In a recent post we saw how the writer of Kings gives us reasons to hope when the future looks bleak for God’s people – as it did for his readers and as it does in Europe today. The first reason is that God’s word certain. But there is a second reason: God’s word brings life Not only does God rules through his word. His word brings life from death.
In 1 Kings 17 we’re first introduced to one of the great figures of the Bible story, the Prophet Elijah. In chapter 17 he arrives, tells King Ahab there’s going to be no rain, and then promptly disappears (17:1).
We discover he’s gone to Zarephath which is a wacky move because that’s in Sidon. Israel is in trouble because Jezebel has arrived from Sidon. And now here is God’s prophet finding refuge with a widow in Sidon! It’s a sign that God’s rules not just in Israel, but among Israel’s enemies.
Elijah meets a widow who thinks she is about to die: ‘I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it – and die.’ (17:12) But out of this death God provides for Elijah and the widow in Sidon through a jar of flour and a jug of oil that never run out.
Then the widow’s son dies. So Elijah places the boy on his bed and stretches himself out on top of the boy three times. He cries out to God and the boy comes back to life.
Look at how the story concludes in 17:24: ‘Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth.”’ She links this resurrection to God’s word. The resurrection of her son is a sign that God’s word is true and powerful and life-giving.
Her complaint to Elijah in 17:18 is significant: ‘Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?’ Remember the nation of Israel is described as God’s firstborn son. In 18:17 Ahab calls Elijah ‘you troubler of Israel’. Has Elijah has come to remind God’s people of their sin and predict their death?
The answer is Yes. God’s word of judgment is certain. God’s people will die for their sin.
But God’s word also brings life from death.
To the readers of the book of Kings it seemed as if the nation had died and all all hope was gone. But Elijah had stretched himself out three times over a dead boy and he lived again.
To the disciples on the road to Emmaus it seemed Jesus was dead and all hope was gone. But Jesus had risen and was walking alongside them. Hope was reborn.
To any on-looker Tim Chester was dead in his sins. But Jesus has stretched himself out on the cross. For three days he was dead. But now he has risen and I have risen with him.
God’s word brings life because the word is Jesus and Jesus has risen.
The people of God die with Jesus. When Jesus breathes his last there is no-one left, no people of God. But on the third day he rose again. And we rise with him.
That is what is enacted in baptism. When you put your faith in Christ you’re united to him. So you’ve died with Christ. He’s taken the penalty of death you deserve. And you’ve risen with Christ to new life, eternal life. What happened at Zarephath when Elijah raised the widow’s son, what happened in a Jerusalem tomb when God raised Jesus, is re-enacted in baptism. God brings life from death through Jesus
And Jesus sets the pattern for his church. Time and again throughout her history the church has appeared to die only to be reborn with new life and energy. The historian David Edwards writes:
Unexpected events and movements occur in the history of Christians. The strength of Anglo-Saxon Christianity could not be predicted when Roman Britain was invaded by pagans [and it seemed Christianity would disappear]. The almost total success of the medieval Church could not be predicted when the Anglo-Saxons were conquered by the Normans. The Protestant transformation of England could not be predicted at the beginning of the sixteenth century, nor the vigour of the Victorian Churches during most of the eighteenth. It is therefore possible that, in the future, groups or individuals from whom no great things were expected in the twentieth century will be honoured as the heralds of a renewal and revival [of Christianity in Britain]. (David L. Edwards, A Concise History of English Christianity, Fount, 1998, 165.)
- What do we do in the meantime? We proclaim God’s word and we don’t give up hope.
- What do we do when people refuse to listen? We proclaim God’s word and we don’t give up hope.
- What do we do on when progress in your ministry is slow? We proclaim God’s word and we don’t give up hope.
- What do we do when friends give up their faith? We proclaim God’s word and we don’t give up hope.
Just as in the time of Elijah, Christ now rules through his word.
And, just as in the time of Elijah, Christ brings life to the dead.