Thursday, May 12, 2016

If He really is the Lord God

THE royal line of Israel goes back to David.  Saul had been king before him, but because he did evil his line was cut off.  David was also a sinner, but God's promises to him were more certain.  The prophet Nathan told him that the sword would not depart from his house.  There were dynastic troubles during David's lifetime.  While Solomon was king there was peace, but when he died the northern tribes rebelled, proclaimed their independence, and established a kingdom at Samaria.  They also rejected Jerusalem and the Temple.  They built golden calves at Bethel and Dan so their people could worship without going to Jerusalem.  About a century later, Ahab became king of Israel.  He married the daughter of the king of Sidon.  Her name was Jezebel.  She has become proverbial as a schemer.  She hired 450 priests to conduct the rites of Ba'al and his consort, Astarte.  They filled the land with bloody sacrifices and temple prostitution, and to provide PR for her blasphemies, she hired prophets who prophesied in the name of Ba'al.

We look at the poor fools who worshipped Ba'al and think we're so much better.  Of course we reject the ancient magic, but are our hearts disposed towards the Lord as they should be?  Don't we have our own ways of loving the darkness rather than the light?  The point of Elijah's ministry was not all negative.  Of course he wanted to rid Israel of the pagan magic, but he also wanted the people to turn to the Lord in trust and love.  You don't need mythology to worship Ba'al.  Today, all around us, are people who trust in cars and trucks, in government agencies and corporations, in historical progress, and in vanities like conflict management.  Some of the more radical environmentalists talk about the earth the way the pagans did.  Some might say Christian prayers on Sunday, then run to mammon on Monday.  In Elijah's day God withheld the rain.  Today He visits us with terrorism, with AIDS, with abortions, with civil strife, before long we can look forward to oppression and despotism.  The institutional agenda drives everything, and the media keep trying to convince us that such an agenda is important.  The modern Ahabs want to manage the conflict, so they turn upon any genuine prophetic voice as a troubler of Israel.

The conflict between the true God and His opponents is as real for us as it was for Elijah.  So how is God calling us?  He sees that we want to have it both ways, so He directs Elijah's question to us.   Is the Lord God or is He not?  If He is, then Elijah's counsel is Then follow Him.  Elijah arranged for that famous test to be held on Mt. Carmel.  In front of all the people, fire from heaven devoured Elijah's sacrifice.  That's a hard act to follow.  Can we demonstrate that the Triune God, the Father, the Son whom we know chiefly as the Incarnate Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, is the only true God?

The supreme test is not on Mt. Carmel, but on Mt. Calvary.  There we see a far better sacrifice.  St. John the Baptist, the New Testament Elijah, called Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Within each of us there is the Jezebel of the flesh who wants to follow the modern Ba'al.  There is also the spirit, moved and pulled along by the Holy Spirit, that wants to follow Jesus.  Each of us has this double nature, therefore each of us halts between these opinions.  To be healed of this limp, we need to look to the crucifix.  There we see the Righteous Rabbi, who told the rich young man to give up everything he had, then showed him how to do it.  There is a better sacrifice than Elijah's, for this Man kept the Law perfectly in every way.  This is God Incarnate, who gives us His flesh and blood for our food and drink.  This is the greatest love that we could ever know.  This was also the supreme test, where God Himself was dead, then rose again because death had no right to claim Him.  If He isn't God, then nobody is.

So does this greater David, greater Moses, greater Elijah really want me to give up everything for Him?  That is not the question.  The real question is, since He is the Savior, how much are we willing to let Him save us from?  We are glad that He saves us from death, that He is the Lord of the end of life.  We are glad that he saves us from our sins, freeing us from their eternal consequences.  But in this life there are a number of things that we really don't want to be saved from.  Elijah calls us to consider carefully the claims that Christ has on us.  If He is God, then follow Him.

On Transfiguration we stood on the mountaintop with Jesus.  On Pentecost we watched the Holy Spirit come upon the Church.  Was there any hesitation in Jesus' steps as He strode boldly toward Jerusalem?  Indeed, as the Passion drew near, there was some hesitation in Gethsemane, but even then He did not swerve from His purpose.  He loved us too much to abandon us.  His heart was fixed on the cross.  Likewise the Apostles, filled with the Spirit, with the same certainty of mind called the people of Jerusalem to repentance, and the washing of regeneration.  Neither Jesus nor the Apostles call us to follow the Lord on Sunday and Ba'al the rest of the week.  We will never be perfect at this, but we will always be forgiven.  We have seen the test on Mt. Calvary.  We know that the Lord has conquered sin and death.  As confusing as it often gets, may our hearts be disposed to love the truth, to seek peace with God, a conscience cleansed by the blood of Jesus, and to use all the opportunities God sends us to follow our Savior.   AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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