12th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 14) LSB #’s 645, 912, 924
Text – 1 Kings 19:8
And [Elijah] arose & ate & drank, & went in the strength of that food forty days & forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.
FORTY DAYS & FORTY NIGHTS
The phrase 40 days & 40 nights rings forth from the OT like a harbinger of momentous news. Rain fell upon the earth for 40 days & 40 nights. Moses was on Mt. Sinai with the Lord 40 days & 40 nights. Elijah arose & went in the strength of that food 40 days & 40 nights.
The reading from the OT shows how faithful our heavenly Father is in providing for His children. Even in times of utter desperation & complete helplessness, our Lord cares for us & provides the wherewithal to continue. On the strength of one meal Elijah hikes through the same wilderness where Israel had wandered for forty years.
In the NT the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. Guess how long He was there – tempted by Satan? After 40 day & 40 nights, in a clear understatement, Matthew records, “Jesus then became hungry.” But after the temptation, angels attended Him. Later, we’ll see that Jesus, in the form of an angel, attended Elijah when he was in the wilderness.
In past sermons I’ve spoken of how Scripture uses stories of God’s chosen people in the wilderness as a metaphor for our lives. We can learn lessons about how God works by studying the manner in which He acted in the lives of people such as Elijah.
Today’s OT lesson begins with Elijah going a day’s journey into the wilderness. There he sits under a tree & prays that he might die: “I’ve had enough Lord! Take my life!” Then he fell asleep under that tree. Elijah was tired of having to persevere.
God had just used him to humiliate & then have killed over 850 prophets of the false
gods Baal & Asherah. The Queen – Jezebel, was infuriated, & she ordered that Elijah be killed within 24 hours. Elijah escapes into the wilderness, but now he has given up. Feeling that he was the only true believer left alive, life was not worth the struggle anymore.
It’s a common reaction when we come down from the mountaintop events of living. We experience a tremendous accomplishment, or an exhilarating time of success, but then it ends. The inevitable letdown occurs. We crash & burn. Everyday life can never live up to those spectacular moments when everything comes together just as we hope for.
Elijah had crashed & burned. At just this point, the Son of God comes to Elijah in the form that He often took in the OT – that of an Angel. This Malach Yahweh, this Angel of the Lord, touched Elijah & said, “Arise & eat.”
Elijah did so, but then he lay down again. So the Angel of the Lord came a second time, & said, “Arise & eat, for the journey is too much for you.” Do you find those words to be comforting? It’s encouraging to realize that our Lord knows when things are too much. Nevertheless, it’s very common that we do not understand why things happen as they do.
Life has a way of presenting challenges that look insurmountable. After our 1st two days of the crash course in ancient Greek, most of my seminary class was pretty well convinced that each of us would fail. After years of being a large & growing church it’s easy to get beat up & worn down with asking why this congregation keeps shrinking.
After decades of declining population, the demise of many small cities in North Dakota seems inevitable. Adultery can cause a marriage to appear beyond repair. Drug use & other forms of rebellion can make a child seem lost forever to the parents. To someone whose life is controlled by an addiction, living without it sounds impossible.
In situations like those, we too are tempted to say, “Lord, take my life!” And in those
difficult circumstances, many people do commit suicide. They take their own lives because they have NO hope for the future, & they completely surrender to the present. Even if they don’t kill themselves, they may, like Elijah, lie down under a tree & simply give up.
Nothing can be done with people in that condition, because they trust their own feelings more than they trust their Savior & His love for them. Even psychologists realize that you cannot help someone, unless they’re willing to help themselves. The old saying applies, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”
We may not know the reasoning behind the circumstances that God allows into our lives, but the book of Kings records history from God’s perspective so we might see how He did work in the lives of His people. The OT gives a picture of the themes that God still works with today.
The Angel of the Lord comes down & touches you in the waters of your baptism. He touches you through the elements of bread & wine in, with & under which exists the body & blood of Christ, given & shed for you for the remission of your sins. Those sins are what weigh you down. Those sins are what cause you to collapse in hopeless despair.
But, like Elijah, we fail to notice the truth. We fail to comprehend that the journey is too much for us. We try to make it on our own, & then depression sets in: “Lord, I have had enough.” Finally, we surrender to Satan’s deception, but our guilt has been removed from us. We have nothing to hide & nothing to fear in spite of what the Devil tells us.
When we are afraid to confess our sin, it’s not because God won’t declare it forgiven. It’s because we don’t want that forgiveness. We prefer to continue living in our sins, because we have so little hope for a future without them. Elijah was so depressed at the beginning of this story that he sits down & prays that God would kill him. God never grants that request, as eventually Elijah is taken to heaven in a whirlwind. He never sees death, but in today’s lesson, he had no such hope. God sustained & strengthened Elijah through sending the Angel of the Lord, to touch him & bring him a supernatural supply of strength through miraculous bread & water.
What miraculous blessings might God have in store for you that you are currently unwilling to trust in? What mountaintop experiences might God have waiting; prepared in advance, if you’re only willing to trust & follow His will rather than your own?
There have been many blessings in my life that I would’ve considered totally irrational to expect; yet God has provided them. Likewise, Elijah expected nothing from God in that wilderness, nothing except death.
What are you expecting from your God in this life? Do you expect only the thunder & lightning as God works His miracles, or do you also look for quiet revelations of His power & love? In the life of Elijah, our Lord had just proven beyond a doubt that false gods are impotent & powerless, & He did that in a spectacular display before thousands of people.
Yet, Christ also came to Elijah in the middle of the wilderness, with not a single witness, & performed just as mighty a miracle. He overcame the despair & hopelessness of Elijah. Christ overcame the defeat & the surrender. Christ overcame Elijah’s desire to die!
The Angel of the Lord comes to feed Him. Eight hundred years later, in the Gospel reading Jesus tells everyone that He Himself is the bread of life: “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” (John 6:51b ESV) “…Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:43-44a ESV)
Christ comes to us in His Holy Supper, prepared for you, to strengthen you with a faith that cannot be explained by rational argument. He comes to draw you to Himself, to guide & direct you to Mt. Horeb in the sense that there He will speak to you as well. My child come to Me for the journey is too much for you. I tell you the truth, he who believes already has everlasting life. PAUSE
Are those words too irrational for you? Are you hesitating? Are you backing away?
There are a countless number of things in life that do not make sense. Events happen that we can only label as mystery. How Elijah could travel 40 days & 40 nights through the wilderness on only one meal is not rational, but it is real.
How we can survive & even rejoice in a world as corrupt & hopeless as ours is also a mystery. It’s not rational. Yet, it’s real. The journey here on earth is too much for us, but our Savior, who experienced that same journey in every way as we have, knows our weakness. He came to earth in order to conquer the source of our weakness & to renew our hope for life.
The final resurrection awaits us & Christ desires to strengthen us for the journey there. From that time on, we’ll never again know weakness or despair, hunger or thirst. Until then, Jesus calls us to believe that He has done all that is necessary, & He will never abandon us.
It’s through the Bread of life that you are enabled to hold onto His Word & its truth, serving Christ alone throughout time & eternity. Come. Lay hold of the Bread of life & the Living Waters that you may have strength for the journey. Our comforting God is leading us to another mountain – to Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the Garden of Eden restored.
Christ has already taken the journey to the cross. He carried all your sins there & He paid the price demanded for our rebellion. Your worry, your fear & your despair they are forgiven. Go in the strength of the Angel of the Lord & be at peace. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet