140831 1 Kings 19:9-18

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 September 2014 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: 1 Kings 19:9-18
Theme: What Are You Doing Here?

One of the attributes of God that is well-documented in the Scriptures is his omniscience, which literally means that God is "all-knowing." He knows how many hairs are on your head. He knows when your life will come to an end. He knows when this world will come to an end. Simply and accurately put, God knows everything.

But if God is omniscient, did you ever wonder why he asks so many questions? In the beginning, right after Adam and Eve fell into sin God was walking in the Garden of Eden, and he called out to Adam: "Where are you" (Genesis 3:9)?

Not long after Peter denied that he was a follower of Jesus and swore that he didn't even know Jesus, the risen Lord asked him not once, not twice, but three times: "Do you love me" (John 21:15,16,17)? And in our text for today, the Lord came to Elijah in a cave and asked him: "What are you doing here" (1 Kings 19:9,13)?

The Lord doesn't ask questions because he doesn't know the answers. He asked Adam where he was because he knew what Adam and Eve had done, because he wanted to give them a chance to repent. Jesus repeated his question to Peter, not because he didn't hear Peter the first time, and not because he doubted Peter's sincerity. He was giving his fallen disciple a chance to confess his sins. He was giving his future apostle another chance to confess his faith.

The same is true with the question that appears two times in today's text. The Lord knew that Elijah was hiding in a cave. The Lord was well aware of the events that had brought Elijah to that cave. God asked Elijah that question for Elijah's benefit, to make him think, to give him a chance to reflect.

In the New Testament letter that bears his name James tells us that Elijah was a man just like us (5:17). Because we live in the same sinful world, because we are confronted by the same temptations, it would be good for the rest of us to reflect on the same question...


For Elijah, "here" was somewhere in the mountains of Horeb, but you might recognize the location by another name, Mt. Sinai. Mt. Sinai was the place where the Israelites camped after the exodus from Egypt, the mountain where God appeared to his people in thunder and smoke, the mountain Moses climbed to receive God's law.

Elijah's journey had begun some three hundred miles to the north on another mountain, Mt. Carmel. That was the place where Elijah took on 450 prophets of the Canaanite god Baal. Remember the story? Both groups built an altar. Both groups prepared a bull as a sacrifice. Both groups prayed to their respective god to send down fire from heaven to ignite their sacrifice. But only one God, only the true God, listened.

The Lord sent down a fireball that consumed Elijah's sacrifice and the wood and the stone altar and all the water around the altar. When the people saw what had happened they cried out: "The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God" (I Kings 18:39)! The prophets of Baal were killed. Three and a half years of drought came to an end. It was a great day for God's people, and the way Elijah saw it, it was only the beginning.

But if Elijah believed that this victory would be a turning point for Israel, if he thought that King Ahab would see the error of his ways and institute immediate religious reforms, he quickly learned otherwise when wicked Queen Jezebel sent him this message: "May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them" (that is, the recently deceased prophets of Baal; I Kings 19:2).

Elijah feared for his life, and so he ran for his life. He ran south, all the way down to Beersheba, where he prayed for God to take his life. After that, Elijah traveled even further south. He wandered in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, where found a cave and fell asleep.

No one was going to find Elijah where he was because there was no one else where he was, no one except God. The word of the Lord came to him in that cave and asked him a simple question: "What are you doing here, Elijah" (9)?

If Elijah was startled by God's voice, he didn't show it. He had been waiting to have this conversation, and weeks of wandering had given him plenty of time to prepare his answer. Elijah replied: "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too" (10).

How should we understand Elijah's statement? Was he angry with God's people because they had rejected God? Was he upset with God for not punishing them or for not protecting him? Were Elijah's issues emotional or spiritual? Was he feeling down and out, or was he clinically depressed?

We don't really need to diagnose what was wrong with Elijah because deep down I think we know what was wrong with Elijah. We know how he was feeling because there have been plenty of times when we felt that way too.

The statistics are out. They aren't surprising, but they can be depressing. Most mainline Christian denominations are losing members, lots of members. Meanwhile the Mormons and the Muslims are on the rise. And so are the "Nones," and I'm not talking about the little old ladies in long black gowns. The "Nones" are the people who mark the "None" box when they are asked to identify their religion.

The numbers are alarming. In the United States the Christian Church is shrinking. And even if that's not the case with our congregation, we don't have to look in any caves to find Elijah's "woe is me" attitude. We can find it right in here.

Does this sound familiar? Why should I keep on praying? I tried it for a while, but nothing happened. Or how about this: Why are they asking me to give more or serve more? I'm already doing my fair share, more than my fair share. Someone else needs to step up for a change. Or maybe this one: I really want to do what's right. I want to stand up for the truth. I want to keep fighting the good fight. But I'm tired. I'm discouraged. Sometimes I feel like I'm all alone.

Sometimes pastors are accused of "preaching to the choir," but today the Lord is the one preaching to the choir. More specifically, he is preaching the law to the choir. He doesn't denounce the wickedness of the world. He doesn't condemn any of the so-called big sins like murder or adultery or idolatry. Instead the Lord is pointing an accusing finger at the people who claim to be his followers. And if you have ever doubted God, if you have ever questioned God, if you have ever entertained any thoughts of giving up on God, that finger is pointing at you.

Elijah may have been alone in that cave, but he has plenty of company. We can relate to him because we struggle with the same sins. And those sins are serious. Every sin is serious. It's not just the mean things we say or the shameful things we do. Even our sinful attitudes threaten to separate us from God.

Only God can rescue us. Only God can restore us. And the Lord did just that for Elijah in a very special way. The Lord said to Elijah: "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by" (11). And then the fireworks began.

The Lord sent a hurricane-force wind, which was followed by a massive earthquake, which was followed by blazing fire. But the Lord didn't reveal himself in any of these forces of nature. Instead the Lord came to Elijah in a gentle whisper (KJV "a still, small voice") to teach him and us an important lesson.

The God who is omniscient (all-knowing) is also omnipotent (all-powerful), but he doesn't always make use of his power when or how we think he should. It doesn't make sense to us, but God's strength is made perfect in weakness, a paradox that can be seen most clearly in his plan of salvation.

The Lord didn't make the nation of Israel into a world super power so that it could force every nation it conquered to bow down in the direction of Jerusalem. The Lord of hosts chose not to raise an angelic army to sweep over the earth and destroy the forces of evil. What did God do? What was God's master plan to save the world? He sent a baby, a still small voice in a manger.

It's true that Mary's son was also the Son of God. And there were plenty of times in his life when Jesus put his divine power on display. He stilled a storm with a word. He healed the sick and raised the dead. But when Jesus came face-to-face with the cause of all death, when Jesus took on the monumental task of saving the world from sin, he didn't have the appearance of a conquering hero.

The Lord of heaven and earth was executed like a criminal. He looked weak. He looked defeated. On the cross Jesus looked the exact opposite of victorious, but on Good Friday that is exactly what he was. "It is finished" was not spoken with a gentle whisper. "It is finished" was a declaration of victory. By his death Jesus conquered death. By giving up his life Jesus has given us the hope of eternal life.

The promise of a Savior gave Elijah hope for the future, but that was not the only promise he received. God assured him right then and there: "I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him" (18). The Lord wanted Elijah to know, the Lord wanted his prophet to take great comfort in knowing that he was not the last believer standing. There were thousands of others who shared his faith.

Perhaps that was part of the reason why God asked Elijah: "What are you doing here? Elijah, you've got work to do. You have people to serve. You have an important role to play in my plan of salvation, and you can get started by anointing Hazael and Jehu and your successor Elisha."

That was God's answer for Elijah. What about you? What are you doing here? You are here to worship God. You are here to be fed by God's Word. You are here to receive forgiveness in Christ's body and blood. And whenever we come together, when we stand and sing and kneel and pray together we are reminded that we are not alone.

But the Christian church doesn't exist only inside the walls of this church. God has given you important work to do too. He has given you a glorified Savior to serve and a glorious message to proclaim. And so the Lord says to you today: Go! Go forward in faith! Live it! Share it! And when you go know that like Elijah your labor in the Lord is never in vain. Amen.

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.


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