Preached: June 30, 2013
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit assures us that our Savior reigns is 1 Kings 19
[Elijah] said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have abandoned your covenant, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are looking to take my life.”
The LORD said to him, “Go and retrace your steps to the Desert of Damascus. When you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Anoint Jehu, the son of Nimshi, as king over Israel. And anoint Elisha, the son of Shaphat, from Abel Meholah as prophet to succeed you. Jehu will kill whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, and Elijah will kill whoever escapes the sword of Jehu. Yet I have kept a remnant of seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him. (1 Kings 19:14-18).
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
“Why bother?!” Has that feeling ever swept over you? I'm not focusing on the minor frustrations of life, such as, why bother scrubbing the kitchen floor when the kids are traipsing in mud all day long. No, I'm talking about heavy waves crashing down. Maybe those waves are a bunch of the little things piling up until they overwhelm us or maybe a sudden catastrophe in one blast knocking us down or maybe the weariness of this daily toil finally wearing away at us or maybe the general decline in morality and the growing opposition against God's truth in the world around us. That feeling of “Why bother?!” floods over us, washing away any hope.
That's what happened to great prophet Elijah. How uplifted he had been when the Lord sent fire from heaven in answer to his prayer! As that divine fire burnt the sacrifice, wood, stone, dirt, and water around the altar, the people could clearly see that the Lord was the true God and Baal was just an empty, powerless idol (1 Kings 18:36-39). The four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal that had gathered at Mount Carmel for this challenge were put to death. Then the Lord sent rain, ending years of drought. What a day for the Lord's prophet!
But how quickly emotions change! After that day of apparent victory, rather than an ongoing spiritual revival of people rallying to the Lord, Elijah received a death threat from Queen Jezebel. He panicked and fled to the south. He had given up. He wanted to die. Why bother? He had done his best. He had been zealous for the Lord God Almighty. But God's enemies always seemed to come out ahead. The Lord's altars were torn down. His prophets, killed. Elijah felt like the only one left. What hope was there? Why bother?
The Lord's answer to Elijah lifts up you and me as well. No matter what waves have washed over you, dear friend, the Lord is your Rock and your Salvation. He stands firm. In him alone is hope. For he reigns over all things, over this world with its governments and over his Church which shall never perish. So our hope is confident that our Lord reigns. That's the theme today. Our hope is confident that our Lord reigns. For he governs the nations, part one. And he preserves his people, his Church, part two.
Wicked Ahab and Jezebel ruled over the northern tribes of Israel. It seemed as though the godless were in control. But the Lord made it clear that he, and he alone, controlled of the rise and fall of kings and nations. The Lord tells his prophet, “Anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son Nimshi king over Israel” (1 Kings 19:15, 16 NIV84).
How did this work out? These were not immediate changes in leadership. They wouldn't actually take place until Elijah had been taken up to heaven. But the Lord was telling him what would play out in the years ahead. The Lord was in the driver's seat.
So often our emotions get caught up in the ups and downs of the moment. It's a good thing we're not in that driver's seat. So often we'd focus on the bug smashed on the windshield, rather than the bridge-out up ahead. But the Lord our God sees not only the bug on the windshield but all of life -- past, present, and future. Be confident that he knows exactly how all will work out despite the politics and power games that nations and leaders still play today. It's the Lord who reigns. You see, he not only sees and knows; he's in control. Our hope is confident that our Lord reigns. He governs the nations.
Aram, which today is Syria, was a perennial enemy of Israel. In the years ahead Ben-Hadad, the current king of Aram, would become ill. His aide, Hazael, would covertly spread a thick, wet cloth over Ben-Hadad's face to smother him as he lay powerless in bed. With Ben-Hadad dead, Hazael grabbed the throne. He was not what you would call a god-fearing leader. Yet the Lord used him to punish Israel for their apostasy, their turning away from the Lord. In fact, the harm that Hazael would do to Israel led the prophet Elisha to weep. (2 Kings 8:7-15)
After Hazael became king of Aram, Jehu would become king of Israel. He was not part of the royal family but just an army officer. Yet the Lord used him to exterminate the house of Ahab for its wickedness and also to massacre the prophets of Baal for leading the people astray. Yet Jehu didn't fully follow the Lord either. (2 Kings 9 & 10)
So we see, dear friends, that indeed the Lord our God governs the nations. But that does not mean that this world will get better or that good governments will prevail. He gives victory to one wicked nation in order to punish another. He uses the pains and problems of politics to remind us that our real hope is in heaven not on this earth. We live by faith, trusting that our God is in the driver's seat. He truly governs the nations for the good of his people, even though our earthly lot doesn't improve and may even worsen.
For no matter what the government ends up doing, we can live each day confident that our Lord reigns. And since he reigns, he's taking care of us. His mercy is new every morning so our hope is renewed day after day. Despite the failures of earthly governments, he still channels many earthly blessings of peace and prosperity to us through the government and its institutions. And no matter how bad a government or its laws may become, we live each day with confidence in our Lord. Our hope is built on Jesus. He's the solid Rock that will stand against the crash of any and every wave. Our hope is confident that our Lord reigns. For you see, Jesus is truly our Lord. He takes care of us each day. For he has ransomed us to be his very own people so that he is our gracious, merciful Lord. He has risen from the dead and ascended to reign over all with the power of God's right hand. What is the power of man compared to that? He governs the nations.
And as he governs the nations, he preserves his people, his Church. He made that clear to Elijah. Elijah was not the only believer left. In fact, the Lord would see to it that the work of proclaiming God's message would continue even after Elijah was gone. That's why he was to anoint Elisha to succeed him as prophet. For the Lord would not let his Church perish. He preserves his people by sending them faithfully preachers and teachers. “Anoint Elisha ... to succeed you as prophet ... I reserve seven thousand in Israel -- all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:16, 18 NIV84).
We, dear Christians, have the same promises from the Lord. Just as he sent prophets of old to proclaim his message, so still today he sends faithful pastors and teachers to proclaim his word. Through the Apostle Paul the Lord promises: “But to each one grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he ... gave gifts to men’ ... It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelist, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people ...” (Ephesians 4:7, 8, 11, 12 NIV84). Faithful teachers of God's word are a gracious gift from Jesus, our ascended Lord, who reigns over all. Listen to them. For this is how he preserves his people.
Yes, even if we at times feel like a little flock harassed on every side, Jesus will not let his Church perish. Individual congregations and synods may come and go. Some may remain faithful for a while; others fall away quickly. But somewhere on this earth there will always be God's faithful people gathered around his pure word and sacraments. Those who faithfully confess the saving gospel of Jesus Christ -- they are the Church. As humble servants they no longer bow down to the ways of the world or kiss its empty promises of happiness. As humble servants, they bow before his word alone, always ready to listen. As dear children, they kiss their Lord, confessing with their mouths that his name is the only name that saves. Jesus preserves his people, his Church. Do you remember the promise Jesus made after Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God? Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18-footnote NIV84). Because of his promise, our hope is confident. Jesus reigns as Lord of his Church. He will preserve his people.
What good news that is for you and me, dear Christian friends! What hope that brings us no matter what waves of trouble or despair wash over us and flood our lives! We don't need to throw up our hands, exclaiming, “Why bother?!” For our hope is confident that our Lord reigns.
Though we each are weak and sinful, his still, small voice calls from Bethlehem's mange. He calls out to you and me. “Do not be afraid,” he says. “Don't lose hope. For I, your Savior, have come into your sin-filled world to reconcile you to God, to bring you peace. I am the Light of hope in your darkness. I am the solid Rock in your storm. For I carried your sins to the cross to make you right before God. I have risen from the dead and ascended above all. Take heart, for I, your Savior, reign. I govern the nations and preserve you, my blood-washed people, my holy Church.” Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.