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May 13, 2012

He took [the child] from her arms and carried him up into the upper chamber where he lodged.  1 Kings 17:19

On this special weekend, we come to the story of a mother whose heart was broken and then entered into overwhelming joy.  If you are visiting for Mother’s Day weekend, I am so glad you are here.  We’re following a series on the life of Elijah.

Elijah was a prophet who spoke the Word of God.  He lived at a time when the people who said they belonged to God didn’t want to listen to what God said.  They turned to idols, and to all the sins that came with them.

So God held back the rain, and soon there was famine.  God provided for Elijah through a brook at Cherith.  But after a while, the brook dried up and God sent Elijah to a widow in Zarephath, and provided for him there.

It is a story of desperate sadness that ends with wonderful joy.  And I want us to learn from it in three ways: First through the eyes of a mother, then through the eyes of Elijah, and lastly through the eyes of a child.

A Mother’s Journey of Faith

The widow’s journey gives us a marvelous picture of the Christian life. We looked at the beginning of her faith journey last week.  Her food had just run out.  She was down to a small amount of flour in a jar and oil in a jug.  She had come to the city dump to gather a few sticks to make a fire and bake what she thought would be her last loaf of bread.

The word of God came to her through Elijah: “First make a little cake and give it to me.”  God was calling her to make a great sacrifice and he promised her greater joy: “The jar of flour will not be spent and the jug of oil shall not be empty until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth” (17:13-14).

Up to this point the woman had not been a believer.  She knew about the Lord, but she describes Him as “the Lord your God” (17:12), not her God.

There’s a big difference between knowing about the Lord and coming to the place where you can say “The Lord is my God.”

After the resurrection, Thomas knelt before Jesus and said, “My Lord and my God.”  This woman wasn’t at that point yet when Elijah arrived in Zarephath, but when she heard God’s promise she stepped out in faith.

Faith begun
She went and did as Elijah said.  1 Kings 17:15

Believing the promise, she stepped out in faith in the light of that promise in costly obedience to God.  That was where her journey of faith began. It’s where every journey of faith begins.

Faith begins when you trust God’s promise enough to obey His commands.  Believing in God is easy.  It costs nothing to say you believe in God.  Obeying God is another thing.  It’s never easy and it’s always costly.  Being a Christian is more than believing in God.  It involves stepping out in a life of obedience that will be costly.

The widow ventured everything on the promise of God.  She went and did as Elijah said and we read that, “The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah” (17:16).

Has your journey of faith begun?  You say, “I believe in God.”  That’s not what I’m asking.  Have you come to the place of saying, “The Lord is my God?”  Have you stepped out in costly obedience because you believe the promise of God that is for you in Jesus Christ?  That’s where faith begins.  If you haven’t taken this step, I hope that you will take it today.

Faith tested
After this, the son of the woman… became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him.  1 Kings 17:17

After the miracle of God’s provision for this family every day, after the widow’s costly commitment of obedience, after all this… the woman’s son becomes sick and dies.  Of all the mothers in Sidon, how could God allow this to happen to her?

Have you noticed that God often seems to act in contradictory ways?  This woman’s son had been at the point of death, down to the last meal (17:12) and God steps in and saves the boy’s life through a miracle with the flour and the oil.  The same God who saved the boy now allows him to die!

Sooner or later every Christian comes to a point where you wonder at God’s seemingly contradictory ways.  Most of us can quickly relate to that experience.  Some of you will be there now.  Others will arrive there in the near future.

You will come to a place in your life where you scratch your head, you cannot figure out what God is doing.  God seems to open a door for you, and then it closes in your face.  And you say “What was all that about?”

You pray for a loved one in the hospital and her condition improves.  You tell your friends that God is answering prayer and then her condition changes for the worse.  We’ve all been there… the place where you say, “What in the world is God doing? Is He playing games with me?”

How can God allow this to happen to a mother who has already suffered so much?  This woman is a new believer!  Elton John gets at the question in his song Written in the Stars…

Is it written in the stars?

Are we paying for some crime?

Is that all that we are good for,

just a stretch of mortal time?

Is this God’s experiment

in which we have no say?

In which we’re given paradise,

but only for a day? [1]

That’s what it must have felt like to the woman.  She was given paradise through the miracle of the oil and the wine, but now the son who was delivered by God’s grace is the son who has died.  She was given paradise, but only for a day.

When you step out in faith and obedience to God it will not be long before

you look at the events of your life and say, “This makes no sense.”  This woman, who is a new believer, is besieged with questions.  It’s not much help to say to her “Just pray about it.”  How can she pray to the God who has done this?

She says to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God?”  Notice what she says next: “You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son (1 Kings 17:18).  Elijah who was the savior, now seems like the judge.

Notice the word sin here is singular.  There was one sin that haunted her.  It made her feel ashamed.  There was something in her past that she now wished she had never done, and it left her with a feeling that God had it in for her.  She felt that God would pay her back for what she had done, and that with the coming of Elijah, God had finally caught up with her.

Is it written in the stars?  Are we paying for some crime?  That’s what she thought.  It’s not just the unbeliever who asks that question.  The Christian does too.

This young mother’s faith is tested; your faith will be tested too.  There will be times when you feel God is against you, your past comes back and your own heart condemns you.  When that happens, you need to know you’re not alone.  This is not an unusual experience in the Christian life.

When the apostle John writes to Christians, he says “Whenever our hearts condemn us.”  That tells you this will happen, and it may happen often.

So what are you to do?  “Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart” (1 John 3:20).

Suppose you own money to a bank and the manager of that bank clears your debt.  I know this sound like a fanciful illustration, but let’s just suppose!  You don’t have to worry when your debt has been cleared by the highest authority, the manager of the bank.

You walk into the bank and there is a miserable teller who doesn’t like you.  She wants you to know you used to be a debtor.  When you go to the bank, she mutters under her breath, “You owed money to the bank. You didn’t pay that money. You couldn’t pay that money back if you tried.”

Who cares what the teller says, if the manager has cleared your debt?

Your heart is like the teller, and when your heart condemns you, here’s what you need to know: God is greater than your heart.  He doesn’t condemn you when your sin is under the blood of Christ.  Don’t let your heart have the last word.  Tell your heart, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Faith triumphant
Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.  1 Kings 17:24

The boy was raised from the dead.  The woman received back her son, and at the end of the story she says to Elijah, “Now I know… the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

Christian, faith has begun, faith is being tested, and one day you will stand in the presence of Jesus, and you will say “Now I know.”  That’s the point of the resurrection.  Faith will be turned to sight.  Every question will be answered.  Every tear will be wiped away.

Now we know in part, then we will know fully, even as we are fully known.  None of us are there yet, but one day we will be.  Until then, faith lives on the promise of God, even when we cannot understand His ways.

This mother’s journey really is a picture of the entire Christian life: Faith begun, faith tested, and faith triumphant.  If you are not yet a Christian, I hope that you will begin a faith journey with Jesus Christ today.

If you have begun this journey, you can be sure your faith will be tested.

If your faith is being tested, remember one day your faith will be turned to sight and in the presence of Jesus you will be able to say “Now I know.”

A Prophet’s Journey of Love

This is a series on leadership and I want us to pick up some insights on leadership from the example of Elijah.  Elijah is a “Christ” figure in this story, or as we sometimes say, he is a “type” of Christ.  In other words, Elijah is the person in the story who most obviously points to Jesus.

He doesn’t do that always.  Nobody could.  But Elijah, like Joseph and King David and others in the Old Testament, points to Jesus and shines a light on who He is and what He came to do.

Think with me about how Elijah is like Jesus: We saw last time, he comes into this situation of desperate need, and brings hope.  He asks for a great sacrifice and he promises greater joy.

Elijah enters a home and shares the life of an ordinary family

Elijah is the super prophet of the Old Testament.  He is right up there with the prophet Moses, yet in a very personal way, he enters into the life of this woman and her son.

When Jesus enters our lives, He shares in our suffering.  Elijah became part of this family and when the family suffered, the pain touched his heart too.  That’s how it is with Jesus, who is greater by far than Elijah.

Elijah was a prophet with a passion for the glory of God.  His commission was to call the nation to repentance.  He was called to speak from a national platform to thousands of people.  But here we find him in an ordinary home, sharing the burden of a single mother.

Elijah, the great colossus of the Old Testament, tough as steel calling down fire on Mount Carmel, but here he is, growing in compassion, as he walks with one family through their pain.

Here is something for every leader: You have to be strong to lead, but God wants you to grow in tenderness as well as toughness, in sensitivity as well as strength, and for high level vision to be earthed in the real needs of an ordinary home.

So, where is the family to whom you can minister?  Where is the person bearing a burden that you can help carry?  Where is the need that you can help to meet, however high your calling in a particular ministry or organization?  God sends Elijah to the widow so that with all his toughness, he will grow in tenderness, as he walks with this one widow through the depth of her pain.

That takes you right to the incarnation.  The Son of God is at the highest level in heaven.  He is Lord of the universe.  Yet with all His power in heaven, He humbles himself and takes the form of a servant.  He enters this world of need.  He comes alongside human pain, and then He experiences it in his own soul and body.  He is able to help those who suffer because He himself has suffered.

Elijah points us to Jesus when the child dies

As you read this, try to let Elijah fade, as though he were translucent, and look through Elijah to Jesus…  The widow’s son had died, and he said to her, “Give me your son” (17:19).

Many in our congregation have experienced the death of a child.  And for many others, this day makes you think about your mother who is now with the Lord.  You think about her.  You thank God for her.  You remember her and you remember how she died and you miss her.

What happened to your mother?  What happened to your son or daughter who died early in life?  Here’s what happened as that life expired: The Savior, in His tenderness, said to you “Give me your son… Give me your mother up to me.”

What happens when your son or your daughter or your mother is released into the hands of Christ?  “And he took him from her arms, and carried him up into the upper chamber where he lodged…” (17:19).

The child who is no longer in your arms, now rests in the arms of Jesus.

The mother who is no longer in your home, is at home with Christ.  Where does He take your loved one?  To the upper chamber where He lives.

The place where Elijah most obviously points us to Jesus…
…is in this amazing resurrection

Elijah calls on the Lord, and the life of the child came into him again and he lived!  It’s important to apply this correctly.  The point of this story is not to say that if we Christians were more like Elijah we could go through the cemeteries and raise people from the dead.  That is not promised to us.

Elijah is pointing us to Jesus and to His promise: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40).

Here is our great hope: Those who have died in Christ are carried in his arms to the upper chamber where He lives, and His promise is this: that He will raise them up, and we will be together with the Lord.

Look through Elijah, as if he were translucent, to Jesus: “Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said ‘See your son lives’” (17:23).

Jesus has promised that one day he is coming down from heaven.  He’s going to come back from the upper chamber, and when He does, He will bring believers who have died with Him.

Like Elijah, He will say to you, “See, your son lives!”  Can you imagine the joy on that day when we look at Jesus, and He says, “See, your mother lives! See, your friend lives!”  What a day that will be!

In all the losses and crosses of life, are you not thankful today for Jesus,

the Lord and Savior who enters our sorrows, and heals our wounds?  And who, even at the point of death, is the only one who is able to hold out the promise of life everlasting?

One day you will die, and when that day comes you will want to be in the arms of the Savior, as that little boy was in the arms of Elijah.  You want to know that because you belong to Christ, He will take you to His upper chamber and you will share in His resurrection.

You want to be sure that you have trusted in and are on the path of obedience to the one who says: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live!”

A Child’s Journey in Grace
What was the effect of this amazing experience in the life of the child? Did the boy even remember that this event had happened to him?

We don’t know how old he was, but from the description of Elijah carrying the boy upstairs in his arms, it seems that he was young.  Perhaps he had a vague recollection of feeling ill, and then rather like when you fall asleep, didn’t know what happened next.

Can you imagine his mother telling him what happened?  As this boy grows, through his middle school and then his high school years, she says to him, “Son, here’s what you need to know about yourself… Your life is a gift of grace from God. You were dead.”

“You became ill, and you died. But God gave life to you again. Your life is a gift of grace, son. So here’s what you must do: Offer your life back to the God who gave it to you.”

“Give your life into the hands of the God who loves you. Embrace the Lord who has power to keep you in life and deliver you in death. Make Him your God, as I have made Him mine.”

For all of us who are parents, this is what we need to teach our children.

“Your life is a gift of grace from God. Now offer it back to Him.”

So here is the invitation for every son, every daughter, every student in the congregation today: The strength of your body, the ability of your mind, your gifts, your opportunities, all come from the hand of God. “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

I invite you to come to God today, through the Savior who loved you and gave himself for you, and say from the heart something like this: “Father, I offer my whole self to you in faith and in obedience that your great purpose should be worked out in me.”

[1] Elton John duet with Leann Rhymes, (lyrics by Tim Rice), “Written In the Stars,” Wonderland music, 1999

 

© Colin S. Smith

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By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org



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