Bethlehem Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS || AUDIO
The Word of the Lord came to [Elijah], “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there.”
INI + AMEN.
The main thrust of our Old Testament lesson is that Elijah is cared for by the widow at Zarephath. There a miracle of the Lord. He multiplies flour and oil to supply food for many days. This foreshadows Christ’s feeding both the 4,000 and the 5,000. But there is something we need before Elijah is cared for in Zarephath, even before the widow makes that first of many cakes for Elijah and herself and her whole house. It all begins with the LORD.
Our text begins with the LORD sending Elijah. But not the LORD, the Word of the Lord came. He sends Elijah. The Lord’s sending Elijah gets the ball rolling with this text. Elijah, the LORD’s Prophet, lives and preaches in Zarephath. There he goes, only because the Lord sent him. He is cared for there because the Lord chose to send him there. It all begins with the Lord’s sending.
Now, Zarephath isn’t just any old place. What sets it apart is who is in control of Zarephath. It’s not Israel. It’s not Judah. It’s the gentile city-state of Sidon. Zarephath isn’t an Israelite city. Sidon isn’t part of the Israelite kingdom. No, Zarephath and Sidon are another kingdom, another nation altogether. That’s where the Word of the LORD sends Elijah.
That’s right. Even in the Old Testament, the LORD is concerned about the nations. Even there He sends His prophets, His preachers, His messengers. The nations are the beginning and end of the Lord’s, the Word of the Lord’s, sending His messengers.
THE WORD SENDS HIS MESSENGERS TO THE NATIONS.
((I. The WORD is the Sender and the Message.))
It is the WORD who does the sending. We don’t want to miss that. When it’s the WORD that comes, that’s telling us it’s the Son of God who came to Elijah, and all the prophets. John tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Word who came to Elijah was Jesus, before He was born. Jesus is the one who sent His prophets to Israel, to Judah, and even to the nations.
All the Prophets were Jesus’ prophets not only because He sent them, but because they preached of Him. They preached the promise of a coming Savior. They didn’t just preach things that came true, like Elijah preached full jars of flour and oil. No, they preached the promise. Jesus, the Word of God, isn’t just the Sender of the Prophets. He’s also the Message of the Prophets! They preached His coming, His salvation, His death and resurrection beforehand. They preached that He would die for the sins of the whole world, your sins, my sins. They preached just as the Holy Spirit led them. Peter tells us, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories,” His resurrection.
Even Elijah preached the salvation of the LORD. “Don’t be afraid,” He tells the widow, and after Elijah raised her son from the dead, she said, “Now I know that the Word of the Lord in your mouth is true.” He had been preaching during his time in Zarephath, and when Elijah also foreshadowed Christ work of raising the dead and rising from the dead. The peace, the salvation the prophets preached was the very promise and message of Jesus, the message He sent them to preach.
Yes, Jesus, THE WORD SENDS HIS MESSENGERS. He doesn’t just send a message. A message needs a messenger, someone to deliver it, speak it. Not just Prophets or Pastors, but all His people serve as His messengers within their vocations. Parents and children become messengers within a family. Neighbors become messengers, telling of Jesus, to their friends, family, and neighbors.
The messengers are sent out to the nations. “Make disciples of all nations,” Jesus says. Baptizing and teaching them, He says. That’s you me! We’re disciples of Jesus! You’re baptized! You’re given His Word! And “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” The promise of forgiveness of sins, delivered in the water and word of Baptism, “is for you, for your children, for all who are far, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” Calls through His messengers.
It was that way even in the Old Testament. But it wasn’t just to far off places like Jonah was sent to Nineveh or Daniel living in Babylon. No, Elijah was sent even to the city-state, the nation of Sidon, next door neighbor to Israel.
((II. The nations are also neighbors.))
Yes, Jesus, THE WORD SENDS HIS MESSENGERS TO THE NATIONS, but that’s not necessarily far away, for the nations are also neighbors. That’s Sidon, like I said. It’s so close Jesus even went there from time to time during His earthly ministry. Zarephath isn’t far from Mt. Carmel, where Elijah would best the prophets of Baal in just a few chapters.
The nations also came to be neighbors of Israel. It’s why our Psalm today says, “The LORD watches over the sojourners.” Sojourners are foreigners, gentiles, who lived among the people of Israel. The sojourners, circumcised as Israelites, would also partake of the Passover! The sacrifice of the Lamb, which rescued them from the slavery and death of Egypt! Christ is the true Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
So also neighbors today—your neighbors. Yes, Jesus, THE WORD, SENDS HIS MESSENGERS TO THE NATIONS, even today. But that’s not just far off places. Not just Africa or China, just like it wasn’t just Nineveh or Babylon. As a hymn puts it, “If you cannot cross the ocean and the heathen lands explore, you can find the heathen nearer, you can help him at your door.” “In your hearts,” Peter says, “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
There are all sorts of your neighbors that don’t believe in Jesus. He sends out His messengers to deliver the message of His death and resurrection for them. Yes, using prophets and pastors, but also you! Christ died, Christ rose. His Word makes you ready to defend not just what’s true, but the hope you have in Christ’s death and resurrection. You could even use your weddings, your funerals as the chance—maybe the only chance!—your guests will actually hear about what Jesus has done for them in His dying and coming back to life.
The Word of the Lord came to [Elijah], “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there.” THE WORD, Jesus, SENDS HIS MESSENGERS TO THE NATIONS. To all those around, but even to you. It doesn’t matter to the Lord if it’s Israel, Zarephath, Bremen, or Africa. He “wants all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the Truth,” come to faith in Jesus.
Faith in Jesus comes through the Word. Jesus is the message of the WORD, even as He is the WORD who gave it. The Word tells of His death, His resurrection, His salvation, His peace. The Word delivers it, too: in Water, through Bread and Wine—His body and blood FOR YOU. His Word needs messengers—all who are His. He sends them. “Arise, go” “preach the Gospel to all creation, whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”
You’re saved, made into His disciple, a believer who trusts Him. Jesus, the WORD, has made sure of that. He’s SENT HIS MESSENGERS TO THE NATIONS, after all, even to you today.
INI + AMEN.