Allen Jackson - Which Side Are You On? - Part 1
We're working through a series under the theme of "Spiritual Warfare And The End Times". The Bible is a presentation of spiritual conflict from the opening chapters of Genesis to the conclusion in the book of Revelation. But there are some unique attributes of spiritual warfare as we approach the end of the age. We get some specific instructions, much like the specific instructions that Jesus gave his disciples around that last visit to Jerusalem. And so we're given some very specific information. We've been really processing some of the fundamentals of that.
I wanna continue that in this session. The theme for this one is, "Which Side Are You On"? It's a very important question. It will determine your role in time, and it will determine your role in eternity. And I don't know that all the information we've been given is helpful. And I'm gonna acknowledge, usually when I build a series like this I'll kind of outline the separate sessions in general before we start so I have at least some sense of direction. I know that's not always apparent, but in my imagination, it lives large.
From time to time, our daily Bible reading kind of interrupts that for me a little bit. Doesn't take me off theme, it just breaks my plan, which is annoying. And the Bible reading we're doing right now, we're working through the historical books, 1 Kings and 2 Kings, and we're getting a lot of the history, and as I've been doing the reading, I usually try to stay just a day or two ahead of the larger crew. Every time I would read it, it seemed to speak to this topic.
So I changed my pattern a little. You wouldn't know that it still fits under the theme, but it's really taken out of what you're about to read this week in your daily readings, because I think it speaks to this notion of spiritual warfare in a very pragmatic way. I'd like to introduce it. Last weekend I mentioned to you the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, whose legacy was one of appeasement. He felt like the best thing he could do was appease evil. So he negotiated month after month, year after year, more and more of Europe into the hands of Nazi Germany until finally it was intolerable. And they selected another prime minister by the name, you've probably heard of him, Winston Churchill.
Now he had the responsibility of unraveling what Chamberlain had put together, and he led Britain to victory through World War II. Remarkable character, kind of cantankerous, a bit grumpy, wasn't particularly welcome until there was a crisis, and they recognized in him a strength, and he was invited into a position of leadership. I'll spare you an extended history lesson but I will share with you a few of his quotes. Many of them you've probably heard, the most notably, I'm sure you've heard this quote, and it came from him, he said it to the British people. His message is to the British people, galvanized them and enabled them to survive what was necessary to win that war. But the most outstanding perhaps was the statement, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself".
I pulled some of his lesser known quotes 'cause they made me smile. He said, "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm". Sounds about right. "For a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself by the handle". If you don't understand that when you go home today, get a bucket, okay. He said to the nation, "This is not the time for ease and comfort, it is time to dare and endure". Seems appropriate for us today. And I'll give you one more. He said, "If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find we have lost the future".
I don't respect those that are trying to divide us because of our past. I believe it is one of the poorest forms of leadership. And we need to be aware and awake. I would suggest to you that it's time for us in the American church to make an attitude shift. We have been practicing appeasement for several decades. I say that as someone who's lived his life to a great extent in the church. We are world class appeasers, and I would submit it's time to begin to become advocates for the truth. It's a bit more of an assertive posture. I believe without doubt, for us to flourish and survive what is before us, we'll have to find a willingness to say, no to ungodliness. It'll have to begin in our homes, we'll have to have the courage to do it around our tables.
We have winked at, accommodated, encouraged, participated in, covered over, we've had all sorts of excuses and reasons, but we haven't had the courage to begin that at our kitchen tables. But we'll have to go beyond that, we'll have to do it in our churches, in our schools, in our places of business, wherever the Lord provides us with the opportunity. You see, the awkward truth is we've spent decades now accommodating evil. We've even developed a culture and a language of capitulation. You'll recognize it when you hear it. It flourishes around you if you aren't yourself a participant. You know, we say things like, well, we just don't talk about faith or politics. Hmm. We're to separate the church and the state.
I've noticed that's a very one-sided assertion. The state has no intention of separating itself from the church. They just want the church to stay out of their business. Or maybe we'll say, "We don't wanna offend unbelievers, we wanna build bridges of understanding". Hmm. "We don't wanna be judgmental". There's very few things you're gonna be accused of these days in the public square that seem to be more diminishing than to be accused of being judgy. Ooh. To the point that we don't say shoplifting is wrong while they loot our stores. Folks, we have lost our balance. Or perhaps you'll hear somebody say, "Well, aren't we, after all, all of us sinners saved by grace? What right do I have to stand up for right and wrong"?
Well, I would suggest that our cowardice combined with very little fear of God has resulted in a church that is both anemic and, to a great extent, feckless. So I have some questions today, and we're gonna process 'em through scripture. Do you believe our faith belongs in the public square? Should our... you don't have to answer. I'm grateful that you're willing to, there'll be a test later. Do we believe our faith should affect how we do business or is the greatest profit we can get our hands on the goal? What about, does our faith impact how we select leaders? And if so, how? Should we discuss our beliefs at work? Should churches engage in discussions regarding current events?
I assure you that that set of questions if you address them to the historic church, even the church in the book of Acts, they would've thought you had lost your balance. It seemed self-apparent to those previous generations. Well, as I said, our Bible reading these days is taking us through the historical books, and I wanna go there with you to 1 Kings 18. There's a snapshot, I believe, a biblical presentation of spiritual warfare and current events because I believe what we're watching happen in our world is a result of what's happening in the heavens.
Now, I understand in the church, we'd rather have a seminar and talk about whether angels exist or demons exist, or what principalities and powers are, and we would be happy to do an eight week course and fill in the blanks, and learn some Greek and Hebrew verbs and some words, and understand the culture of the first century or the tenth century BC, and we would feel like we had accomplished something. And I'm an advocate for learning. I've spent a good deal of my life in academic settings trying to learn facts and information, but the point of facts and information is to help you make a spiritual impact with your life.
And I don't believe we've been nearly as zealous for that because that's a little sloppier. It's a messier business. There is risk involved. And if you're having an academic debate, the only risk, perhaps, involved is you get the answer wrong, maybe you get a bad score, or you raise your hand and you say something and then other people think you're a little simple. But those aren't really great risks. That's a very protected environment. And if you think courage is filling in the blank on a Bible study, you need to read your Bible more carefully.
So I wanna spend a few minutes and invite you back with me into the narrative to watch what spiritual warfare looks like in the context of real life. To see if we could understand what that might imply for our generation. Because we're gonna meet our heroes one day, and they're gonna ask us questions about what we did, not about what we thought about what they did. Do you understand the difference? Okay, well, the king is Ahab, the prophet is Elijah. We talked about this in a good deal of detail in a previous session, but Ahab in the Bible is the gold standard for wicked.
The Bible says that, that's not my opinion. I mean, that's not exactly the language, but that's the message. That of all the kings of Israel, the nation of Israel has been divided. There was a civil war, same geographic footprint, but now there's two nations. And the northern kingdom is called Israel and the capital of Israel is Samaria and the southern kingdom is called Judah and the capital of Judah is Jerusalem. Ahab is king of Israel of the northern kingdom. And of all the kings of Israel, he's the most wicked. Wouldn't you love to make the book for that? And Elijah happens to be one of the people God tags with responding to Ahab.
Now, it's worth noting before we even look at the text, God gave people the assignment to respond to wickedness. You'll need to think about that a little bit. Well, in 1 Kings 18 and verse 1, Elijah had gone to the king and he said, "Because of your wickedness, it's not gonna rain". Which in plain language means the economy's gonna be destroyed. The people are gonna starve, your wealth is going to evaporate. Poverty is coming to the nation because of your wickedness, and it won't rain again until I tell you it will. Well, there you go.
Now it was a great enough threat to the nation that Elijah had to go into hiding for three years. He had to hide in a ravine, had to hide in the home of a widow. See, I wonder if we're willing to serve the Lord when there are consequences or if we imagine that the consequences for serving Lord is enduring a long sermon. I mean, I know you have to do that and I appreciate your great courage and boldness. It says, "After a long time, in the third year, the word of the Lord came to Elijah: 'Go and present yourself to Ahab and I'll send rain on the land.' So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab".
Elijah goes in search of the king. He has a message for him again. So I just wanna point out, Elijah is not merely a private intercessor. He doesn't just spend his time in the prayer closet, and I'm not opposed to that, nor is he simply a student of scripture, nor is he just gathering his disciples together to discuss the character of God, all appropriate things, but you cannot understand his assignment in those contexts alone. And I'm gonna continue to suggest to you that what's been presented to us as expressions of our faith is incomplete.
There's a different response that is anticipated in scripture from a person of faith. And if I had to summarize it in a word, I would choose engaged. There's someone who is engaged in the world in which they live. Jesus was, the apostle Paul was, King David was, Moses was, Elijah is going to be as we will see in a moment, the church throughout the book of Acts was. This notion that we can huddle in our buildings and can convene our classes and do our polite little projects and not engage the world in which we live did not come from the Lord.
Now let's push on. We're gonna look at a response of some people of faith and courage. Same chapter. The next verse is, "Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria". No kidding, if it hadn't rained for three years and you're an agricultural society, you got a problem. You have a real problem. "Ahab had summoned Obadiah". Obadiah works for the king. "His palace administrator". And then in parenthesis, the author of Kings gives us a little biographical information about Obadiah. He says, "(Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord. While Jezebel, the queen was killing off the Lord's prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water.)"
Now, there's no emotion given around that, there's no response suggested to the reader, but I want us to imagine we're in that circumstance, he works in the palace, he's the palace administrator. The order of the king being enforced by the queen is to kill any prophet of God. Anybody that will speak on God's behalf should be murdered. And Obadiah hears that, he takes 100 people that he knows that fit that description and he hides them and provides food and water. Does courage sound right? Boldness? He's put everything on the line. What do you think happens to Obadiah if one out of 100 people leaks that message? One sloppy sentence, one hint makes it back to the king. His life won't last out the day.
Now, let's not stop there. Same chapter verse 7, "As Obadiah is walking along," the king sends him to look for Elijah. "Elijah met him, and Obadiah recognized him, he bowed down to the ground, and said, 'Is it really you, my Lord Elijah?' 'Yes. Go tell your master, "Elijah is here".' And Obadiah says, 'What have I done wrong, that you're handing your servant over to Ahab to be put to death?'" "Why would you set me up like that"? "As surely as the Lord your God lives, there's not a nation or a kingdom where my master has not sent someone to look for you. And whenever a nation or a kingdom claimed you were not there, he made them swear that they couldn't find you".
I wanted you to see the intensity with which Ahab's been searching for Elijah. Being willing to confront evil meant a total disruption of his life. A total realignment of his plans, of his purposes, of his calendar. You're processing that? I think most of us imagine we would like to do significant things in the kingdom of God, but we would like God to fit it into the open spaces we present. We don't want him to intrude on the things that we have planned. In fact, we talk about our lives in terms of our plans, and my schedule, and my dreams and we get most annoyed with God if he ever has the audacity to intrude on our schedule or our dreams. Or if he disrupts our timeline, after all, I had planned by this point in my life, and then you can fill in the blanks.
And I simply want us to acknowledge that the plain presentation in the text is that God said, "Elijah, I'm gonna need a three-year block of your time. And I'm not gonna put you at the Waldorf, you gotta go hang out in a ravine. I'll send some birds to feed you". I bet he didn't even have good Wi-Fi coverage. Can you imagine? So now Obadiah is saying, "You know, he's been looking for you everywhere, he's left no stone unturned in the surrounding nations. And now you wanna put me in the middle of this"? Verse 11, "But now you tell me to go to my master and say, 'Elijah is here.' I don't know where the Spirit of the Lord may carry you when I leave. If I go and tell Ahab and he doesn't find you, he'll kill me.'"
He's not confused. "Yet I your servant have worshiped the Lord since my youth. Haven't you heard, my Lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets? I hid a hundred of the Lord's prophets in caves, supplied them with food and water. And now you tell me to go to my master and say, 'Elijah's here.' He'll kill me"! I mean, he's serious. Do you hear it in him? And he's like, "What are you talking about"? "And Elijah said, 'As the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today.'"
Now, you can read it, you can understand but Obadiah serving in the palace and standing for the Lord's people. I want you to hear that. Because sometimes I think we imagine that the only way we can honor the Lord is to withdraw from those places. And he is serving the most wicked king in Israel's history but he's doing the right thing. He's got everything on the line. He hasn't capitulated. He's not saying, "I'm just gonna stay close to the king 'cause somebody's got to be here". He is serving the Lord in the midst of that wickedness. That's a hard job, could we agree? There would be things you would see and be exposed to on a daily basis that would be emotionally and spiritually stressful.
And Obadiah, even when standing for the Lord, it's very clear that he is living with the tension of evil close at hand. He understands that he faces death for any misstep, and yet he stays there. Wow. Wow. Elijah and Obadiah have very different assignments but both are important and each requires courage. When we talk about spiritual warfare and what it means to stand up for the truth, understand it's not one size fits all but each one will take courage, each one will take discernment, each one will take some boldness. We've been far too guilty. I think social media has exacerbated this to an unhealthy degree.
You know, we desire to live other people's lives. Stop it. God created us uniquely. We're, every one, different. We have different gifts and different talents and different abilities. It is an idea that does not come from God that we should all be the same and have the same thing and do the same thing and be the same way. Stop competing with your neighbors. I've suggested it before, but I'll give it to you again. If you've been doing that, you know, if you're in competition who's got the biggest TV? Who's got the biggest deck on the lawnmower? Who's taken the best vacations? Whose kids have had the most or done the most or been the most or seen the most, here's my suggestion, go stand in your driveway today just like we did to the four corners of the compass a few moments ago, and to take your neighborhood and declare the people to the north, the winner.
"I surrender. You vacation more prodigiously than I do". Then face the south. "You have the biggest TV, I surrender". Face the east, "Your kids are amazing. God bless them". Withdraw from the competition, it will help. And we bring a little bit of that into our service of the Lord. We see somebody, "I wanna do that, I wanna be them". God's given us, every one, a place to stand, and my experience is it will take everything you have to stand in the place God has called you to.
Verse 16, Obadiah takes the instruction, "Obadiah went to Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah. And when he saw Elijah, he said to him, 'Is that you, you troubler of Israel?' Elijah said, 'I haven't 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. And bring the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table.'"
I think it's worth noting that Ahab, when he sees Elijah, accuses Elijah. And my observation is that evil typically accuses those who oppose them. And they accuse the righteous of being divisive. Ahab refuses to acknowledge his sin and the impact of his leadership, he simply will not do it. The problem can't be him, it can't be his choices. Now, it's important to remember this entire story is taking place under the umbrella of the covenant people of God. This isn't like God's people and the pagans, these are all people who understand the covenant. They know their heritage, they know the story. They know about the plagues in Egypt. They know about the Exodus, they know about the parting of the Red Sea. They know about the manna in the wilderness and the water from the rock, and they know about Mount Sinai and the ten Commandments, and they know the stories of Joshua and Jericho, this is their heritage.
So all of this is happening with a willful determination to make a change, to say, "The traditions that have bound us are no longer sufficient to give us what we want. We're gonna behave in a new way. We're more enlightened, we're more aware, we're more awake, we're better informed. We don't need to be bound by the traditions that have bound us". Gee, that doesn't sound familiar. Spiritual warfare is not a new thing, it's not a 21st-century thing neither is it out of date in the 21st century. The same forces, the same authority that were driving it in Israel are driving it in our world today.
Elijah called the nation to repentance. They were God's people, God's covenant people. They kept the right holidays, they ate the right foods, they worshiped in the right places, they had all the pieces in place but their hearts were divided. I think we're in that same place as a nation, and rather than point our fingers at somebody else, I think we need to begin by saying to the Lord, "Forgive me for having a divided heart". We've lived with one foot in the world and one foot in the church or one foot in the kingdom of God. It's time for us to change. God's moving and I wanna be a part. Let's pray:
Father, thank you that you called us out of the kingdom of darkness and have brought us into the kingdom of your Son. Now, forgive us when we have been double-minded. We choose you today with our whole heart, our whole mind, our whole soul. We wanna worship you completely. In Jesus's name, amen.