Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Widow Commended

“I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, …Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a woman in Zarephath in the region of Sidon” (Luke 4:25-26, NIV).

Jesus taught in the synagogue at Nazareth were He had been raised. There he read an Old Testament passage and declared to the people there that He himself was the fulfillment of that prophecy. While the people were amazed at His gracious words, they also had another deeper issue.  Mark 6:1-6 reveals that while they were giving assent to his words and even admitting that He had performed miracles, their hearts were far from believing that He was the Chosen One of God.

They murmured “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son, and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us? And they took offense at him.”Jesus could not do miracles there and he was amazed “because of their unbelief.”

Jesus strongly reprimanded them. “Surely you will quote this proverb to me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum. I tell you the truth,…”no prophet is accepted in his hometown”(Luke 4:23).

Boldly, Jesus reproves those Jews that were rejecting Him. This was not the first time they had denied a messenger of God.  There were many widows in Israel during Elijah’s day but none were chosen because of their unbelief. One who lived outside the covenant and promises given to Israel housed the prophet because she had more faith than they did.

These were scandalous words to Jesus’ audience.  With great rage they drove Him out of town and would have thrown Him off a cliff had he not used His power to simply walk through them. It was not time to kill Jesus. The Jewish offence would increase until they ultimately crucified Him. Unfortunately, only a handful of Israel would find faith in Him.

This event looked forward to the great time when the Gentiles would convert to God in faith while a majority of the Jews turned away.

Today we may find ourselves in a similar condition.  Those who have long known Jesus may have grown cold only to find someone with less background more vibrant and faith-filled than they are. Our Western culture that has had Christianity and has largely rejected it may discover that people of other nations may be putting us to shame in their dedication to Christ, and also in receiving miracles because of their greater faith.

Will we find ourselves rejecting Christ, or being commended in faith like the widow of Elijah’s time?

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Living God

"As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word." (1 Kings 17:1: also vs. 12)

The Lord lives. An oath is taken in His name. There will be no rain.

A living God is one who has personality. A living God is one who has created all things from His own self-sustaining life. A living God is immortal.
A vast difference exists between the living God and the Baal whom Ahab and Jezebel served. The living God really existed. He was a potent force, indeed a threat to all other gods. Because He was truly the one who made all things He could easily halt the rain. The giver of life could take the country’s provision of water and stop it, in turn destroying the crops and the supply of food. Baal was helpless to usurp the plans of the living God so worshipping him was futile. 

Elsewhere the Bible says,"it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:31). The dead idols that came from Phoenicia were falling. Israel was not right with God and now they were about to fall into His fearful hands.

The "living God" occurs often in Scripture. When it appears most often it is used with the comparison between God and idols. God is living and the idols are dead. They are worthless. Paul and Barnabas cried out to the people of Lystra that we "preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, and all things that are in them" (Acts 14:15). The Thessalonians "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." (1:9). After a verse-long description of building an idol from silver and gold, Jeremiah called Him the "living God and the everlasting King". (10:10).

King Darius worshipped false gods, but when Daniel was saved from the lion’s den he made a proclamation that all his kingdom would tremble before the God of Daniel. His reason—"For He is the living God and He endures forever." (Daniel 6:26 NIV).

Most people don’t bow down to literal false idols today, but the principle is one that applies to all. If we live for something that is dead, we shall never know life. Psalm 1:3 describes the godly. "He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season." A life without the blessing of the living God is "like the chaff which the wind drives away (vs. 4). This life is dry, fruitless, and meaningless.

The living God has made provisions that we might have life in Him through the gift of His Son. Jesus said, "Most assuredly, I say to you that he who hears my word and believes in Him who sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." (John 5:24). Is this our desire? Let us tell Him for He is listening. Our requests will be answered. After all, He is a living God.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sin Remembered No More

"So she said to Elijah, ‘What have I to do with you, O Man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?’" (1 Kings 17:18).

"For I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more." (Jeremiah 31:34, Hebrews 8:12).

Remembrance of sin can deeply plague those who feel unforgiven. Death especially serves as a crude reminder that things are not right with us or with our world. The widow with whom Elijah has been staying seems to have felt this way. In deep grief, she assigns the prophet with a sinister purpose—that he came to remind her of her sin.

Her question, however, is not one that she alone would ask throughout the centuries. Many feel it even if it is unspoken. Will God judge me? Does He love me? Can I please Him? How can I find peace with God? Can I be sure that I am going to Heaven? What can I do to erase the dark feelings, or the anger I have at Him at times? It is a question for all—have you come to me to bring my sins to remembrance?

Sin is transferred through the generations through our natures. We are born with an inclination to sin. Ever since Adam and Eve first sinned in the Garden of Eden, we have been cursed with spiritual and physical death. "Sin came into the world through one man, and his sin brought death with it. As a result, death has spread to the whole human race because everyone has sinned." (Romans 5:12,TEV)

Disobeying God brought the very first confrontation between God and sinful people. Knowing their sin, God came and spoke to the guilty pair. It was a terrible scene when God’s presence came into that garden. They tried to hide from God but could not. They were caught in their sin—sin that God did not forget but that He did bring to their remembrance. There were bitter consequences.

Blackened with sin, humans now knew God as their Judge. Laid bare before Him, the question could have been asked; the question that all of Adam’s posterity could ask—"Have you come to bring my sin to remembrance?"

The God who judges sin is also the God who can wipe it away. At a high price to Himself, God sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world. Through Jesus’ death on the cross our sins are transferred to Him. His righteousness is transferred to us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Each person must trust Jesus for that removal of sin. After this trust in placed in Him, God now forgets sin based on what Jesus did.

"Have you come to bring my sins to remembrance?" No. Through Jesus Christ "I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more."


Friday, April 12, 2013

A Place to Pray

"And he said to her, ‘give me your son.’ So he took him out of her arms and carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his own bed." (1 Kings 17: 19).

The room on the roof was common in the Middle East. It speaks both of the appropriateness from a male and female perspective and also that Elijah had a room in which he constantly prayed. This chamber was undoubtedly where he spent his hours with God in constant communion. When this terrible crisis of losing the widow’s son occurred he returned to the place where he had always met God, there in that room.

Like Elijah, our Lord Jesus characterizes the greatest example of having a location for prayer and constantly returning to it. As His popularity increased, people insistently came to Him to hear him teach and to heal sicknesses. What was His response? "So Jesus often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed." (Luke 5:16). The Gospels often speaks of Jesus’ habit of leaving the crowd for prayer. His place was the wilderness, and many times He would pray on a mountain. His time was often evening (Matthew 14:23). The length of His vigil could be all night long, as it was when He chose His disciples (Luke 6:12-16). On another occasion he rose up early in the morning (Mark 1:35). One of the most emphatic records of Jesus leaving the crowd is John 6:15—"He departed again to the mountain by himself alone." (Italics mine).

We also need a room to pray. We need a location that is to us what that upper room meant for Elijah. We need a space to meet with God and a place to go to Him when the urgency of life threatens to overcome us. Here, we can turn to God with the tough questions and seek direction for every turn of life.

For some it may be a desk with a Bible and some helps such as a concordance, a commentary or several Bible versions. Others may be seated in a comfortable chair when the house is quiet. Others will be on their knees. Some lay down on the floor. Some may seek God within a library. Others will walk out to a solitary spot in nature. The place will vary from individual to individual. The importance is that there is a location and that we go to it regularly. It is essential that we maintain that space distant from all other distractions so we can hear God. We all need what Elijah and Jesus had—a place to pray.




Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sovereign Over Death

"Then he cried out to the Lord and said, ‘Oh Lord my God, have You also brought tragedy on the widow with whom I lodge, by killing her son?" (1 Kings 17:20)

Many today would not pray as Elijah did. We are not accustomed to coming to God with such strong words. Is it right to say to God "you also brought tragedy?" or "you killed her son?" Are these words irreverent? Is Elijah blaming God for something He didn’t do?

Today we might be prone to say "yes." We would say death or disease, not God, claimed the son. We may assign the death to Satan in an attempt to say God had nothing to do with it. We might blame the death on an accident for which God had no desire to happen. From our perspective these things might seem correct but do they offer long term comfort?

To give these things too much credence is to ultimately claim that in some way God lost sovereign control. If God loses His power, we have no hope. Elijah knew this. He knew that God was greater. He understood that God was the primary authority over all things and that all the players and events were secondary causes in His hands. He knew that to have a God without control was not to have a God at all.

That is why he attributed the death of the widow’s son to the Lord. God brought tragedy. God "caused her son to die." (NIV). Therefore God could also raise him. Elijah prayed this way because he knew God, not because he was irreverent.

Our view of the sovereignty of God is small. One day we will all have to come to grips with the truth that God is the ultimate giver of life or death. His will is the primary consideration. All the players and events are secondary. Disease, death and Satan are all subject to God. He is never caught by surprise. Death does not slip through His fingers. He doesn’t just allow it; there is a way beyond our comprehension in which He actually ordains it.

Elijah knew that the "Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up." (1 Samuel 2:6). This is why he could entrust himself to the Lord and call upon him for a resurrection. He understood that the God who numbers the very hairs of our heads (Matthew 10.30) also numbers our days. He who counts our days can take life or give it again. God heard the voice of Elijah and the son was raised.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Is God Punishing Me?

"So she said to Elijah, "What have I to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?" (1 Kings 17:18).

The widow’s son became so seriously sick that "there was no breath in him." This ancient statement referred to the fact that he was truly dead. God had breathed into Adam’s "nostrils the breath of life" (Genesis 2:7) and this son has lost his breath. It was beyond hope. He had died.

Under severe grief, the widow lashes out at Elijah with another Hebrew expression "what have I to do with you?" This phrase was used by Elisha repudiating the ungodly King Ahab (2 Kings 3:13), David distancing himself from the sons of Zeruiah (2 Samuel 16:10), and the demons rejecting the appearance of Jesus (Mark 5:7). The widow is turning herself against Elijah an is fiercely withdrawing from him.

She refers harshly to her sin coming to remembrance and accuses him even of killing her son due to her sin. Her response is not too far removed from the cry of most humans during great grief. Guilt can be very real to someone bereaved. Even the most godly can believe that God is punishing them. The character Job said of God "You write bitter things against me and make me inherit the iniquities of my youth." (Job 13:26).

Does God use death to punish people? We know that all death is ultimately due to sin (Romans 5:12) but in the midst of that curse on humankind is God singling out people who have sinned greater than others? Does He maliciously take family members or incur sickness on people because of personal sin?

Jesus’ disciples, reflecting the beliefs of their time, certainly thought so. Seeing a man who was born blind they asked Him "’Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus’ answer dispelled that notion "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him." Jesus then healed him (John 9:1ff.)

We will see in the verses that follow that the Lord had a similar purpose for the Phoenician family. He had no vindictiveness in His plans for them at all. He would restore the son to life through the prophet Elijah and continue His supernatural provision for their food.

Is there anyone who has lost health or a loved one? Are any asking the question "is God punishing me?" It may simply be that God is revealing his works through you with a greater plan than you ever dreamed. He is that kind of God.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Way Things Appear

Commanded to go to Zarephath, Elijah makes an 80-100 mile trip from Cherith to his new destination. Worn from travel and likely dehydrated, he carries a strong promise that a widow will provide for him there. He arrives at the city gate. There is indeed a widow there but she doesn’t seem to know he is coming.

She gathers a couple of sticks as Elijah asks her for a cup of water. As she goes for the water he further requests a small morsel of bread. We learn of her plight. She has only a handful of flour in her bin and a little oil in a jar. She will cook this final meal for herself and her son and then they will die.

In addition to not knowing he would come, she also does not seem to have God’s promised supplies. Was Elijah shaken, even tempted to ask the Lord if he really arrived at the right place? Things appear very different between what God had told him and the way things were.

Despite appearances Elijah remembers how God had supplied at Cherith. Having experienced that strengthens him to trust God for the impossible situation before him. Elijah does not wait long before God’s word comes. He instructs the widow not to fear, but to make a small cake for him first and afterward to feed herself and her son. A test of faith for him also means a test of faith for her. He promises "the bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth." (1 Kings 17:14).

God’s assurances often test our faith. Our perception does not always match what we believe He has said to us. These continuous examinations throughout life reveal our heart’s state. Elijah’s life points us to the attitude we must have. Will we trust the Lord or the way things appear?