We can all relate to Elijah. We know what it’s like to have had enough. Enough of the tensions that exist in this life. You know everything that’s bothering you right now, everything that’s weighing you down—anxiety over the next chapter in life, wondering how to manage everyone’s hectic schedule, how this month’s bills will be paid, when the doctor will finally call with the test results. And the list goes on. All of these stresses weigh on you. You wonder just how much more you can bear.
When Elijah spoke the words we just heard a few minutes ago, he was on the run from Jezebel, a wicked queen who had vowed to have Elijah killed. Why? Just a chapter before Elijah defeated the false prophets of the idol Baal. God sent down fire that consumed the burnt offering, the wood, and even the water in the trench that surrounded the altar. God proved that He is the true God, able to do mighty things. The prophets of Baal were leading God’s people astray, and for that, Elijah killed them for their evil that they had done. But Jezebel would have none of that. She vowed to do to Elijah just what he had done to her beloved false prophets. So, he was a man on the run. Someone very powerful had it out for him.
Someone very powerful has it out for you, too. On Sunday we heard of Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the wilderness. Just as Satan tempted Jesus, he tempts you. The anxieties you have aren’t just earthly. Remember what St. Paul said—the devil is prowling like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. He wants nothing more than your destruction—now and eternally. So, he tempts you. He says to you what he said to Adam and Eve: “Did God really say…” He wants you to give into temptation, to think that sin isn’t that big of a deal. So what if you covet? So what if you flirt with the barista you visit every morning? So what if you slip a few office supplies in your purse or briefcase on the way out the door? Life is all about doing what makes you feel good, right? And that’s not all! As Jesus showed us in the Gospel reading, our other temptation is to disbelieve the plain Word of God. We get bored with the Word and want signs. Nineveh repented because of the Word; the Queen of Shebah traveled half a world away to hear Solomon’s God-given wisdom. But we balk at the Word, we reject the wisdom of God. Give me something flashy, something catchy I can share on Facebook, not this message of repentance, of mortification of the flesh, of a man being executed. There are always wicked spirits seeking to pull us away from Christ, to make our last state worse than the first.
With all of your physical anxieties combined with these spiritual temptations to evil, it’s very easy to despair, just like Elijah—“It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life!” Get me out of here! I’ve had enough!
But what does the Lord do? Does He grant Elijah’s plea? No. He feeds him. He sends an angel who miraculously delivers bread and water and gives him encouragement for the journey that awaits him. The Lord does the same for you! He washes you with the water of Holy Baptism. He feeds you with the Bread of His Body in the Supper. He strengthens you for your journey in this life by speaking His very Word to you. Through all of these, through Word and Sacrament He is always with you to give you strength for the journey, to promise you that He fights against the devil with you and for you.
Sometimes we look for other signs of God’s presence with us. Jesus has given us a greater sign than anything we could imagine. Jesus says He has given us the sign of the prophet Jonah. Just as Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so does Jesus spend three days and three nights in the tomb. When it’s all too much to bear, look at that image of Jesus on the cross and know that there He breathed His last to crush the devil for you. Look at the empty tomb and know that there He defeated death for you by rising again. Those signs—His death and resurrection—are given to you freely, given to you to give you strength for the journey of this life. He loves you so much that He died for you, rose for you, and gives His forgiveness to you freely. When life is too much to bear, when you wish the Lord would hurry up and bring this sinful world to its close, know that God has you in His hand, under His protection from everything that would rise against you. He has prepared heaven for you through His Son, Jesus Christ. He will not abandon you on the journey. He feeds you with Himself so you will not faint on the way. And He will walk with you all your days until He brings you safely home.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.