This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Sermon prepared by Rev. Dan Tigchelaar, Essex, Ont.
God's in charge ...
She sits in a room filled with tears and heartache. Her old gnarled hands are folded in her lap. Her eyes are closed. She's quiet as if in prayer. Not one of the days of the 96 years she has lived could have prepared her for this day. She has come to celebrate. Her great-grandchild is marrying.
However, before the wedding music could begin, or the bride walk down the isle, tragedy struck.
"Uncle Bob's plane is missing in the mountains" the person on the other end of the phone line had told them. The plane was carrying four family members, all destined for the wedding celebration. It never arrived. A few hours after the first phone call the gut wrenching, awful news came... "they found the plane; they're all dead."
What do you say at times like that?
Old Beppe knew. She said very little. But what she said was strong medicine. It was good. "God has spoken," was what she said. "He will provide." "He's in charge."
It's hard, isn't it? It's hard to believe, and to live out of the belief that that's so. You're in the middle of stuff that you'd only expect to encounter in a nightmare.
The doctor tells you, you have cancer. Your business is on the skids and you're about to lose it all. Your child, in whom you invested so much love and care runs away from home, or runs afoul of the law, or gets into drugs. You are devastated. You watch as things you worked hard for begin to collapse around you. And you're confused.
You're afraid. Then, some well meaning friend reminds you ...."Relax, God's in charge! God will provide!"
You wonder if He is. You wonder if He does. If He will.
It's hard to have the faith and conviction of old Beppe with her hands folded and her quiet confidence that God has spoken! He will provide! He's in charge!
But that's the language our God wants us to learn to speak. It's the posture in life our God invites us to take when, as we live our lives, we encounter things we're not sure of, crises that threaten to overwhelm us, or pain so deep that we feel it will destroy us. It's the posture, not of cocky self-confidence, or of indifference to the hard stuff of life, but the humble trust and submission to the will of an Almighty God who we know loves us, and will care for us.
Everyone who is at all familiar with the Bible knows this assurance, that "God will provide! He’s in charge," are the lyrics of the songs of faith that are sung on all the pages of this book. It's the song sung by all the Psalmists
God is our refuge and strength...
An ever present help in trouble. Ps 46:1,2
I lift my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Psalm121
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. Psalm 23
Do you hear them? The lyrics of trust and faith?
This is also the main message and refrain that runs through both our Bible readings today: sung from the mouth of God to prophet Elijah whose story we read in I Kings 17; and sung again from the lips of Jesus, after His death for the sin of the world, as He enters heaven holding out to the Father His completed work of atonement.
"I will provide! I will provide!" God keeps whispering in Elijah's ear.
And Jesus echoes the same words, only now with a confidence that His saving work is enough and acceptable to God. "I have provided! I have provided", He shouts, as He enters the throne room of Almighty God.
Let's listen again to both these passages of God's Holy Word. Hear as the voice of God speaks to us of plentiful provision. Listen and take comfort and courage for our living and dying.
A beleaguered prophet in God's care
Let's listen first to Elijah’s story. His name means "My God is Jehovah," or "JAWEH is God." He was God's prophet to Israel in tough times — tough times for prophets that is.
Ahab is king of Israel. Of him we read, "Ahab did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of the kings before him." (16:30) The notorious Jezebel is his wife. She is the daughter of Ethbaal, king of Sidonians. We're told of Ahab that "he trivialized the sins of his fathers." (16:31)
That means, he treated them as so much fluff — nothing to worry about.
We are told also that, with Jezebel, "he made Baal worship the common practice in the land." So all across Israel altar fires burned for Baal. JAWEH God was forgotten. This was Ahab's legacy and reputation: "he did more to provoke the God of Israel to anger than all the kings before him." (16:33)
You have to know something about being a prophet at times like this. In times like this the occupation of Prophet is listed under hazardous employment. And that is certainly how Elijah experienced it. He's on Jezebel's list of most despised people and that put him on Ahab's hit list. Ahab wants to kill him.
No wonder. God had sent him to announce His judgment on Israel's king and the nation. "You can't get away with what you are doing," Elijah repeatedly warned the king."If you obey Jehovah God and worship Him alone, He will bless you. He will provide. But if you live in rebellion and sin, God will punish you." That was Elijah's message.
So at this point in the story of Elijah's ministry we find him on the run. He had told Ahab and Jezebel that God would send a drought and famine in the land.
And God did ... No rain has fallen.
Crops are withering.
Fields are parched.
Cattle are dying.
People are starving.
And Ahab and Jezebel are mad. Like godless people everywhere, they don't look at themselves, or their own sins and practices as the cause of the drought and their suffering. Instead, they blame the messenger. It must be Elijah's fault. If we get rid of him, everything will be good again.
And that's why Elijah is on the run.
Don't think though that Elijah is pulling a Jonah, trying to run from God. It's really God who sends him into hiding. God looks after His prophets and right now Elijah needs some divine T L C, some tender-loving-caring-for." God will give it to him. It's the strong arm of God that will shelter him, and God' s hands that will hold him and feed him.
There are two wonderful pictures of God's providing for this beleaguered and battered servant.
We're told that God sends Elijah to a brook east of the Jordan. "Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you." Don’t you love that? Our God is the God of all creation, and look! He commands His ravens to be his ministers. Morning and evening, there they are with Elijah's breakfast and supper in their beaks, bread and meat for God's faithful prophet. Elijah's dinner bell is the caw of a raven. And on the wings of a bird God comes to provide.
It's still a tough situation. He's still a hunted man, a persona-non-grata. And he’s still on the run. But the difference between Elijah and Ahab is this: God is walking along side Elijah as his friend and provider. For Ahab, God's wrath and judgment are pursuing him. To Elijah the voice of God came as a lover's voice, or as a Father's voice: "Just relax Elijah, I'm in charge! Don't worry Elijah, I'll provide!"
It's the voice of God Elijah hears in the ravens’ beating wings. It's the hand of God that proffers food.
That's the first picture.
Elijah by the stream and God coming along side, providing rest and nourishment.
When the brook dries up and the water is gone God tells Elijah to move on. And now we're treated to another delightful picture of God's care. He sends Elijah to a small town called Zarephath, right in the heart of pagan Ethbaal's kingdom, right smack-dab in Baal country.
"Go there," says God, because "I’ve commanded a widow there to supply you with food." (vs 9) Did you hear that little word "Command" — "I've commanded?"
When he arrives he sees a woman by the town gate gathering sticks. "Would you bring me a little water in a jar so that I may have a drink?" he asks her. (vs 10) As she goes to get it for him he asks her another favor. "Bring me, please, a piece of bread."
"As surely as the Lord your God lives, I don't have any bread," she replied. "Only a handful of flower in a jar and a little oil in a jug is all l have left," she says in apology. "I'm gathering a few sticks to make a fire and a meal for myself and my son. It will be our last meal. We'll eat it, then die." (vs 12-13)
"Don't be afraid," Elijah tells her. "My God is big enough to handle it. He will provide. Go, bake a loaf of bread for me. Then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: "The jar of flour will not be used up, and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land." (vs 14)
Did you see what she did? She does what God invites her to do — to trust Him. Off she goes to bake a loaf of bread. And when she's done, there in her flour jar is more flour, and in her oil jug is more oil. And it goes on day after day after day. Flour and oil — always just enough. Never more! Always there! God provides!
That's the way it is with God. His supply of provisions will meet our needs. There's a lesson in this. Elijah trusts, and his trust is rewarded with generous provision from God. The widow trusts. She gives all that she has and is blessed with a provision that is limitless and boundless. That's our experience too, isn't it?
God provides. He's generous beyond belief. Daily He cares for us.
He may not give luxury, but for most of us He does. Our experience is that in times of plenty and times of want, our Father is gently alongside us and gives us what we need for the day.
We're not always aware of His presence, or His blessing. That's because it's so hard to break the habits that come so naturally to us:
of worry and anxiety,
of fretting and stewing,
of taking matters into our own hands,
as if we were in charge of our destiny and future.
Elijah learned a simple lesson. The widow learned it too. They learned to "trust and obey." And that's what our God invites us to do: Obey Him and trust Him. Trust Him and obey Him. It's God's recipe for a life of blessing. It's His prescription for tough times. God provides. That's the lesson we learn from Elijah.
Jesus before the Father's throne
Let's look at what the writer of Hebrews says about the same thing. The picture in this 9th chapter of the letter to the Hebrews is an even deeper, more profound, more awesome depiction of the same truth.Only now it's not bread and meat, earthly food and provision that is being given. It's God's eternal provisions, bread and drink for eternity from heaven that we see in Hebrews 9.
Look at this picture with me. As you do, keep in mind a promise that we find on almost every page of the Bible. Keep in mind God's promise of forgiveness and cleansing from our sin. Keep in mind God's rich and wonderful promise of a new covenant of grace.
In Genesis, at the dawn of time, when sin first came skulking into the world through Adam and Eve's disobedience, God said, "I will save you." There, already in Eden, was the promise of a Messiah,
a rescuer to rescue us from sin,
to take it away and wash us dean,
to free us from it's curse and judgment.
There were a thousand pointers over the centuries, always pointing ahead to God's plan and God's promise to provide a Savior to rid the world of sin's judgment and curse. He chose Abraham and Sarah to parent a nation with whom He made a covenant and from whom the Messiah would be born. He sent prophets to teach His people about Himself and to announce the coming of Messiah. He gave His law through Moses to point ahead to the one who would fulfill it. He ordained blood sacrifices to point to the blood of the lamb that would take away the sin of the world. He appointed kings, and from the line of David God promised that the Savior King would be born. This is the promise of the Old Covenant: "I'll provide everything a sinful world needs for salvation."
Well. Look at what we see here in Hebrews 9. It's a picture of Jesus, crossing over the threshold of heaven. He is carrying something. He is carrying his completed ransom payment for the sins of the human race. He is entering into the very presence of JAWEH God, His Father, but wearing our flesh and blood, and carrying the payment for our sins in His outstretched hands.
He had gone on a mission and completed it. Sent by the Father to offer himself in death for the sins of all mankind, He has done what he set out to do. He took upon himself our human nature so that He could also take on himself our sin. He became cursed for our sake. He suffered for our sake. He died for our sake. He is returning now for our sake to His home in heaven – mission accomplished.
And the picture the writer of Hebrews paints for us is of Jesus approaching the throne of God carrying to the Father His completed work on our behalf. We read in verse 26: "He appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself."
Once — No more work is needed. No more payment. No more endless rituals and sacrifices. His death covered it all.
For All — His death is sufficient to pay for every sin and to save every sinner.
God the Father says:
"Well done !
The writer concludes this passage with these wonderful words of hope. "Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people, and he will appear a second time, not to bear sins, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." (vs 28)
God provides. He’s in charge. What a wonderful God we have. He provides what we need for today. He provides too what we need for eternity.
He wants us to receive His provision with a childlike faith and trust. Have you? Do you live in the humble trust of Elijah, of this widow lady of Zarephath, of old Beppe, and of a thousand like her? Can you say:
God has spoken,
He’s in charge.
God will provide?
It’s the only way I know to live in this world of ours.
And it’s the only way to have any hope for eternity when we leave it.
Proposed Order of Service
Welcome and Announcements
Our Worship Begins
Gathering Hymns: Some Contemporary Hymns from "MaranathaPraise"
We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise 2x
Jesus, Name Above All Names.
We Will Glorify the King of Kings
Call to Worship
Leader: The Lord our God is one God,
People: Let us rejoice with all our heart, for the joy of the Lord shall never be spent!
Leader: The Lord our God is one God.
People: Let us exult with all our soul, for the Spirit of the Lord will never be broken!
Leader: The Lord our God is one God.
People: Let us give thanks with all our mind, for the will of the Lord shall never be foiled!
Leader: The Lord our God is with us to bless us.
People: We lift up our hands and open our hearts to receive Him.
Leader: Grace a peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according
to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever.
Hymn #185:1, 3, "I Will Extol You, O My God"
Confession and Assurance
God's Desire for Transformed Lives: Romans 12:1–2, 9–21
Prayer of Confession
Assurance of Pardon
Hymn #473:1, 3, "To God Be the Glory"
We Listen to God's Word
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture Reading: I Kings 17:1–16; Hebrews 9:23–28
Sermon: "Relax, God's in Charge"
Hymn #46:1, 3, 6, "God is Our Refuge and Our Strength"
Prayer of Intercession
Hymn #637, "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow"
We Leave to Serve
Doxology Hymn #316:1, 2, 4, "God Be With You Till We Meet Again"