Reading Ramblings – August 24, 2014

Date:  Narrative Preaching #9—Elijah: August 24, 2014

Texts: 1 Kings 17:8-24; Psalm 147; Luke 7:11-17

Context: Why do we bother God with our problems, particularly problems that seem insurmountable, that are beyond the realms of even hope?  We draw our conclusions about our situations and even the most faithful Christians can be tempted to give up hope.  But hope is the central blessing of the Gospel.  Hope that our conclusions are not conclusive.  Hope that our struggles and problems are not final.  Hope that the grace of God is not just for the best and the prettiest and the strongest, but for all people, no matter how far removed they may feel from the center of God’s activity.

1 Kings 17:8-24 — Elijah comes out of nowhere, briefly introduced in 1 Kings 17 before immediately being shown in action confronting King Ahab of Israel.  His efforts are rewarded with the king’s displeasure, so that he must flee and hide.  Yet despite the king’s displeasure, the Lord provides for Elijah.  And despite the widow’s outsider status, she and her son are sustained by the power of God in the midst of a drought, while God’s own people suffer and perish.  In the midst of calamity the power of God is still at work, and lives are changed by it. 

Psalm 147 — This psalm begins with a celebration specifically of the God who remembers and helps the weak and the unfortunate, the outcasts and the brokenhearted.  The first six verses celebrate a God who does not judge and evaluate by the standards of the world in terms of  influence and power, but rather who sees the heart.  The next five verses emphasize the Lord’s care of his creation, his blessings of sun and rain and harvest.  But again, what we find impressive about nature is secondary to God and his concern about the condition of our heart.  The final nine verses celebrate the Lord’s particular care for his people.  Thus the psalm moves from general praise to specific, from all peoples and all creation, to God’s particular people.  Surely the God who blesses all people and all of creation will not fail to show his particular blessing upon his people!

Luke 7:11-17— Nain is to the southwest of the Sea of Galilee and south of Nazareth in the region of Galilee.  As such it is Jewish territory, and the widow and funerary procession described here are probably Jewish.  The Greek refers to him as a man, but also the only son (likely unmarried) of his mother.  The funeral procession is sad not just because of the death of the man, but also because of the hardship this would place on his mother, who we presume is now left without any means of support for herself since her husband was already dead. 

Jesus raises the man from the dead, restoring him to his mother.  Undoubtedly those who witnessed this event would remember the story of Elijah raising the widow of Zarapheth’s son back to life.  As such it is very reasonable for them to call him a great prophet, as He is acting in the power of the prophets of old.  For a people who had not witnessed a prophet for hundreds of years, this news would be exciting in and of itself!

But of course Jesus is more than a prophet, and He comes to do far more than just raise a few people to life—people who will one day die again.  Rather, He comes to destroy the power of death completely.  God’s answer to the prayer of his people for deliverance far exceeds their expectations and hopes and dreams.  God is satisfied with nothing less than the fulfillment of the promise He made in Genesis 3:15.  The power of the serpent will be undone.  Death will lose its sting.  Humanity and indeed all of creation will be restored to proper relationship with God, and the Kingdom of Heaven will once again make its home among creation. 

So it is fitting that we should never cease to pray to God for deliverance from the things that afflict us.  It does not matter whether we think it likely that God will act, or if we feel it is somehow annoying to God.  We pray, because God invites us to pray, desires us to pray, and is pleased to be with us in prayer.  We are never an annoyance or an irritation in our prayers.  Our prayers should be motivated first of all in gratitude for the fact that God the Father has already answered our most desperate pleas for rescue in the person and work of God the Son, Jesus. 

But we can be bold to come to God in prayer for those things that we may worry are silly or trivial, as well as those things that seem too big and hopeless to bother God with.  Nothing is beyond his power, and while we are exhorted to prayer we never know when or where God the Holy Spirit will be at work, answering and restoring and amazing as He always has.  


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