God Overcomes for those who are Overcome

(continued from last week’s series on 1 Kings 19)

What does this teach us about God’s ways with His people? God will make His people happy. God will satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts. And in His wisdom and grace, God may never let us see the greatest desires in our heart because He knows there is something greater than that which we desire. What’s greater? God Himself! What’s greater? A glimpse at the glorious face of Jesus in the gospel. His life, His death, His resurrection, and ascension into glory accomplished more for us than we could ever imagine! The gospel makes us whole and happy. The gospel satisfies our deepest longings. The gospel calms the stormiest of seas and brings peace where there is no peace. It makes dead things burst forth with new life. It saves us. Listen to Paul in 2 Cor. 3:18 and following, “Therefore, we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another…Therefore having gazed into the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ…we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self, is being renewed day by day. For this momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…we do not lose heart.” This means that for the Christian, the best is always yet to come, always.

Some of you, all of you, I…a lot of times, lose heart. Don’t! God ruthlessly and lovingly will not let us settle for lesser pleasures (even if they are glorious in themselves and beautiful beyond all compare). He will fight (our hearts if need be) to give us what is best for us, Himself. God is saying to us through a megaphone from 1 Kings 19, “Don’t underestimate me. I won’t let your deepest desires come to pass, because I know that what you desire is not what you need right now, you need Me. I’m enough for you, Elijah. I’m enough for you, Moses. I’m enough for _____ (insert your name here). I’m the only treasure worth having and I’m the only treasure that can’t be taken away from you.”

A hymn called When Trials Come says it like this, “When trials come, no longer fear, for in the pain, our God draws near, to fire a faith worth more than gold, and there His faithfulness is told, and there His faithfulness is told.” The hymn IT IS WELL says it like this, “Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control, That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul. David crowder said it like this, “We are His portion and He is our prize, drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes, if His grace is an ocean we’re all sinking. And heaven meets earth in an unforeseen kiss, and my hearts turns wildly inside of my chest, and don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way He loves us.”

Psalm 119 says like this: 119:67, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your Word.” 119:71, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes.” 119:75, “I know O’ Lord that Your rules are Righteous, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.” Lastly 119:92, “If Your Word had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.”

Every single one of us faces this choice. We face our dashed hopes and ache and cry and mourn and ask why, maybe a thousand times in dark of the night. But in the end…don’t underestimate God, or His commitment to His glory and therefore our everlasting joy. He will graciously rip out of us the desires that He knows, though good, are not for us right now, and leave us limping on His grace with only Himself to show us that “His grace is sufficient for us, that His power is made perfect in weakness.” …not losing heart, we go on fixed on Him as our treasure. Both Elijah and Moses knew after the transfiguration that God had given them what their hearts had always desired by giving them a glance at Jesus. And you and I also, should learn that when our hopes are dashed, our hearts will find everything they ever wanted, if we look to Jesus too.

Praise God that can and does overcome hearts that are overcome, in the gospel.

Elijah and Moses: Jubilant in Joy

Before you begin to believe that God was being unfair to His own prophet Elijah here, hear this last point. I just said that God will sometimes ordain a chapter 19 despairing situation for His glorious purposes in our lives. Or another way to say it is: God will ordain and bring, by His hand, horrible things into our lives, be it pain or problems, cancers or concerns, death or disease, for the purpose of ridding us of our false idols and bring us back to Himself! Remember, it is in despair and the chapter 19’s of life where we find out what our heart really treasures and loves, and God knows these things! He will bring about exactly the right trial in our life to rid us of that which we falsely treasure over Him to bring us back to treasuring Him over and above all things. Let me show you this from Elijah, in two places and give you one final appeal:

a) His departure: Though Elijah’s ministry is done, this is not the last time we see in Elijah in the Bible. Remember, Elijah’s deepest longing is to see the glory of God ravish the hearts of God’s people, and he wanted to be used in this process! He longed for the glory of God to be revealed! Question: do any of you know how Elijah’s life ended? He didn’t die. He was taken! 2 Kings 2:11 says this, “As they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” God knew the deepest desires of Elijah’s heart, He cares about the dashed hopes and broken dreams of his prophet, so what does God do? God said, “I know my servant’s heart, he’s done. I want him here with me, go get him, and bring him home.” The man who was so dead of all hope and bereft of all his dreams that he didn’t get to see on earth during his life was taken home in a glorious whirlwind of fire and was ushered into glory.

b) But…it gets better than this. There is one other place he shows up in the Bible, any of you know where? We see Elijah again in Luke 9:28-31, at the transfiguration. For his whole existence Elijah deeply desired to see the glory of God, and now for the first time ever, he sees it, not in massive conversions, or Israel’s repentance, no, God doesn’t let him see those things. God knows there is greater glory, and if Elijah is yearning to see the glory of God, God will show him, but in the right time. Many years after God took Elijah by firey chariots, God comes and says to Elijah, “Elijah, I want you to go down on a mountain again. There’s something I have for you to see.” Do you know what he saw on this mountain? To use the language of 2 Cor. 4:6, Elijah saw the radiance and the brightness of the glory of God, in the most intense display of glory there could ever be (!), in the face of Jesus Christ! It all makes sense now.

Do you see the lesson that Elijah has learned? Elijah’s dream, yearning, longing, all of his hopes to see the glory of God and be used of God in the process never came to be. So he gave up, and finished his ministry poorly. God took him, but didn’t forget the desire of Elijah’s heart. And in God’s timing and God’s way, God showed Elijah more of His glory than he could have ever imagined seeing. He showed him Jesus.

Do you know who else got to see the transifuration? It’s interesting that Moses sees the transfiguration as well. Because if you recall, Moses got to lead the people of God to the promise land, see it before they went in, but was not allowed to go in himself. Moses’s dreams were crushed and he died. God didn’t forget this either. At the transfiguration Moses is right beside Elijah. So what? In Jesus, Moses got to see the real promise land for God’s people in the face of Jesus.

Elijah’s Crushed Heart

Elijah’s actions here are especially pointed when we realize what His name means: “Eli” means “My God” and “jah” means “Yahweh.” Yahweh is Lord, God is Yahweh! It seems that he’s forgotten what his own names points to. While in this cave, God comes to Elijah, first in a whirlwind, second in a booming earthquake, and third in a blazing fire. All the while, Elijah’s still inside the cave wanting to die. Finally a whisper calls him out of the cave, and in 19:13 God says, “What are you doing here?” Elijah answers in 19:14 with the same answer He gave in 19:10. To which God responds with a final “aron” to run. “Head north, go to Syria and anoint Hazael as king, then go to Jehu, and anoint him king of Israel.”

Then comes a hard word to hear at the end of 19:16, “…anoint Elisha to be prophet in your place.” Can you imagine what that would’ve felt like to hear from God? “Elijah, I’m taking you out, you’re done. Go and prepare your replacement. He will complete my work, He will do what you didn’t.” You or I cannot possibly imagine how hard those words were for a man who had lived for the glory of God his whole life. Now, I’m the kind of person that really thinks about words. Everything I say, and everything that is said to me I analyze, and analyze, and analyze, probably to a fault. I think the reason I do this is because a reality exists in words that is more the mere words. Life and death are in the power of the tongue, James 3 says. I love it when someone says something lovely to me, and I feel life entering into my soul! It is captivating to me. But as great as that is, it is just as massive when someone says something awful to me, and I feel death enter…it pierces. Elijah just got a piercing word. Elijah ought to know that even in this pain of passing on the paton, God is working in Elijah a hard providence to bring about a glorious result. God loves him too much to let him remain in his despair. Elijah’s ministry is over.

There is no evidence that he goes to anoint these two kings, and when he passes on the paton to Elisha he seems quite unaffected and dead. Then God takes him away in a chariot of fire. Elijah’s ministry didn’t end well. One of the footnotes in the ESV Study Bible says this, “The closing verses of chapter 19 do not mention that Elijah ever met (or tried to meet) Hazael to anoint him as King. 2 Kings 9 tells us that it was Elisha, not Elijah that anointed Jehu. Even Elijah’s response to God’s command about Elisha seems less the wholehearted. There is no mention of his “anointing” of Elisha as his successor, he merely enlists him as his assistant.” As you get to the end of chapter 19, its almost obvious that Elijah is happy to be gone. If it were up to me, I’d want to stay in chapter 18, FOREVER, and never have to go through chapter 19.

But as we’ll see, God may ordain a chapter 19 to come into your life, for His glorious purposes.

Notice Chapter 18 Before Chapter 19

Before we get into 1 Kings 19, we must notice that it comes directly after 1 Kings 18.

In chapter 18 we find the famous story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal squaring off on the top of Mt. Carmel. In this event, 850 false prophets challenge Elijah (1 man!) to a “Clash of the Titans” type showdown. They build an altar and say that whoever’s God shows up and consumes the sacrifice on the altar first wins. Of course Yahweh, the true God, shows up in an amazingly powerful manner, He consumes the sacrifice, destroys the idolaters and saves Elijah’s life! You think he’d be riding high after such a victory, but then chapter 19 comes and we shockingly find Elijah fearing and fleeing. After Elijah’s victory, a messenger showed up to him with a letter, written by a woman named Jezebel (a very evil powerful woman of that day who was famous for killing Yahwehs prophets) who said in 19:2, “May the gods do to me and more also, if I don’t kill you by this time tomorrow.” Suddenly Elijah forgot every drop of theology he had ever learned and taught and in 19:3 it says “…he arose and ran for his life…” Fear welled up so quickly and so powerfully that he ran away like a little boy.

This is a disappointed man; a discouraged man. For his whole life Elijah had yearned for one thing and one thing only, he wanted to see God glorified, God made much of, in Israel. He wanted Israel to turn back to God. He wanted repentance. He wanted conversion. He wanted to be used of God in all these things, more than anything in the world. Then…he gets a message saying he’s going to be dead this time tomorrow. He realizes a stunning truth: all of his dreams are not only not going to happen, it seems like and feels like his dreams are never going to happen.

We’ve all been here. Your deepest desires, longings, yearnings, hopes, dreams, everything you’ve ever wanted to happen….ripped out of your life in a moment! ….you hold a newborn boy in your arms celebrating new life God has brought into the world, only to bury the same boy a week later. You’re a pastor who dreams of thousands of people coming to faith in your town, God is blessing your church and adding more and more new believers to the body, while at home your own daughters are running around with sex and drugs, in and out of jail after jail after jail. You open up and give your heart to that special someone and place all your hopes and dreams in them, only to have them throw it all in your face and leave you in a moment, as if there were nothing between you. You try and try and try to become pregnant and you gloriously conceive only to feel writhing pain inside a few weeks later, go to the doctor, and hear that dreadful word…miscarriage. You love Jesus and your spouse loves Jesus, but it’s becoming clearer and clearer that your spouse doesn’t even like you anymore, and rather than having a peaceful joyful home its more like your just roomates.

You fill in the blank! When this crushing darkness falls, we need to learn that there is despair and discouragement that can come even to faithful Christians. And when it comes (not if) you learn what you really love, believe, treasure, and rest. Elijah’s deepest dream has been shattered, so he runs into the wilderness, and into a cave, and wanted one thing and one thing alone, to die. See 19:4? Have you been there? If not, it’s coming. But, even in his running we read that God is still caring for his needs, by making him a nice hot meal. God is so gracious and warm to us isn’t He? If He weren’t, we’d all be undone and alone in our fear and failures!!

Despair: Hard, Helpful, Normal

Discouragement, depression, and despair are not strangers to the Christian. I believe that most of us really think this, “If I’m faithful to God, trusting in his grace, empowered by Spirit—I will not have crushing darkness as part of my experience.” And then it comes. What’s happening to me, O God? What am I supposed to do? I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t think it’d be this way. I didn’t think I’d be here now. But, we’ve got things to learn in these times. If we study our discouragements, we’ll see what we love and what we really believe and where we really rest and what our real treasure is. And it won’t always be pretty. In disappointment and discouragement we are tempted to idolatry, because we begin to think that God has withheld the greatest treasure we could ever have, when in reality He is the greatest treasure we could ever have.

So, what are your unfulfilled dreams, your unsatisfied and unsatisfiable desires and plans, yearnings, and longings? I wonder what the hopes and treasures are that you’ve always wanted and never obtained, or had them taken away from before your very eyes. I don’t ask whether you have these things, I know you do, we all do. Some are so great that they seem unbearable, some less, but we all have them! So really, the question is — what do we do with them? So get it in your mind right now – What have you cried out and asked God for deep in the darkness of the night through blinding, hopeless tears, wondering in pain and agony, ‘Why?’ only to hear from God….nothing. Elijah has something to teach us about this, because that pain, agony, and despair….is the story of Elijah. Elijah was a powerful prophet of God, like Moses was. Crazy cool miracles took place at his hand. God walked with this man in a weighty manner. Elijah yearned for good and great things, and he served the Lord courageously. And yet he knew what it was to walk in this world, right up to the very end of this life with his hopes utterly dashed. But he knew more, he knew the ruthless pursuit of God to make himself happy in God.