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Monday, April 26, 2010

The Reason Why The Question, "Who is God?" Must Still Be Answered.

“The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God,” was the reply of the worshippers of Baal when fire fell from heaven and consumed the sacrifice, the alter, the wood and all the water they themselves poured over everything so as to prevent any fire from starting. They started the day by saying Baal was God. They ended their day by meeting the true and living God.

Elijah said to all the people, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow Him.” The people did not answer (1 Kings 18:21).

So who is God? The English Word we render as “LORD” is the Hebrew name that God revealed of Himself to Moses, YHWH. This is to distinguish from the very different Hebrew word for “Lord,” or “master.” God is who He has revealed Himself to be, or He is something else altogether. “For the LORD is the great God, and the great King above all gods . . . the sea is His, for He made it; and His hands formed the dry land.” (Psalm 95:3, 5). Those things people make out to be gods are much too small, for there is one so much greater. Elijah’s question is very pointed: which one will you choose? God, as He reveals Himself to be; or, a god of your own understanding?

Elijah gives the prophets of Baal many opportunities to demonstrate the power of their god. “You call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD; and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” (1 Kings 18:24). Interesting that he does not say, “You call on your god and I will call on mine.” That kind of statement would be taking a step backward, disallowing God to be God. God is not owned and set upon another like a dog. Regardless, he let them have the advantage (or so it seemed): 450 of their prophets against one (like the whole NFL vs. a high school jock); from the two bulls available for sacrifice, Elijah let them choose their bull first (they would take the best, right?); they made their worship first, from morning until noon—and Elijah even made suggestions to help out! When Elijah’s turn came, he prepared the altar, wood and bull, but also let the prophets drench the whole set-up with water! They even dug a trench around the altar and filled it with water, too!

Elijah gave them every opportunity to succeed, but his response made room for the demonstration of life: he prayed to the true and living God, who responded by sending fire from heaven that consumed everything, water and all. The country was in drought. They needed water. The last thing they needed was more fire, much less heat. Why did Elijah not have the contest be a demonstration to see which God would send rain? Why fire? The answer lies in the prayer.

What did Elijah pray? "O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back" (1 Kings 18:36-37).

He prayed to the LORD, a personal God, who knew the fathers of the nation. The very name “LORD” reminded everyone that this was the God who set the people free from the land of Egypt, the covenant-making God. A blogger recently left this golden nugget of a comment on a discussion board relating to prayer (I did a little editing for punctuation):

"The beauty of prayer is [to] call upon God as 'Father', unlike Baal’s 450 prophets, 'they have to shouted, danced, prayed louder and cut themselves with knives and daggers, according to their ritual, until blood flowed. They kept on ranting and raving until the middle of the afternoon; but no answer came, not a sound was heard' (1Kings 18). Not so with our heavenly 'Father' ‘for He heard us and listened to our prayer’ (Psalm 116:1)."

Elijah prayed that very day that the LORD is still God and he was the servant. The sacrifice itself was not to compel God to respond, as if He had no choice, but was part of the ceremonial life of Israel! Leviticus describes the burnt offering sacrifice of a bull is to be an offering that is burned wholly by fire. When offered as sin offering specifically (for unintentional sins), it is to be burned outside the camp and is not to be eaten. This could also be one of two offerings required each and every day: one morning, and one evening, and by the setting of the sun, they were right on time and in the right place. Elijah was asking God to demonstrate who He was on His terms, not Elijah’s or anyone else’s for that matter.

Why should God answer Elijah’s prayer? “That this people may know you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” He wants the people to know who the true and living God really is, not merely what He is capable of. Baal has the reputation of being unknowable, as inferred by Elijah’s suggestion that perhaps their god was doing this or that, so they should change their approach. God is a relational God, so asking God to respond in such a way that He could be known has always been a part of God’s plan.

The issue was not “who” was right: Elijah or the prophets; that is to say, “my worldview” or “your worldview?” The issue was, and to this very day is, “Who is God?” We do not still ask the question because the answer is unresolved. We ask the question because each and every person must have the opportunity to know Him.

When we go into the world and find ourselves head-to-head with a worldview that does not recognize the true and living God as He has made Himself known (and all that implies), what should be our practice: a showdown of deities? This is what fuels the Pokemon, Bakugan and fantasy world games (football and other sports included)—who will emerge victorious? Should we stand on the street corners and in the coffee shops with a chip on our shoulder, waiting for the first opportunity to say, “My god is bigger than your god!” Hardly. Rather, we should be our daily obedience to Him show that He is very real.

Fire will not fall from heaven as it fell that day on the worshippers of a false god; rather, fire is reserved for those who choose to will not come to God and be reconciled to Him through the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps “defeat” is not the right word to use here, but for the one who will acknowledge the Lord as God, as He has made Himself known in time, space and through His unchanging Word, there will be submission and victory! Not because the individual is vanquished, but because He is Lord and will bring that one into everlasting life where God can be enjoyed forever!

The confrontations cannot be reserved for the churches. I had the opportunity to do some open air preaching a couple of years ago, and one heckler yelled, “save it for Sunday!” The first thought that came to my mind was, “and you will never hear the message.” Our Lord Jesus Christ commissioned us to go into all the world and preach the gospel. We are to engage where the world right where they are—high on their mountain tops.

Here's something to consider: the world retreats into their bars and parties because they feel safe. That means the gospel is a threat to their god.

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