3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.
1 Kings 19:3-8
There have been a lot of changes around the church campus over the last couple of weeks. Two weeks ago, all the roofs were replaced due to the hail damage from the big storm a few months back. This last week, the damaged vinyl siding was removed and in the coming weeks, the new siding will be put on and the church will be painted. By the end of August, the church will look as good as it did the day it was finished just over one hundred years ago. The church will look beautiful in a few weeks, but today the church looks like it is in rough shape. The exposed boards that were covered for so long look old, worn out and some are just plain rotten. The worn-out boards serve as a good illustration for the journey of any church and any believer. Over time believers can build up an idea that they are strong enough to journey through this world without total reliance on God, but then when a storm comes and shatters that faulty layer of strength, it reveals the broken heart inside. The truth is you cannot rely on yourself, instead, Christ gives you strength for your calling.
In our Old Testament lesson from 1 Kings 19, we find the prophet Elijah after his faulty layer of strength was shattered. It had to be a powerful attack to demolish Elijah’s defenses. The prophet of God had just faithfully carried out one of the defining moments of his calling as a prophet to the people of Israel. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel were ruling the Northern Kingdom of Israel at the time and had thrown away their trust in God. They plunged the kingdom further into spiritual ruin by having idols built to the false gods Baal and Asherah, which drove the people into human sacrifice, violence and all kinds of perversion. Elijah finally grew tired of God’s people believing they could worship Baal and Asherah, along with keeping the true God in their back pocket. So, he put the prophets of Baal to the test by asking for two bulls to be prepared for sacrifice, one for Baal and one for the God of Israel. When the sacrifices were ready to be lit on fire and the people were watching, Elijah said,
“The god who answers by fire—he is God.”
And Elijah allowed the prophets of Baal to call on him first to light their sacrifice
After the prophets of Baal called on their gods all day long with no answer, Elijah finally told them to stop. He then called for his sacrifice to be drenched with water until it spilled over and filled a trench Elijah had dug around it. Finally, Elijah called on the Lord and the Lord answered by sending fire from heaven to completely burn up the sacrifice and all the water that had been poured on it. At that point, the answer was very clear that the prophets of Baal were wrong and deserved to be put to death for their blasphemy. So, Elijah put all the prophets of Baal to death, but when word got back to Queen Jezebel about what he had done, she was furious. Jezebel was so mad that she sent word that she had sworn to put Elijah to death. When he heard what Jezebel had threatened,
3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness.
God had just used Elijah to win a major public victory for himself, but Elijah was afraid. The great miracle of the fire from heaven burning up the sacrifice may have seemed like the final move in a chess match leaving the king ruined, but instead Elijah felt like he had only just awakened the beast. The standoff between Elijah and the prophets of Baal happened at Mount Carmel at the very Northern end of Israel and after he hears that Jezebel wants him dead, he runs all the way to Beersheba in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, a distance of about one hundred miles. This would be like the events that happened at Mount Carmel happening at Camp Shiloh in Pittsburg, TX and then Elijah fleeing to Rockwall, TX. Finally, when Elijah leaves his servant and goes a day’s journey into the wilderness, it would be like going from Rockwall to Garland.
The difficulties of Elijah’s call as prophet to Israel were the cause for all of his moving around. When Elijah ran across the kingdom of Israel to escape Jezebel and left his servant behind to be alone, we read that
He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
Elijah was so tired and burnt from his calling that he was done. The last thoughts he had before he fell asleep were how much better it would be to be free from the pressures, hardships and battles of his life.
I hope none of you were worried to the point of wanting to go to heaven early this morning when you saw the church in the middle of the repairs. It’s a shock to see the church like this, but it won’t last long. On the other hand, there are other parts of the church that are always under construction, the people. As a pastor, my calling is very specific like Elijah’s to be prophet. I am called to share Jesus with all of you as members of this church and to go out into our community to share Jesus with as many as I can find. Sunday morning possess a dangerous situation then for pastors because each Sunday we take church attendance and if attendance is lower than I believe it ought to be, I am tempted to say like Elijah said,
“I have had enough, Lord.”
All of you don’t have such a specific calling as Elijah, but you are still believers called to active service in God’s kingdom as husbands and wives, children, employees, students, friends, etc. Last night as you laid in bed, your thoughts were not all positive. Each night as we all lay in bed, we can all feel alone and defeated like Elijah because something in our lives is not working out how we want it to or someone is treating us how we want to be treated. When we wake up after going to sleep with those kinds of thoughts weighing on our minds, it’s hard to feel like we really got a good night’s sleep, it’s hard to feel like we have the strength for whatever God has called us to be that day and it’s easy to lose faith in God’s strength.
After Elijah fell asleep in his bed made of fear and despair,
all at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. 7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.
Elijah had traveled over one hundred miles to escape the wrath of Jezebel and was ready to give up, when God came to strengthen him. Twice, God woke Elijah up and fed him, preparing him for the next phase of his calling as prophet to Israel. If we keep that picture of Elijah in Garland, TX having left Camp Shiloh, then his 40-day journey would be like walking down to Austin, TX.
When Elijah made it to Horeb or Mount Sinai, God gave him a clear picture of what he was to do next. After the 40-day journey to the mountain of God, Elijah has a conversation with God in which he spells out why he is ready to die, telling God that Israel is in terrible shape because the people have rejected God, killed his prophets and he is the only one left who trust in God. Then, God told Elijah to stand outside out on the mountain to watch him pass by and there was a great wind, massive earthquake and fire, but God was not in any of those. Finally, God came in a whisper and asked Elijah a second time why he had come to the mountain. Elijah gave the same response as before lamenting all the things wrong in Israel and how he was the only one left. God’s response to Elijah was to go back and do his work as prophet to anoint a new king in Aram and Israel, and to appoint Elisha to succeed him as prophet. He also followed up with these words,
“I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”
Elijah was so sure he was the only one left and that there was no more to do as prophet to Israel, but God showed him that there were still believers who needed him and God would be with him in his work.
It is foolish for us to believe that we should give up when we don’t feel strong enough to carry on because our journey in this world is hard as believers. It is foolish of me as the pastor to take church attendance each Sunday morning by counting the empty spaces in the pews. It is foolish for each of you to lay in bed each night overwhelmed by what we failed to do or how someone treated us. This is all foolish, just like Elijah because we are not the source of strength to carry out our callings, but God is. When we fail to understand that God is our strength, we fail, as the writer of the Hebrews said in our second lesson from Hebrews 5,
it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!
The writer to the Hebrews was pointing out that the people who should have recognized and therefore relied on Jesus to save them, completely missed believing in him as their Savior. Though Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies, did all the miracles, died on the cross, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, they did not believe.
Those who were called out in Hebrews shared the same lack of understanding as those in our gospel lesson from John 6. This reading comes after Jesus’ miracle of the feeding of the five thousand and his very clear preaching that he is the Son of God, the promised Savior. The crowds ought to have recognized him immediately, but they did not. And Jesus further preaches to them,
45 “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.”
Jesus reveals that he is the fulfillment of the prophets, of the promise given to their ancestors and by his miracles he proved that he was the Savior, but they rejected him. Ultimately, the rejection of Jesus by his people put him on the cross. And it was on the cross that Jesus revealed his true strength to deliver us by taking the punishment of sin and then returning to life victorious over death.
Jesus is our strength because he holds the power over life and death. The perspective that our faith in Jesus as the bread of life gives us leads us to carry on like Elijah. Jezebel never got her hands on Elijah nor did she put him to death. Instead, God gave him the strength to finish out his calling as the prophet to Israel and at the end of his life he was brought to heaven in a flaming chariot. The same God that did all of that for Elijah is at work in this world for you and when the devil tempts you to think that God is not strong or working in full force for you, remember what happened to Elijah on Mount Horeb. God was not in the violent wind, powerful earthquake or consuming fire, he was in the whisper. God gave Elijah the encouragement he needed through his words.
Despite all the changes to this campus over the last couple of weeks, one thing has remained the same, we have gathered here to hear the Word of God. We come here to be reminded that it is not our own strength that gets us through each day. It is not our own strength that provides us with what we eat, drink or wear, and is it not our own good works or will power that keep us connected to God. Rather, we have all we need because of our God who created us, saved us, gave us faith and sustains our faith. Though we are all worn out like the old wood siding of this church, our strength is renewed through our Savior. He reminds us that our salvation is won. Rest easy today, tonight and always confident of what Jesus has done for you and God bless you as Christ gives you strength for your calling. Amen.