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Delivered By
Rev. Jonathan Gruen
Delivered On
November 8, 2015

Rev. Jonathan Gruen
1 Kings 17:8-16

Certain Promises

            God made a promise to the widow of Zarephath, “The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD (Yahweh) sends rain upon the earth.”  Through the mouth of the great prophet Elijah, God made this promise to care for a poor widow and her son.  There was great drought in the land.  Nothing was growing.  All reserves were just about used up.  Maybe in some of the houses of the wealthy there was still meat and wine and bread.  But not here.  Not at the widow’s house.  There was nothing left.

            Well, almost nothing.  There was a handful of flour, and just the last little bit of oil.  In our day, we just throw that last bit of oil away.  Who wants to stand there while the thick liquid slowly runs and the last little bit drip-drip-drips into the mixture?  But you don’t throw it away in a famine.  Oh no.  You use every last drop, for it may be the last time you eat.

            But God made a promise.  It is remarkable, really, that God makes promises at all.  We know God has the power to snap his fingers and make it rain. We know he can speak and the world can be filled with vegetation.  We know he can utter the command and the widow and son will have full stomachs.  But God is a God of promises.  He makes promises because his goal is not just to feed, but to create and strengthen faith—faith of the widow, faith of the son, faith of the prophet.

            Oh, yes, let’s not forget about the prophet.  God made him promises too.  He promises Elijah that as he serves the Lord, speaking as God commands, going where God directs, doing as the Spirit of God moves him, God will provide for him.  God promises that he has commanded a widow to feed Elijah.

            It’s a strange promise, really.  Elijah must go to Gentile territory, to the area of Tyre and Sidon, to a poor household.  Jesus himself would later comment on how remarkable this was.  In Luke 4 Jesus says, “But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow” (v. 25, 26).  Jesus was driving home the shocking point that though Israel, God’s chosen people, reject the Lord, there have been and will be Gentiles that hear and believe.

            Jesus himself would go also to this same region around Tyre and Sidon and encounter a Syrophoenecian woman of great faith (Mark 7:24-30).  Jesus would praise this woman’s faith.  God is greatly pleased, you see, when he gives a promise, and poor, needy sinners believe it.  And we certainly see a great example in this widow of Zarephath—a widow among the gentiles, a widow with almost nothing, a widow that God had supplied to provide for the prophet.

            And as Elijah waited for the oil to drip, drip, drip into the handful of flour, and for the sticks that the widow gathered to burn, and for the little thin cake of bread to cook, I wonder if he appreciated the faith that he saw, or if his stomach growled as ours do, unsatisfied, impatient, always wanting more, more, more, with a discontent that gnaws more than hunger pangs.

            But our Faithful God had made a promise to the widow.  He made a promise to Elijah.  And if we back up a little and look at the Scripture that comes before our text, we see that he made more promises.  He promised Elijah first that the brook would give him drink and that ravens—birds from whom we get the word ravenous—would feed him.  And before that, there is another promise, a different kind of promise.  God made a promise through Elijah to the wicked king Ahab that it would not rain.  For years!

            That’s a different kind of promise, isn’t it?  It is a fearsome thing when God punishes the wicked.  And in such a time even the righteous must be prepared for hardship.  But the faithful are never devoid of God’s gracious promises, even if he makes good on his threats.

            Ahab was evil.  He built worship centers, shrines, idols for false gods.  He rebuilt Jericho against God’s direct commands.  He promoted all kinds of immorality and eventually persecution of God’s people.  So, God rewarded Ahab with drought.  God did not want Israel to joyfully march their way into the fires of hell, so he allowed them hardship in order to give them opportunities to repent in dust and ashes, and trust in the promises of God.  He wanted them to turn that they might not die, but live.

            Now, during this time, God did not revoke his gracious promises, to Israel, to the king, to the people in the land, or even to widows outside of in.  Neither does God revoke his promises to you.  Though you may have had a time of wandering, though you fall into sin, though God may have allowed you to fall into drought or suffer famine, he has not revoked his gracious promises to you.

            What promises has God made you?  Has a prophet ever come to your house and said, “Thus says the Lord Yahweh!”?  Has the Spirit of God ever thundered in your head, “Go to Zarepheth!”?  No.  And maybe you’ve gone through tough times and your oil jug has run dry and has been discarded.  Maybe you tapped on the bottom of the flour jar and no powder floated downward.  But still it is true that the Word of the Lord is certain.

            It is true when God says that the wages of sin is death.  (Maybe that’s not where you thought I was going to go!  But that’s why we’re in this mess.)  It is true when God’s Word says that the soul that sins will die.  God has promised that apart from Jesus Christ, there is no salvation—not on your own, not with false gods, not by disbelieving in hell, not by trying really hard to be good.  God’s word is sure and certain that because you are a sinner, you are in terrible need of help, of rescue, of salvation.

            Yet, God has good promises for you—gracious ones, peaceful ones, the ones that give life.  You have the promise that Jesus “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26).  You have the promise that his life, death, and resurrection is the gracious provision that we most desperately need.  You have the promise that “all the promises of God find their Yes in [Christ Jesus]” for you (2 Cor. 1:20).

            You have the promise that God’s Word of forgiveness accomplishes what it says, cleansing you of your sin and reconciling you to God.  You have the promise in your baptism that you are joined to Christ in his death and resurrection, guaranteeing that you who are buried with Christ will also rise with him.  You have the promise that the body and blood of the Lord received in faith will strengthen and preserve you unto life everlasting.

            On top of that, you have so many additional promises: promises that he will provide, that he will be with you, that his angels will watch over you, that he will never leave you, that you are more than conquerors, that nothing can separate you from his love, that you have peace with God, that you have the strength to love others, that he will be at work in your life, as you serve at home, at church, and in the community. 

Our Faithful God is a God of promises.  He could snap his fingers and make things happen.  He could speak a command and force things to happen.  But he delights in making promises and strengthening us to believe them.

            Do you believe his promises?

            We’ve talked a little about the promises God has made.  Now let’s talk about the response.  The widow believed.  She regarded the promise of the Lord more capable to feed her than that handful of flour.  She considered the Word of the Lord to be more sustaining than the oil in her jar.  She considered her life and the life of her only son better off in the Lord’s hands, than in her own.  And this is remarkable faith. Consider that she had enough for one last meal.  Their last few bites.  But who knows when it would rain and the earth would spontaneously sprout tiny sprouts that could feed them?  Who knows whether that little cake would buy them enough time, just enough time, to survive?  But she gives it up in obedience to the God of certain promises.  She gives it up in faith.  She sacrifices her last meal to the glory of God.

            Elijah also believed God’s promise.  God said “Go for a widow will feed you.”  And he went.  Before that, God said, “Go, and brook will give you drink and ravens will feed you.”  And Elijah responded in faith.  And before that, God said, “Go and speak to Ahab,” and though it is unpleasant and dangerous, Elijah speaks the words of God’s warning and judgment to Ahab.

            Elijah counted the promise of God more sure than his own ideas and thoughts.  Elijah considered following God’s will to be better than saving his own skin.  Elijah considered the Word of God to be more sustaining than an easier life of eating and drinking in the houses of the wealthy.  And God sustained him.

            We see remarkable faith in the widow.  We see remarkable faith in Elijah.  One person who is not a good example of faith, however, is Ahab.  He did not believe the Lord, and even when the drought and famine came to pass, he did not repent.  That sets up the account of Elijah vs. Ahab’s 450 prophets of Baal – which is a great lesson for another time.

            So, dear friends, what does this all mean?  Let’s wrap up with 5 quick points.  1) God has made you promises.  He promises that you are in dire need of a Savior.  He promises that he has provided the Savior in Jesus Christ.  You can see in Scripture, and I hope you can see in your life, that God’s promises are given to you, and that they are sure and certain.

            2) Rejoice in God’s provision.  If God can sustain the widow and son and prophet for days and days, months and months, even for years with a handful of flour and the last tablespoon of oil, he can most certainly provide for you.  Are you worried about your job, your car, your house, your bills, your health?  Do you find it difficult to be generous to those in need, or support the work of the living Gospel in the Church, or to free yourself from all sorts of covetous desires?  Why is it so hard?  Why do you fear so much?  Do you not have the sure and certain promise of God that he will care for you, his precious children?

            3) Be confident in God’s strength.  If God can strengthen the prophet to speak God’s truth, both the warning and the blessing, then he can most certainly strengthen you.  Are you embarrassed to speak about your faith?  Afraid to confront sin?  Hesitant to speak the truth?  Why do you fear?  Why are you embarrassed?  He has promised that his people will stand before governors and kings and be given the words to say.  Surely he can help you at work or school or the public square.

            4) Recall God’s promises, for they are many.  When times were tough and faithful people were scarce, God would raise up prophets so that his Word would not be silenced.  In these days, when God’s people are many (millions), and the Bible is all over the world, we can rejoice that his Word is whispered, sung, spoken, and shouted everywhere.  What a joy that we can encounter that Word everywhere.  What a joy that we can feed on the Word daily.  Daily.

            5) Trust that God’s promises are certain, for he has shown over and over again that they are.  When everything else is uncertain, when all is sorrow or loss, when you can count on nothing from the world and you have nothing yourself to offer, God’s got everything to give.  His promises are certain, and his provision is life.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.