We Believe God is Powerful
I preached this last Sunday. We’re still focusing on attributes of God. We believe God still has power in our lives, to answer prayer, to do miracles, to show up in ways beyond what we could imagine. And we don’t ever want to put him in the itty bitty living space of the genie on Aladdin.
Text: 1 Kings 18:16-40
Introduction: Big Godder
Let me tell you a story. St. Denys lived in the 3rd century AD. He was the first missionary to Paris, France, which at the time was a pagan city controlled by the Roman government. And St. Denys had so much success in making disciples that the government got fed up and had him killed. The story goes that he was beheaded. His head fell off, and his body then bent down, picked up his head, and began walking. And St. Denys walked for 3 miles singing praises to God. And then he laid down and died.
Let me ask you, “Do you believe this is true? If not, why do you have a hard time believing? You believe that God raised Jesus from the dead? Why can’t he do the same for St. Denys?” Here’s the point. We believe in a God with POWER. Let me illustrate it with another story.
Dr. Robert Wilson was a great professor of preaching at Princeton Theological Seminary many years ago. One of Dr. Wilson’s students had been invited back to preach in the seminary chapel twelve years after his graduation from the school.So, Dr. Wilson came in and sat down near the front of the chapel to hear his former student preach. At the close of the meeting the old professor came up to his former student, extended his hand, and said, “If you come back again, I will not come to hear you preach. I only come once to hear my students. But I’m glad that you’re a big-godder. You see, when my boys come back, I always come to see if they are big-godders or little-godders, and then I know what their ministry will be like.”His former student asked him to explain, and so he replied: “Well, some men have a little god, and they are always in trouble with him. He can’t do any miracles. He can’t take care of the inspiration and transmission of the Scripture to us. He doesn’t intervene on behalf of his people. They have a little god and I call them little-godders.“Then there are those who have a great God. He speaks and it is done. He commands and it stands fast. He knows how to show Himself strong on behalf of them that fear him. You, young man are a big-godder, and God will bless your ministry.”
We believe in a big God. A God who performs miracles, who is not confined to a box we’ve made for Him, who can do anything regardless of the faith we have in Him. But in reality, who wants to believe in a tiny God? Who wants to believe in a God that may or may not have power over death and sin and hell? Too many churches in America worship a small God today. Too many people confine God to their experiences, saying that “I’ve never seen God work, so obviously He doesn’t.” Too many people look back at the God of the Bible, who raised people from the dead, healed the blind, brought rain in times of famine, think that history cannot repeat itself, so don’t expect it to happen again.
We cannot be that church. No more “honey I shrunk the God” stuff. If we ever want to be relevant to our community, if we ever expect God to work in our church and in our lives, we must have a big God.
I’m NOT advocating the prosperity gospel here. I’m NOT saying that if you have enough faith God will do amazing things for you, and if you don’t have enough faith you’re out of luck. No, what I’m saying is that God is a big God, so we better just own up to that fact and treat Him as such.
The Bible tells us of a man who believed God was a big God. His name was Elijah. And one of his stories is told in 1 Kings 18:16-40. So if you have your Bibles, turn with me there.
So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah. When he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing.
Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.” Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”
Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” So they took the bull given them and prepared it.
Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “O Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.
Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which was in ruins. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.” “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again. “Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.
At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!” Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.
Insight into Elijah’s Times
Here’s what’s been going on. Ahab is king of Israel. He is part of a long line of kings who’ve reigned in Israel, all of whom have done evil in the eyes of the LORD. From the beginning of Jeroboam’s reign—the first king of Israel after the split—to the end of Ahab’s reign, 77 years go by. 77 years. That’s longer than some of you have been alive. These people have never seen a righteous king who commands them to go worship the LORD. And since the split happened, the people of Israel in the north are separated from the temple in Jerusalem in the south. So as for anyone alive during Elijah’s prophetic ministry, Yahweh wasn’t a factor. He wasn’t God. There are some signs that some people feared the LORD, though.
Ahab named his son Ahaziah, which means “Yahweh holds firm.” He wasn’t so sure if worshiping Baal was all it was cracked up to be. And 1 Kings 18:4 says that Jezebel was killing off the LORD’s prophets. Obadiah had hidden 100 of them in caves. So there were men and women who worshiped Yahweh. They were just persecuted.
So, the people of Elijah’s day probably thought that it’s fine to worship Baal, and if I try to worship Yahweh, I’m dead. If they were ever to worship Yahweh, they needed a God who struck fear into their hearts and into Jezebel’s heart. They needed a powerful, mighty God, capable of anything. And that’s who showed up.
Just How Big Is He? (okay, so you really can’t answer this question)
This Scripture gives us four clues as to how big our God is.
1. Power to answer when we pray.
The contest was to see which God would answer. Elijah says that both sides ought to prepare a sacrifice, but not make the sacrifice. They would let their God do it. The god who answers by fire—he is God. And so the prophets of Baal run around their altar, chanting and screaming and cutting themselves. All this to no avail. Their god should be answering them, but he doesn’t. Baal is a storm god, and so he could easily have answered by lightning. And so Elijah taunts them. In verse 27 he says, “Shout louder! Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”
And Elijah’s taunts are really about as bad as they come when you’re making fun of Baal. Elijah says he’s deep in thought…maybe there’s something more important to him and his mind is elsewhere. Maybe he’s so deep in thought he cannot hear you, so shout louder. Then he says Baal might be busy, which in the original language is a euphemism for going to the bathroom. He then says Baal might be traveling. Baal worshipers believed that Baal did hibernate during winter, so maybe he was still traveling to come back for spring. And finally Elijah says he’s sleeping. Again, this refers to him hibernating. His worshipers needed to perform rituals to awaken him.
And what’s silly about all this is that Israel had been in a drought for 3 years. That’s three years that Baal hasn’t been able to wake up and provide the rain for their crops. They’re standing on Mount Carmel, which means “God’s vineyard.” It’s part of a range of mountains along the Jezreel Valley, which receives thirty inches of rain each year and is the most heavily forested area in the country. But now, all they can see is brown, dead trees. The Kishon River below is probably more like a long, winding mud puddle.
Baal hasn’t been able to come through for 3 years, and they’ve still been following him. Baal cannot answer them, and they still cut themselves to bits. They tried to cut themselves as a way of getting his attention, saying, “We’ve given up a vital part of our bodies…our blood…so now it’s your turn to act.” And he doesn’t.
God is the one who answers Elijah’s prayer. In verses 36-37, Elijah prays, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
And that’s a big issue among Christians today. It always has been. Does God really answer our prayers? What about the times when it seems like our prayers don’t make any difference? Is God really listening? Yes, he is. Yes, he cares about your concerns. No, he’s not distracted by something else. Don’t give up on prayer, and don’t give up on God. Perhaps one of the reasons we don’t think God answers prayer is because we don’t look for Him to do so. After we’ve prayed, we forget what it was we prayed about because another concern arises. Meanwhile, God has answered our first prayer and we forgot. A simple way to remedy that is by keeping a prayer journal. Write down your prayer and the date God answers it.
God answers prayer. That’s power. That’s a big God.
2. Power to change hearts, no matter how deep in sin.
Like we said, Baal had been in charge for 70-plus years. And Elijah’s prayer was that the people would know that you are LORD, and that you are turning their hearts back again. The Hebrew for “turning their hearts back again” is in the preterite tense…the past tense. It should read, “that you have turned their hearts back again.” Elijah is so confident of what will happen, that God has already started to turn their hearts back to Him.
Sometimes we get caught up in the fire coming down from heaven, and we imagine the greatness of it, and we forget the purpose. We forget that these were misguided, lost people, who needed the LORD.
Earlier, Elijah had told them to quit wavering, literally to quit hobbling on one leg and then hobbling on the next. Quit sitting on the fence. They knew about Yahweh. There were prophets out there delivering messages from the LORD. So either choose Yahweh as God or choose Baal. One or the other.
And Elijah is very smart about how he works with the people. In verse 24 he says TO THE PEOPLE, “You call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD.” He says that to the people. And here’s why. If Elijah had only allowed the people to be spectators to this scene, they wouldn’t have to take responsibility for their sin. But because they were the ones chanting with the false prophets, they had to take responsibility for their actions.
And then he calls them to help him with the water jars. In verse 33, he has the people fill the jars with water and drench his sacrifice. They get close as he rebuilds the altar, and then help him get it ready. They had to be involved in this too, because if they just watched, they could dismiss what happened. Their involvement in the process allowed the people to really decide for themselves who was God.
And they cried out, “The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!” Here’s the ironic thing about that. What they were really saying was one word: Elijah. Elijah, the LORD is God.
They had had the answer right in front of them the whole time, yet their sin and idol worship deafened them to it. God had the power to open their ears, and to turn their hearts back to Him.
Can you remember the time when God turned your heart to Him? Maybe it wasn’t a day full of excitement and fire from heaven. Maybe it’s been so long you can’t remember the exact circumstances, but you know that God saved you. We know that God still saves, and still has power to turn our hearts to Him.
That’s power. That’s a big God.
3. Power to defeat Satan and his false prophets.
The Bible tells us that our war is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil. Baal wasn’t a real god. Baal didn’t have any power. But Satan did. And Satan used the image of Baal, a god who was supposed to bring fertility and life, as a cover-up for his operation of leading Baal’s followers to death. And in the end, all 450 prophets of Baal were killed.
There are those today who claim that God doesn’t have power because of all the bad things that happen in the world. They say that God wouldn’t allow those things if He really cared. God does care. What we tend to forget is that we have sinned and brought God’s judgment on ourselves. We’re the ones who have followed the modern-day Baals of materialism, sex, murder, hatred, and on and on. It’s not that God doesn’t have power to stop bad things from happening…it’s that we’ve blown it. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you don’t get punished.
There are also those who take this too far. They say that God specifically made Hurricane Katrina or 911 happen because of our sins. That’s wrong too. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. God loves us like crazy, and wants us to turn to Him. But He’s also given Satan power over the earth for a time, until Jesus comes back.
4. Power to go beyond our comprehension of who He is.
Picture yourself as one of the on-lookers. You’ve been in a drought for three years. And Elijah says that whichever god answers by fire is God. And on top of that, he asks you to go get 12 buckets full of water, equivalent to at least 24 gallons. What are you thinking?
You may be thinking, “Wouldn’t it make more sense for the god who pour out rain and ends this drought to be the real God?” Or maybe, “Why am I wasting all this water?” And then God answers. And everything is consumed. I guarantee you not a one of them there thought that God would do that, except Elijah.
There were 450 prophets of Baal, and 400 prophets of Asherah, the king of Israel, and all these people who had been worshiping Baal. Elijah is the only one on the LORD’s side. They were probably more skeptical about this than the critics in Noah’s day. And then God delivered. And there was no denying that He had just blown you away.
This isn’t like saying the Bears will upset the Colts in the Superbowl. This doesn’t even compare.
And how many times are we like them? How many times have we carved out a box and put God in it? Like the genie from Disney’s Aladdin, God has an itty bitty living space. God wants to show us how big and how powerful He is. Will we let Him? Will we trust the people’s testimony, “The LORD is God, the LORD is God?”
Belief Into Practice
So let’s make this personal. Is there a prayer you’ve been praying, but you’ve given up on God? Or do you know of a loved one who could care less about the LORD, and you’ve given up hope of them ever knowing Him? Or do you feel like Satan has been battling you, and he just won’t give up? Or have you put God in a box?
If you answer “yes” to any one of those, I want you to pray with me. And as you pray, hold your hands out like this (cupped in front), as a way of telling God, here’s my sacrifice. Display your power in my life. I’m a big godder, and you’re my big God.