Grace received, but grace despised

In the early church history a man named Marcion made an attempt to canonise the Bible – this means he tried to work out which books should be seen as authoritative and which not. Marcion was a man who measured everything by love and grace – which led him to believe that all of the Old Testament should be thrown out, purely because he could not see any love and grace in the Old Testament.  To him the God pf the Old could not be the God of the New Testament.  Of course Marcion was hopelessly wrong.

Hearing ProblemsBut study the book of 1Kings closely and something very interesting comes to light:  a large portion of the history of the kings of Israel is devoted to the life of one of the most ungodly of them all.  Some of the kings get a mention of only a view verses, but Ahab gets one chapter after the other.  One verse announces him this way as the new king:

He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam …, but he … began to serve Baal and worship him. (1 Kings 16:31)

Other verse in the Bible helps us to remember Ahab and his godlessness and rebellion:

There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord… He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols… (1 Kings 21:25-26)

He stole the inheritance of Naboth by condoning his murder.  The example he set was continued in his sons and sons in law.  Of his son we read:

He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, because he walked in the ways of his father and mother … who caused Israel to sin. He served and worshiped Baal… (1 Kings 22:51-53)

Of Jehoram, his son in law, we read:

He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel… He did evil in the eyes of the Lord. (2 Chronicles 21:4-6)

Ahab hated the man of God, Elijah, and he also despised other prophets of the Lord who dared come to him saying:  “Thus sayeth the Lord.”

Why would God’s Holy Spirit allowed so much to be recorded  about such a godless man into the Bible?

I can’t really say, but we surely see something of God’s grace, his long-suffering and his eventual just judgements as they were evidenced in the life of Elijah’s dealings with Ahab and other prophets of God.

With this in mind, I want to bring the Word of God to you under this heading: God’s grace given; God’s grace despised.

Let’s not first of all concentrate on Ahab this morning;  let’s ask God’s Spirit to reveal it to us God’s loving grace, his long-suffering and his righteous judgment.

My eyes have seen the glory of the Lord, yet I’m blind

Last time we heard about Ahab was on the mountain Horeb.  There God’s prophet, Elijah, interceded for God’s people by praying for them and challenging them to follow God who is the only God.  This happened in the dramatic events of the fire that came down on the mountain and consumed the offering on the altar the prophet had built; the prophets of Baal couldn’t get a squeak out of him, because his was not even a god with a small “g”.

Ahab witnessed all of this.  And most probably he heard the people cry out:  “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.”  He witnessed the fate of the prophets of Baal.  The king stood alone.  What a moment in his life!

His eyes saw the glory of the Lord on display.  And Elijah spoke words of grace to Ahab:

And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” (1 Kings 18:41)

This is significant, because God now listened to the prayers of his people upon their repentance:  He would open the heavens and send rain.  “Elijah, Baal is no God; he is only a god; meaningless and helpless.  But God answered with fire; He is God, and He is answering your prayer.  I will pray for rain, and God will do as the prophets of Baal couldn’t do.”

So Elijah did just that.  He climbed to the top of Mt Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.  He kept praying until a cloud the size of a man’s hand appeared on the horizon.  Elijah could not contain his excitement.  And who was the first to hear this good news?

“Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’ ” (1 Kings 18:44)

Ahab got into his chariot and rode off to his palace in Jezreel. Ahead of him was God’s prophet on which he could lean to withstand the godlessness of his wife.

The power and grace of the Almighty God was shown and known to Ahab.  He saw it; he experienced it; he knew it.  There is only one God, and He is the God of Israel.  Worship Him, bow down to Him. Tragically he was still blind to the grace of God.

And us?

My eyes haven seen the glory of the Lord, and I’m still wavering

But what a disappointment when he arrived home and faced his Baal worshipping godless wife, Jezebel! He told her everything which had happened, but the most important thing he could have told her was not part of his report.  Yes, he told her about Elijah and what had happened on the mountain, but instead of focussing upon the greatness and uniqueness of the God of Israel who revealed Himself in splendour and grace to sinners by giving them another chance, he focussed on the loss of the prophets of Baal, as if that was the greatest demise of the day.

The Bible records the story of the demon-possessed man who lived amongst the graves.  He was uncontrollable and quite clearly in the power of Satan.  Our Lord saved him by driving out the demons.  He became a saved child of God, sitting at the feet of Jesus.  The Lord sent the evil spirits which had made their home in him into a herd of pigs.  The owners of the pigs heard of it and came to Jesus and begged Him – not to do the same to them as He did to the demon-possessed man – but they begged him to leave their part of the world because of the financial loss his presence meant to them – they lost their pigs!

Ahab, you just lost a golden opportunity to witness the greatness of God to your wife. Your eyes are still shut to the greatness and mercy of God.  How foolish can one be! You have seen the grace of God in action and still your heart is shut for his mercy which knocks on your heart.

And us?

My ears have heard the grace of the Lord, but I despised it

The next time we read about Ahab was when the king Ben Hadad II of Aram, together with 32 other kings, descended upon him like flies, leaving him powerless.  Their message was devastating:

‘Your silver and gold are mine, and the best of your wives and children are mine.’ ” (1 Kings 20:3)

What was Ahab’s reaction?

“Just as you say, my lord the king. I and all I have are yours.” (1 Kings 20:4)

When Ben-Hadad then took advantage and demanded even more, Ahab enquired of his elders what to do.  They advised him to resist, and his enemy turned into a furious pit-bull terrier, wanting to destroy Israel, turning it into a heap of dust.

Then, out of the blue a prophet of the Lord appeared on the scene with this message:

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Do you see this vast army? I will give it into your hand today, and then you will know that I am the Lord.’ ” (1 Kings 20:13)

That was God’s intention with his intervention in the life of this sin-blind king.  Ahab did not believe it and asked how this would be possible.  The prophet explained to him God’s strategy, and said to Ahab:  “You must start the battle.”  Yes Ahab, be there and behold the power and grace of God and experience his deliverance.

God miraculously gave the enemy in his hands. The battle was repeated in the next year, and once again the prophet of the Lord came to Ahab with this promise:

“… I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the Lord.” (1 Kings 20:28)

The same purpose:  Ahab, God is doing all of this for you to understand that He is God.  God did as He promised.  Ben Hadad fled and hid in an inner room – a sign of his utter defeat.

What did Ahab do?  Did he believe God and put his trust in Him?  No!  And here we see something of ourselves in him.

We hear the mercies of God Sunday after Sunday, week after week and even year after year.  We see hear of Jesus Christ and of his sacrifice on the cross; we hear of his resurrection and ascension into heaven where He intercedes for us; we hear about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; we hear the Gospel calling us to repentance and service of God to his glory, but what do we do about it?  We still trust in ourselves and what this world has on offer.

We don’t trust God with our finances, not even when it comes to trusting Him to provide for us when we tithed our income for his service.  When trouble comes upon us, we sometimes react in the same way as unbelievers.  We might even trust our insurance more that we trust God.  And above all, we continue to live our lives as if nothing has ever happened on Golgotha.  Our lives do not show much difference from those who don’t even know a word from the Bible, or those who never darken the doors of the church.

Half-hearted repentance no repentance at all!

Ahab showed mercy to Ben Hadad, his defeated enemy, and treated him like a friend and a brother.  He restored free trade between Israel and Damascus as if nothing has happened.  And so by the way, further history tells us that Ahab had to submit in the end and become the slave of Ben Hadad and his allies.  And when he decided to call in the help of his son in law to throw off this yoke of slavery, he paid with his life.

And once again God did not turn away in anger from Ahab.  Once again he sent a prophet to warn him of the dire consequences of living outside of God’s will.  And instead of repenting before God for what he had done, he went away home “sullen and angry.”

The truth of the Scriptures is not meant to hurt and not bind up.  The truth which exposes sin is not meant to leave the sinner without hope; on the contrary, the truth of the Gospel and how it exposes our sins is meant to bind up and to offer grace.  How many people go away from worship angry, and maybe sullen like king Ahab, because the minister dared to preach about sin which hurt and wounded the sinful heart.

This is where many people stop listening to the message of God’s Word.  When it comes to the offer of grace, we kick up our tails in anger and walk away, because we refuse to acknowledge that we have sinned, which means we never get to experience the grace of forgiveness.  Ahab did the same and walked away unsaved, caught in the grip of Satan.

Then God sent Elijah to Ahab – again!  God just wanted to see his purposed worked out.  If I were Elijah i probably would not be willing to go the Ahab again – and that with an offer of grace.

He entered into the room where Elijah sat in anger and depression after the death of Nabot whose vineyard he took through the hands of the godless Jezebel.

What did Ahab say to Elijah?  “So you found me, my enemy!”  How sad to see as your enemy the one sent by God to tell of his mercy.  The words of Elijah are like a sword, which cuts deep with the purpose to cut out the festering sore which causes all the problems:

“I have found you,” he answered, “because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. (1 Kings 21:20)

These words cut deep and for one little moment we see hope for Ahab. We read these words in the Bible:

When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. (1 Kings 21:27)

Although this was a very superficial repentance God showed him merciful love. “Because he humbled himself I will not bring disaster upon him in his day.”  Mercy!  Judgment postponed.  Ahab’s heart responded to the word of God.  There is hope for Ahab.

Surely Elijah must have rejoiced in this change of heart in Ahab.  But alas! it is not heart-felt repentance.  Once again the grace of God was despised.

And in the next chapter God’s grace ran out for Ahab.  He died in a battle against the so-called friend whom he once showed mercy to.

The challenge – today!

And today the words of God to Elijah are like a hammer to us gathered here:  “How long will you waver between two opinions?”  We have heard and seen the grace of God, even more so as we have heard the message of Jesus Christ who took our sins upon Him.  We hear it over and over again. The question is, how do we react? Do we get angry when the Lord once again knocks on the doors of our hearts?  Can we find ourselves turning completely away from sin and Satan to follow God with a life in complete dedication to do his will?

There is another choice.  Here the voice of Christ Jesus, but turn away and become a friend of the world.  But then, the Bible tells us he who is a friend of this world, is an enemy of God.

How long will you waver between two opinions?  Look at the life of Ahab; look at the life of Judas:  it ended in disaster.


Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 11 September 2016

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