Have you ever been in a place where God has your full attention? Ever had a time where you’re thinking about one person, one name, one kingdom? All the distractions fade away, focused in completely on the Lord.
So, this week I was thinking about times in my life like that. First time I ever experienced that was the night I became a Christian.
It was the first time I ever heard the gospel explained. It was from John 3:16. I was a young teenager up at a ranch in Canada, and an older preacher just started preaching through John 3:16.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”
And it was one of those moments where I was the only one in the room. That message was for me.
And God’s Spirit opened my heart, a skeptical, rebellious heart, to his love through Christ. And at that moment I didn’t care what my friends did. I didn’t care what anybody else thought. I didn’t care – what do you want me to do, stand on my head? You want me to do whatever. I’ll do anything. I went running forward outside, crying out to the Lord, and he heard my cry. He saved me.
A few years later, I was with a group of teenagers in a church service up in New England. The preacher preached about the holiness of God, and this was new to me. Holy, holy, holy. The Spirit of God came down in that place to such an extent that people were on the floor crying out to the Lord. The service went on for hours. At the end of the service, I remember a bunch of us teenagers just left the church looking like dogs in a hunt for someone to tell about Jesus. If we could just find anybody, guess what we’re going to tell them. We don’t care what they think about us, we don’t care about the consequences. One focus.
So, Thursday morning I was praying through this, and for someone, early in my life diagnosed before it was common ADD, God having my full attention is a miracle. Because I am so easily distracted, so easily going in so many directions.
And the Lord did it again. The Spirit of God just came over me communicating one big thing: I am jealous for you – which is really an unthinkable concept. That the God of the universe would be jealous for the heart of someone who can’t give him anything, who has nothing to offer him, can’t bring any advantage to him, and yet he says I am jealous for your heart. And he’s doing that today. Let’s pray.
Father, we ask that as we open up your Word you would show us your jealousy For the glory of your name among your people, for all of our hearts, not just part, that you are on the hunt for our hearts today, and that you do amazing works in order to turn our hearts back. We pray that you would do that today, in Jesus name, Amen.
So, I mentioned I’m easily distracted. I love options. I don’t like to get fenced in. I appreciate the word “nuance.” That word nuance is from the French, which has the idea of shades, shades of color. In English, it has the idea of subtle differences in tone, subtle differences in meaning, subtle differences in taste. As Americans, we don’t like just one option. Don’t just give me vanilla ice cream, chocolate ice cream. We want options, like mint chip, chocolate chip, chocolate chip cookie dough, butter pecan, or when you get into the decadent collection like espresso chocolate cookie crumble. What is going on in there? Honey salted caramel almond. We love choices.
When it comes to ice cream or fast food restaurant menus, that’s great. But as Barry Schwartz discovered in his national bestseller The Paradox of Choice, a culture of abundance where we have the power to choose to the point where it begins to define us can actually end up “robbing us of satisfaction.” Those are his words, “robbing us of satisfaction.” In other words, an endless freedom to choose can actually lead to bondage. He published the book in 2004, continued to do research, updated it and published it again in 2016. He demonstrates how with the multiplication of choices you can actually see a rise in anxiety, in depression, in suicidality. The more options can actually equal less happiness.
The Germans have a word for this – zerrissenheit. But Germans do really cool things with words because they mush so many words together. David Brooks translates this word “falling-to-pieces-ness,” “falling-to-pieces-ness.” It’s the idea of being pulled in so many different directions that you get what he calls a loss of internal coherence. What Kierkegaard called “the dizziness of freedom.” So many choices, so many voices, so many distractions that we become, we end up fulfilling
Allan Bloom’s warning in his classic book, Closing of the American Mind, we become so open to everything, we are closed to truth. In 1 Kings 18, it’s been a little over 100 years since King David reigned in Israel. King Ahab is the king of the Northern Kingdom. The kingdoms have divided. He marries Jezebel. They’ve gathered on Mount Carmel, which today looks down on the modern city of Haifa. Elijah calls the meeting, and he asks the question in 1 Kings 18:21,
“How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him. If Baal, then follow him.”
And you hear crickets. The people did not answer him. He uses that word limping which is a very interesting translation. The verb appears three times in the Old Testament. The first time the verb appeared is in 2 Samuel 4:4, referring to Mephibosheth, who is the son of Jonathan, grandson of King Saul who 2 Samuel 4:4 describes as being lame of foot, in his feet.
When he was 5 years old, his nurse grabbed him to flee, and as she was running she either fell or he fell and damaged his feet to the point where he was permanently crippled in his feet. That’s the first time this word appears. The third time this word appears is here in the chapter in verse 26 where the prophets of Baal limped around the altar that they had made. The NIV translates that “dancing.” The only way you can bridge that gap is to imagine me dancing, you’re looking at me going, is he dancing, or is he hurting himself? There’s something going on. So, it’s kind of mocking the way they’re dancing to such an extent that it looks lame.
The second use of this word is in verse 21 and it seems to refer to a relational disability, that is your unwillingness to exclusively worship God is paralyzing you relationally. It’s like the guy who dates and dates and dates and dates and never pops the question. He wants to keep his options open. He is convinced that if he chooses, he might end up settling for less, so he never settles, never chooses. He is relationally paralyzed.
Or the mom of the five-year-old who writes,
“I’ve noticed that my son sometimes has difficulty making the sorts of choices that exclude one thing or another. I have the sense that it has to do with a sense of loss. That choosing one thing over another will mean that one thing is lost. Finally making the choice somehow minimizes the pleasure in the thing that is gained, though there also seems to be an accompanying relief in finally making the choice. I’ve noticed him deliberating as if he’s frozen within decision. He literally cannot make the decision unless he is gently prodded. Most recently I noticed him doing this when given a choice between different-colored popsicles.”
That picture of that little 5-year-old trying to decide between these colors and lamenting the loss of one color if he chooses another color is a picture of our own hearts. Schwartz goes on to say after recording this example,
“Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.”
And this world of unlimited possibilities isn’t just talking in our culture about ice cream flavors. It’s talking about worship. The false god options in our culture are almost unlimited. A technical word for this could be syncretism. Are you familiar with that? It’s just a merging together, a fusing together. Syncretistic worship is when I have a really hard time deciding, is that true? Or maybe that’s true. Well, all the roads kind of lead to the same place, so I’ll just take them all.
So why is syncretistic worship so attractive? Here are a couple suggestions as to why this is so attractive to Israel, so attractive to us. One is we can change with the times.
Ahab is the king of Israel. He knows he’s supposed to worship Yahweh, which is the covenant, personal name for God. He even names some of his kids names like Ahaziah, which is held by Yahweh or Jehoram, which is Yahweh is exalted. But then he marries Jezebel, and that’s a really smart political decision because it bonds him with the King of Tyre, who is Jezebel’s father, makes a political alliance. Well, she worships Baal, and she worships Asherah. She kills the prophets of God.
So, you can see even in King Ahab there’s this division. There’s this, I don’t want to block out Yahweh totally, I may need him. But my wife is into Baal and people are really looking to Asherah, and maybe we can make all this work. And that seems to be where the people were. Let’s not get all exclusive. Syncretistic worship allows us to adjust to the current king. We can flow with the political changes. If the king is worshipping Yahweh, hey I’m in. If he doesn’t, I’m out.
This was vividly brought home to me again a couple of weeks ago in a Muslim country. Looking at the building just right down the street from the building where a horrible terroristic attack occurred a couple of years ago. These guys went into this restaurant, took hostage 25 people who were just eating their dinner, and they with knives and guns just went person to person. You either quote the Koran or they will torture and kill. So, at that moment if you’re a syncretistic worshipper, you can work with that. And there were people in the restaurant who weren’t Muslims, not Christians either, but weren’t Muslims who quoted the Koran and were released. But there were 25 people who were killed.
And so, the syncretistic worship mindset says,
Hey man, if I go to a university where it’s uncool just to worship God alone, Jesus being the only way, man I can flow with that. All religiona are cool. They’re all saying the same thing. Somebody threatens my life. No use dying for Jesus. I’m cool with all religions. All gods are okay.
So, we can change with the times. The second reason it’s attractive is we can customize our worship. In verse 18 he’s talking about the Baals. Baal wasn’t just one god. There were many. You’ve got Baal the storm god, the lightning god, the grain god, the wine god and Asherah the fertility god. All these gods they looked to, and whatever you think you need at a particular season of your life, you could fabricate a God that will customize, be customized toward your need and meet your desire.
The third reason is, then we can meet our real needs, our real needs. If you realize your wife is not satisfying you, Baalism is for you because Baalism linked prostitution and worship. You can have your devotions with pornography. I don’t want to worship a God who is going to transform me into his image. I want to be able to transform my god into my image, which is what you see going on today as it went on in Israel. People are people.
Elijah does three things. Number 1, he calls the people to choose. Verse 21 again.
How long will you be relationally paralyzed? How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him, if Baal, follow him.
God is a jealous God. Exodus 20:5, “For I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” Exodus 34:14, God’s name is actually Jealous. It’s not just that he has times of jealousy, his name is Jealous. Now for some of us, that’s embarrassing because when we think of jealousy, we think of somebody who’s petty, who wants what other people have or resents that they have it. That’s not it at all. That’s putting our own brokenness on God.
God’s jealousy is his zeal for his glory, which is the highest good in the universe. If God is not zealous for his glory, he is an idolater. And in his zeal for his glory, he seeks a people to enjoy and experience his glory. Like a husband, a husband who encourages his wife to sleep around, and he sleeps around in an open marriage might be jealousy free, but he’s not a real husband, and it’s not a real marriage. As Tasker says,
“The exclusiveness of marriage is the essence of marriage.”
Same with worship. You can’t give partial allegiance to someone who is the ultimate infinite good. We can’t. So, he calls the people to choose.
Number 2, he gives the prophets of Baal a chance. As Corinne read in verse 22-29 Elijah proposes a test, encourages them to take a bull and then they respond. If you jump in down at verse 26,
“And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, ‘O Baal, answer us!’ But there was no voice,” [There was no one. No one answered.] “They limped around the altar that they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them.”
Now for some of you who are particularly gifted in sarcasm and have tried to find a life verse I would, I would commend this to you. The Spirit rarely uses sarcasm, but there are times he does. It’s generally destructive but at times helpful. Elijah utilizes this gift to cry aloud. “For he’s a god,” then he suggests why he may not be hearing maybe he’s lost in thought, maybe he’s using the bathroom or on vacation or taking a nap.
They cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out upon them. Horrible scene. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered. No one paid attention. Elijah proposed a test.
Then thirdly he repairs the altar of the Lord, and he prays. Verse 30, “Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come near to me.’ And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down. Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, ‘Israel shall be your name.’
Now don’t miss this fact. A couple of big ideas that are going to flow from this under this same point. He reaffirms God’s covenant with Israel. Israel at this time was divided. Ten tribes/two tribes. He said no. He goes back to the covenant. Verse 32, “and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed,” almost two gallons. “And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood.
And he said, ‘Fill four jars with water and poured on the burnt offering and on the wood.’ And he said, ‘Do it a second time… Do it a third time.’ And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water.” So, notice secondly, he removes any alternative explanations for what is about to happen. In case somebody just had a little science lab on spontaneous combustion and says, you know animals sometimes do that. Poof. He eliminates that possibility. Douses them with water, douses the sacrifice, douses the wood, soaks everything to make it humanly impossible for this thing just to be explained away.
And then finally under this, he does exactly what God told him to do. Look at verse 36, ”
And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, ‘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.”
I’m not just inventing this stuff. I’m doing exactly what you told me to do. And the very next verse has what I believe is the whole point of the story. It all flows to this point. And you’ll even see it’s a purpose statement. So why are we doing this? Why is God doing this? Verse 37, “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God,” that you O Yahweh are Elohim, “and that you have turned their hearts back.” That’s the point. Everything culminates with that, that you are God, and that you turn your people’s hearts back. So, God heard Elijah’s prayer, he consumed the offering. If you remember, it wasn’t just the offering, he consumed everything.
The people cried out, “The Lord, he is God.” Yahweh, he is Elohim. It’s very interesting. Elijah’s name is a merging of Elohim (Elijah) and Yahweh or often translated Jehovah mushed together. Elijah. Elohim is Yahweh. The Lord is God. God is the Lord. They cry out.
So why did God do this here? We’re not going to finish the story today, we’re going to come back to it next week. But what I want us to stop and think about what is happening here? Why does he do this? Because there are times, you remember when Satan was tempting Jesus to turn stone into bread? And he goes, no. I don’t do tricks. Or when the disciples in Luke 9 are upset at the Samaritans for rejecting Jesus, and they’re like, can we do what Elijah did? Fire from heaven! They were all excited, and Jesus rebuked them.
Why does he do this? Because so often God refuses to do magic tricks to impress people. He tells us, “Answer me, O Lord,” verse 37, “that this people may know that you, O Lord are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”
You, the Lord who is God, is after our hearts. Who knows why the Lord of heaven and earth would want my heart, but he is the heart turner. There is a, well before we go into it, let me say this way. The jealousy of God’s heart (he alone is Lord) generates zeal in our hearts.
Because you notice the striking contrast between the dancing, cutting, bleeding of Baal’s prophets trying to induce some kind of reaction from their God, and the jealous covenant-keeping love of the God of Israel. There is nothing in this story that explains the love of God for his people. Elijah doesn’t dance, cut, or bleed. Actually, God bleeds for us in Christ. God consumed the sacrifice here as a picture of consuming the sacrifice of his Son to forgive his covenant non-keeping people.
This is what prompted Paul referring to Elijah in Romans 11 to say in verse 5, “So too at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise, grace would no longer be grace.” This unearned, unending affection filled Elijah with a zeal that actually flows from the jealousy in God’s heart for his people. He yearns, James 4, jealously for you he calls you to draw near to God. He will draw near to you.
To cleanse your hands, you sinners, to purify your hearts you double-minded. Choose. He is Lord. He is after your heart. You’re going to notice Elijah in the next chapter
Referring to this jealousy. In chapter 19:10, “I’ve been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts.” 19:14, “I’ve been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts.”
Where does that come from? And I think this is a huge question because some of us are wondering, why is my heart so cold? Why do I not care? Why are there people who get so excited about God, and I know we express emotions differently, all of us do, but there’s nothing there. This story is highlighting the fact that when God gets your heart, it flows from being gripped by the jealous love of God for his glory and for his people.
It’s not something we fabricate. God, you want my heart? You did all of this to get the heart of your people turned from their multitude of distractions back toward their Creator toward their Savior.
It is life-changing when you realize the God of the universe is after your heart. What is your heart? Your heart isn’t just your emotion. It’s your control center. It’s who you are at the core. It has everything to do with how you think, what you want, and how you feel. And he’s after your heart. And when your eyes are open to that, that God you have done that. You did that on the cross for me. You consumed your Son for me because you’re jealous for my heart. And the fruit of that is a zeal. That’s why the Bible links jealousy and zeal so tightly. Two sides of the same coin.
You get a glimpse of this in the classic words of J.C. Ryle, a 19th Century British pastor who’s talking about zeal. He says this. “A zealous man in religion,” he’s talking about Christianity, “is preeminently a man of one thing.” So, all those distractions are burned away. One thing. One person. “It is not enough to say that he’s earnest, hearty, uncompromising, thorough-going, whole-hearted, fervent in spirit.
He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he’s swallowed up in one thing, and that one thing is to please God.” Stop there for a second. And don’t mishear that. Some of us natural-born legalists immediately hear that, and it’s like oh, I’ve gotta get there. No. The desire to please God flows from the jealous love of God demonstrated on the cross for you, that you didn’t do anything for. You don’t need to do anything to earn this. And by one thing, it’s not that we don’t do anything else, it’s not that we just read our Bible and pray all day. But then everything else we do is seen through and done by the power of the one thing.
One thing. “Whether he lives or whether he dies – whether he has health, or whether he has sickness, whether he is rich, or whether he is poor – whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offense – whether he is thought wise, or whether he is thought foolish – whether he gets blame, or whether he gets praise – whether he gets honor, or … shame – for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all.
He burns for one thing, and that one thing is to please God and to advance God’s glory. If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it – he is content. If he feels that, like a lamp, he is made to burn; and if he is consumed in burning, he has but done the work for which God appointed him. Such a one will always find a sphere for his zeal. If he cannot preach, work, and give money, he will cry, and sigh, and pray.” He will find a way.
So, we say, does God have my full attention? That’s what we’re talking about. I have been gripped by this jealous love of God, demonstrated through the cross of Christ. And it’s mind-blowing that God would be after, this morning God would be after your heart. Right now. He doesn’t just want to do a little Sunday thing, do a little of this or that. Appease him. That’s not what he’s talking about. He’s after your heart.
Father, we pray that our eyes would be opened to your jealous, covenant-keeping love. Strip away the negative connotations of jealousy that many of us have in our mind. Let us see the fierce, loyal love that flows from your heart, for your glory, for your people. Lord, let us see that, and let us respond. We pray that as we respond you would burn away all the distractions, all the syncretistic baby gods that we try to create to cover us, to protect us, to give us a safety net. We’re all in. You are the way, the truth, the life, Jesus. We are all in with you. No halting between two opinions, no limping along relationally. You have our hearts.