection was around these three.

 

Then her son becomes ill. His illness becomes severe and he dies. All went well for a long while but matters turned for the worse. Is this not the experience of most? This is our lot in life. Sin has invaded our world and no one escapes its power and influence completely. Sickness and death are a result of sin.

 

I will never forget, shortly after moving from one state to another when I was 30 years old, meeting a woman my age. Even at 30 I already had gone through more than one difficult time and the Lord had used one of those trials to bring me to faith. I was having a conversation with this lady and was sharing my experience and how the Lord uses difficult times to sometimes awaken us to our slumber with regard to spiritual realities. I asked her about the trials that she had in her life. She replied that she not had any! According to her, ever since she was child everything was just fine and life went so smoothly. I was speechless. Surely, that woman’s experience is as rare as a four-leaf clover. I do not doubt that there are people like her. Yet, I cannot help but think that such a condition is not to be desired. We are not what we ought to be. None of us! Until things get shaken up in our lives, we will be content to just go along in our ignorance of God and play with mud balls when delights of heaven await neglected. Most are blind to their own sin until the Lord slaps them in the face! We need our faces slapped!

 

I hope things are going well for you now. But, eventually, things will turn. This is what happened to the widow.

 

[II.] Calamity makes us aware of our sin. Look at the response of the widow to the tragic death of her son.

 

            And she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!”

(1 Kings 17:18 ESV)

 

It is a mercy not to remain in an unbroken condition. This widow needed to be broken. She was broken when her husband died. That experience may have made her ready to hear God. Most shut their ears to God.  She needed not only to hear God, but to allow his words to move her, to remove her doubts and to open her eyes to her own condition.

She needed to be broken again. It is a mercy to be taken out of self-deception and to see the truth about ourself. For her to “remember” her sin means both that she had repressed her sin – had not dealt with sin and its consequences – and that she as yet did not have forgiveness.

 

There are two reactions that people have to calamity. They either blame God or they call out to God for mercy.

 

The widow blamed God. She says to Elijah, “You caused the death of my son.” In her mind, Elijah represented God. She calls him “man of God.” By blaming Elijah she was blaming God. Need I say that this is the wrong course? Oh! How much better to trust God and call out for his mercy!

 

Still, God will use even this woman’s waywardness to her and Elijah’s benefit. God understood her sorrow. She lost her only child. She lost the child she loved, the only person in her life that was meaningful to her. God understood that her heart was broken…because He broke it. He broke it but he will mend it once the calamity has done its work.

 

[III.] The intercession of God’s person changes everything. Elijah prays.

 

            And he cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?”

(1 Kings 17:20 ESV)

 

This is a rhetorical question. Elijah is not asking to know an answer. He is recognizing and affirming the sovereign hand of God. It may be that Satan is the immediate cause of the child’s death. But, as we learn in the book of Job, even the devil must get permission from God to do harm. Job affirmed that the Lord is the one who gives life and takes away life (Job 1:21). God himself says He is the one who makes one person see and another person blind, one person speak and one person mute, one person hear and another person deaf (Exodus 4:11).

 

Then he prays at least three times (probably more!), “O Yahweh my God, let this child’s life come into him again!”  (vs. 21) The Lord listened, meaning He heeded the urgent and heartfelt request of Elijah. He breathed life back into the child.

 

How true the words of James,

 

            The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

(James 5:16 ESV)

 

James uses Elijah as an example. Why? Just to exalt Elijah? No! So, that we, as God’s people will pray and see the hand of God bring life out of death!

 

Elijah was God’s person. But you are God’s person, too! The intercession of God’s person changes everything. Your intercession can change someone else’s circumstance by bringing God’s power to bear. Your prayer can change your circumstance by bringing life into the place of death.

 

Do not think that you are too insignificant or too weak for your prayer to be heard. There was a mother of a four year-old girl who became deathly ill. Her physicians told her that she would not live. She would die soon. Her little daughter heard this and was bright for her age. She understood what death was. Thankfully, this little girl was taught well. She went into an adjoining room, knelt down and said, “Dear Lord Jesus, O make my mother well again!” After praying this simple prayer, she changed her voice and made it as deep as she could and said, as though God were speaking, “Yes, my dear child, I will do it gladly.” She rose up joyfully and ran to her mother’s bed and said, “Mother, you will get well!” And she did! She not only recovered, but lived a long life afterward. That little girl imitating the voice of God was her way of believing that she had received the answer that she prayed for.

 

It is not your imagined significance or lack thereof. It is not your spiritual strength. It is simple obedience with simple faith. The adjective is “simple,” not “great,” not “perfect,” not “powerful.” The power is not in you. It is in the Lord. You call out simply as did Elijah and as did the little four year-old.

 

Call out and see the hand of God!

 

[IV. Conclusion and Application] Who are you in this account? Someone in this true story represents you. Maybe you are the child. You are gravely ill. So much so that, actually, you are dead. You have no spiritual life at all. You can do nothing for yourself as far as your condition before a holy God is concerned. You need someone to pray for you, to cry out on your behalf, to implore God to give you life. Maybe a friend or relative has been doing that. And, maybe not. If you have been called of God, there is Someone Who has assuredly done it. That is the Lord Jesus Christ. His prayers are mightier than Elijah’s! If that is you all you need to do is receive the life that God has for you. Your prayer can be, “Lord, I receive what you have for me! I leave my old life behind. I begin life anew this very day!” In this age, this simply means that you begin following the Lord Jesus Christ in new life, turning away from all known sin for that is what brought you to death.

 

Maybe you are the widow. You have a semblance of religion. You know who the true God is. You know who the Messiah is. You listen to the words of God. You even obey God much of the time. You fulfill your responsibilities. You assemble around the “dinner table” on Sundays. Yet, you have never truly dealt with your sins. You have doubts about whether you are forgiven. You do not truly know that God is here. If so, now is the time to put away those doubts and commit yourself fully to the Lord Jesus Christ. Stop living a halfway life. That is what the widow was doing. She had one foot in Sidon and one foot among God’s people. Give yourself completely and know that God has spoken through Elijah, through Moses, and through the Lord Jesus Christ. The widow received what was most precious to her – the life of her son. You will receive what is most precious to you – the life of God’s Son.

 

Maybe you are Elijah. You are a servant of God. Things have been going well. You minister to others and they minister to you. Then calamity comes. It is time to cry out to God not once, not twice, but three times. Cry out! The prayer of a righteous person has great power! Elijah’s faith was like that four year-old girl’s faith. Your faith can be like their faith. Simple faith!

 

If you are like Elijah then choose two things. Determine the most important need of someone you know and cry out to God concerning it until “the Lord listens” to you. Also, determine the most important need that you have. Cry out to God concerning it until the Lord answers.

 

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.