May 30, 2021

Live by the Spirit: The First Commandment

Scripture Reading: I Kings 18:15-39

Teaching Lesson: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 94-95

The showdown on Mount Carmel between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal is a dramatic depiction that lets us see and hear the first commandment in which God says, “I am the LORD your God … You shall have no other gods before me.” The prophet Elijah and King Ahab of Israel have gathered the people together to settle an age-old question: “Who is God?” Is “Yahweh”, the covenant Lord, the true God of heaven and earth? Or is it “Baal”, the pagan fertility god? Elijah frames the essential question in verse 21, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” In some translations Elijah asks, “How long will you go on limping between two opinions?” The people cannot have it both ways. Who is God? This is an ancient question being asked of the people who stood there on Mount Carmel and it is a modern question being asked of us as the Church of Jesus Christ in 2021.

Questions:

 What event does the Church remember at Pentecost?

What does it mean to “keep in step with the Spirit” as it says in Galatians 5:25?

From what mountain did Moses receive the Law? How many commandments are there?

Who is God? This question seems to be less relevant to many people today. The whole idea of “God” is out of fashion. More and more people simply refer to themselves as “None”. They hold to no religion and have no belief in a deity. However, this is more of a European and North American way of seeing the world. In actual fact, the world is growing more religious and not less. The “Death of God” and religion is a premature notion. The truth is the “gods” of our times are many and varied and religious fervor is alive and well within many institutions and ideas. Like it or not, we have made Science into a god. Politics, wealth, social justice causes, family – anything can become a “god” in our lives when it becomes the center of our worldview.

Questions:

 How does Q&A 95 define “idolatry”?

How do we come to know the true God of heaven and earth?

In I Kings 18, Elijah sets up a contest between the LORD and Baal. It’s quite simple: Build an altar and call on your God. The one who answers with fire is the true God. The people answer the prophet in verse 24 saying, “What you say is good.” What follows in verses 25-29 is the liturgy of the prophets of Baal, and in verses 30-37 the liturgy of Elijah. In comparing the two we see again the importance of approaching God in worship on God’s terms and not our own.

The worship and liturgy of the prophets of Baal is a glimpse at the ridiculous. It’s a humorous look into pagan ritual as the people shout, dance and prophecy – all to no avail. They even begin to cut themselves with swords and spears. However, verse 26 says “But there was no response; no one answered.” Elijah taunts them in verse 27, “Shout louder! Perhaps he (Baal) is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” You would think all this taunting would be ignored, but it only adds to their fervor and they do what Elijah says! For hours this ridiculous liturgy of shouting, dancing, and cutting goes on, but verse 29 ends it all saying, “But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.”  It’s a threefold “nothing”. They were sincere in their worship, but they were sincerely wrong. We approach the true God on God’s terms, not our own.

Questions:

In contrast to the prophets of Baal, Elijah begins his liturgy with an invitation to the people. How does this point forward to the invitation of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30?

In the conclusion of his prayer, what does Elijah ask God to do for his people?

Who sends down fire? What does the fire consume? Who is true God??!!

The Conclusion:

The God who brought us “out of Egypt”, out of the “land of slavery” is the God who has given his grace to us in Jesus Christ by whom we are liberated from our slavery to sin – he is True God!

In Jesus Christ we have been given a “Prison Break” and have been liberated to live as the people of God in the Kingdom of God. To “live by the Spirit” is to walk in step with the Spirit. The Christian faith is one of active engagement with this world. All of life is a holy encounter with the God of love, grace, and truth. Therefore, this world is not the waiting room for heaven but the place where we begin to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves. The Church of Jesus Christ is to be the people of God in this world who live by the Spirit of God in every area of life. To guide us in this calling, God has given us his Law by which we know his will for our lives.