I believe, Help my Unbelief

Sunday, September 12, 2021

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When Will The Wavering Stop?

How long? Long ago, when I was in school one of my classmates broke his leg. So he took crutches with him to school. And he used to play a game. He when he was bored or in line for lunch he would lift up on his crutches to see just how long he could stay there. But he knew the same as we did. The goal was not to defy gravity. The goal was to delay gravity. Gravity always caught up and won. How long? That’s the question today that the Lord asks his people. But, this morning, even though Elijah is using the picture of crutches in these words, he is not talking about gravity. He is talking about faith. In 1 Kings 18, we read: 16 Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him. Then Ahab went to meet Elijah. 17 When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is that you, the one ruining Israel?” 18 He replied, “I have not ruined Israel, but you and your father’s family have, because you have abandoned the Lord’s commands and followed the Baals. 19 Now summon all Israel to meet me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table.” 20 So Ahab summoned all the Israelites and gathered the prophets at Mount Carmel. 21 Then Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him. But if Baal, follow him.” But the people didn’t answer him a word.” (1 Kings 18:16–21 CSB17)

In these words Elijah goes to his people, the Israelites. And he asks the the question when their wavering will stop. You can’t ride the fence forever. Either follow the god of the Canaanites, Baal. Or follow the Lord. You have to come down on one side or the other. And what is interesting is how they respond. You’ll remember how a few weeks ago we heard Joshua ask the same sort of question of his people. He said, “you choose which false god you want to serve. But I will follow the Lord.” And they responded by saying and even shouting that they would follow the Lord. Here we have the same sort of scenario. And instead of saying, “amen” and “yes,” they give no answer—not even one word.1

This morning we ask, “why” and “when will it stop?” There are some details in the context that we need to be aware of. First, the Canaanite god, Baal, was very persuasive. Notice the numbers. How many prophets of the Lord are there? There is one? How many prophets of Baal? 450. Numbers speak. Might makes right, as the saying goes. Baal wasn’t just persuasive, he also persecuted. In the words leading up to these words we learn how wicked king Ahab and his evil wife, Jezebel hunted down the prophets of the Lord. And many of them, they killed.

So, before we go back and judge the Israelites too harshly, consider the fact that Baal was persuasive. And Baal also persecuted. Consider that fact because the same is true today. As a society today, we too have our idols. Take, for example, science. Science is good and proper when it actually speaks about science. But when it goes beyond science we very quickly see how and where it fails. A few weeks ago, the American Medical Association recommended removing ‘male and female’ from birth certificates.2 And we see the path this takes. Step one: even though this is against proven science, the propaganda and the persuasion starts. Step two: The persecution starts. If you say what should be known as decent, non-controversial science: babies are born as either male or female—then you become part of the problem. I use this as an example. But, my friends in Christ, we could use so many more. But our idols today do the same as the idols in Elijah’s day. They persuade. Then they begin to persecute. And the result is that where there was firm faith, now there is doubt. So, our Lord invites us to see the wavering—both in them, and also in us. Then how does our Lord react to the wavering? 22 Then Elijah said to the people, “I am the only remaining prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. 23 Let two bulls be given to us. They are to choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and place it on the wood but not light the fire. I will prepare the other bull and place it on the wood but not light the fire. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The God who answers with fire, he is God.” All the people answered, “That’s fine.” 25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Since you are so numerous, choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first. Then call on the name of your god but don’t light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull that he gave them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “Baal, answer us!” But there was no sound; no one answered. Then they danced around the altar they had made. 27 At noon Elijah mocked them. He said, “Shout loudly, for he’s a god! Maybe he’s thinking it over; maybe he has wandered away; or maybe he’s on the road. Perhaps he’s sleeping and will wake up!” 28 They shouted loudly, and cut themselves with knives and spears, according to their custom, until blood gushed over them. 29 All afternoon they kept on raving until the offering of the evening sacrifice, but there was no sound; no one answered, no one paid attention.” (1 Kings 18:22–29 CSB17)

Notice how the Lord responds. There are these idols in our lives and in hearts that persuade us and then persecute us. So what does the Lord do? He breaks them. He shows us how inept and incapable our idols are. Elijah plays games with the prophets of Baal. He makes fun of them, asking where their god is. And the more he makes fun of them, the more aggressive they get—even to the point where they slash and cut themselves to get Baal’s attention. Elijah shows how broken their god really is. And the same is true today. As much as the AMA promotes the idea that there’s more than male and female, biology and reality will take over an win.

The Lord breaks their idols. But he breaks ours too. Years ago I remember seeing a child carrying a little stuffed bear when he was in the park. He fell down and hurt his knee. And when he could see the blood on his knee and feel the pain, he looked over at his bear and then up and over at his mom. He dropped the bear and ran to his mom. Isn’t our path the same in our lives? What are your idols? Is it pride, pleasure; control, conceit—our Lord sees them all and then smashes them all. But then what does he do? 30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near me.” So all the people approached him. Then he repaired the Lord’s altar that had been torn down: 36 At the time for offering the evening sacrifice, the prophet Elijah approached the altar and said, “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that you are God in Israel and I am your servant, and that at your word I have done all these things. 37 Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, the Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38 Then the Lord’s fire fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 When all the people saw it, they fell facedown and said, “The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God!”” (1 Kings 18:30, 36–39 CSB17)

How does the Lord respond to our wavering? He breaks our idols. Then he builds up our faith. And here, these words, we see how. He turned their hearts back to him. And so, today he does the same. Through his word and by the power of the Holy Spirit, he does the same.

But there’s more to say. For there is both a warning and a promise in these words. The warning is to make sure that we are not throwing away our faith for the sake of following idols. For it is really, truly to lose this immense gift of faith. There is the warning. But there is also the promise. Alongside the doubt, our good and gracious Lord also gives us trust. Alongside the fear, our good and gracious Lord give us confidence.

So if we ask the question, “when will the wavering stop,” the answer is, “not until the end.” Alongside this new person inside of you, you will have the old. And just like the father in our gospel for this morning, every day, we will have to say, ““I do believe; help my unbelief!”” (Mark 9:24 CSB17) And our Lord will answer us. How do we know? He was there for the Israelites of Elijah’s day. Jesus was there for this father in his own day. And he will be there for us in our own time. For it is true that we will continue to waver every day. Let us then welcome how our Lord deals with this. Day by day he breaks our idols. Day by day he builds up our faith. Amen.

1 וְלֹֽא־עָנ֥וּ הָעָ֛ם אֹת֖וֹ דָּבָֽר (1 Kings 18:21 HMT-W4)

Pastor at Immanuel, Steve Bauer

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