Elijah & The Prophets of Baal

Text: 1 Kings 18:17-40
Date: Sunday August 20, 2023


A  Opening: Counterfeit Christians: I was having a conversation recently with a friend who doesn’t believe in Christ, in fact who is quite hostile to Christ. Yet God has opened up sweet conversation. My friend made a point, as an outsider looking in on Christianity. He said, “Why do so many Christians that I have met seem so different than Jesus?” Now that is a great question. And I think there are two answers. First is that, as a nonbeliever, he may have a very skewed understanding of what a true Christian is, in fact I know he does. And so, some definition around ‘What is a true believer,’ is very important. But secondly, I think he has truly encountered many counterfeit Christians. Christians by title, but not by the new birth.

B  Personal: Do you know what a true Christian is? Are you a true Christian? Are you a counterfeit Christian?

C  The Backstory: Today, we continue our series titled ‘Great Stories’ by looking at the story of the great showdown on Mount Carmel, when the prophet Elijah, who lived over six hundred years before Christ, challenged the prophets of Baal (a false god) to a showdown to prove who was truly God. This took place during the years of King Ahab and his wicked Queen Jezebel. Ahab and Jezebel, though they charged with ruling over God’s people, had abandoned God and led the entire nation into idolatry. God sent the prophet Elijah to confront Ahab.

~Read the text~

Meaning & Application


A Description:  Let us begin with the prophets of Baal. In this story we saw that there was a group that was not only opposed vehemently to the God of the Bible, but they were actively worshiping and promoting another God. They were utterly convinced in their minds that their god would be there for them in their moment of need. They cried out to him. They poured their blood out to him. They were truly zealous in their beliefs. But we are told,

1 Kings 18:29 ESV And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention. 

They did not know it, but they were on a path that ultimately led to their death. Judgment was just around the corner, and it was not for any lack of zeal.  It was because the one true and living God was watching their every move, and would soon hold judgment over their lives.

Modern Religious Prophets of Baal: Who is the Prophet of Baal today? There are certainly those loud and public anti-Christ voices in society. One thinks of characters like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris or Bill Maher, who have made quite public professions of ridiculing God. But the prophets of Baal represent a larger group than that. They represent anybody who has chosen to reject Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Why is that? Keep in mind, Baal was pretty much the only alternative to God in the region. They saw God, they saw the other option, they chose the other option.

Many Forms Today: This can come in many forms. 

False Religion: Like these prophets of Baal, it can come in the form of false religion, believing God to be someone or something other than who He has revealed Himself to be in the Scriptures. To worship Allah as God is to worship a false god who is not there. To believe in Buddha or Krishna is to be in the position of the Prophets Baal. To practice Mormonism or to be a Jehovah’s Witness is to be a Prophet of Baal. 

Atheism & Agnosticism: Of course in our day, many popular faiths are not in false gods but rather in no god at all. Atheists, who say there is no god, and agnostics who claim they don’t know if there is a god, are in the same position as these prophets of Baal. They have rejected the one true and living God, and God will hold them accountable.

Zeal is Not the Issue: I want you to notice these prophets how sincere they were. They really believed that their god was going to show up. They raved, and limped around, and cut themselves. They were true believers in their gods. Their issue was not a lack of religious fervor, their issue was that they were denying the one true and living God.

But You Say: But I can hear what some might be saying right now. Ah, but God would not judge me so harshly. I have not been so wicked as to deserve death. I am a friendly person, a rational person. Certainly there are others who have done evil far greater than me. No my friend, your very question reveals your guilt. Your very question reveals your hostility to the one true and living God.  Don’t you see, we are not free to reimagine God in any way we please, for that is simply to make God in our own image. No, God has made us in his image. And he is holy, and just, and righteous, and infinitely wonderful. And the Scriptures say, he will not be mocked by false worship.

Psalm 2:12 “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”  

No One Was There: Of course, the great problem with every false religion and false worldview is just what the false prophets discovered. When they needed their god most, when all seemed lost, when they were raving for help, no one was there. I can tell you I have personally experienced what it is like to know the emptiness of disregarding God. I don’t wish that on anyone.

My Own Emptiness: When I was seventeen years old, I was on a hellish path. My evenings with my friends were consisting of more and more debauchery. In the evenings I would come home feeling both guilty (for I sensed in my inner being that what I was doing was wrong), and empty (for I knew God existed but there was nothing real about him in my life). On one of those nights, I got honest enough to bow on my knees at the foot my bed, and speak to a God I did not know. “God if you’re there, help me. This feels empty. But I know I cannot stop.” The Lord in his overwhelming mercy sent a messenger who introduced me to Christ within one week of that fateful evening.

You Must Come to the End of Yourself: If you are in this room today, and you have never believed on Christ, I want to offer him to you today. He stands ready to receive any and all who will call on his name. Jesus went to the cross to forgive us fully of every sin. He stands ready to forgive you today, if you will determine in your soul to worship and him alone. To follow in his footsteps. To make him Lord of your life. But do not make the mistake that so many make. The great Thomas Boston spoke of the heart of one who is rebellious to God this way,  “The heart of stone within you is a sinking weight. As a stone naturally goes downward, so the hard stony heart tends downward to the bottomless pit. You are hardened against reproof; though you are told your danger, yet you will not see it, you will not believe it.” Oh but you must believe it? Today, if you will, believe it. Cast yourself upon Christ. Cast yourself upon Christ with a reckless abandon. See him before you like a child waking up on Christmas morning, running to the pile of presents under the tree, filled with an eager anticipation of what the day will hold. Yes, we are to have a childlike faith.


The second group we come across in our text is the Limpers of Israel. These were men and women who were Israelites. They knew the stories of God, the promises of God. To one degree or another they had tasted of God. Yet they had lived underneath Ahab and Jezebel in a degraded society for so long that they didn’t know who they were anymore. Baal worship had crept into their life. They had one foot in and one foot out, and the determining factor was the court of public opinion. They were nominal believers.

A  Nominal Christian: The Church today is full of limpers, nominal Christians who attend Church, take the title ‘Christian’ but who truly are unsaved. Jesus taught us in John 3 that,

John 3:3 ESV Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 

But we live in a place in which cultural Christianity has become so normalized that many people are walking around assuming they are Christians when they have never been born again. Perhaps they prayed a prayer one day, “Forgive me for my sin Jesus.” One simple prayer does not make a man a Christian. Perhaps they became members in the Church. Membership in a Church does not make a Christian. Perhaps they were baptized. Baptism does not make a Christian. We must be born again.

B  Marks of a Limper: Permit me to lay out for you a diagnostic of a limper. The following five signs are common among limpers, nominal Christians.

No Hatred of Sin: A limper takes the title Christian but has no real hatred of their sin. No real concern for their own wickedness, and the assault that their sin is upon an infinitely holy God. Thomas Boston said it this way

“Does your offending a good God affect your heart with sorrow, and do you fear sin more than suffering?” A limper goes many days without every thinking of their sin, or being concerned of how their sin is an affront to God.

Thomas Boston

No Affection For God: Limpers have no real zeal or affection for God. Jesus may be a part of their vocabulary, but he is not a part of their heart’s desires. They don’t think about Him and cherish Him. When they do think on God, their thoughts are often stuffy, and boring, and underwhelming. Friends, one cannot be saved from their sin by an infinitely beautiful and compassionate savior who knows their soul, and be left with little affection for God.

No Bible: Limpers have very little interaction with the Bible throughout the week. There is no longing to know God’s Word, and treasure it in their heart. There is no hunger to conform one’s life to God’s Word. That’s something the Pastor does for me when I go to Church. 

No Joy in Prayer: Limpers call themselves Christians but have very little prayer life. Prayer, as long as they can remember is more of a burden than a joy. Prayer is more of an activity that must be done, but its never been something that gives life, something to be depended on. Limpers have no prayer closet. Though they bow their heads in Church on Sunday when the prayers are prayed, it is a foreign experience to them every time, because there is no real relationship with God through Christ.

Over Familiarity with the World: Lastly, limpers call themselves Christians but they have an overfamiliarity with the world around them. Their great desires are pretty much the same as every other nonbeliever around them. There is no eternal perspective. They laugh at the world’s jokes, enjoy the world’s entertainment.

C  Illustration: My Own Story: Again I’ll return to my own story. A few years after that fateful prayer of mine, I found myself in a Bible Study with a group of men in college. At the time I had one foot in Christ, I was learning so much and tasting so much. But I had one foot still firmly planted in the world, and I did not want to give up certain aspects of that life. I recall one evening in a Bible study describing my life this way to the men, “I feel like I am on the edge of a cliff. I know that to jump off the cliff is to experience the greatest joy and satisfaction I could ever imagine. God is calling me. It would be to float in the arms of God. But I have this one finger that is still holding on to the cliff face, and won’t let go. I don’t even know why, but I just can’t let go of it fully.

D  Is That You Today?: Is that you today? Have you been limping in a no man’s land of Christianity, including enough of Jesus culture into your rhythms to fool those around you, to fool me, but having no real relationship with God, no hunger for God in your soul, no power of God in your life?

E  Action: Friends, if that is you today, hear the words of Elijah.

1 Kings 18:21 ESV And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” 

And the people did not answer him a word. Perhaps you are in here today saying, “I want that, but I don’t know how to change.” Friend you cannot change out of  your own effort. If you have been limping for far too long, with one foot in the world that is passing away, and another holding onto Christ. Choose Christ. You must come to the end of yourself. You must truly behold his glorious law, and see the eternal condemnation that is rightly due you if you continue in your way. You must hate your sin. Above all you must hate your sin not just for the consequences of sin upon yourself, but because you have beheld God in all his glory, and you perceive in your heart that every sin, every wayward thought, is an affront to the glory of our God. And from that place of truly believing your own condemnation under the law, you then will see the free offer of grace made to you in the Gospel. That Jesus will forgive it all. He will have you as his own if you will stop limping, and choose Christ.

1 Kings 18:39 ESV And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.”

III  THE PROPHET OF GOD Lastly we have Elijah, the prophet of God. Elijah for us represents the true Christian. Flawed as that Christian may be. Weak at times as he may feel. Doubtful at times. Backsliding at times. Yet, in his soul, marvelously faithful to Christ. I’d like to show you five aspects of the true believer that we discover in Elijah from this passage.

A  Troubler of Israel: First, the true believer at times will feel misunderstood and all alone. This should not be a surprise, nevertheless at times it feels difficult. Remember that Jesus said,

Matthew 7:13–14 ESV “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. 

In our story, the King calls Ahab “you troubler of Israel.” Because he stood for truth. Because, like Mordecai from Esther’s story, he would not bow to the demands of the mob, he was considered a troubler. Christian take comfort, there will be times in your faithfulness that those around you will misunderstand you, will label you, will think you out of your mind, part of the problem. There will be times when the easier thing to do will be to cave to the mob. Oh, take comfort in those precious words of our King

John 16:33 ESV I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” 

B  True Dependence on God in Prayer: Second, Elijah, like all true believers, was marked by a dependence in prayer. Look at him in his hour of need.

1 Kings 18:37 ESV Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 

A Christian is a person who has discovered the sweetness of their Savior. They have tasted of the glories of what heaven will be through their relationship with Jesus here and now. True Christians regularly flee away to prayer, to commune with God. Yes, prayer is a muscle that we develop over time. We strengthen it, as we work it, and as we watch our provider, provide through prayer. Yet, if there is a mustard seed of faith, then there will be a steady flow of dependent prayer in that person’s life. And they will be able to look back and confidently say, “God has worked through those prayers.”

C  Desire to See God Magnified: Third, a desire to see God magnified. See Elijah’s words in verse 36.

1 Kings 18:36 ESV And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 

This reminds me of John the Baptist’s language, “Less of me Christ, more of you!” Even when a Christian is used mightily by God in some way, to love the least of these, to care for those in need, to join in leading others to Christ, they’re posture is one of ‘God gets all the glory.’ There is a regular sense that they must become less that He might become more.

Illustration: The Matics: I want to highlight one family from our Church, Travis and Katherine Matics, who exemplify this characteristic. Everywhere I turn, this family, is humbly, secretly, and powerfully serving others. Even my own family this week, bringing me to tears with kindness. And all of that, as they have endured their own hardships. Whenever I meet with Travis, I go into the meeting thinking, “I want him to leave encouraged.” And I always come out feeling that God used him to encourage me far more than I encouraged him. Oh, what a brother, what a saint. 

D  Experiential Comfort From God: There are many more marks of a true believer than this, but from our text today, I want to draw out one more. I’ve saved this for last, because frankly it is one that God has most revealed to me over the last few years especially. True Christians have an experiential knowledge of the Comfort of God. Elijah lived a difficult life. In fact the very next chapter begins with Elijah fleeing for his life. But throughout his life he had these moments where God showed up in extraordinary ways. I imagine that after this incident, Elijah was never the same. He could always look back, no matter how hard his path got, and say with confidence, “I’ve seen my God’s power. I’ve seen my God answer prayers. I know he is there. I know he loves me.”

E  Gospel:  Christ Was Forsaken: O Christian, our God loves to comfort the afflicted. He loves to meet you in your most difficult trials and whisper in your ear, “I am here. I am with you.” There is no pain you will ever go through that Christ is not intimately familiar with. On the cross, he experienced the full weight of hell bearing down on him. “My God My God Why have you forsaken me?” was his cry. He was forsaken so that you would never have to say those same words. And so in your hardship you can cry, “My God My God, how you comfort me. How you are with me. How you know my intimate thoughts, and in some divine miraculous gift of mercy, you comfort me.” Yes, the Christian can say this.


False Prophets. Limpers. And True Believers. Whoever you have been before you came in this room today, do not leave without believing in Christ. Do not leave without responding like those Israelites who fell on their faces and cried out,

1 Kings 18:39 ESV And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” 

There is no shame in confessing sin. The Bible says that when a soul truly believes in Christ, truly turns from sin, the angels in heaven erupt in great celebration! Believe in Christ! 

Transition to Prayer and Worship: As we close our service the worship band is going to lead us in two more songs. And I’d like to make this a space to truly respond as you need to respond. Specifically, if today you have realized that you have been limping along, and that you no longer want to do that, I want to invite you to respond very directly. Our deacons will be lined up in the back of the room. We want to invite you in this time, to come forward, to let them pray with you, today. Do not wait to another day. Do not let that stony heart sink further and further into the abyss. Respond now, while the Spirit is moving. Let our deacons pray with you.


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