A TIME FOR TURNING
Karen & Ron Flowers
Directors, Department of Family
Ministries, General Conference
|Theme: Within the heart-turning, family-strengthening Elijah message for our time there is a hopeful, redemptive message for those who have departed from the values of God’s word.|
|Theme Text: 1 Kings 18:20-45; 1 Kings 17:17-24; Luke 15:11-32|
|Presentation Notes: Throughout the following outline, numbers in parentheses (1), (2), (3) will indicate items from the section called Sermon Illumination which may be used for illustration. The addition of your personal illustrations will enhance the presentation.|
In the early morning hours a most unusual procession wends its way up the once fruitful slopes of Mt. Carmel led by a lone old man. The king has called him a troublemaker. Three and a half years ago he disappeared after making a most ominous prediction of terrible drought. Since then drought and famine have borne grim testimony to the fulfillment of Elijah’s prophecy.
Feelings of worry and anger, fear and frustration are written on the faces of the people, the priests, the courtiers and the king himself. Most hostile of all are the high priests of Baal, the god of rain, who have been under ever increasing pressure to produce life-giving water.
Royal heralds have announced Elijah’s challenge to the priests of Baal. All know that Elijah stands for the old religion-the Jehovah-worship of their fathers. Little is heard of Jehovah these days, not since King Ahab and his wife Jezebel have promoted Baal so aggressively. Understanding little of the old, growing increasingly frustrated with the new, the people gather, sensing only that something big is in the offing.
Arriving at the summit, Elijah, outnumbered by the prophets of Baal 450:1, makes a proposal (1 Kings 18:21-29).
The stage is set for one of the most dramatic events in Israel’s history. Forever in the minds of those gathered this day it will be fixed-the truth about Jehovah, the true God. Bible prophets would refer to this day. Jesus would speak of it. Elijah’s work would become a type of the ministry of John the Baptist going in advance of Christ. Seventh-day Adventists would identify with Elijah and see themselves as participating in the great heart-turning, reformatory work predicted by Malachi 4:5, 6.
To better understand the work of Elijah and the meaning of the message of Elijah for our time, we must look more closely at this incident.
Baal Worship in the Time of Elijah
The myth was that Baal, the Canaanite rain god, was believed to cause the winter rains, and thus the fertility of the country. His sister and wife was Anath, the ferocious goddess of bloodshed and war. In Canaanite legend, Mot, the god of drought, killed Baal. Anath begged Mot to restore him to life. When he would not, she overpowered and killed Mot, took her dead brother/husband to the Mountain of the Gods where he was resurrected.
This legend served to explain the seasons. Baal’s death in the spring, which resulted in the summer’s drought and scorching heat, was accompanied by bitter mourning. With His resurrection and the return of the rains, there were celebrations and feasting.
A strong fascination within the religion of Baal:
- Modern.Jehovah worship by contrast was viewed as archaic and unsophisticated.
- Sensuous. Kings 19:18 indicates kissing was part of worship. Since Baal himself was incestuous, sexual sin of all kinds was rampant. Female prostitutes in the groves and shrines of Baal drew the Israelite men into unfaithfulness as an “act of worship.” Acts of sodomy (2 Kings 23:7) were practiced in temple houses by the Israelite men with homosexual priests.
- Rational, scientific base. Connected to events of nature, Baal worship appeared to have a natural, empirical basis th4at made it more rational and believable than Jehovah-worship with its supernatural emphasis.
- Liberating. Whereas Jehovah worship was seen as closely proscribed and restrictive, Baal worship was liberating.
Elijah’s Exaltation of Jehovah:
Everything about Elijah and his ministry was a foundational attack on the pagan worship of Baal.
- His name. “Jehovah is my God.”
- Drought. (1 Kings 17:1) The withholding of rain was a visible, tangible assault on the false religion of the rain god. Baal had no power over death, even his own death. Baal could not give life.
- Resurrection at Zarepath. (1 Kings 17:17-24) Vs. 18 reflects a belief rampant among the heathen: sin on the part of parents required sacrifice. Great sin required great sacrifice. From time to time children were even taken from their parents and offered as living sacrifices (Jer. 19:5, Micah 6:7). Even if children died prematurely, it was believed that Baal had taken them as a propitiation to himself.
Vss. 21-23 exalts Jehovah as the true Life-giver, the Life-restorer, the One who brings the family together again.
In vs. 24, the mother’s response reveals the effect of the Elijah message. Faith in God and His word arises in the heart as His power causes life to be restored and families to be reunited. While Baal worship wrenches families apart, the resurrection of this child and restoration to his mother illustrates the power of the true God.
This episode anticipates the power of the resurrection of Christ and its meaning in the lives of believers (cf. Eph. 1:19-2:9).
Turning Hearts to the True God
The assembled gathering.
- Heathen priests. After a day of incantations, of blood-letting, shouting and cursing, they are exhausted and spent. No devilish miracle has been permitted.
- Wayward people. They are as sheep without a shepherd, misled and abused. Some are hardened and defiant. Some are bewildered. Some are half-starved for want of food. Men, women, and children, all are there, shorn by the false worship of Baal of their dignity and personhood
There is a striking similarity to the parable of the prodigal son which Jesus told (Luke 15:11-32). They have departed from the worship and values of the true God. They have experienced what is the inevitable result of following faulty, self-centered, materialistic values. But this story, like the story of the prodigal son, is not so much that of a wayward child or a wayward people, but a waiting Father.
The invitation. Elijah knows there is but one hope for Israel now, as there has been but one hope for all mankind. The great burden on his heart is that Jehovah may again be lifted up, that Israel might be drawn to Him. He yearns for the conversion of his people, for reformation, for a renewal of their relationship with Jehovah, a turning back to the faith of their fathers which would bring healing to their homes and to their land.
It is not accidental that Elijah speaks at the hour of the evening sacrifice. To do so now centers attention on God’s redemptive plan. The invitation, “Draw near to me,” comes directly from the heart of God. It is the entreaty of One who longs for fellowship, for the companionship of His children. He is a God who opens His arms to embrace us, prodigal children that we are. He loves, accepts and saves us, just as we are. He cares for our wayward children. When we reach our extremity with them, we may release them to His care, knowing that He works unceasingly to draw them to Himself. (1)
Rebuilding the altar. Jehovah’s altar must again be given its central place. It is the place where God himself has appointed that Israel shall know and understand her salvation. To restore the altar is to put Jesus Christ back into central place. To pray to Him, to speak often of Him in our homes, to our children, to worship Him and allow our lives to be affected by the salvation He freely offers. It was needed in Elijah’s day, and it is needed in ours. (2)
Not only is there significance to the time (vs. 29) and the invitation (vs. 30), but the twelve stones (vs. 31) recalls instruction given by God to Moses and Joshua when God had acted for His people in a mighty way. “According to the number of the tribes” remembers their past as a unified nation under God, their history as one family. The story of Jacob’s new name speaks of the change Jehovah brings to the heart of a man. The experience is one of recalling salvation history. (3)
The prayer. Elijah mentions the fathers of the nation to whom God made known His covenant. His prayer is that the people will recognize God’s mighty act for their salvation, that they will know that God has turned their hearts back to Him. The prayer is not that God would act redemptively for the people, but that the people may have a sign that God has acted redemptively and may acknowledge what He has done already.
The fire. It does not consume the guilty sinners, but consumes the sacrifice. The wrath of God fell upon Christ, God making Him “to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (1 Cor. 5:21). It is a mighty answer to the prayer of faithful Elijah, a demonstration of the total commitment God has to our redemption. (4)
Igniting the wood under the offering would have been adequate to demonstrate that Jehovah was God, but no. The works of God are more than adequate. Everything is taken in one grand, glorious moment. It is as though God were saying in the most convincing way possible, “I am the Lord God of Israel. I am the covenant keeping God. Though this people have sinned a great sin, yet I have loved them with a greater love. I will renew my covenant. I will draw them to myself. I will forgive their iniquities and remember their sin no more. I will turn them to Myself. I will restore their relationships in their families. I will write my law in their hearts. I will be their God and they shall be my people.”
|Elijah’s Time||Christ’s Time||Our Time|
The response. The people confessed “The Lord, He is God!” The priests of Baal were seized and executed as tangible evidence of the intent upon reform. Shortly after, the refreshing rains came.
Some today have grown restless with the old religion of their fathers. Some have turned to other gods. Some have tried to hang on to the old religion, but their experience has been cold and lifeless. Internal conflicts exist and so do conflicts between family members.
Our need today is similar to that of those who gathered on Mt. Carmel. Jesus Christ must be placed at the center of our lives. He and He alone is our hope. He has acted in history for our salvation. He awaits our response of faith and belief in His mighty work for us. (5)
And that hope must be extended to those who, like the prodigal son, have gone into a far country. Would that all prodigal sons and daughters, when they turn their thoughts toward home, (and they will at some point turn their thoughts toward home) might think, not of a vindictive, revengeful, punitive parent, but of a loving, waiting parent.
Would that all prodigal sons and daughters might acknowledge their true condition, and come home-first of all to the waiting, forgiving Heavenly Parent and then to seek to rebuild relationships that may have been strained with their families.
Would that fathers and mothers were tenderhearted and forgiving as the Heavenly Father. May God give us the grace in our homes to live the message of Elijah.
|One (1): Parental peace through a prayer of relinquishment. O God, I love my son very much. I tried to be a good father, as best I knew how, to him, although I’m sure I made plenty of mistakes. I don’t fully understand why he has turned out the way he has. He has no room for You in his life. His actions lately I deplore. But I do not know what else to do. His mother and I are at the end of the road and we are brokenhearted. We turn loose of our son today and place him into Your hands . We give him to You as You once gave him to us. We believe You love him, infinitely more than we do. We ask that You take complete charge of this entire situation. We ask for Your will to be done in our lives. Show his mother and me what changes we need to make in our relationship to him. Thank You for Your love which gives us hope. Amen.-Guy Greenfield, The Wounded Parent , pp. 92, 93.|
|Two (2): The significance of the altar. This heap of ruins is more precious than all the magnificent altars of heathendom.-Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings , p. 151.|
|Three (3): Importance of remembering our religious history. We have nothing to fear for the future, except we forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.-Ellen G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White , p. 196.|
|Four (4): The White Handkerchief. Reared in a Christian home, John had grown tired of its restrictions. One day frustrations ran so high he decided to leave. “You can have your religion,” he announced to his parents, “it seems to suit you fine. But there’s a great big world out there, and I intend to live life to the full.” With that, he left.
Months passed. From time to time friends and neighbors would see John and bring word to his parents. He was indeed “living life to the full” as he had threatened, and the weight on his parents’ hearts seemed too heavy to bear. Everyday they searched the mailbox for a letter from him, and everyday they were disappointed.
At last, like the boy in the Bible, John came to himself. The emptiness of life settled over him, threatening to smother his soul. Thoughts of home brought him a glimmer of hope. Mustering the courage to take up his pen, he wrote his parents a letter.
The arrival of that letter at the old home address created no small stir. With trembling hands his mother and father opened the envelope and began to read.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I know it has been a long time since you have heard from me, but this morning I could not get you out of my thoughts. I am so sorry for all the trouble I have caused you. It’s a long story, but I have been so wrong. You may not want to have anything more to do with me after the way I have treated you, and if this is the case, I will understand. I will be coming through our town on the train next Wednesday. I would like to stop and see you, but did not think I should without asking. If it’s okay for me to stop by, just hang a white handkerchief on the back fence where I will see it when the train goes by behind the house.
I hope you and Dad are well. I would really like to see you again. I have much to say that needs to be said in person. But, like I say, if you don’t want to see me, I will understand and just keep on going.
What conflicting emotions filled these two parents as they read and reread his letter! They loved so much, they ached to see him. Yet they hurt so much. It was a deep hurt that had forever changed the course of their lives. Could they risk being hurt so deeply again?
Few words passed between them as they stood locked in one another’s arms for a long moment. Then it was as if both knew at the same time what they must do, what they wanted to do, what they would do! Together they went upstairs and began to search. From drawers and closets they pulled, not one small handkerchief, but sheets and pillowcases, towels and tablecloths, shirts and socks-every white piece of cloth owned by the household. Bundling them into their arms they made their way to the backyard.
John’s emotions were mixed also as the train approached the bend in the tracks just before they ran behind his country home. Would there be a white handkerchief? He braced himself for the disappointment in case there was not. But as the old home came into view, he could not believe his eyes. No mere handkerchief was there, but billowing in the breeze, from the trees, along the fence, from the clothesline, from the rooftop was a mass of white linen, all beckoning “Come home, son, come home!”
|Five (5): The secret of family unity. The cause of division and discord in families and in the church is separation from Christ. To come near to Christ is to come near to one another. The secret of true unity in the church and in the family is not diplomacy, not management, not a superhuman effort to overcome difficulties-though there will be much of this to do-but union with Christ.
Picture a large circle, from the edge of which are many lines all running to the center. The nearer these lines approach the center, the nearer they are to one another.
Thus it is in the Christian life. The closer we come to Christ, the nearer we shall be to one another. God is glorified as His people unite in harmonious action.-Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home , p. 179.
Greenfield, Guy. The Wounded Parent . Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982.
White, Ellen G. The Adventist Home . Nashville, Tennessee: Southern Publishing Association, 1952.
______________. Life Sketches . Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1915.
______________. Prophets and Kings . Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1943.
Reprinted from Karen & Ron Flowers, Passing the Torch. Silver Spring, MD: Department of Family Ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1992.