Community Group Study Notes
- Based on what you heard in Sunday’s message, what does it mean to treat God like a buffet? How can you guard your heart from this?
- If an objective outsider were to look at your life, what would they say you are living for? Talk about this question from Sunday’s message: Can what I am living for answer my prayers?
- What is one action step you can take with what you heard in Sunday’s message?
The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)
I'm wondering how many people under the sound of my voice have ever been outnumbered in their life? Now I'm not trying to, like I'm not talking about dad, you just had all girls, you got all daughters, and you can never get a bathroom and whatever, that's not what I'm talking about. You're outnumbered whenever you're the only one who likes fish, and everyone in your family hates seafood, and so you're always outnumbered when it comes to restaurant choices, or whatever. I'm not talking about those first world problems that we have, right?
I'm talking about really genuinely outnumbered. I was in Jamaica, I was I don't know, somewhere between the age of 20 and 22, I can't remember if it was my first trip, or my second trip. We were ministering there, and while there, I was taking part in what we called open air meetings, and so we were out in villages. We weren't in the middle of a city, we were out in the middle of a village, so there wasn't really much to speak of including power, but we figured out like with a generator and all of that stuff, and had a microphone so people could sing songs, share testimonies, preach the gospel.
Had some lights that were wired up while we were there, and so my job at night, I wasn't actually speaking that night, and so my job was just to hang out with some of the people that were there, and talk with them, and minister to them that were in the audience, and all of those kinds of things. I was doing that, but I found myself getting further and further away from our group where the lights were, and the people were, and the sound was coming from. I just got further and further and further and further away.
Before you know it, I am way far, I can still hear them where they are, but I'm well out of sight, and I don't know how I ended up there. I can't really recall what the circumstances were, but I ended up with about 5 to 7 Jamaican guys who seemed to be like a gang. They all had machetes, which was great. They were to be going to work later in the sugarcane factory, the sugarcane fields, and so that's why they had the machetes, but in my mind I was going, "Yeah, machetes, not good," because I've got a Bible, and you've got a machete.
It's sort or a sword, but it's really just a hardback, and I don't know what I'm going to do with it. I found myself eventually, they were starting press in on me a little bit, and they weren't real happy with me that I was there, and I found myself with my back up against a building somewhere. I don't even remember where I was, I could still hear the group over there singing songs, and I'm like, "Yeah, I wish I was there," because I'm in trouble. They got around me like in a half moon shape, and I'm against the wall, and I am literally surrounded by these guys.
They started yelling at me like, "Why am I talking to them about my white Jesus?" I said, "Hang on fellows," I said, "Listen, he's not white," I said, "He's a little bit darker than me, a little bit lighter than you," I said, "He's Middle Eastern, so that's not it." Then they started yelling at me about my tie, and of course I'm yelling at myself about the tie, because I'm like, "Why do I have a tie on?" The pastor of the church that we working with said you have to have a tie to represent us.
I was like, "Okay," we got a tie on. I was like, "You want my tie? You can have my tie." He's looking at me, and so eventually this conversation was going nowhere. I'm trying to talk to him like, "Look, we're just here man trying to help people, and tell people about Jesus," and they don't want to hear anything about that, and blah, blah, blah, and so I was thinking, "This is not going good man, this is not going good." I finally was just like, "Okay, so you're tough guys, right? You've got me against the wall, I'm just here preaching Jesus, and that's what I'm going to tell you, so you're going to have to deal with it, and do what you're going to do."
Then I'm saying to myself, "You're an idiot self, you're stupid, stupid, stupid young person, so stop doing this." I ended up talking to them, it still wasn't going real well, and then I had my Bible with me, and I just said, "Let me tell you what the Bible says," and I opened it, and I held it just like this. In those days it was like a magnet like that, and I'm just holding the Bible like this. I'm looking at them, they're not even looking at me anymore, they're just looking at this.
I'm saying, "Right here it says the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." They're just looking at, they couldn't read, and so they were just staring at the Bible. They didn't have a copy of the Bible themselves necessarily, and they're just staring at. I'm thinking, "Okay, so like it says here in Romans, and also in first Corinthians that I'm not turning to, because I'm scared to turn, if anyone is in Christ, see it's like a few letters down, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation."
I'm just sitting there sharing the gospel with them, they're staring at the Bible. I'm thinking, "Okay, this is great," so I don't know how long I was there. I think I was there for six months. I can't remember exactly how long I was in that position. but my arm got sore, and eventually they were like, "Hey look we've gotta go to work," and I was like, "Okay." It was in the middle of the night, they were going to work an overnight shift. I was like, "Okay," and they were walking and they had machetes if I have pointed that it yet, and they said, "We gotta go to work," and I was like, "Okay, okay."
I'm thinking I'm getting out here, this is good, and then they said, "You're going to pray for us before we leave." I was like, "Okay machete man," so I just closed my Bible, and I started praying. It was that one eye open prayer, like are you going to cut me while I'm praying? Is this what this all amounted too, like you're going to carve me up? I just one eye open praying like, "God help these guys who want to kill, did want to kill me, they don't want to kill me now, but they did, and help them not to kill anyone."
No, that wasn't my prayer, I really prayed for God's blessing, for him to speak to them through the gospel, and all that stuff, and then they left, and then I went back to my group. They're like, "Where have you been?" I'm like, "Never mind, I've been talking to some people." It was one of those deals where I was really grateful for God's grace in that, but I really felt like what it felt like to be outnumbered. Now, if I go back in Israel's history, there's a person particularly that I want to point out today who felt significantly outnumbered.
The time of Israel that I'm talking about, was a time when the kingdom of Israel was divided. If you remember when it was under King David and King Solomon, this was a United Kingdom, right? It was the kingdom of Israel, but shortly thereafter the kingdom divided with Jeroboam and Rehoboam, and it just split, and so in the North you had the kingdom of Israel, and in the South you had the kingdom of Judah. They had their own kings, right? Sometimes they were at war with one another, and these were God's own people.
The tribes were messed up, and they were split up, and it was a bad scenario. Now at the time that I'm referring to, the king of Israel, his name was Ahab if you remember that name, not from Moby Dick, but you remember it from the Bible, right? Ahab was not a good guy, here's what it says about Ahab in first Kings chapter 16: "In the 38th year of Asa, king of Judah," so in the southern kingdom, Judah is where the King Asa was. It says, "Ahab, son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel 22 years. Ahab, the son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam, son of Nabat, but he also married Jezebel," you guys remember her?
She's precious, he also married Jezebel, daughter of Ithobaal, King of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal, and worship him. He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. Ahab also made an Asherah pole, and did more to arouse the anger of the Lord the God of Israel than did all the kings of Israel before him. This is not a good scenario, right? He is absolutely one of the worst kings that Israel has ever experienced, and he is arousing the anger of the Lord, because he has married Jezebel, who's from the king of the Sidonians, Ithobaal. He has Baal in his name, and through that marriage they bring into Israel, the place of God's people, bring into Israel Baal worship.
Now this is a disturbing trend, but here's the good news, is that God would do this sometimes in the life of Israel. He would raise up a prophet in their midst to confront the sin of the people, and maybe even to confront the sin of the king. You might know that prophet, his name is Elijah, and here's what it says in first Kings chapter 17: "Now Elijah the Tishbite from Tishbe in Gilead said to Ahab," he's talking to the king now. "As the Lord the God of Israel lives whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word. Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah, leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine east of the Jordan."
What God does, is he speaks through Elijah, and he says to King Ahab, and basically to Israel, God is not really happy with what's going on at all in your circumstances. He's not happy that you're mixing in this worship of Baal, and that's all been introduced to the people, and it's leading them down a path of destruction, and so he's going to shut up the heavens for a number of years until Elijah says so, till he says, "Hey, there's going to be rain," there's not going to be any rain.
There's basically going to be a famine, and this is the disciplinary justice of God among his people. Also God said, "Elijah I want you to hide, I'm going to hide you out, go to this place, the Kerith Ravine, and I'm going to hide you out," why? Because Jezebel was on the warpath, she had already been killing the prophets of God, and back in the day they had a company of prophets of God, and she was killing all kinds of prophets of God and putting them to death. She was on the warpath, and God said, "No, Elijah I want you to go over here, you're going to hide, I'm going to hide you, and basically I've got a plan and a purpose for how I'm going to use you in Israel's future, but I'm going to have to hide you right here."
Now interestingly enough, there was a guy that was in Ahab and Jezebel's administration who was a follower of God, of the covenant God of Israel named Yahweh. Now this particular person's name was Obadiah, I don't know how he ended up serving in the administration there, I don't know how he was able to go on serving in that administration, but when Jezebel was killing all of the prophets, Obadiah found 100 of them, and he hid them, and he fed them, and he gave them something to drink so that he would protect them, because he loved Yahweh.
Now if he would have been found out about that, he certainly would've been killed, but he had the willingness to do that, which I thought was incredible. This famine that Elijah had said that God was bringing, and he did, it got so bad that King Ahab took Obadiah, and he said, "Look, we're going to spread out, and what I want to do, is I want you to go find land where things are growing," because there hadn't been any rain, "Because we've gotta feed our animals, if not, we're going to have to start putting these animals to death, or they're going to die themselves."
Now they split up, and they go looking for places for the animals to be able to feed. While they were split up, Obadiah runs into Elijah. Now he sees Elijah, and he says, "My master Elijah, you've been hidden for years now, nobody's been able to find you. In fact King Ahab has been looking for you everywhere. He's been looking in other countries, he's put out the word to other countries, that if they are harboring you, that they better give you up, because he is looking to find you and to kill you, specifically his wife Jezebel."
Ahab is doing this, and Elijah says basically this to Obadiah, "I want you to bring Ahab to me, I want to talk to him." Obadiah says, "Here's the thing Elijah, if I go tell Ahab that I found you, and then I come back here and you're not here, he's going to kill me, because I know that you've been hiding, and I know that the spirit of God can just take you and move you wherever you want like he can just do that, and he's already done that, and nobody can catch up to you, and everybody's looking for you everywhere, and nobody can find you.
Now I'm going to tell Ahab, and I'm going to come back here, and you're not going to be here, and I'm dead. Elijah just says, "I'm going to be here, bring him back." That's what he does. Look what it says in 1 Kings chapter 18: "Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and then Ahab went to meet Elijah. When he saw Elijah he said to his, 'Is that you, you troubler of Israel?'" You know why he's calling him a troubler of Israel, right? Because of this famine, he's blaming Elijah for the famine.
Elijah says, "I haven't made trouble for Israel, you and your father's family have, because you have abandoned the Lord's commands, and have followed the Baal's." Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel, and bring the 450 prophets of Baal, and the 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel's table." Elijah basically says, "Here's what's going to go down." Isn't it interesting that Elijah tells Ahab to come to him? Ahab is the king, he's the one who gives orders, and Elijah told him, you come see me, and he did. He was used to taking orders by the way, because he's married to Jezebel, and she was bossing him around all the time anyway, literally, you should read about her, she's precious.
She brought some serious trouble, right? To Israel, so Elijah said, "This is what we're going to do, I want you to find the 450 prophets of Baal, and the 400 prophets of Asherah that eat at Jezebel's table, invite them all up to Mount caramel, invite them all." Just as a heads up, that's 850 false prophets that Elijah says, "Bring them, because we're going to have a little confrontation on Mount Carmel. Well, Elijah is going to be extraordinarily outnumbered, but he sets up how this thing is going to go down, and notice what he says.
He says, "Elijah said to them, 'I'm the only one of the Lord's prophets left," once they all gathered there. He wasn't the only one left, but he thought he was. "Baal has 450 prophets, get two bulls four us, let Baal's prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood, but not set fire to it. Then I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood, but I won't set fire to it. Then you, prophets of Baal, you call on the name of your God, and I will call on the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God."
Then all the people said, "What you say is good," in other words this is a fair fight. You see here's why, because Baal was known as the God who controlled the weather. He was the storm God, the Sun God, and whenever you saw pictures of Baal, he was holding a lightning bolt in his hand. Someone who could bring fire at will, and of course Elijah knows that Yahweh, because he's the Lord of everything, he can do whatever he wants. He's not just the God of the weather, he's just God of everything.
Israel has a history, and the people of Israel who are gathered, they know the history, right? That when the people of Israel came out of Egypt, that at night they were led by a pillar of fire, right? This was like, "Okay, fair fight, the God who sends fire down to consume the sacrifice, that's whose God is really God." Seems like it's going to be a fair fight, but ultimately we know that it's not gonna be fair at all, because you see exactly how this thing is going to shape up.
Notice what Elijah does then, Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, "Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first." In other words, you get to go first since there are so many of you. "Call on the name of your God, but do not light the fire." They took the bull given them, and prepared it, then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. "Baal answer us," they shouted, but there was no response, no one answered, and they danced around the altar they had made, and at noon Elijah began to taunt them.
There's 450 of them and just him, and he starts taunting them. "Shout louder," he said, "Surely he is a god, perhaps he's deep in thought, or busy." If you read this in the Hebrew, you'd love it even more, because that word busy means on the toilet, that's literally what it means, I'm not joking with you, this isn't a made-up interpretation. He's basically saying, "Maybe your God is deep in thought, maybe he's sitting on the can." That's the Jerry international version right there, maybe he's sitting on the can, or maybe he's traveling. Maybe he's sleeping and he must be awakened, then it goes on to say, after that I'll come to that in just a moment.
Elijah is mocking them out, right? He's just ... The reason is Elijah is not actually mocking anybody, because there's no one there, he's mocking nothing, right? This is ridiculous, what is he doing? Is he traveling? Is he busy? Do you get an out of office return email, I'm sorry, I'm not going to be back for a while. Is he sitting on the can? Is his tummy hurting? What's going on with this guy, right? It seems like nothing seems to be going on right here, and so what Elijah does, is after he mocks them for a moment at noon, maybe he was just ... It was lunch time, and he was hungry, and he just started mocking them, right?
He went to work, and what he started doing at that point, is he started rebuilding an alter, and he started laying the wood there, and he cut the bull into pieces. He put the bull out there, and then you know what he did after that? This is crazy, I mean the God who is going to be coming is by fire, right? They're trying to dance around with the bull they put on the wood, and they're saying, "Consume this." Elijah said, "Okay, mines all ready, but here's what I want you to do, I want you to find some water, and I want you to dump water all over the sacrifice, just dump it all over it."
Something you want lit on fire, you don't dump water on, you dump kerosene on, right? Dump water all over it, and they did, and they were like, "Man, that's crazy." He went, "Do it again," so they dumped water all over it again. He went, "Do it three times," and they did it again, they doused it so much that the trench around it was filled with water. This is a soaking wet sacrifice, this is how confident Elijah was. What happened? Well then Elijah steps out, and he praised, and then here's how God answers, it's what it says.
"Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up that sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench." That's how fully, and then how did they respond? When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The Lord he is God, the Lord he is God." Then it says after that, Duh, yeah, he is, right? You've got this really incredible story of Elijah and the fire falling from God, and it reminds me of a pertinent truth for every single one of us that I want us to give some attention to this morning, and it's simply this.
In a world where we are outnumbered, we trust in a God who isn't. In a world where we are outnumbered, and we are as followers of Jesus, in a world where we're outnumbered, we trust in a God who can never be outnumbered ever. This is a good reminder for us, because there are some things that even when we are outnumbered, we can still do. I want us to make sure we understand what those are, and what that looks like based on this story. There's a lot of learning for us to do here, and by the way, there's also a lot of challenge and warning for us here, and I want every one of you to dial in with me, because I believe God will speak to you if you will allow him the room to do so.
He is speaking through his word, he just needs you to submit your self to him and settle in. I want you to do that, don't be disruptive to anybody around you, listen for what God wants to say to you. Here's the first thing, even when we are outnumbered, we can make a clear choice. Even when we are outnumbered, we can make a really clear choice. Listen to what the passage says in verse number 21 when Elijah first addressed everyone, he said this, "Elijah went before the people and said, 'How long will you waiver between two opinions? If the Lord is God follow him, but if Baal is God follow him, but the people said nothing."
Well why did they say nothing? Because they were wavering that's why, right? I find it interesting that how Elijah begins this is by asking them a question, how long are you going to do this? How long are you gonna straddle the fence here? Because what was going on here, is that you've got this Baal worship mixed with the worship of Yahweh, it was all mixed together for them. Elijah's like, "Wait a second, if Baal is God follow him, if Yahweh is God follow him, how long are you going to do this? In fact by the way, it's been three and a half years where you have been in famine, because Yahweh has determined that he wanted to bring discipline among you to show you and call you back to himself, how long are you going to do this? Three and a half years you haven't moved, and you're still wavering."
That word waiver, when he says waiver between two opinions, that word in the Hebrew is where we get the word limp. He was basically saying this, how long are you going to limp along in your life wavering between two opinions, because basically what you've done is you've taken some of the worship of Yahweh, and you've mix it together with Baal worship. It's called what we would term syncretism. Now if you were do a survey back in the day like we do sometimes in our world, if you were to do a survey back in the time of Elijah and Israel, and that survey was, "Hey, do you believe in Yahweh? Do you believe in the covenant God of Israel?"
I imagine that the vast majority of Israel would answer, "Yeah, we believe in Yahweh," right? Here's the problem, their decisions, their lives, nothing actually reflected that belief. They didn't look like people who believed in Yahweh, they didn't choose like people who believed in Yahweh, in fact they didn't act much like it, because they were doing things in opposition to Yahweh, because they were following after false gods, and indulging themselves accordingly with the pagan worship rituals of Baalism.
I'll be honest with you, I don't think it's much different today. I think that the world that we live in today is very much like the time of Israel in Elijah's day. You see we live now in a world that is willing to believe whatever. You do a survey here in the United States, and we have, and here's what you find, that the overwhelming majority of people in the United States say that they believe in God, they do. I believe in God, I believe in God, and that's the overwhelming majority of people in the United States, but here's the thing, with the overwhelming majority of people in the United States, you can't find them in a community of worship.
You can't find them studying the Scripture to know what God would want for their life, you can't find any of those things, but they believe in God. What's the problem? Well I think the problem was the hammer hit the nail on the head when Philip [Rife 00:24:18], who was a sociology professor out of the University of Pennsylvania who is now deceased, he called it the Monroe Doctrine. Now for those of you who are historians don't be confused, I'm not talking about the Doctrine of President James Monroe, who was talking about how not to meddle in European wars, and you don't meddle in any of our stuff either, that Monroe doctrine that you learned in history.
He just took the name, and he said, "Yeah, nobody really remembers James Monroe, but they certainly remember Marilyn Monroe." He said when Marilyn Monroe was asked whether or not she believed in God, her response was this, "I believe in everything a little bit." He called that the Monroe doctrine, I believe in everything a little bit. You know what? At the end of the day, that's where I think we are in the United States of America, and even up into southern Ontario and parts of Canada as well.
This is where I think we are, we believe in everything a little bit, so you say, "Hey, you believe in God?" "Yeah, I believe in God and karma and crystals and the power of positive thinking and the universe and Jesus and Buddha and whoever else, right?" We just take a little bit of everything, and we start wrapping it up in a little suit that we make, but I need you to understand something, God is not a buffet. You and I do not have the opportunity to be able to choose how we want to make him in our image, because here's the bottom line, if God is God as he's revealed himself follow him, but if something else is God you go ahead and follow it.
That was what Elijah was helping them to understand, if your horoscope is God follow it, but if God is God follow him. If money is God follow it, but if God is God follow him. This is where we have to be a people, who even though we are outnumbered, we can still demonstrate the clear choice that God is God, and we are following after him. One of the dangerous things in Western Christianity, is the level of nominalism. People who say they believe in God, people who say that they believe in Jesus, and look nothing like him.
They don't choose the path that he chooses, they don't listen to the words that he says, they don't do the things that he did, but they believe. That causes a world to look on in confusion, when in fact we should be offering to them a very clear choice. If God is God follow him, but if he's not then don't. Pretty simple, pretty straightforward, all right? Even when we're outnumbered we can make the choice clear. You know what we can also do? Even when we're outnumbered, we can rebuild in God's name.
This isn't all bad news, it actually can be some good news as well, because that's exactly what ultimately Elijah did. Look at what it says in verse number 30, it says, "Then Elijah said to all the people, 'Come here to me,' and so they came to him and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down." Elijah took 12 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," and with the stones, he built an altar in the name of the Lord.
If you want to know what it was like in that day and age, if you want to know what life was like religiously in that day and age here's all you have to know. That when you went to Mount Carmel, the prophets of Baal did not have to rebuild an altar, it was in full use, but the altar of the Lord, it had been torn down, it was in disrepair, that's all you need to know. That tells you about that timeframe, right? What Elijah does, is he rebuilds the alter, but listen to this, the altar is torn down and he takes 12 stones to rebuild the altar.
This is so good, Elijah is doing something in rebuilding the altar to teach the people of Israel what God has always wanted. You see, this was a time ladies and gentlemen of the divided kingdom, that means that 10 tribes of Israel were in Israel in the northern kingdom, and two tribes were in the southern kingdom of Judah, and they were at war, they had their own kings, they did all that stuff separately. They might have expected Elijah to come up and use 10 stones to rebuild the altar and he does not, he uses 12, why?
Because God has always wanted the whole of his people to represent him in the world, not for the kingdom to be divided. He starts to rebuild the altar and when he does he is painting a beautiful picture of what God always wanted. You see in Buffalo, in Western New York, and true also in southern Ontario, we are unfortunately in Western New York specifically known among missiologists for the last few decades as a place where churches go to die. They've called this place a church planters graveyard.
That this is a place where churches fail and die, because the receptivity is low and all of those kinds of things. As well, we are extraordinarily outnumbered, for those that actually follow hard after Jesus Christ, we are very outnumbered, because it is a vast super majority in our region that are not darkening the doors of any evangelical gospel centered church. Even in the midst of being outnumbered, what we can still do is maybe paint a different picture, because what we're known for in Western New York and Buffalo is not so good when it comes to spiritual things, and I'll explain why.
There are two national lists, one done by the United Bible Society, and one done by Gallup, that Buffalo has made those lists. They are top 10 lists, but it's not a list you want to be on. One of them is the top 10 least Bible minded cities in the United States, and we're on it. The other one is the top 10 most post-Christian cities in the United States, and were on that as well. Not two lists that you want to be on, we in our region are greatly outnumbered when it comes to spiritual things, specifically related to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
If we will capture God's heart, and we will do things God's way, I believe God will allow us to rebuild in his name in the midst of a place like this. What that's going to require first of all, is that the church of Jesus Christ in this region realizes that God doesn't want a divided kingdom. That what he wants is the whole church operating together in unity for the sake of the gospel for every man woman and child in our region. There are people in our region who have bought into that idea who believe that idea who are embracing that idea, and we're having an opportunity now to be able to work together for the sake of the gospel.
By the way, we're having to work together to be able to plant churches in places where they need to reach more people, because we are so outnumbered. Do you know that in just a few months from now when our second iteration of our church planting initiative, when it comes full bloom in just a few months from now, we will now be at a point as the Chapel, where over the last number of years, roughly about 10 years, we will have either planted or partnered to plant 36 congregations, 36.
How's that for a church planters graveyard? Graveyard's are the best places for resurrections, and this is an opportunity for us to rebuild in God's name. When we do things that God, listen to this, that God has always wanted, he has always wanted his church to understand that there is one church, one. That those who believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, even if they're coming from a high church, or a low church, or a house church, right? Big church, small church, we need it all, because it's the fully orbed beauty of the glory of the diversity of God and his people, and we need all of them operating well, so that we can reach every man woman and child.
That's what we want to see, one church, because when Jesus, listen to this, when Jesus was writing letters to the church at Revelation, he was not addressing them to specific people, he was addressing them to the cities. If Jesus were writing a letter to the church at Buffalo, he would not address it to Jerry Gillis care of the Chapel, he wouldn't address to Robert Stearns care of the Tabernacle. He wouldn't address it to Ken, the Pastor at Hamburg Wesleyan, he wouldn't do that, he would address it to the church at Buffalo, the church of Western New York, why?
Because there's one, there's one bride. Jesus is not a polygamist, he has one bride, that's it. When we begin to understand that, we can rebuild in name of the Lord. You can do that in your individual lives too. Where things have been broken down, when you start doing things God's way, how God's designed them, by God's word, with God's heart, with what God's always wanted, you can start to rebuild in the name of the Lord. God will free us up to be able to do that.
Let me give you a last thing, even when we are outnumbered we can also pray with confidence. We can pray with confidence. I want to show you the difference between how Elijah prayed and how they prayed. It's stark, watch what Elijah does. "At the time of the sacrifice the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed, 'Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel," he's calling back to the promise. "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 Lord, answer me so that these people will know that you 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."
Elijah's prayer probably took 20 seconds, he just stepped up and he prayed humbly, authentically, God I'm just doing what you told me to do, and now for their sakes would you answer me, and kaboom, the fire falls, as opposed to what these other knuckleheads were doing, look at this. Here's what all the prophets of Baal are doing, they shouted louder and louder, and they slashed themselves with swords and spears as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Pause right there for a second, they were cutting themselves until their blood was flowing. They're crying out, crying out, crying out, yelling, talking, blah, blah, blah, and then they're cutting themselves until their blood flowed.
Here's the thing, what we know when we look at this, is we know that, that's the antithesis of the gospel. That's the opposite of the gospel. Here's what they're trying to do, they're trying to bleed, so that God will pay attention to them, but the gospel teaches us that God bled, so that we would pay attention to him. That's the opposite of the gospel. Then it says this, "Mid day past," in other words, they got by lunch where Elijah was mocking them out, "They continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice, but there was no response."
No one answered, no one paid attention, do you know why? No one was home, that's why. There was a zero on the other end of the line. They were out there, listen to this, they were out there all day long praying, and praying, and praying, and praying, and praying, and praying, and I'm guessing because they thought maybe if they just did stuff, now I'm going to cut myself, and I'm going to bleed, and I'm going to keep praying. Then they kept going, and Isaiah's mocking them out, what's the matter? Is he on the can? Where is he? On vacation? What has he got an out of office notice? What's the problem?
They're like, and it reminds me of the words of Jesus in the sermon on the Mount. Jesus said, "When you pray don't keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they'll be heard because of their many words. Don't be like them, for your father knows what you need before you ask him." That's what Elijah knew, Elijah knew that he could pray with confidence, and he didn't have to just continually just doing all of this stuff, right? They thought because of their many words, sometimes we think that, right? If I can just say more to God, God has to listen to me.
God's like, I already knew all this. I know everything about everything all the time, I know, and you think you're going to somehow get my attention, impress me because of that? No man, listen God knows, he wants our humble, authentic prayers that are confident, listen to this, in who's on the other end of the line. This really fundamentally is about who we're talking to, because it can be intimidating when you've got other people over here, right? Who are calling out for so long, they're just spewing words for so long, and you're like, "Oh, that's intimidating, because I don't really say much. They really are praying people, like that, right?"
If it's a zero that they're talking to, that doesn't go real well, and it's even more intimidating potentially if there's 450 of them. There's a ton of them, and there's just one of us, there's 450 of them, right? That can be really intimidating. Here's the thing though, if the God that they're talking to is not even a God, if he's a zero, I can do this math equation, 0×450, still equals zero. Bottom line, is if you're talking to a zero, you're going to get a zero it doesn't matter how many people are doing it.
There is power with one person who willingly has confidence in God like Elijah. That's what James told us, listen to what James said in the New Testament, "The prayer of a righteous person," singular, "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." Elijah was a human being even as we are, he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years, and again he prayed and the heavens gave rain and the earth produced its crops.
James is saying, look Elijah was a man just like you. Elijah was a person just like you, and he had confidence in God. Now he was praying in accordance with the will of God, he wasn't just ... If you walk out here and go, I'm going to shut the heavens, when I leave this building, three and a half years we're not getting any rain and that's final. Well good luck with that, because if God didn't tell you that, that was going to be the case, you're not praying in accordance with the will of God, right?
If you pray in accordance with the will of God, then whatever we ask he says that he will gives to us. Here's the problem, here's the warning, I want to start to land this, but it's going be a challenge to you, and I want you to stay with me for a moment. I may step on your toes a little bit but it's okay, we all need it. You see what we have a tendency to do in our hearts, is we create God's. One of the reformers said that our hearts are like idol factories, that we're all the time creating substitute God's, whether that's money, or pleasure, or comfort, or relationships, or sports, or whatever.
We're always creating these things that get our affection more than God gets it. We take sometimes even good things and we make them ultimate things, and they become bad thing, because we've made them, and we've put them into a place of affection and allegiance that only God should have. You see here's the problem with that, let me ask you a couple of quick questions. If you've let money become a god, if you've let career become a god, if you've let success become a god, if you've let sports become a god, if you've let other relationships become a God, let me ask you a question, can any of them, any of those things I just named answer your prayer?
They can't, they're zeros, and it doesn't matter how many of us there are that are longing for success, or money, or that next relationship to fill that God vacuum, they're zeros, they can't answer our prayers. Let me ask you this question, can what you and I live for answer our prayers? That's a question that can be challenging to us, because if what we're living for, is we're living for money, or success, or career, or other human relationships, that's what we're living for, or sports, that's what we're living, or popularity is what we're living for, fame is what we're living for.
Can any of those things answer your prayers? They cannot, that's why other gods always fail so miserably, because there are other gods that try, listen to this, there are other gods that outnumber us, and they want our attention, and they want us to be distracted, and they want us to forget about the one true God, that when we follow him and we pray to him, that everything can change because we trust in the one true God. You see this story about Elijah, this is a story about how even though we are vastly outnumbered, we trust a God who never is, never ever is.
In the day and age that we live in, this is a good word for us, this is an encouragement for us. This story also points us to the greatest story, the story of Jesus. As I think about this story, I can't help but imagine that if I am one of the people of Israel who are standing on Mount Carmel and Elijah steps out to pray and the fire falls from heaven and consumes the sacrifice, I can't help but think if I'm one of those people standing there, I'm really glad that the fire fell on the sacrifice and did not fall on me.
You see that's the story of the gospel for us ladies and gentlemen, Jesus, listen to this, virtually alone outnumbered by a world that had put him on a cross, became the sacrifice for us and consumed, listen to this, consumed the fire of God's justice in our place, so that it would not consume us. That is the glorious news of the gospel for every single one of us. You see some of you are thinking to yourself, Yes, that's true Jerry, but I really wish that my unbelieving friends, I really wish that I could just one time call fire down from heaven to show them that God is God. I wish I could do that."
You've got something better, you've got a better miracle than that. Listen to how Paul said it. Jews demand signs, they want miracles, they want signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified. You see ladies and gentlemen, the power of the gospel, listen to this, the power of the gospel to transform a life is better than the power of a miracle, because a physical miracle, you know what happens? If you keep reading after they said, "The Lord he is God, the Lord he is God, and then they killed the prophets of Baal," but do you know what happened? Very shortly thereafter they were back to their old ways, but the power of the gospel ladies and gentlemen is not just one flash, it's not just one thing, it is the transformation by the Holy Spirit of God that makes us brand-new.
If anyone is in Christ they're a new creation, the old is gone, and all things have become new. This is the greater miracle for every single person. It is better than fire falling from heaven, it is, listen to this, it is the beautiful story that Jesus took the fire of God's wrath in our place, so that we could have our hearts set on fire by his grace. This is the beautiful picture of the gospel, so remember that, even when you're outnumbered, the power of the gospel is still a real thing.
I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of salvation to everyone who believes, first for the Jew, and then for the Gentile the scripture says. Even when we're outnumbered, and we live in a world where we are greatly outnumbered, we serve and trust a God who isn't, and he never will be, so have confidence in him. Let's bow our heads together. As we dismiss in just a second, if you've never come to the place where you have turned from your sin and put your faith in Jesus, the one who became a sacrifice for you, the one who willingly put himself in the place of standing in your place to absorb the righteous, just wrath of God, and who died in our place, who rose from the dead satisfying the justice of God.
Now that we can put our faith in him and be made new. Sins forgiven, life transformed, everything changes, if you've never come to that place, when we dismiss in just a moment, whether you're in this room, or the East Worship Center, I would invite you to come by the Fireside room. Maybe you've heard me mention that before, but it's right in the atrium, it's clearly marked, you can see it, and there's some Pastors, some other prayer partners in there who would love to take a moment and talk to you about what it means to follow Jesus, what it means to surrender yourself, to turn from sin, and put faith and trust in Jesus, so that not only are your sins forgiven in the now, but your life is secure in him.
That's what you want, that's the whole hope of the gospel, because if you're choosing to follow other lesser gods, you're going to find out just how impotent they are, whether it's money, or success, or relationships, or comfort, sports, whatever it might be that you've put in the place of God. This isn't about making God into our own image, where we've made him a buffet. "Well I believe in aliens and karma and crystals and Jesus and the universe, and all of these kinds of things, right?" This isn't it, if he's God follow him. If he's not then go your way, try yours out, but you will find you will be talking to a zero.
If that's your need I invite you to come by. Father, for those of us who claim to know you, I pray that we would not be people who are guilty of losing sight of the reality of how you God have revealed your self in Jesus very specifically. That we are not in the world that we live in talking about some generic God, because everyone in the world that we live in, is willing to talk about a generic God, but when we start mentioning Jesus, everything changes, because Jesus is the only way.
He is the way the truth and the life, and no one comes to the father except through him, it is at the name of Jesus that every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the father. There is no other God, Jesus has revealed the father to the world, and we must be people who follow wholeheartedly after Jesus, because the world around us is confused, the world around us is in a picture they are dancing around, yelling out for a God, cutting themselves to try and find someone on the other end who will listen.
The one who they want is the one who bled for them, so that they might turn their eyes to God and be saved. Father help us to be that people, that carry that message and show that life in the world that we live in, because we thank you that even though we are outnumbered, we will forever trust and serve in a God who will never be outnumbered. We love you, I pray that you would fill us with your spirit, fill us with your power to demonstrate this love, this life, the beauty of this gospel to a world around us we pray in Jesus name, Amen.