Sermon on 1 Kings 19:14-21
Text: He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
15 The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel — all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”
19 So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. 20 Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.”
“Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?”
21 So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant.
The little first-grade boy was being more and more frustrated. He wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to do it. It looked hopeless. What was the cause of this frustration and hopelessness? It was tying his shoes. It wasn’t that he hadn’t been trying. His mother had patiently tried to teach him. His teachers had done their best to help. Yet, no matter what they said or did, the boy still couldn’t tie his shoes. Then, one day at recess, an older boy came to him as he was sitting on the swings. He patiently worked with the first-grader and, suddenly, it clicked. Now, that little boy was able to tie his shoes. The feelings of frustration and hopelessness were gone. While you might smile at the “big” problem of this little boy, do you ever feel the same way? Perhaps, as you look at the world around you, you find yourself thinking that there is no hope. Everything is so bad. It’s such a mess. As we study this portion of God’s Word, we find THE LORD’S ASSURANCE WHEN EVERYTHING SEEMS HOPELESS. He says, 1. ‘I Will Execute My Justice.’ 2. ‘I Will Work Through My Word.’ 3. ‘I Will Provide For My Church.’
Elijah begins this section by saying, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (Verse 14) Can you hear the despair in Elijah’s voice? What brought him to this state of mind? Let’s take a few moments and see what led to Elijah’s despair.
After three years of famine, Elijah met with King Ahab and told him to assemble the nation of Israel at Mount Carmel. There the LORD showed that he was the only true God, by raining down fire upon a sacrifice that Elijah had prepared. The people shouted, “The LORD — he is God! The LORD — he is God!” (1 Kings 18:39) The 450 priests of Baal were put to death. It was, definitely, a high point for Elijah in his ministry.
How quickly things changed. When Jezebel heard what had happened, she threatened Elijah by saying, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” (1 Kings 19:2) Elijah has to run for his life. Earlier in this chapter, he said, “I have had enough, LORD. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” He went from the heights of victory to the depths of despair. He felt that he was the only believer left in the land. In addition, that wicked King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, were still in power. It didn’t make any sense to him. As a result, he offers up the complaint to God, which we read in verse 14. The Lord appeared to Elijah at Mount Horeb to strengthen him.
After the Lord appeared to Elijah, he gave him some tasks to do. He said, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu.” (Verses 15-17) The Lord wasn’t just giving Elijah some busy work to try and get his mind occupied. Rather, he was showing Elijah that he had not overlooked the rebellion of the Israelites. Divine justice would be coming on the Northern Kingdom of Israel. After Hazael became king of Aram, he was a constant thorn in the side of Israel, repeatedly attacking them. Jehu, after he became king, wiped out the house of wicked Ahab. To Elijah’s eyes, it looked as though God’s judgment on the wickedness of the nation of Israel was missing. The Lord assures Elijah that, in his time, he would execute justice on the nation.
What a reassurance that is for us, especially when we look at the world around us. Does it feel hopeless when you see so many governments that are actively opposing Christianity? We see government leaders speaking against what the Bible says. Every group that promotes a lifestyle that is contrary to what God says is praised, but, if a group speaks up for the truths of God’s Word, they are vilified. We catch ourselves looking to the skies and asking, “Why?”. Our Lord reassures us that he still has everything under his control. In his due time, those who have opposed Christianity will have to answer for what they have done. That justice will come at a time of God’s choosing. We, also, have God’s reassurance in Romans 8:28, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” For example, when we think of persecutions against Christianity throughout the centuries, there have been blessings. First of all, it strengthened the faith of the believers. They had to cling to their God in the face of danger. In addition, persecution often causes the faith to be shared elsewhere, as believers move from the place of persecution to another location. When it seems as though the world in which we live is completely out of control, we have the Lord’s reassurance that he will execute justice in his own time and way.
The Lord reacted to Elijah’s assertion that he was the only believer left in the entire nation of Israel. He said, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel — all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (Verse 18) Whether there were exactly 7,000 believers left in Israel is immaterial. What the Lord was telling Elijah was that there were still many people in the nation who were believers. We have an example of this in 1 Kings 18, where we read of a man by the name of Obadiah, who had hidden 100 prophets of the Lord from the murderous intent of Jezebel. Furthermore, Elijah was only able to look at the outside. He was going by what he was able to see. The Lord could look into the hearts of all of the people and see those who believed. The Lord challenged Elijah to realize that his work in the sinful kingdom of Israel was for more effective than he ever could have imagined.
This is an important reminder for us, as well. When we look at the size of our congregation and the size of our church body, it can be frustrating, especially when we compare them to the churches that exist that are willing to compromise on key points of biblical teaching. We proclaim the truths of God’s Word. Shouldn’t we be growing by leaps and bounds? Perhaps, we have shared our faith with an individual for some time and they still don’t believe. Do we get frustrated and wonder what’s taking so long? Should we try something new and not spend so much time talking about what the Bible says? Should we compromise on what is taught there? Dear Christian, realize that, just like Elijah, we are not alone. Our God promises us in Isaiah 55:10-11, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” God’s Word works. How do you know that? It worked in you. The Holy Spirit has worked through the Word to create and sustain your faith. We have had the stern words of the Law spoken to us, exposing the fact that we have dared to sin against our God in our thoughts, words, and actions. It has clearly pointed out the penalty for these rebellions is an eternity of separation from our God in hell. The sweet message of the gospel has thrilled our ears. It has told us of how the Son of God came to the earth to rescue it from our sins. We have heard how Jesus served as our substitute by living a perfect life for us, by suffering and dying for us, and by rising from the dead for us. We know that heaven is waiting for us. This is the message that was effective in you. This same message continues to have an effect on its hearers, as well. That person that you have been telling about Jesus might someday come to faith. What we need to remember when it comes to the growth of a church or the coming of faith of an individual is that we don’t do the converting. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. What we are to do is to share the Word of God with others. We do so with the reassurance that God will continue to work through his Word.
After Elijah left Mount Horeb, he traveled until he came to Abel Meholah. There, in one of the fields, he saw Elisha. Elisha must have come from a fairly wealthy family as they had twelve yoke of oxen for plowing. It says, “Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him.” (Verse 19) The cloak that Elijah was wearing must have had some sort of distinction as being that of a prophet. By throwing his cloak around Elisha, he was saying the Elisha was now to follow Elijah and become a prophet. Elisha understood the significance of what had just happened, because, first of all, he asked Elijah whether or not he could say good-bye to his family. Then, he slaughtered the yoke of oxen that he was driving and made a meal, cooking them over the pieces of his plow. In this way, Elisha was showing that he was leaving his former life and would now serve as Elijah’s assistant, until the time came for him to assume the prophet’s mantle. Remember that Elijah had pined that he was to the only believer left in Israel? By means of having Elisha come and be his assistant, ready to take over after Elijah was gone, the Lord was reassuring Elijah that the work would continue. God’s Word would continue to be proclaimed in Israel.
Similarly, the Lord continues to provide for his church today. Not only does the Lord see to it that his Word is preserved, but also sees to it that individuals are called to preach and teach his Word. At times, we may look at some churches or schools that are undergoing long vacancies and wonder what will happen to them. Then, there is the desire to start mission work in various places. We couple that with smaller classes graduating from our seminary and Martin Luther College. We wonder if we will be able to do the work that we would like to do. We have God’s assurance that he will continue to provide those workers who will go out into the harvest field. First of all, it gives us reason to thank God for those called workers whom God has sent to share his Word with us over the years. Secondly, we thank God for those called workers who are currently serving him around the world. Finally, we ask that God would continue to provide those young men and women who are willing to say to him, “Here I am. Send me.” This, also, gives us the opportunity to look to those young people that we know and have the talents to serve in this capacity. What can we do to encourage them to, at least, consider serving their Lord in this way? Whether there may be many who serve as called workers or few, we have the Lord’s reassurance that he will continue to provide these gifts to his church.
We began our sermon talking about feeling frustrated and hopeless. Is it OK, when we are frustrated to ask God why something is happening? Is it OK to ask how everything is going to turn out? The answer is “Yes.” Where our frustration shows itself is in wanting to know the answer right away. God tells us to be patient and wait for his answer. It will come. For that reason, even when we get frustrated, we aren’t hopeless. We have a God that loves us with an everlasting love. As proof of that, we need look no further than the blood-stained cross and the empty tomb. Since God has loved us that much, we can be sure that he will take care of all of our frustrations and, even, our occasional hopelessness. Hear God’s promise to you in Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Amen.
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