1 Kings 19:1-8
“Food for the Journey”
Elijah was having a rough go of it. Sure he'd had his moment of glory. Actually, it was to the glory of God that the prophets of Baal were defeated in that famous contest on Mt. Carmel. You build your altar, I'll build mine to Yahweh, and we'll see which god is real. Yahweh sent fire down to consume Elijah's sacrifice, and the altar of stone as well – but Baal was silent, well, because he doesn't exist. And Elijah even had the 450 prophets of Baal put to death by the sword. For Elijah it was a great victory. A triumph, even.
But not when wicked queen Jezebel heard of it. She put a contract out on Elijah's life. And she meant business. She'd put many other faithful prophets of Yahweh to death already. Elijah would be just one more. But this once bold confessor who stood up to his opponents on Mt. Carmel and prayed for fire to come from heaven – and had faith to believe that it would – now turns into a coward and flees from the northern kingdom, flees even from the southern kingdom, flees all the way into the southern wilderness. Quite a contrast. Almost unbelievable.
Unless you read your bible. And you see the many other people of faith with their shocking ups and downs. Abraham's faith to sacrifice his son Issac, but his fear that the Pharaoh would kill him and take his wife. Moses' faith to stand before another Pharaoh but his self-glorifying fall when he struck the rock to get water. David's faith to fell the giant Goliath, remain faithful to a wicked king Saul, and fight the Philistines by their thousands, but his fall into sin with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. Even in the New Testament – the disciples of Jesus, especially Peter, are commendable in faith one minute, and faltering in fear and failure the next. They confess him, then they deny him. They believe him, then they doubt him. And so it goes. The Bible is full of these sinners and saints.
And the contrast is also observable in your life. You can seem to fight the good fight for a while, but then temptations come and you fold like a house of cards. One day your faith feels strong like a fortress, the next you feel the sand shifting beneath you. You're confident of grace and God's love in Christ over here, and right over there you forget it all, and despair and doubt. Like St. Paul who struggled between his flesh and the new creation, every Christian goes through it. Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – for he does it – in Jesus Christ.
And so God is continually pointing us outside ourselves. He's continually surprising us with the Gospel, with his love, grace, mercy, and providence. He's continually speaking to you, sustaining you, providing for you, even feeding you.
Take Elijah again. He's out in the wilderness. Threatened by enemies, but now also hungry. Despair is getting the best of him. “O Lord, take away my life...” he prays. But God's not having it. He has work for him to do. He has plans for his servant Elijah. He will go to Horeb. God will speak to him there. And Elijah will return and face his foes again, to pronounce God's word of judgment.
And so God strengthens him for the journey. In the middle of this wilderness, he lets him rest, and he gives him bread. Not just once, mind you, but twice, he feeds the prophet. He sends an angel, a messenger, with food for strength and words of encouragement. Food that Elijah didn't prepare or even ask for, but God knew he needed. “The journey is too great for you”. But nothing is too great for our God, in him all things are possible. In him, and in Jesus Christ – we have food for the journey.
Jesus Christ is the living bread from heaven who sustains and feeds us with his very self. He gives us strength for the journey of this life, indeed he gives us this life, sustains us in this world of enemies and this wilderness of sin. He speaks to us through faithful messengers who set his word before us, for the journey is too great for us. He feeds us with his own body and blood, not just once, but as often as we do this in his remembrance.
He's not a point-you-in-that-direction and see-you-at-the-finish-line kind of Savior. He's a with-you-every-step-of-the-way Savior. An ever-present help in trouble. A constant friend. A faithful shepherd. He will not leave you alone, wandering. He promises to be with you always, not just when it seems like fun. And if that were not enough: He even sends you his Spirit, who guides, comforts, enlightens, encourages and even prays for you along the way.
If you are tempted to despair, or give up, if you have had enough of sin, death, and of their wake of destruction and the mess they bring into your world. If you are longing for death, or just to check out and not be bothered with your vocations. If you even question God's goodness and mercy, or think that maybe he's forgotten or forsaken you. Consider this.
The God who went to the great care of sending his own son, even giving him into death, he will not leave you to your journey without his aid. He's gone to far too much trouble for your salvation.
For Jesus' part, he, too was a prophet who made his share of enemies. He, like Elijah, made a journey into the wilderness of his own. Only Jesus wasn't running away, he was driven by the Spirit there, to face the ultimate enemy, and to prevail. There, in his hunger, the Tempter said, “turn these stones into bread”, but the Living Bread answered, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”. There, in his 40 day journey, Jesus didn't despair, but he kept the fast and stood firm against temptation. And like Elijah, angels came and ministered to him.
Elijah sat under the small comfort of a broom tree, but Jesus labored under the shadow of another tree – a cross - a tree of suffering that had his name on it, that he would endure to end all suffering. A tree of curse, to reverse Adam's curse. A tree of judgment for the forbidden fruit of sin, by which he would win for us the fruits of righteousness again.
Elijah's journey wouldn't end in death, like he suggested. But Jesus' journey to the cross could only be to die. Yet he never turned away, never flinched, never failed to drink the cup appointed, or to bear the sentence that was pronounced. Mocked by men and forsaken by God, he truly was the only one left to bear that awful load.
How will God, who spared not his own son – how will he not also graciously give you all good things? How will Jesus, who endured all that suffering and such a bitter death – how will he not, also, graciously sustain you? He didn't do all this for nothing. He did it for you.
He did it because he knows the journey is hard. He knows you couldn't make it on your own – it's too great for you. But you, traveller, have a path and course marked out for you. You, wilderness wanderer, have a forerunner who's already stormed the gates of death and hell, and marked out the way back to paradise. Better than that, he doesn't just show you the way, he brings you with him. And he's with you all along the way, sustaining you come what may.
Enemies abound. The Devil rages and schemes for your demise. But what of that? You have shelter in the arms of Jesus. Death looms, and it may come for you. But what of that? For in Christ, death is but the gate to eternal life. The wilderness of the world is a wasteland of sin, violence, pain and sorrow. No matter. Jesus has the journey covered. He's with you every step. He'll even feed you along the way, over and over. And your destination is beyond comparing to this vale of tears.
The journey's too great for you. But not for Jesus. Come to his table today. Be fed once again. Remain in him, and your journey will be blessed.