Elijah: The Boldness of Faith
Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to Hebrews 11. And if you don’t have a Bible, there should be a Bible under the row of chairs in front of you. If you can grab a Bible, we are going to be looking at Hebrews 11, this morning.
We are continuing our sermon series on the Heroes of the Faith, looking at the Old Testament individuals, mentioned in Hebrews 11, and the faith they had that made them the heroes they were.
And I just want to recap our definition of faith that we started off this series with, from Hebrews 11:1. It says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Faith is not this thing that we can just muster up ourselves, but it’s something that God produces and works in us. Faith is confidence in the future because of what we’ve seen God do in the past. And then, faith means that we don’t need to see it to believe, but that believing is seeing more clearly what God is doing.
And throughout this series, we have looked at a number of individuals who teach us something about faith. We looked at the acceptable faith of Abel, the fellowship of faith of Enoch, the obedience of faith of Noah, the laughable faith of Sarah, the testing of faith of Abraham, the heritage of faith of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, the decision of faith of Moses, the unconventional faith of Rahab, and the faith through weakness of Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah.
And in the coming weeks, we are going to look at individuals who are not explicitly mentioned in Hebrews 11, like the individuals we have already looked at, but whose lives are, nonetheless, characterized by faith. They might not get the same fanfare, but they still teach us something about this one faith that we have come to believe.
Throughout this series, my hope for us has been that we would have a better understanding of faith—that we would be confident in whatever God is bringing us through, trusting that God is in control and that what we are currently facing is ultimately for our good, even though we don’t know the road ahead.
This might be where some of us are at, this morning. Maybe we’re struggling with seeing God in a particular situation. Maybe the best that we can muster is, “I believe; help my unbelief.” I don’t know, but what I do know is that we can take God at His Word, “that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
And so, this morning, we are going to look at a guy by the name of Elijah, who teaches us about the boldness of faith. And what I want us to see, this morning, is that we can grab hold of the promises of God, no matter what we are facing, because of what Christ has done for us.
Let’s look at our text for this morning from Hebrews 11, beginning in verse 32: “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
On May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh completed the first ever solo airplane flight across the Atlantic Ocean, from Long Island, New York to Paris, France. He completed the 5,000 mile trip in a plane that had no radio.
The adventure galvanized worldwide attention, waiting for news. What would happen? Would he make it? To many, it seemed like the ultimate expression of foolishness. Others were afraid for his safety. Some admired his boldness.
When Lindbergh landed in France after a flight of 33 hours and 30 minutes, he became a worldwide hero. But this was only possible, because he had the boldness to believe in what others thought was impossible.
Throughout this series on the Heroes of the Faith, we have been looking at individuals who boldly stepped out in faith in God, believing that God’s promises for them were true.
I read an article this week that defined boldness as “acting, by the power of the Holy Spirit, on an urgent conviction in the face of some threat.” If we don’t have Spirit-empowered conviction, courage and urgency, if any one of these three things is missing, we won’t act boldly.
And this morning, we are going to look at Elijah, who shows us how these three things lead to the boldness of faith.
1. The first thing we need is Spirit-empowered conviction.
Turn to 1 Kings 17. Israel has experienced a long line of kings who did what was evil in sight of the Lord. And along comes a king, by the name of Ahab, who, Scripture says, “did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.”
Ahab was a wicked king married to a wicked woman by the name of Jezebel. He led Israel into all kinds of worship to other gods. And it’s at this point in time when Elijah comes on to the scene.
Look at 1 Kings 17, beginning in verse 1: “Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.’”
What we need to understand is why this drought would have mattered so much to those who worshipped the Canaanite god, Baal. You see, in Canaanite religion, Baal had authority over rain and fertility. The absence of rain meant the absence of their god. So, by this drought coming upon the land, the One True God of Israel was showing His sovereignty over Baal.
Now, if you’re in Elijah’s position, knowing what you know about these other gods and how this is going to affect them, it is going to require a significant amount of boldness to approach the king. Elijah needed Spirit-empowered conviction, in order to challenge the idolatry of his day.
And what we see is that there is no hesitation from Elijah. Elijah gives the Word of God to Ahab, that a drought was coming upon the land. He’s firm in what he believes about God and His Word. And it’s because God is using Elijah to confront Ahab and these false gods.
This is not about how amazing Elijah is, but rather, how amazing God is. This drought does not happen because Elijah prayed some bold prayer that God would do something that Elijah wanted God to do.
I feel like we can often think this is what boldness means—that boldness means praying these audacious prayers and expecting God to move.
Instead, what we see here is that boldness means walking so closely with God that we are trusting Him to show us what we are to do and what we are to say and where we are to go. That’s boldness.
Shortly after Elijah gives this prophecy, God tells him to move on to the brook Cherith. Elijah goes and when he gets there, there is no food supply. But that’s no problem for God. God simply commands the birds to bring food to Elijah, which asserts that the Lord God is sovereign over the whole natural order.
After a while, the brook dries up, because there was no rain in the land, so God tells Elijah, in verse 9, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”
So, Elijah goes to Zarephath. And he comes to the widow, who’s gathering sticks to make a fire, so that her and her son can eat one last meal before they die, because they had no more food.
But what does Elijah say to her, in verses 13-14? He says, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’”
Helena shared something really interesting with me the other day about this. She pointed out that God never said that the jar of flour and the jug of oil would be full. He just said that it would not be empty.
And I think we can often get this idea that we need to have our proverbial jar of flour and jug of oil, full, in order to be satisfied, when God has simply promised us that He will give us what we need for the day. Nothing more; nothing less.
But again, this requires Spirit-empowered conviction. You need to have Spirit-empowered conviction, in order to say something like what Elijah has said. This widow only had enough food for one more meal, and Elijah is asking for a cake. You have to know what you’re talking about.
But look at verse 15. It says that “she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.”
If you don’t have this Spirit-empowered conviction, then you can’t step out in faith. God might be calling you to do something, and you might be going, “I don’t know. That’s a little out of comfort zone. That’s not how I grew up. That makes me a little uncomfortable.”
Stepping out in faith is going to be uncomfortable. It’s going to involve risk. It’s going to involve addressing areas of our lives where we are in sin. But it’s ultimately going to confront whether or not we believe in the promises of God. It’s going to confront whether or not we believe that God is true to His Word. And this is exactly what we see, next.
The widow’s son eventually gets sick and dies. And the widow says to Elijah, in verse 18, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!”
But Elijah takes the boy and he cries out to God for God to restore the widow’s son, and it says that “the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.” And the widow says to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”
My question is: When was the Word of the Lord not truth? Does this woman forget that her and her son just about died from lack of food, but how the Word of the Lord brought life to them? But it’s because she lost sight of faith. She was too focused on the present that she forgot about what God had done in the past, by causing the flour and the oil to not run out.
The reality is that if we lack the Spirit-empowered conviction that is required for boldness, then we won't be able to see anything but what we are currently going through. And this will cause us to resent God, unless He does something to take us out of our circumstances. And we don’t have that kind of assurance.
God never said anything about everything going our way. If anything, we are to expect things to get worse. But we can have boldness in the face of adversity, because of the Spirit-empowered conviction that God produces and works in us.
This doesn’t happen by trying to be bold ourselves. This doesn’t happen by man’s effort. This is Spirit-empowered boldness. And we need to pray that the Spirit would give us the boldness to challenge the idolatries of our day.
2. The first thing we need, in order to have the boldness of faith, is Spirit-empowered conviction. The second thing is courage.
Turn over to 1 Kings 18. God tells Elijah to show himself to Ahab. Now, there has been a significant amount of time, between when Elijah first pronounced the drought upon the land till now. So, Elijah isn’t sure how Ahab is going to take seeing him, especially now that Jezebel has started killing off all the prophets of the Lord.
Look down at verse 17. It says, “When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, ‘Is it you, you troubler of Israel?’ 18 And he answered, ‘I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father's house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. 19 Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table.’”
So, everyone is gathered at Mount Carmel, and Elijah says to everyone, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”
Elijah is calling out the fact that the people of Israel are waffling between the Lord God and Baal. Essentially, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” Are you going to choose the Lord God, or are you going to choose Baal? You have to commit to one God.
So, Elijah gives this challenge to the people: He has them bring in two bulls, one for him and one for the prophets of Baal. And they were to prepare an altar and put the bull on the altar. And they were to call upon the name of their god, and the God who answers by fire would be the true God. And everyone agrees that this is a good idea.
So, the prophets of Baal take their bull, and they prepare it, and they start to call on the name of Baal from morning until noon. But there was no voice, and no one answered.
Elijah mocks them by telling them that maybe their god is asleep and that they just need to be louder. So, they limp around the altar that they had made, and they begin to cut themselves until blood gushes out. And verse 29 says that “there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.”
So, Elijah gets up. It’s his turn now. And he tells everyone to come close. And he repairs the altar. He sets up twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. He makes a trench around the altar. He prepares the bull and lays it on the wood. And gets the people to fill four jars of water to pour on the offering.
And you’re thinking, “Isn’t the point of the offering that it be dry, so that it catches on fire easier.” But then, Elijah gets them to do it a second time. And then, a third time. And the water has now filled the trench that Elijah had made.
And Elijah comes near to the altar, and he begins to pray to his God: “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. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”
And fire comes down from heaven, and it consumes the offering and the wood and the stones and the dust and all the water in the trench. And it says that “when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.’” And Elijah has all of the prophets of Baal seized and slaughtered.
And if that wasn’t enough, Elijah prays to God for him to send rain. And in a little while, it says, “the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain.”
I mean, if you’re Elijah, you are on this spiritual high. You have just seen God do the seemingly impossible. And you have successfully confronted the idolatry of your day. But that doesn’t happen without courage. Do we have that kind of resolve in us, that if our religious freedom was being infringed upon, that we would stand up against it?
If you were threatened with prison or death for believing in Jesus, or for meeting together with other Christians for church, would you still do it? Even if you knew the cost, would you be courageous enough to stand firm on the Word of God?
I mean, that’s what the underground church in China is facing. Back in December, there was a report that one of China’s largest house churches had been raided and that pastor, Wang Yi, had been charged with “inciting subversion of state power”—a “crime” that could result in a sentence of up to five years, but up to 15 years in extreme cases.
Two days after he was arrested, members of the church released an open letter that pastor Wang Yi had written a few months prior, in which he writes of his biblical basis for faithful disobedience to the Chinese authorities.
Do we have the courage to stand up against the idolatries of our day? Do we have the courage to stand up against the idolatry of comfort that says I am here to be served, not to serve? Do we have the courage to stand up against the idolatry of covetousness that says what this person has is more appealing to me than what God has given me? Do we have the courage?
3. In order to have the boldness of faith, we need Spirit-empowered conviction and we need courage. And this leads to the third thing, and that is, urgency.
Turn to 1 Kings 19. Jezebel hears about what happened to her prophets and sends a messenger to Elijah, saying, in verse 2, “May the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”
In other words, Jezebel wants Elijah dead. And what does Elijah do—the guy who has just witnessed such powerful and profound things from God? He runs and hides.
Look at verse 3: “Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. 4 But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.’”
Notice that the text does not say that God told Elijah to get up and run for his life. In 1 Kings 17:3, it’s God who tells Elijah to go to the brook Cherith. And in verse 8, God tells Elijah to go to the widow of Zarephath. And in 1 Kings 18:1, God tells Elijah to go to Ahab. Here, it’s Elijah acting on his own out of fear.
Elijah runs and hides. He wants God to take his life. And if you look down at verse 10, he pouts that he is the only one who has not bowed down to Baal.
I don’t know if that’s the adrenaline crash from what happened on Mount Carmel, but this sure seems to affect deeply someone who just called fire down from heaven. I feel like I wouldn’t have any questions after that.
If God was feeding you with birds when there was no food, and if, miraculously, there was meal after meal after meal when everyone else around you was dying, you would think that fire coming down from heaven would be enough to push you over the edge, so that any situation after that, you’d go, "I don't know what God is doing here, but I trust Him, because fire came down from heaven that one time."
Not Elijah. Elijah is hiding. Elijah is pouting. Elijah wants God to kill him. But here's why I love Elijah: He’s just like us. James 5:17 says that “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.” He was not perfect. He was not some super saint. He was ordinary, just like us.
We’re prone to doing what Elijah did, aren’t we? When we encounter those spiritual highs, those Mount Carmel experiences, we’re on top of the world. But how soon after that, when we’re in the spiritual valleys, are we telling God, “I’ve had enough. I can’t take it anymore. I just want to give up.”? I’ve been there, recently. Anyone else?
Honestly, the spiritual valleys just expose our deficiencies. The spiritual valleys just expose our heart, because when things come up against us, after times of spiritual victory, things we weren’t expecting, it can leave us in debilitating fear.
And all of a sudden, we are brought down to earth, and we are faced with the question of whether or not we still believe that God is in control and if we still believe that what we are going through is for our good.
Elijah reminds us that if we lack the urgency to step out in faith, it won’t be long before the cares and concerns of this world will simply eat away at our faith. We need that fire under our feet that gets us moving in steps of faith. Staying put, thinking that we are just fine where we are, will kill our spiritual walk.
“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.” He’s just as prone to fear as we are. He’s just as prone to give up when things get hard as we are. And yet, he’s an example of faith; he’s an example of boldness. But look at where this comes from, in verse 11
As Elijah is hiding, it says, “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. 12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 13 And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 14 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.’”
And the Lord promises Elijah that he is not the only one, like he thinks he is. In fact, there are seven thousand in Israel, who had not bowed their knees to Baal and whose mouths had not kissed him.
Do we see how God met Elijah’s trembling heart? We have the tendency to think that we are the only ones struggling with what we are struggling with. But here, God is encouraging Elijah by telling him he’s not alone, and neither are we.
We might not see traces of God in a particular situation, but this does not mean that God is not at work. He’s bringing us through the spiritual valleys to show us that He is God in the good and in the bad, and that we can trust Him, because of what Christ our Saviour has done for us.
Jesus was bold. Do you know what He did? In Luke 2:42, He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
Jesus submitted Himself to the will of His heavenly Father, and He would go to the cross on our behalf, so that through our faith in Jesus, Ephesians 3:12 says, “we have boldness and access with confidence” to God our Father.
Jesus did not die on the cross to have us quivering in a corner, because some human being might say something mean, or stop our paycheques, or sever a relationship, or even kill us.
No, Jesus has ensured that, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
If we’re being honest, the only reason fear-based timidity remains in us is because we don’t believe the promises of God—we don’t believe this is true.
Do we desire to live and speak more boldly for Jesus Christ, or would we rather just keep wishing we were bolder—admiring bold people, being inspired by biographies about bold people, talking with our friends about our struggles with fear of man—all the while staying where we feel safe and relatively comfortable and letting fear go unchallenged?
Imagine what fears might melt away, if we let the promises of God shine on our unbelief? Imagine what wonder and awe God might work in and through our lives, if we took that step of faith in Him.
Are we willing to do that, today? Are we willing to say, “Not my will, but yours, be done”? Are we willing to submit ourselves to the sovereign rule and reign of King Jesus.
May God continue to increase our faith in Him, as we pursue boldness to declare the magnificence of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s pray…