A sermon based on 1 Kings 21
Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
What do you want your obituary to say about you? Perhaps that is not a question that you have spent much time pondering, depending on what stage of life you are in. But what would you like it to say? Your obituary is the last chance to leave your legacy, so to speak. It is a short review of your life and your accomplishments. How do you want to be remembered?
A man by the name of Val Patterson wrote his own obituary back in 2012 before he died of throat cancer, and he has achieved legendary status by using his obituary as a confessional peace. He starts out normally enough, listing his accomplishments and noting his love for his dear wife. Then he continues: Now that I have gone to my reward, I have confessions and things I should now say. As it turns out, I AM the guy who stole the safe from the Motor View Drive Inn back in June, 1971. I could have left that unsaid, but I wanted to get it off my chest. Also, I really am NOT a PhD. What happened was that the day I went to pay off my college student loan, the girl working there put my receipt into the wrong stack, and two weeks later, a PhD diploma came in the mail. I didn’t even graduate, I only had about 3 years of college credit. In fact, I never did even learn what the letters “PhD” even stood for. For all of the Electronic Engineers I have worked with, I’m sorry, but you have to admit my designs always worked very well. Now to that really mean Park Ranger; after all, it was me that rolled those rocks into your geyser and ruined it. I did notice a few years later that you did get Old Faithful working again. Val ends his obituary with a piece of advice: If you want to live forever, then don’t stop breathing, like I did.
Now that’s a memorable obituary! But not everybody gets to write their own obituary like Val did. And if someone else writes yours, you are at the mercy of whatever they thought of you. There is no objecting after your death. It is there in the annals of history, and it is not going away. Just ask King Ahab.
The books of 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles give a history lesson on the nation of Israel after the time of King David. It mentions the reign of each of the kings of both Israel and Judah after the nation split apart. And for each king, it gives a grade, so to speak. Either the king did what was right in the sight of the Lord or the king did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. These books are full of obituaries in other words. God got to decide how these kings get to be remembered, and unfortunately, there are more bad kings than good kings. And then there’s King Ahab. In 1 Kings 16, we are first introduced to King Ahab. In the 38th year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri began to reign over Israel and reigned for 22 years. And Ahab did more evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.
That’s not the way anyone would choose to be remembered- the most evil king in Israel’s history. And yet, as you heard in today’s Old Testament reading, Ahab’s reputation is well deserved. Let’s look at the story of King Ahab and Naboth, our obscure Bible character for today. Remember our two important questions as we look at a Biblical text. What is the original context? And how does this story point to Jesus?
Naboth had a vineyard. King Ahab wanted his vineyard. He offered to buy it from Naboth or give Naboth an even bigger vineyard. But Naboth didn’t want any other vineyard. He wanted this vineyard. He turns down King Ahab’s offer, and he does it for religious reasons. He says, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” Why would he say that? Because the Lord did forbid it! In the law of Moses, God forbids the Israelites to sell their paternal inheritance. So even if Naboth wanted the money, he obeyed God’s law.
And what does the great and powerful King of Israel do after being told no? He acts like a child. He goes home and pouts. He lay in his bed and refused to eat because he did not get his way. Boo hoo!
Heart in a box? Please! Queen Jezebel practically invented that.
Enter his wife, Queen Jezebel. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “The husband might be the head of the household, but the wife is the neck and she turns the head whichever way she wants.” Well that is certainly the case with Queen Jezebel. She was a bad influence on her husband. She is the original evil queen, the prototype for all those Disney movies.
She comes to her husband and basically tells him to quit being a baby and start being a king. “Do you or do you not rule over Israel? If you aren’t going to do something about it, then I will. You will have your precious vineyard.”
Jezebel then schemes and plans to get rid of Naboth. She sent letters to the leaders of the city and called for a fast for the whole city. Why a fast? Calling for a city-wide fast would indicate that a crime of such a grave nature had been committed as to require the calling of a penitential general assembly. In other words, somebody has done something wrong, and the whole community needs to repent and figure out who did what. And Jezebel arranged for Naboth to be the fall guy. Two worthless men brought false charges against Naboth at this general assembly. “We heard Naboth curse God and the king!” They were accusing Naboth of blasphemy against God and treason against the king. Apparently, Naboth does not receive a fair trial. He is dragged outside the city and stoned to death.
And wouldn’t you know it! The property of traitors was by law forfeited to the king! Everything went according to Jezebel’s plan. She told her husband the “good news,” and he went to take possession of the vineyard.
The story does not end here however, even though that is where we stopped reading. God speaks to Elijah, the prophet, and tells him to go confront Ahab and to describe in great, gory detail how Ahab and Jezebel are going to die. Now Elijah and Ahab had already had plenty of run-ins before. Ahab had tried on numerous occasions to have Elijah killed because Elijah was always speaking against him and condemning him. When Elijah confronts Ahab, we get a little bit of sarcasm from King Ahab. “Have you found me, O my enemy?” In others words, we meet again. Or even, I’ve been expecting you.
“Jezebel is going to be eaten by dogs!” No, really.
Elijah then condemns Ahab and promises his destruction and predicts Jezebel’s death. Then we get an interesting aside. Verses 25 and 26 mention again how evil Ahab is. “There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. He acted very abominably in going after idols.” It’s a reminder of Ahab’s wickedness. But when Ahab heard God’s law and his punishment from the mouth of Elijah, Ahab repents. He tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted. And apparently it was a genuine repentance, at least for this sin, because God relents and says “Because Ahab has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days, but in his son’s days instead.”
And if Ahab, the evil king, can repent and turn from his wickedness and receive forgiveness, there is hope for you and me as well. Yes, I am afraid it is true. When it comes to application of this text today, you and I are much more like King Ahab than Naboth.
Before you get too offended from being compared to “the most evil king Israel ever had” I encourage you to learn from St. Paul. He had no problem with superlatives. This is what he writes to Timothy: The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. I am the worst of sinners, Paul says. And if he, St. Paul of all people, recognized the depths of his sin and wickedness, I think you can take a moment to consider your own.
After all, what was King Ahab’s sin? His sin was coveting. He had a sinful desire for that which was not his. He did not need the vineyard. He was the king. He had more than he could ever need. But I find it to be a rule that the more you have, the more you want. King Ahab was selfish. He threw a fit when he did not get his way. And ultimately, he didn’t care whose life he ruined in order to get what he wanted.
There is a King Ahab in all of us. Like him, you covet. You desire that which is not yours and belongs to others. It probably isn’t a vineyard that you desire, but it could be a number of other things: the car, the money, the lifestyle, the reputation, the family, the health, the body, the job that belongs to somebody else. Like Ahab, you are greedy. You have more than what you need to support this body and life, and yet it is never enough. The more you have, the more you want. Like King Ahab, you are selfish. I find it hard myself to think back on something I have done completely self-less-ly. There always seems to be an element of selfishness. What is going to be comfortable or easy for me? What is going to make me happy? Even my good deeds and your good deeds are soiled with sin and selfishness. We can’t escape it.
And in your selfishness, you trample on the needs of others. In your coveting, you have no regard for the person who actually possesses what you want. In your effort to build yourself up, you tear other people down with gossip and slander. You try to use whatever power and influence you have to get what you want. The list could go on and on. We are the foremost of sinners.
You and I need a visit from the prophet Elijah as well. Or how about the apostle Paul who says in Colossians 3: Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. The wrath of God is promised to you just as it was promised to Ahab for his wickedness. Put it to death, Paul says. Repent. Turn away from your wickedness, and God will have mercy on you for the sake of His Son, Jesus.
How does Jesus fit into this story? If you think about it, Jesus is a lot like Naboth. Like Naboth, Jesus is the preserver of a vineyard. Think of Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenants. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. The tenants killed the servants that the master sent to collect the fruit. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
Naboth points us to Jesus who was also killed over a vineyard.
Sound familiar? Like Naboth, Jesus was killed over a vineyard. But in Jesus’ case, the vineyard represents the people of God- God’s treasured possession. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were jealous of Jesus and his popularity and resented his claims to be the Son of God. They wanted power and control over God’s people. And so like Naboth, Jesus was plotted against in secret by those who wished to destroy him and take his inheritance. Like Naboth, Jesus was an innocent man accused falsely by witnesses who were planted at his trial. Like Naboth, Jesus was accused of blasphemy against God and rebellion against the king or Caesar. Like Naboth, Jesus did not receive a fair trial. Like Naboth, Jesus was sentenced to die unjustly. Like Naboth, Jesus was taken outside the city and killed.
Jesus is the true and greater Naboth. Naboth is a type of Christ, a person who points forward to what Jesus ultimately does through his death and resurrection. How does this story of King Ahab and Naboth point to Jesus? Jesus, the innocent man, is killed unjustly, yet through his death, undeserving sinners like you and me are now heirs of God’s inheritance, the very treasures of heaven.
Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom you are the foremost. All of your sinful desires, your covetousness, your selfishness, your greed, was nailed to the cross of Jesus and was killed. Instead of God’s wrath and punishment, you are now rewarded as a child of God, and no one can take that away from you. Satan can scheme and try to take what is yours, but no one can snatch you out of the Father’s hand. You are his treasured possession, a member of his family, firmly planted in the vineyard of God.
If God was going to write your obituary, he would not list your sins and wickedness. He doesn’t remember them. He only remembers what His Son Jesus has done for you. Your obituary would probably say something like this: (Insert name here)- a beloved child of God through Jesus Christ and an heir to eternal life. Amen.
Let us pray: Chief of sinners though I be Jesus shed His blood for me,
Died that I might live on high, Lives that I might never die.
As the branch is to the vine, I am His, and He is mine. Amen.