1 Kings 19:3-8
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
Elijah. You could make a strong case that the prophet of God belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Old Testament heroes of faith alongside the likes of Abraham and David and Moses. Elijah visited a starving widow in Zarephath and promised that her cooking oil would not run out as long as there was a drought in the land. And it didn’t. And when that widow’s son got sick and died Elijah stretched his body over the boy’s lifeless body and brought him back to life.
Elijah was the prophet who stood alone against hundreds of pagan prophets in the showdown between Baal and the Lord on Mount Carmel. Do you remember the details of that account? Both parties built altars and sacrificed bulls and prayed for their god to send down fire to burn up their offerings. The prophets of Baal wailed and cried and even cut themselves, but no matter what they did they couldn’t create a single spark. When it was Elijah’s turn, he soaked his offering with water and then he prayed. God heard Elijah’s prayer and sent down fire from heaven that burned up his offering and the wood and the stone altar and all the water around it.
These and other accounts demonstrate that Elijah was a towering figure in Old Testament history, but he also figured prominently in the New Testament. When Jesus asked his disciples what the people were saying about him, they reported that some were convinced he was the second coming of Elijah (Mathew 16:14). When Jesus spoke from the cross some people misunderstood what he was saying and thought he was calling out to Elijah (Mark 15:35). At his transfiguration, when Jesus gave his disciples a glimpse of his glory, he appeared with Moses and Elijah. And tucked into the last chapter of James we find the last reference to Elijah in the Bible, where James makes the claim that “Elijah was a man just like us” (5:17).
Really? Do you buy that? How much do you and I really have in common with a man who communed with Jesus and called down fire from heaven and raised the dead? Maybe more than you think. In today’s text in 1 Kings 19 Elijah is on the move. He is in trouble. He is in danger, and he is in desperate need of help. And as we examine the circumstances surrounding this unplanned trip I pray that each of us will find that...
ELIJAH’S JOURNEY IS A LOT LIKE MINE
1. Going my own way leads to a hopeless end
2. Trusting in God’s guidance leads to an endless hope
“Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.” Not exactly the most positive opening line of a sermon text, and not at all what Elijah was expecting to be doing when this day began. With God on his side he had defeated the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. The people saw the fire from heaven burn up his sacrifice. They sided with the Lord. They slaughtered all the 850 false prophets of Baal. It was a decisive victory for the true God, a dawn of a new age of spiritual reformation and renewal. Thanks to the Lord, and thanks to the patient and persistent work of Elijah, the people were finally prepared to repent of their sins and turn back to the Lord.
But then word got back to wicked Queen Jezebel. She was told what Elijah had said to her husband King Ahab. She heard what Elijah had done to her prophets. And she sent messengers to Elijah with this not at all veiled threat: “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.” That is why Elijah was afraid. That is why Elijah was running for his life. Hoping to escape from Jezebel he traveled about 75 miles south to Beersheba, deep into the wilderness where no one would find him. And just to be safe Elijah left his servant in Beersheba and went another full day’s journey into the desert where he was all alone.
Elijah’s life was not a smooth and steadily ascending trajectory that culminated with his glorious entrance into heaven. His life, like most lives, was filled with ups and downs, with high peaks and steep valleys. And as Elijah struggled to find shade under a broom tree in the hot desert, he had reached rock bottom.
The only words of Elijah recorded in this text come in the form of a prayer, but it was not a prayer of confidence. It took all the strength Elijah could muster to utter these words of hopelessness and despair: “I have had enough, LORD. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” And after he finished praying, Elijah closed his eyes hoping that he would never open them again.
“I have had enough, Lord.” Have those words ever found their way into your prayers? Have you ever felt like Elijah, down, depressed, defeated? You love God. You want to serve God. You try your best to live your faith. Because you are a Christian it is your goal in life to let your light shine in everything you do. You try to be the best parent, the best student, the best employee, the best friend. But instead of your best efforts being appreciated, they are just expected, or even worse, you are rejected. Sometimes you feel like you are beating your head against a wall. You wonder if things will ever get better. Even if you don’t say the words out loud, your silent prayers start sounding like this: “Lord, if there is no light at the end of the tunnel, if I can expect this kind of abuse on a daily basis, then I will get in line behind Elijah. You can take my life too.”
Elijah’s excuse was that his enemies were trying to kill him. What’s yours? The truth is that we don’t have any excuse. We have no right to expect that our lives will unfold a certain way. We have no right to expect that our efforts will produce certain results. There is a long list of Bible passages that tell Christians what we can expect. We can expect opposition. We should expect persecution. And if we keep trying to change things on our own, if we try to go our own way, that path will lead to a hopeless end.
As I was preparing for this sermon, I came across an anonymous quote that goes something like this: “Sometimes God allows his children to stumble so that they will fall into his arms.” That quote addresses some of the “why” questions Christians have. Why did Elijah have to flee for his life? Why do I have to experience so much trouble in my life? The answer to those questions is basically the same. The God who loves us with an everlasting love sometimes allows us to suffer to shatter the illusion that we can be self-reliant, to teach us to rely only on him, to remind us that trusting in God’s guidance will lead to an endless hope.
Elijah received that reminder when one of God’s heavenly messengers tapped him on the shoulder. “Get up and eat,” the angel told Elijah. And when he opened his eyes he saw warm bread and cool water, and he ate and drank. To make sure Elijah knew that it wasn’t a dream, and to prepare Elijah for the journey ahead of him, the angel came back a second time to give Elijah a second helping. Seeing the angel and eating the meal gave Elijah the spiritual and emotional and physical strength he needed to get up and go forward.
I want you to remember this account when you are feeling down. I want you to remember how God helped Elijah in his time of need. I want you to remember God’s promise that he will help you the same way. “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (1:14) asked the author of Hebrews. And the answer to that question is an emphatic “Yes!”
Even though we can’t see them (like Elijah did), there are angels all around us, sent from heaven by God himself to serve us. So when you are struggling, when you are hurting, when you feel like you want to give up, remember that you are not alone. You are never alone. The Lord is with you, and in his service are legions of angels God has commanded to help you and protect you.
After his encounter with the angel Elijah was ready to continue his journey, and “he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.” Instead of going back home, Elijah kept going south. For the better part of six weeks he walked deeper and deeper into the wilderness until he finally reached Mount Horeb. The text doesn’t tell us why he went there. The text doesn’t say if this journey was Elijah’s idea, or if God told him to go there. Horeb isn’t the most familiar name in biblical geography, but you might recognize it by its other name, Mount Sinai. Mount Sinai was the place where Moses spent forty days and forty nights with God. Mount Sinai was the place where God gave Moses the law. Mount Sinai was hallowed ground for the Israelites because it was the place where God first revealed himself to his people in his Word.
When Elijah was feeling discouraged, when Elijah needed help, he went to Mount Sinai. He went the source. He went to the place where God revealed himself in his Word. Do you see the lesson for us here? Do you see the parallel for our lives? As we walk along the journey we call life we would do well to follow in Elijah’s footsteps. Just like Elijah we need to go back to the source. We need to go back to God’s Word. We need to spend time in our Bibles every day because God’s Word is the source of strength. In his Word God shows us his love, strengthens our faith and reveals to us his Son.
Jesus wasn’t the second coming of Elijah. Jesus is so much greater than Elijah. Jesus never wavered or worried. Jesus never doubted God’s love. Jesus never lost confidence in God’s plan for his life. He did ask God to take his life, but not because he had had enough, nor because he was ready to quit. He wanted to complete his mission, to suffer and die in your place, to forgive all your sins, to remove all your doubts and fears, to guarantee you a glory-filled future.
Our journey might not be exactly the same as Elijah’s. Our journey will probably not include a fiery chariot carrying us up into the sky, but our final destination will be the same. Because God loves us we have an endless hope. Because of Jesus we have the sure hope of eternal life in heaven. Amen.