On the Plains of Moab Blog
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October 12, 2011, 10:47 AM

What's the Big Deal about Elijah?



As we get into this sermon series on the life of this prophet, I am finding that the adventures of this prophet make good pulpit fodder.  His life reads like a major action adventure movie.  I am somewhat surprised that a major Hollywood movie has never, to my knowledge, been made.  (Note:  Anything before 1970 doesn't count -- and made for TV movies don't count either.  They are usually low-to-no-budget and lousy and cheesy!)

The story of the widow of Zarephath and her son is riveting.  The encounter on Mt. Carmel that we will consider this Sunday -- is pretty incredible.  The prophet's escape from the snares of Jezebel rivals any chase flick Hollywood has put out there.  The sad and pathetic story of Naboth's vineyard is the stuff of intrigue and moral expose. And, last but certainly not least, the way he leaves the scene.  Not in a hearse -- but in a chariot of glory!

However, as great as the narrative is, the preacher must not miss the main thing:  How does all this point to Christ?  How does Elijah's life function as a vehicle for the Gospel?  Hey, it would be so easy to talk about the lessons that Elijah teaches us about courage under fire; his faithfulness and obedience to God; his overcoming fear and doubt, and so on, and on.  Those are certainly worthy things to talk about for the encouragement of God's people.

But, I don't believe personal ethics and character development are the primary reasons for the inclusion of Elijah's adventures recorded in 1 Kings.

I have been trying to do the theological work so far.  Last Sunday, I tried to underscore the relentlessness of God's love exhibited in and through Elijah.  The people of the northern kingdom of Israel, through their king, Ahab, decided to reject God.  Baal was good enough for them!  God responded by announcing a drought through Elijah.  You think Baal is the storm god?  Let's see about that!

Elijah is then sent across the country to the other side of the Jordan.  To a barren wilderness where God provides for his every need.  As I said Sunday, life breaks out wherever he goes.  (Thanks to Peter Leithart's rich insight in the Brazos Theological Commentary series for that nugget!)  God then sends Elijah across to the other side of the country again, to the land of the "enemy."  Jezebel's home turf.  And Elijah blesses that land through the widow of Zarephath.  He feeds them.  He even defies death by raising her son from the dead.  Life breaks out, big time!

I did not have time to include this little important bit in the sermon, but, in Luke 4:25-26, Jesus said, "I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon." (NIV).  This remark follows his statement that a prophet is without honor in his hometown.  When God's people reject him, he goes elsewhere and blesses somebody else!

Here's the upshot -- Elijah is the voice, the lonely voice, the voice in the wilderness (quite literally) calling out.  Calling for God's people to turn their hearts back home.  Beseeching, pleading, going to the mat for the message.  This is why John the Baptist is the spiritual heir of Elijah.  The Elijah to come.  Jesus himself says as much in Matthew 11:14, 17:12 and Mark 9:12-13.

This pointing.  This demonstration of God's relentless love is the point of Elijah's life.

By all means, enjoy the excitement of the story.  It is an adventure.  But, keep the main thing the main thing.

 


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