1 Kings 18:16-45 16So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him. Then Ahab came to meet Elijah. 17When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is that you, the one who brings disaster on Israel?” 18He said, “It is not I who have brought disaster on Israel, but rather you and your father’s house when you abandoned the Lord’s commandments and followed the Baals. 19But now gather all Israel before me on Mt. Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table.” 20So Ahab sent word to all the children of Israel and he assembled the prophets on Mt. Carmel. 21Then Elijah spoke to all the people: “How long will you limp around on two crutches? If the Lord is God, follow him. If Baal is God, follow him.” But the people did not answer him a single word.
22Then Elijah said to the people, “I am the only one left of the Lord’s prophets, but the prophets of Baal total 450 men. 23Let two bulls be given to us. Let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it up and set it on the wood. But they are not to set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on wood, but I will not set fire to it. 24Then you will call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers with fire, he is God.” All the people said, “This plan is good.”
25Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull, and you go first because you are many. Call on the name of your god. But do not set fire to it.” 26So they took the bull which he gave them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “Baal! Answer us!” But there was no sound. No one answered. So they danced around the altar which they had made.
27When noon came, Elijah mocked them, “Call louder since he is a god, isn’t he? He may be deep in thought or busy or on a journey. Perhaps he is asleep and will wake up!” 28So they cried out in a loud voice and they cut themselves according to their custom with daggers and spears until the blood flowed on them. 29After noon had passed, they prophesied until the time of the evening sacrifice, but there was no sound. No one answered, and there was no response.
30Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come to me.” So they came to him. Then he repaired the altar of the Lord which had been torn down. 31Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes of the descendants of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, “Your name will be Israel.” 32He built the stones into an altar in the name of the Lord. He made a trench that could hold fourteen quarts of seed around the altar. 33He arranged the wood, cut up the bull, and put it on the wood.
Then he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the sacrifice and on the wood.” 34Then he said, “Do it again.” So they did it again. Then he said, “Do it a third time.” So they did it a third time. 35The water ran all around the altar. It even filled the trench.
36When the time of the evening sacrifice came, Elijah the prophet said, “O Lord, the 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 by your words I have done all these things. 37Answer me, O Lord, answer me so that this people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you are turning their hearts back.”
38The Lord’s fire fell on the sacrifice and the wood and the stones and the dirt and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39All the people were afraid and they fell on their knees and said, “The Lord, he is God. The Lord, he is God!” 40Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal! Don’t let a single one of them escape!” So they seized them, and Elijah brought them down to the Kishon River and slaughtered them there.
41Then Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rainstorm.” 42So Ahab went up to eat and drink, but Elijah went up to the top of Carmel. He bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. 43He said to his servant, “Go up and look toward the sea.” So he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” But seven times, Elijah told him, “Go back.” 44On the seventh time, the servant said, “Look, a cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”
Then Elijah said to him, “Go up and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down so that the rain does not stop you.’” 45Meanwhile, the skies darkened with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain. So Ahab got in his chariot and went to Jezreel.
“I’m going to pick a fight.” This is one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies – “Braveheart.”
At one point in the movie, the Scots are about to go into battle against the English. The Scots are greatly outnumbered by the well-armed, well-trained English forces. Before peaceful negotiations and more concessions by the Scots can be made, William Wallace (played by Mel Gibson) stirs things up by telling his Scottish friends, “I’m going to pick a fight.”
I won’t go into all the details, but Wallace did taunt and mock the English … until there was a fight. And the Scots won!
Lutheran German artist, Lucas Cranach the Younger, portrays the Lord using Elijah to pick a fight with the prophets of Baal on top of Mount Carmel.
The Lord God, who will not give His glory to another nor His praise to idols (Isaiah 42:8), could no longer tolerate the worship of Baal that had become the dominate religion of the land. Israel’s King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, had promoted this worship of the fertility gods, Baal and Asherah. As a result of His chosen people’s rejection of the one true God, the Lord caused a drought to fall on the land for three-and-a-half years.
The true God uses his prophet to pick a fight with the prophets of the false god, Baal. Amazingly, Elijah tells King Ahab what to do: “Gather all Israel before me on Mt. Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
Ahab obeys because he is desperate to end this drought and afraid that his refusal might cause God to send even greater judgments on the land. So, word is sent through all Israel that there will be a showdown on Mount Carmel.
On top of Mount Carmel, Elijah challenges the people of Israel, “How long will you waver [literally, shift back and forth] between two opinions. “If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him?” They had been guilty of acting at times as though the Lord was the one and only true God and at other times acting as though Baal alone was deserving of their worship and service. The people stood there with glazed expressions on their faces saying nothing.
Elijah proposes a contest so the people cannot remain divided. It is a test of strength between the Lord and Baal. Two altars are built – one for the false god Baal and one for the true God. The 450 prophets of Baal take turns dancing around the altar, shouting their prayers, and even cutting themselves to show Baal how serious they are. Elijah taunts with divine sarcasm, “Call louder since he is a god, isn’t he? He may be deep in thought or busy or on a journey. Perhaps he is asleep and will wake up!” The holy writer underscores the impotence of Baal by reporting twice: “… but there was no sound. No one answered, and there was no response.”
Cranach portrays the dramatic moment when Elijah calls for God to ignite his offering, and the bull on the altar bursts into flame. Elijah’s altar is on the left side in the foreground. Because of the drought, servants have gone to the nearby Mediterranean Sea for 12 jars of water to pour over the sacrifice and fill up the trench around the altar. The dark cloud in the center of the painting represents the Lord. The fire of the Lord falls from heaven and consumes the altar and sacrifice. Even the water in the trench around the altar is touched by the flame.
The altar of Baal is on the right. Its wood and sacrifice remain untouched by Baal. The Baal prophets continue to dance and pray even as the altar built by Elijah is consumed by flames.
King Ahab is standing between the altars. The much larger crowd in the center and on the right are still aligned with Baal. The smaller crowd on the left falls to the ground in awe crying, “The Lord – He is God. The Lord – He is God.”
If you look closely at the background in the far upper left corner, you will see the slaughter of the Baal prophets in the Kishon Valley after their defeat.
The Lord used his outnumbered prophet to pick a fight. Elijah was willing to stand up for the one true God in an age of false gods, failed worship, and faulty morality.
Hmm. Does that sound familiar?
We live in a culture where Bill Nye is everywhere mocking creationism and touting evolution. It is a culture of death where the most popular show on TV is about a teenager leaving 13 reasons why she committed suicide. It is a culture of antagonism where college campuses erupt in violence any time there is any perceived micro-aggression. It is a culture of immorality where the Supreme Court has trumped the biblical definition of marriage. It is a culture of confusion where there are no longer coherent definitions of sex, gender or biology.
This is the culture in which we are living. It is a culture in which our children are being raised. It is a culture that is as anti-Christian as the culture in which Elijah ministered. It is a culture whose puppet-master is the devil.
We Christians have created our own culture of unbiblical Christianity. It is a Christianity that does not take seriously the curses and promises of God. Worship attendance, offering totals, spiritual activity are recognizable signs that things are not right with our brand of Christianity. We have over 400 souls in our congregation. Our church should be busting at the seams every single week. We should never have to ask for special offerings. We should never have to beg for work to be done in the church or school.
But none of those things happen. Why not?
We are lazy, apathetic, and uninterested. We waver between altars – the altar here in church and the altar of our own entertainment. We shift back and forth between worshiping one Sunday and doing something else the next Sunday. At times, we are like Thomas in the upper room who confessed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). But at other times, we are like Thomas who asks, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way” (John 14:5)?
When we absent ourselves from worship, it usually isn’t because we’ve become mad with God or upset with members. Most do not run off in a huff over some imagined or real offense. Most of us just gradually and slowly disappear from the landscape of church. We have learned a new habit and that habit does not include attendance at the Divine Service.
We have become double-minded, like St. James says (James 1:8). We say we are Christian, but then live like we are unchristian. We say our prayers during emergencies, but most of the time our prayers are as non-existent as if we were atheists. We read a devotion or come to church sporadically, but generally we act like we are agnostics – not knowing who the true God is.
We have become half-hearted in our Christianity. It rarely feels relevant to us. We consider ourselves good Lutherans, as long as being a good Lutheran doesn’t have to include weekly worship. We have become lukewarm in our faith. Jesus speaks very strongly: “Because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16).
Satan has influenced all kinds of gods in our contemporary culture. Our sinful nature has joined in creating all kinds of gods – sleep, vacation, relaxation, overtime, etc. All of these gods vie for our attention and our worship.
They seem so powerful and pervasive. But they are impotent.
Remember in the first Avengers’ movie when the Norse god, Loki, is bragging about how powerful he is. The Hulk grabs Loki by the feet and smashes him from side-to-side into the floor. The Hulk walks away in disgust saying under his breath, “Puny god.” Our culture and our sinful nature are filled with gods who have seemed to have taken over, but they are nothing when compared to the one true God. They make no sound. They do not respond. They give no response. They are puny gods.
Is it time for us to pick a fight? I’m not talking about a physical fight. I’m speaking of a spiritual fight against the very forces of evil. The devil was behind Baal and he is behind every false god and false belief today.
So how can you fight?
Simply stand up for what you believe. Martin Luther said: “It is a good sign when men condemn and call us agitators. The Spirit of God is the one who strives with men, reproves them, and condemns them. But men are so constituted that they want to have preached what pleases them” (AE 2:20).
Let people know whose side you are one. People will call you a “troublemaker,” just like Ahab called Elijah. When you are faithful to God’s Word, pointing out sin and calling those you love to repentance, you are going to step on toes. But it is Satan who is the troublemaker. He is the one who makes people comfortable in their sin. Your job is to make them feel uncomfortable, so they can receive true peace, rest, and comfort in Jesus Christ.
Don’t be divided. If the Lord is God – and He is – then demonstrate that He is your God with faithful prayer, praise, thanks, and offerings.
Lift high the cross. No other god has died for you. Not Allah. Not Buddha. Not your job. Not your pillow. Only Jesus is the true God who came to earth so that He could die for those who murdered Him. He lived the perfect life in your place. He remained undivided. He only prayed to and worshiped the one true God. He never wavered between two positions. He gave his perfection to you. He died for your imperfections. He rose from the dead so that you know where you are going. He ascended into heaven to prepare a place for you in His Father’s mansions.
Worship the Lord. Martin Luther compared the Lord’s fire that burned the sacrifice to the Lord’s Word and Sacraments. Luther noted that Elijah’s sacrifice was consumed by fire as a “true manifestation of the divine mercy which the wretch people needed in order not to be without some light of the grace of God. In the same way the very Word, Baptism, and the Eucharist are our lightbearers today, toward which we look as dependable tokens of the sun of grace. We can state with certainty that where the Eucharist, Baptism, and the Word are, there are Christ, forgiveness of sins, and eternal life” (AD 1:249).
Study God’s Word – all of it. At home. In church. With your family.
Pray in public.
Share the demands of a holy and righteous God.
Share the love of Christ that covers God’s anger over our unholiness and unrighteousness.
Hold to the truth of God’s Word.
Tell others about that truth.
Profess the name of Christ … loudly … boldly … proudly.
In an age of false gods, failed worship, and faulty morality – the Lord is calling us to pick a fight.
We have the Lord of heaven and earth on our side. He is the Way and the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). Who do you think is going to win? Amen.