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Watch 2022 online sermons » Dr. David Jeremiah » David Jeremiah - The Furnace of Faith

David Jeremiah - The Furnace of Faith

David Jeremiah - The Furnace of Faith
David Jeremiah - The Furnace of Faith
TOPICS: Someone Like You, Elijah, Faith, Trust

King George of England once visited a pottery factory to inspect the China that was being prepared for the Buckingham Palace. He noticed at one of the work stations that a young woman was painting the inside of all of the cups jet black. He couldn't understand this, for he had not placed, as far as he knew, any orders for black China cups. So, he asked to see the special cups that were being prepared for the Buckingham Palace, and when he asked they directed him back to the same work station where the young lady was painting the cups black inside. He obviously had a quizzical look on his face, and the worker explained that underneath the black was gold. And when the cups came through the fire, the black would burn off, and the gold would be burned in. That is exactly what God is doing in the life of Elijah. He's burning off the black, and he's burning in the gold. God is giving Elijah some great experiences.

And how many of you know experience is the best teacher? How many of you know that? That's true, isn't it? The problem is experience is a hard teacher for one reason: you don't get the lessons first and then take the test. You take the test first and get the lessons. And that's what's going on with Elijah. God is teaching Elijah to lean on him and then to learn from him, but the testing comes first, and the lessons come second. Now, If we knew what the lessons were, we'd be prepared for the test, but we don't know what the lessons are until the test comes, and that's one of the reasons why sometimes we're kind of befuddled when things happen in our lives, and God's working in our life, and we don't know what he's up to. He's giving us a test, and the lessons are coming.

The Bible says that Elijah was going to be sent to a place called Zarephath, and we'll see that in the Scripture in a moment. In the Hebrew language of the Old Testament, Zarephath means the smelting pot. God is in the process of burning off all of the black in Elijah's life and burning in all of the gold in Elijah's life because he needs him for a major assignment, and he's getting him ready. When we last left Elijah, he was dwelling at the Brook Cherith. There he seemed to be trusting God about as much as any man could in his situation. He was slurping water from a brook and eating from the beaks of the ravens. After a while, though, the brook became a stream, and then the stream became a creek, and then the creak became a trickle, and finally one morning there was nothing. And just when Elijah was at the end of his brook, the Bible says, "The Word of the Lord came to him, saying, 'Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow to provide for you.'"

In our story today, God is going to teach Elijah and us some lessons about faith. Take good notes. This is right from the Word of God. First thing that we're going to learn is that the requirements of faith may seem illogical. I mean, sometimes God tells us to do something by faith, and it doesn't make any sense. Of course, if God's instructions were totally logical, there wouldn't be any need for faith. If we could figure it all out, then faith would be unnecessary. When God met Elijah at the dried up brook, he told the prophet to do some things that on the surface just, they just don't make any sense at all. First of all, the path that he told him to get on was illogical. Verses 8 and 9, "And the word of the Lord came to him, to Elijah, saying, 'Go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there.'"

When the word of the Lord came to Elijah, he set off for Zarephath, which was 100 miles to the northwest. It was a place that he could only reach by traveling across the land, now watch this, in which his name was hated, and his life was in constant jeopardy. He had to elude the assassins who were working for Jezebel, who was trying to kill him and all the other prophets. He was hiding during the daylight hours, traveling under the cover of darkness, and always looking over his shoulder, taking a 100-mile trip on foot during a famine, while the queen is looking to kill you, does not make a whole lot of sense. Well, when we live by faith, sometimes we're asked to do things that we can't even explain to ourselves. The path was illogical, and the place seemed illogical. It gets worse instead of better. We learn as much as we want to know about Sidon, where he was headed, in 1 Kings 16:31, where the Scripture says this about Ahab. "Ahab took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians".

Now watch carefully. God sent Elijah out of Israel to Sidon, which was the homeland of Jezebel. Now, if you're trying to hide from the wicked queen, you probably would not choose to escape to her hometown. You wouldn't hide out with her relatives. You wouldn't go to the place where they worshiped Baal, and yet that's exactly what God said to Elijah. Philip Rankin, a wonderful scholar, said, "Elijah surely thought, 'God, you must be joking. It's one thing to be fed by the birds. It's another thing entirely to go to Sidon, of all places". Sidon, you see, was Jezebel's stomping grounds. Zarephath was on Baal's home turf, and the town contained all of the brazen idolatry and unholy sacrifices, the temple prostitution that went along with Baal worship. God was commanding Elijah to go down into the cesspool of sin, and not just go there, but to dwell there. The path didn't make any sense, and the place didn't make any sense, and the person didn't make any sense. The person seemed illogical. Verse 9, "Elijah, you go down there to Sidon, and I have commanded a widow to provide for you".

Now, I don't know if you've noticed it or not, but the Bible instructs us to care for widows. But I have yet to find anything in the Bible that instructs widows to care for us. But here God commands Elijah to escape to a widow, and not just any widow, a destitute widow. In fact, when Elijah meets her at the city gate, she's starving to death, and she's ready to fix her last meal. First the brook dries up, and then God sends his prophet to a dying widow. This is also illogical from our point of view. I mean, it wasn't a river that God gave him. It was a brook, and it wasn't a wealthy woman that God gave him. It was a poor widow, and it wasn't a Jewish widow that God gave him. It was a Gentile widow.

Jesus used this story about this widow as an illustration what he was preaching to his friends in the New Testament. He was preaching in his own neighborhood and try to explain to them why a prophet is without honor in his own country, because the people who knew Jesus where he grew up, they kind of believed in him, but they didn't think it was any big deal that he surely wasn't the Son of God, and he wasn't anybody to be worshiped. So, in Luke chapter 4, we read these words. "Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country". Jesus said that to his friends. "But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them, none of the Jewish widows was Elijah sent except to Zarephath in a region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow".

Now, I don't know if you remember that story from the New Testament, but let me refresh your memory. When Jesus got done with that little sermon, the people who heard him were so mad and furious, they tried to throw him off of a cliff. Their anger was stoked because Jesus had reminded them that Elijah was sent outside of Israel to be cared for by a Gentile woman. God had allowed a Gentile woman to minister to the most famous of all the Jewish prophets. You can talk about illogical, if you want to. The path was messed up, the place was messed up, and the person was messed up, if you're Elijah. God's instructions to him ran counter to everything that made any sense from any human perspective.

One of the things that we learn when we walk with the Lord is that... can I get a witness? He's different than we are. "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," says the Lord. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts". I read these words this week from the pen of Mark Batterson. He said, "Faith doesn't make sense. Faith makes miracles. Faith is living beyond our five senses. It's being certain of what we do not see. On one dimension of faith is imagining that our five senses can't perceive or confirm. It's extrasensory perception. That's why faith often seems like it's out of touch with reality".

Can you imagine being Elijah and being instructed to do what we have just discovered he was told to do? The requirements of faith may seem illogical. The response of faith must be immediate. Verse 10 says, "So Elijah arose and went to Zarephath. There's no record of him saying, "Lord, could you just kind of explain this to me? I mean, could we have a few days to kind of sit down and talk about this and sort it out? Because I assure you, just as none of it made any sense to you, as I read it, that God would do something like that, it made even less sense to the prophet, but the Scripture says, as soon as God spoke, Elijah obeyed. He went to Zarephath immediately. In other words, he didn't wait until tomorrow to obey what God had called him to do today.

I've said this to you before. Today is God's Word. Tomorrow is Satan's word. Between God's command and our obedience is the wasteland of Satan. When we hear what God tells us to do, we should say, "I will obey today". And if we don't say that, we will hear tomorrow ringing in our ears, perhaps until we die. I love what the psalmist says about this. He says, "I made haste, and I did not delay to keep your commandments". When God speaks, we move. It may not seem logical to us; but if we know it's God, we do it 'cause we know that somewhere down the road we'll figure it out, or God will explain it to us, or he'll just tell us, "I'll talk to you about it in heaven". So, the requirements of faith may seem illogical. That's what Elijah is learning. But the response of faith, no matter what, must be immediate, and the result of faith will be instructive.

Notice what happens now in verse 10. "And when Elijah came to the gate of the city, indeed a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, 'Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink.' And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, 'Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand, along with the water.'" When he arrived at the gate, he must have been exhausted. He must have been starved. The brook had been dried up for some period of time. He had trekked 100 miles across a dry and barren land, probably eating off of some of the untasty things that he could find along the way. And by the time he arrived at his destination, he was desperately in need of water. And there at the gate, Elijah saw what God had promised days before, a widow.

The prophet appears to be testing whether or not this is the widow that God wants him to meet. Perhaps he's thinking, "When I see this widow, I'm going to tell her that I want a drink of water. And if she brings me water, I'll ask her for something to eat. And if these things happen, I will know I have found the right person". He was not asking for much, but what he asked for was too much for this woman. So, we read in verse 12 and "She said, 'As the Lord your God lives, I don't have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and I am gathering a couple of sticks that I can go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and then die.'"

And if I'm Elijah, I'm thinking, "This is what you sent me to"? He went to Zarephath anticipating at least a little more provision than he had been getting at Cherith. Apparently, he was not going to get even what he got at Cherith. Maybe he wouldn't die of thirst, but it looked like he's going to starve to death. Yet, Elijah responded to the widow with faith. He trusted the Word of God. He looked beyond the dire circumstances to the promises of God, and even though the widow barely had two sticks to rub together, Elijah orders his lunch. And Elijah said to her, "Do not fear. Go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord God of Israel: 'A bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, 'til the day of the Lord sends rain on the earth.'"

Elijah was a man of faith, and now he's going to challenge the widow to be a woman of faith. And the Scripture says that's exactly what she became. Verse 15, "So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah". In the response of this widow and what she did, we can find instruction for our own lives. Here's what we find out from this widow. From watching all of this, we can learn how to possess our possessions. When we first see this widow as Elijah enters the city, she's clutching what she has, and she's saying, "This is my meal for my cake, for me and my son". And when we see her next, her hands are open, and she's bringing it to Elijah, saying, "Here Elijah. This is for you". How can you explain such a change in this woman's life, and in her heart, and in her action?

Well, let me just ask you this question. Do you know how to possess your possession? Here's how you do it. You open your hands. If what you have from God is in your hand, and your hand is tightly closed around it, you may be able to hold onto it for a short time, but God can never put anything else in your hand, because your hand is closed upon what you already have. But when you open your hand, God can take out of your hand whatever he wants. And as we'll see in this story, here's the neat part. He can put back into your hand whatever he wants to. As we're learning the lesson of an open-handed Christianity, here's the question. Are we, as God's people today, willing to trust God to really possess our possessions? That was the lesson the widow was learning.

She was also learning how to prepare for the future. Before she gave, the widow was preparing to die. How bleak was the outlook of her future? But when she put herself in the hands of God, God took care of her future. And when we leave her, her pantry is multiplying. She has learned to prepare for the future by trusting God. Today, I ran into a lot of people who are worried sick about the future. What's going to happen? What's going to happen to my resources, my 401(k) and all that stuff? But this woman trusted God. We learn to possess our possessions. We learn to prepare for the future, and we learn to put God first. It seems like Elijah's really hard on this lady. When you first read it, if you don't study behind the scenes, you think he wasn't a very kind prophet, but he is the voice of God to this woman. He is God's prophet, and he is saying to her, "I want you to put God first in your life. Bring me, God's prophet, a little cake first". And the Scripture says she did just that.

So, she went away and did according to the Word of the Lord, verse 15. And Jesus summarizes the message in this little story with these words that he gave during the Sermon on the Mount. He said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you". This widow put God first. Here's the next question for us. Have we learned to put God first? Sometimes it takes a lifetime to learn that. But if you've ever done it, even for a short period of time, you've experienced the joy and the adventure of putting God first and trusting him to care for you. He always comes through. And then we learn to put God to work in our behalf. Here's the promise. "For thus says the Lord God of Israel: 'The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, 'til the day of the Lord sends rain on the earth.'" And the widow's obedience reads like this. "So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and her household ate for many days". And the ultimate fulfillment of the promise is in verse 16. "And the bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Elijah".

The result of her obedience was exactly as God said it would be. 1 Kings 17 also teaches us that this woman learned that the reward of faith would be inspiring. "So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and her household ate for many days. And the bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the Lord which he spoke by Elijah". I want you to think about this for just a moment. Look up here. I want you to not miss this. Elijah gave this woman just one little, tiny promise from God. "Thus says the Lord God of Israel," verse 14. That one "Thus says the Lord" was going to sustain her for two years until the drought was over. Did you know that in the Bible there are 31,173 verses? And out of all those verses, that woman had one "Thus says the Lord," that's it, and that sustained her through the entire famine.

In the Bible, there are lots of people who made it on one little phrase. Did you know that? Abraham, for instance, built all of his hopes on five words from God: "So shall your descendants be". Peter was in a boat one night, and he saw Jesus walking on the water, and Jesus said one word to Peter: "Come". Peter jumped out of the boat and walked on the water and risked his whole life on one word from the Lord Jesus. Jesus spoke two words to Peter, Andrew, and Matthew that inspired a life of faith. One day he was walking by them, as they were working on their fishing nets. He stopped, and he said, "Follow me". There's no other conversation. "Follow me". And the Bible says they left their nets, and they followed Jesus, and their life was never the same. The widow of Zarephath put all of her trust in only five words, and she was blessed for two years. There's no other book like that. There's no other opportunity like that. When we believe God, doesn't have to be a long discourse. It can only be a couple of words. And when God speaks, and we follow, God never over promises himself.

Can you imagine the joy in this widow's house every morning? I mean, every morning she gets up, and she wakes up her son, and she knocks at the door and says, "Elijah, it's time to get up". And she goes into the pantry, and she lifts the cover off the bin of flour, and there's just a little bit at the bottom. And so she scrapes it out, and then she opens the jar of oil, and she looks in, and there's just a little bit in the bottom, just enough to mix up the recipe, and she cooks it, and then Elijah comes down, and she asks Elijah, "Would you have devotions with us this morning"? This is not in the Bible. I'm just imagining this. "Would you teach us from God's Word"? Can you imagine what it was like in that house for two years? Every morning, just enough for that day.

We've focused our attention in these few moments we've had together on this story on Elijah and the widow. And on the surface, it looks like they're the main characters in the story. But there's the third character, and he's really the true hero of the story, and that character, of course, is the God of heaven. So, let me tell you what we learned about God in this story, things that will help us, as we go forward. First of all, we learned that God works at both ends of the process. Think about this. In the book of Acts, Philip is seeing thousands of people come to Christ under his preaching. And one day, God comes to Philip in the midst of his great revival, and he says, "Hey, Philip, I want you to go down and talk to one guy. He's on the road. He's an Ethiopian. He'll be in a chariot, and he's probably going to be reading the Bible". And when God called Philip out of Samaria, he had already called the Ethiopian eunuch.

And so God was working at both ends. He was working in the one he sent, and he was working in the one who he received. If God has laid it upon your heart to witness to somebody or to share your faith with somebody, be sure of this. If God is in it, if he's the one directing you, He's already working in the heart of the person He wants you to talk to. Cornelius had the same experience. Cornelius was looking for spiritual help in Acts chapter 10. And at the other end, God was preparing Peter to meet the need in Cornelius' life, and Peter was a reluctant respondent because Cornelius wasn't a Jew. He was a Gentile. And you remember that's when the sheet came down from heaven, and the Lord Jesus said to Peter, "Eat," and Peter said, "How can I eat something unclean"? He went through that whole thing.

What was happening is that Cornelius was over here waiting to be taught. Peter was over here waiting to teach. God prompted Peter, and he prompted Cornelius. And at just the right moment, they came together. God said to Elijah, "Get up from Cherith and go to Zarephath". And while he was working through Elijah on the one hand, He'd already worked through the widow on the other hand. When you walk by faith, you get in on this marvelous process. God works both sides of the street. Number two, God works to bless us, and he works to bless those who are touched by us. Why would God send Elijah to a poor widow and let her feed him? Because God loved this widow. And the Bible supports that statement.

In the Bible, there are about 80 direct references to widows. The psalmist says that God is a Father of the fatherless and a defender of widows. It should come as no surprise then that Jesus loved widows. He cared for his widowed mother. He raised from the dead the son of a widow at Nain, and he returned this son to his mother, and he condemned those who took advantage of widows. And James summed it up in his epistle when he wrote, "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit the orphans and the widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world". God wants to bless both the person who receives and the person who gives. Elijah was blessed by the bread and water he received from the widow, but the widow also was blessed to host the mighty prophet of God, and today she's one of the most famous widows in all of history, like the one who gave her two mites in the New Testament.

When you live by faith, God is going to bless you. And in the process of blessing you, he's going to bless others. You know, widowhood is hard. But when you're a widow, and you're God's widow, you can count on the fact that he's never gonna forget you. God works to bless us and those who are touched by us. Here's the third thing we learn about God. He works to bless us by the quality, not the quantity, of our giving. Like the poor widow in the New Testament, who gave her two mites, the widow at Zarephath gave all she had, and God honored her. What did she have? She had a handful of four in a bin and a little oil in a jar. And when she gave it to Elijah, she thought she was giving away her last meal. Now, God did not bless her because she gave so much. It probably wasn't worth five pennies in our economy, but it wasn't the quantity of what she gave that mattered. It was the quality of her giving that was significant. It's not about what's in your bank account. It's about what's in your heart. Here's the fourth thing I learned about God. God works to bless us one day at a time.

Have you ever played the game, "If I were God"? You know, we all play it. We don't admit it, but we do. I mean, I've gotta tell you straight out, if I were God, and Elijah was in this situation, I'd bring in a barrel of flour and say, "Hey, hey, Mr. Prophet, this is gonna last you for six months, and there's a whole bunch of oil over in the corner. You're gonna be safe for a long time. So, you know, I'll go on and take care of somebody else now". My question, when I read this story is, "Lord, why don't you just fill up the bin of flour and the jar of oil"? And I think God would answer this question something like this. "If I do that, then you'll trust in the barrel instead of in Me, and I don't want you to trust in the barrel. I want you to trust in Me". I want the barrel full. You do, too. I want the bank account with a little extra, and so do you.

But you know all that God is obligated to do is take care of us one day at a time, and that is what he has been teaching Elijah. When God put Elijah by the brook, he sent the ravens, watch this, morning and evening with just enough food to take care of Elijah for that day. And now God won't let him have anymore meal or oil than he needs for one day at a time. And this is how Jesus teaches us to pray. We pray this all the time. "Give us this day our daily bread". So, God works both ends of the process. He works to bless us so that we can bless others. He works not by quality but by quantity. And he works to bless us one day at a time.

During their agonizing imprisonment at the Nazi camp in Ravensbruck, Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy suffered from ill treatment and lack of medical care. They were treated worse than common criminals, even though the only reason they were there was because they had sheltered some Jews who were trying to escape the murderous torture of the Nazis. The prison where Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy were confined was an overcrowded, rugged place. The living conditions in the barracks were atrocious. It was filled with disease and malnutrition. And they feared that they, like so many of the prisoners around them, would soon be languishing in death. In the misery that they experienced in Ravensbruck, often they were forced to depend wholly on God every single day to meet their need. And God heard and answered their prayers, sometimes demonstrating in a miraculous way His protecting power.

For instance, on one occasion when Betsy was desperately ill, Corrie realized that the tiny bottle of dividimim oil, which is vitamin K, which was very necessary to her sister, was down to the very last drops. Corrie wrote in her book, quote, "My instinct was to horde it. Betsy was growing so very weak, and she needed this medicine. But others were ill, just like Betsy was, and it was hard to say no to eyes that burned with fever and hands that shook with the chill. I tried to save what was in the bottle for the very weakest, but even these soon were numbering 15, 20, or 25". Corrie's heart went out to them, but she desperately feared that if she shared all these precious drops with all the other sick people, she would rob Betsy of the only chance she had to live through the experience of Ravensbruck.

Well, Betsy, she was a woman of great faith, and she recognized her need for medication, but she reminded Corrie almost every day of the account of the widow of Zarephath, who shared with Elijah and whose handful of meal and small amount of oil lasted as long as there was a need. And Betsy was convinced that God could perform a similar miracle for her. Corrie initially laughed at her sister and thought it was crazy. She said, "God doesn't do stuff like that in modern times". But then she said, "Pretty soon, I was a believer. Every time I tilted that little bottle, a drop appeared at the top of the glass stopper. It just couldn't be". She said, "I held it up to the light, trying to see how much was left, but the dark brown glass was so thick, I couldn't see through it".

Each day, she continued to dispense what she thought was the last drop in the bottle, until one day when a female guard, who had shown kindness to the prisoners before smuggled a small quantity of the medicine into the barracks for the prisoners. Corrie was thrilled. Now she had more of what was necessary to keep everybody alive, but she first determined to finish the drops in the bottle, and that night she said, "No matter how long I held it upside down or how hard I shook it, not one stinking drop would fall out of that bottle. It was empty".

God had proven himself to no less than a woman in the same way he had proven himself thousands of years before to the widow of Zarephath. The Bible tells us when the widow of Zarephath received Elijah, in effect she was receiving Jesus Christ. You say, "Where's that"? Matthew 10:40 says, "Whoever receives you," speaking to the apostles, "receives me". And it goes on to say that the one who receives a prophet, because he is a prophet, will receive the prophet's reward. This is how the widow of Zarephath received Elijah. She received him as a prophet sent from God. And to receive Elijah in this way was tantamount to receiving Jesus Christ in that time.

Jesus said that the proper reward for receiving a prophet is a prophet's reward. What is a prophet's reward? It's the reward that the prophet himself deserves from God. In this case, we see how God rewarded Elijah with daily bread and oil, saving grace. And watch this. When the widow received Elijah as God's prophet, she received the same bread, and the same grace, and the same reward as the prophet did. The same reward is available to everyone who receives Jesus by faith. Jesus walks into our world with forgiveness and the promise of heaven. Guess what happens when we receive him? We get forgiveness and the promise of heaven. And if you've never done that, I'd like for you to let Elijah be your teacher.

You say, "Well, Pastor Jeremiah, I don't really understand all of these things. I don't know if I have all the answers to the questions in my life". And I want to tell you what I've told many people over the years. If you wait until you have all the questions answered, you will never become a Christian. You become a Christian by exercising your faith in what Jesus has said, and here's what Jesus said. He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Me". That's one, just one of the verses of the Scripture that thousands and thousands of people have put their trust in, and they have become Christians.

I was meeting with a young man here some years ago and trying to explain the gospel to him. He came to my office with a yellow pad full of questions, and we talked for well over an hour. And finally I said to him, "You know what? If you wait 'til you get all your questions answered, you'll never become a Christian; but if you put your trust in Jesus Christ, you will discover that a lot of your questions get answered almost overnight". And he said to me, "So, what would I have to do to receive Jesus Christ"? And a few minutes later, we get down on our knees in my study, and I led him in a simple prayer, and he asked Jesus Christ to be his Savior. And he is a shining, burning light for the Lord in our world today. Isn't it time for you to put your trust in what the Lord has said?
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