Psalm 134; 1 Kings 18; John 18:25-40

Psalm 134: This short psalm is a perfect benediction at the end of worship. We stand and “Lift up [our] hands toward the holy place and bless the LORD” as we remember the the manifest ways in which God has blessed and enriched our lives. No matter the the trials that come our way, God’s blessings are always far greater. Our natural response therefore is utter those words consciously and prayerfully:  bless the Lord.

And then there is a beautiful symmetry as the worship leader asks God to continue to be at the center of our lives and to continue to bless us: “May the LORD bless you from Zion” as we recall that as Creator, “He Who makes heaven and earth,” is the source of all life, and all that we are able to enjoy in our lives. Even in the difficult times, we bless the Lord.

1 Kings 18: After Elijah has gone to Zarepath during the famine that God has brought upon the earth because of Ahab’s wickedness, lived with the widow and her son and the never-ending source of meal and oil, and then raised her son–a remarkable foretaste of Lazarus and even Jesus’ resurrection, God calls Elijah to return and confront Ahab. The prophet Obiadiah (who is faithful to God and has already successfully hidden a hundred prophets from Jezebel, who is “killing off the prophets of the Lord.”) and Ahab have headed out in search of water and grass. Obidiah encounters Elijah who asks Obidiah to bring Ahab to him. Obidiah is understandably wary, afraid that Elijah will disappear again and that Ahab would take out his anger on him. Elijah promises to not disappear, Obdiah does as Elijah asks, and Ahab comes to him.

Ahab calls Elijah “the troubler of Israel,” but Elijah makes it clear the king himself is the problem, telling the king, ““I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals.” (18).

So the famous duel of the gods takes place as Elijah challenges the 400 prophets of Baal. Elijah’s mockery of the Baal prophets is biting: “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” (27) Then the false prophets cut themselves  “until blood gushed out over them” (28) But still nothing.

To prove his point and the power of God, Elijah commands that his altar be drenched with water three times in a kind of baptism. Elijah prays and “the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench.” (38)

So, what do we learn in this standoff between the God and Baal? Yes, God is powerful, but I think the real lesson is the bold, unquenchable faith of Elijah. Would I be willing to stand in front of 450 men who hold the power and assert that my God is more powerful than theirs? This is a reminder of how we are to carry God’s word courageously and forthrightly into the darkest, most hostile place and be a witness to His saving power. But am I as courageous as Elijah? Unfortunately, I know my own history here.

John 18:25-40: Standing around the charcoal fire, Peter denies Jesus as John gives us the interesting information that the third questioner is “a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off” (26) As Peter denies it, the cock crows. But unlike in the synoptics, John does not tell us Peter’s reaction. He trusts us, his listeners and readers, to figure that out for ourselves.

Questioning Jesus, Pilate asks the question of the ages, “What is truth?” Obviously, he’s asking in a philosophical vein, but I think John puts this question here to remind us that Truth is standing in front of him. We cannot read Pilate’s three words without remembering that earlier that same night, Jesus has said I am the way, the truth and the life. In the events to follow, Pilate’s question will be answered for all time.

Pilate, the very picture of the rational, philosophical man, points out that he can release someone “for you at Passover,” and logically thinks Jesus will be this guy. But the crowd does not reply rationally and philosophically. As John tells us, the “shouted in reply, Barabbas!” The events surrounding Jesus and his impending crucifixion are far from rational and philosophical. Larger forces have now taken over events from mere men–be they cooly rational or angrily bent on protecting the status quo.

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