“It was a day of choice, a day of destiny.” That prophecy was preached on March 11, 1944, at the St. Charles Presbyterian Church in New Orleans, Louisiana. Dr. Peter Marshall, preaching from 1 Kings 18:21, challenged the congregation to decide, “If the Lord be God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him.” This sermon was titled “Trial by Fire” and it is one of my favorite sermons. It wasn’t the fact that it was so truthful, forceful, and challenging. What struck me was the timing of this message. In the spring of 1944, America was about to enter a period many may say was America’s pinnacle, yet God sent a preacher to deliver such a convicting message.
The Second World War
The Second World War was coming to an end, which led America into a time of growth and prosperity. Men who had been away at war returned home and became husbands and fathers again. This was the “Leave it to Beaver” time in U.S. history. The average family could have a house in the suburbs and a reliable car in the driveway, and a family of four could live off the income of just one breadwinner. Church attendance was customary in the typical family, and the American dream was alive and well.
It was a time when milk cost .82 cents. Gas was .20 cents a gallon, and a loaf of bread cost .14 cents. The average price for a new automobile was $725. An average house cost $7,300. Life was good. So why was God sending out preachers like Peter Marshall?
If The Lord Be God
On that March morning, Dr. Peter Marshall, who pastored the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., pointed his finger at those in attendance and preached, “If the Lord be God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him.” He boldly recalled the prophet Elijah, who, as God’s servant, called out hundreds of false prophets, challenging them to call upon their false gods or to acknowledge the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as the one and only true God. All who knew about that fiery day on Mount Carmel would be challenged to proclaim to whom they were pledging alliance. There would be no grey area, middle ground, or neutrality. That day, Elijah called upon the nation of Israel to decide who they would choose to follow. That’s why this became a day of choice and destiny.
In The Day of Elijah
In the days of Elijah, the nation of Israel had fallen into moral decay. They had begun to turn their hearts away from God. In the synagogue in Nazareth, after He read from the scroll of Isaiah, Jesus reminded those in attendance about “…the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months when a severe famine came over all the land” (Luke 4:25.) Israel’s sin led to God shutting up the sky and causing drought to fall upon the land.
Israel was in a spiritually lukewarm condition. They devoted themselves to Yahweh and Baal, but God was not interested in divided devotion. So, Elijah gave the people an ultimatum. Today, choose who you are going to follow. “If the Lord be God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him.”
God Was Warning America
I understand the circumstances of Elijah’s day, but why did Peter Marshall preach that sermon to those in attendance at that Presbyterian Church in New Orleans? It wasn’t because of America’s sin in the late 1940s or the 1950s; God was warning the people of America’s quick decline into sin coming in the 1960s and 1970s. God knew in 1963, that America was going to be taking prayer out of school. God knew on January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court was going to rule, in a 7-2 decision, that a woman’s right to choose an abortion was protected by the privacy rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In 1944, God began to warn America to decide who they would serve. The 1950’s times were good, but trouble and judgment crouched at the door.
God was raising prophetic voices, calling people to know what was coming. He called Peter Marshall in New Orleans in 1944. In Los Angeles, California, in 1949, a young evangelist named Billy Graham began a lifelong ministry of crusades and challenging people like Elijah: choose today who you are going to serve. Billy Graham’s crusades would last weeks, touching thousands of people. The Los Angeles crusade in 1949 lasted eight weeks. After that, it was 12 weeks in London. In 1957, his crusade continued in Madison Square Garden in New York City for 16 weeks. God was warning the hearts of the people in America. America was facing a day of choice, a day of destiny.
Faithful Prophetic Voices
God has continued to send faithful voices out into American culture. In April of 1973, David Wilkerson released a book entitled The Vision and Beyond. He shared prophetic messages of economic collapses, drastic weather changes, a flood of filth, especially on prime-time television, youth rebellion, and spiritual persecution. He did not speak of these warnings in general terms but in specific language. What David Wilkerson described and warned about in 1973 has become the cultural norm today. In the 1940s, God began to warn America of the coming sin and judgment of the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1970s, God began warning America of the future sin and judgment of the 21st century.
In April of 1980, God sent out David Reagan, the founder of Lamb & Lion Ministries. Like Peter Marshal, Billy Graham, and David Wilkerson, Dr. Reagan boldly and forcefully warned those who had ears to hear of the need to confess sin and repent before God’s gracious patience wore out. These godly servants never wavered in preparing the people of God for what was coming. Once again, God calls out to a nation, “Choose who you will follow. If the Lord be God, follow him, but if Baal, follow him.”
After Israel was released from their discipline in Babylon, they returned back to the Holy Land. However, like America returning from war, it did not take long for Israel to be warned of impending judgment. As Malachi 1 explains, false teachers misled the people, and the people responded by bringing meaningless sacrifices to God (Malachi 1:6-8). Speaking for God, Zechariah said God had grown weary of Israel’s rejection and ignorance (Zechariah 11:8). The words God gave to his prophet Zechariah twenty-five hundred years ago are still relevant today.
Make Decisions Before You Have to Make Decisions
Let me end with this. When I was teaching my teenage daughter how to drive, I explained to her that she had to learn to make decisions before she had to make decisions. What I meant was if she knew she had to get off the freeway at a few exits, she had to make that decision now to put herself in a safe place to exit the freeway.
I think what God has told Israel and is telling America is the same. You need to make a decision before you have to make a decision. As Elijah, Zechariah, Peter Marshall, David Wilkerson, Billy Graham, and David Reagan all said — today is a day of choice, a day of destiny. Choose today who you are going to follow. “If the Lord be God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him.”
Maranatha, Lord Jesus!