Our contradictory calling as Jesus followers
Twenty-first-century pop-culture America is (for the most part) an upside-down reality. You don’t have to be a theologian or social scientist to figure that out. Good is called evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20). That which is vile is honored (Psalm 12:9). If ‘celebrity’ comes from the English word ‘to celebrate,’ that means we celebrate men and women who embody rebellion.
Not a good recipe for societal success, is it? That’s where you and I come in.
We are disrupters. Indeed, we are holy troublemakers.
Contradiction in terms?
Now the term ‘holy troublemakers’ may seem like an oxymoron. But if you know the whole story, you’ll realize there’s nothing at all contradictory about it. After all, the same Savior Who said, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44, NIV) had no problem dressing down his own enemies (Mathew 23:13–36) Yes, He came to bring “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14). But elsewhere He said: “I have not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34, NIV).
Could it be that what we think of as peacemaking — isn’t? Could it be God views both peacemaking and its seeming opposite — troublemaking — through a different prism than we do?
That’s a question worth looking into. But before we do, let’s look at one of the foremost holy troublemakers in history.
Elijah the Tishbite — a troublemaker for all time
Troublemakers don’t arrive on the scene when everything’s hunky-dory. No, they make their appearance on the world stage when there’s…trouble. So in that regard, they’re technically not ‘troublemakers.’ Rather they’re ‘trouble-cleaner-uppers.’ And yes, that spells trouble for the real societal troublemakers.
Enter Elijah the Tishbite. He comes on the stage of history during the reign of Ahab. Now Ahab ruled over the northern Israelite kingdom. This kingdom was formed in rebellion against the Davidic dynasty, and as such it quickly established its own rules for worship and even its own gods. Ahab was the 7th king of this northern confederation, and Scripture says he did more evil — and did more to provoke the LORD to anger — than the previous six kings combined (1 Kings 16:30). Quite an ignominious feat!
Yet to the average Israelite, he might have been considered a good if not a great king. History tells us that he built up the capital city of Samaria into a strong fortress. During his reign, Jericho was rebuilt (1 Kings 16:34). Ahab strengthened alliances with rival nations through his own marriage to Jezebel of the Sidonians (1 Kings 16:31) and that of Athaliah (the granddaughter of his father Omri) to the royal family of Judah (2 Kings 8:26). He was victorious over Aram in war not once, but twice (1 Kings 20).
One might surmise that had there been ‘approval ratings’ in those days, Ahab’s would have been quite high.
So it falls on Elijah to perform the dubious task of pronouncing judgment on this popular king. But Elijah was unfazed. His entrance into the pages of Scripture is marked with a brusque in-your-face pronunciation to Ahab of severe drought (1 Kings 17:1). Then, after 2 or so years of hiding, he re-appears. At the risk of his own life (since queen Jezebel was killing off the prophets of the LORD), he again gets into Ahab’s face. The resulting interchange between the two men reveals the heart of the story:
“‘When he saw Elijah, he said to him, ‘Is that you, you troubler of Israel?’
‘I have not made trouble for Israel, Elijah replied. But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the LORD’s commands and have followed the Baals.’” (1 Kings 18:17–18, NIV)
Did you get a load of that? Ahab rolls out his royal red carpet for a pagan god and a pagan princess. As a result, he plunges his kingdom into a life-threatening disaster. Yet somehow Elijah is the troublemaker?
Again, Elijah was unfazed. He simply forced Ahab to look in the mirror for the identity of the true ‘troubler of Israel.’
A parable for our day and time
So it is with you and me. As followers of Elijah’s God, we don’t fit into this world’s system. Yet we are stationed here as His ambassadors — to both draw our fellow men and women into His heavenly Kingdom as well as to warn them to flee the false ‘kingdoms’ of this world.
Yet somehow we’re the troublemakers.
We’re the troublemakers for having the temerity to point out that a baby is a baby — not a ‘choice.’
We’re the troublemakers for proclaiming that men are men, women are women, and the two are not interchangeable.
We’re the troublemakers for questioning the ‘experts’ on why they are running (or shall we say ruining) our society the way they are.
We’re the troublemakers for insisting that all roads don’t lead to heaven.
We’re the troublemakers for warning people to escape both temporal as well as eternal judgment.
Yes, in spite of society’s moral bankruptcy and chaos that’s on full display, those of us who stand on timeless eternal truth are the troublemakers.
If we take our queues from Elijah, we too will be unfazed.
What it takes
Elijah did not set out to be a troublemaker. From the picture Scripture paints of him, he had only one mission in mind, and that was to please Yahweh.
Below is a brief list (gleaned from 1 Kings 17–22) of some of the character traits that both contributed to — and flowed out of — such wholehearted devotion:
His radical obedience. When God told him to deliver a word, he delivered it. It mattered not if the hearer was the king of Israel or a poor widow (I Kings 17:13). He delivered God’s word without question and without fear.
His faith. Not only was he faithful to deliver God’s message. He was also faithful to believe God for daily sustenance in the middle of a drought. (See 1 Kings 17:4–16.)
His impartiality. He was no respecter of persons. Again, he could just as easily rebuke the king as he could comfort the broken-hearted.
His compassion. Many of us think of Elijah only as an angry prophet. But read the account of his stay with the widow of Zarephath, and you will see a completely different side of him. When she told him that she and her son were going to eat their last meal and die (remember this was during a severe drought), he gave her a faith response clothed with empathy (1 Kings 17:12–13). When the child later died, Elijah agonized before God — and then had the honor of returning her son to her alive.
His fearlessness. Many of us remember the account of Elijah challenging the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:20–40). But we overlook that it all started with Elijah seeking out Ahab at the risk of his own life. After all, if Ahab’s queen was murdering the prophets (1 Kings 18:4, 13), then surely Elijah — perhaps the chief among those prophets — would be as good as dead the moment Ahab laid eyes on him. But again, he was unfazed. Over and above Obadiah’s fearful response when Elijah told him to tell Ahab he was there to meet him, he simply said, “As the LORD Almighty lives, Whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today” (1 Kings 18:15, NIV).
His humanity. 1 Kings 19 shows us his human side. In response to Jezebel’s very real death threat (made in retaliation to his humiliation and killing of her prophets after the Carmel showdown), he did something we never would’ve imagined him doing: he fled. Then while in hiding, he pours out his complaint — and his self-pity — to God (very. 10, 14). But he didn’t stray trapped in fear and self-pity. At the word of the LORD, he returned (v. 15) to complete his prophetic assignment.
His commitment to the next generation. One of Elijah’s last assignments was to raise up his own successor. He fulfilled it well. The man he chose (Elisha) hungered for the same Spirit that possessed Elijah. And indeed, Elisha received what he asked for. (See 2 Kings 2:9–10.). A great teacher had poured himself into a great student.
Pitfalls to avoid
If you’re still reading this, you have a hunger for change in today’s society. If you’re still reading this, you have a desire to operate in Elijah-like boldness.
Indeed, if you’re still reading this, keep reading!
The first thing to realize is that being bold is not enough. You can have zeal without compassion (as did Jonah). You can allow your zeal to push you to act ahead of God’s timing (as Moses did in Exodus 2). You can be derailed by personal sin (as was Samson). Boldness without the other characteristics (i.e. faith, obedience, and compassion) can do more harm than good for the cause of righteousness.
On the other hand, having a good heart — and even correct doctrine — is not enough. Obadiah was the royal servant who loved Yahweh, hid His prophets from Jezebel, yet was scared for his own life when Elijah reappeared to confront Ahab. (Read 1 Kings 18:3–14 for the full details.) He lacked the faith and courage of a holy troublemaker.
In other words, having correct doctrine — and even a kind heart — isn’t enough
The most important pre-requisite
Today’s holy troublemakers have been molded and shaped by Holy Spirit. They are often broken people who have allowed Him to fill their empty places, their hurts, and their disappointments. They fear God as Obadiah did, but have a burning passion to carry Him to the community around them no matter what it takes.
Indeed, they have a greater promise than either Elijah or his protégé Elisha could have ever dreamed of. They — indeed, we — have the same Spirit Elijah carried dwelling in us 24/7. Our forefathers would do anything to have that Whom we have (and too often take for granted).
So troublemakers, hang in there. In fact, do better than that: hang out with Him. Take time with the Holy Spirit every day. Let Him steer you through the cracks and crevices, the mountains and the valleys, of your journey. With Him, you will not fail. With Him, you will not be disappointed. You will see the desire of your heart (Psalm 37:4). And a great reward awaits you (Mathew 5:3–10).
One final thought
Our Messiah Jesus was everything Elijah was and more. He was the embodiment of love and compassion — and yet didn’t give a second thought to poking his finger into the ‘eyes’ of the religious establishment. He came not to keep the peace, but to make peace. He came not to please the ‘kingdoms’ of His day but to bring the Kingdom to His generation and beyond.
In other words, He was a ‘troublemaker’s troublemaker.’ And he was rewarded with crucifixion.
Unlike Elijah, our Messiah suffered death. But also unlike Elijah, He conquered death. He arose from the grave. Through Him, the Spirit Whom Elijah and Elisha hungered for was given to everyone who was willing to lay down his or her life.
Messiah is coming back soon. When He does, it’s lights out. Party’s over. The real troublemakers will all perish — and He will rule from sea to sea.
And so will all the ‘holy troublemakers’ alongside Him.