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Dr. Ed Young - Sitting on the Bench

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    Dr. Ed Young - Sitting on the Bench

Oh, about in the late 1980s, 1990s, the end of last century, most of the scholars, and erudite people, and philosophers in the Western world predicted that by the first decade of the 21st century that religion would be an anachronism in America. Anachronism means an era in respect to time. In other words, religion would be something that we used to do, that all faith virtually would go out of existence. There would be decline in attendance in churches, synagogues, and the whole business about understanding the transcendent would be out of date and out of sequence.

Because the scientists were discovering so much about creation, and they were on the verge of creating life itself, and there were so many breakthroughs about the origin of this universe and how everything operated that, oh, certainly by the early part of the 21st century there would be few, if any, expressions of faith. But yet today, we see major faith, little faith, minor faith, silly faith, ridiculous faith, all kinds of faith groups and religious groups are literally exploding in America. Mr. Gallup in his latest poll revealed that 94% of people who live in America believe in some kind of god. On any given Sunday, there are more people gathered in places of worship than there are in all the sporting events in America put together.

So, faith, and religion, and worship, and seeking to know, and understand, and follow God is at an all-time high in our culture. And therefore, we find a lot of people who come up to me, and they may come up to you, and say the silliest thing that they can possibly say, "All religions are basically the same. We're climbing many different roads, wanting to go to heaven. It doesn't matter which trail you take as long as you're sincere". Anybody who says that and believes that has exposed themself to one simple fact. They have never seriously looked at any faith or any religion. They've never had that experience.

Because you take the major questions of life, the big questions of life: "Who am I?" a question of identity; "Where did I come from?" a question of origin; "Why am I here?" a question of purpose; "Where am I going?" a question of destiny. Those are the big four. And you could take the cults, the religions, the denominations, and you could put them all down and ask those big four questions and you get radically different answers. All religions are not the same. All denominations are not the same. Or like the country preacher back in Mississippi said, "All abominations are not the same". Because the basic understanding of authority, and ultimate meaning, and the big question of epistemology... you say, "Well, what is that"? It means, how do you know that you know? That's epistemology. How do you know that you know? They answer these questions totally different.

And therefore, we need today with all the plethora of religious activity, and faith, and cults, and everything we read, and hear, and see around us and on television, we need people who will stand up and be spiritual guides, men and women who will say, "That is true. That is false". And we need somebody who will shout and say, "Look, this is the real God". And this is how you can tell the difference between that which is valid in worship and that which is invalid in worship, spiritual guides. The 8th century was much like today. You see, in Israel for a long, long time, there was the worship of the one and true God, the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. That was the true God.

And though there was idolatry, and though there was many other expressions, for the nation as a whole was a theocracy and they worshipped the Living God, Jehovah God. Until the 8th century B.C. Ahab, Jezebel became king and queen of Israel and then very intentionally they took pagan worship into Israel and sought to make Israel into a pluralistic nation, with all kind of gods and goddesses. And they brought in 400 prophets of Baal, and 450 prophets of Astaroth, the prophets of sensuality and sexuality, and the prophets of groves, Astaroth, and the prophets of Baal, and Baal was the god of the harvest, the god of the seasons, the god of fire.

And so, everywhere you went in Israel there was an altar in the valley. There was a shelter, a monument on top of the mountain. There was all kinds of worship going on everywhere. And the only god that was now forbidden was the God of Israel, was Jehovah. In fact, those who worshipped Jehovah, the prophets, and those who followed him who remained as a remnant, they were either killed or in hiding, because we know that about 6,000 or 7,000 of them were in caves when Ahab and Jezebel sat on the throne. Like our nation today, all kinds of religious stuff, bizarre, wild. It used to just be in California, but it has swept all the way through Texas, through Florida, across our land. In California, they have a cult in which they believe that Jesus was a mushroom. True, they got a good group. Jesus was a mushroom.

So, we have all of this. How can you tell that which is true and that which is false? And in the days of Elijah, they had the same problem. They need spiritual guides. They need truth tellers. They need discerners who could stand up and say, "Hey, that's not it. Hey, this is it". And they were shouting, "Will the real God stand up"? And many of us feel the same way in this day and age. Elijah was that guy. We've seen God preparing Elijah for something that was oh so important. What in the world is God doing? Elijah, being obedient to him in confronting the king, and now Elijah being obedient in concealment, and of all things, the brook dries up.

And then in our Scripture, if you listen carefully, God speaks to Elijah and says, "Go to Zarephath". What does the word "Zarephath" mean? It means smelter. To be, evidentially in Zarephath, there was a smeltering plant. They would take gold and metals, and they would put them under heat, and they would melt them down, and the dross would come out. It would be pure gold at the bottom, but the dross would come and they would skim all that that was extraneous off the top until only purity was left. And so now, Elijah leaves Chorath, where he's been cut off, and cut down, and cut out, and he goes to Zarephath, and now he's going to be melted. Have you noticed that trouble, follows trouble, follows trouble.

You say, "Well boy, I got over that", boom! And then, I mean, is that what happens to him? What in the world is God doing with Elijah? He goes to Zarephath, and not some rich merchant is going to look after him, but some widow who is poor as dirt. When he arrives at the gate, he simply asks for water. Then he says, "Just make me a little cake that I might eat". He had traveled from Chorath to Zarephath. If we had a map of Israel, you would see that's about 100 miles. He was a man with a price on his head. All the people were looking for Elijah, who had been blamed for the rains stopping and there was an all points reward out for him, wanted dead or dead. And he traveled 100 miles through that territory, and he leaves Israel of all things. He goes into Gentile country. He goes to Sidon, way up on the coast outside of Israel.

And guess who was the king of Sidon? Jezebel's dad. The citadel of paganism, of godlessness, of immorality. And here this widow's gonna look after you, and she's so poor, and she's making sticks to prepare the last meal for her, her son, and her family. And Elijah must have thought, "Welcome to Zarephath". Boy, from a dried up brook, to being melted down, to being smelted. And then an amazing thing happened. The woman recognized the difference between the God of Israel and the pagan gods. You see it in the Scripture. She made the breadcake and Elijah told her, "Every day you can prepare a meal, and the oil will not run out and the flour will not run out".

And that happened day, after day, after day for two plus years. When she had only enough for one last meal, suddenly there was a daily miracle. Suddenly, I believe this woman began to believe in the true and living God of Israel. I can imagine Elijah teaching the Scripture and then praying together. And one commentator said that, as she saw they would have oil and flour to eat, they didn't have everything they wanted, but they had everything they needed. Isn't that great? We don't have all we want, but most of us have everything we need. And so you can imagine, this woman is seeing a miracle, miracle. Every morning when she looks at the oil we ran out yesterday, there's some more, just enough. There's some flour. We used it all, and there's some more.

And day after day, so you can imagine that when Elijah would wake up and go down from... he slept on the roof. That would be the prophet's chamber. He would go down, he would hear her singing, "Praise God from whom all biscuits flow". Yeah. You see, God was teaching Elijah that he's going to be saved through this poor woman, and also that woman was gonna be saved through him, see? Powerful stuff. Powerful man. God is teaching Elijah what? He's teaching Elijah obedience. He's teaching Elijah to live one day at a time. He's teaching Elijah to be dependent upon him. Don't tell anybody. Shh, keep it a secret. That's exactly what God wants all of us to learn. Obey, live on day at a time, be dependent on him.

My brook dried up. Man, now I'm being melted in this impoverished area by this widow. You see, God is able to do amazing things through those who are willing to move from being instruments, that's something God uses, to becoming servants, to being just Elijah the Tishbite, to being Elijah, at the end of the chapter, a man of God or a woman of God. God puts us through Choraths and Zarephaths so we'll know the real God. Elijah was able to determine, "That's the real God". In our society, in our world, there's so many people who claim to have visions and dreams, and God spoke, and God acted, and God moved.

How do you determine the real God from those gods and goddesses that are not real? That was the problem in the 8th century B.C. and that's our problem today. Let me tell you three things. First of all, the real God is a God of the outsiders. So, what does that mean? When Elijah showed up in Zarephath, he worked and realized that God gives grace to outsiders because there was a widow woman there. She was an economic outsider. He was poor as dirt. She was a religious outsider. She worshiped all the pagan gods. She was a moral outsider. She didn't have any understanding of the Ten Commandments or right and wrong in her life. She was a racial outsider. She was a hated Gentile. She was a political outsider. She lived in Sidon, Tyre and Sidon, the nation most hated by the Jews at this moment. She was an outsider in every way.

And here is the real God is speaking to her who has a total outsider as far as the Jews were concerned. When you get home, take your Bible, open it up to Luke chapter number 4. Luke chapter number 4 is when Jesus went back to his hometown of Nazareth while he had some fame as a healer, particularly in Capernaum. And he goes back and he's asked to preach a sermon in the synagogue in Nazareth. And he stands up and guess what Scripture he reads? Ours. Our Scripture. He simply reads this passage about Elijah going there to Zarephath and being received by an outsider. And he said in his homily there that there were plenty of widows in Israel that could have helped this prophet, but God sent him outside of Israel.

And when he said this, he threw in the story of Naaman, and suddenly those Jews there in Nazareth realized that the real God was a God of outsiders who offered grace to outsiders. What did they do with Jesus in his first sermon? They took him to a cliff and would have pushed him over had he not sorta walked through the middle of them. You see what brought wrath to those Jews there in the 1st century when he talked about Elijah, and God showing grace, and using outsiders to minister to this great prophet in their history. It infuriated them and still infuriates some of us.

We are church folks, you know, and we don't have much in common with those who don't think as we think, don't live as we live, and we have all of these outsiders who are not a part of our little clique, and our little club, and our sweet little group, that they can sing the hymns and know all the anthems. And we realize that God loves and has grace toward the outsiders. That's the real God. For God so loved the W-O-R-L-D, world, with no exceptions. The real God is a God who reaches, is a God of outsiders.

Also, we see the real God is a living God. This widow woman knew the difference between the living God of Israel and the idols that were made. When we worship something we made ourselves and something we say, "Well, this is God for me. You know, I'm gonna worship the sun, the moon, and the stars. I'm gonna worship feeling good," we have all these idols that we create. And so, the living God is different from a dead God. See, the living God is wild. The living God is capricious. The living God is sovereign.

And that is the reason when the boy died, what did this widow of Zarephath, what did she say to Elijah? She said, "Did you come into my home, O man of God, to make me aware of my sin and did my sin kill my boy"? Isn't that what she ask him? "Did not my sin kill my boy"? Then Elijah, when he prayed to God, he asked God the same thing another way, "Did sin, did her sin, kill this son, this boy of hers"? They knew innately that the living God sometimes comes and could indeed judge sin. They knew that sin needs to be judged, has to be judged.

But wait a minute, here's a God of grace on one hand and here's a God of truth on the other hand. Here's a God of love on one hand. We love to hear about the God of grace, the God of truth, the God of love. I can live any way I wanna live, do anything I wanna do. God forgives me. God takes me back. He gives me new life. He gives me a fresh start, a new beginning. We like all that, but this same God who is a living God, who is a real God, knows that there has to be justice and there has to be truth. I can't say, "Well, that's true for you and this is true for me". True truth doesn't allow for that, you see?

And then we see something else about this real God. The boy dies. The widow woman says, "Did my son die because of my sins"? And Elijah takes that boy's body, and goes up to his room, and puts him on his bed, and he puts his body, he stretches out over that boy. Did you read it? Three times, he stretches out over that boy and he prays. And he says, "God, did this boy die because of my sin"? and he stretches out and he prays. What do you think he prayed? I think he prayed what maybe some of us have prayed. If you've ever lost a baby, a child, you stretched out and said, "Oh God, this sickness, take it upon me and spare this child".

That's what Elijah was praying. He was stretched out. He understood that there is punishment for sin. He understood that, you know, how this worked, but he prayed to a sovereign God, and guess what? The boy was resurrected. The first account of resurrection in the Bible. Elijah took that boy back to the widow, handed it to the widow, and she said, "Now I know you represent the true God and your Word is based on God's Word and it is," remember the last word, "truth". Truth.

You see, the real God is a God of outsiders, the real God, and a God of grace, but the real God also is a God of love and truth. A God of grace and a God of judgment. How can this be? It's because the real God is a stretched-out God. That's it. The real God is a stretched out God. Remember what Jesus said to Peter in the Gospel of John? The resurrected Lord said, "Your hands will be stretched out and people will take you where you do not want to go". It was a prediction of the crucifixion of the apostle Peter which took place in history. It's like the widow said to God, "God, did my son die because of my sin"? And God said to her, "No, he is resurrected, but my Son," said God to the widow, "will die for your sin".

It is a stretched-out God who brings love and truth, and grace and justice together and pays the price in himself as a stretched-out God on Calvary. And this is a pre-shadowing of the stretched-out God when Jesus died on a cross for you and me. God preparing Elijah, teaching him obedience to him, teaching him to live one day at a time, and teaching him to be totally dependent on him so Elijah could be the guide in this day to point out the real God. Let the real God stand up, because the real God is a God of outsiders, a God of grace. The real God is a living God who demands holiness and purity which cannot be paid for by you and me in and of ourselves, but the real God is a stretched-out God, a stretched-out God, who died for you and me so that our sins might be forgiven and we might have life, a resurrected life.

That's the real God, ladies and gentlemen. And Elijah had to go to Chorath, be cut off, cut up, cut out, had to go to Zarephath, be melted down to be smelted to get all the dross out of his life, so he could understand and be able to stand before all the godlessness of his day and speak and represent the true and living God. And that's exactly what the Almighty wants you and me to do in the 21st century, because Elijah will teach us how to know God, how to follow God, and how to serve God. This God who is the stretched-out God in Jesus Christ.
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