Great expectations

Sermon: Sunday, 30th July, 2023
Speaker: Geoff Murray
Scripture: 1 Kings 18:41-46

There are certain moments in life where you’re not really sure what to expect and then there are times where you know exactly what to expect. In our passage today, we see the Lord sends rain on Israel which had experienced drought, yet before the rain comes, Elijah is expecting it. He didn’t have a smart phone to tell him what the weather was going to be. So how did he know to expect it? What was it that made him expect rain to come after such a long period of drought?

Well, ultimately because promises God had made to his people in the book of Deuteronomy. God is in many senses unpredictable, there are so many strange and challenging things that happen which catch us off guard, but in another sense God is totally predictable. We know what to expect with God. If God has promised something, we know that he will be true to his word and that we can expect him to follow through on his promise.

1. Expectant Elijah

There had been drought in Israel because Israel turned their backs on the Lord to follow a false god called Baal. And last week, we saw that many turned back to the Lord. So we’re really in the immediate aftermath of that in this passage. In 1 Kings 17 Elijah predicts a drought and I don’t think it’s because of our mystical notion of prophets being able to magically tell the future, I think its deeply rooted in the Old Testament law. There was a drought and the law of God tells us why.

In Deuteronomy 28, after God has given his law to his people, he gives two long lists. The first list is: here are the blessings you will enjoy if you obey my law and the second list is: here are the challenges you will face if you disobey my law.

Deuteronomy 28:22-24 – if you will not obey the Lord, no rain, drought.
Deuteronomy 28:12 – If you obey, rain, fruitfulness.

The people of Israel, as I said last week, turned from the Lord to follow Baal and so the consequence is drought. But in the last episode at Carmel they turned back to the Lord therefore they can expect rain to fall and fruitfulness in the land to follow.

So for me it makes perfect sense that what Elijah is doing here when he sends his servant up 7 times to the same spot is he is expecting that God will send rain like he promises when Israel turn back to him. In many ways, you see him sending up his servant 6 times and nothing happens and you think, ‘That’s totally bizarre!’ Elijah is pleading with God in prayer for rain, whats going on?

He is pleading the promises of God. We read Deuteronomy 28 and part of this covenant, this promise of God committing himself to his people and his people committing themselves to him is what is written in Deuteronomy 28, this is what happens when the covenant is going well, and this is what happens when you break covenant with me.

This is not God saying, ‘If you obey me, I accept you. If you disobey I reject you.’ It could never be because Israel were never accepted based on what they did in the first place. But God is saying that there are consequences in life when you don’t walk in his ways because his ways are for your good and flourishing, walking away from me is the opposite!

So Elijah prayed for rain to stop because of Israel’s disobedience, and he prayed for rain when Israel obeyed. He isn’t doing anything weird or strange but he is pleading God’s promises.

God pledged himself to this, he said there would be no rain if Israel turned away and there would be rain if Israel turned back. And so, by faith, Elijah is saying, ‘God you promised this, act according to your word.’ And both times he did, and every time he does. There’s the old saying ‘God can do anything’, he can, but one thing he can’t is go against his character and his character is to be true to his word. If God makes a promise, he will keep it. If God says he will do it, he will do it.

So what do we see here? Verse 44, the servant at the seventh time of trying goes up and sees a cloud which looks like a man’s hand rising from the sea. This is followed in verse 45 by the description of great black clouds filling the sky and then a great outpouring of rain.

Israel disobeyed and the turned from the Lord and the rain stopped. Israel returned and rain falls. This is no coincidence, this didn’t happen simply and only because Elijah was expecting it, it happened because those were the terms of God’s covenant commitment to his people and God, being true, followed through.

2. Expectant Prayer

Sometimes God’s answers to our prayers are ‘Yes’ and sometimes ‘No’. But we can guarantee, we can be certain, we can expect that when we pray in line with God’s promises, he will answer, ‘Yes”. God has promised it! It might be quite a quick and sudden ‘Yes’ like at Mount Carmel, it might be a persistent and patient time of praying before the ‘Yes’ comes like we have in our passage today, but ‘Yes’ will come.

You can pray:
• If you’re feeling weighed down by life – ‘Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you.’ (Psalm 55:22)
• When you are repenting of sin – ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’ (Jeremiah 31:34)
• When we’re feeling discouraged at our lack of progress in the faith – ‘He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 1:6)
• If we are not a Christian but want to trust in Jesus – ‘All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.’ (John 6:37)

These are a number of promises from the Bible we can pray and we can pray with utter expectancy that God will come through with. It’s not like a prayer to feel better which might be answered or not, but its praying things that God has specifically promised.

God has promised, he will fulfil it. Therefore we can be down on our knees like Elijah, praying, trusting, pleading with God to be true to his word and he will do as he has promised. He can be trusted, God is true, he does not lie. If he says he will do something, he does it. If he promises to sustain, he will sustain. If he promises to forgive the repentant, he will forgive. If he promises to complete the good work that he started in you, he will complete. With God and his promises, there are no ‘ifs, buts or maybes’. But rather, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1, ‘For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.’ (2 Corinthians 1:20) Therefore pray to God, call out to him in prayer with his promises that he might fulfil them to the glory of his name.

3. Expectant Living

Now how do we make sense of this passage in light of the cross of Jesus and the words of the New Testament? How do we understand God doing good and blessing when his people are faithful and doing harm when his people are unfaithful? As I said, it’s not the case that God is saying, ‘If you obey me, I’ll accept you, if you disobey, I’ll reject you.’

Christ became the curse of the law by dying on a cross. He took on the punishment, the guilt that our wrongdoing and our sin incurred. He took it all. Meaning that the curses are not endured by us because Christ endured them on the cross. However, it’s not to say there isn’t some overlap.

And the overlap as I understand it is that there are still consequences for sin.

In our relationship with the Lord
What I mean by this is that when we sin against the Lord, our relationship with the Lord, the fellowship we enjoy with him can be hurt. Just like in any relationship where we hurt the other person or do wrong to them it can harm the relationship.

It doesn’t mean that wrong isn’t forgiven, it doesn’t mean that the person holds it against you, but it has marred and scarred the relationship. It can be the same with God that when we sin, even confessed sin, even forgiven sin can mean difficulties in our relationship with the Lord. It doesn’t mean the Lord gives up on us, leaves us behind, doesn’t forgive us, he does. But it’s to say that this can create difficulties in us connecting with the Lord.

If you’re not following on the path of obedience, you can’t expect to enjoy the fulness of God. Of course when we live in obedience, however imperfectly, there is that joy of fellowship with him. So, when we walk in a path of disobedience it does damage and bring harm to our relationship with the Lord.

What about externally? When hard times come. What is that? Well, sometimes the Lord brings hard things to our lives to discipline us because we have gone astray.

Hebrews says, ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.’ (Hebrews 12:5-6)

When life is going easy and well, when life is all as it should be, its easy to forget God, its easy to put him aside, but when hard times come, that’s when we know we need to rely on the Lord! So looking at this in its entirety, though we may fall on hard times and it may be because the Lord is bringing us discipline for our disobedience, though not necessarily. The bottom line is that the curse ultimately fell on Christ on the cross.

But what does Deuteronomy 28 and this story of a three year drought followed by rain have to say to us? It says we can live expecting God to be true to his word in regard to today and the future.

He will judge those who do not turn to him
when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,
This is God’s commitment, for all who do not know him, who do not trust in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for acceptance with God, they will experience eternal judgement and damnation. (See 2 Thessalonians 1:7–9)

He will save us when we put our trust in Christ

‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16)

If we believe in Jesus Christ as our saviour who took the punishment for our wrongdoing and sin, we know, we can be certain that we will be saved from perishing from judgement. And so if you’re here and you aren’t a believer in the Lord Jesus, those are your options lying before you. Ignore Jesus, reject Jesus and you will experience eternal judgement for your sins. Accept Jesus, embrace Jesus and you will be saved.

You know exactly what to expect on this matter whatever way you go, let your way be towards Jesus and not away from him. Amen.