Based on 1 Kings 19:3-8
If I say, “The thrill of victory...” You know what comes next, don’t you? “The agony of defeat...” It’s a common way to explain that enormous gap that exists between winning and losing. It feels quite different to be the general who accepts the enemy’s surrender than it does to be the general who surrenders. As a Packer fan it was thrilling when the Packers had what seemed to be an insurmountable lead in last year’s NFC Championship Game. ...But it was not so thrilling when they lost. And it’s not just war and sports. There’s quite a difference between hearing, “The cancer is in remission…” and, “the cancer has come back…”
Elijah was very familiar with both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. And he knew as well as anyone that the agony of defeat tends to stick with you longer than the thrill of victory.
The prophet Elijah had just been involved in an incredible victory right before the short account you just heard. He was a messenger of God to the nation of Israel during a time when the king and queen and most of the people had abandoned the true God. Just a short time before we see him alone in our text, Elijah was at the top of a mountain near the Mediterranean coast, in Northern Israel. On Mount Carmel Elijah had been prompted by God to challenge the prophets of a false god called Baal to a test… If Baal answered the prayers of his so called prophets and sent fire to burn up a sacrifice then Elijah would acknowledge Baal. But, if Baal failed to come through and only the LORD sent fire, then the people would have to acknowledge the truth that the LORD was the ONLY God…
Well, you may be familiar with the story. The prophets of Baal got no response. Then Elijah prayed and the LORD rained down fire that consumed not only the sacrifice but the altar too. It would have been a thrilling moment for Elijah. The LORD not only proved once again that he is the one and only God, the people of Israel began shouting, “The LORD he is God! The LORD he is God!” The prophets of Baal who had been leading people away from their Creator God and straight into hell were all killed. What would you expect to happen next if you were Elijah? Would you expect this awesome victory to turn into defeat? NO! You’d see this victory as a huge breakthrough, wouldn’t you!? You’d expect things to improve!? You’d expect the people to continue following the one true God!
But that was history now. Elijah was on the run again. And not only did he feel defeated, the victory on Mt. Carmel didn’t seem to matter anymore. Queen Jezebel swore to kill him within 24 hours. Before the victory at Mt. Carmel Elijah had spent 3 years on the run from Jezebel’s husband King Ahab who also wanted him dead. Here we go again! Had his life of service to God been a total waste? Elijah had had enough. And as he collapsed under that scraggly desert tree he spit out a prayer as he fell asleep. More like a resignation than a prayer really… “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4)
What frustrates you? What makes you want to quit? To give up on others? To give up on life? To give up on God? Maybe, like Elijah, you’ve gotten sick of talking to people who don’t seem to listen. Your words to your spouse or you kids or your boss… they seem to fall on deaf ears. It’s frustrating. Maybe it’s because you feel the sting of persecution just like Elijah… maybe no one is trying to kill you… but the constant barrage of anti-Christian sentiment in our nation is just grinding you down to the point where you feel like you can’t take it anymore. Maybe your frustration is with your body that seems to be falling apart… your vision or hearing isn’t what it once was… you’re in pain most if not all of the time… you have to prepare yourself for yet another surgery… your heart is failing and you just feel weak. Perhaps what is really weighing you down is your unending battle with yourself… another day of failure… another day where you do the thing you promised yourself you wouldn’t do again…
When we find ourselves beaten down by these things we can tempted to do just what Elijah did… to run off and hide… to lay down and give up… give up on ourselves… give up on others… give up on life… even give up on God.
It’s important for us to recognize that when we start into these self-focused gripe fests and pity parties what we’re really doing is demonstrating a lack of trust in our God. If we trusted God with our whole heart we would never be bothered by the burdens of life… We would rest knowing that even in hard times our God cares for us and uses these things for our good. But we don’t act that way, do we? And as a result God should be frustrated with us.
God should be frustrated with our lack of faith even after all he’s done for us—he should be ready to say, “Enough! I’ve had it with you and your complaining. After all I’ve done for you… after all I’ve told you… and this is how you repay me!?” If we think about it we really have no reason to expect anything else from God… and yet what do we get from him? What did Elijah get?
Well, Elijah found his griping met with grace. He saw his frustrations met with God’s faithfulness. And so do we. God comes to us, like he came to Elijah, and he gives us bread for the journey. In Elijah’s case he really did give him some bread and water to strengthen him and keep him going, but he also gave him a word of encouragement—he told him to keep going—to go to the Mountain of God—to meet with God and be encouraged by his Word and his mercy. And our God does the same with us. He refreshes us with just the just right things to keep us going when we hit those low points on our journey through life.
We hear encouragement from a friend—an apology from a spouse—a word of appreciation from our boss or teacher—but best of all—best of all—God gives us the ONLY Bread that can satisfy our hunger and truly give us the strength we need to keep going. He gives us his Son. He feeds us with Jesus.
We heard Jesus today in the Gospel Lesson describe himself as the Bread of Life—as food for the soul. And that is just what he is. He nourishes us when we are ready to give up. He reminds us that even if others don’t listen to us or care about us—he does. He comforts us with the promise that sickness and pain and failing health are only temporary burdens to bear, and that they are meant to remind us we were never meant to live this way forever.
And perhaps best of all, Jesus comes to us and feeds us with the truth that not even our sin can change the way he feels about us—even if our lives are a mess right now because of it. It might seem too good to be true because we never experience such perfect mercy from other people—and yet it’s true! Your failures, your fears, your frustrations, your sins—nothing can place you outside the sphere of God’s love or nullify your calling as his holy child.
And we know this because God’s only Son made sure of it. He came down from heaven and went through the difficulty journey of life in this sinful world. He faced persecution. He had people refuse to listen to him. He got sick. He got tired. But he never ever gave up. He never gave up on himself—or on his God—or on his mission. And he never gave up on you. Instead he took all your fears and frustrations and failures—he took them to the cross where he experienced the agony of defeat for us—as he gave his body for the life of the world. And then he left all those fears and frustrations and failures of ours in the grave and rose in victory so that we could be certain of his promises and certain of our future.
And as we hear this precious good news again and again, we are nourished by it. We are nourished by him. Jesus is our food—our strength—our bread for the journey. Until that journey ends and we reach—not Horeb, the Mountain of God, like Elijah did—but heaven! The eternal home of God where we will live and be sustained forever by the Bread of Life—where we will join Elijah in experiencing the thrill of victory forever and ever—and never again the agony of defeat.
Lord's blessings on the rest of your week!