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Jack Graham - The Battle of the Gods


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    Jack Graham - The Battle of the Gods
TOPICS: Epic Adventures, Elijah, idolatry

The title of today's message is the "Battle of the Gods". And so I would invite you to take your Bible and turn with me to 1st Kings, chapters 17 and 18. We find our story, it's really a show-down kind of a story. I think most people like a great showdown story, whether it's a, maybe it's a western. Maybe you like the old western, the shootout at the O K Corral and so on. We'll we've got a shootout, we've got a throwdown at Mount Carmel. And so Elijah burst on the scene. A little background information here will help you as we get started on this message. These were dark and terrible times in the life of Israel. Israel had three great kings that served initially: first Saul, then David, then David's son Solomon. And they served with distinction though there were flaws and failures along the way. But after Solomon's reign there was a division in Israel, a civil war in effect, that divided the kingdom into a northern and a southern sector.

There was Israel and there was Judah. And in the midst of this division the people of God began to turn away from the Lord, one by one, group by group, family by family. And various kings came along to reign and to rule. Many of these were bad leaders and very poor kings, certainly not spiritual men. And yet there arose one in Israel who was the most wicked of all the kings to that point and his name was Ahab. And Ahab was a full tilt, full blown idolater. Although he named the name of God he wanted it both ways. He was in fact an idolater. And he married a woman whose name was Jezebel. So here you have Ahab and Jezebel. They are building altars to the asherahs and to the baals, these pagan deities, and they were worshiped with pagan forms of all kind. In fact, in 1st Kings, you're in chapter 17 but I will back you up: 1st Kings 16:33, by way of introduction, says: "And Ahab made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him".

So these are dark and desperate days. The people of God are living in compromise at the very least. They were living in corruption. This evil king and his wicked wife are large and in charge! And out of nowhere comes a prophet of God, a man of God. When I say nowhere, Elijah is described as a Tisbite from Gilead. Now that may not mean much to you but in fact what it means is he was a redneck from the woods. But there was something about Elijah. He was bold and bodacious, he was courageous. Oh, he was confrontational and convictional and controversial. He wasn't one of these preachers that got along with everyone! No, he was a man of God who stood firmly and fervently for the faith in the One true God. He rebuked sin and challenged earthly powers with the Word of God.

Someone say, regarding Elijah, this man stands as a colossus in the midst of a generation of spiritual pygmies and perverts. He stood for God in the darkness! He took a stand for the faith of his fathers and for the people of God in a generation that was so far away from God. You know it's not easy to take a stand for Christ, a stand for our God in any generation, but God is calling His church, His people, you and me, like Elijah to take a stand in our own times. Do you? Do you take a stand for Christ in your office? Do you take a stand, that it would be known that there is a God in heaven in your school, among your friends, in your own family? Do you stand up? Do you stand out? You say, "Well, you know, I'm just, I'm not that personality. I'm not like Elijah".

Well, did you know the Bible tells us in James chapter 5 and verse 17 that "'Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are.'" He was a man just like all of us in our own humanity. And back shortly after this great massive victory on Mount Carmel, Elijah became so dejected and defeated in his own life, and depressed that he even prayed to die in the desert. Yes, Elias was a man like every man and woman in this place. But the difference was he prayed and God fervently responded to his cry to Him. So, yes, one person just like you, taking a stand for Christ in your own realm of reference, in your own daily pattern of life. You can take a stand for Christ and make a difference in the world. You say, "How can we do that"? That's what I'm going to talk to you about; that's what I'm going to show you in the observation that we have from this story. Number one, he knew the living presence and power of God. Look in chapter 17 and verse 1: "Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, 'As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives...'"

Now he's confronting this evil, wicked king who's already killing prophets left and right, by the way. And he says: "As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before", underline this in your Bible if you have a Bible in front of you, "before whom I stand there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word". Now this is a bold prediction. He predicted a drought; that it would not rain for these three and a half years. But what strikes me in these initial comments regarding Elijah's character and conviction is that he confessed his God, and he said, "before whom I stand" He served, notice, a living God, not one of these dead, no-gods of the idolaters, but a living God "before whom I stand". Listen to me: our God is alive and we are alive in His presence! One of my life verses is Zachariah 4 and verse 6: "'Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit', says the Lord".

If anything is going to happen in our generation, in our church, in our churches, then it's only going to happen in the power and the presence of the great I AM! And when we stand in His presence, when we experience and embrace the presence of God, then we are enjoined to the battle and empowered for victory! Ahab and Jezebel presumed that the God of Israel was dead and had no power. Men and women like Elijah know that our God is alive! Because our God demonstrated His life in the power and presence of Jesus! And it is the reality of a risen Savior that sets us apart when we stand in His presence. He stood in the presence of living God! And, you know, when we are standing in the presence of a living God, we will never be intimidated by anyone else.

Secondly, he knew and practiced the power of prayer. Elijah knew and practiced the power of prayer. He was a man of passionate and prevailing prayer. When we read this story, on Mount Carmel we discover that he prayed and he openly confessed God. And James testified to that. I referred to James 5:17 earlier. The rest of that verse says that he, Elijah, "prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain". So he prayed and God acted! That's always the way that it is! First Kings 17, verse 3, look at it. First Kings 17 and verse 3. After Elijah confronts Ahab here's what God said. Elijah thought the battle was on. God said something else in verse 3: "Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan".

What? Elijah's all revved up and ready to go! He's in the face of this king. He's confronting the evil of his own nation. You know, he's like Rocky, when the Russian said, "I'm going to break you". Rocky said, "Go for it"! You know, that's Elijah! He's ready! But then God says, "Go hide yourself". And he obeyed God and he stayed at the Brook Cherith or Cherith which is east of Jordan, which is basically in nowhere land. For these years he was fed by ravens, and, yes, ravens were delivering him food and this was not In N Out Burgers delivered here. So whatever ravens eat. I was just in the wild this week. I was up in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and I'd never seen a bald eagle in the wild. But we saw eight or nine of them. We saw other kinds of predator birds and I'm thinking about this message. And I'm thinking, "Think about Elijah, living out in nowhere land, out in the old west being fed by ravens".

You say, "How did that happen"? God miraculously provided for his man. God took care of His own. He was hidden there, he was protected at that time from Ahab's wrath. He was prepared for the battle and he stayed and he prayed until God told him to go. And it was there at the Brook Cherith that he learned to depend upon God! That God was able to provide for his every need! And that's what we learn in the presence of the Lord when we pray. It's in the presence of God in prayer that we discover how God meets our needs and fulfills His plan and His purpose in our lives. And I'm certain that the boldness that is to come on Mount Carmel was nourished at the Brook Cherith while he was hidden. I warn our staff from time to time we're on platforms in front of a lot of people but the fact is that our victories on platforms are won in prayer closets at Brook Cherith.

Victories aren't won up here on the Mount Carmels but in prayer as we seek God. And we often have no power because we have no prayer, and therefore we have no passion. He earnestly and fervently prayed. That's what James tells us. Now as we'll see with these prophets of Baal we are not heard for our much speaking. Jesus told us that. Or pounding on the floor or beating rocks together. That's not the point here. But the point is that God does business with those who mean business with Him. And no prayer, no power. And this man teaches us that truth. If we're going to experience victory in the showdowns of life when we face certain enemies, then we better be prepared in prayer. In fact that great spiritual warfare passage in Ephesians 6 tells us the warfare is prayer, praying it all prayer. And our prayer is to be daring; our prayer is to be dynamic; our prayer is to be desperate; and our prayer is to be determined! But that's a whole other message, so let's go on.

Thirdly, he faithfully and fearlessly proclaimed the word of God, he faithfully and fearlessly proclaimed the word of God. When he stood before Ahab he delivered the message that God had given him. He spoke forthrightly and faithfully. And you know, if we deliver the word of God not everyone is going to like it just as Ahab didn't like it. When Elijah said it's not going to rain for three and half years, Ahab was infuriated. But so what? It was the message God gave Elijah to say. Now we're to speak the truth in love, but we are to speak the truth. If you something today like "Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven" people start frothing at the mouth. If you clearly speak for morality, for purity in our generation, people say "stop it! Shut up"! If you say "Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life" people will say you've got a narrow religion. Yes we do. One in which Jesus said, John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father but by Me".

If you say that in our culture, you're viewed as controversial and offensive. But we must say it anyway. We must take our stand. We must tell the truth. We will share bad news as well as good news, because it's the bad news that makes the good news so good! Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing else but the truth as Paul said, Acts 20:27, "Declare the whole counsel of God". Tell it all. Again, with love and compassion, with acts of mercy and grace and help and healing. In that context as your pulpit but forcefully and fervently speak the truth. This is what Elijah did. And therefore, finally, he courageously obeyed the will of God. Alright, now here's the showdown. And I don't know how to tell this better than what we can show you right from the scriptures as to what happened.

"After many days the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, 'Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth.'" He first calls God's people to make a choice. "So Elijah went to show himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe". And in verses 19 through 21: "'Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table.' So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel.'" Now this is 450 to one, by the way. Elijah and 450 evil prophets of Baal. "And Elijah came near to all the people and said, 'How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him...' and the people did not answer him a word".

Okay, that's clear, right? Elijah stands in front of the Israelites, gathers them there, and said, "You've been living in this darkness; you've been living in the depravity. You see where it's getting us. If God be God, serve Him! But stop all this wimping out and limping around between two opinions. You know, limping like this; walking on both legs, trying to but about to stumble. You know, get off the fence is what he's saying. Get in or get out! If God is God, stop pussyfooting with these false gods and these false deities, and Ahab himself, and let's take a stand for God in our generation"! G. Campbell Morgan, the great Bible teacher, once said that "Lukewarmness is the worst form of blasphemy". How so? Lukewarmness says, "God, you don't mean enough to me for me to either stand with you or against you. I'm just cool down the middle".

And Elijah said stop that. Interesting, the people didn't say a word. They were afraid of Ahab, afraid of what others would say. They just stood there stunned. But Elijah has the people gathered and said, "Take a stand". He's not a politician; he's a prophet. "If God be God serve Him! Make up your mind. Choose you this day whom you will serve". If Jesus is your Lord, He deserves all your life, not just part of it. You hear me? If Jesus is Lord, He deserves your life, your best, your all. It's a call to decide. So he calls a contest, and let me tell you the story. You know this story if you've been around your Bible much. For those of you who are new to the Bible, let me retell it. Elijah says, "Get the prophets of Baal up here". They didn't even flip a coin, by the way. He says, "You guys go first. You get the kickoff. And you build an altar to your baals, to your gods. And then I will build an altar to my God. And let the God who answers by fire, be God"!

Now that sounded like a good deal to Ahab because Baal is the god of thunder and lightning. That's what they thought. They would hear thunder or see lightning flash, "Ah, that's Baal"! So no problem, he thinks, for these paid off preachers, these Baal prophets to get Baal to send thunder and lightning and fire from heaven. So they go first. And they start early in the day. And they're chanting, and they're crying out, and they're praying, and then it's not working. And they're shouting out, and they're crying out. And about this time, this is what you gotta love about Elijah. He starts trash talking them. It's really funny. He starts going, he says, "Hey, boys".

Can't you just see Elijah, you know, obviously standing over there in the corner, you know, stroking his beard maybe, and he said, "Hey, boys," he said, "maybe your god can't hear you. Speak a little louder"! "Maybe your god's gone on a vacation. Go find him"! And you can read it when you get home this afternoon. He even says, "Maybe your god is taking a bathroom break. Maybe he went to relieve himself". Yeah, it's true. And this sends them over the edge. Now they're cutting themselves. They're bleeding everywhere. And they got a lot of blood but they got no fire! And so it was obvious that Baal was not going to answer cause Baal couldn't answer, no god. After that Elijah said, clean this mess up.

And the Scripture says they repaired the offering. Look at verse 36 of 1 Kings 18: "And at the time of the offering of the oblation", that's the evening offering, "Elijah the prophet came near and said, 'O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.'" He prayed and he trusted God's power. And there was an opportunity for God to move because God's man prayed. But after they repaired this altar and after he prayed, he said, "Go, get some water and pour it on the altar". And he said, "Go, get some more water and pour it on a second time". Then he said, "Go, get some more water". Sometimes people who question the Bible say, "Ah, ah, ah, error in the Bible! There's been a drought for three and half years. Where's all this water coming from"?

Well, duh. It's right by the Mediterranean Sea. It was salt water, no doubt, but they went and got this water. It didn't matter what kind of water it was. They had it, they get it, they pour it on the altar. Why? Because Elijah wanted to make sure that everyone knew that this wasn't some, you know, hep thing he was about to do. You know, one of these magicians that comes along, or one of these, you know, prophets from Egypt who could just create combustion of some kind and create a fire. He wanted to pour so much water on this wood that when the fire fell, everyone would know it was the supernatural act of God. Because after all, a God who can't burn wet wood is no God at all! So they pour all this water on the altar and Elijah prayed and expected, and the fire fell! It was nuclear. There was no big emotional show. There's no need to beat your head, to pray louder, to sing louder.

God just dealt dramatically, and the fire came. Fire is a symbol of revival. And we're praying that today the fire will fall again. We're praying in our church that the fire will fall. We need to rebuild some altars that are broken down. Family altars, and prayer altars and altars of sin and brokenness. We need to tear down the old altars and build the new altar. That's preparation. There needs to be separation. They actually dug a trench around the altar and poured the water in it. And it was a symbol really of the separation that should exist at the altar of God for God's people. We need to teach and preach more biblical separation. Not legalism, but that we would stand apart and be different and separated from the world and come out from the world to make a difference in the world, if we're going to have revival. There was expectation when he prayed, and invocation and supplication but ultimately there was this great demonstration of the power and the presence of Almighty God.
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