This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: 1 Kings 22:1-40
Text: 1 Kings 22:19-25, 29-34
Sermon prepared by Rev. John G. Groen of Burlington, Ontario.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
In our Scripture reading we were given a clear illustration of God's sovereignty in ruling His world, His people, and here king Ahab while maintaining at the same time man's responsibility and choice. We often struggle in our mind with that combination. Let me give you some illustrations of what we are speaking about.
We read in the book of Exodus that the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart so that he would not let the people of Israel leave Egypt. Well, we say, there it is: poor Pharaoh. He could not help being so stubborn because the Lord hardened his heart.
Or, when in our mind we go back to Adam in Paradise, we reason that his fall into sin must have been in God's plan, therefore poor Adam and poor all of us.
Some young people have so much trouble with these questions that they have a hard time making profession of faith. And sometimes we can hear even mature members of the church say that our prayers really do not change anything because God has already planned all things in advance. These examples show that we need the Lord's clear light so that we get rid of these errors. Our chapter gives us that light with great clarity for our instruction. In this way we receive rest for our mind and we stop being agitated by these critical questions. So we speak on GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY AND HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY as illustrated in the life of Ahab and also of Jehoshaphat
1. God's Sovereignty.
2. Man's responsibility.
3. The outcome.
1. God's sovereignty
Shall we go to Ramoth Gilead and take it back from Syrian control or not? That was the question the two kings Ahab and Jehoshaphat had to decide. Having heard what the 400 false prophets of Baal said, godly king Jehoshaphat of Judah inquired whether there was a true prophet of the Lord who could be trusted to speak for the real God of Israel. So there comes Micaiah. He has seen the Lord in His council, surrounded by angels. The Lord had said–and this shows the divine sovereignty side at work in the following events –“Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?” We see it: for the Lord the measure of sin committed by Ahab was full. The murder of innocent Naboth just to get his vineyard had tipped the scale. Enough!!! The Lord said, “Enough!” It's time for Ahab's death and it must happen when he goes to battle to recapture Ramoth in the Israeli district of Gilead. So the Lord in His council raises the question to His angels ( good and bad ones) of how to make Ahab go there. After some back and forth talk a spirit says to the Lord, “I will go and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his 400 prophets.” And the Lord responds, “Go and do it for you will succeed.” The Lord could say that because He knows exactly what lives in each human heart; in the hearts of these 400 and in Ahab's too.
So here we see God's sovereignty at work. He has His plans and decrees for nations kings and rulers also today. Our Lord Jesus is at the Father's side and all authority has been given to Him for the good of us, the church, the believers, you and me who confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Yes Our Lord is the totally sovereign Lord also today.
2. Man's responsibility
Does this reality make people like Ahab then and us today into robots? Was Ahab just a piece on God’s chessboard? Are people just moved around by a despotic God? The answer is, “Absolutely not.” Look carefully at our Scripture passage.
Ahab and Jehoshaphat have heard the Word of the Lord. They have heard Micaiah say clearly that the Lord has sent a lying spirit in the mouth of your prophets. These 400 are deceiving you. Therefore Ahab, be aware that if you go to Ramoth Gilead you will get killed. Be aware that I saw in my vision the people of Israel scattered as sheep on the hills, sheep without a shepherd-king. Therefore I warn you, king Ahab not to go there and through me the Lord warns you and says not to go.
What more could be said brothers and sisters? The message was totally clear. Now the ball was in Ahab's court to respond; which means that he now was fully responsible. And dear friends that's how today the Lord deals with us too. He speaks to us in the Bible, His Word; as believers He warns us by the promptings of His Spirit within us. We are responsible. Unbelievers also are responsible. God speaks to them in the events of nature and of history. Like Ahab kings and leaders today must make choices. There is a wide road that leads to destruction and there is a narrow path on which we listen to God and follow Jesus that leads to life. In the Bible the Lord clearly reveals to us that there is a deceiver Satan who is out to destroy us and the evidences of this destruction are all around us to see. God proclaims, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. There is no other name under heaven by which you can be saved.' And this is the Word of the Lord. Now people are responsible to listen and make the right decision.
Look now in our text to what people do– Ahab, and even godly king Jehoshaphat. They decide to go into battle anyway! Imagine! Completely forewarned by God Himself, they go to war. And so they walk into the trap set up by that deceiving spirit with their eyes wide open. Unbelievable!! And this happens every day, all the time, in people's lives. When Ahab comes to stand before the Lord He will ask him, “What did you do with the warning words I spoke to you through Micaiah?” Many people will hear very similar questions put to them by the Lord.
3. The outcome
No smart answers will help. Look at Ahab. When he went into battle he disguised himself. To his friend Jehoshaphat he suggested to go into battle in full regalia (so that the Syrian soldiers would pick at the wrong king– the one of Judah). But Ahab himself, having full well heard God's warning, puts on an ordinary soldier's uniform. Had he never heard the warning!! He tried to outsmart God! But now look at what happened. God's sovereign plan is in full force! It comes about in a triple way. Look at it carefully. First. The Syrian king had commanded his soldiers to go after king Ahab only, and after nobody else; so when they found out that Jehoshaphat was the wrong king, they stopped pursuing him. Second. An unnamed Syrian soldier drew his bow and shot an arrow at random, not at all aiming at Ahab, and that arrow hit the king. Third. This arrow struck the king in the only spot through which he could be mortally wounded, namely between the sections of his armour, just a narrow space that opens up when the arm is lifted. Dead on!! Indeed the deadly arrow struck the king. Mortally wounded he was taken out of battle. The Israelite soldiers like sheep without a shepherd, fled. And Ahab's chariot was washed clean at the pool in the capital city where dogs licked up his blood. Exactly as the Lord had said through the prophet Elijah. Case Closed: God is sovereign; man is responsible. God executed His plan. Ahab within the context of his circumstances freely decided to go his own way!
Don't we all agree that the Lord dealt with this king in a most fair way? Not in the least did He push him into his downfall. And the same is true for the king of Judah. He had no business whatsoever to be friends with an ungodly neighbour king. He should have said after hearing the words of Micaiah, “Sorry Ahab, the Lord has spoken. I am going back to Judah.” In His mercy God spared his life. But that king too was totally responsible for his disobedient actions. Coming back to Adam in Paradise: were not he and Eve fully forewarned not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? And their hearts were not in any way under Satan's control. No lying spirit could get a firm hold on them. They were holy and on the side of the Lord. And yet they disobeyed the Lord. There is no explanation of this sin. Sin does not make sense. But sin they did and we all came under the power of lying spirits. All this that has been said about Ahab shows us our great human need to be set free from the power of Satan and his lying spirits. We need a spirit that is set free, a heart that can freely unhindered choose to do the will of the Lord to be obedient. How utterly thankful we are that our Lord Jesus Who was with us in our own weak flesh and, though so tempted by the devil, did not fall into the traps set up to catch Him. He used His freedom not to sin because there was no sin in His heart; He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Under the worst of circumstances He remained loyal and obedient to the plan of God. With His eyes wide open He endured the sufferings of hell for us to buy us free from eternal destruction. And through His resurrection we obtain His righteousness. By faith we are clothed in His righteousness and by faith we receive a life that is born of God. We can now resist the devil and he will flee from us. We can now obey the Word of the Lord so that our way agrees with the Lord's way. Such a Saviour we needed. Have we all come to this certainty that through the Lord Jesus our life has been brought back into harmony with the will and plan of the Lord? And through this faith have we now gotten rid of those nagging questions that this message started out with?
Then we can now say with the apostle Paul the words we find in Ephesians 1:4 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ Who has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before Him.”
Let each one of us say: “Praise the Lord for his mercy shown to us.”
Proposed Order of Service
Call to Worship: Let us worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth.
Greeting: The Lord greets us and He wants us to open our hearts and receive from Him His grace, His mercy, and His peace.
Hymn of praise: # 432 “For the Beauty of the Earth”
Prayer of Confession
Hymn of Assurance: # 169 “I Will Sing of the Mercy”
Guide for Thankful Living: Romans 12: 12
Hymn of response: # 291 “May the Mind of Christ my Saviour”
Prayer for Understanding
Scripture: 1 Kings 22: 1-40; text vss. 19-25, 29-34.
Sermon: "God's Sovereignty and Human Responsibility"
Hymns of response:# 288:1,4,5 “Take my Life and Let it Be”
# 434 “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”
Doxology #319 “Saviour Again to Your Dear Name We Raise”