Those of you who come from an agricultural background will understand that some animals are just stubborn.
We had a good friend in the town where we lived back in country Western Transvaal. This man contracted meningitis as a nine year old and had to make a living by chopping wood. He became very strong. We measured the span of the calf of his leg: 24inches! No-one dared to be his enemy, so John just had friends. Even the local traffic cop was his friend.
He worked a lot with mules, which pulled his cart with the chopped wood. The mules were kept in the town common. In more than one instance this gentle giant of a man would whistle to call his mule to the corner of the paddock instead of going all the way down to the where the gate was. He would then ever so gently pick up his mule and lift him over the fence.
But one day John’s mule became very stubborn. He would just follow his own way and tried to do his own thing. John tried to be nice by talking to his beloved animal, but to no avail. So John got off the cart and had a good talk to the animal, warning him of the consequences of his stubbornness. The mule did not understand Afrikaans and decided to keep doing his own thing. John got off the cart again, and without meaning to do the animal real harm, he hit him with his fist on the forehead. Of course John had forgotten that he was a very strong man, and when he became a bit agitated as he was that day, he did not always restrain himself.
The blow he gave his beloved mule was more than both he and the animal expected: The mule sank on his two front elbows, and then hit the ground with the rest of his body. John realised something was wrong. It looked like the animal had passed out, but because there was no breath, John realised he had sent his beloved animal to mule heaven.
In silence he sat next to it, rubbing the dead animal’s fur, while he kept asking him: “Why were you so stubborn? If only you listen to me, I would not have hit you. I loved you some much, but look at you now, you stubborn animal.” There was a funeral for the mule and it took a long while for John to get another to replace it.
The Story of Israel
This is the story of Israel. They were God’s beloved people, the people God elected above all to be his possession. He loved them, cared for them and protected them for their enemy. But they kept turning away from God in their sinful stubbornness. God would discipline them over and over again, but they would just keep doing their own thing, following their own heads and worshipping other gods. Then God would send them enemies, or droughts, or earthquakes, or pestilences, or deceases.
Ahab and Elijah
This was the situation in the time of Elijah. Ahab and his godless wife, Jezebel, murdered God’s prophets and the people worshipped Baal and Astarte. And then God sent Elijah to tell Ahab that God listened to the prayer of Elijah by withholding rain for three years. It became a bitter drought and accusations were made left right and centre. What was the reason for the drought? Is there someone to blame, or is there something to blame?
The question: who is the troublemaker?
Ahab searched for Elijah in all countries, but God protected him and kept him out of harm’s way. Ahab blamed Elijah for the predicament. “If only I can get my hands on Elijah and get him out of the way, the drought will be over. He is a real troublemaker.”
Do you remember the story of the Israelites and Ai? Achan took of the booty of the men of Jericho, and brought defeat upon the whole nation (Joshua 7:25; 1Chronicles 2:7). Israel lost against the people of Ai. And the place where he and his family were punished that day got a name: Achor. This means trouble. Someone did something which had a negative impact on all the others.
Back to Elijah. He is now accused of being the troublemaker. He prayed that God would withhold the rain. Get the Elijah out of the way, and the rain will return. At least this was the reasoning of Ahab.
In time of trouble we look for someone or some people to blame. But who? We live with rumours of terrorism on our doorstep. Who is to blame?
Let’s look for someone: the government, of course!
Who shall we blame for drought or floods ? Let’s see: the people with all the carbon emissions is to be blamed for climate change and global warming. Those in authority should have done something to prevent all of this. Get a new government to fix our problems. And the next may be very restless to lever the public into a change – or even huge taxes to get rid of the carbon pollution (which or course will be a permanent tax, even after the atmosphere is cleaned up).
Who is to blame? What about the godlessness we as citizens are so addicted to? Gambling has become a national sport, even amongst Church members. Alcohol abuse has now become a right of every citizen living in a so-called progressive society. There is no respect for marriage, family or any decent values as we got trapped into humanistic thinking and post-modernistic thought.
We live in the “stuff-it” age where not having respect for authority has almost become a virtue. We look on whilst hundreds of thousands of unborn babies are killed; we just gave it the more acceptable name of “pro choice”.
Moral decay only gets a shoulder-shrug of many church-goers and we do nothing in the name of God to stem the tide. Why? We don’t want to be troublemakers! Someone said:
“History has never been dominated by majorities, but only by dedicated minorities who stand unconditionally on their faith.”
Battles are not lost because evil men get their way, but only because good men do nothing. We have become an apathetic society; we dare not become troublemakers!
The irony is of course that by doing nothing we actually contribute to the trouble. The lack of moral discretion today becomes the cesspool of decay tomorrow.
Who is the troublemaker?
Elijah had an answer to Ahab. No, I am not the troublemaker, you are. Why? You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed Baal.
Removing Elijah from the scene is not going to let the problem disappear. It is only going to get worse. The problem lies deeper. The stuff-it generation is not the problem; the problem lies deeper. It is only the symptom of the problem.
Having the environmentalists getting a stronger foothold on the minds and actions of the people and our children through their persistent bidding for the soul of man, is not going to let the problem disappear. Environmentalism fit the bill of Romans 1: 25 very neatly:
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1:25)
Environmentalism with its glorification of nature and man leads to all sorts of evil. It is a turning away from God to the so-called inherent good of man. Paul in Romans 1 lists what follows this turning away from God:
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:26-31)
The problem is the stubborn mule which just can’t get it in his head to follow his master. He gets flogged and beaten, and yet, he thinks he has a problem-owner.
The trouble is when we glorify our sinful minds to the point where we become our own benchmark for what is good and bad. The trouble is rebellion against God!
Deep down we are both the trouble and the troublemaker. We are the stubborn mule. We are the donkey and ox of Isaiah 1:
“The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”
“You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals.”
How is the trouble resolved?
“Summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel and bring the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah.”
There on Carmel the people had to make a choice.
“How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Ball is God, follow Him.”
Did Baal give his son to be a ransom for the souls of men? Was he ever concerned about what separated men from God? Is there anything this world can offer that can reconcile us to God? Name anything; there is none.
Can I take you to John 11? Our Lord resurrected Lazarus from the dead. The Jewish Council met, and they come to this conclusion:
“Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” (John 11:47–48, NIV)
High Priest Caiaphas saw a way out:
“You know nothing at all! You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:49–50, NIV)
God gave his Son, Jesus Christ – the troublemaker in the eyes of the Jews – to take our trouble upon Him. The rebellion of all sinner is the trouble. But there is hope and there is grace. Flee to Him for mercy.
On the cross He was troubled because of our sin. There He experienced what it means to be a troublemaker by forgiving us our sins.
Do you know Him as the One who saves and forgives? If so, thank God and then follow in his footsteps and the footsteps of Elijah: be a troublemaker in the eyes of the world by proclaiming the Gospel of Him, the Son of God, the Anointed of God, against whom the world is taking its stand. Only thing is, He is the King of kings. Rebellion against Him is doomed to result in eternal punishment. AMEN.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 28 August 2016