Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching at Park Community Church from 1 Kings 18 on the story of an ancient prophet of Yahweh’s confrontation with the pagan prophets of a false god. It was the latest installment of our “Great Stories” series.
This story, in which the wild man Elijah calls down the fire of the Lord, slaughters the treasonous Baal prophets and launches a revival in the nation of Israel, has always fascinated me. I even adapted it into a short story in my junior-year English class at Glenbard East High School (looking back, there was probably something close to plagiarism going on there, in how closely I followed the biblical narrative).
Over the years, I have become borderline obsessed with the idea that every story in the Tanakh (AKA the Hebrew Scriptures, AKA the Old Testament) points forward to Jesus Christ and the New Covenant in some way. Of course I did not invent this idea; it is as old as the Bible itself. Nevertheless, this Christocentric approach to Scripture study now has me asking about every OT story, in a way that I never did as a high schooler or for years afterward, the question, “How does this point to Jesus?”
Until I wrote this sermon (here’s the transcript), I had never really studied 1 Kings 18 with that question in mind. So it was a real joy to do so. Here’s what I came up with.
- Elijah proclaims repentance to Israel – Much like the later “Elijah” (John the Baptist) would do, he prepares the hearts of Israel for an encounter with the Lord. For Elijah, it was the Yahweh who would show His power on Mount Carmel. For John the Baptist, it was Yahweh-in-the-flesh, the man Christ Jesus, who saved His people on Mount Calvary.
- Elijah preached that God’s people should follow Him alone – Jesus too warned against trying to serve two masters (Matthew 6:24) and insisted that, “No one who “puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
- Elijah offered a sacrifice, and God accepted it – The Lord vindicated His servant Elijah by sending a bolt out of the blue and burning up his sacrifice. Nine centuries later, He accepted a far greater sacrifice for sin and vindicated His Son, by raising Him from the dead.
- Elijah’s altar of twelve stones expressed a desire for God’s people to be unified – God’s people (which meant the 12 tribes of Israel in Elijah’s day) were meant to be together, not split up into multiple kingdoms (which they were at that time). In Christ, people from every ethnicity, culture and kingdom are united (Galatians 3:28).
- Elijah’s revival was temporary, showing the need for a greater revival – Under the Old Covenant, Israel’s returns to God (as in 1 Kings 18) never involved the whole nation, and they were temporary, because most of their hearts did not change. This story accentuates the need for the New Covenant in Christ’s blood, in which all God’s elect people will know Him, and they will serve Him with new hearts forever.
It is amazing to set back and think about the privileged place in history in which we live. The promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Christ, and we can see in hi-def what OT believers saw only in types and shadows. From Genesis to Malachi, the Hebrew Scriptures are all about the Messiah to come. Starting next month, we will launch our new series, all about what it means to live together as followers of said Messiah, as the church.
What other ways do you see the “great story” of Elijah on Mount Carmel pointing to the greatest story ever, i.e. the Gospel? Feel free to share any insights in the comments.