Who is in your “peer group”? The word peer means “somebody who is the equal of somebody else, e.g. in age or social class” (Encarta Dictionary). We use the term to identify others that are like us in age or background, and would, supposedly, think and act as we do. (Baby boomers; generation X ; generation Y)
- Would you classify the people of Hebrews 11, whom we have observed this year, as your spiritual peer group? Somehow I do not think of myself in the same category as Noah, Abraham or Moses. I view these saints as superior to me in their faith and spirituality. As a result we may consider that they are more worthy of salvation than we are. They stand apart from us. Yet the message concerning faith in the catalog of Hebrews 11 is just the opposite. God is telling us that we have real solidarity with those who have lived by faith in the past. Even the most faithful is but an unprofitable servant. Luke 17:10 – 10 So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'” Their victory of faith is attainable. We can overcome and win the race. We will look more carefully at this in the next few weeks.
- Tonight I want to consider one who is not mentioned in Hebrews 11, but could have been. The O.T. prophet Elijah was certainly a man of great faith. He overcame many obstacles and proved himself an effective and powerful prophet. He worked miracles, and later appeared with Moses and Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, as a representative of all the porphets that had come before.
- Notice what James tells us about him in James 5:17 – 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.
I. “A man with a nature like ours” – Although this prophet was a man of great faith, he was human, “a man with a nature like ours.” The NLT renders this “Elijah was as human as we are”. What James is telling us is that he had human emotions, desires and weaknesses just like us.
A. The lesson in the context of James 5 is about the efficacy of prayer. “The prayer of faith will save the sick”(v. 15), “pray for one another that you may be healed” (v. 16), “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (v. 16) So Elijah, a man just like us prayed that it would not rain, and it did not rain (for 3 ½ years). He prayed again that it would rain, and it rained. Prayer is effective for all of us. Even those who have fallen away can be restored.
B. The larger lesson of James’ characterization of Elijah is that If Elijah could be faithful, so can we. If he could be saved, so can we. His life provides a lens from which to view our own. How was Elijah a man like us?
II. He was courageous… Israel’s king,Ahab, was an idol worshipper of the highest order. But he was king, and any attempt by the prophet to correct him would be risky. Elijah displayed enormous courage in rebuking Ahab and Jezebel. Jezebel executed many of the faithful prophets of God. (18:4)
A. In 1 Kings 17:1, Elijah boldly prophecies that it will not rain in Israel because of Ahab’s sin. He has to hide out and allow God to miraculously provide food for him, because Ahab is seeking to kill him. Later Elijah purposely exposes himself to Ahab in order to bring God’s message.
- 1 Kings 18:15-20 – 15 Then Elijah said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely present myself to him today.” 16 So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah. 17 Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him,”Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” 18 And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals. 19 Now therefore, send and gather all Israel to me on Mount Carmel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” 20 So Ahab sent for all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together on Mount Carmel. NKJV
B. At the Mount Carmel showdown, Elijah was unafraid to challenge the vacillating Israelites to choose who they were going to serve 1.Kgs.18:21-24. “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him?” He challenged the idol prophets of Baal and Asherah to a contest, and then mocked them as they failed. He had complete trust in God that he would be proven correct.
1. When God proved Himself to be the true God, and the prophets of Baal failed, Elijah acted as God’s warrior and ordered the false prophets to be killed with the sword. Elijah was courageous.
III. He was fearful… If you cannot relate to Elijah in his courage, you can sympathize with his cowardice. In spite of his victories his courage failed him when threatened by Jezebel in 1.Kgs.19 He ran away and hid in a cave. 1 Kings 19:1-4 And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying,”So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” 3 And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. 4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!”
A. It may shock us to see this turnabout in Elijah’s attitude and confidence.
1. He was tired and lonely. Just like we get at times.
2. He felt helpless – despite the events of Mt.Carmel, Jezebel was still in political control, and she sought even more fervently to kill him. What could he do by himself?
3. He felt worthless – Israel hadn’t learned anything so his work seemed to be in vain.
B. How is it that such a great man of faith could struggle with fear, discouragement, and possibly depression? How can there be such an emotional struggle among the faithful?
1. He did not see his circumstance through the perspective of his faith. It wasn’t that he had abandoned his faith in God. He just wasn’t allowing his faith to draw the right conclusions here. He should have considered the source of Jezebel’s threats, and seen her impotence against God’s power. He should have called upon God immediately in response to the threat.
a. It is ironic that prayer was such an avenue of power in the contest at Mt. Carmel and in the drought against Ahab, and yet Elijah does not trust in its efficacy here.
2. He became the victim of his own circumstances. We get discouraged when we judge our worth by our present circumstances, rather than God’s long range plan. He was tired and emotionally drained, but he was not worthless. His worth was to be measured in his individual obedience to God.
a. In fact, I may not be able to rightfully judge my effectiveness over the long – haul. It is God who is working. In Luke 7, after John was thrown in prison he sent messengers to Jesus (possibly because he was discouraged and doubted his own testimony) and asked Are you the one or do we look for another? Jesus responded, in vs. 22-23, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. 23 And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”
3. He submitted to self-pity. See if you can spot it in his words.. 1 Kings 19:4 – 4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” 1 Kings 19:10 – 10 So he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” Can you here the self-pity in your negative words of discouragement? It is easy to focus on ourselves. If you think I an being too hard on Elijah, consider God’s response
C. How does Jehovah respond to Elijah’s Discouragement (depression)? Notice that there is no severe rebuke or reprimand.
1. He gave Elijah time to rest and recuperate. 1 Kings 19:5-8 – 5 Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.”6 Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again.7 And the angel of the LORD came back the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.”8 So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God. Sometimes we need to take care of our physical needs and find time to rest.
a. After he had eaten, he hid out in a cave and God spoke to him – What are you doing here Elijah? Do you think God was looking for info, or was this question for Elijah’s benefit? (such as to Adam – where art thou?) God wanted Elijah to look carefully at his own choices and how he had reacted to his circumstances. No matter how discouraged you are, or how bad things get, you are still responsible for your life.
2. He allowed Elijah the opportunity to listen to the voice of God again. 1 Kings 19:11-13 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Would Elijah be able to find God’s voice above all these other natural disasters?
a. What does God say? He asks the same question – “what are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah repeats his pitiful situation for the third time! I am alone.
3. He called him to further obedience. God understood his emotions, but Elijah was still responsible to obey.
4. God’s practical answer was at least threefold: 1 Kings 19:15-18 15 Then the LORD said to him: “Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. 17 It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. 18 Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
- Your work is not finished yet, so, go and return to where you were.
- You are not alone, so gather others around you to help. Others will also engage the enemy and win victories for the Lord.
- I am not finished yet. I have reserved 7,000 who have not bowed a knee to Baal that you do not know about.
Conclusion: Elijah was a man of great faith. He was also plagued by emotional and spiritual struggles. He was “a man with a nature like ours”. Just like Elijah, we need God every day, every hour. It is His counsel and strength that sustains us. We need to be courageous and pray. “I need thee every hour…”