The northern breakaway kingdom of Israel had drifted further away from the one true God, Yahweh. Their latest king, Ahab, ‘did that which was evil in the sight of Yahweh above all that were before him… he took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshiped him’(1 Kings 16:30-31). Moreover, ‘Jezebel cut off the prophets of Yahweh’(1 Kings 18:4).
However Elijah, ‘prophet of Yahweh’(1 Kings 18:22), at God’s express ‘“word”’(1 Kings 18:36) set up a challenge. Two sacrifices were to be prepared, the first by the prophets of Baal, who were to call on him to answer by fire and burn up the sacrifice. They did so and despite frenzied calling nothing happened. Then Elijah ‘repaired the altar of Yahweh that was thrown down’(1 Kings 18:30) prepared a sacrifice and prayed a simple prayer that God would respond as promised ‘“that this people may know that you, Yahweh, are God”’(1 Kings 18:37). Even though drenched with water, ‘the fire of Yahweh fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.’!
What has this got to do with us? We seem far removed from an age of false Gods like Baal, when people prepared sacrifices, and when the one true God answered by fire! Or are things so different?
Few today might worship and sacrifice to the likes of Baal, but we’re all absorbed by something/someone. Whatever we sacrifice our time and energy on, where our focus is, whatever captivates our hearts and enthusiasms, that’s our worship. Any such service and worship that’s not done, ‘in word or in deed… in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father, though him’(Colossians 3:17), is done with an inappropriate short focus, and like the Israelites we could be accused, at the very least, of a ‘“waver between the two”’(1 Kings 18:21), or perhaps even total focus on the wrong one.
How then should we worship and sacrifice to the one true God in our present age? As Paul continues in Colossians, ‘whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord’(Colossians 3:23). The important thing is that we do everything with a view to God’s general and specific calling on our lives, for Him, whatever roles we’re given. In such things, even the mundane necessities, we can follow the example of Jesus and be ‘imitators of God, as beloved children. Walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling fragrance’(Ephesians 5:1-2), just like the burnt offerings of the Old Testament, ‘an offering made by fire, of a pleasant aroma to Yahweh’(Leviticus 1:17). Elsewhere Paul expresses the same idea when he encourages us to present ourselves as ‘a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service’(Romans 12:1), and ‘a sweet aroma of Christ to God’(2 Corinthians 2:15). Likewise Peter wrote that we are to be ‘as living stones… built up as a spiritual house… a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’(1 Peter 2:5). So, ‘Through him, then, let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which proclaim allegiance to his name… doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased’(Hebrews 13:15-16).
So does God answer our sacrifices with fire? God is often represented by fire, for example in the book of Exodus ‘the glory of Yahweh was like devouring fire’(Exodus 24:17) and on the day of Pentecost ‘Tongues like fire’(Acts 2:3) came down on the apostles as they ‘were all filled with the Holy Spirit’(Acts 2:4). If we sacrifice to the wrong things, to the wrong end, as with the prophets of Baal our frenzy of life will be in vain. But God will light up our rightly made sacrifices with His Holy Spirit power.
We might feel that our sacrifices are damp squibs, drenched even. But ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise’(Psalm 51:17), and ‘He won’t quench a dimly burning wick’(Isaiah 42:3), rather He’ll ignite even ‘the water’ – then we’ll doubly rejoice ‘“Yahweh, he is God!”’