************ Sermon on 1 Kings 18:21 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 7, 2002
1 Kings 18:16-21
"But the People Said Nothing"
Topic: CallRonald Reagan said that incident taught him the importance of making up his own mind.
Subtopic: Divine, To Decision
Ronald Reagan had an aunt that was very kind to him and liked him a lot. She took him to the shoe maker and told the shoe maker that she wanted him to make a pair of custom shoes for young Ronald Reagan. And the shoe maker asked, "Do you want square toes or round toes on the shoes?" And he hem-hawed around; he didn't know what he wanted. The shoe maker said, "That's all right, see me in a couple of days and tell me and I'll make them for you."
A couple of days later the shoe maker saw him around town and he looked at him and he said, "Do you want square toes or do you want round toes on your shoes?" And Ronald said "I don't know."
He said, "Well, come in a couple of days -- your shoes will be ready." And Ronald Reagan said when he picked up his shoes one shoe was square-toed and one was round-toed.
In front of us this morning we see a people – the children of Israel – also refusing or neglecting to make up their own mind.
I Wedding Day Question
A In our passage the children of Israel are at Mount Carmel. The Lord, through Elijah, had called His people to meet Him there.
Why Mount Carmel? Mount Carmel was and is a place of great natural beauty. It has numerous trees on its slopes and crown. It is filled with multicolored plants and flowers. It has rich pastures. Its lower slopes are covered with all sorts of herbs. This beautiful mountain was a fit place for Israel to meet her God.
But that was not the reason why God called Israel to meet Him at Mount Carmel. In verse 30 we learn that on Mount Carmel was an "altar of the LORD." This means Mount Carmel was not new to Israel as a meeting place. Many times before the people had climbed up that mountain to meet the Lord and serve Him there.
Verse 30 tells us something sad. The altar of the Lord "was in ruins." Carmel has been forsaken as a place of worship and sacrifice. It was no longer being used. The reason is simple: the Lord of the altar was no longer being served. The point is this: if the Lord of the altar is not being served then there is no use for His altars. In the same way, if God is no longer being served then there is no use for this building or any other church building either.
Do you see what God was doing here? In calling His people to Mount Carmel, the Lord was calling His people to return to the altar they had forsaken. In effect, the Lord was calling the people to return to Himself.
B Once the people were gathered on the mountain, Elijah asked them a question: Who is God – Baal or the Lord? Whom will you serve – Baal or the Lord? Whom will you follow – Baal or the Lord?
When it comes right down to it, Israel was being asked again her wedding day question. Remember the wedding day? Israel stood before Mount Sinai. Moses read to her the laws of the Lord. Israel was asked whether she would serve the Lord and be to Him an obedient people, a faithful bride. The people answered, "Everything the Lord has said we will do" (Ex 24:3).
At Mount Carmel the wedding day question was reasked. The bride, Israel, is being asked whether she will stick with her husband or will chase after others.
We need to realize that Israel has been unfaithful. She has been unfaithful to God. She broke her wedding vows by chasing after Baal, and Asherah, and the gods of the Canaanites.
Now God is asking Israel, He is challenging Israel, to return to Him, to commit herself again to Him. God is giving Israel a chance to once again go through the marriage ceremony and once again pledge her wedding vows.
C We need to see our passage in the light of grace. Notice, it was God, not Israel, Who took the initiative. It was God Who invited the people to Mount Carmel. But then we all know that our God is always the God of first steps. If God did not take the first step with Israel then Israel would remain lost. And, if God did not take the first step with us, then we too would remain lost.
God is a God of grace. He calls His unfaithful children to return to Him. And, He takes the first and second and third steps so this is possible.
Topic: God's PeopleThis is a picture of how God deals with us. We're precious in His sight, and He pursues us. He's faithful even when we're not.
Title: Bringing Our Hearts Back Home
In an interview with Today's Christian Woman, author Gwen Shamblin told a story about her dogs:
The girls next door are sweet, but they kept wanting our collies, Chaucer and Virginia, to come over. I told them, "I don't know about letting them come across the fence 'cause they might get confused. But as long as you don't feed them, it's fine."
Soon I had no dogs. They were over there every day. I'd call them home, but they wouldn't come. ... Eventually I realized the problem was that our dogs no longer knew who their master was.
I had to lift Chaucer and carry him home from the barn. We put our dogs on leashes. Then I fussed at Chaucer and Virginia when they were over there, and loved them when they were at home. Then we'd unleash them, test them, find them next door again, and have to repeat the process. But finally we got their hearts back home. ...
Did I want those dogs because of their work? No! They bark at the wrong people. They bark at cars leaving, not coming. They slobber all over me and my company. They're completely in the way. They steal the cat food. They're trouble, but they're still precious to me, and I adore them.
II Make a Choice
A Through Elijah, then, God has called His people, and said,
(1Ki 18:21) "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him."
Elijah accuses Israel of wavering between two opinions. Israel was trying to have it two ways at once. Israel was trying to serve God and Baal at the same time. Israel was trying to having an altar to God right beside an altar to Baal. Israel's policy here was once of tolerance: she was trying to tolerate two religions at the same time.
I remember a Robin building a nest on our porch when we lived in British Columbia. It had a problem, a big problem. There were two poles that looked just right for a nest. So it flew back and forth between the two poles with bits of stick and mud in its beak. It just couldn't make up its mind so finally it built a nest on both poles.Israel was like that Robin. She just couldn't decide whom to serve: the Lord or Baal. So she finally decided to build an altar to both gods, she prayed to both gods, she worshiped both gods, she sacrificed to both gods, and she ordained priests to both gods.
B As we all should know, this is impossible. God and Baal cannot be side by side. The two religions and two gods are incompatible and irreconcilable. The Lord is a jealous God and will not tolerate any sort of competition.
I cannot help but notice that many people today are like Israel at Mount Carmel. They practice tolerance towards other faiths and religions and say some lie about all paths leading to heaven and all religions being equal.
Do you know what is the biggest church in America today? It is the "Church of O." In a recent issue (April 1, 2002) Christianity Today offers an explanation: "With a congregation of 22 million viewers, Oprah Winfrey has become one of the most influential spiritual leaders in America." What does Oprah believe? She says, "One of the biggest mistakes we make is to believe there is only one way. There are many diverse paths leading to God." Oprah knows better because she grew up as the daughter of a Baptist deacon who taught her that Jesus is the only way to God and forgiveness and eternal life.
Oprah, I am afraid, represents a mind-set that has become increasingly popular in America over the last number of decades. Many Americans like to dabble in a variety of belief systems. Consider John Walker, the "American Taliban" whose dabbling led him to Afghanistan. Or, consider this: in a recent interview with The Washington Times, the mother of missing congressional intern Chandra Levy said she was a "Heinz 57 mutt" in her spirituality – drawing from Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and other religions.
The devil loves this. Toleration is a ploy used by him to suck in the people of God. After all, who wants to be accused of intolerance?! In today's world and culture, intolerance is the biggest and worst sin. But as Paul tells us, what connection is there between righteousness and wickedness, light and darkness, Christ and Belial (2 Cor 6:14ff)? The Lord is an intolerant God and the Christian faith is an intolerant religion. We say there is only one God and one way of salvation. And every other god and religion must be treated as false and untrue and blasphemous.
So Elijah challenges Israel to make up her mind. Elijah challenges Israel to stop limping back and forth.
(1Ki 18:21) "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him."Israel is told to stop her waffling and wavering and wiggling between two positions. Israel is challenged to make a choice.
Israel is like a traveler on a journey. She has reached a fork in the road. She must now decide which way to go: whether to the left or the right.
(1Ki 18:21) "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him."
III No Answer
A How did Israel respond to this challenge? What was her answer?
Did you notice what our text said: "But the people said nothing." Nothing. The people said nothing.
What a disappointing response. Elijah's question calls for a clear "Yes" or "No." Elijah's question calls for a loud "I do" or "I don't." At a wedding you don't hear the bride and groom say, "Maybe." You don't hear them say, "Perhaps." You don't hear them say, "Let me think about it." You answer with either a "Yes" or a "No." With either "I do" or "I don't." "But the people said nothing." The people's silence shows us and tells us that they are still wavering and wandering and waffling between two opinions.
A song when I was a teen told us that "Silence is Golden." And sometimes silence is golden. When young children are put to bed and parents can finally relax, then silence is golden. When friends are so comfortable with each other that there can be minutes without talk, then silence is golden. When tragedy strikes and a hug is all that we can give, then silence is golden. When Christians come before God in prayer and meditation, then silence is golden.
But there is nothing golden about this silence. The people are told to make up their mind. "But the people said nothing.
Compare this silence to Israel on her wedding day. At that time all of Israel spoke with one voice and promised to serve the Lord. Or, compare Israel's silence to her reaction in the Promised Land. Joshua had assembled the people after the land was conquered. "Choose you this day whom you will serve," said Joshua. On that day the people could not remain silent. "We will serve the Lord," they shouted.
B "But the people said nothing." I find this to be somewhat amazing. You see, there were many people on Mount Carmel who knew exactly where they stood. The priests of Baal and the false prophets, they knew where they stood, they knew whom they wanted to serve: Baal. Yet, they remained silent. The persecuted prophets of the Lord and the 7000 who did not bend the knee to Baal, they knew there they stood, they knew Whom they wanted to serve: the Lord. Yet, they also remained silent.
Silence. Everyone silent. No one speaking.
The silence can be explained in only one way: the Lord must have sealed the lips and shut the mouths of those who knew where they stood.
I think I know why God did this. He wanted the people to decide for themselves, to declare for themselves, who they were going to serve. What would have happened, do you think, if one determined Baal worshiper had shouted out, "Baal is god. Let us serve Baal!" Like a spark among gun-powder, that could have exploded among the people and they would have rejected God because of the moment. Or, what would have you happened, do you think, if one of the Lord's prophets had called out, "The Lord is God. Let us worship Him." Like a match thrown on gasoline, that could have exploded among the people and they would have accepted God because of the moment. If anyone would have shouted out, either for God or for Baal, the people would not have been making up their own mind. But God wants a people who freely give Him their hearts and their lives.
C "But the people said nothing." God wants to hear a clear answer. God wants to hear "I do" or "I don't" rather than "I don't know" or "Let me think about it." The Bible tells us God prefers we are hot or cold rather than lukewarm or indifferent (Rev 3:14ff). God wants to hear a public declaration of where we stand rather than trying to accommodate and tolerate anything and everything.
Congregation, we also have a wedding relationship with the Lord. How is our relationship with Him? Like Israel, do we limp between two different opinions? Do we try to place an altar to God beside an altar to another? Do we believe and practice toleration at the expense of truth?
Elijah confronts us today with the same challenge he confronted Israel with: "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him."
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