Elijah was a great prophet, and God did amazing things through him. Yet, like many of us, Elijah fell into deep despair when things didn’t go well. God taught him that real life is not found in external things, in things that can be seen and touched. God’s life is not present just because things going well, and His life is not absent when things are bad. Like Elijah, we need to find the life that Jesus promised, the life that is always present, like a never ending spring of water welling up from our spirits.
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LIVING CRUCIFIED #3.
1 Kings 19:1-13; Hebrews 4:15; John 4:12-14; John 6:35; John 6:63; Luke 11:9-13
Last time the message might have been a little heavy on intellectual concepts and light on stuff we could “sink our teeth into.” But my purpose in discussing all of it was actually to improve your “teeth” so that when you do have something to “bite into,” you bite further and deeper. Christianity is an entire way of looking at the world, and an important part of that world-view is the concept of eternal, spiritual reality as well as immediate, physical reality. Another important part is the understanding of human beings as having bodies, souls and spirits. Our spirits can access the eternal, spiritual reality. We need this knowledge to understand the Bible properly.
This time, we’ll put this altogether with a practical example from the life of Elijah the prophet. I believe (and hope and pray) that this message will be practical and meaningful for you, and even more so if you have some understanding of the concepts we covered last time. I have preached this message a few times in different places, so I apologize if you’ve heard it before. And yet, I trust that the Lord will use it to continue to do good things in you.
There is a story from the Old Testament that has always fascinated me. It’s about the prophet Elijah. God used Elijah to confront Ahab, king of Israel, and his evil wife Jezebel, who were worshiping false gods, and leading the whole country away from God. God told Elijah that it wouldn’t rain for three years. Elijah had enough faith to tell the king and queen that this would happen, and that it was God’s judgment. This was a great act of faith and courage. The prediction came true. And yet the king and queen did not repent, so soon afterwards, Elijah went into hiding for most of the time of the drought.
At the end of three years, God told him to stop hiding and confront them. In that confrontation, God showed himself powerful, and the false gods, of course, proved false. All the people were ready to listen to Elijah, rather than the king. So, in accordance with Old Testament law, he had them execute all the false prophets for blasphemy.
Next, Elijah prayed for God to make it rain again. It didn’t happen at first, but Elijah persevered in prayer, and a cloud formed, and then a great storm broke. This was an amazing victory for God, and Elijah was central to it.
Immediately afterward, the queen sent Elijah a message. She had already killed many of the prophets of the Lord, and she told Elijah that he was dead meat. She was sending men to kill him.
The great prophet, flush with all the amazing things God had just done… ran away. He went a very long distance away. At first God just patiently comforted him. Elijah went further until he ended up at Mt. Sinai.
9 There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:9-10, ESV)
Elijah is saying basically this: “After all I’ve done, after how hard I’ve tried, it’s all coming to nothing. Nothing I can do makes any difference.”
Then God came and told Elijah to get ready. He said he was about to show Elijah His presence.
And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks 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. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. (1 Kings 19:12)
Many translations say, “a still small voice,” in verse 12. But it is an odd Hebrew expression that is hard to capture. I’m not much of a Hebrew scholar, so I’m mostly relying on the research of others. A literal translation might be: “a sound, a thin silence.” Another way to translate it would be: “a voice, silent and intangible.” What is a “silent voice?” What is the sound made by “a thin silence.”
There is supposed to be a big contrast between the wind, earthquake and fire on the one hand, and the “silent voice” on the other. The silent voice was God speaking into the spirit of Elijah. It is an example of communication with the eternal world, as opposed to the noise and chaos of the temporary, “seen” world. The presence of God was in a calm silent voice in a way that it was not in all kinds of noise and thunder.
There was a great wind – strong enough to split rocks. Obviously God’s presence was around, but the heart of God was not in the wind. The same was true of the earthquake and the fire.
Now, why did God do this? Why send the wind and the earthquake and the fire. Did he need to impress Elijah? And why send those things, if that was not really his presence?
I think there was a lesson here for Elijah.
Remember Elijah’s recent life. He confronted the king and queen – that was awesome! God was with him. But they didn’t listen That was a real letdown. Then he predicted and prayed for drought and famine as judgment. God was at work again, making things happen – how thrilling. But the king and queen still didn’t listen, and continued in their evil, idol-worshiping ways, and Elijah ran away in fear. That was a bust. After three years in hiding, he confronted the rulers again. God showed up by burning up Elijah’s sacrifice! The people followed his commands! Then when Elijah prayed, God ended the drought. This was amazing!
But the queen remained evil, and killed many other followers of God, and put out a contract to kill Elijah. All the fire and excitement went out of Elijah, leaving him like a wet kitten. He ran in fear for his life.
You see what was going on? Remember the two sides to reality: the “seen, temporary” reality that we call the world around us, or the physical world. Then there is the unseen, eternal reality. Elijah was entirely focused on what was going on in the seen/temporary realm, and was almost ignoring the life that was available to him through the spirit.
He was trying to draw a sense of life and wellbeing from what was going on externally, in the visible realm. When things were going well on the outside, Elijah was doing well. When God was working miracles and Elijah was feeling bold, everything was great. But when things were going badly, Elijah was not doing well. When the king and queen refused to repent, when they threatened him, he was discouraged. He was a coward.
We might say, “So what?” Isn’t it normal to do well when things are good, and to feel discouraged when things are not good?”
God was saying to Elijah: “No. It doesn’t have to be that way. My life is not in the external things. My Life is not in things going well, and my life is not absent when things are bad.”
He says the same thing to us.
And so God sent a storm. Raging wind, splitting rocks, this beats any tornado you’ve ever heard of. It was noise, excitement, huge, awe-inspiring. But the LORD was not in the storm. So he sent an earthquake. Nothing is solid anymore, everything is shaken. There is nothing to hold on to, no security. But the LORD was not in the earthquake. Then came the fire. I’ve heard many people – even preachers – pray for God to “send his fire.” But the LORD was not in the fire.
Now, obviously, God sent the wind, caused the earthquake, lit the fire. So he was in them in a sense – they resulted from his action. But the true presence of God was not in those things that he sent and did. The true presence of God was a silent, calm voice that spoke into Elijah’s spirit.
We look for God in action. We want Him to do external things for us and for others. We want Him to show off His power. And there are times when that is exactly what He also wants to do, and He does it. But we need to understand – the deepest presence of God cannot be found in external things. It is found as he communicates with our spirit. And in the spirit, it doesn’t matter what storms, what fires, what earthquakes are happening on the outside – for bad or for good. In the spirit, where true life can always be found through Jesus, it is calm and still. The voice of the spirit is often quiet and “thin.”
We seek life externally. We try to stop the downs and live in the ups. We try to organize our physical environment. We try to reform our behavior, to learn how to cope. But God is not in the externals, not in the deepest sense. Elijah’s externals were not all bad. In fact, some of the miracles God did through him were downright awesome. But they were still externals. God did them, yes. God used them, yes. But the Lord showed Elijah that those external things could not be a source of life and power for him. You can’t draw life or hope from Externals, that is from things in the seen, temporary realm. One reason is this: things in the seen/temporary realm are…temporary. So, right after a miracle, things are great. But it doesn’t last. What Elijah needed to recognize (and what we desperately need to recognize) is that temporary things will always let you down.
We keep trying to live like Elijah. We want to maximize the victories, and minimize the defeats. We want it to be all “wow! God!” times, and no “uh-oh, Jezebel” times. But just stop and think about this for a moment. Has anyone, in the history of mankind, ever been able to make that happen? Has anyone ever lived moving only from victory to victory, all ups, no downs? Of course not. Elijah didn’t. Peter didn’t. Paul didn’t. Even Jesus, in his physical life here on earth, had his setbacks. His hometown wouldn’t accept him, and their lack of faith prevented him from working the way he wanted to there. The leaders of the people – including the religious elite – rejected him. His own closest disciples consistently misunderstood him and his message. The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was tested in every way, just as we were (Hebrews 4;15). In other words, this is part of the “seen” life. Everyone faces the trials. No one, not the prophets, not the apostles, not even the Son of God is exempt.
Now, when we face the idea that this is just how life is – sometimes good, sometimes bad, and none of it lasts – that can be a daunting idea. You mean the rest of my life, I’m going to go up, and down, and up and down? I’m going to win victories – and then be defeated. I’m going to see God at work…and then I won’t see him at work. I’m going to live a holy life — and then I’m going to sin. And then I’m going to live holy again.
The reason that idea is so daunting to us, is because we are trying to get life here and now. We are trying to get life and hope and goodness out of our behavior, out of the seen and temporary reality. We are trying to get life out of our externals, like money, or success or relationships, or sex or drugs or alcohol or even…religion.
Brothers and sisters, there is no life there. There is no life in mood-altering substances. That’s easy, we know that – even addicts know it, but they can’t seem to stop looking there. There is no life in money or success or accomplishment. Read Ecclesiastes. It’s been tried. There is no life in partying. There is no life in abstaining. I’m not saying that they are morally equal – but I am saying that you can’t get real life out of either excess or self-denial.
There is no life in “living for God.” That’s right. If you are living for God with your own will and effort, you will not find life in it – not lasting life, not the streams of living water which flow from within and cause you to never thirst again.
One of the problems with living our lives with an external focus, a focus on the seen, temporary world, is that whatever results we get are temporary. Jesus pointed it out to his disciples:
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-7 emphasis added)
He says the same sorts of things about other observances. Notice the contrast – the people who focus on the seen, temporary world, get a seen, temporary reward – that is, they get the result of their behavior here and now on earth. It’s over rather quickly. Those who focus on the unseen spiritual reality get an eternal reward from their Father in heaven. When we live our life from externals, then that’s all we get – the external result. That’s our reward. And that is temporary, not eternal. The Lord says the Spirit is what is most important.
Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor 4:16-18)
It is from the spirit – connected to the Holy Spirit through the work of Jesus – that life comes; real life, life that does not change and fluctuate and sometimes desert us. Once we are in Jesus, that life is always there. It is always available, though we often forget it. That is because it doesn’t come from our behavior. We can’t control it by manipulating our circumstances, or even our own actions. It doesn’t come from our thoughts or feelings. It doesn’t come in noise, earthquake and fire and exciting things happening outside of us. It comes from the spirit – a place that Elijah found was still and silent, where the voice of God was a soft whisper.
63 The Spirit is the One who gives life. The flesh doesn’t help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. (John 6:63, HCSB)
The only way we can access the spirit-life is by believing that what God says is true. We receive it only through faith.
Practically, if you want the real, spirit life, the life that lasts forever, and cannot be changed by time or circumstances, you must seek it in the spirit, and do so in the attitude of faith that says: “I believe God is to be found there, and I believe he wants to give me this life.” He does want to give it to us, you know:
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them. “No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again.” (John 6:35)
That promise cannot be true in the visible, temporary world. Everyone experiences hunger and thirst every day. But Jesus was making a promise about eternal, spiritual reality. It is in the spirit where we can be fully satisfied, always and forever. It is in the spirit that we find the nourishment to sustain eternal life.
Seek it through the bible. Seek it in sitting quietly, in God’s presence, waiting. Every time you catch your mind wandering, just softly whisper the name of Jesus to bring you back. Don’t worry if your mind continually wanders. When you catch yourself, just come back to Jesus with his name. Seek the life in beauty, goodness, truth and joy, whenever you encounter them. Listen for the quiet voice that is not the voice of the world, not the loudness that is everywhere, but is in the spirit.
The life is not in your behavior. It is not in your thoughts and feelings. It is in Jesus, and the only way to get it is to believe he offers it to you.
Sometimes it can seem sort of vague, or esoteric, this listening to the soft whisper of God in the spirit. I recommend that you start by asking God to help you find him there. This is a prayer he loves to answer:
9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13, ESV)
Ask him and then actively listen for his soft, silent voice in the spirit. As you practice, it will eventually become easier, and more natural. When Jesus encountered a woman at a well one time, during their conversation he said something. Hear the promise in his words, and trust that he will deliver it you:
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:13-14, ESV)
Believe the promise. Receive the promise as you thank him for it.