May 20, 2018
Pastor Jeff Struecker
The original Fight of the Century took place in 1971. How many you remember this fight? In 1971, Smokin’ Joe Frazier had a record of 26-0. He had won 23 of those fights by knockout. He was being challenged by Mohammed “The Champ” Ali, who had a record of 31-0 and had won 25 of those fights by knockout. The hype machine started on March 8th, 1971. These two guys were going to fight each other at Madison Square Garden. 25,000 tickets sold out immediately. Everybody wanted to see this fight.
It became the Fight of the Century because you could really say this was the #1 challenger fighting the #1 challenger. Or maybe a better way to describe this fight was, it was the world champion fighting the world champion because technically speaking, in 1971 there were two heavyweight boxing leagues. Joe Frazier was the heavyweight champion of the WBA-WBC boxing league, and Muhammad Ali was the world champion of the Lineal League. And these two guys were fighting world champion against world champion, somebody who had never been defeated against somebody who had never been defeated.
There’s no way to describe the intensity; there’s no way to underestimate the hype about this fight. On March 8th, 1971 at Madison Square Garden, Burt Lancaster, the famous actor/movie producer, was on the microphone, and he said this: “The tension in this room, the tension and the excitement here in Madison Square Garden is monumental.” Sports Illustrated said after this fight was over with, “The thrust of this fight on the public consciousness is incalculable.” In other words, “All of America will be talking about this fight tomorrow.”
The fight went 15 rounds. Back in the day, you got your money’s worth if you paid for tickets to go see a world championship. After 15 rounds, Joe Frazier was declared by unanimous vote the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.
It was the original Fight of the Century.
Now, almost 3,000 years ago, around 850 BC, there was another fight. This fight was one man, you could really say, against the entire nation, and this thing was a very public showdown. This was the Old Testament prophet, Elijah, who was about to challenge all of the prophets in his country of Israel who worshiped a false god.
This became a very public event, and almost 3,000 years ago, the entire nation was impacted by this thing. By the way, there’s a principle that carries on to today about this thing, and that principle is any of us, when you surrender your soul to Jesus Christ, now you’re in a fight, and I’m going to challenge you to make this fight public. In fact, here’s something that I’d like to ask all of us to write down before we even look at this story from 1st Kings 18 today. I want you to be thinking about it this way. Here’s something you can write down and take home with you this week:
A passion for King Jesus will always cause a showdown with sin.
That showdown is probably going to happen in your soul first, but I’m convinced it needs to spread from your soul to eventually the public arena. We’re looking at these epic moments in the Bible where one of the Bible characters risks it all. He bets it all; he goes all in, or she goes all in on her faith, and today the story from the Bible found in 1st Kings chapter 18 is about the prophet Elijah, who is going to have a showdown with sin in a very public way, and all of Israel gets a chance to see this event happening on the side of a mountain when one man goes against an entire group of false prophets.
But I want to challenge you before we even look at the Bible today. Here’s the challenge: Many of you I hope would say, “Jeff, I’m struggling with temptation. I’m doing my best to avoid temptation so that it doesn’t end up leading me into sin, and I’m doing my best. I’m trusting in the Holy Spirit, and I’m trying to honor God and praise the Lord.” But I’m going to ratchet this up for all of us a little bit today. Are you willing to do this in front of other people? Are you willing to show your struggles to others around you? -because it may be the very thing that the Lord uses to impact them greatly.
I. The showdown begins in your soul
That’s what happened around 850 BC in ancient Israel. I’m going to give you a few things to write down as we get ready to look at this story from 1st Kings 18. The first thing is, there’s a showdown that’s going to have to happen, and it begins in your soul. Let me explain what I mean by this phrase. You can’t drive 2 cars at the same time; it’s physically impossible. You also cannot worship two gods at the same time. You can’t allow 2 things to have first place in your soul. It’s spiritually impossible, and that’s what’s about to happen in 1st Kings chapter 18 when Elijah makes this bold risk-it-all challenge in the Old Testament. Here’s the background, verse 17:
1 Kings 18:17-21
When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is that you, the one ruining Israel?” 18 He replied, “I have not ruined Israel, but you and your father’s family have, because you have abandoned the Lord’s commands and followed the Baals. 19 Now summon all Israel to meet me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table.” 20 So Ahab summoned all the Israelites and gathered the prophets at Mount Carmel. 21 Then Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him. But if Baal, follow him.” But the people didn’t answer him a word.
I should probably explain Ahab’s question really quickly. Elijah is public enemy #1 right now. He is the #1 guy on the FBI’s most wanted list, because there’s been a drought. This drought has gone on for 7 years, and in the first year of a drought when your grass dies, you get mad, but in the 6th/7th year of the drought when everything dies (and I’m including the animals are dying because there’s not enough vegetation to feed them), when your friends and neighbors are dying because there’s not enough food and they’re dying of starvation, people are going to get really mad, to the point that they’re ready to kill you.
Ahab, the king of Israel, believes this drought is Elijah’s fault because Elijah prayed, and God stopped sending the rain, but Elijah is going to make it very clear in what he says next, “This isn’t my fault, King Ahab. This is your fault.” Now, you can’t miss the courage that it takes for this Old Testament prophet to look the king in his eyes and to say, “This is your fault. God is passing judgment on our nation because of your wickedness.”
If you don’t know who Jezebel is, that’s Ahab’s wife. She’s the queen, perhaps the most wicked queen in Israel’s history, and she’s part of the reason why this pagan worship has been going on in Israel.
This word translated “waver” means, “How long will you walk on two different crutches?” Imagine somebody trying to use a cane and a crutch at this same time. How long will you try to do both of these things together? You can’t do these two things together. There has to be a showdown, and this showdown is going to become very public in just a few moments.
The challenge for us from the Bible today is, if you have a passion for the Lord Jesus Christ, it’s always going to cause in your soul this wrestle with temptation, this struggle with sin, and if that struggle or that wrestle is not happening, there’s something really wrong with your relationship.
By the way, before we go on, can I just say this to any of you guys? Young guys who may be single, listen to what the Bible is saying today. Don’t marry a woman who does not share your faith, because she very well may be Jezebel and shipwreck your soul if you’re not careful. And for all the single ladies, don’t even open your heart up to a man who doesn’t love Jesus the way you love Jesus, because he very well may destroy your faith in the process. It’s not worth it. Just don’t even go down that road with somebody, because Jezebel and Ahab are responsible for an entire generation of Israel who are now following pagan worship practices, who have picked up the worship of the neighboring countries around them, and they’ve completely abandoned their father’s and their grandfather’s faith.
II. The showdown becomes public
What the Bible describes for us next is, this showdown starts inside you, but eventually it spills out into the public sector. Eventually it’s going to have to become public. People need to see, not just hear, what you believe, and this is the challenge for us. Let me pick up in verse 22 of 1st Kings 18. Now you’ve got the entire nation of Israel at the base of this mountain. You’ve got Elijah squared off against at least 450 false prophets. Maybe there’s 850 there, but here’s what happens:
1 Kings 18:22-25
Then Elijah said to the people, “I am the only remaining prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. 23 Let two bulls be given to us. They are to choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and place it on the wood but not light the fire. I will prepare the other bull and place it on the wood but not light the fire. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The God who answers with fire, he is God.” All the people answered, “That’s fine.” 25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Since you are so numerous, choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first. Then call on the name of your god but don’t light the fire.”
This is a showdown, and this is one of those risk-it-all moments in the Bible. I want you to just imagine what Elijah is doing here. He’s basically saying, “Ok, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re about to draw; we’re about to pull the trigger,” and it is one man (I want you to put yourself in Elijah’s shoes for just a second), this is one man in essence against the entire nation of Israel, because all of them have basically gone over and started following other gods. At least as far as Elijah’s concerned, “I’m the only guy left, and I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll have a showdown. You prepare an offering; I’ll prepare an offering, and whoever’s god answers with fire, that’s the real god.”
Now, you’re saying, “Hey, Elijah was prompted by God to do this.” Yes, he was, and of course Elijah had great faith in God. Yes, he did, but let me remind you, if one of those false prophets is hiding behind the altar and lights some leaves on fire and some smoke starts to come up, Elijah is a dead man, and he knows that. So, this is great faith, but it’s also great faith that’s being put on display for the world to see.
I want to challenge you. You may feel like, “I’m the only person at work, Jeff. Nobody I work with shares my faith.” Maybe you feel like, “In my philosophy class, everyone believes what that moron philosophy professor teaches. I’m the only one who doesn’t believe it.” And you know what? Maybe you are…but perhaps you’re not. And maybe if you would be willing to stand up and to speak out about your faith, you’ll find that there’s another co-worker who’s been sitting on their faith and not speaking out about it, and when you stand up and speak out, they get encouraged and they reach out to you. Maybe there’s somebody else in class with you who feels the same way, and it’s not until you speak up that they actually finds you out and say, “You share the same faith that I do? I didn’t realize that you were in the classroom with me; I thought it was just me.”
Here’s what I’m trying to tell you. I say this regularly; it’s absolutely true: Your faith is personal. I can’t believe for you. No one can. What you believe is a personal decision, but it’s not private, and I think we Christians have been lulled into a lie that says, “Because it’s personal, it also has to be kept private.” No, it doesn’t. In fact, it must be public.
III. This showdown is winner take all
A personal faith should also be a public faith, and people need to see what you say you believe, and when this thing gets started, it’s now winner-take-all; there’s no middle ground here. You either choose one side, or you choose the other. Pick a team, and when it’s over with, you can’t be on both sides at the same time. Verse 26:
1 Kings 18:26-29
So they took the bull that he gave them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “Baal, answer us!” But there was no sound; no one answered. Then they danced around the altar they had made. 27 At noon Elijah mocked them. He said, “Shout loudly, for he’s a god! Maybe he’s thinking it over; maybe he has wandered away; or maybe he’s on the road. Perhaps he’s sleeping and will wake up!” 28 They shouted loudly, and cut themselves with knives and spears, according to their custom, until blood gushed over them. 29 All afternoon they kept on raving until the offering of the evening sacrifice, but there was no sound; no one answered, no one paid attention.
This is one of those extreme signs as an act of worship, of false idol worship, back in the day. Notice what the Bible says next. All afternoon they kept on raving until the offering of the evening sacrifice. Notice there’s no sound. No one answered. No one paid attention. What you’re hearing in the Bible, this is an ancient practice. It’s often in the Old Testament when people worship false idols in the Old Testament times. Actually, even in New Testament times, there was this idea that a false god could take a nap or a false god would go to sleep or a false god could go on a journey. They treated them like people.
There were even some references in ancient literature that an idol or a god could have to go to the bathroom, and what Elijah is saying here in front of all of Israel (you’ve got to imagine them standing at the base of the mountain) is, “Hey, if you shout a little bit louder, maybe he’ll wake up, or perhaps he’s in the bathroom with a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door. If you’ll just keep at it, maybe Baal will wake up.” And Elijah is making sure Israel knows there’s no middle ground here. There is no being on both sides at the same time.
Elijah wants everyone to understand this is a deadly game that we’re playing, and when the game is deadly, it’s not a game anymore. Elijah is demonstrating what James chapter 1, verse 15 says. It says that when you start to wrestle with desires, be careful because those desires can become temptations, and eventually those temptations can become sin, and sin will eventually lead to death, so don’t play games with it. -because it’s not a game; it’s deadly serious.
We challenged you as a church, we have been challenging you this year, will you reach out to 3 friends who you are pretty sure don’t know Jesus? And I’m going to ask you to do something. Would you reach out to them and show them that you’re wrestling, that you’re struggling with temptation? -that you’re trying to live more holy today than you did yesterday? The reason why I’m going to ask you to show this to them is because they may be getting the impression from you, Oh, she’s so pure, he’s so holy, they don’t have any idea what it’s like. I can’t possibly be like them, or they can’t possibly understand. They don’t understand what it’s like for me.
When they see that you’re struggling, when they hear that you’re wrestling, it may be very encouraging to them. In fact, it may be the very thing that causes them to say, “I didn’t realize that you struggle with this too,” and maybe that becomes the real catalyst that causes them to let their guard down and start to open up to you about something they’re struggling with.
IV. Be deadly serious about sin
You see, this game that Elijah’s playing on the mountain, it’s serious. In fact, it’s deadly serious, and I’m challenging you, be deadly serious. Parents, Grandparents, listen to me. Be deadly serious about sin in your house, and let your children or grandchildren know, “I’m struggling with it, but I’m not going to stop warring against it.” Here’s how the story ends in 1st Kings 18:
1 Kings 18:30-40
Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near me.” So all the people approached him. Then he repaired the Lord’s altar that had been torn down: 31 Elijah took twelve stones—according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Israel will be your name”—32 and he built an altar with the stones in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar large enough to hold about four gallons. 33 Next, he arranged the wood, cut up the bull, and placed it on the wood. He said, “Fill four water pots with water and pour it on the offering to be burned and on the wood.” 34 Then he said, “A second time!” and they did it a second time. And then he said, “A third time!” and they did it a third time. 35 So the water ran all around the altar; he even filled the trench with water. 36 At the time for offering the evening sacrifice, the prophet Elijah approached the altar and said, “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that you are God in Israel and I am your servant, and that at your word I have done all these things. 37 Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, the Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38 Then the Lord’s fire fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 When all the people saw it, they fell facedown and said, “The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God!” 40 Then Elijah ordered them, “Seize the prophets of Baal! Do not let even one of them escape.” So they seized them, and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon and slaughtered them there.
You know what Elijah is doing? Israel is so spiritually clueless, they don’t even know who God is anymore. They don’t even know what his name is, so Elijah has to remind them, “The person I’m about to pray to is the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. -who changed Jacob’s named to Israel. That’s who’s about to do this great work in front of you. You all are so spiritually clueless, you don’t even know who I’m about to talk to. Today, God, let it be known that you are the God of Israel and that I am your servant.” I didn’t come up with this on my own. It would be a crazy man who would do this.
Elijah didn’t want anyone to miss the seriousness of playing games with sin. Look, if you’re enjoying sin now, there’s something wrong in your soul. There’s something wrong with your relationship with Jesus. If you’re enjoying sin now, that’s going to end up killing you for eternity in Hell. But if you will kill sin now, you will end up enjoying an eternity in Heaven. There’s no middle ground. This is winner-take-all, once and for all. Everything is on the line here.
It is personal, your faith, but it’s supposed to be public. Don’t let people convince you that you don’t have the first amendment right to say what you believe in the public arena. You do. In fact, I would tell, you must. -because if you don’t, the only voice that they will hear are people who believe there is no God, and that will be the voice that will lead a nation astray.
I said it at the beginning of the sermon; I’m going to say it again. A passion for King Jesus will always do this: It’s going to cause a showdown. It’s going to cause a showdown with sin, and it starts in your soul, but it spills over into the public sector. It becomes public and eventually, it’s winner-take-all, and it is deadly serious. Don’t play games with this.
Now my challenge for you is to do this, to struggle with sin in a very public way, and my guess is, many of you are sitting there saying to yourself, I don’t have the first idea how to do this, Jeff. How am I supposed to show people what’s happening inside my heart? I want to give you 5 possible ways to do this. Here they are. You can write these down for later, but I want you to pray about these 5 things.
How to have a public showdown this week:
Confess your struggles to someone else
Challenge others to hold you accountable
Confront someone you love about sin
Catch up with an old friend
Cancel an old habit
Any one of these 5 are a way to do this. First and foremost, perhaps most importantly, confess your sin. Look at what it says. -not to me, not necessarily to the pastors or elders of this church. Do it to one another. This comes directly from James chapter 5 verse 16. Listen to what the Bible says, “Therefore my brothers, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” Did you notice a phrase that was repeated in this verse? The idea here is that your faith is lived in relationship with other people. You need one another. You need to admit to one another that you need one another. That’s why we challenge you to confess your sin to somebody else, so that they (number 2) can keep you accountable.
Here’s the second thing. Challenge somebody to hold you accountable. The way that we ask you to do that as a church is, we ask you to get deeply connected to a LifeGroup, and if you’re not in some kind of LifeGroup on Sunday morning or during the week, you’re missing out on the most important thing we do as a church, because it’s in a LifeGroup that you can open up to one or two other guys or one or two other ladies, and you can let them know what’s going on in your soul. You can tell them about your struggles, and you can ask them, “Would you hold me accountable?” And maybe they’ll let their guard down and they’ll do the same thing with you, and now you’re developing this soul-level friendship where you’re holding each other accountable, and you’re putting your sins out there for somebody else to see and to help you work on it.
Number three: Confront somebody. Lovingly, tenderly, compassionately, biblically, confront somebody you love about their sin. Please don’t let them stay in it and watch them and say nothing, because if you love them, you would want them to find the strength, you would want to help them to get over this hurdle of temptation or sin, and they need that. You may be the very person that they need to hear it from, that causes them to get serious and stop playing games with sin.
Here’s number 4, and this probably doesn’t make sense to you, so let me explain it. Catch up with an old friend. Specifically, I’m thinking of somebody you went to high school or you went to college with. Maybe it’s somebody you haven’t seen for 10 or 20 years. Would you reach out to them, and would you say something like this: “Hey, remember when we used to hang out 10 years ago, 20 years ago? You know the guy that I was 10 or 20 years ago? I am very different than that person today, and can I tell you why I’m different? I’m different because Jesus has been changing me for 10 or twenty years.” This may be the perfect opportunity for you to ask this old friend, “What about you? Are you living the same way that we did 20 years ago when we were running together and getting in lots of trouble together? If that’s the case, Jesus can do for you what he’s done for me.” This is a great way to open up and to share your faith with somebody who maybe you haven’t talked to in 10 or 20 years.
Then here’s number 5 on the list. If you’re struggling with a vice, with a habit, with something that you know you shouldn’t be doing, make it public that you’re going to cancel this habit, that you’re going to get rid of this vice, this thing that you’ve been struggling with. Let people know, “I’m tackling this thing,” and let them know why you’re tackling this thing. Then they can throw it in your face whenever you mess up, sure. But that also means that they can watch you working on your personal holiness and struggling with sin. Maybe this is the thing that the Lord uses to encourage them.
We’re challenging you to have this showdown started in the soul, but let it spill over into public. Let your friends, let your family see that you’re working on your sin, and you’re struggling with following Jesus and being pure in the way that you live your life, and you’re better today than you were yesterday, but you’ve still got a lot of work to do, like I’ve still got a lot of work to do.
• Today, I trusted in Jesus’s death and resurrection to wash my sins for the first time.
– I have been wrestling with some temptations lately. Pray for me to have a personal showdown this week.
+ I will have a public showdown with sin this week.
- Have you ever spoken out against something wrong when no one else was willing to? If so, what compelled you to speak out?
- Read 1 Kings 18:1-16. Why was Elijah the most wanted man in Israel? What courage did it take just for him to show up in public?
- Elijah felt like the only prophet left in Israel. Why is it easier to practice your faith in community with other believers?
- Why was Elijah certain, to the point that he was willing to bet his life, on this showdown?
- Are people still confused about who the real god is today? Explain your answer.
- Does our silence about Jesus allow others to be complacent about their beliefs?
- Pray for the Holy Spirit to give you victory over sin this week.