There’s something about us that loves a good showdown.
When I was a kid one of the things I loved to do with my dad was watch western movies. If you’ve ever watched a good western movie, then you know that the main character in every good western movie is a gunslinger who is meaner, faster, & better than everyone else when it comes to handling a 6 shooter.
Now the pivotal moment in every good western movie is when there’s a showdown between the good guy & the bad guy.
You know how this works. They typically have some sort of altercation in the town saloon. Words are exchanged. The challenge is given. Then the scene cuts to the dirt road in front of the saloon.
Women & children are hiding but peering out of the windows from the shops on the street. The men are lining the street. The anticipation is building as everyone wonders, who will win? Who’s got the quickest hand? Who will draw first? Who will shoot first?
At the end of this, only one man will be left standing. The other man will either be wounded or dead! And all of us are sitting on the edge of our seats watching this, cheering on one of these 2 guys… hopefully cheering on the good guy.
There’s something about us that loves a good showdown. What a showdown does in a moment is shows us who is the greatest.
It’s one of the reasons some of the most famous stories in the Bible are the showdown stories.
These are the stories that everyone knows… even those who don’t know God or believe in God… they’ve heard the stories about the showdowns between the likes of Moses v Pharaoh.
Between Gideon with his 300 men vs. the Midianites & their thousands.
Everyone knows about the epic showdown between David vs Goliath.
And it’s one of the reasons that this showdown between Elijah vs Ahab grabs our attention.
Now Elijah is literally a nobody at this point in the story. He arrives on the scene out of obscurity to be used by God in a powerful way to point the people of God back to God.
And Elijah is about to challenge Ahab to the ultimate showdown.
Either/Or Worship in a Both/And Culture
Here’s what happens…
1 Kings 18.19-39
Now summon all Israel to join me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who are supported by Jezebel.”
So Ahab summoned all the people of Israel and the prophets to Mount Carmel. Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent.
Elijah stands on the mountain before all Israel, before king Ahab & before 850 prophets of Baal & Asherah & asks 1 question… how long will you persist in your both/and worship?
You’ve been trying to worship Yahweh & Baal. You’ve been trying to worship Yahweh & Asherah. But it’s time to choose between God & these other gods.
God requires either/or worship. Not both/and. He wants all your worship. He doesn’t want your divided devotion. He wants your undivided attention. He wants all of you.
Like we’ve said before, giving God your life means giving God all your life. And right here on this mountain Elijah is asking the people of Israel to choose.
I wonder if we need to choose as well. If our hearts are divided, if we’re trying to live a both/and life while serving an either/or God, we’re going to discover that God wants more. Not just more, ALL.
If you’re not sure if you can do that, put God to the test & see what happens in your life.
That’s exactly what Elijah does. He puts God to the test.
And here’s the contest. Elijah sets up an either/or showdown. A chance for the real God to prove He was in fact the real God. That He has no rival. No equal. That he reigns alone forever & ever.
Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only prophet of the Lord who is left, but Baal has 450 prophets. Now bring two bulls. The prophets of Baal may choose whichever one they wish and cut it into pieces and lay it on the wood of their altar, but without setting fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood on the altar, but not set fire to it. Then call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by setting fire to the wood is the true God!” And all the people agreed.
The Ultimate Showdown.
Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “You go first, for there are many of you. Choose one of the bulls, and prepare it and call on the name of your god. But do not set fire to the wood.”
Now Baal was the storm god, the weather god. One strike of lightening from the storm god could ignite the wood & set the altar on fire. Not to hard for the storm god, right?
So they prepared one of the bulls and placed it on the altar. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning until noontime, shouting, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no reply of any kind. Then they danced, hobbling around the altar they had made.
About noontime Elijah began mocking them. “You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”
So they shouted louder, and following their normal custom, they cut themselves with knives and swords until the blood gushed out. They raved all afternoon until the time of the evening sacrifice, but still there was no sound, no reply, no response.
For hours on end, 450 prophets have been calling on Baal to set the wood on the altar on fire. But nothing. No response. Their prayers to Baal go completely unanswered.
Elijah, like any of us, taunts them. I have a feeling Elijah would have made a great college football fan. He’s got no problem talking smack to the other team!
After this epic failure, Elijah decides it’s his turn.
Then Elijah called to the people, “Come over here!” They all crowded around him as he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been torn down.
So at one time, this mountain was a place of worship for Yahweh. Elijah doesn’t build an altar from scratch, he rebuilds an existing altar that has fallen into disrepair. And in so doing he points the people back to God.
He took twelve stones, one to represent each of the tribes of Israel, and he used the stones to rebuild the altar in the name of the Lord. Then he dug a trench around the altar large enough to hold about three gallons. He piled wood on the altar, cut the bull into pieces, and laid the pieces on the wood.
Then he said, “Fill four large jars with water, and pour the water over the offering and the wood.”
After they had done this, he said, “Do the same thing again!” And when they were finished, he said, “Now do it a third time!” So they did as he said, and the water ran around the altar and even filled the trench.
Why was Elijah insistent on drenching the altar & the sacrifice with water, especially when they are in the 3rd year of a drought?
At a minimum, isn’t this a waste of a precious resource? But remember, Baal is known as the god of fresh water. So maybe Elijah is saying that even if Baal couldn’t set his altar on fire, maybe the god of fresh water can stop Yahweh from lighting this altar on fire.
Elijah is raising the stakes. He’s making this almost impossible.
At this point, everything is drenched. There’s no human way anyone could set this sacrifice on fire. And he sets up the perfect opportunity for Baal to defeat Yahweh.
Will Yahweh Win the Showdown?
At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed,
“O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”
All of Israel is on the edge of their seats watching. The stadium is packed. 850 prophets of Baal & Asherah are watching. King Ahab is in his box seats waiting to see what will happen next. Here we go. It’s the fourth quater. There’s one second left on the clock. If Elijah can get the ball in the end zone, he’ll win the game… or something like that.
So he prays… “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”
And after Elijah prayed, there was no reply of any kind. Ahab had his soldiers seize Elijah & take him back to Samaria where he would be executed by queen Jezebel.
OK… that’s actually not what happened. And some of you who know this story know that’s not what happened.
But that’s what would have happened if God, if Yahweh, were not real.
That’s what would have happened if Elijah wasn’t fully devoted to God alone.
That’s what would have happened if we served a God who wasn’t full of mercy, grace & second chances. If our God wasn’t willing to do anything within His power to get the attention of his people & call them back to himself.
That’s what would have happened if our God couldn’t answer prayer!
Here’s what really happened…
Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench!
Flashed down? Like lightening maybe? Like lightening that maybe the storm god would have used?
And all the water was gone as well? You mean the storm god, the god of water, couldn’t stop, couldn’t defeat the One True God in this showdown?
And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, “The Lord—he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!”
Elijah, who’s name means “My God is Yahweh,” pointed all the people to Yahweh.
God heard his prayer & answered. And when Elijah, who lived to make God famous & point people back to God, prayed to God for fire from heaven, God responded, God answered His prayer & all the people responded in praise…
“The Lord, he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!”
My Name is Nobody
One of my favorite cowboy movies growing up was a 1970’s film called “My Name is Nobody.” It’s a story about a gunslinger who’s faster than anyone else but doesn’t want anyone to know who he is because he’s trying to make his hero… an aging but well known gunslinger… famous. Over & over again in the movie Nobody is trying to make somebody else famous.
The reason I loved that movie as a kid was because the main character was fast with his gun & kind of funny.
But I wonder if he wasn’t on to something. What would it be like for you to say, My name is nobody but I’m living to make Somebody else famous.
Who’s fame are you living for?
Who’s name are you trying to make great?
What if your life had one purpose? What if you lived to make Jesus known & to point people back to him?
What if your purpose is to speak boldly about what you believe deeply? To pray boldly for those who need Jesus? To point people to the only One who can hear their prayers & answer?
Here’s what I believe, when we start living for our fame, when we make ourselves the center of the story, when we fail to give God our undivided attention & we start serving other gods, we’ll never see fire fall from heaven.
As long as our devotion is divided, we’ll never see the power of God descend in our lives.
We live to know God & to make Him known.
Our God is the only God who reigns over all the other gods we attempt to serve & worship. Our God is the only God who answers prayer.
Some of you might say, well if God sent fire from Heaven for me when I prayed, I would follow him too. Elijah would say, really? Really? All he did on that mountain was drop a fireball on an altar.
Do you know what He did for you. He didn’t send fire from Heaven, He sent His Son from Heaven to Earth for you.
And then He lived & taught you what life is like in His kingdom. And then He showed you what life is like in His Kingdom. And it wasn’t what you thought. Because it wasn’t glorious.
In fact, it was the opposite. Because He humbled Himself & died on the cross for you.
But then, the God raised His Son Jesus up from that grave so now you can live to make Him known & point people to the only God who saves.
The only God who has no rival, no equal, who reigns forever & ever & ever. Amen.