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Elijah

A Season of Repentance

2 Kings 1

It is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian life that our troubles are often the path of our salvation. As long as things are going smoothly, we think we have no reason to repent and seek salvation. But when troubles arise, we are reminded that we are mortal; we begin to ask eternal questions, and seek eternal answers. Sometimes God sends those very troubles to provoke us into such self-examination.

How we react, however, is up to us. Some of us are swift to repent; others slow; some stand up and proclaim themselves captains of their fate – and their pride swallows them whole. Here is such a man in Ahab’s son, Ahaziah.

(2 Ki 1 NIV) After Ahab's death, Moab rebelled against Israel. {2} Now Ahaziah had fallen through the lattice of his upper room in Samaria and injured himself. So he sent messengers, saying to them, "Go and consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to see if I will recover from this injury." {3} But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, "Go up and meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and ask them, 'Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going off to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?' {4} Therefore this is what the LORD says: 'You will not leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die!'" So Elijah went. {5} When the messengers returned to the king, he asked them, "Why have you come back?" {6} "A man came to meet us," they replied. "And he said to us, 'Go back to the king who sent you and tell him, "This is what the LORD says: Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending men to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you will not leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die!"'" {7} The king asked them, "What kind of man was it who came to meet you and told you this?" {8} They replied, "He was a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist." The king said, "That was Elijah the Tishbite." {9} Then he sent to Elijah a captain with his company of fifty men. The captain went up to Elijah, who was sitting on the top of a hill, and said to him, "Man of God, the king says, 'Come down!'" {10} Elijah answered the captain, "If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men!" Then fire fell from heaven and consumed the captain and his men. {11} At this the king sent to Elijah another captain with his fifty men. The captain said to him, "Man of God, this is what the king says, 'Come down at once!'" {12} "If I am a man of God," Elijah replied, "may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men!" Then the fire of God fell from heaven and consumed him and his fifty men. {13} So the king sent a third captain with his fifty men. This third captain went up and fell on his knees before Elijah. "Man of God," he begged, "please have respect for my life and the lives of these fifty men, your servants! {14} See, fire has fallen from heaven and consumed the first two captains and all their men. But now have respect for my life!" {15} The angel of the LORD said to Elijah, "Go down with him; do not be afraid of him." So Elijah got up and went down with him to the king. {16} He told the king, "This is what the LORD says: Is it because there is no God in Israel for you to consult that you have sent messengers to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron? Because you have done this, you will never leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die!" {17} So he died, according to the word of the LORD that Elijah had spoken. Because Ahaziah had no son, Joram succeeded him as king in the second year of Jehoram son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah. {18} As for all the other events of Ahaziah's reign, and what he did, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel?

You might wonder how Ahaziah thought this Baal-Zebub would be of any assistance to him. In the Philistine theology, this god was “god of the flies” – and presumed to be responsible for healing! Perhaps they reasoned that flies being attracted to an open wound had something to do with it.

God’s Attitude Towards Sin

If we are to make sense of this passage, we must go back to one of the essentials of the faith: God’s attitude towards sin (and our response to it).

Intolerance

In our day, this business of fire coming down from heaven seems unbelievable – not just because we are troubled by miracles, but because we can’t see how a kind and loving God would roast 51 people at a time. If God made a habit of this, it’s difficult to see how much of the planet would be left unburned. The modern view is that God the nice guy would be “tolerant.”

We have forgotten something: the holiness of God. He is perfect, unlike us. In our imperfections we are well advised not to be judgmental of the imperfections of others. It’s a very risky business for us. God will use our standard of judgment on us, which is a good reason to be very forgiving. But that’s because we are imperfect people who will someday stand before a perfect God. He is holy and righteous, and he alone has the right to consume with fire from heaven. We abhor the judge with dirty hands; we should fear the Judge with clean ones.

How difficult it must be for God to forgive! Indeed, difficult it is – for his forgiveness was purchased for us at the Cross. The price was the life of his only begotten Son, Jesus. Grace is not cheap.

Moral authority

Most of us would like to plead ignorance to God’s moral authority – but we can’t. We have a good example of that here. Elijah stops the messengers and sends them back to the king. Why didn’t they just ignore him? After all, he has nothing to do with this “god of the flies.” The reason is simple: moral authority. Ahaziah knew it too; all he had to do was ask for a description of the man, and he understood perfectly. He knew the lion by his claw – and so do we.

Even today, a man of moral authority stands out. He does not have to make his voice heard over the roar; people simply know that this man carries with him moral authority. This can be seen in the negative sense in our attitude towards Christian leaders who sin; we hold them more guilty, because they proclaimed the Word.

God opposes the proud

There is a great truth shown in this passage: God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Throughout Christ’s ministry the sinners heard him gladly, but the self-righteous hated him. Why? The sinners knew what they were. If you’re a prostitute, it’s a little hard not to notice, for example. You know it’s wrong, but you find a way to justify it to yourself. But when Christ comes, you can throw away the weak support of self-justification and stand instead on the solid rock. To do that, you must humble yourself and admit who you really are.

But if you have pride, you are in what C. S. Lewis called the “complete anti-God state of mind.” As long as you are proud, your own self-justification will look stronger than anything God can show you. You will not change; you will not become humble. And what can God do about that?

A season of repentance

Humility

“Humble” is not a favored word these days. No one likes to be thought of as humble; our society considers pride a virtue, not a fault. God, however, calls us to be humble; why then do Christians not respond to Him?

  • Many of us would – if we could do it in secret. As long as we could “save face” in society, we’d be willing to do any amount of repentance in secret. But isn’t this a false repentance? A false humility? This is “wannabe” humility, not the real thing. Real humility results in action.
  • One reason we are not good at it: we don’t practice it. We do not intentionally humble ourselves. We say, “I’ll do it when the time comes” – not thinking that doing it now makes “the time” much easier. You play like you practice.
  • Worse yet, we have a lot of practice at using every other means of dealing with our sins. God is our last resort when He should be our first.
God gives opportunity

See how God responds to this. It’s really our problem, not his, but in his love for us he gives us occasion to humble ourselves. He does that with Ahaziah here. The man has a serious injury; his thoughts turn to one thing: “will I live?” By providing him this occasion God has brought the man to asking eternal questions. Unfortunately, he’s looking for answers in the wrong place.

We often think we can avoid these circumstances. Like Ahaziah, we think we’re safe in our own homes. We design them to be our fortresses – both physically and spiritually. We think that, somehow, here is a place where we can’t be touched. We so often seek this security. It’s available – but not where we’re looking.

One way or another, God will provoke us by circumstance. Ahaziah stayed home when Moab rebelled. After all, his father died in battle; why risk it for the sake of some rebellious vassal? So God provided him with an “accident” instead.

Season – long or short?

The nasty question is this: just how long will God continue to provide these “accidents?” As one writer put it, “Some sinners live long, to aggravate their judgment. Others die soon, to hasten it.” We need to remember that – barring the Lord’s return – we are all appointed to die.

God’s love for man prevents him from forcing himself upon us. Therefore, he arranges our circumstances providentially so that we are provoked into turning to him.

The sure grace of God

If we do turn to him, his grace is sure. He will forgive. But let us not take that grace lightly!

The price of grace

We must remember that forgiveness is done at the expense of the forgiver. In this lesson we have paid most attention to the sinner. We need to remember that God is the one who pays.

God’s forgiveness must match his holiness, for He is perfect in all things. His holiness is perfect; so is his forgiveness. His forgiveness, therefore, is complete forgiveness. What a blessing to know this! Not just a part of what I have done, but all – forgiven.

Forgiven – but at a price. The price of forgiveness for me may be very painful as I forgive others. The price of God’s forgiveness is the Cross, which cost the very life of his son, Jesus.

Now – or later

Most of us know this. The temptation is, “later.” But is later better?

  • Does sin get better or worse with time? Does it grow and fester, or does it go away?
  • If it does go away, does that mean that “our forgetfulness” equals “his forgiveness?” Or does the eternal God still remember what we have forgotten?
  • Finally, do you really have “later” at your command? Are you really so sure of tomorrow? Or are you like the man who jumped off the building: each floor on the way down people heard him repeating, “so far, so good!”
All of us need it

Perhaps the most difficult thing for “good Christians” to realize is that they too are in need of repentance. Let me share with you a story:

A large prosperous downtown church had three mission churches under its care that it had started. On the first Sunday of the New Year all the members of the mission churches came to the city church for a combined Communion service. In those mission churches, which were located in the slums of the city, were some outstanding cases of conversions - thieves, burglars, and so on - but all knelt side by side at the Communion rail. On one such occasion the pastor saw a former burglar kneeling beside a judge of the Supreme Court of England - the judge who had sent him to jail where he had served seven years. After his release this burglar had been converted and become a Christian worker. Yet, as they knelt there, the judge and the former convict, neither one seemed to be aware of the other.

After the service, the judge was walking home with the pastor and said to the pastor, "Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the Communion rail this morning?" The pastor replied, "Yes, but I didn't know that you noticed." The two walked along in silence for a few more moments, and then the judge said, "What a miracle of grace." The pastor nodded in agreement. "Yes, what a marvelous miracle of grace." Then the judge said "But to who do you refer?" And the pastor said, "Why, to the conversion of that convict." The judge said, "But I was not referring to him. I was thinking of myself." The pastor, surprised, replied: "You were thinking of yourself? I don't understand." "Yes," the judge replied, "It did not cost that burglar much to get converted when he came out of jail. He had nothing but a history of crime behind him, and when he saw Jesus as his Savior he knew there was salvation and hope and joy for him. And he knew how much he needed that help. But look at me. I was taught from earliest infancy to live as a gentleman; that my word was to be my bond; that I was to say my prayers, go to church, take Communion and so on. I went through Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the bar and eventually became a judge. Pastor, nothing but the grace of God could have caused me to admit that I was a sinner on a level with that burglar. It took much more grace to forgive me for all my pride and self-deception, to get me to admit that I was no better in the eyes of God than that convict that I had sent to prison.

A season of repentance

In the Gospels it is recorded that Jesus’ disciples once asked if He wanted them to call down fire from heaven.[1] Jesus rebuked them; he came to seek and save the lost, not to destroy. But each of us faces death, we know not when. Even if we don’t, it is because our Lord comes again – to judge the living and the dead. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow. Now is our season of repentance.

Time is short; eternity is long. Hell is hot – but Jesus saves.


[1] Luke 9:54

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