David Jeremiah - What Ever Happened to God?
Whenever a nation groans under the burden of an incompetent political leader, the people always take hope that someday there's going to be a change. In a democracy, the change comes at an election time, but in a monarchy, which is what most of the Old Testament is about, it doesn't come until the death of the king. It's only when the king dies that there's a new opportunity for change. The only chance for relief is when the king dies. This is why one of the reasons why so many of them died when they weren't supposed to, and they got taken out by people who wanted a change. Surely, the people who were living in Israel under the leadership of King Ahab were looking to the future with the hope that something better was in the wings.
You see, Ahab was a burden to his people. He was an embarrassment to God. To take the Word of God at face value, he was one of the most wicked men ever to walk on the earth. He married a pagan princess by the name of Jezebel, and the two of them sponsored the worship of a false god by the name of Baal. Because of their rebellion, their nation suffered for 3 1/2 years of drought and misery. And at the end of his time as king, he led the nation into a disastrous military campaign against the Syrians. And you can read about that in 1 Kings chapter 22. Finally, Ahab's wicked rule comes to an end in the most amazing and unusual way. The Bible says that a faceless, nameless bowman shot an arrow into the air, and the arrow came down and lodged in the space between the harness of Ahab's armor.
I didn't make that up. I'd like to read it to you from the scriptures so you know I didn't make it up. "Now a certain man drew a bow at random, and struck the king of Israel between the joints of his armor, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Syrians, and he died at evening". When Ahab died, I suppose everybody in Israel sighed a sigh of relief and thought, "Now there's going to be a change in our government. The next king has got to be better than the one we just had". Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. We read in 1 Kings 22, "Ahaziah, the son of Ahab became king over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned two years over Israel and did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of his father and in the way of his mother, for he served Baal and worshiped him, and provoked the Lord God of Israel to anger, according to all that his father had done".
This is one of those illustrations where the sins of the father are extended to the children and the children's children. This is called generational issue. And there may be people here in this room who maybe you're the product of that. Maybe you grew up in a home that was addiction-centered. And now, all of a sudden, you struggle with that, and you say, "Well, I can't help it. You know, that's the way my parents were". Maybe Ahaziah said, "I can't help it. That's the way mom and dad were. This is the only thing I know. This is what I learned". You can help it. Every once in a while, somebody in the generational cycle has to draw a line in the sand and say, "It's going no further than right here".
Ahaziah had a chance to do that. He did not do it. Ahaziah was a chip off the old block, and the values and habits and patterns he saw in the life of his parents became his own habits. He learned from his father and mother how to do evil in the sight of the Lord and how to serve and worship the false god, Baal. And his story reminds us of how easy it is for the dysfunction in our families to be handed down to our children and their children. One of the great things about this is that in the Bible it also tells us that the grace of God extends not to two or three generations, but to thousands of generations. Wherever there's sin, grace always is better.
And growing up as a child, I'm sure Ahaziah witnessed all that happened during the reign of his dad. He experienced the great drought that others had seen. He knew it was caused because of his parents' idolatry. He heard stories. Perhaps he might even have been present on Mount Carmel when Elijah called down fire from heaven and the prophets of Baal were destroyed. And yet, Ahaziah continued to walk in the evil ways of his parents. He was so captured by his culture and so into what he had learned to be comfortable with that he became deaf to the voice of God. And as he ascended to the throne, there were at least three things in his life that should've turned his attention back to the God of Israel.
First, there was the tragic death of his father. And I mean, Ahab died in an unusual death. It came about exactly as Elijah had predicted. And if you had heard the story of Ahab's death, you would've thought, "Now, wow, that's not normal," for someone just to shoot an arrow in the sky, a random arrow, according to the scripture, and it find the only place on this man where it could do any damage, the little space between the harness of his armor, and it hits him and takes him out. You might want to say, you know, "Something's going on here". Secondly, Ahaziah should have learned from the defiance of Moab, because if you read the story carefully, 2 Kings 1 tells us that as soon Ahaziah became the king, Moab rebelled against Israel after the death of Ahab, 2 Kings chapter 1, verse 1.
Now, why is that important? It's important because Moab had always been angry with Israel, they were their enemies, but during the reign of King Ahab, he somehow kept them at bay. When he died and Ahaziah became the king, Moab rose up, and they began to be active against the nation of Israel. And finally, and this is the one that should really have settled it for him that maybe God was trying to get his attention, he had a most unfortunate accident. And let me just read it to you, because this is what it says in verse 2 of 2 Kings 1. "And Ahaziah fell through the lattice of his upper room in Samaria and was injured". He fell out of the window. Apparently, in the houses, they had little lattice in front of the window; he leaned against it too hard, and the Bible doesn't tell us how far he fell. What it does tell us was he hurt himself big time.
So, his father gets shot with an arrow that was randomly launched, an enemy that hasn't done anything in a long time all of a sudden becomes active, and the dear old boy falls out of the window. Hmm. Hmm. The narrative says that the fall led to serious injury that Ahaziah was in doubt as to whether he would recover from his injury, and that resulted in an intriguing series of events which I'm going to put under the heading of "The Abomination of the King". Here he is now, the son of Ahab, the newly crowned king. Verse 2, "So Ahaziah sent messengers and said to them, 'Go inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, whether or not I shall recover from this injury.'" Ahaziah sent messengers to the Philistine town of Ekron to inquire of Baal-Zebub if he would recover.
Now, Baal-Zebub means "the lord of the flies," and it's possible that this god was some kind of local deity specializing in health and disease cures, because flies bore disease. And it seemed logical to call on the lord of the flies to overcome disease and other physical ailments. And according to the word of the Lord, what Ahaziah did was an incredible abomination and sin. Here is a man who is king over Israel, the chosen people of Almighty God. He is hurt, and instead of going to the Lord to inquire of the Lord God, he sends messengers to a Philistine city to inquire of an idol, a wicked idol. He sent someone to call on the lord of the flies to see whether or not he's going to get better. The Bible says in Leviticus, "Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, do not be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God". And again, "And the person who turns to mediums and familiar spirits to prostitute himself with them, I will set my face against that person and cut him off from his people".
Now, as Ahaziah was sending his messengers to Ekron, I like to think about this sometimes in the scripture. I want you to think about it this way this morning. Split screen, all right, something's going on over here, something's going on over here, sort of like once in a while on television, that's the way it is. So, over here, Ahaziah is sending messengers to Ekron to find out if he's going to get better from his injury; and over here in this screen, God is sending his messenger to Elijah. And the prophet is minding his own business. I think Elijah was trying to retire, if you want to know the truth. How many of you know that's really hard? A lot of people tell me it's hard. I don't know 'cause I haven't tried yet, but I hear it's hard. And so when the angel of the Lord tapped him on the shoulder, I don't think Elijah was looking for another assignment, but he gave him one more assignment, and you read about this.
Now, remember, over here, the messengers of Ahaziah are going to Ekron, and over here is Elijah. He's kind of cooling his jets. And here's what we read: "But the angel of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, and he said, 'Arise, go to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and say to them, "Is it because there is no god in Israel that you're going to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron"? Now therefore, thus says the Lord, "You shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die".' And Elijah departed". So, here comes the messengers from Ahaziah. Here comes Elijah, and they have this little meeting. And in essence, Elijah says, "No need to go any further. I'm gonna tell you what's gonna happen. Your boss is history. He's gonna die".
And sometime before Ahaziah's messengers reached Ekron, they meet Elijah, who told them that their king would die, and apparently Elijah's message caused the messenger so much fear they didn't go on with their journey. They went back to the royal palace to convey to Ahaziah what had happened to them, verses 5 through 8. "And when the messengers returned to Ahaziah, he said to them, 'Why have you come back?' And they said to him, 'A man came up to meet us and said to us, "Go tell the king who sent you and say to him, Thus says the Lord: 'Is it because there's no God in Israel that you're sending to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.'"'"
And Ahaziah is sitting there thinking, "I bet I know who that was". "And he said to them, 'What kind of man was he who came up to meet you and told you these words?' And they answered him, 'He was a hairy man wearing a leather belt around his waist.' And Ahaziah said, 'I knew it. It's Elijah the Tishbite.'" Ahaziah, the son of Ahab, may not have had first-hand exposure to Elijah, but I bet his bedtime stories were about the troubler of Israel, his father's number one enemy. I'm sure before Ahaziah went to sleep one night, Ahab said, "Hey, let me tell you about this guy I've been fighting with all these years. Let me tell you about Elijah". In his heart of hearts, Ahaziah knew the rebuke of his life was from none other than Elijah the prophet.
Now, you would think that would make him a little sensitive to maybe there's something I can do to get back in the good graces with this prophet. But we go from the abomination of Ahaziah to the arrogance of him. Watch what he does. "Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty with his fifty men. So he went up to him; and there he was, sitting on the top of a hill. And he spoke to him and said, 'Man of God, the king has said, 'Come down.'" So, anyway, Elijah is sitting up on this hill meditating, having a sandwich, you know, just cooling it. I mean, that's kind of the picture I get. He's sort of in retirement. He's up there on the top of the hill.
Some people think he might've even been sitting on the top of Mount Carmel reviewing his victory up there. That wouldn't be a cool thing to do when you're retiring. And they come to him, and they see him up there, and they arrogantly say, "Man of God, come down. The king wants you". "And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, 'If I am a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.' And fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty". Whoa. Whoa. Of course, you know Elijah was a prophet of fire, and he had called down fire on Mount Carmel, and now he calls down fire on a delegation of men who were doubting his credentials as a prophet of God.
So, the word gets back to Ahaziah of what happened, and he sent to Elijah another captain of fifty with his fifty men. How would you like to have been in that detail? "And he answered and said to him, 'Man of God, thus has the king said,'" and he adds a extra word, a little more intensity in this guy; he says, "Man of God, the king has said, 'Come down quickly!'" And we would say it this way: "Look, we sent some other guys up here once, and you didn't listen. I've come back to tell you the king wants you to come down right now". "So Elijah answered and said to them, 'If I'm a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.' And the fire of God came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty".
I mean, what does it take to get through to this king? Ahaziah still isn't impressed with Elijah's authority, so he sends another captain. You've gotta believe that his soldiers were running as fast as they could to get away from the throne. They don't want to have their name called 'cause 102 guys are already out of their life. And the Bible says in verse 13 that the third captain of fifty went, and he came, and he's been taking good notes on what's happened so far. And he fell on his knees before Elijah and he pleaded with him, and he said to him, "Man of God". He's already believing now this Elijah is the man of God. That's not an issue anymore. "Man of God, please let my life and the life of these fifty servants of yours be precious in your sight. Look, fire has come down from heaven and burned up the first two captains of fifties with their fifties. But let my life now be precious in your sight".
Now, Ahaziah may not have been humbled, but this captain was really humbled. In contrast to the arrogance of the first two captains, the third captain approached Elijah with respect and asked if he would accompany them back to the King's palace in Samaria. And in verse 15, we read, "And the angel of the Lord said to Elijah, 'Go down with him; do not be afraid of him.' So he arose and went down with him to the king". Now, Elijah's gonna have the chance to tell the king what he's already told 102 people. He's going to tell it to him face to face, and that brings us to the annihilation of Ahaziah. Here's the interesting thing. Elijah wasn't afraid of anything. When you're in the power of God, and you know God's power is in your life, you don't have to be afraid.
So, Elijah walked right into the presence of wicked Ahaziah, delivered this message from Almighty God. And he said to him, verse 16, "Thus says the Lord: 'Because you have sent messengers to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, is it because there is no God in Israel to inquire of his word? Therefore, you shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.'" Finally, Elijah is face to face with Ahaziah, and he asks him, "Why do you want to consult with a dead god, a meaningless, meaningless idol, when the living God of Israel is available? Is it because," he said sarcastically, "there isn't any God in Israel, that you have to go off to Ekron and consult with the god of the flies"? And if you remember when Elijah confronted Ahaziah's father, Ahab, Ahab repented, and God granted Ahab more time to live.
Isn't it interesting that Ahaziah learned every lesson from his parents but that one? There's no record that Ahaziah even repented. Sir Thomas Fuller has written, "You cannot repent too soon, because you do not know how soon it may be too late". And it's too late for Ahaziah, and he dies an unrepentant and lonely man. Verse 17 says, "Ahaziah died according to the word of the Lord, which Elijah had spoken". His fall ended in his death, but his demise was due to his arrogant disbelief and his unwillingness to change what his parents had taught him. Now, that's the story, and you say, "Well, what does that have to do with us"? So, I want to tell you what I've learned from this, and there's four takeaways.
Number one, this story tells us how God warns us. Stop and reflect on all that had happened in Ahaziah's life. His father dies in a strange accident. Suddenly, a nation that had been friendly rebels against him. And one day, he's minding his own business and he falls out of a window and almost kills himself. And when a series of events like that happens, you might want to stop and say, "Lord, is there anything you want me to know"? Sometimes the biggest problem that God has with all of us is trying to get our attention. God was trying to get Ahaziah's attention, but the king was not willing to listen. In fact, these events did nothing more than harden his heart and make him more rebellious.
I read an article that was in the ESPN magazine about Barry Zito, who was once known as one of the most dominating pitchers in Major League Baseball. In 2010, Zito had reached his lowest point. He was removed from his team's starting roster, and the next season he was plagued by injuries and poor performances. By the end of 2012, he had returned to his peak performance and he won the last 14 starts, and as you remember, played a pivotal role in the San Francisco Giants World Series victory. In a 2012 interview with ESPN, Zito explained how God had used suffering to get his attention and to lead him to commit his life to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Here's what Zito said, he said, "Sometimes you have to go through difficulty and physical trials to get really broken down. In 2011, I got broken down physically as well as mentally. In August of that year, I had this very odd injury. I came off the field that day after never having been hurt in 11 years, and I said, all right, something bigger is going on here. A message is being sent," he said, "and I'd better listen". A few months later, he said, "I realized I'd been doing it alone. My best friend told me an old story I really love. He said there was this shepherd who would be leading the sheep, and one of the sheep is walking away from the pack, and the shepherd will take his rod and break the sheep's leg, and the sheep will have to rely on the shepherd to get better. But once that leg is completely healed, that sheep never leaves the side of the shepherd ever again. That's a really beautiful metaphor," Zito said. "A lot of things happen to us as people, and we realize we've been relying on our own strength for too long".
Last September he said, "I got a tattoo, and it's the only one I have, of a golden calf on the inside of my right bicep. I show people that because it signifies idolatry. That's what I was doing. I was putting my baseball before God, and God got my attention," and that's what God does. Let me ask you a question here, class. God ever get your attention? Did he ever give you a wakeup call? Just to wake you up and make you start to listen again, get you off the path you were on and get you in a new path, so now you're back walking with the Lord. God loves us so much, once in a while he'll break our leg. He'll break our leg. How God warns us.
Second thing is how God woos us. What kind of a God sends fire down to consume 100 men? I'm sure that's in your head. If you're not familiar with the Old Testament, you're saying, "Man, I'm not sure I wanna listen to this. This is a story about some prophet who kills 102 people with fire that falls from heaven. What kind of a God does this"? So, I want you to turn in your Bible to the New Testament, and I want you to turn to the gospel of Luke, and I want to answer that question. Here you will find a story that also takes place in Samaria, the very same place where Elijah called down fire on Ahaziah's soldiers, the same place.
Let me set the context for this New Testament story. Listen carefully. It's at the end of our Lord's Galilean ministry. He's turned his direction toward Jerusalem, the city where he's going to be rejected and where he would ultimately suffer and die. But instead of taking the route around Samaria, as most of the Jews would have done in his day, Jesus decided to walk south through Samaria. Now, here's what he does. He sends messengers ahead to make lodging reservations. So, he should be able to go into the Samarian area, find a village, and have a place to stay. But when these Samaritans realized that Jesus was heading for Jerusalem's temple, they did not show Jesus any hospitality, and they wouldn't let him come through their village. And when Jesus's disciples heard this, they were not very happy.
And so we read in Luke 9:54 these words. "And when his disciples James and John saw that Jesus was being treated disrespectfully, they said, 'Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them like Elijah did?'" They'd read the Old Testament. Listen to Jesus's response. "But Jesus turned and rebuked them. And he said, 'You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them.' And they went to another village". So, here's the question, class. Why would God allow fire to fall on Elijah, but Jesus wouldn't let it fall down in his day? And it's all because God does different things in different times for different people and for different reasons. When Jesus Christ went to the cross and paid the penalty for our sin, the fire came down on all that we have ever done wrong or will ever do wrong. And Jesus introduced at that day the age of grace.
Today God's method for dealing with rebellion is not to send down fire from heaven, but to send the love of Jesus Christ into the heart of the rebel. Listen to these words from the Apostle Paul. "Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance"? There's coming a day, according to this scripture, when the Old Testament way will return. How many of you know the Bible teaches that when the seven years of tribulation happens in the future, it's gonna be an awful lot like the Old Testament was? In those seven years, fire will fall from heaven again. But here's the good news, brothers and sisters. We live in the parentheses between what's in the Old Testament and what's coming in the tribulation. We live in the age of grace, and in this age, the fire that falls is the fire of God's love that penetrates our hearts and blazes within us until we can't stand it any longer and we have to respond to the love of God.
Thank God we live in this age. I hear people say all the time, "I wish I lived in the good old days". Frankly, I'm glad to be living in these days. Who knows what the good old days were? I'm not sure there is such a thing. What I want to tell you is we live in the greatest time of opportunity, the greatest time of grace. God woos us with his grace. He woos us with his love. How God warns us, we learned that in the story. We learned how God woos us, and then how God wins us. Some 800 years after Elijah delivered his message to Ahaziah, there was another faithful messenger who came from God. He was Jesus Christ, God's own Son, and he was worthy of the reverence and devotion of all people. Yet, what happened to him? They hung him on a cross, and no fire came down from heaven to rescue him.
In fact, isn't it interesting? Elijah is mentioned in that narrative. In Matthew 27, it says, "Some of those who stood there, when they heard Jesus's words, said, 'This man is calling for Elijah.' And immediately, one of them ran and took a sponge, and filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Jesus to drink. And the rest of them said," listen to this, "Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come and save Him". Now, I'm here to tell you, Elijah did not come to save him. If Elijah had saved him, we all would be lost. But he paid full penalty. He humbled himself. He endured the fiery indignation of God so that we might have life. And where pride remains strong and people will not reverence and worship Jesus Christ, there remains only a fearful expectation of judgment. We know him, and we know that he loved us enough never to be rescued.
I think of the story of Abraham and Isaac. When Abraham's about to plunge the dagger into the heart of his son, the Bible says the hand of Abraham was stopped, and he was told there was a ram caught in the thicket. Picture that story, and let Abraham be God the Father, and let his son Isaac be Jesus. Here's Jesus on the cross, and here's the Father in heaven with the dagger, and nobody held him back. The full penalty, the full price, the fire from heaven fell on Jesus completely. He suffered it all. We can't even comprehend it. I don't even know how to explain it. He was the infinite Son of God suffering the infinite penalty for the infinite sin of the world. But Elijah didn't save him. Elijah didn't call down fire. Elijah wasn't the Savior of Jesus. Jesus was the Savior of Elijah.
Last thing, how God warns us, how he woos us, how he wins us, finally, how he wants us. Do you remember what Elijah said to Ahaziah after Ahaziah had sent to inquire after Baal-Zebub? Let me refresh your memory. Verse 16 of chapter 1 of 2 Kings, he said, "Thus says the Lord: 'Because you have sent messengers to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, is it because there is no God in Israel to inquire of His word?'" I wonder sometimes if God in heaven isn't saying to us, "You're running after all this stuff trying to find satisfaction for your life. Is it because there's no God"? Was Ahaziah dismissing the God of Israel? No, he wasn't getting rid of Jehovah God. He was not subtracting. He was adding. He was hedging his bets. He was practicing idolatry. He was going to bow down before an idol.
Kyle Idleman says, "Idolatry isn't just one of many sins. It's the one great sin that all others come from. So, if you start scratching it, whatever struggle you're dealing with, eventually, you'll find something underneath that's a false god. And until that god is dethroned and the Lord God takes its rightful place, you will not have victory". That is why when Moses stood on Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments from God, the first one was this: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me," Exodus chapter 20. St. Augustine said, "Stress, worry, anxiety, strife, jealousy, and dissatisfaction, all of that is just the smoke rising from the altars that we have erected to false gods". Ahaziah was already an idolater in his heart. That day he became a flaming rebellious idolater.
I read this week of a pastor by the name of J.R. Vassar. Said one day he was walking with his Christian friends through a Buddhist temple, and they were witnessing something heartbreaking. A large number of people, very poor and desperate, were bowing down to a large golden Buddha. They were stuffing what seemed to be the last of their money into the treasury box and kneeling in prayer, hoping to secure a blessing from the Buddha. On the other side of the large golden idol, there was a scaffolding. The Buddha had begun to deteriorate, and a group of workers was diligently repairing the broken Buddha. "I took the scene," said the pastor. "Broken people were bowing down to a broken Buddha, asking the broken Buddha to fix their broken lives while someone else was fixing the broken Buddha. The insanity and despair of it all hit me. We are no different from them. We are broken people looking to other broken people to fix our broken lives. We are glory deficient people looking to other glory deficient people to supply us with glory".
I read this statement this week, and it jarred me. Most Christians have not rejected God. They have just reduced him. We add God, if we're not careful, to our circle of friends. We make him one among many. We take good things and we make them God things, and we wonder why our faith doesn't work. According to J.D. Greear, Christianity makes a terrible hobby. The God of the Bible demands our highest allegiance, our total adoration, and our unconditional obedience.
Finally, I read this application of this story like nothing I've ever read before. With the tip of his finger, God flung the skies, the galaxies, and the oceans and the continents into existence, each declaring in its own way the wisdom and beauty of the Creator. In his final act, he made something special, something that would bring more glory to himself than all that had gone before it. He created a man and a woman, and he put them in his image in the garden, but he did something very unusual before ending his work on his masterpiece. He handed this new man and this woman the paintbrush and asked them to add the final stroke to his creation, to paint in who they thought deserved to be at the center.
Why would God do that? Because God knows what every person who's ever been in love knows, that love is only genuine when the person you love freely chooses to love you back. We take the paintbrush and we paint ourselves in the center, do we not? But we cannot place the Son of God's glory in the orbit of our life. It's never gonna work. It was never meant to work, and we all know that intuitively. We know there's only one enjoyable way to walk with God, and that's with God at the center. You can't fling God out into the circumference of your life and visit him every seven days. He will never, ever allow that. You talk about some warnings? He will get your attention, if you're a follower of Christ.
When people say, "I can't believe you really believe God is a jealous God," I flat out believe God is a jealous God. He is the only one who has the right to be jealous. And because of all that he has done for us and all that he desires for us, he is jealous, that we put him first in our lives, that everything that we do revolves around him, that we take the paintbrush and we paint in the picture God at the center, not us. And, ladies and gentlemen, in the way in which we do that and as much as we do that, that is the measure of whether or not we will be happy in Jesus. That's the simplicity of the Christian life, giving it all down till you realize, "I'm responsible to one person, and that's Almighty God in heaven".
Let me tell you what I've learned about that: you please him, you'll please the people that count. But if you try to live your life to get your response back from the people that you're with, if you're always trying to get the acclaim of people around you, you will live a frustrated, stressful life that will send you to your grave early. How blessed it is to know the God who is one and the God who is at the center.