Jean’s Gospel: You Are Not Alone
The story of Elijah, “a man of God” (1 Kings 17:24), is remarkable on many levels. One moment in his life that stands out was Elijah’s awful experience with despair: “And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.’ ” (19:4b)
This moment is striking and unexpected because God had been working so powerfully for and through Elijah. The Lord had ravens feed Elijah bread and meat when he was alone in the wilderness east of the Jordan. The Lord multiplied flour and oil for Elijah and a widow and her son while he lodged with them in Sidon. When the widow’s son became ill and ceased breathing, the Lord answered Elijah’s prayer and revived the boy. And in an amazing confrontation with the prophets of Baal, the Lord answered Elijah’s prayer and consumed his burnt offering, demonstrating to Ahab and the people of Israel what Elijah (whose name means “Yahweh is my God”) already knew: Yahweh alone is God!
Thus, Elijah was not suffering from a typical crisis of faith. Elijah believed in God. He was obedient to God. And Elijah was confident that God was almighty, whereas Baal and Asherah were mere idols. What then brought Elijah to the point of giving up on life?
The problem that led to Elijah’s despair was the apostasy of his people: “He said, ‘I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.’ ” (19:10) In the face of everything that God had done through Elijah, including mercifully ending a terrible drought in Israel, Ahab and the people had not turned wholeheartedly to the Lord. The people of Israel “limp[ed] between two different opinions” (18:21). They apparently co-mingled their worship of the Lord with worship of Baal.
From Elijah’s perspective, God was judging the entire nation, and Elijah was the only faithful Israelite remaining. Elijah’s perception was more than he could bear. He would rather die than see the entire nation obliterated, leaving him all alone.
However, even the man of God could not ‘see’ everything. The Lord not only is almighty; He is faithful to His promises. Despite outward appearances, the Lord always works for the good of His Church. His will cannot be thwarted by man or by demon. And His plan of redemption for all mankind moves forward unhindered, even when it looks to us as though the Church is defeated.
Elijah, as it turns out, was not alone, though he thought he was. Said the Lord to Elijah: “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (19:18) Although the Northern Kingdom would be judged, God would preserve a remnant of faithful Israelites. They would not be spared the judgment, but they would survive the judgment with their faith intact.
It is not unusual, from our human perspective, to see the Church on the brink of complete apostasy or collapse. Recall the time of Noah. It is not unusual to see massive corruption in the Church. Recall the Papacy at the turn of the 16th Century. It is not unusual to see the powers of the world conspire against the Church to destroy the Lord’s Anointed. Recall the disciples on the road to Emmaus: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.” (Luke 24:21)
Therefore, we must rise above our human vision and fears and unbelief and cling to the promises of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have his almighty and effective word: “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18)
We are baptized into Christ’s Church. It is His Church and He will grow it. It begins small like a mustard seed and grows secretly like leaven hidden in a batch of flower. Christ calls pastors and teachers to plant and water, but God gives the growth.
At times, in His wisdom, Christ may cause a famine of His Word in one place. If he does, He will bring the rain of His Word of grace to a different place. This is what the Lord did when He removed Elijah from Israel and sent him to Cherith and later to Sidon. While Israel suffered a famine of both food and God’s Word, that Word worked effectively outside Israel. Ravens and the wadi nourished Elijah, and later Elijah nourished the widow and her son with an abundance of flour and oil. Until Christ returns, the Word will be effective in this fallen world, and the Church will move forward. In any case, Christ will build His Church until He returns to judge both the living and the dead.
What does one do when facing idolaters in the Church? We are not to associate with them (1 Cor. 5:9-13). If the teaching of the church or an entire church body has turned to idolatry, then we are admonished to flee (1 Cor. 10:14).
This is what Elijah did when he left the jurisdiction and corruption of Ahab’s kingdom and was nourished in the wilderness by ravens sent by the Lord. Similarly, John the Baptist, who came in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), left the jurisdiction of the corrupt temple (where as a son of Aaron he would have been entitled to work and partake of the offerings) for the wilderness, where the Lord nourished him with locusts and honey. In circumstances where a church or church institution is radically corrupt, one can hardly be a prophetic witness while dining on the largess of the corrupt leadership.
Although it is regrettable that Christendom today has so many divisions and schisms, one benefit is that heresy in any one church or church body may not infect the whole Church. Therefore, if a faithful Christian is compelled as a matter of conscience to leave a corrupt church, he or she should be able to find a faithful church where Christ and His Gospel are proclaimed according to the Word of God. Remember: You are not alone. Flee idolatry, but do not isolate yourself from the true Body of Christ.
Therefore, fellow Christians, do not fear, remain faithful to our Lord Jesus, and remain in the Word of the Lord, which remains forever. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:7) Amen.