When I get up to preach a sermon I do so because I am utterly convinced that God’s word the Bible is powerful and must be obeyed. I don’t stand up here because I think I have something important to say. I don’t think to myself that I have the ability to persuade or challenge any of you to come to faith in Christ or to live in a Christian manner. But I know that God’s word the Bible is powerful and that it transforms lives as the Holy Spirit applies it to each one of us.
As we continue our series in 1 Kings this morning we come to the rather unusual story contained in chapter 13. We had the first ten verses read to us in our Bible reading. The remainder of the story is equally fascinating. It is one of those passages that leaves us with more questions than answers. And yet the central message of chapter 13 of 1 Kings is very clear – God’s word is powerful and must be obeyed.
Firstly, THE WORD OF THE LORD IS POWERFUL
Let’s have a look together at the story. My first heading is “The word of the Lord is powerful” verses 1 to 6.
You can imagine the scene. King Jeroboam has led the northern kingdom of Israel in rebellion against the southern kingdom of Judah. For political reasons he has set up Bethel as an alternative worship site to Jerusalem. He has made two golden caves as idols and set up an altar at Bethel. His actions have been in direct rebellion against God’s word.
As chapter 13 opens we find him at the altar in Bethel making a sacrifice. It was probably quite an impressive religious ceremony. Perhaps there were robes and processions. Perhaps there were musical instruments sounding and great groups of people gathered round to watch.
All of a sudden a man pushes his way through the crowd to stand near Jeroboam. He cries out in a loud voice:
“O altar, altar! This is what the LORD says: ‘A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who now make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you.’” (1 Kings 13:2, NIV).
The man was probably dressed like a prophet. His accent gave away the fact that he had come from Judah. Presumably people assumed that he was politically biased against Bethel. He was probably talking rubbish as he announced judgement. Why should anyone believe what he said?
But the man of God did not confine his prophecy to speaking of the distant future. He also gave a sign in their presence to show that God’s word is powerful and what had been spoken of would most definitely come to pass.
“This is the sign the LORD has declared: The altar will be split apart and the ashes on it will be poured out” (1 Kings 13:3, NIV).
And that is exactly what happened.
Jeroboam, this powerful king, points his finger towards the man of God and cries “Seize him!” (13:4, NIV). Get rid of this man who presumes to challenge what I am doing. But something goes terribly wrong for Jeroboam. As he stretches out his hand it shrivels up and he cannot withdraw it. There is a loud crack and as the dust settles the altar is seen to have split apart.
It probably just takes Jeroboam a split second to realize that he is in trouble. He has come into collision with the word of the Lord. He wants the use of his arm again and he asks the man of God to pray for him.
“So the man of God interceded with the LORD, and the king’s hand was restored and became as it was before” (1 Kings 13:6, NIV).
There is actually a lot of grace in this story. God graciously healed Jeroboam’s arm. The prophet’s message was a message of future judgement, but Jeroboam was being given the opportunity to repent. Being told you are in danger, being warned you are rebelling against God is grace in action. God is gracious to us when he speaks powerfully to us through his word.
We don’t have any prophets today in the Old Testament sense. But we do have the words of the Old Testament prophets recorded for us in the Bible. We are told in the New Testament book of 2 Peter that “we have the word of the prophets made more certain”. (2 Peter 1:19, NIV).
The reason why the word of the prophets is more certain for us today is that we live after the coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus in his life, death and resurrection has fulfilled and is fulfilling all Biblical prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled. The word of the Lord as recorded in the Bible does powerfully describe the future. What is spoken of has or will come to pass.
The words of the man of God from Judah (that we just read about) were fulfilled by Josiah nearly 300 years later (2 Kings 23). He did exactly what the man of God said. If you have ever read any of the prophecies of judgement against the people of Israel before their exile in Babylon, you will know that time and time again, God graciously warned his people and gave them a chance to repent before finally the Babylonians invaded, exactly as God had declared.
The Bible as a whole is full of prophecy describing Jesus’ death on the cross for our sin and his resurrection. Those prophecies were fulfilled exactly as God said they would be. When we studied John’s gospel in home groups last term, again and again we read how these thing happened to Jesus that scripture, the word of the Lord, might be fulfilled (John 19:24). God’s word powerfully describes the future.
For those of us who are Christians today we are looking forward to Jesus return and the creation of the renewed heavens and earth. God’s word tells us that is what is going to happen. God’s word is powerful. Things will happen exactly as God has said.
But perhaps you are here this morning and you are a bit sceptical about the power of God’s word the Bible. There are many people who come along to our services or attend one of our discussion groups who are just looking into the Christian faith. One of the big questions that you might have this morning is can you trust the Bible? Is it powerful?
Well I think you begin to get an answer to that question, not just by investigating how Biblical prophecy has been fulfilled, or by discovering how archaeology upholds the Biblical record, not even just by comparing it to scientific discover, or considering how it holds together as a unified whole, but rather by reading it with an open mind and experiencing its power to transform lives.
The Bible stands up to all intellectual investigation provided you approach the Bible openly and with appropriate literary skill. But I think the most convincing evidence for the power of God’s word is found in the lives of Christians. It is when people encounter the voice of God in its pages that its power is most clearly demonstrated.
There are many Christians here this morning who can testify to how God’s word the Bible has turned their life around. The Bible has taught them about God and salvation. The Bible has comforted and encouraged them during hard times. The Bible has challenged their behaviour and given them the strength to live differently. Through prayer and the pages of the Bible they have a living vibrant relationship with their heavenly Father.
But perhaps (as a Christian here this morning) you have forgotten the power of God’s word. Bible study has become a bit of a struggle or you have not opened your Bible on your own in a long long time. If you and I want to grow in our relationship with God we need to hear him speak. We need to experience the power of his word.
It is a bit like that old school or university friend who you thought you would never loose contact with. It sort of happened gradually. You talked less and less often on the phone. You never quite got round to reply to her letter. I have been thinking recently that there are a number of friends that I really want to get back in to contact with. It is sad when we loose touch with old friends. But it is terrible when it is our relationship with God that we let slip.
If your reading of the Bible has slipped a bit recently please commit yourself right now to spending at least 15 minutes this week reading the Bible. If you need to talk to your spouse to arrange a time that you can do that without children climbing on you, then go home and have that conversation today.
You could pick up some Bible study notes at the back. You could draw up a reading plan for the year ahead. Whatever you do, expect to hear from God. As you sit down to read ask God to bring his word alive to you, to speak to you, to challenge you, to reveal its truth and its power. If you do, I think that is exactly what you will experience.
Timothy tells us in his letter that
“16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV).
Don’t let your passion for God’s word grow cold. The Bible is powerful. You and I need it in our lives.
Secondly, THE WORD OF THE LORD MUST BE OBEYED
My second heading and the second thing we learn from this story in 1 Kings 13 is that the word of the Lord must be obeyed. The word of the Lord is powerful and it must be obeyed. Let me read through the rest of this chapter, from verse 7, making a few comments as we go. 1 Kings 13, verse 7.
7 [King Jeroboam] said to the man of God, “Come home with me and have something to eat, and I will give you a gift.” 8 But the man of God answered the king, “Even if you were to give me half your possessions, I would not go with you, nor would I eat bread or drink water here. 9 For I was commanded by the word of the LORD: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water or return by the way you came.’” 10 So he took another road and did not return by the way he had come to Bethel. . (1 Kings 13:7-10, NIV)
The man of God had been told by the Lord not to eat or drink and to return a different way. And the word of the Lord had to be obeyed. We are not told why this prohibition was in place. Possibly King Jeroboam was offering hospitality to the man of God in order to gain control over him – a bit like a corporate bribe in the business world today.
God wanted his prophet to be seen to be independent. He wanted his prophet to have nothing to do with the corrupt religious practice of King Jeroboam. God had announced judgement and that judgement would stand unless Jeroboam repented. So the prophet obeyed the word of the Lord and returned home a different way. But unfortunately the story doesn’t end there. Let’s read on from verse 11.
11 Now there was a certain old prophet living in Bethel, whose sons came and told him all that the man of God had done there that day. They also told their father what he had said to the king. 12 Their father asked them, “Which way did he go?” And his sons showed him which road the man of God from Judah had taken. 13 So he said to his sons, “Saddle the donkey for me.” And when they had saddled the donkey for him, he mounted it 14 and rode after the man of God. He found him sitting under an oak tree and asked, “Are you the man of God who came from Judah?”
“I am,” he replied.
15 So the prophet said to him, “Come home with me and eat.” 16 The man of God said, “I cannot turn back and go with you, nor can I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. 17 I have been told by the word of the LORD: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water there or return by the way you came.’”
18, The old prophet answered, “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the LORD: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’” (But he was lying to him.) 19 So the man of God returned with him and ate and drank in his house. (1 Kings 13:11-19, NIV)
The unanswered questions in this story really begin to pile up. Why did this old prophet go after the man? Why did he want him to stay for a meal? Why was the man of God sitting under a tree anyway when he had clearly been told to return home? Why was it possible for the man of God to be deceived by the old prophet?
It might be that this old prophet felt a bit usurped. Presumably he ought to have said something to Jeroboam about the ungodly behaviour. Or perhaps he didn’t much like the idea of his bones being among the human bones scattered on the altar in fulfilment of the prophecy. The author does not give us any answers he just records what happened and makes it very clear that the word of the Lord must be obeyed or there are serious consequences.
Let’s read a bit further, verse 20.
20 While they were sitting at the table, the word of the LORD came to the old prophet who had brought him back. 21 He cried out to the man of God who had come from Judah, “This is what the LORD says: ‘You have defied the word of the LORD and have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you. 22 You came back and ate bread and drank water in the place where he told you not to eat or drink. Therefore your body will not be buried in the tomb of your fathers.’ (1 Kings 13:20-22, NIV)
The word of the Lord had to be obeyed. This lying prophet finally spoke a true word from the Lord and judgement was announced on the prophet from Judah. The consequences of disobeying God’s word were serious. He would not make it home. He would not be buried with his fathers.
It seems a somewhat harsh judgement. But it is not that the old prophet was let of the hook. God will still judge that old prophet at the final judgement for his lies. Yet in the story the focus is on the man of God from Judah who has disobeyed what God has directly commanded him. God’s word must be obeyed. Let’s keep reading, verse 23:
23 When the man of God had finished eating and drinking, the prophet who had brought him back saddled his donkey for him. 24 As he went on his way, a lion met him on the road and killed him, and his body was thrown down on the road, with both the donkey and the lion standing beside it. 25 Some people who passed by saw the body thrown down there, with the lion standing beside the body, and they went and reported it in the city where the old prophet lived. (1 Kings 13:23-25, NIV)
If the lion had simply eaten the man and the donkey there would have been nothing remarkable, not much to report, just one of those things that happen occasionally to travellers. But by contrast this was clearly a miraculous event. God was acting in judgment. His powerful word was again coming to pass.
26 When the prophet who had brought him back from his journey heard of it, he said, “It is the man of God who defied the word of the LORD. The LORD has given him over to the lion, which has mauled him and killed him, as the word of the LORD had warned him.”
27 The prophet said to his sons, “Saddle the donkey for me,” and they did so. 28 Then he went out and found the body thrown down on the road, with the donkey and the lion standing beside it. The lion had neither eaten the body nor mauled the donkey. 29 So the prophet picked up the body of the man of God, laid it on the donkey, and brought it back to his own city to mourn for him and bury him. 30 Then he laid the body in his own tomb, and they mourned over him and said, “Oh, my brother!”
31 After burying him, he said to his sons, “When I die, bury me in the grave where the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones. 32 For the message he declared by the word of the LORD against the altar in Bethel and against all the shrines on the high places in the towns of Samaria will certainly come true.” (1 Kings 13:26-32, NIV)
Again I find myself with lots of questions about this story. As someone once said, did the old prophet simply say “shoo” to the lion when he went to collect the body?
But the central message of this chapter is still very clear. God’s word is powerful, and it must be obeyed. The prophet from Judah needed to obey the word of the Lord despite the presence of a false prophet. He didn’t obey and there was judgement. Jeroboam needed to humble himself before the powerful word of the Lord. He needed to repent and lead his people back into true worship of the living God. He didn’t and there was judgement for him and his house.
Take a look with me at verses 33 and 34.
33 Even after this, Jeroboam did not change his evil ways, but once more appointed priests for the high places from all sorts of people. Anyone who wanted to become a priest he consecrated for the high places. 34 This was the sin of the house of Jeroboam that led to its downfall and to its destruction from the face of the earth. (1 Kings 13:33-34, NIV)
We have to obey the word of the Lord. If we do not there is judgement. That is just as true today as it was in Jeroboam’s day. Perhaps you don’t believe that. Perhaps you think you can get on with living your own life, your own way, in rebellion against God. You don’t really believe that God’s word must be obeyed. You don’t take seriously the Bible’s warnings about the consequences of sin.
But salvation in the face of God’s coming judgement can only be found by trusting in Jesus’ death on the cross. That is what the Bible says. God graciously warns of his coming judgement. God loving offered his son to die in your place on the cross. God freely invites you to put your trust in Jesus. But if you do not accept him, judgement will take place and you will end up in hell. God’s powerful word will come to pass.
If you have already accepted Christ, this message is still relevant. God’s word is powerful – it brings us encouragement and hope, it reveals God’s character to us, it helps us grow in relationship with God. But God’s word must be obeyed. To look into God’s word, discover what it says and fail to put it into practice is in the words of James to be like a man who looks in a mirror and immediately goes away and forgets what he looks like (James 1:23-24).
You and I have to listen to and obey what God is saying to us through his word the Bible. In practice that means that when you read in your morning quiet time that God wants you to love your enemies, you have to go into work that day and do just that. It means that when you hear in a sermon that God wants you to control your tongue, and you get together for the evening with your friends, you need to refrain from gossip or slander. It means when you study a passage like Ephesians 5 in your small group, then getting on with sacrificially loving your wife, or husband, or children.
The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that
12 . . . the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:12-13, NIV).
We must obey the word of the Lord. God’s word is powerful, it must be obeyed.