Put me in a word association situation and give me “Mt. Carmel” and I don’t think I’d come back with “grace” as the first thing that pops into my head. You might get “Elijah” . . . or “awesome display of God’s power” . . . or “feeble non-gods of Baal” . . . or “the Lord, He is God!” . . . but you say, “Mt. Carmel,” and I’m thinking I’m NOT saying, “Grace” as the word I immediately associate with that great showdown on the hill. But as I’m reading again in 1Kings 18 this morning, that’s what it was all about . . . . God’s amazing grace . . . as He determined, in His sovereign lovingkindness, to take a wayward people and turn their hearts back.
And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God, and that You have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
(1Kings 18:36-38 ESV)
Elijah didn’t throw down the gauntlet just to get in Ahab’s face. He didn’t call out the prophets of Baal and tell them to meet him at high noon because of how important it was for God to prove Himself before dumb idols made of wood and metal by the hands of dumb men. But the “gunfight at the Carmel Corral” was staged because of a people of God who were “limping between two different opinions” (18:21a). They couldn’t make up their minds. God of heaven? . . . things of this world? The promises of God? . . . the pleasures of paganism? Two opinions with two diametrically opposed implications . . . “If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him” (18:21b).
God’s people were sitting on the fence (MSG). They kind of wanted to keep the name of being God’s people . . . but they were entangled in the pursuit of the world’s pleasures. And so God stages a massive display of heaven’s power in order to reveal afresh to His people that He alone is LORD God. And in so doing, turn their hearts back toward Him.
And when these fence sitters, these limper-alongers, saw the fire fall from heaven and consume the water drenched offering, “they fell on their faces and said, ‘The LORD, He is God; the LORD He is God!'” (18:39). And their hearts, if but for a brief season, were turned back to the God of their redemption. Not because they knew they had a heart problem and knew they needed to address it . . . but because of the grace of God. Because the Good Shepherd who will leave the ninety-nine to rescue the one (Luke 15:4), is the same Great Shepherd who will leave the one in order to rescue the ninety-nine.
Though a day is coming when we all will stand before God in judgment, Christians at the bema seat of Christ (2Cor. 5:10, 1Cor. 3:10-15), unbelievers before the great white throne (Rev. 20:11-15), today is not that day. Today is the day of the patient, merciful, gracious God who woos sinners to Himself, and lovingly seeks to turn back the hearts of wayward saints.
Our Mt. Carmel? The cross of Calvary. The hill where God’s once for all sacrifice for sin was offered . . . the hill where God’s enemies were defeated . . . the hill before which, when we take the bread and cup, and remember the battle, causes us to fall upon our faces and declare afresh, “The LORD, He is God! The LORD, He is God!”
O’ to know, and be known, by a God who not only replaces hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, but a God who also contends for the health of that new heart. Not content to have that heart limp along between two different opinions, but wanting that heart wholly for Himself, and willing to “massage” the heart so that it might be turned fully toward Him.
Turning hearts back . . . that’s what our God does . . . by His grace . . . for His glory!