Mount Carmel was the scene of a great confrontation. Ahab sent 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah, together with people from across the country (1 Kings 18:19). When everyone was gathered, Elijah challenged the people with a question: “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (18:21). Elijah did not appeal to tradition; he appealed to the truth. The single reason for worshiping the Lord is that He is God.
Nobody has the right to say that you should be a Christian because your parents were Christians, or because Christianity is the dominant religion in your culture. Christianity stands or falls on the claim that it is true: “If the LORD is God, follow Him.”
Elijah’s question assumed categories of truth and error, and the people found it very difficult to think in these terms. They had been brought up with the idea that the God you worship is simply a personal choice, that faith is a private matter, and that every individual must find a way to worship that fits his or her own personality.
Authentic Worship Focuses on the Living God
Elijah wanted the people to know that there is only one living God, so he invited the prophets of Baal to prepare a sacrifice and then call on Baal to answer by sending fire. The prophets of Baal gave themselves to the challenge, and they called on their god: “Oh, Baal, answer us!” (18:26). They danced around the altar and worked themselves into a frenzy.
What started out so bright, colorful, and lively soon turned dark, and a more sinister element began to show. The prophets of Baal began to “cut themselves” (18:28), putting themselves through self-inflicted agonies before they were ready to admit defeat.
But after all this intense activity, “no one answered; no one paid attention” (18:29). The worship of Baal was nothing more than an exercise in self-expression. The prophets were talking to themselves, since no one else was listening.
Baal worship evolved because at some point in history people made up mythical stories about a god called Baal and wrote them down. Then other people made images of Baal and carved them out of wood. But there was nothing in the worship of Baal beyond what human minds had dreamed up and what human hands had made. The whole thing was a cultural creation, and for that reason, it had no power.
Many people today have concluded that Christianity evolved in precisely the same way as the worship of Baal. They assume that the Bible is also a book of ancient myths, and since they assume that it is a creation of human culture, they insist that it has no authority. If they were right in their assumption, they would be right in their conclusion. A religion created by one culture should not be imposed on another. A religion that was merely the choice of one generation should not be foisted on another. If all religions are human creations, then none of them can claim to be true.
Authentic Worship Focuses on an Acceptable Sacrifice
But Elijah knew that the living God was no cultural creation. He longed for the knowledge of the living God to be restored in the land, so he built an altar and poured water over it to drench the sacrifice.
Then Elijah prayed: “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God… Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God” (1 Kings 18:36–37).
“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” (18:38). Imagine the intensity of a fire that not only burned up the wood but even the stones and the dust! When the people saw the fire, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God” (18:39).
Try to imagine yourself in the crowd. You have bought into the prevailing belief of your culture that one religion is essentially the same as another. But as you watch Elijah praying, the sky is filled with fire. Suddenly it is clear to you, Elijah has been speaking the truth. The Lord is God, and now the fire of His judgment is about to fall!
Think about this wonderful truth: the fire of God fell on the sacrifice, not on the people. This points us to the cross where the judgment of God was poured out not on the soldiers who crucified Jesus, or on the crowds who mocked Him, but on Jesus Himself, who became the sacrifice for us. Jesus absorbed the judgment that was due to sinners. It fell on Him so that it would not fall on us. God diverted the judgment away from us and onto Jesus, and in this way, He reconciled us to Himself.
If you want to grow in your worship, open your Bible and soak your mind in what God says about Himself. The Holy Spirit will use the truth to stimulate worship in your heart.
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