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Dec 13, 2015

Living Uprightly in an Upside Down World

Living Uprightly in an Upside Down World

Passage: 1 Kings 16:1-19:18

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: The Story

Category: Old Testament

Keywords: confession, holy living, idolatry, judgment, leadership, nations, prayer


This message looks at the importance of godly leadership in any institution or nation or church as well as how we are to live when we are under leadership that is ungodly. This message focuses upon two of God's prophets, Elijah and Jonah, during the 208 years God was calling to Israel and Judah to turn from their sin and idolatry.


Living Uprightly in an Upside Down World

I Kings 16-2 Kings 7

December 13, 2015


Leadership matters!  It always has and always will.  We all know that intuitively from the homes (or non-homes) we grew up in. Parents are probably the first leaders all of us were exposed to.  Some parented with much more goodness than badness.  Others were more evil than good. 

            As we grew up, we all came to appreciate the power of leadership.  Some of us were coached by good coaches, others by poor ones.  Some of our teachers were good and kind, others were mean and bad.  The same could be said of siblings, of peer groups, of bosses and law enforcement, of mayors and professors.  Life under good leadership can be such a blessing.  But life under bad, sometimes downright evil, leadership is a hard pill to swallow. 

When it comes to the nation you live in, it’s no fun having to live through war, through national decline, through persecution from people serving false gods and false religions, through wicked national leadership and evil international forces. In fact, it is life-altering and life-threatening.

Just ask the 1.5 million Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq who lived under the terrors of Saddam Husain for 24 years, who have endured 14 years of war against Al Quada and ISIS, have been abandoned by supposedly “Christian” America and now have been run out of their homes, had their businesses confiscated, their children sold into slavery, their wives raped and their family members beheaded in front of them.   

A nation’s leaders determine SO much.  They determine

  • …whether or not the power of the state will be used to fight against good and support evil OR fight evil and reward good.
  • …whether or not millions will hold to God’s unchanging revelation of what is good and what is evil…or man’s forever changing ideas about what is moral and right.
  • Leaders so often determine whether or not what a nation does will put them on the side of God fighting for righteousness or make them enemies of God fighting against the Almighty.

But national leaders do NOT determine what the people of God do in the midst of good and bad leadership.  God’s people do.

That is the way it’s always been and that’s the way it still is today.  That’s why what you and I do today is far more important than what some President or Premier or Prime Minister does. 


Q:  As a nation, how many years have we been in existence?  (239)

Q:  How many Presidents have we had during that time? (43 different men in 44 different presidencies.  Grover Cleveland served 2 non-consecutive terms as 22nd and 24th President)

Q:  During that time, how many of those Presidents would you say were godless, idol-worshiping, false-god imposing Presidents?  (No names, please! I didn’t ask WHO! J)

We’ve been studying The Story for about 15 weeks now.  The Story is a chronological reading of the Bible.  We’re currently up to the period of the kings of the divided kingdoms—Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and Judah, the Southern kingdom.           

            According to the Bible, during the 208 years before the Northern Kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians, the combined kingdoms had 38 different kings.  Guess how many of them were actually good and godlyFIVE!  All the rest are described as evil.  Imagine that kind of national history for two centuries! 

            As much as we Americans like to think of ourselves as special people, as perhaps better than most nations, we’re still not the “chosen people of God.”  But Israel was.  Judah was.  They were THE one nation, THE one race, THE one group of people God had chosen to show all the world’s races and nations what He, God, was like. 

            Yet for most of those 208 years, they were ruled by evil kings who supported abominable practices like child sacrifice and sexual immorality, like abuse of power and support of idolatry and false gods.  (Wait, all that does sound familiar!) 

            Long before God even chose Abraham to be the father of the nation of Israel, He knew who these kings would be.  He knew the evil they would perpetrate.  He knew the lives they would ruin and destroy and lead astray.  And yet God kept making promises…to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Joseph, to the nation of Israel…promises that he would save and rescue and heal and redeem, not only many of them but a whole world full of sinners like us. 

            While national leaders set the tone for so much of what goes on in the lives of people under them, for God’s people, there is always another story playing out.  It’s the story of the Divine Kingdom…the Kingdom of God.  Regardless of whether we are Christ-followers living under Barak Obama’s leadership in America or Christ-followers living in China under communist President Xi Jinping (She-Jin-Ping) or Christ-followers in Russia living under Vladimir Putin, God still has His hand on history.  God is still raising up in every generation faithful followers of Him and fervent preachers of Divine truth.

So today we’re going to take 2 snapshots of 2 prophets of God.  (I had hoped I would be able to cover 4 but that’s my preacher’s optimism showing.) We won’t get to such greats as Hosea or Elisha, Jeremiah or Isaiah.  But we will look at Elijah and Jonah.   

Both these men of God lived during those 208 years of a few good leaders and a whole lot of bad ones.  They prophesied and worked in the Northern Kingdom of Israel and beyond. Each of these men of God were flawed.  But each were used to glorify God and lead willing people of God.  And each one of them went through times of doubt and deep distress about what God had called them to do and be.  

So, let’s ask God to speak to us from their lives about how we are to be living our lives in this time of chaotic, tumultuous and sometimes frightening human history.


We’ll start today with a man of God named Elijah who challenged one of the most wicked national leaders in Israel’s history, king Ahab.  According to the Bible, Ahab “did more evil…than any of those [kings] before him.”  (I Kings 16:30)  That’s quite a claim to fame!  Old Ahab took evil to a new level.  And he found a “soul mate” whose penchant for evil was so great that her name is still used today as a symbol of immorality and evil.  Her name was…Jezebel.

            Jezebel, with Ahab’s full support, went on prophet-hunt to execute as many of God’s prophets as possible. So God, through Elijah, decrees to wicked Ahab that “there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years” unless he says so.  Thus began 3 ½ years of drought in Israel. 

APP:  How long did our “drought” this summer in Spokane go …and we just about burned up? (2+ months)  The period from August to early October 2015 was THE driest on record BUT… it still had 13/100ths of an inch of rain during that time.  Imagine 35 times that long with zero rain!

God was trying to get His people’s attention.  He was trying to nudge them back to true worship of the true God.  Instead King Ahab and Queen Jezebel put more and more false prophets of false gods on the national payroll.  In fact, by the time God instructs Elijah to have a little dual with these false prophets, 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah have taken up residence in the king’s palace in Samaria.  (By the way, during the same time, one of the king’s palace administrators, a guy named Obadiah, had been hiding and feeding 100 of God’s other prophets, unbeknownst, of course, by the Ahab & Jezebel.)

            You probably know the story of Elijah’s dual with these prophets.  It’s recorded in I Kings 18.  It’s one of the more humorous…and tragic…power encounters of all times.

  • The odds are 950 to 1.
  • The plan: Each side is to build an altar to their respective gods. Ahab’s men get to go first. Then they are to sacrifice a bull on their altar…and have a pyrotechnics display.  The only requirement is that no one can bring any matches to the event.  It’s strictly prayer-power that must win the day.  The prophets must call on their god to send down fire and consume the sacrifice.  And the god that answers with fire from heaven will be the god who wins the nation.  But the god who doesn’t answer will be the loser…and so will their prophets. 
  • The prayer meeting: The 450 prophets of Baal start first.  They got the first choice of which bull to sacrifice (and I’m guessing they chose the smaller one that would take less fire to burn up).  They sacrifice it to Baal and start their prayer meeting.  It’s a beautiful cloudless morning…and they keep calling out to their god.  Noon rolls around.  I can imagine Elijah unfolding his lawn chair under a nearby tree, pulling out his sack lunch and putting his feet up on the beverage cooler as he sips a cold fig drink.  It’s in the heat of the day now and the prophets of Baal are starting to panic.  Some of shouting.  Some are dancing around.  Elijah starts to get a grin.  And then comes the first biblical record of trash talk.

Elijah starts to taunt them.  “Shout louder!” he said.  “Surely he is a god!  Perhaps he is deep in thought or busy, or traveling.  Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” (I Kings 18:27)

The text goes on to tell us, “So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears…until their blood flowed.”  It’s interesting how false gods always require human blood…but the true God only accepted the blood of one human, the only perfect human, His own beloved Son Jesus Christ. 

Well, this display of frantic worship goes on all afternoon…and nothing happens besides a whole lot of blood-letting and tired false prophets. 

      When evening rolls around, Elijah gets up from his lawn chair and calls a time out.  He invites the false prophets to have a seat and then sets about preparing his altar and his sacrifice.  Only he adds a flair.  He tells these tired false prophets to fill four large jars with water and then pour it out on his sacrifice and altar.  You can imagine the looks that get exchanged among those prophets.  Surely Elijah has been out in the sun too long.  He’s not thinking straight.  Water-soaked wood doesn’t light, you know.  Then he tells them to do it a second time…and a third! 

            Next thing you know, he’s making this simple, undramatic prayer: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”

38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.”

            The result is that the average Israeli falls on their face proclaiming Yahweh to be God.  Then Elijah turns the crowd into a posse, has the 450 prophets of Baal apprehended, brought down to the valley and killed there for misleading and leading the people of God into idolatry. 

APP:  Before we move on thinking there is little for us to learn here, stop and realize that we often people just like the Israelites.  We, too, are vulnerable to the same sin that plagued them—the worship of gods of our own choosing.  We don’t go to the local “idol” shop and purchase a statue.  We just go spend our non-renewable life, time, energy and money on things that have no eternal value.  Thanksgiving Day has been surrendered to the worship of the gods of materialism as people now trample and fight others to be first in line for “Black Friday.”  We adjust our lives to be sure we have time for our favorite gods of entertainment, whether American Idol (I know, such a “yesterday’s god”), our favorite sports team or even the gods of privacy, solitude and a schedule we control. 

            Believe me, I’m not pointing fingers at anyone but myself.  It is a constant battle to be honest enough with myself and open enough to the Spirit to be able to call a false god a false god.  But living in a culture of false gods requires Spirit-led truth-living.

APP:  Time of silence to let God speak to us about false gods that may be creeping into our schedule and lives. 

This story ends somewhat tragically.  After this tremendous public God-sized victory over spiritual apostasy in the nation, after Elijah prays for the rains to begin (and they do), after an exhilarating marathon run from Mt. Carmel to Jezreel under “the power of the Lord” (18:46), Elijah succumbs to exhaustion, dives into depression, drinks deeply at the well of self-pity, listens to the threats of the opposition (Jezebel), isolates himself and basically goes out with a groan. 

APP:  So what are the important lessons for us living in equally evil days? 

  • We’re all subject to human frailties. Lack of rest, spiritual exhaustion, intense battles…they all can sap us of the day-to-day energy and spiritual connection with God that we need to just keep going.  Don’t deplete!  Don’t isolate!  Don’t ignore the sustainable routine.
  • Prolonged and intense spiritual battles will come for most of us. If they don’t, we’re probably not doing much good in the battle.  When they do, be ready to wager it all…your very life…to stand for the One True Living God.  That may involve times of hiding from evil and hiding out with God’s people (Elijah & the widow of Zarephath, I Kings 17). 
  • It’s far better to risk your life fighting for the Kingdom of God than preserve your life hiding from the forces of evil. I’d really rather go out getting my head chopped off by ISIS because I’ve stood for something godly than feeling sorry for myself in retirement in some quiet, comfortable, warm retirement center.  Times of great evil call for times of great exploits. 
  • While living in a nation under God’s judgment is not enjoyable, God will still be there in the midst of the drought. God provided a way for each of His children to survive the “storm”…and He took each of them home personally when their time was done. 

So what does it mean to be an Elijah in our day?  [Responses]

Snapshot #2:  A Reluctant Prophet, Jonah

I’m sure most of us are familiar with the story line of Jonah.  It goes like this. 

  • God issues a call to Jonah to go and preach against the capital of Israel’s arch-enemy, Assyria.
  • The city is called…Nineveh. It’s big.  It’s populous.  It’s a long ways away.  And it’s really, really evil.  While it may be a place many would like to go for a vacation, it’s not the place you want to go for an evangelistic crusade. 
  • So Jonah decides this call of God is an optional one. He decides it’s a great time to take a Mediterranean cruise.  So he goes in precisely the opposite direction of Nineveh, gets a ship headed to Spain and finds a soft spot in the hold of the ship where he can sleep off God’s call. 
  • But God is interested in more than the hundreds of thousands of people in Nineveh. He cares a whole lot about the heart of his prophet…and, by example, the hearts of all his people. 
  • So God sends a storm that threatens to destroy the ship. A bunch of pagan sailors end up behaving a whole lot more like a prophet of God should than the prophet himself.  They throw everything possible overboard before they reluctantly agree with Jonah that HE is the only thing that really needs to be pitched over the rail.  They pray to God for mercy and forgiveness and drop him into the sea. 
  • While Jonah is drowning, God sends a large fish to swallow him whole. If you’re envisioning that it was something like the scene in the Pinocchio movie where Pinocchio is on a raft in a cavernous stomach of the wale after being swallowed, think again.  In all likelihood, the 3 days he spends in the big fish are days crammed into the smelly, acidic, suffocating stomach goulash of the fish.  He probably passes out from time to time. His skin gets bleached from the acid. His clothes start to disintegrate.  And Jonah has his own “come to Jesus” meeting with God.  In fact, 1/4th of the book is a prayer meeting he has with God.  It’s a pretty self-centered prayer with lots of “I” vocabulary.  But it leads him to a form of repentance and obedience.  Listen to a couple of verses of that prayer from Jonah 2.

7  “When my life was ebbing away,
    I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
    to your holy temple.

“Those who cling to worthless idols
    turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
    will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
    I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

  • At God’s command, the big fish has a big regurgitation and Jonah is barfed up on some sandy beach north of Israel where he then has to walk a LONG ways to Nineveh.

Now, before we’re too terribly critical of Jonah, let me put this in perspective for you. 

Q:  How many of you today would volunteer to go to, say, ISIS-controlled areas of Iraq or Syria, stand in the public square as identifiably an American, and tell them they must turn from Islam, repent of their lifetime of sins against God and surrender their lives to Jesus Christ OR suffer God’s wrath and judgment on their nation? Any takers???

            That is literally the equivalent today.  The sworn, brutal, barbaric, godless enemies of the people of God who had a horrific history of torturing their enemies had become the object of God’s mercy and compassion.  And now God was asking his man, his prophet, to go deliver the message.  I think I’d be looking for a Mediterranean cruise too and some time to think it all over and question whether it was really God’s voice I’d heard!

Before we go on with the story, let’s ponder a couple of truths we probably need to apply.

  • God always has more compassion for lost people than we do. That’s not an excuse for us to disobey His call to share the Gospel of Christ with them. It’s a certainty that should move us to fear no opposition or ridicule and instead wade into the high places of our culture to bring the grace and truth of the Gospel.  
  • Wherever we run to in order to get away from God, He’s there! Running from God is one of the most futile ventures of any child of God.  Once you are marked by the blood of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit, there is nowhere where we will be “safe” from God.  So let’s dispense with the lie that there is some place safer, some place better, some place more comfortable other than where God is asking us to go… or what He is asking us to do.  As hard as doing the will of God with Him sometimes is, it’s always better than doing our will apart from God.
  • Let’s be honest. Sometimes we as God’s people act more like pagans…and pagans act more like what God’s people should be.  That’s humbling.  That’s sad. But it’s true.  Jonah was content to use and abuse pagan sailors when he should have been protecting and praying for them…which is what they were doing for him.  Amidst all the fear for our safety these days, we dare not depart from God’s heart to reconcile ALL people, every soul, to God through Jesus Christ. 
  • Prayer is always the appropriate response to problems. Whether the problem were in is because of our own rebellion against God or whether we’re being persecuted because we did the right thing, prayer is always the right action to engage in.  Prayer engages us with God.  And engaging with God will either lead us to repentance if we’ve sinned or give us access to His peace, grace and power if that’s what we need. 

So let’s finish Jonah’s story.  He goes to Nineveh, he preaches the “bad news” of God’s coming judgment…and here’s what happens.  Jonah 3:5ff“The Ninevites believed God.  A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.  6) When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.”  Then he went on to issue a decree that everybody and everything must fast (children and adults, even herds and flocks) and put on sackcloth as a sign of humility before God. The decree went on, “Let everyone call urgently on God.  Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.  Who knows?  God may yet   relent    and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

And that is precisely what God did. 

            That would make a great ending, I think, for that story.  But God goes on to paint a rather unflattering picture of His prophet, Jonah.  Jonah picks a front-row seat outside of Nineveh for what he thinks is going to be God’s greatest pyrotechnics show of the century.  But when the Ninevites turn out to repent and God turns out to be compassionate, Jonah gets really, really mad. 

He argues with God and throws together some makeshift lean-two for a little shade.  He keeps grumbling.  God keeps blessing by providing a fast-growing vine that shades him.  Jonah’s attitude improves and starts singing the praises of this refreshing plant. 

The next day, God sends a worm to destroy the plant.  Jonah gets all mad…again.  And God stops him in his tracks by reminding Jonah that he’s showed more love and compassion for some vine that was here last week and gone today than he has shown for all the thousands upon thousands of people of Nineveh. 

APP:  Ouch!  Now God’s meddling!  How many times have I been angry at God for not showing up like I wanted Him to, for not bringing down the people and evil I think is so grievous, for not making life “fair”?  How much does my life lack the basic compassion for enemies of God let alone sacrificial compassion that makes me willing to move to some difficult place…or interrupt my plans…or share Christ with a friend or neighbor, a radical Muslim or unrepentant criminal? 

You know, both of these prophets had some hard, honest, gutsy, unvarnished conversations with God about life.  But both of them also saw some of the most amazing, powerful, life-changing and history-altering moves of God.  It all came as they talked and listened to God, as they complained and confessed to God, as they whined and worshiped God.  It came through communication…prayer…confession…crying out before God’s throne of grace.


  • Many of life’s battles are won (or lost) at the altar of prayer. How about we spend some time coming before that altar, that Holy Place, the presence of God to ask that the fire of the Holy Spirit rain down on the offering of our lives, consume us and show an idolatrous world that God is God and He deserves their worship and service.
  • [Close with time of public worship & prayer. Invite people to kneel and pray where they are, come and pray at the platform, be prayed for by brothers and sisters at the sides.   Meanwhile, Jesse and the team will lead us all in more worship of our great God.