The Contest of Gods

1 Kings 18:19-39

Our message this week takes a trip to Mount Carmel in Israel and a contest of gods between Baal of the Caanites and Yahweh, the God of the Israelites and the prophet Elijah. It is the type of story that leaves us asking, What do we really believe? Where do we derive our security, our purpose, our motivation in life? Where is the pure object of our affection focused? I might also ask, Do you have any idols?

A doctor of theology was teaching world religion at a university and made a mission trip to India. While there, he met and befriended a local fellow who was a Buddhist. This man was very friendly and took the doctor around to see the sites and help him become acquainted.

One day he took the doctor to the Buddhist temple. When the doctor walked in, he was amazed at all the strange, peculiar statues lining the walls of the temple, each one representing a different god. Then he felt a little poke in his side, and his newfound friend gestured toward one of the statues saying, “See that one? You recognize it, don’t you? That’s your God!” The doctor of theology looked up to see a statue of Jesus on the cross – as if Jesus were just one god among all the other gods. In that man’s mind, though well intended, he believed you could be Buddhist and Christian. You can worship whatever god you want or as many as you want. We have often heard the phrase It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.

We live in a culture of time that says all truth is relative to the individual’s perception and conviction. However, I don’t believe this. Instead, I believe the God of the world, the God of life, has, in a beautiful way, revealed His heart and love to us in His Son, Jesus Christ. He went to the cross to bring us back into a relationship with Himself, even though we were sinners, and, by His resurrection, gives us eternal life. He invites us to repent, turn our hearts back to Him, and confess our faith in Him as our God.

At Mount Carmel, Elijah prayed this prayer: “Lord, by your power show that you are God and we are your servants. Turn the hearts of your people back to you.”

In our story, the Bible describes King Ahab and Queen Jezebel as the new champions of evil in their time. They not only promoted the worship of the idols Bael and Ashera, but they hunted down and killed God’s prophets in an effort to eradicate faith in Yahweh. They especially hated the prophet Elijah and searched every inch of their kingdom for him. They even threatened neighboring kings who might hide him. They treated Elijah like the number one criminal of the world and wanted him dead.

After three years of drought with God telling Elijah to hide from Ahab, now He tells Elijah to go show himself to Ahab. In the context of threat and danger, Elijah boldly walks into the palace and issues a challenge to Ahab and the priests of Bael to have a contest on Mount Carmel. May the best god – the real God, the God of power and glory – win. So the priests of Bael go first and offer their ox as a sacrifice. From morning till noon, they prayed. Louder and louder they prayed as they danced around the altar of sacrifice. Bael, hear us, they say.

Elijah begins to mock them. Is god meditating? Is he too busy, indisposed, on vacation? Perhaps he is sleeping. Cry out louder! They danced louder; they cut themselves with knives until they bled; and they hollered louder and louder. Nothing except silence was the response. This continued all day until Elijah stepped forward and poured barrels and barrels of water over the sacrifice. Instantaneously a firebolt from heaven consumed the ox, the wood, and the twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Even the water was licked up dry. Everyone fell on their faces in that revelation of God’s power and glory and shouted, “Yahweh is God! Yahweh surely is God!” Yahweh revealed Himself and accepted the sacrifice.

What can we take away from this story that is important for our faith today? First, it’s important for us to know God is jealous. The Scriptures say He is a jealous God – not in the sense of being petty or insecure or accusing in a negative sense. He is God who will not tolerate rivals among God’s people.

Bael and Asherah were the fertility gods of the Canaanites. The worship of those gods included sexual acts and the sacrifice of the people’s children! God said, No! I am jealous for you to be in a relationship of intimacy and love. I will have no gods before me. He was not jealous in the sense of a need to be the number one god of your priorities, or to be seen as your favorite god. God says NO gods are to be in His presence. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, he quoted the Lord saying: “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.”

I like how Kyle Idleman in his book, GODS AT WAR, writes about our modern-day idols.
• He talks about the temple of pleasure where we make gods out of food, sex, and entertainment.
• I might add sports, our bodies, the pursuit of beauty, or long life.
• We also worship in the temple of power.
• We make gods of success, money, and achievement, fame, positions of influence and power.
• We worship at the temple of love and make gods out of romance, even elevating family members above God.
• And, of course, we make gods of ourselves.

Idleman writes that the guards at war clash for the throne of each person’s heart. The moment we make something more important in our lives than God, it becomes an idol.

Is it in our source of security? Is it the object of our passion and affection? Is it the purpose of our life? What motivates us day by day to live? Do we surrender our lives to its control? If so, it becomes our god, our idol.

Perhaps, subconsciously, we are unaware of things that have crept into our lives and become more important than God himself. So the contest at Mount Carmel is still relevant.

At Mount Carmel, God showed His power and glory in a raw, explosive, awesome lightning bolt of fire. He revealed Himself in a jaw-breaking moment flash of power. God showed Himself infinitely greater than all the gods of the Canaanites.

When we were kids, we used to say, “My daddy is stronger than your daddy.” A bit of an absurd argument. Maybe we could say Yahweh is stronger than your god – Bael – which is a foolish thing to say because those other gods don’t even exist. Not only are those gods not as strong as Yahweh or as powerful as Yahweh, they don’t even exist! The idols we tend to look to for purpose, security, pleasure, or purpose can’t give us life, can’t forgive our sin, can’t overcome death, can’t reconcile us to one another, can’t pour grace over our souls, can’t promise us eternal life. God instantaneously accepted the sacrifice Elijah offered and showed Himself to be God.

By the way, that, then, became a day when Elijah called all people to a fresh commitment of faith. If God be God, then follow Him. But if Bael be your god, then follow him. If God is God – even today – then stand up for the Lord, speak up for the Lord, confess your faith, renew your commitment of love and loyalty to Jesus Christ as God.

Did you know that in the book of Revelation, the harshest critique of the seven churches in the first three chapters of Revelation is reserved for the church of Laodicea. God said to them, “You are neither hot nor cold. You are lukewarm, so I spit you out.” Could it be that we have slid into indifference in matters of faith, and other things have become more important to us and hold a higher authority over us than God? Have we become lukewarm?

Elijah was not only courageous to stand up to Ahab and Jezebel under the threat of death, he was courageous to stand alone before 450 prophets of Bael and 400 priestesses of Asherah under the supervision of Jezebel the Queen. Today is still the day for us to decide where our loyalty lies. Who is your God? What do you believe about God? What do you believe about the purpose of life?

I also find it interesting that Elijah, before he prayed for God to accept the sacrifice, repaired the altar. Someone once asked the farmer, How did your cow get lost? The farmer chuckled and said, I suppose it was one tuft of grass at a time.

Could it be you have slowly wandered away from the loyalty of your heart to the Lord God, who has revealed His love to you in Jesus, God’s Son, our Savior? Today is the day for you and I to say, Jesus, you are my God, and I will serve you.

God revealed His power and glory on another mountaintop – Mount Calvary. It wasn’t awesome, raw, explosive power, but paradoxical power when the perfect and holy Son of God named Jesus was placed on a cross outside the Gates of Jerusalem. His bruised and bloodied body was nailed to a cross, and He hung suspended between heaven and earth until He could breathe no more. “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.” “It is finished.” God’s power was never more powerfully poured out, and His grace never flooded all human hearts more fully in the moment than when Jesus the Son of God our Savior gave His life on the cross. But there’s more.

On resurrection morning all of creation shook as Jesus the Lord of life who was dead was brought back to life to never die again. So God, in Jesus’ name, shows His power and glory by offering us eternal life.

Jesus is the God who saves, and the revelation of His power shows His love is beyond our understanding. Today I ask you to place your faith in Him. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg