Build Up the Altars and Call Down the Fire


Godly Defiance 

A Sermon from the Life of Elijah

1 Kings 18

Introduction: In a day of declining morals, escalating attacks on Christians, global confusion, and spiritual apathy, we need more of us to be like Elijah. We all need to be like Him, standing on Mount Carmel, building up broken-down altars and calling fire down from heaven. We can learn to do it in 1 Kings 12 – 18.

 Background: The Jewish nation broke apart in 1 Kings 12. Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, was unable to maintain national solidarity, and the northern ten tribes split off and formed an independent nation. The leader of that northern nation, Jeroboam, didn’t want his people going into Judah or Jerusalem to worship at the temple, so he established centers of idolatry where his people could go and worship. The Northern Kingdom of Israel became idolatrous from the very beginning.

As time passed, something even worse happened. In 1 Kings 16, a king rose to power named Ahab, who married a pagan princess, Jezebel, the most wicked woman in Scripture. She viciously promoted her religion of Baal and Asherah worship, which combined demonic forces, sexual immorality, and child sacrifice (see Jeremiah 19:5); and she unleashed a purge against the priests and prophets of Almighty God.

That’s when God raised up the most dramatic of all the Old Testament prophets—the prophet Elijah, a mighty, mysterious, miracle-working man who was defiant and determined to stand against the evil of his age.

1. Build Up the Altars

In 1 Kings 18:18, Elijah said to King Ahab: You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table. So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him. But if Baal is God, follow him.”

 The is the challenge of the ages. Choose you this day whom you will serve. Many people live their lives in spiritual limbo. They want to go to heaven. They want to commit themselves to God. But they just never get around to it. Elijah said, “It’s time to choose.”

But the people said nothing. Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has for hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God!”

 The prophets of Baal built an altar, slaughtered a bull, and danced all day in a frenzy, calling on their god to answer by fire. But there was nothing but silence.

Verse 27 says: At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until the blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time came for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down.

 Notice those words. Someone in the past had once built an altar to the God of Israel on that mountain, but it had been forgotten, neglected, and broken down. Elijah repaired the altar of the Lord. I wonder if there is an altar in your life that has become broken down. You once knew the Lord. You once walked with Him. You once lived for Him. You once loved Him. But your spiritual life has crumbled.

Elijah repaired the broken-down altar. Verse 31 says: Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord…

 You can do that too. We do it through confession and commitment. We say, “Lord, this area of my life has broken down. It has crumbled. But I confess it to you and I rededicate myself to live for you with all my heart. I am coming back to You full force.”

2. Call Down the Fire

Having rebuilt the altar Elijah was ready to call down the fire. Verse 36 says: At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so that these people will that you, Lord, and God, and you are turning their hearts back again.”

 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

 What a moment atop that rugged mountain. One man, an individualist, standing in defiance of 450 prophets of Baal, 400 prophets of Asherah, one compromised king, the most wicked woman in the world, and the people of the land. And he called down fire from heaven. How do we do that? We do it in a thousand little ways as we stand up for Jesus. Let me give you some examples of stubborn godliness and of holy defiance.

  • One day Cliff Barrows told me about a dramatic moment at one of the crusades. He said (I’m quoting from memory): “At the 1952 Billy Graham Crusade in Jackson, Mississippi, Billy told the local committee that the crusade would be integrated. There would be no segregation.” Cliff said, “But when I got to the stadium, the ushers had put up ropes so to separate the blacks from the whites. I was rehearsing with the choir, but I saw Billy enter the stadium and come up onto the platform. I tried to turn around to see what would happen. Billy looked out over the assembling crowd and he saw those ropes. Without saying a word, he left the platform, went out into the stadium, and began taking down the ropes personally. It was an extremely tense moment, but Billy was calm and determined, and he took down those ropes.” One of the ushers apparently said, “Mr. Graham, we’re just going to put them back up again,” to which Billy reportedly said, “If you do, I’m leaving.” And the ropes never went back up. The power of God fell on that stadium. During the course of that crusade 362,000 people attended and more than 6,000 people made decisions to follow Christ.[1]


  • Over the Christmas holidays, there was a third-grader in a music class in a public school in Indiana, and the teacher asked each child to draw a picture of something related to Christmas. Three student pictures were to be selected for the program for the school Christmas production. This third-grade girl drew a picture of a nativity scene, and her picture was selected as one of the four for inclusion in the program. The pictures were selected on the basis of their artistic quality. But school officials came to the girl and told her that because her drawing was religious or Christian in nature, they could not use it due to separation of church and state. But this little girl and her parents stood up to this kind of discrimination. They sought counsel from a Christian legal firm and gained legal documentation based on guidelines from the U.S. Department of Education and on a particular Supreme Court case. When the school officials saw the legal documentation, they agreed; and the little girl’s drawing gave witness in the school publication to the real meaning of Christmas.[2]


  • In her book, The Sacred Slow, Alicia Britt Chole says when she enrolled in college her first English professor stood up and asked the class, “Are any of you Christians?” Alicia and a handful of other students raised their hands. The professor said, “You won’t be by the end of this course.” She went to her philosophy class, and the professor said, “Do any of you believe there’s a God?” She raised her hand along with a handful of other students. He said, “My goal is to have you certain of uncertainty by the time you graduate.” But Dr. Chole was not intimidated by professors with their mistaken presuppositions. She had authority over her mind and she had the intellectual strength to think, and to choose what to think, and to choose when to think. And she left that college a much stronger follower of Christ than when she had arrived, and she has spent the years since mentoring university students.[3]


  • One last example. Eritrea is one of the most brutal I read this week about a man in Eretria who came to Christ as a teenager and joined the Eritrean military at age 22. He was caught during a secret worship service with other Christians and taken to a prison camp. There he was told to renounce his faith in Christ. But he said, “I won’t leave the faith because I believe it and I live by what I believe. I served this country faithful and honestly during my military service. When you sent me to work in the field, I did that without complaining. But my belief is my personal belief, and he have to respect that. But if you don’t, then I’m willing to pay for it.” He ended up spending 13 years in prison, but he didn’t waver in his commitment and his testimony is spreading all over the world.[4]


All these people were willing to stand up for the Lord in the face of an intimidating society, just like Elijah. They were willing to stand alone, just like Elijah. And these are world-changers, and in ways large and small drops of fire are falling from heaven.

For you, the stand you take for Christ might be your determination to remain sexually pure until marriage; or to walk away from friends when they tell a dirty joke; or to bow your head and thank the Lord for your food in a restaurant; to put a Bible on your desk at work or a small Christian symbol on your lapel; to be willing to see a marriage counselor; or to break free from an addictive disorder. But we have to be willing to stand up for Jesus and wait for the fire to fall from heaven.

 Conclusion: Are there any broken-down altars in our land? Are there any broken-down altars in our lives? Let’s repair them. Let’s be defiant against the devil and against the currents of this world; and let’s call down fire from heaven and see what God will do.



[1] Based on personal conversations with Cliff Barrows. Also see


[3] Alicia Britt Chole, The Sacred Slow (Nashville: W Publishing, 2017), 70-71.