“Faith, Fire, and Truth”
May 29, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: Luke 7:1-10 Galatians 1:1-12 1 Kings 18:20-39
About a dozen of our Trinity folk have been working their way through our short-term Bible study with Lee Strobel’s “A Case for Christ.” In that study, there is a question that has been presented several times. “If Jesus really is who he says that he is, what does it mean?” And as we’ve gone through the study, what we come back to is an understanding that if Jesus is who he says that he is, and indeed, if God is who the Bible says that he is, then that has serious implications for how we live our lives. It’s one thing to ignore Jesus or to pick and choose which of his teachings we like or don’t like, if he was only a good teacher of human nature and morality. But if Jesus really was the Son of the living God, the creator of all that is, and the judge of all humanity, then how we deal with his teaching, and how we live our lives, is changed dramatically. And so, this morning, although this message has no other connection to our Bible study, I want to consider the reality and power of God as well as what that means to how we live out our lives.
We begin this morning in Luke 7:1-10 where Jesus performs a miracle without ever meeting the recipient of that miracle, or the person who asked for it.
7:1 When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them.
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
In this story, Jesus performs a miracle that stands outside of the ordinary for several reasons. First, Jesus is asked to heal the servant of a Roman centurion, which is unusual because, for the most part, the Jews were not on good terms with the Roman occupation. Second, this centurion must have been on good terms with the leaders of the Jewish Temple because the people that he asks to seek out Jesus for him are elders in their religious community and, as you might recall, these leaders themselves often had a difficult relationship with Jesus. As it turns out, this centurion must have been one of those responsible for the building of the Temple and must have had a regular, daily, working relationship with many of the Jews. Third, the centurion sees no need for Jesus to trouble himself with actually coming into his house because he understands that if Jesus has real power, and real authority, then he can simply do what needs done without actually being there… and he does.
In the end, Jesus heals the servant of the centurion without ever entering the house, without ever meeting the centurion, and without ever seeing the servant that was healed. The power that Jesus had went far beyond magic tricks and parlor games. There were no magic words or incantations, there was no laying on of hands, and you might notice that there wasn’t even a prayer that God would bring healing. Jesus doesn’t even make some sort of official pronouncement that the servant would be healed, but instead comments on the great faith of the Roman centurion and that the faith of this enemy occupier was greater than any that Jesus had seen in all of Israel.
And the men who had come to Jesus returned to the house and found the servant well.
Next, we read what one of my very favorite Bible stories if not my most favorite of all. The king and queen of Israel, Ahab and Jezebel, were worshippers of Baal and had, systematically, persecuted, driven out, converted, or killed almost all of God’s prophets and priests until Elijah believed that he was the only one left. At that moment, God comes to Elijah and Elijah challenges Ahab to a duel in front of the entire nation. He invites Ahab to bring all of the prophets of Baal, from all over the country, and they would meet him on Mount Carmel to see which god was real. (1 Kings 18:20-39)
20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
But the people said nothing.
22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”
Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”
25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it.
Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.
30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down.31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs [about 24 pounds] of seed.33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”
34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.
“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.
36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.
39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”
The prophets of Baal pray, and sing, and cry out, and cut themselves, and do all sorts of things to get the attention of their god, and at the end of the day, after they literally drown his sacrifice with water, Elijah prays a simple prayer that God would let it be known in Israel that he… is… God.
And fire comes down from heaven.
And the fire burns up the sacrifice… and the wood… and the water in the trench… and the stones that make up the altar… and the dirt underneath of it.
God answers the prayer of Elijah and leaves absolutely, positively, no doubts in the minds of anyone present that what they had witnessed was something supernatural. There was no possibility that anyone there harbored any suspicions that what they had witnessed was either an accident or some kind of natural phenomenon.
And, perhaps after a moment of shock and terror, the people fall on their faces and proclaim, “The Lord, he is God. The Lord, he is God.”
And then we come to the Apostle Paul who writes these words to the churches in Galatia (Galatians 1:1-12) where people from the churches, who had previously put their faith in Jesus Christ, were turning away from God and instead following other gods.
1:1 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers and sisters with me,
To the churches in Galatia:
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
Paul was astonished that human nature hadn’t changed a bit since the time of Elijah. People who had heard the good news of Jesus Christ were turning to follow other gospels and being confused by other preachers. And, in his own way, Paul uses the same logic that Elijah did by reminding the people that the message that he carries is not something that was created or invented by human beings. Paul, like the other disciples, was a witness to the risen Jesus. Paul was a Pharisee and had been a fervent supporter of the Jewish faith to the extent that he had pursued the followers of Jesus, persecuted them, arrested them, and dragged them back to Jerusalem for trial. But as he travelled on the road to Damascus, something changed. Saul met the risen son of God, became a follower and missionary of Jesus, and took on a new name, Paul. And so, as he writes to the church in Galatia, Paul reminds them that it is this truth that he serves. Much like the phrase that we hear today, “Follow the money.” Paul says, “If I were trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” If Paul was trying to get rich, following Jesus wasn’t the way to do it. If Paul wanted a comfortable life with a beautiful wife, a nice house, and plenty of servants, following Jesus was not the way to do it. But instead of getting rich or having a comfortable life, Paul is compelled to follow the truth and that truth, Paul says, did not come from human beings but was given to him by the resurrected, and very much alive, Jesus Christ.
In all three stories, the question for each of us remains the same. If God is real, if Jesus really did rise from the dead, then we have some very important decisions to make. If God isn’t real then it doesn’t matter if you worship Baal or any other god, but if the God of Israel is real then it matters a great deal. If Jesus wasn’t the Son of God and didn’t rise from the dead, then we are free to live our lives any way that we choose. But if Jesus was, who he said that he was, then doing the things that he said we should do, and living our lives the way that he said we should live them, suddenly become extraordinarily important.
You may not have seen fire fall from the sky and consume God’s sacrifice, but you have heard the truth.
What will you decide?
What will you do?
How will you live?
Your choices matter.
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