1 Kings 19:1-8 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 3 Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. 4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” 5 And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” 6 And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. 7 And the angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” 8 And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.
Elijah thought the people of Israel finally got it. “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God,” they said (1 Ki 18:39). At Elijah’s prayer, God sent fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice of a bull, the kindling wood, the stones of the altar, and the water he had poured over it. At Elijah’s command, the people slaughtered 450 prophets of Baal. Elijah then told King Ahab to mount his chariot and leave because it was to rain and end a three-year drought. And it happened just as the prophet said. Finally, all his work had been rewarded.
Except nothing had changed. Jezebel was not repentant but angry, threatening to kill the prophet. Now, that was it! The people had forsaken God’s covenant, broken down his altars, and killed his prophets. Elijah thought he was alone. So he left Israel, crawled under a tree, and asked God to take his life.
God always answers our prayers, but sometimes in much better ways than we ask. Certainly in this case. Far better than Elijah asked. For him just as for us,
The Lord Has the Answer for Our Discouragement.
We live in a world much like the world of Elijah. Paul says: we live among a people who walk in the futility of their minds. They have a darkened understanding, alienated from the life of God, they are hard of heart, become callous and give themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. Like the world of Elijah where the Queen herself sought to kill him for his testimony against the false gods, we too have come under threats from our government and told to shut up and not speak against the open sin and immorality of our nation.
In this world of futility, among a people alienated from God, we work hard to bring the gospel to them, to let the light of Christ shine in the world, to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, but do not see many results. Therefore, we sometimes become discouraged (vv 1–4).
We love the Lord and, like Elijah, want God’s kingdom—and our congregation here—to grow. So we pray: thy kingdom come. We attend every worship service. We volunteer to teach Sunday School and to usher. We give generously of our income. Yet the world is still living in sin. Some within our own walls still live in sin, such as one who violates the 8th Commandment by anonymously slandering others and trying to harm another’s reputation in. Such people are unsaved and no one is anonymous to God. Hence the congregation never grows, and its finances are tight.
So we become frustrated, and we double down on our efforts. We read the advice of others. We try new programs. We urge our church’s members to do more. We even try to be better at the roles God has given us to do in church. Yet it looks as if everything we’ve ever done was a waste of time. Sin, immorality, lasciviousness, adultery, all seem to be growing by the day. Why bother? we think.
What we often forget is that we cannot make God’s kingdom come or our congregation grow by our own efforts. Our energy is not endless, human talent is limited, and both we and the people inside and outside our church are sinners. While our work and effort may surely succeed from time to time, it will eventually fail.
God does not call us to be successful, but to be faithful. After all, it is Jesus who saves. It is the Holy Spirit who calls us by the Gospel and enlightens us with his gifts. It is the Holy Spirit who brings God’s kingdom; the Holy Spirit who makes it grow. The Holy Spirit who brings people to faith and saves souls.
What he calls us to do is to hear God’s Word, to use in faith that the gifts he gives us, to love him and our neighbors, to witness to his love in Jesus, to cherish and receive the Sacraments he gives us. When we try to do other things, we are, at best, doing things God has not commanded us to do. And when we expect things to happen because of our own efforts, we may well burn out, sooner or later.
At times like these—
When we are discouraged, Christ himself will raise us up. The Lord gives Elijah his better answer (vv 5b–8). As God had fed his people Israel in the desert with manna, as God the Son would feed five thousand in the wilderness, so now God feeds his prophet. While Elijah lay under the tree, waiting to die, God did not grant his prayer. Instead, as the angel of the Lord, the Son of God came to him and brought bread and water to him. God, Christ himself, personally gave his prophet the strength to go on. At Mount Sinai forty days later, God tells the prophet he is far from alone and his work is not in vain (19:15–18).
Jesus invites us, too, to cast our cares upon him. After all, he took our sins upon himself. He bore all of them to the cross, where he died the death we deserved and paid all the debts we owed for them. He won for us there forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
As the Son of God fed Elijah, he now feeds us, not with just bread and water, but with his own body and blood in the bread and wine of his Supper. Here, the forgiveness and all the blessings of Jesus’ cross are given to us personally. With the sin that separated us from God removed, forgiven, we have the assurance he is always with us. You have the assurance of resurrection.
In this way, the Sacrament gives us strength so that we are refreshed. Therefore go forth in boldness. Speak Christ into the ears and hearts of people. Bring them the deliverance of Jesus Christ from their sin and death. As you too once were slaves to sin, condemned to death, trapped in a world of immorality, pleasure, lust, selfishness and pride, and by God’s grace have been delivered out of this sinful generation, so now go forth with the Word which is the power of salvation to all who believe for their deliverance.
Let the world see your love and your humility and your service. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify God. You are the salt of the earth. May our community, city, society be salted with the true flavor of God’s love on the cross for the salvation of all mankind.
The answer for our discouragement is always Christ, for he is the one who forever feeds us and reunites us with God. With his strength, we arise and go on. And you see, being with him means we are not alone even as we look about us. God has called your brothers and sisters to the same work. Together we witness to Christ and his cross, love our neighbors, and allow God the Holy Spirit to call others to join us. Amen.