Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong
Sermon Title: All-in for the Almighty
Scripture Text: 1 Kings 18
1 After many days the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth.” 2 So Elijah went to show himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria. 3 And Ahab called Obadiah, who was over the household. (Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly, 4 and when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took a hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave and fed them with bread and water.) 5 And Ahab said to Obadiah, “Go through the land to all the springs of water and to all the valleys. Perhaps we may find grass and save the horses and mules alive, and not lose some of the animals.” 6 So they divided the land between them to pass through it. Ahab went in one direction by himself, and Obadiah went in another direction by himself.
7 And as Obadiah was on the way, behold, Elijah met him. And Obadiah recognized him and fell on his face and said, “Is it you, my lord Elijah?” 8 And he answered him, “It is I. Go, tell your lord, ‘Behold, Elijah is here.’” 9 And he said, “How have I sinned, that you would give your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me? 10 As the Lord your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my lord has not sent to seek you. And when they would say, ‘He is not here,’ he would take an oath of the kingdom or nation, that they had not found you. 11 And now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, “Behold, Elijah is here.”’ 12 And as soon as I have gone from you, the Spirit of the Lord will carry you I know not where. And so, when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find you, he will kill me, although I your servant have feared the Lord from my youth. 13 Has it not been told my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the Lord, how I hid a hundred men of the Lord‘s prophets by fifties in a cave and fed them with bread and water? 14 And now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, “Behold, Elijah is here”’; and he will kill me.” 15 And Elijah said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.” 16 So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him. And Ahab went to meet Elijah.
17 When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” 18 And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. 19 Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
20 So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. 21 And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. 22 Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. 23 Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. 24 And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” 25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” 26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. 27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.
30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” 32 and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed. 33 And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” 34 And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time. 35 And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water.
36 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” 40 And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.
41 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” 42 So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. 43 And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. 44 And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” 45 And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. 46 And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.
There are some games you don’t get to play unless you’re all in.
Football at the highest level is one of those games. Consider Cristiano Ronaldo, a 5 time winner of world’s footballer of the year award. One of his teammates said, “if Cristiano Ronaldo invites you over for lunch, don’t go”. And he relates this story, Cristiano invites us over for lunch after a hard day of training, and when the food was laid out, all we had was plain chicken and salad and water, not even juice, and then after the meal he made us play a kickabout in the garden, and then he asked us to go for a swim in the pool. I asked him, “Cristiano, why did we leave the training ground to do this? This is like training.”
And that’s the point. In a typical day, Ronaldo eats 6 meals, one every three to four hours, all high protein, low-sodium and low fat. He doesn’t drink alcohol and he doesn’t drink carbonated drinks. And unlike us, who aim to sleep 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, Ronaldo takes five naps, 90mins each, mostly after meals, which makes 7.5 hours of sleep in a day. The reason for this is that it keeps the body alert and rested while never letting it get entirely sedentary.
He does a unique workout in the gym to strengthen specific ligaments in his ankles because he knows defenders will kick him at the ankles and he wants to be able to withstand the impact.
His entire life is curated to play the game of football at the highest level for the longest time. Because this is what it takes. The history of professional football is littered with prodigies who never made even they had it all, the talent, the physique, the coaches, they did not give it their all.
There are some games you don’t get to play unless you’re all in.
The Olympic games is another example. When he won Singapore’s first Olympic goal medal, Joseph Schooling became an overnight sensation, but his success at the games was not attained overnight.
At the age of 14, his parents sent him halfway across the world, to Florida, for one purpose, to train for the Olympics. His parents, working in Singapore, had to take turns shuttling from Singapore and the States (a 25 hour flight each way), to take care of him, and the family were only together as a unit about 3 weeks out of a year.
They family weren’t just physical apart, it was emotionally taxing to be so far from your only child, his mom said that in the first year apart, she cried all the time. And so did Joseph schooling, who was constantly homesick. And it was financially draining as well. His parents scrimped and saved and spent close to 1.5 million dollars over the years to support Joseph Schooling’s Olympic dream. They held nothing back. Because that’s what it takes.
There are some games you don’t get to play unless you’re all in.
More pointedly, the legendary Russian Roulette is one of those games. Everyone who plays Russian Roulette is all-in. That’s the nature of the game. You put your life on the line. You don’t get to play unless you’re all in.
And when you think about it, life itself is one of those games. You see, no one gets out of life, alive. We’re all in. Everyone is all in, in life. And when it comes to life, the name of the game is worship.
What you worship shapes everything about your life. You see, what the modern secular person has got wrong is in thinking that simply because he is not part of organised religion, or because he does not bow down to a chunk of steel or a block of wood, that it therefore means he does not worship.
That’s rather shallow thinking. To assume that the essence of an idol lies in its material is to miss the point of idolatry.
We may not put a face and a name to many of the mythological gods of bygone eras, but look at the middle east today, is Ares, the God of War, not alive and well? Are we not continuing to sacrifice our sons and daughters before his altar? Forget the Middle East. Look at some of our family relationships today, we don’t want the forgiveness that leads to peace, we want the war that leads to victory. And we’re willing to sacrifice so much just to win. Ares continues to be worshipped today.
Look at the excesses of capitalism in the 21st Century, Is Mammon, the God of Wealth and Greed, not holding sway even today? Society continues to bow the knee before the almighty dollar.
Look at the state of social media, and our obsession with the number of likes and followers we have, do you mean to tell me that the demigod Narcissisus is purely mythological, and has no real impact on our lives today?
Look at the sexual values of our time, the billions upon billons poured into in the porn industry, and how it has captivated the hearts and minds of millions. Eros, the god of lust and sex, is he not widely worshipped still today?
Friends, in this game of life, all of us are all-in. And we have stacked our chips upon the god or gods we worship.
So let me ask the question. “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”
It’s not my question. It’s Elijah’s question. A question he posed to the covenant people of God who lived a few thousand years ago at Mt Carmel. A question I now pose to us, the covenant people of God living today, in Mt Hermon.
“How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”
This is no mere intellectual exercise, mind you, the answer demands an action, your choice determines whom you follow, in fact your answer demands your life. This is the truth implicit in our text today.
Look at how it’s set up.
Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord
And he said, “How have I sinned, that you would give your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me?
And so, when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find you, he will kill me…
Has it not been told my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the Lord
And now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, “Behold, Elijah is here”’; and he will kill me.
40 And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.
Jezebel was killing the prophets of the Lord. Ahab had conducted an empire wide manhunt for Elijah. Obadiah is constantly aware that his faithfulness to the Lord might the death of him. And the showdown at Carmel ends with the slaughter of every single prophet of Baal. Which meant that had Elijah lost, it would have been his blood spilled by the brook Kishon.
So much talk of death and killing. Why?
Because this is more than a story of a fire consuming an altar. This is more than a story of how Elijah faced down 450 prophets of Baal and overcame. The backdrop of this narrative is of two men, Obadiah and Elijah, who daily risked their lives because they worshipped Yahweh.
Obadiah was all-in when he decided to hide and save 100 prophets of Yahweh. Elijah was all-in when he made that trek up the slope of Mt Carmel. When they chose to worship Yahweh as God, they chose to put their lives on him.
Elijah wasn’t given the choice to worship God without being all-in for him. Neither was Obadiah. But that’s the point. No one in the bible was ever offered that choice.
“Jesus said to him, ‘Go, sell everything you have, then come follow me’”.
“Let the dead bury the dead, you follow me”.
“Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Remember the question? “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”
Jesus makes it absolutely clear that following him will cost you your life. The cost of discipleship is nothing less than everything you have. The cost of entry into the kingdom is nothing short of your all.
There some games you don’t get to play unless you’re all-in. Christianity is one of them.
In other words, make up your mind about Jesus, and understand that if you choose to worship him, it will cost you your life. You don’t get to hedge your bets. You don’t get to diversify your portfolio to manage your risk. You don’t get to limp between two opinions. You have to choose which side of Mt Carmel you plant both feet upon.
The problem with Israel in the time of 1-2 kings isn’t so much the absence of altars to Yahweh in the land, but the defiling presence of Baal images and Asherah poles in the land.
The first commandment isn’t a call to worship Yahweh. It assumes the worship of Yahweh. It is a warning against worshipping other “gods” in addition to Yahweh.
It’s not good enough you see, to worship God, you have to worship Him alone. You have to be all-in, or you’re out. Some games you don’t get to play unless you’re all-in
So the choice is put before us: “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”
And the choice we have to make is really between worshipping God alone, with all you’ve got, or not worshipping him at all. There is no third option. There is no “both-and”. There is no middle ground.
But as we noted, Baal is well and alive even today. The reason the Israelites worshipped Baal isn’t because they disliked Yahweh, it’s because they liked what Baal had to offer them. The promise of rain, for their crops. The promise of plenty in the time of harvest. The promise of fullness in their storehouses. The every same things for which Singaporeans gladly make sacrifices today.
The temptation to bow the knee to other gods, to sacrifice to idols, to take a bit of what belongs to God alone, and lay it at the altar of Mammon and Ares and Narcissus and Eros. Thinking it’s okay, I still go to church on Sundays, I still serve in ministry, I still worship the Lord Jesus.
As if that sort of thing is an option for us. As if the rules allowed us to avoid being all-in. As if the 1st commandment did not exist.
Hear this, if Baal is god, follow him, but if Jesus is Lord, then follow him. Deny yourself, take up your cross, go all-in, and follow him. That is the nature of the walk up Mt Carmel for Elijah, that is the nature of our walk with Jesus today. There is no other way.
Worship the true God with exclusive devotion. Worship the Lord Jesus our God with exclusive and comprehensive devotion.
Which brings us to another question: “Why should we?” If worshipping the Christian God is going to be so costly, why do it?” Is it worth it? Is He worthy?
Our text today gives reasons why. If worshipping the God of the bible requires you to go all-in, why should we do it?
1After many days the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth.
There has been a severe famine caused by a 3 year long drought in the land of Israel, where Ahab and Jezebel has instituted Baal worship as the state religion. Who is Baal? The god of storm, the god of crop fertility. He’s supposed to prevent precise the sort of thing Israel is experiencing. Famine and drought. For if Baal can do anything, he’s supposed to be yielding crops by bringing rain. That’s his domain.
Yahweh is beating Baal at his own game. Why? Because Yahweh is able. He is showing himself to be THE God who is sovereign over the weather. God is almighty. God is great.
19 Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah…
Why Mt Carmel of all places? Why not Mt Hermon? Because Mt Carmel is most likely a stronghold of Baal worship. In other words, God is not just beating Baal at his own game, he means to beat him at his own game, in his own turf. Baal had the popular support, he had the home ground advantage and that is where Yahweh has chosen to meet him.
Why? Because Yahweh is able. Because Yahweh can beat Baal at any game, at any place. These things simply do not matter to the God who created the heavens and the earth.
God is almighty. God is great.
33 And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” 34 And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time. 35 And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water.
Here’s the goal. The goal is to summon fire from heaven to consume an altar on Mt Carmel like that. Ask anyone today, and they’ll say, “well that’s impossible”. But if it were possible to make the impossible even more impossible, Elijah has found a way to do it. He floods the altar with water 3 times over. Even if you went back in time and gave Elijah a tank of kerosene and a burning torch, he still would not have been able to light the altar on fire, the wood is drenched, there is no way.
Why the water? To show that Yahweh is able. To reveal before a watching Israel that Yahweh can beat Baal at any game, at any place, against any odds.
God is almighty. God is great.
37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God.
That’s the point the drought and Mt Carmel and water over the altar. That the people may know that Yahweh is God almighty. That he is great and worthy of worship.
But he is not just great, you see, God is also good. What makes God so worthy of our worship is not simply because He is great, but also because He is good.
To be sure, the whole event, the drought and Mt Carmel and the water over the altar, is to reveal that God is great. But there is more.
Let’s see the rest of verse 37.
37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”
You must realise that God was well within his rights to keep the drought going. The covenant that they were called to keep hinged on their faithfulness to Yahweh. They were warned repeatedly that the covenant curses of drought and famine, death and disaster would befall them if they chose to be break the covenant.
It was not justice that God sent Elijah to bring rain again, it out of anger that God answered Elijah at Mt Carmel to reveal himself again to his people. It was because of love. It was because of grace. God is determined to win them over, to turn them back to him, because he loved them, even though they didn’t love him. Because he was faithful to them, even when they were unfaithful to him
What was the challenge at Mt Carmel? It was to consume a burnt offering upon and altar made of 12 stones which represented the 12 tribes of Israel. By consuming the sacrifice. God is reminding all Israel that he is still there in their midst. He still is willing to accept true worship from them. There is still a way to be reconciled to him, through a sacrificial offering.
That’s the point of Mt Carmel, not merely for God to flex his mighty arm, but to display his tender heart.
And nowhere else is his heart most supremely displayed than upon a hill called calvary. Where Jesus Christ his Son, became the sacrificial lamb that made atonement for our sins.
The God of Elijah, of you and I, is a God both great and good. Because He is great, He is a God who, if you find him, can truly save you. And because he is good, He is a God who, if you fail him, will truly forgive you.
In heaven, two reasons are given for the worthiness of God for worship:
Because he is great.
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Rev 4:11)
And because he is good.
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev 5:12)
That is the God of 1 Kings 18. That is the God of the Gospel. That is the God whom Christ revealed at the Cross. A God who, in love, went all out to save us. Is he not worthy of going all-in to worship?
And if you need one more reason to worship God with exclusive devotion, it is this:
Listen to the taunts of Elijah: “And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”
What sort of God is too distracted from day-dreaming to hear the cries of his prophets? What sort of God is indisposed to attend to his people because he’s in the restroom answering nature’s call? What sort of God puts up an “out-of-office” message because he went on holiday? What sort of God fails to hear a call because he’s fast asleep?
These all sound like reasonable circumstances for us, human beings, to miss a phone call, or to leave a message unread. These all sound like very human excuses to go MIA. But what kind of god is Baal, if he needs to resort to them to explain his absence?
A very human-like god. A god made in the image of man. A god, indeed, made by man. Which is no god at all.
A god made in the image of man, a god made by human hands, is a god that is not!
This is why you don’t look to Ares to overcome, here is why you don’t look to Mammon for security, here is why you don’t look to Eros to satisfy, because they can not. For, gods, they are not.
Listen to the explanation for why the prophets of Baal did not receive a response:
26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered.
29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.
The reason given for the non-response. Is not because Baal did not respond. It is because there is no one there at all. There is no voice, no one answered, because there was no one there to pay attention in first place. When you cry to Baal to answer you, to save you, you are shouting into void. You are calling to no one. No one is there.
Friends, listen, the reason for the 1st commandment, the reason we ought not to worship any other God besides God is because there are no other gods beside God.
So worship the Lord with exclusive devotion, in total confidence that he is worthy, and he is the only, true God.
I return to the thought we introduced at the beginning. That some games you don’t get to play unless you’re all-in. The worship of God is one of them. Except it’s not a game. A game is a distraction. This is ultimate reality. And the stakes are higher than your mortal life, what is really at stake is your eternal soul.
And if you are listening today and you’re not a Christian, I ask you to consider what’s at stake. You’re already all-in. The only question is, on whom?
If you were standing on Carmel that day that fire came down from heaven to consume the flooded altar, would you worship Elijah’s God? The message of Christianity is that someone greater than Elijah is here. His name is Jesus, and through his sacrificial death and resurrection, he has accomplished in this world a greater miracle. He has revealed a God almighty and all-loving.
And he can bring living water to end the drought in your heart, he can bring cleansing fire to purify the guilt in your life. He is a God able to save you and willing to save you, in fact, he died for you. He was all-in, he went all-out to turn your hearts back to only God who can save and satisfy.
Will you worship him today?
And family of God, the challenge of Elijah stands before us still: “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”
As a follower of Jesus, are you all-in for him? Now I do not know what it will look like if you lived a life all-in for God. But consider this. If God did not exist, how silly would Elijah have looked on Mt Carmel? With an altar filled with water in front of him, and nothing happening, and 450 angry enemy prophet ready to pounce on him? How dumb would he have looked? His entire way of living only made sense if the Lord was God.
It’s the same thing with anyone who’s all-in for anything. Imagine if there wasn’t really any such thing as professional football. You wouldn’t admire Cristiano Ronaldo’s dedication. You’ll commit him to a mental institution. Imagine if the Olympics were made up, a fiction. The entire lifestyle of the Schooling family from the time Joseph was 14 would just be ridiculous. If they found out the Olympics were made up – there is no such sporting event. Everything falls apart, nothing would make any sense any longer – because they were all in for the Olympic dream.
That’s what being all-in for Jesus ought to look like. It would look like if one day you woke up and discovered that God did not exist, your life will not make sense. You would not know why you are getting out of bed. You would not know why you’re working the job you did, you will not know why you are loving the people you do. Because everything has been done for him. Everything only made sense only if Jesus was truly God.
Are you worshipping God this way? Because just like all Israel was glued to Elijah on Mt Carmel, the eyes of the world is upon us as a church. And the miracle of the fire from heaven which consumed the water-filled altar must pale in comparison to the Holy Spirit from heaven who transforms our sinful hearts.
So worship the Lord our god with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your soul and all your strength, and worship him alone, with total confidence that is worthy of worship for he is great and he is good, and he is God alone.
That the world may know that the Jesus Christ is Lord, and he has come to turn our hearts back to him.