In 1 Kings 18, we read the amazing account of God’s defeat of Baal’s prophets. The story is unforgettable. At the time, Israel was torn. Should it follow Baal or follow the living God? As it stood, the people of Israel were “limping between two different opinions,” as Elijah said (1 Kings 18:21). So there came an ultimatum. God’s people would climb Mount Carmel to witness two sacrifices laid out: One sacrifice with a bull would be set on logs by Elijah. Another bull on logs would be assembled by the prophets of Baal. Equal offerings. Then the prophets would call down divine fire to light the sacrifices. Baal’s 450 prophets went first and called out and called out. Crickets. Nothing from their god.
Then Elijah, God’s lone prophet on the scene, set up his sacrifice, had it doused with water three times, and then called for God to act, as we read in 1 Kings 18:36–39. In the words of Elijah:
“O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.”
Powerful. So what’s the takeaway? We heard it in verse 37. Here it is again: “that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Verse 37 needs to be thought about, and that’s what we will do today. A few moments later, after this dramatic event, Elijah goes up to Mount Caramel. Here’s Pastor John to explain.
Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel. (1 Kings 18:42–46)
Elijah didn’t limp. You don’t limp when you follow Jesus. I don’t care if you’re in a wheelchair: you don’t limp when you follow Jesus; you run. He ran before the rain. He didn’t limp; he didn’t hobble — he ran. Now that’s the story.
Ruler of Every Heart
Let’s step back and ask, So what’s the main point — the one that everything else is supporting and leading toward? And I mentioned as we were going that I think it’s in verse 37, because Elijah himself says, “This is what I want the people to know.” Not all stories are this clear, but the prophet himself opens his mouth and gathers the whole thing together and says, “God, make them know this. Make them know this about all this.” So what is that? Verse 37: “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know.” Know what? Two things:
“That you, O Lord, are God.” You are God. You’re not an idea, you’re not a memory, you’re not a tradition, you’re not a religion, you’re not a projection of our imagination, you’re not a force, you’re not an archetype, and you’re not a symbol. You are God — the living, active, fire-sending, sin-hating, idolatry-destroying, prayer-hearing, personal God. That’s number one: make them know, let them know, you are God. That’s really the basic need of all of us.
“That this people may know . . . that you have turned their hearts back.” The NIV says, “that you are turning their hearts.” Cause your people to know this. This is where I’m landing here. Cause these men to know this. I think that’s God’s will for you from this text. It should be my prayer for you: I pray that these men, from this story, would discern that you, the sovereign God, are the one who turns human hearts to God.
“You are God. You’re not an idea, you’re not a memory, you’re not a tradition, you’re not a religion.”
So their hearts had betrayed God, spurned God, belittled God, devalued God, loved other things more than God, and this entire event on Mount Carmel is aiming to make God’s people know that if anybody turns to God, God turned them to God. That’s the point of the story. So when the people cry from the heart, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God,” God did that (verse 39). God did that. It’s true, the Lord rules fire. It’s true, the Lord rules the flesh of the bull, the wood on the altar, the rocks. He rules the rain — he makes it rain when he wants it to rain.
But this text is mainly about how God rules the heart. He turns hearts. The Lord rules the human heart: “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back” (verse 37). “Know this, Israel.” He doesn’t want to just say it’s a fact. He wants them to know it. He’s praying that God would cause them to know it.
God Must Do It
There must be a value for you this afternoon, tomorrow, ten years from now. There must be a value for you to know this: that if anybody’s heart turns to God, God has turned the heart. There must be a value, a thrilling value, for you to know this, that Elijah would pray it as the capstone of the event: “Let them know this.”
“If anybody turns to God, God turned them to God.”
I mean, there are people all over the world who would say, “Wow! Fire falling from heaven, consuming bulls and water and wood and stones — that’s impressive!” Elijah didn’t pray that they would know that; he prayed that they would know, if your heart, at this moment, is getting really serious about God, God is doing that.
As an American who grew up in the South, where a kind of decisionism was so dominant and rampant, I never heard this emphasis in my childhood — never heard it. When it came to a heart moving from unbelief to belief, you do that. You do that. Nobody stressed, “God, do it. Do it in this room. If you don’t do it, it won’t be done.” That’s what Elijah is pleading for.