To Be About Our Father’s Business
By Ted N. C. Wilson
The following article is adapted from a sermon given on August 11, 2012, at the Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries (ASI) International Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. Elements of the oral style have been retained. —Editors
Do you believe it is time to be about our Father’s business?
We are a people of promise, bidden to share the straight message of Christ’s precious love and His soon coming to the world. We know that this is God’s Advent movement; this is His remnant church; these are His three angels’ messages; the sanctuary message is His truth; and His final warnings to the world are the messages we are to proclaim. But do we really believe these things? Our only safety is in God’s Word.
Do you believe? You know it is time; it is time to stand up and speak the truth—in love—but to speak the truth! Jesus is coming soon!
Let’s briefly look at the familiar story of Elijah the Tishbite—the very humble individual, the reformer, the simple man, the straightforward person who had a burden for Israel. Elijah prayed to God to change the course of Israel, and God answered his prayer.
Prayer and the Elijah Message
MOUNT CARMEL STANDOFF: A recent forest fire on Mount Carmel sent billows of smoke that were visible from outer space; reflecting not only the majesty of God's answer to Elijah's prayer, but also the divine perspective of Elijah's faithfulness.Elijah knew the essential truth for his time and all time: Prayer is powerful. God can do incredible things as you invite Him to change the course of whatever is facing you or the church. Never minimize the power of prayer. No matter what we are going through, or what we may face; no matter where we have to stand for truth, God will see this church through! Prayer is a powerful protection against the devil’s insidious plans.
After Elijah prayed, he was ready to give a special message to the king. Although Ahab “did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” [1 Kings 16:33], Elijah was not afraid. The prophet walked straight into the palace. Passing by the guards, he gave no defense of his entrance or apology for arriving unannounced, because he knew he was on God’s mission.
Striding straight into the king’s presence, Elijah proclaimed: “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word” [1 Kings 17:1]. Then he disappeared.
People both in and outside of the royal courts soon heard about the prophecy, and they made fun of God’s prophet. “Ahh, what does Elijah know? It has always rained; it is going to rain,” they ridiculed. Just as today, there were many skeptics and many cynical people.
So begin with this understanding, brothers and sisters: As you preach the Elijah message today, you will be ridiculed—be prepared for it. Thank God and claim Matthew 5:11, 12: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Blaming the Messenger
As the results of Elijah’s prophecy began to become evident, Ahab’s wicked wife, Jezebel, denounced Elijah as the source of the problem. Here again is a lesson for God’s last-day people. Many times when you are standing for truth, those who hear the truth you are sharing will denounce you as the problem. And so the Israelites said, “If we put Elijah out of the way, all of our troubles will be over.”
When Elijah could not be found, Jezebel was furious and killed all of God’s prophets she could find. When God dried up the rain in the land because of the sins of His people, Jezebel watered the ground with the blood of His servants. But in the third year of the drought, God gave another message to Elijah: “Go, present yourself to Ahab and I will send rain on the earth” [1 Kings 18:1].
At last, the two were face to face—Ahab, the proud king, and Elijah, God’s humble but fearless servant. Notice how this dramatic confrontation unfolds: Ahab asks a most interesting question: “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” [verse 17]. It was a remarkably strange question. God had tried to turn Israel around, to reform the nation, to turn His people back to Him. Ahab knew—as all wicked men ultimately know—that what he was doing was wrong, but he tried to justify himself. In the book Prophets and Kings we read: “It is natural for the wrongdoer to hold the messengers of God responsible for the calamities that come as the sure result of a departure from the way of righteousness. Those who place themselves in Satan’s power are unable to see things as God sees them. When the mirror of truth is held before them, they become indignant at the thought of receiving reproof ” [pp. 139, 140).
Great Courage Needed
How is it with you and with me? Are we ready to receive God’s reproof in our own lives? Are we willing to humble ourselves and accept the changes that a loving God urges us to make?
Elijah showed great courage at this tense moment, and we may courageously follow his example. He was known as a person who routinely declared, “Thus saith the Lord.” He spoke truth distinctly and bravely. Three thousand years later God still needs strong men and women to speak His truth clearly, in love, and with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Responding to Ahab’s accusation, Elijah offered a powerful defense: “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals” [verse 18]. Then he launched his appeal: “Now therefore, send and gather all Israel to me on Mount Carmel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table” [verse 19].
Under divine direction, Elijah chose Mount Carmel because it was a most conspicuous place to display God’s power. The text tells us that it was early in the morning when thousands gathered near the top of that great mountain rising up from the coastal range. Jezebel’s prophets marched to the site in all their gorgeous array; the king in his regal robes arrived; and Elijah stood alone.
Pointing to the impossibility of genuine faith coexisting with evil practices, Elijah demanded that his listeners make a choice. “How long will you falter between two opinions?” the prophet asked the people. “‘If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’ But the people answered him not a word” [verse 21].
I had the great privilege a few weeks ago to be in Israel for the first time and to see Mount Carmel from a distance. Unfortunately, time did not allow us to visit that incredible place where this magnificent event took place. I’ve imagined myself at Mount Carmel many times: have you put yourself in that picture, too? Would you be willing to stand firm for God? God’s Word tells us that the Israelites were afraid to reveal anything about their commitments. “The Lord abhors indifference and disloyalty in a time of crisis in His work,” wrote Ellen White in Prophets and Kings. “The whole universe is watching with inexpressible interest in the closing scenes of the great controversy between good and evil” [p. 148]. Friends, whether we appreciate the fact or not, the whole universe is watching us right now to see what we will do, how we will choose. This is no moment for equivocation or double-mindedness. Let us stand loyally for God’s truth.
Pointing to the 850 prophets, Elijah made the proposal that they prepare an altar and sacrifice, and he would do the same. “Then you call on the name of your gods,” he instructed them, “and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the God who answers by fire, He is God” [1 Kings 18:24]. The terms of this contest were clear, simple—and dramatic. Everyone, prophets of Baal included, agreed with the plan.
What followed next was one of the strangest—and saddest—scenes in sacred history. Hundreds of men, supposedly worshippers of a powerful pagan deity, flailed and cut themselves, trying to get their god to send fire. Sharpening the crisis, at noon, Elijah began to taunt them: “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened” [verse 27].
Brothers and sisters, the God of the Seventh-day Adventist Church does not sleep. He is wide awake, “for the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” [2 Chron. 16:9]. We have a God who will hear us and will see us through to the very end.
Rebuilding the Altar
At the end of the day Elijah rebuilt God’s altar and asked that something unusual be done. Raising the drama yet another notch, Elijah commanded that a trench be dug around the altar, and that water be brought and poured on the sacrifice. Three times the sacrifice was inundated—until water filled the trenches. Then at the time of the long-forgotten evening sacrifice of the sanctuary service, Elijah prayed a simple prayer of faith: “ ‘Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.’ Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice” [1 Kings 18:37, 38].
The amazing display of the truth of God’s Word burned up more than the evening sacrifice: it also burned itself into the imaginations of God’s people for centuries to come. Like me, I know you wish you could have been there. As with the pillar of fire that protected and separated the children of Israel from the pursuing Egyptian army, God was again demonstrating that He alone is both true and powerful. That same God will go with you as you go about your Father’s business.
Stunned by the power of Elijah’s God, the people bowed in submission to God. “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God,” they repeated [verse 39]. A great opportunity for revival and reformation was suddenly at hand. Months—years—of physical and spiritual drought were succeeded by a powerful storm of heaven-sent rain. From the hour of decision flowed the streams of living water that began to renew a sin-sick, spiritually impoverished nation. All because one man—and so far as he then knew, only one man—found courage in his faith, and decided that being on God’s side was worth more than public approval or wealth or fame ever could be.
Later, when Elijah became discouraged and felt alone, God reminded him of 7,000 people “who have never bowed down before Baal and whose mouths have never kissed his idol” [1 Kings 19:18, NCV].1 Brothers and sisters, don’t ever feel that you are alone. God is there, and you have many faithful brothers and sisters around you.
Now Is the Time
Each time we revisit the Mount Carmel story, we must ask ourselves, “How long will we halt between two opinions?” It is time to be about our Father’s business. I challenge you: Don’t let yourself be distracted by anything that will undermine or diminish the significance of the mission God has given to His end-time people. In an era when controversy is painfully common and divisiveness abounds, we must not allow disunity to come into the church and take our eyes off of the great Elijah message that God has entrusted to each of us.
Hear again the challenge Paul gave in Romans 12:2: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its mould” [Phillips].2 Don’t allow the devil to diminish your faith in the authority of the Bible, in the truth of God’s seventh-day Sabbath, in the historicity of the Creation account given us in Genesis, in the urgency of the sanctuary truth, or in the beauty of the message of righteousness by faith.
A shaking is coming—we know that. God is asking us to stand firm for Him. Now is the time for revival and reformation, for mission to the cities. Now is the time to be “revived by His Word”; now is the time for medical missionary work. It is time to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ with clarity and conviction so that the world may know in the cities and the country that the Lord, He is God.
Now is the time. Are you willing to go about your Father’s business?
1 Scriptures credited to NCV are quoted from The Holy Bible, New Century Version, copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.
2 Bible texts credited to Phillips are from J. B. Phillips: The New Testament in Modern English,Revised Edition. © J. B. Phillips 1958, 1960, 1972. Used by permission of Macmillan Publishing Co.
Ted N. C. Wilson is president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.