All monotheistic religions will say there is no other God. They can’t call be right.
Here in 2 Kings 1 we’re reminded of how you can tell false gods from true, and conclude for yourself that as you look at the God of the Bible there truly is no other God.
Now you might not have read 2 Kings 1 before. Not many of us have ever heard a sermon on it.
It’s a pretty alarming chapter. All those soldiers dying just to make a point? It’s disturbing. Did Elijah do right? Was God pleased that so many men died? And if it was to make a point – who was it to? And what was the point anyway?
It all seems a long way from Jesus commanding his followers to love your enemies. It all seems a long way from everything today. But it’s really not. Ahaziah was dying. It doesn’t get more relevant or personal.
Are you ready to die?
We’re looking at a king called Ahaziah. He was Ahab’s son, after Ahab had died in battle. Read 1 Kings 22:51-53.
Those verses show that Ahaziah didn’t worship God, but Baal. He was king, so he was wealthy and lived comfortably. But he fell through some latticework of an upper room (probably a kind of reed curtain over a window). It was a nasty fall. If you ever watch those Ambulance programmes you’ll know you don’t have to fall far to put your life in danger. And Ahaziah’s life was certainly in danger.
When you’re young you don’t really think about your own death. It’s a long way away. But as you get older you realise that there will be a day. Maybe the family will gather round. There’s a place somewhere where you’ll breathe your last. Maybe your local hospital; maybe at the side of a road.
When I had Covid in January, over 1,000 people were dying of Covid every day in the UK (it’s still 1,000 per week). When the ambulance was coming and we were wondering if I’d need to go to hospital, the uncertainty of the moment was really strong. Not everyone comes home. Others in our church have endured cancer treatments this year. It’s a strange feeling to think you might soon be dead.
You wonder if your house is in order. You wonder if you’re ready to die. Ahaziah had life-threatening injuries. Death was knocking. He knew who Elijah was. He’d have heard his parents (Ahab & Jezebel) cursing Elijah’s name many times. He’d have heard about Elijah on Mt Carmel – when God was shown to be the only true living God and all the prophets of Baal had been humiliated, then killed.
So what will Ahaziah do as he faces death? He consulted Baal. He sent men to enquire of Baal whether he’d recover or not. He knew there was a true God in Israel, but Ahaziah rejected him in favour of a non-god.
What do we do in the face of death?
- There’s preventive stuff, like diets, fitness, even preventive surgery.
- If we fall ill, we turn to medicine, vaccines, etc – rightly so!
- But even a cure for cancer can only delay death. Still 1 in 1 die.
- Many people just hope to make the most of every day. “Life is short, so live it.” And they hope their bucket lists of 101 things to do before you die will make living worthwhile.
You can join the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and rage, rage against the night – but still death takes us all.
But here’s the thing: Ahaziah knew he was probably dying; he also knew there was a living God in Israel – a God of miracles and grace. He knew it because he’d heard about what God did at Mt Carmel. A reminder there both that God is very much alive and powerful, but also that he is willing to accept all who will come through the sacrifices he has given to us.
You know as well as Ahaziah: God lives
You also know that there is a living God of miracles and grace.
- You know it because he did something more amazing than the stuff at Mt Carmel.
- Jesus Christ was the Son of God on earth.
- He died. That was him acting as a sacrifice, taking the punishment that the sins of other people deserved.
- After 3 days, he rose from the dead. History turned.
- The universe became a changed place. He lives – today.
- He is all the proof you need that God is the true living God of miracles and grace.
- Jesus has conquered death and now lives – and his death proves that we will all experience life after death.
- But we’ll not all experience grace.
As you face death, as Azariah did, you need to remember that you will face God.
You can turn to God now. Or you can keep going on your bucket list. Reject God now, and he will reject you then.
Are you ready to die?
Are you ready to live?
Ahaziah’s messengers never got to Baal’s temple because they met Elijah, who gave them a message from God. Read 2 Kings 1:3-4. “This is what the LORD says” or “Thus says the LORD” is pretty certain. It’s going to happen.
Ahaziah didn’t want to hear from Elijah or from God. He sent a captain with his 50 men. Why so heavy-handed? Because Elijah was being arrested, hopefully to be silenced!
What happened next was amazing: Read 2 Kings 1:9-10.
- He calls Elijah “man of God”
- Then he says, “The king says, ‘Come down’”
- There’s an emphasis on “king”, as if to say, “You might be a man of God, but you’re being arrested by a higher authority”!
- Now Elijah was on a mountain, maybe even Mt Carmel. The warning signs and echoes of what happened before were all there: All 51 men were killed.
It happened a second time: Read 2 Kings 1:11-12.
The phrase “The king demands” is literally, “Thus says the king” – in a parody of the message to the king: “Thus says the LORD”! That didn’t end well either.
- The soldiers aren’t innocent victims. They are upholding the supremacy of their king and his Baal god over Elijah and the only true and living God of us all.
- They call Elijah “man of God” almost in mockery, because they have no fear of that God.
The 3rd company of men are sent. There are 102 charred bodies on the hillside. Azariah had known he was probably dying and showed no fear of God. The 3rd captain could see he was about to die at the hand of God – and he certainly did fear.
- On the basis of what he could see, he feared God.
- Ahaziah had definitely heard what God did at Mt Carmel years before, but didn’t fear God.
You know you will die and see God – the death and resurrection of Jesus proves that. Will you be like Ahaziah, rejecting God, or like the captain – fearing God and crying for mercy?
Jon Norwood preached for us recently and he made the point that before you can understand the Bible’s good news you need to hear the bad news. So here’s a reminder:
- Your sin is a stinking offence to the God of the heavens, who dwells in unapproachable light, and who will call you to account for every grubby little thing you ever did.
- You can do a million good things before you die, but you can never remove the stench of sin before God.
He is your creator. He will reject all who reject him. Jesus warns you to fear the one who can throw you into hell – because he will do so, and he’ll leave you there forever.
The 102 soldiers had no right to demand Elijah come down under arrest as if the king had higher authority than God. You can’t demand anything of God. He owes you nothing. You don’t command Jesus, not even to forgive. On his deathbed in 1856, Heinrich Heine said, “God will forgive me. It’s his job.” But God doesn’t owe you anything. He’s not your puppet.
You don’t command God. He commands you. But here’s the good news: He commands you to come to him! He is fearsome, but he’s also infinitely welcoming.
He loves you: He is perfect in justice, so for him to accept you means he must forgive your sin and ensure punishment for sin:
- So he gave Jesus to take your punishment, and calls you to come now, today, to be forgiven.
- The event at Mt Carmel was also a reminder to come to the living God.
- The events of Jesus’ death and resurrection are a call for you to do the same – to come to God by the means he’s given.
- Yes, fear him. But come to him with fear and trembling and you find a forgiving, loving Saviour.
Will you die to live?
Clearly, then, God is not your puppet. You can’t order him around or expect blanket forgiveness as if “it’s his job.” If you think of Jesus’ work on the cross just as some kind of golden ticket to heaven you dishonour his great love for you.
- But he does call you to come to him.
- He calls you to give up your life and follow him.
- Mark 8:34-38 “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. 36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Leave your old life behind. There’s no place for the pride and arrogance of those soldiers in 2 Kings 1. You’re called to have more of the heart of the 3rd captain. You’re called to come to God in repentance and faith.
Dead to the old, alive in Christ
It’s healthy to have a tender heart before God. Repent – turn from your sin. Trust in Jesus for your eternal forgiveness. Then life for him. Galatians 2:20 My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
You then live for Christ, in Christ, with Christ in you. He is your life. As you face death – today, this year, next, or many years from now – Jesus is your constant companion, life, hope and joy.
- You may well fear dying, but not death.
- Bucket lists are for those who only have hope for this life.
- False gods and short-term crutches are like standing under a tree when it starts raining. Sooner or later, the rain gets through and you’re soaked just the same.
In this pandemic, people have turned to all sorts of false hopes and entertainments. Don’t be one of them. That doomed Azariah. In our culture, many people ridicule “people of God” because they don’t fear God. That doomed 2 captains and 100 men.
The urgency of mission
But there are some who fear God, and beg his mercy, and find him to be merciful, and gracious, loving, patient and kind. For those who trust in Jesus in that way, you’ve come to terms with your mortality and are ready to face God.
- You’ve died to live; given up the old you to be a new person in Christ. Your eternal life in him has begun.
- So never, ever lose the urgency of mission. Make sure your own awareness of your mortality spurs you on to act to save others, to lead them to hope.
- And whatever you do, as you see climate disaster looming, as you face medical investigations and meetings, as you face Covid fears or old age – remember that your redeemer lives, and you will live with him forever.
- With that in mind, make sure your hope is seen by others, so that you can always give a reason for the hope that’s in you, to the glory of God in Christ your Saviour.