Author: Rev. Rudy Ouwehand, Agassiz. B.C.
Order of Worship:
*Call to Worship
*Silent Prayer (concluded by 424 Hear Our Prayer, O Lord)
*The Lord’s Greeting: read Psalm 134
God’s Law as a Teacher of Sin: p. 1016
Praise Response: 242 Come, All You People, Praise Our God
Children’s Story (Children may leave for Sunday School)
Scripture Reading: 1 Kings 19: 1-18
Text: 1 Kings 19: 11,12
Sermon: Learning to Hear God
*Hymn of Response: 436 This Is My Father’s World
*Benediction: read Numbers 6:24-26
*Doxology: 517 There’s No God as Great
Introduction: What is it like to hear the voice of God? The following story is told of the conversion of St. Augustine. One day, while he was struggling with his inability to overcome his own passions and desires, he went into his garden carrying the Letter of Paul to the Romans. While in agony of mind over his struggle, he suddenly heard a child’s voice from the neighboring garden saying, “Take up and read, take up and read.” He immediately opened Paul’s letter and read from Romans 13: 14, “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” This experience was the moment of his conversion. He became the greatest of the early Church Father because he heard the voice of God speaking as if through the voice of a child.
Have you ever heard the voice of God speaking to you? What would it be like if you could hear God speaking? There is an amazing description of such an event in the 19th chapter of Exodus.
9The Lord said to Moses “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you... 10Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 11and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death...’”
16On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, 19and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.
Imagine being a part of that crowd and hearing the mighty voice of God! We are not surprised that the people reacted with fear and trembling! In Deuteronomy 5 we read that the elders of the people came to Moses and said to him,
“Today we have seen that a man can live even if God speaks with him. But now, why should we die? This great fire will consume us, and we will die if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer. For what mortal man has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and survived?” (Deut. 5:24-26)
Yet the voice of God has not always spoken with such demonstration of power and glory. Picture another scene. A quiet pasture beside the waters of the river Jordan. It is at a place where the water has collected in a quiet pool. You see a crowd of people there and they are listening to the words of a man called John. One by one the people are being led into the water to be baptized. Into the midst of this pastoral scene comes Jesus. He, too, asks to be baptized. And as he arises from the water, a dove descends over his head, and a voice from heaven is heard saying “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) What a strikingly different picture from the thunder and lightning of Mount Sinai!
What would it be like today if God would speak to his people? How would we experience his voice coming from heaven to speak to us? Would it be a voice of thunder causing fear and dread? Or would it come to us, as with the baptism of Jesus, in a gentle voice of comfort and reassurance? Would we recognize it as the voice of God? Would anyone listen to him? Or are we too busy in our work and our play to have time to listen to God? Are we even too busy in our worship to actually take the time to listen for the voice of God to speak to us? Or do we not even really expect him to speak to us anymore?
If we are to be able to listen when God speaks to us, we will need spiritual ears. We want to learn to listen, and to develop ears that have the spiritual sensitivity to hear what God may be saying to us today. We may learn how we may have such spiritually sensitive hearing from the story of Elijah that we read from the Scriptures today.
I Elijah Learns to Hear God:
I Kings 18 recounts the story of the prophet Elijah and the events on Mount Carmel. Elijah, whose name means The Lord is God, confronts the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, the false gods whose worship was being promoted and encouraged by Queen Jezebel. He presented them with a simple challenge. Build an altar to your god and I will build one to the Lord God, and the god who answers by fire when he is called- he is God!
The 850 prophets prepared their altar, and from morning until the time of the evening sacrifice they called out with increasing desperation to their gods- but there was no answer! Then Elijah prepared his altar and sacrifice. Three times he has the altar and offering soaked with water until there was water filling the trench around it. 1 Kings 18:36-39 tells what happened next:
36At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “O Lord, 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. 37Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” 38Then 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. 39When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord- he is God! The Lord- he is God!”
What a great sign of God’s power! What a miracle to give Elijah a victory that day over the combined powers of the false gods and their many prophets! Yet, when we began our reading of chapter 19, the first thing we read was that Elijah was afraid and ran for his life! Why did he run? It was in reaction to a threat from Queen Jezebel, whose many prophets had just been utterly defeated. Certainly that is not the action of one who has just won a great victory and witnessed a great miracle of God’s power!
Elijah was ready to give up. “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life.” (verse 4) But God had not given up on Elijah just yet. He sent an angel to provide miraculous food and drink so that Elijah had the strength to travel for forty days and forty nights until he reached the mountain of God. There the word of the Lord came to Elijah asking, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied with a complaint. “I’m the only true preacher of the Word of God, yet people seek to kill me instead of being converted!” Elijah expected that great miracle at Mount Carmel to lead to the conversion of all the Israelites, instead he found himself fleeing for his life!
But God wants to teach Elijah how he works and it is not as Elijah expected! Elijah sought God’s judgement on this stubborn and rebellious people for they had “rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword.” This was Elijah’s complaint in verse 10 which he repeats again in verse 14. He wanted God to come to him with signs of judgement upon this sinful and rebellious people.
And at first it does seem as if God is coming with signs of judgement! The first sign is that of a great and powerful wind. Such a sign has been given elsewhere in the Old Testament as a clear sign of God’s judgement. In Isaiah 59:19 we read, “he will come like a pent up flood that the breath of the Lord drives along.” Here breath or wind is used for judgement upon God’s people. But we read that for Elijah, “the Lord was not in the wind.”
The second sign given is that of an earthquake. This also was a sign of judgement, as in the story of Numbers 16:31,32 where Korah, Dathan and Abiram were swallowed up by an earthquake after their rebellion against Moses and God. Yet again, “the Lord was not in the earthquake.”
The third sign is an even more powerful sign of judgement: fire. After the great flood, we read that the earth is reserved for judgement by fire! The cities Sodom and Gomorrah were judged by fire from heaven. And in Leviticus 10 Aaron’s sons were judged by fire when they brought unauthorized fire before the Lord Finally there was the example still fresh in Elijah’s mind of the fire that came down from Heaven at Mount Carmel to consume the one sacrifice that was dedicated to the Lord and to bring judgement on the worshippers of the false gods Baal and Asherah.
Elijah hoped that God would speak to him through one of these ‘signs of judgement’! He felt God’s people needed such a swift judgement to bring them to repentance. He wanted a mighty and powerful sign from God to make them listen! But, if the people of Israel rejected the sign of the miracle of Mount Carmel, they would reject other signs too! So, once again, we read that “the Lord was not in the fire.”
Instead, God came to Elijah in a ‘gentle whisper.’ His answer was given in accordance with Zechariah 4:6 “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.” God intended to bring salvation to his people, not destruction! The sign of the ‘gentle whisper’ given to Elijah seemed to be a sign of weakness over against the previous three signs of power. But it is this sign which points to the Cross, a sign of weakness to mankind, but the power of God unto salvation for all who will hear the true message of God’s love and grace which are coming to them through this sign!
Elijah needed to learn that God’s message to his people is not according to the ways approved by worldly wisdom. Such a way would seek punishment for this rebellious and sinful people. Rather, God’s way is the way of love, service, and sacrifice which are shown in the example of the loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He who gave his life in order to save his people even when they were still in a state of sinful rebellion against God. The world cannot understand God’s way. They always look for displays of mighty power. They want to hear the voice of God in thunder and lightning coming from the sky. When God came among us in the person of Jesus Christ, many who were expecting the Messiah rejected Jesus because they were looking for a king and conqueror who would throw out the Roman armies. But God chose to reveal his love and grace through the ‘gentle whisper’ of the quiet teachings of Jesus.
In learning to hear God’s voice and to receive God’s message, Elijah had to learn to see things in accordance with God’s way. And that is not the way of punishment and judgement, but the way of grace and salvation. And today, too, if we truly want to hear the voice of God to guide our lives, we must begin by looking to Jesus Christ and to his example of love and service. Through his acts of apparent weakness, he showed us the real power of God. Are we listening for his voice and direction today?
II We Must Learn to Hear God Today:
Today people of the world still expect that if God would speak it would be through thunder and lightning, or at least through miraculous deeds or signs of wonder. They demand ‘miraculous signs’ to prove that God is powerful and active. Even many Christians want to see miracles to be convinced that God is real! They ask God to perform miracles for them to make their lives easier, more comfortable, or longer.
But God says, “I have already shown my greatest love through the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. If you don’t heed that sign, other miracles won’t help you to accept me.” If we do not learn to listen to what God is saying to us through Jesus Christ- his life and work, we will never learn to hear him at all.
Why is it that so many people today do not see the significance of the coming of Jesus Christ? He came to bring us God’s greatest gift, the gift of salvation. And he willingly gave his own life in service to that task. What must God think when people refuse to recognize that sign of God’s love and accept its meaning for their own lives? Hebrews 2:3 poses the question:
“How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit..”
That the world ignores or rejects this work of God is understandable, but, sadly, many who are called Christians, are judged as ‘lukewarm’ by Jesus himself in Revelation 3:15,16. There he says,
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm- neither hot nor cold- I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
These people act as if the sacrifice of Jesus has no consequence in their lives! When the Pharisees sought a sign, Jesus pointed to the story of the prophet Jonah and the three days he was in the belly of the fish. He condemned the pharisees for ignoring this great sign, which pointed to his coming and his work. Here in the words of Jesus, we hear the voice of God coming to us. It is speaking to us today, not first of all about judgement, but about the great gift of salvation. Only those who gladly accept this gift, who live in reliance on the faithful work of our Saviour. Who accept the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross of cavalry as being for them, personally. Only they have truly heard the voice of God speaking to them of love and salvation and service.
Today we have so many more clear signs of the work of Jesus Christ for our salvation. We have the historical reality of the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. We have the testimony of many witnesses to his ascension on the clouds of heaven into glory. We also have the evidence of the events of Pentecost, where two of those ‘signs of judgement’, wind and fire, became signs of the fulfilment of God promise to bring his grace to all people through his Holy Spirit.
But, like Elijah, some Christians want to see the more powerful & spectacular gifts of the Holy Spirit. They want the Holy Spirit to come in judgement on all those who don’t measure up to their standards. If we don’t speak in tongues, perform miracles, worship in certain ways, etc... they feel that we have missed the power of God. They are so busy looking for the ‘wind’, ‘earthquake’ and ‘fire’ of the Holy Spirit, that they miss the ‘gentle whisper’ of God in the quiet works of the Holy Spirit done in actions of service, unnoticed and unrewarded in our midst. In the cup of cold water given in God’s name, in a financial gift to help a needy neighbour, in sharing and reaching out to someone in need!
Today, God may speak to us through some mighty miracle, through thunder and storm, through turbulent times and political events that shake the world. Or he may speak to us in quiet words and works of brotherly love. Such words arise when we have personally heard the voice of God speaking his salvation into our hearts and minds. Such works reflect the example of loving sacrifice shown to us by our Lord.
The disciples left that Upper Room empowered by the Spirit to spread the good news of God’s great love and grace. They went out, in obedience to God’s voice, to share that love in words and deeds of love and kindness. They obeyed the Spirit as they went out to heal the sick, to help the poor, to visit those in prison and to give aid to all those who are “the least of these brothers of mine” according to the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:41.
Sometimes we are so busy with our own concerns that we cannot hear God’s voice: the noise of our problems and our works block him out! No doubt our concerns, like Elijah’s are good ones. After all, we are concerned for the well being of God’s Church. Yet, we must learn to lay aside our own concerns, and our own expectations and to quiet our souls so that we may hear the ‘gentle whisper’ of God as he speaks to us today. We must learn to hear God in the quiet and gentle works of Christian love and mercy. We must learn to listen to the Spirit of God at work in us and around us in the quiet deeds of sacrificial love.
Notice that in our Scripture reading, it is not until after Elijah had heard God in the ‘gentle whisper’ that God gives him his assigned task. First he must go and anoint Hazael as king over Aram and Jehu as king over Israel and through these kings God will bring his righteous judgements upon those who sin and rebel against him. Then he must also anoint Elisha to succeed him as prophet. Through Elisha God will pronounce his judgement upon his people, but he will also provide for those who have remained faithful to God, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel- all whose knees have not bowed to Baal.” (verses 15-17). In this way God is telling Elijah not to worry about God’s people, for he will look after those who remain faithful to him.
Elijah had been concerned about God’s people, about their lack of response & repentance. We may worry about that today too, but God’s response to Elijah also holds for us: “I will look after my people” (verse18). To us, today, God gives the same message. We are called to faithful service in our daily lives, fulfilling the work & mission he has given us. We must work in quiet ways behind the scenes doing God’s work with sacrificial devotion to his will and his way.
We have God’s promise that he will bring judgment upon those who deserve it in his own way and his own time, and not according to our demands. And we have his promise that he will preserve a faithful remnant in every time and place. Those who will not serve the gods of this world. Those who will tune their hearts and their ears to hear the gentle whispers of the Holy Spirit urging us onward in our faithful service to God in our daily work.
May God find us all eager to hear his words and commands, eager to obey and to serve him in big ways or small ways. May we all truly learn to listen to the gentle whisper of our God as it comes to us today. Amen