Elijah the prophet lived at a time and in a land when there was no fear of the Lord, a place not so very different from our nation today. It seemed to him that he was alone in declaring never to bow his knee to the foreign gods, but he was mistaken. With church attendance in apparent decline, the UK needs a prophet like that now. But rather than raising up a single man or woman as a figurehead God wants to pour out his Spirit upon all of his people today.
The apostle James encourages us that this is possible when he wrote, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours…” (James 5:16-17), anything is possible when we give our lives to God.
1 Kings 18 tells how Elijah went on the offensive, challenging Ahab and the prophets of Baal to a spiritual contest. When the gospel is under attack we defend it, showing clearly that God is alive and active today and that Jesus was not just a man, he was the son of God raised from the dead; because when you look at the facts it can be plainly seen that Jesus was and is everything he claimed to be. But Elijah was not planning to make a defence as if he were answering the critics, he was turning the tables on the devil.
Today, when we see Jesus under attack we must remember that God always has a remnant, a people who are ready to follow him – and let us be included among them. If that is to be the case, we are going to have to see the altar of the Lord repaired in our generation. Although Israel had two shrines with golden calves where the people worshipped, on Mount Carmel there was an altar that was used to worship God in purity. This was one place where prophets and people could go and commune with him. However, at some point somewhere that altar fell into disuse.
Let me challenge you, is the altar of the Lord in good repair and functioning well in your life? Are you preserving your relationship with God so that it is the most important thing to you to the extent that you know that whatever happens, you will remain surrendered to him? This is what the apostle Paul was talking about when he said, “I therefore as a prisoner of the Lord beseech you by the mercies of God that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice wholly acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1).
The altar of the Lord is that place of consecration revealed not in church services on Sunday but on Monday morning when you go out into the rough and tumble of the real world, where no Christian eyes are on you. As we repair the altar of the Lord in our hearts the fire of God is going to hit our lives in a visible way. Recently, I have been speaking to a lot of non-Christians and hearing what they have to say, and I am struck by how totally consistent they are with what they believe. Most of them that believe if there is a God he’s not really interested in how they live. And they really believe that they have the right to live their life on their own terms. All of us must choose, if we believe that Jesus is Lord then we should serve him wholeheartedly, but if anyone has other values that are more important and stronger and require their devotion over and above Jesus then they should say so – keeping a foot in both camps is not acceptable!
Elijah presented his challenge: both he and the prophets of Baal were to prepare a sacrifice. There were to be no matches to set it alight, and the God who answered by fire would be very clearly demonstrated to be the one true and living God. The prophets of Baal prepared their sacrifice and continued their rituals all through the day until evening but there was no response. Why? Because there was no one there. The gods of the nations are non-existent gods, they cannot speak or act. And Elijah began to mock them.
Then it was Elijah’s turn. Wouldn’t it be amazing if God gave us an ‘it’s our turn now’ moment it? It seems that for generations it’s been other people’s turn – the pagans, the false religionists, and the people who pollute the minds of our young people. When God says that enough is enough it is time for the church to rise up, we need to be ready to step up to the plate and declare that the Living God answers by fire.
The first thing Elijah did was to call the people to gather around, then he took twelve stones and repaired the altar of the Lord. If we want God to answer by fire we’ve got to repair the altar of the Lord: rebuilding the place of consecration, the place of devotion, the place of pure worship and the place where we say there is no God but Jesus.
How can we repair the altar of the Lord in our life? By restoring pure devotion, that non-religious longing for God. This is not just about doing what you feel like doing, there’s got to be a kind of discipline so there is some structure in your life. But it’s not about screwing up all your own energy to try and attempt something in your own strength that only God can enable you to do. We have to flow with the grace of God and let our lives be taken over by the Holy Spirit, because it is only the Holy Spirit that can move us in the direction of God.
When Elijah prepared the sacrifice he wanted everybody to know that what was about to happen was from God so he asked them to drench the altar with water several times until it was absolutely dripping wet. Then Elijah stepped back and cried out to the Lord, asking him to reveal himself in answering by fire. So fire fell licked up all the water, burnt up the sacrifice and everyone fell on their faces and shouted, ‘the Lord he is God’. As the fire fell and everyone present declared that the Lord is the one and the true and the living God. And then the rains came, meaning that God was now ready to bless the land as the hearts of his people had been restored and returned to him.