Elijah was on Mt. Carmel facing the prophets of Baal and Asherah. He waited all day while they called to their gods to bring fire on the altar, but “no one heard, no one answered.” He taunted them, they cut themselves, they made a ruckus that would have gotten the attention of any god, if that god existed. Still, no answer came.
Then, as evening drew near, it was Elijah’s turn. He prepared the altar and the bull. He stood before the people and prayed a very simple prayer. He asked God to bring fire on the sacrifice to show the people of Israel that Yahweh is God – the only living God.
You know the end of the story. God sent fire from heaven which consumed not only the sacrifice, but the altar it rested on. The prophets of Baal were destroyed and for a day, Israel returned to the worship of the one true God.
But I would like to focus on one strange thing that Elijah did after he prepared the sacrifice, before he prayed, and before the fire fell. He gave instructions for four large jars to be filled with water and poured on the altar. Then four more. And four more. Elijah had twelve jars of water poured on the altar.
As is common among us men, I consider myself a grill-master. One thing I know – if you want to light the fire, don’t pour water on it. Lighter fluid? By the pint! But not water.
Elijah was obviously not a modern American prophet. He would have known that God needs help if he is going to accomplish his work. We must provide him mood music and a pleasing environment in which to work. We have to not only make the gospel plain, but we have to remove anything offensive or undesirable from it, to make it palatable and acceptable. Better to focus on the goodies God gives us than to talk about things like hell and judgment and repentance – who wants to hear that junk? We pour the lighter fluid of compromise, of positivity, of selfish gain to give the gospel flame a decent chance to ignite.
A few years ago, I was a counselor for an evangelistic crusade. I was “second wave.” Each night there were three passionate invitations. (Precious little gospel proclaimed, but a lot of effort went into the invitation!) Some counselors came down in the first invitation, some came with me in the second, and others waited until the third. We were not only to be there if someone did come, but we were to give the impression that many were coming – a little positive peer-pressure to leave your seat and flood the front. The evangelist was pouring lighter fluid on the altar, hoping God would send fire.
But not Elijah. He poured water. If fire fell, everyone would know God sent it, not Elijah. There would be no manipulation, no trickery, no manipulative emotional appeals, no deceit from the prophet of God. Any fire that fell would be the fire of God.
It is our duty to present the truth of God’s salvation through Christ to lost souls, but we must be careful about attempting to pour lighter fluid on the fire. The gospel never goes on clearance sale. When the rich young ruler refused to repent of his materialistic idolatry and walked away from Jesus, he did not receive a better offer. We cannot soften the offense of the gospel or make it more palatable. We just tell the truth that Jesus came, lived perfectly, died sacrificially, rose victoriously and now willingly offers salvation to all who repent and believe.
He doesn’t’ need my lighter fluid, just my obedience. My job is to proclaim the truth and invite sinners to repent and call on the name of the Lord. Bringing the fire – that’s not my job. He will bring the heavenly fire to convict and convince sinners of their need.
May the fire fall.