Reading Ramblings – October 5, 2014

Date:  Narrative Preaching #14 — Elijah & the Prophets of Baal: October 5, 2014

Texts: 1 Kings 18:20-40; Psalm 94; Matthew 25:31-46

Context: We’re slightly out of order this week, preaching in Elisha last week and Elijah this week when in reality Elijah preceded Elisha.  Ah well.  Mea culpa.  More pressing should be the prominent theme of judgment in this passage.   In a powerful showdown, the prophet of God defeats the prophets of the false god Baal, and the false prophets lose their lives.  What we believe has ramifications, as events in the Middle East these days and in North Africa should make abundantly clear.  Scripture is clear that there will be judgment, and we are tasked with the difficult work of praying for those who are lost in the falseness of other religions and the evil of destroying those who disagree, while acknowledging that those who are not brought to faith face very real judgment.  

1 Kings 18:20-40 — Elijah is not a popular man.  He is the last of the faithful prophets, those who truly spoke the Word of God to the people of God and their leaders.  The others had either been driven off or killed or converted to other religions of convenience.  Here Elijah demands a showdown, and faces off with 450 false prophets.  Elijah may feel he has nothing to lose, considering how out of favor he is with King Ahab.  Yet there is much at stake beyond Elijah’s own life.  There are the lives of the people of God who are torn between the false gods of the people around them and their own rulers, and the true Creator of heaven and earth.  And whether they realize it or not, at stake as well are the lives of the prophets of Baal who face off confidently against this lone voice.

God is not intimidated though, and He strengthens Elijah for the daunting task at hand.  In the end, the truth of God is contrasted with the complete humiliation of those who follow other gods.  The hearts of God’s people are undoubtedly strengthened, and the lives of the false prophets are ended violently.  These are the stakes of faith.  As our culture wants to decry and mock the fierce differences between religions, we must never forget that life and death are at stake, both here and now as well as eternally.   We should be in constant prayer that those who oppose God would be brought to faith, and therefore to life, even as we pray for the preservation of those already suffering and dying for His name.

Psalm 94  — Good will prevail.  Evil will fail.  We may at times be reticent to proclaim this boldly because most all of us know someone who has not come to trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord & Savior.  We are tempted to soft-peddle the judgment Scripture clearly points to, as though this might be a source of offense to those outside the faith.  Of course it will be a source of offense!  And certainly passages of judgment are not likely to help the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives.  Yet we must remember that sin is sin.  Evil is evil.  And the great victory of God in Jesus is victory over the results of sin—death—as well as the source—evil.  Such victory is not itself bad but rather good.  This should impel us to take seriously the people in our lives who are not in faith, and urge us to pray for them and actively seek the Holy Spirit’s help in knowing how best to share with them our hope in Jesus Christ.

Matthew 25:31-46— Are you a mighty person of faith?  Are you a fearless warrior against sin?  Have you championed the faith in groundbreaking ways?  Have you impacted the world the way that Billy Graham or C.S. Lewis have?

Most of us would be quick to say no, and rightly so.  As such we should take great comfort that in the final judgment picture that Jesus draws, what God notices are little things.  Little acts of mercy and kindness and love for neighbor, not miraculous and one-of-a-kind matters.

God notices these things because they can be indicators of a heart of faith inside.  It is not the actions themselves that have merited eternal life, but rather these actions are an outward manifestation of an inward faith.  For the person who professes to be Christian, we should expect to see some evidence in their love of their neighbor, regardless of how trivial the world might deem that evidence.  Likewise, a lack of such evidence is perhaps a dangerous indicator that faith is superficial or even false.

In both cases, the sheep and the goats are surprised by their assessment.  Those in faith because faith in Jesus Christ should lead us to the point where actions of love for others are second nature, something we hardly even notice.  For those outside of faith, the lack of such actions may well denote an unawareness of all that God has done for them in Jesus Christ.

But while God can discern the heart in part through our actions, we are not so blessed.  As such, it is impossible to say that the generous philanthropist must be Christian because they help the needy, or that the foul-mouthed person who never gives to the poor must not be a Christian.  Our vision is, at best, imperfect.  But our God’s vision is not.

As Christians we must not reach a place where we feel that there is no room for improvement, nothing more that can be expected of us, no more that God can ask of us.  There is no retirement from being a Christian, though how we are called to serve may change as we grow older.  Always we are to see in our neighbor a creation of God.  If they are a brother or sister in Christ, praise God and seek to be at peace with them!  If they are not a believer, then they rightly become the object of our prayers and intercessions and our earnest appeals to the Holy Spirit to show us how we might best be of help in leading that person to Christ.

Judgment is coming.  Everything is at stake.  If we suffer for His sake now we do so knowing that this suffering will have an end.  We pray for those who persecute us that they may come to a knowledge of the true God before it is too late, that they might enjoy eternal life in the presence of God.

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