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Text: “And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’” 1 Kings 19:5
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Elijah thought the people of Israel finally got it. “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God,” they said (1 Ki 18:39). And why wouldn’t they? They had seen the prophets of Baal crying out and dancing and bargaining and pleading with their false god to light the fire for the sacrifice they’d prepared. For hours they put on their show. And nothing. Then they had seen Elijah’s simple, quiet prayer. And immediately they saw God send fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice—the bull, the wood, the stones of the altar, even the water he had poured over it until the ditch around the altar was full. They had seen and they had chanted, “The Lord, he is God!” And at Elijah’s command, they did what they should have done years earlier: the people slaughtered 450 false prophets of Baal. And, as a final stroke, they saw Elijah tell King Ahab to mount his chariot and leave because it was about to rain—it hadn’t rained in three years, but now he had to rush home or else his chariot would end up stuck in the mud. And it happened just as the prophet said. Amazing signs done through Elijah that seemed to achieve exactly what he’d hoped for. Finally, he had succeeded in bringing back the people of Israel to the true God.
Except he hadn’t. King Ahab and his wife Jezebel were not repentant but angry, they didn’t humble themselves before Elijah, they threatened to kill him. After all the time over the course of his ministry, after all the work, now after producing that miraculous sign, he’s back to square one! And for him, that was it! The people had forsaken God’s covenant, broken down his altars, and it seemed like they had killed every other one of God’s prophets. So he left Israel, crawled under a tree, and asked God to take his life. “I’ve failed just like all my predecessors.”
But God didn’t take his life. Instead, God gave him something. The angel of the Lord appeared and touched him and said, “Arise and eat.”
Perhaps you’ve come to the same place (vv 1–4). We love the Lord and, like Elijah, want God’s kingdom—and our congregation here—to grow. So we pray. We attend every worship service. We volunteer to teach Sunday School and to usher. We give generously of our income. Yet the congregation never grows. Perhaps we even run into financial difficulty. We read the advice of others. There are building projects. We try new programs. We urge our church’s members to do more. We even try to be better at the roles God has given us to do in church. Yet it looks as if everything we’ve ever done was a waste of time. “Why bother?” we think.
You love the Lord and, like Elijah, want God’s kingdom—your family—to grow and stay close to God and to His church. Instead what you experience is disappointment and division. For every moment of joy at getting them back to church there’s a moment disappointment at the choices they make when they leave. There always seems to be some sort of division because of hurtful words that were said by one or hurtful actions by another. So you’ve talked, you’ve commanded, you’ve pleaded until your voice was hoarse and there was nothing left to say and no one there to say it to.
Or perhaps neither of those describes you. Perhaps it’s daily life itself—pushing through one crisis only to face another, overcoming one obstacle only to find a dead end, with despair quickly replacing your dreams. Perhaps it’s your struggle to try to live a holy life—fighting against your sinful nature only to have one success after another undone by a moment of failure.
Whatever form it takes, this world—life in this wilderness—brings us to the same point as Elijah under that broom tree crying out, “It is enough now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers”
If that’s the point you’re at then I say “Good!”
Now you’re ready to hear the voice of the angel of the Lord: “Arise and eat.”
Now you’re ready for the food He is about to place here before you on this altar.
“Arise and eat. The journey is too much for you.” The Lord gives Elijah more than he asked for or imagined (vv 5b–8). As God had fed his people Israel in the desert with manna, as God the Son would feed five thousand in the wilderness, so now God feeds his prophet. While Elijah lay there in the wilderness under the tree, waiting to die, God did not grant his prayer. Instead, as the angel of the Lord, the Son of God came to him and brought bread and water to him. God, Christ himself, personally gave his prophet the strength to go on.
Jesus invites you, too. As the Son of God fed Elijah, he now feeds you, not with just bread and water, but with his own body and blood in the bread and wine of his Supper. “No one can come to me,” Jesus said, “unless the Father who sent me draws Him. And I will raise him up on the last day. …Truly, truly I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.
Here, the forgiveness and all the blessings of Jesus’ cross are given to you personally. He feeds you with His body and blood that were strong enough to resist the devil in the wilderness for 40 days; that were strong enough to heal the blind and the sick; that were strong enough to calm the storm and walk on water; that were strong enough to stand in the face of those who falsely accused Him; that were strong enough to walk all the way to the cross; that were strong enough to do it all, to live His entire life and ministry, without sin; that were strong enough to take the beating and the mocking and the spitting; that were strong enough to take on your sin and suffer the pains of hell that you deserved; that were strong enough to walk all the way to the cross and take the nails and say “Father, forgive them.” Arise and eat. The journey is too much for you. But not for Him.
He gives you His body and blood in the Sacrament, gives you strength so that you are refreshed.
What if church weren’t about growing a bigger organization? Balanced budgets? Bigger buildings? Bigger programs? What if it weren’t about building the perfect family? What if it weren’t about making you say and do all the right things? What if it were about feeding you—feeding as many repentant sinners as possible—for the journey through the wilderness of this life instead?
If that’s what it was all about then our life together in the church would be messy, chaotic, noisy, even ugly at times. The people in the church would be messy, chaotic, noisy, even ugly at times. The pastors in the church would be—well, you don’t need me to tell you that. And we’d all be here for one purpose: to be fed by God.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, allow me to let you in on a secret. That’s what we’re here for. This is the place where the Angel of the Lord feeds you with His body and blood in the sacrament as often as possible, even more than every other week if you need it! Feeds you by hearing His Word preached and taught. Feeds you so that you can respond by serving Him with every gift that He’s given you, so that you can stand against the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature; so that we can live together in unity of fellowship and confession of faith just as certainly as we arise and eat together; so that your homes might be—well, not perfect, but—places of grace.
The meal is ready. And yes, the journey is too hard for you. Arise and eat. Amen.