I have been very zealous for the LORD of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life (1 Kings 19:14).
Perhaps you can understand how the prophet felt. I imagine Jesus could after being forsaken by His disciples on the night of the betrayal. I am sure Paul could as well as he languished in the Roman dungeon. We might also mention Luther the great reformer hiding in the castle of Wartburg after his excommunication by the Roman Catholic Church.
We live in a religious climate not completely unlike that of Elijah in one particular: both cultures were/are glutted with professing saints whose beliefs and behaviors told/tell a different story. Many in ancient Israel gave lip service to Yahweh while in practice devoting themselves to the worship of Baal. In 2009 77% of Americans polled identified themselves as Christians. If these figures are applied against the total population, the estimated number of professing Christians in North America is around 224 million. The only reason these numbers have even any apparent validity is that the word Christian has become so generic as to mean virtually anything. And when a term can mean whatever you want it to mean, it consequently means nothing. Obama is a Christian, Romney is a Christian. Glenn Beck is a Christian. Donald Trump is a Christian. How does one become a Christian? Simple: just say you are a Christian. You say it, I believe it, that settles it. And even if I don’t believe it that still settles it. Your saying it is all that counts.
But Scripture seems to indicate that the path to eternal life is a narrow one which only a minority of the human population finds (Matther 7:13-14). As history marches on many will fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1-5). Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? (Luke 18:8). The implied answer to this question is: no, or at least, not very much. According to Jesus, apparently, lip service and faith are not synonymous.
But although Elijah felt all alone, he was not. Of course God was with him; but also: Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him (1 Kings 19:18). Notice: they had not reserved themselves–God had reserved them. God keeps His elect from apostasy. The faith he ignites in their hearts at regeneration he fans and keeps alive by His sustaining grace, so that they persevere in the faith to the end. What an encouragement it must have been to Elijah to know there were likeminded saints in Israel that stood with him for the glory of the true and living God.
Last night after dinner, as Connie and I relaxed and tried to cool down after a long work week in what was surely the hottest day of the summer, there was a knock at our front door. Connie answered it and returned a few minutes later. There ‘s some old guy here to see you. It was none other than Walter Thomas “Tom” Steele, Jr., from Fort Oglethorp, Georgia. I had not seen brother Steele in a decade, and he definitely looked older, at age 64 now. But as we sat out on the back porch in the shade in a couple Adirondack chairs catching up I recognized the same Tom I roomed with for two years in Bible College (1974-76). The same Tom who used to sit in the back alcove of the dorm and pray and discuss the word with me. The same Tom who used to pass out gospel tracts in front of the adult book store in Blaine, along with atomic fireball jawbreakers as a playful reminder of where the recipients would be going if they died without Christ. As we talked it was as if the years melted away. Jesus–the same yesterday, today, and forever–is alive and well in Walter Thomas Steele, Jr.
Every time I talk with Tom, or any other brother from back in the day, or when one of them responds to a post here, I feel good knowing there are a few likeminded brothers God has kept in His grace. Not that any are without temptation or sin; but their simple trust in Jesus Christ and their desire to walk with Him are such an inspiration and encouragement to me. I rub elbows with people all week long that to have fellowship with means talking to them on a level they can relate to; and that means the weather, sports, politics, relationships, you name it, from a Christless perspective. But when a guy like Tom walks through the door, you don’t have to wait too long for Jesus to be front and center, and the koinonia is going full-steam. At the same time I feel saddened at the thought of so many who seemed to make a good start but today by their lips and their lives make no pretense or profession of trusting Christ.
To all you brothers out there who have not bowed the knee to Baal, I want you to know that you moral and prayer support, and your sharing of yourself in any measure with me is appreciated beyond words. Sometimes I wonder why, after all these years, it is Pete who trusts Jesus and wants to feed on His word and glorify Him. There are so many who have not persevered. And then I think of some of you who, like Tom, are walking with the Lord, and I am encouraged. True, sometimes we seem to barely limp along; but we’re still moving.
To me this is a great evidence of the Lord’s reality and motivation to press on to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.