Thursday, September 29, 2005

Thoughts on seeing Christ in all of Scripture

Last week I was preaching on 2 Kings 3. It's an easy passage to get a lot of moral lessons from, but what does it have to tell us about Jesus? I found myself scratching my head often.

I have a problem with how some preachers make the 'leap' from Old Testament narrative to Christ. A number of commentators say something like this about 2 Kings 3: "v20 tells us that God's provision was made about the time of the morning sacrifice. This speaks to us of Christ, where God provided what we needed at the time of the sacrifice."

I appreciate that the writer of 2 Kings tells us of the morning sacrifice for a reason, but I'm not convinced that this is how we best see Christ here. It often seems as if preachers scrabble around in the dust of the text for a key word that they can seize on and milk for all it is worth, for example, "red" - Rahab hung a red cord from her window", or as in this case "sacrifice". (Although admittedly 'sacrifice' is a much more substantial key word than 'red').

It always seems a bit random to me: a bit 'hit and hope', a bit 'pulling a rabbit from a hat'.

It seems like a man standing close to a large red brick wall, peering intently at the lines of mortar. You ask him what he is doing and he answers, "I'm looking for something red". And after a long search he points to a fragment of red grit, and exclaims, "If found it!". And yet all the while, all he had to do was step back and look at the whole wall of red bricks.

Consider 2 Kings 3. What is the chapter about? It's about three foolish and disobedient kings who get stuck in a desert without water. They cry out to God for help and he answers and graciously and miraculously gives them more than they ever ask for or imagine. It's a chapter that contrasts man's folly and the grace of God to undeserving sinners. The contrast is heightened by a fourth king who feels that the only way he can gain his god's attention is by sacrificing his son, whereas all the other three kings had to do was to come to God. It is about a gracious God who yoke is easy and whose burden is light.

The lostness of man without God, the folly of ignoring God, the heavy yoke of false religion, and the abundant grace of God to those who seek him - if that's not the gospel I don't know what is!

Sometimes it's not a matter of 'finding' Christ in the text, but of standing back and seeing the whole picture.

Of course I got all this figured out after I preached the sermon!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The severity of God at Bethel

(Looking at 2 Kings 2:23-25. Again - much owed to Stuart Olyott and Dale Ralph Davis)

God still punishes unrepentant sinners
Here is the miracle of the cursing of delinquent children. And the purpose of this passage is to teach us that God's wrath is just as real as his grace. The unchanging God who is good is also severe.

Elisha leaves Jericho and travels to Bethel. Now Bethel is almost the exact opposite of Jericho. Bethel is a place with a great history. This is where Jacob lay down to sleep and he had the dream with the ladder with angels ascending and descending, and he awoke and said, "Surely God was in this place and I knew it not." He called it Bethel, meaning house of God. It was the place where God had given his people a great victory in the days of the Judges. Samuel visited Bethel in his preaching circuit.

It was a place that had known blessing from God, whereas Jericho had known God's curse. And where we saw God bringing forth blessing in the city of the curse, now we see God bringing a curse in the city of blessing.

Straight away we see that we must never think that God's blessing and grace clings to a particular place, or a particular congregation or family. The place of blessing can become a place that provokes the wrath of God. God's house can become a house of wrath.

In fact in the intervening years Bethel had actually become a place of idol worship. In two generations it went from being the House of God, to what Hosea calls Bethaven, The house of Wickedness.

Elisha travels to this town, and news of what had happened in Jericho surely travelled before him. Certainly news of Elijah's going to Heaven had reached the town - that's why the children cry out, "Go up!". But such is the town of Bethel, that before he has even made it inside the city walls, a crowd of young boys come out to him.

Now the NIV says youths, and that conjures up ideas of 18-25 year old louts. The KJV has 'little children' - and that gives ideas of 5-6 year olds. Neither gives the right impression. NKJV - young lads - You'll not be far off if you think of 8-14 year olds - really, little youths. Boys, not teenage thugs.

And as Elisha is approaching the town they spy him and go out to meet him. Note they went out of the town - they had to go out of their way to mock the man of God. This wasn't the case of Elisha walking down the High Street and a few of the town wags having a bit of a laugh. They saw him and left to harass the man of God. And it's a sizeable crowd - because look at v24, 42 of them were mauled. Those words, "of them" are significant. More than 42 children were involved.

And it is not a childish prank. They weren't just calling him "Baldy". They were shouting "Go up, Go up". They were telling him to do what Elijah had done. Get up to Heaven, you baldy man. GO on get out of Bethel and go up, go up to Heaven. They were mocking the things of God, and they were mocking God and they were mocking the man of God.

You might be thinking "That sounds a bit advanced for 10, 11 year olds to be thinking". And you might be right - but where do children learn things that are beyond their years? How often have you heard a child express an adult opinion, and where has he heard that adult opinion? In the home. Have you ever noticed this happen, much to the embarrassment of parents? Children repeating swear words and its obvious where it has come from? Where do loyalist children in the north learn their hatred?

And you can be sure that in the homes of Bethel in the days before, there were parents talking over the dinner table, and they were talking about Elijah, and the rumours of the fiery chariots, and they were wishing him good riddance, were talking about Elisha - baldy so and so, and the school of the prophets in Bethel, and they knew Elisha would be visiting the prophets - and they wanted nothing to do with the baldy old goat, and if he would just get away on up like his master that would suit everyone nicely.

And at the table were little ears drinking it all in - the distain and disregard of the parents for the man of God and for the things of God. That's the way mummy and daddy think, so that must be the way to think.

When children snigger and sneer at holy things, that is because they have learnt it at home. And when children hold the things of God and the prophet of God in contempt, then we have reached an all time low. And children don't get there until their parents get there.

So here is a warning for parents. Your attitude to the things of God, to God's word, and to God's house, and to God's day, and to God's people, and to God's ministers will hugely influence your children. Some of you aren't parents, some of you have children who are grown up, but nevertheless there are still children who see you at church each week. And you set them an example either for good or for bad.

What happens next? Look at v24.

Note carefully this is no act of a petty petulant man, who has had his pride wounded by some likeable but high-spirited children. If this had been a rash act of revenge, then the LORD would not have confirmed Elisha's words by sending the bears. God is under no obligation. And Elisha can't command bears. This is the punishment of a righteous judge.

And God had warned the people that if they forsook his covenant, if they abandoned him, then this would happen. In Lev 26 God states the blessings that follow when his people walk in his ways. But he also states what happens when his people will forsake his ways.
Leviticus 26:14 "But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring upon you sudden terror. 19 I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze.
They had just had three and a half years of drought.
20 Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of the land yield their fruit.
Jericho had experienced this, and they had repented.
21 "If you remain hostile towards me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve. 22 I will send wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children, destroy your cattle and make you so few in number that your roads will be deserted."
If you look at the text, you'll see that Elisha didn't call the bears, he simply called down a curse - a covenant curse on a covenant breaking people. And God did what he said he would do.

Because God will not be mocked. He says in Gal 6:7

"Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows."

And God will not allow his messengers to be mocked either. Matthew 10:40 "He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.

How do you think the parents felt? Those boys had only spoken what they had heard their mum and dad say, those boys only had attitudes and beliefs that their parents had had.

Their children had paid the penalty because of the godless lives of their parents. Make no mistake - it was the children's sin, but they wouldn't have been in that terrible condition if their parents had been different. Their parents had broken the covenant, and God was faithful to his word. At each baptism we recognise the covenant that God makes with believers and their families, that covenant carries great promises for those parents who are faithful, but it also carries terrible promises for those who squander the blessings available to their children, who fail to bring them up in the ways of God.

And I say this in love, if some of you have children that are not interested in the things of God, or who despise the things of God, it may be the case that you need to seek forgiveness from God for the signals they have picked up from you. I say signals, because you can go to church, but children aren't stupid, they can see whether or not this Christianity is a living breathing reality for mummy and daddy.

And God's promises of judgment are real. He is slow to anger, but he will display that anger. He is not some unhearing unseeing god like the Baals. He notes, he sees. And those who breaks God's rules will find not the God is gracious, but that he is severe. He will not let the guilty go unpunished. And across the centuries comes this warning voice - "Be not deceived, God is not mocked."

Because God is a God who is severe with unrepentant sinners.

So what have we seen?

We have seen that those who live and displease God, in which God will show that he is severe.
Or like those who lived in Jericho, they can repent and turn to God, in which case they will discover that God is a God who delights to show grace and mercy.

Behold the goodness and severity of God.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The wonderful grace of God at Jericho

Behold the Goodness of God - 2 Kings 2:19-22
(This is part one of a sermon entitled "The Goodness and Severity of God". It owes a lot to Stuart Olyott's sermon on the same passage and to Dale Ralph Davis' commentary on 2 Kings.)

Elisha tours back through Bethel and Jericho. And the purpose of this tour back through the towns that Elijah and just travelled through it for the people in these towns to see that although Elijah may be gone, God is still present and working through his prophet Elisha.

The circumstances may have changed but God has not changed. More specifically we learn in these passages that his saving power has not changed, and his wrath at sin have not changed.

This section and the next could be summed up by one New Testament verse, Rom 11:22

Romans 11:22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God (NASB)

And that is what we are going to - to consider the goodness, or the grace of God and also the severity of God.

God still saves undeserving sinners v19-22
Elisha has travelled up from the banks of the Jordan, towards the city of Jericho. It was a fantastically situated city. One commentator describes it as, "A situation of remarkable natural beauty." It stands in the middle of a broad plain, majestic views with mountains rising steeply behind the city. It had been famed for its rich fertile soil, where palm trees of various kinds flourished in abundance.

But now it was the city of the curse. When Joshua and the children of Israel, 600 years previously, had travelled into the Promised Land, Jericho was the first city in Canaan to defy Israel. And it defied not only Israel, but God. And it came under the curse of God. Joshua 6:26 records Joshua speaking God's curse on this defiant city:

Joshua 6:26 At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: "Cursed before the LORD is the man who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: "At the cost of his firstborn son will he lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest will he set up its gates."

And sometime in the past 22 years, in the reign of Ahab, sure enough someone decided to rebuild Jericho. And as he started we read in 1 Kings 16 his oldest son died, and yet he persisted in his disobedience, and as he finished and put gates on the city, his youngest son died.

It was the city of the curse. Nothing grew well there now. In v19 the men of the town come to Elisha seeking his help. For twenty years they have been seeking to live in this town. Everything is perfect, the view, the city layout, the roads, but there is one problem.
19 The men of the city said to Elisha, "Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive."
The trees and the fields and the vineyards were unproductive. In fact the situation is worse than the NIV translation. Literally it says "the land causing to miscarry". The Hebrew phrase vivid in its words, applies not just to the ground, but to the animals and people too. For 20 years they had struggled, crops would die, animals would come to give birth and miscarry. When the fruit trees blossomed and looked as if they were about to give fruit, the fruit came to nothing. When the mothers were pregnant they lost their children before they were born.

Here is a very clear picture of our world, and the lives of many of its inhabitants - the situation of their life is pleasant, well situated, they have a good job, friends, nice house, but they are under a very real and lasting curse. When Adam and Eve sinned they ruined it for all of us, just as surely as the inhabitant of Jericho 600 years previously had ruined the city for these people.

This teaches us straight away that it doesn't matter how materially blessed we are, if we are under the wrath of God, it ruins everything. It is the one thing that we need to get sorted out in our lives. Here also we see that God's wrath and his curse is both real and lasting. It was nearly 600 years since Joshua had in God's name uttered those words that declared God's wrath on the place.

And we learn here that when that is the case there is only one thing to do - come to God and seek his help. In the city for three days there has been this eminent man of God, so the men of the city approach Elisha.

Now look at v20-21.

He tells them to bring a bowl with salt. It is symbolic, as with many miracles. It is to be a new bowl - not one that can be associated with anything else. It doesn't belong to anyone, it hasn't been used for offering incense to another god. In it they are to put some salt. Again symbolic. Salt was used in biblical times for a host of different uses. It was used to preserve meat. It was used to make things palatable. Elisha takes the bowl with the salt - that which preserves, that which makes tasty, and goes to the source of the problem, the spring itself and throws in the salt. But it is not the salt that works the change. Nor is it Elisha. v21 gives us what Elisha said, "This is what the LORD says: 'I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.'"

It is the Lord who works the miracle and Elisha makes sure the people know it. It is a work of God. It is God who is putting the situation straight. And we read in v22 that the cure was permanent.

Here is a great picture of the grace of God
In the place of the curse, God is good. He is actively good to those who don't deserve it, to those who have flouted his laws, and have come seeking his help. And now there is life where once there was death.

There's hope for those who have lived life without God, and come knowing that they have defied God, there is grace where there should be judgment.
Here is encouragement for those whose past holds pain and hurt, and who wonder "How can God delight in me?". God's grace transforms that. Look at Jericho.
Here is encouragement for those whose sin as Christians has clouded their walk with God - and you have wondered "Will I ever enjoy the sunlight God God's smile again?"
Here is encouragement for those of us who have loved ones whom we care for that aren't converted. God brings life where there was death.

Here is a God who delights to show grace to undeserving sinners. V22 is a marvellous verse

2 Kings 2:22 And the water has remained wholesome to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.

When a person is changed they remain changed. And sometimes we need to take ourselves mentally to Jericho, or even take others to Jericho and make them stand and look at the city once under the curse of God, now enjoying his grace, and say to them, "Here is your God" - the God who "binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted." (Is 30:26)

What a great encouragement this is to us as individuals and as a fellowship - How like Jericho Letterkenny is. Yet as Elisha found - God hasn't changed. He still delights to display his grace.

Here is a great picture of the gospel.
The source needs to be put right if we are to be right. All the problems in Jericho were down to the water. The problems in men and women's lives are down to sin. If there is to be any hope for them, they need to go to God.

And it seems an unlikely answer, that a message about death can bring life, people need hope, and we tell them that they are guilty before God. People need their lives put back together and we tell them that they aren't broken enough, that they need to humble themselves before God and seek forgiveness. People need life and we point them to the cross, a place of death.

But how unlikely did Elisha's actions seem - that by adding salt to the water that life could be brought. Victorious armies scattered salt it on land to render it infertile, to curse the land, yet here is God taking the thing used to curse land, and using it to bring life.

But in the place of the curse there is life. When we look to the place where Jesus suffered the wrath of God, there we find life.

Here is a great picture of the power of God in the gospel
How unlikely it must have seemed when Elisha stood with the little bowl of salt at the great rushing waters that fed the town. How insignificant the cure seemed, when such a vast area needed to be covered.

We live in a vast town. Each citizen is under God's curse - they have gone wrong right at the source. And the source needs to be healed if there is to be any hope. And all we have is the gospel, and it mightn't seem like much as we look at all the effects of sin in Donegal, the godlessness, the immorality, the suicide, the depression, disobedience - and we can wonder, what do we have to offer? Elisha learns this lesson early on in his ministry that God solution is enough for the task. His grace is sufficient.

Here is great encouragement for us as we go out with the Gospel. Here we see that God delights to transform curse-ridden sin laden judgment deserving sinners into men and women of grace. God's word through God's people brings God's grace - even to Jericho.

Isn't there hope here for all sinners? Don't you see how powerful God's grace is?

A great picture of the gospel - we go to people whose hearts are poisoned by sin, we take with us the gospel, in a weak earthen vessel, neither looks very impressive, but it doesn't matter because it is God who works!

Behold the goodness of God

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Words of Christ in Red

Over at Shall we sing a song for you, Stevie Steele is surveying whether he should get a 'words of Christ in red' bible.

I suppose I wasnt just being provocative in my comments in his blog. I was saying what I really feel!

This really gets my goat!! I appreciate that it can be helpful to see what Jesus said (helpful for those who can't see the phrase "And Jesus said"!), but I find it theologically and physiologically offensive.

Three reasons why I don't like it:

One - It seems to suggest that the rest of scripture is somehow less inspired than Christ's actual words. This works out in practice with people saying things like, "Yes, I know that Paul says that but Jesus says this" as if the two were in conflict, and as if Paul's instructions on something like church discipline, for example, are somehow unbiblical! Believe me, I've heard this happen.

Two - It's harder to read. See this slightly tongue in cheek article. It concludes:
According to Wheldon's study, to print the words of Christ in red is to ensure that they will be poorly comprehended by 81% of readers! It is difficult indeed to see how this does him honour. To be sure, it makes his words stand out—it's just that it's almost impossible to read and remember them. I trust that little further needs to be said. Out of reverence for the Lord Jesus, we must put a stop to red-letter Bibles. They are rendering his words largely unreadable, thus affecting the spiritual well-being of who knows how many unsuspecting Bible readers. In the interests of Christ's words being read, we must ensure they cease being red.
Three - its hard to get plain text editions of bibles in a format you like without having the words of Christ in red.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Sabbath Sermon - Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?

In 1983 when Bob Paisley the manager of Liverpool FC retired, Liverpool were at the peak of their greatness. They had won the European Cup, the League Cup, the Milk Cup - they were sweeping everything before them.

The questions on everyone's lips were - Who would take over? and Would the team be as successful?

Unfortunately as time proved, a succession of managers have been unable to repeat the majesty of those glory days.

Elijah the Prophet is about to go to Heaven. Elijah had stood like a mighty giant in the scenery of Israel - standing boldly and bravely for the cause of God. He had opposed Ahab, and Jezebel, and seen them off. He had single-handedly, from a human perspective seen off the prophets of Baal. He had given a strong and firm lead in days of desperate crisis. And now God was going to take him from the life of the church and the nation. Who would take his place? And the people knew that it wasn't just a matter of stepping into his shoes, the successor needed God with him. Was Elisha the man? Was he really up to the task?

It was an uncertain time. Kings were changing. War was on the horizon. What remains for the people of God in shifting times? Is Elisha the successor? Is God with Elisha?

Those are the questions that run through this passage. The chapter finds its climax with one question, finally the question everyone has been wondering, but has been afraid to ask is asked, v14 "Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?"

The whole chapter seems to focus in on this one moment

They leave Gilgal in Samaria, head for Bethel, head for Jericho, Cross the Jordan, Elijah is taken away - then we have this cliff hanging question - "Where is the Lord the God of Elijah?" And then Elisha crosses the Jordan, travels back to Jericho, then back through Bethel, then back into Samaria.

At the centre of it all stands this question - "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?"

Such an important question. It is a key question for each of us to be asking ourselves. Last week we saw that we live in a world very similar to Elisha - days of wickedness and unbelief and sexual immorality, days of indifference to the things of God.

And where is God? Do we even need God?

The Question - Why do we need the God of Elijah?
Why did Elisha need God?

Because he is majestic
You can imagine that as Elisha grew up in his home, and as his father Shaphat taught him about the one true God, that they would have followed the events of the prophet of God with great interest. News would filter in to their home in Abel-Meholah of the great events of Eliajh's ministry. And then for ten or so years Elisha had served Elijah. He had seen at first hand what God was like, and what it was like when God acted. Not only so, but he had opportunity to hear of all the mighty acts God carried out through Elijah.

Elijah's God - called that because the country was rife with so many false gods - Elijah's God was the God who had sent fire from Heaven on the glorious night at Mount Carmel when the false god Baal was shown to be a figment of the imagination. How that must have thrilled the hearts of the faithful believers in Israel.

Elijah's God was the God who controlled the weather, stopping the rain for three years, sending rain after the triumph of Mt Carmel.

Elijah's God was the God who miraculously provided the flour and oil for the faithful believing widow at Zarephath and her son.

Elijah's God was the God who, when the widow's son died from sickness, sent life back into the corpse of that young man as he lay on the bed.

Elijah's God was the God who commanded the ravens to lift bread and meat and fly to the Kerith ravine where Elijah was in hiding and to deliver food to his faithful prophet.

Elijah's God was the God who sent fire from Heaven not once, but twice to protect his prophet from arrest by the soldiers of wicked king Ahaziah.

Elijah's God is the God who provides for his people in need
Elijah's God is the God who defeats his enemies and triumphs
Elijah's God is the God who controls the universe
Elijah's God is the God who protects.

Elijah's God is utterly majestic - Don't you want to know him? Don't you want him with you?

Because he is the one true God
When Elisha shouts, "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?", he isn't calling forth one God out of a myriad of gods. He doesn't have to identify God in such a manner because there are other gods. He does so because Elijah was the foremost representative of the one true God in Israel.

And even in this passage God demonstrates again that he is the one true God. Unbelief, if it weren't so tragic is almost comical. Baal was the nature god. He was the god how provided the rains. Baal was the god of the crops. In ancient Canaan Baal was known as the "One who rides upon the Clouds". His voice thundered forth, and he carried lightning as his spear. Baal was the god of storms.

Here's the irony - in the ministry of Elijah, God systematically challenged the people at every turn by demonstrating that Baal was no god, and that he was the true God.

In the country of the rain god, He sent a drought
In the country of the god of crops and fields, He stopped the crops
In the country of the lightning god, He sent fire from Heaven to consume the prophets of the lightning God
In the country of the rain god, He sent the rains when He decreed
In the country of the Fire god, He sent fire from Heaven to consume the soldiers
And now even the way Elijah departs is a snub to the worshippers of Baal.

How does God take his faithful servant home?

In a whirlwind! And he sends a chariot of fire and horses of fire so that we know that it is not just a freak of weather conditions. And Elijah the prophet of the true God departs in a storm, with the Chariot of God - the true Rider of the Clouds beside him.

The Warrior God, the captain of the armies of Heaven, has come to retrieve his servant.

How great is Elijah's God. He alone is the true God. The miracles proved it, the ascension confirms it.

Just like the one described as "One greater than Elijah is here" - the Lord Jesus Christ.

What God was doing with Prophet Elijah in his life was to give us a picture of the Great Prophet to come. Jesus came and worked mighty miracles. Except in this case it was different. God worked through Elijah - the miracles were not Elijah's but God's. But with Jesus, he spoke and it was done because he spoke it. He is the one true God. Jesus' ascension confirmed his deity. When God took Elijah to be with him, he sent a chariot and a whirlwind, because Elijah wasn't capable of going himself. But with the one greater than Elijah, there was no chariot, no whirlwind, because he wasn't some servant of God, he was and is God.

Jesus is the only one who really meets our need.

And so, why do we need Jesus? Because he is who he says he is - he is the one true God, he is the Saviour that the world needs, he is the way the truth and the life, he is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. He is the door, he is the resurrection and the life. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

He is the one true God.

Because good character and hard work aren't enough
It would be easy to study Elisha's life and learn a lot of great lessons about Elisha, because he was a fine man of God. He was diligent - see him stick to his God-given task in the opening verses, despite the efforts of the prophets and even of Elijah to dissuade him. He refused to be sucked in to the pessimistic outlook of the other prophets - "Don't you know Elijah's going today."

That was all they could think about, but Elisha cuts them off before they get into full flow, "What are we going to do? What will become of the cause of God now? All is lost!" Elisha silences them.

But nevertheless, it is not Elisha's hard work, or effort, or his optimism, or his obedience, or his sacrificial following of God, or his humility that will see him through the trials that lie ahead of him. And he knows it. And so he calls, "Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah."

He needs God. And good character, and good moral uprightness are not enough. We need God in our lives.

Elisha is a man who knows that. Do you? Or are you counting on being moral and upright and decent and hard working? It isn't enough. Human effort isn't enough for anyone to live in this world to serve God or even be acceptable to God. You need to cry out for the God of Elijah, you need to seek the Lord Jesus who is the God of Elijah, to come and rescue you.

Do we know that as a fellowship?
Do you know that in your own life? - not enough to work hard at being a Christian, reading your Bible, going to church, praying. You need this hunger for God. We need God with us, working in us. We need to be often on our knees with this prayer. It needs to be our cry every week as we come to church, every morning as we get up.

Like Elisha we can't take it for granted - Where NOW, today is the Lord, the God of Elijah?

Because He is our only hope

Elisha about to step into Elijah's shoes, feels the crushing weight of responsibility. Elisha knows that if there is to be any hope for this messed up world that he needs the Lord, the same God that Elijah had.

Not simply Elijah that he wanted - he doesn't pray to the dear departed saint for help in the trials he is about to face, because Elisha knows that God is his only hope. There is no saint or departed man or woman of God who is of any use to us now. God is our only hope.

It was God who enables Elijah to stand firm in the trials he faced. That man, when the waters raged about him stood like a rock, unmoved and unmovable. That is the kind of men we need in the church today. Men who will stand for what they believe. And they are vital for the health of the church. And not only that for the welfare of this nation. Elisha phrase, "My father, my father, the chariot and horsemen of Israel." This isn't Elisha referring to the fiery chariots and horses, this is a phrase used in scripture to describe the defence of a nation. It is used of Elisha on his deathbed when there were no fiery chariots. But Elisha realises that men and women of God are the true security of any nation. They are the ones that uphold the nation before God in prayer, that are a witness to the truth of God, that uphold God's laws.

But to be such a man or woman of God we need God, we need to be made strong by God. We need to be filled by the Holy Spirit. Ireland's welfare lies not in the hands of politicians, or civil servants, or in business men and women, but it lies in the hands of men and women of God, who will pray and confront, and witness, and resist evil.

We need the Lord, the same God as was the God of Elijah

So here is our prayer - Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?

The Hunger - Desiring God

Elisha has seen enough to know that he wants the God of Elijah to be the God of Elisha. And we see how earnest he is in his desire. He knew that God was present in the sense that he is present everywhere. But he wanted more than that. He wanted God to work through him, and to know God's power personally at work in his life. And when he got up that morning he set himself resolutely to pursue this?

He had a hunger for God that is unmissable. He knew Elijah was going, he knew God had called him to do the same work Elijah had been doing. And he knew he couldn't do it on his own, so he wasn't going to let Elijah out of his sight until he had received an assurance that Elijah's God would be his God too. See his hunger:

In his Persistence
He got up that morning somewhere in Samaria, Elijah informs him that he is going to Bethel. It would seem that either Elijah or God has told Elisha that this will be Elijah's last day on earth

And Elijah takes a less than straight route across the Jordan, starting off at Gilgal, heading for Bethel, then for Jericho, then across the Jordan. Some 20-30 miles. It is his final farewell tour of the prophets, men that he has acted as leader to over the last number of years.

And at each place - Gilgal, Bethel, then Jericho - Elijah makes a strange request of Elisha. Three times he asks Elisha to stay behind. Elijah suggests to him to stay. But Elisha persists for these 20-30 miles. He has been made a servant of the prophet of God by God, and he is going to stick to his God-given task. It is a test, to see how much Elisha wants the to be Elijah's successor. And we know it is a test because in v9 he has passed the test and he is rewarded for his commitment. Elijah says to him, "What can I do for you before I depart?".

And now his persistence pays off because he can ask for what he so badly wants. He has hiked over 25 miles with Elijah for this moment. And we see his hunger for God in his persistence. Will you be persistent in your desire for God?

In his request

Elisha asks for a double portion of the Spirit of Elijah. This isn't asking that Elisha would be twice as holy, or twice as godly, or twice as powerful as Elijah. In biblical times, when a father made out his will, he divided the property between his children. He would give a double portion to the one he choose as his successor, the head of the family, usually the oldest son. If he had 5 sons, the property was divided in 6 and a double portion given to the one who had greater responsibility.

Elisha is asking that he be appointed as the successor of Elijah. He is a man who fervently wants to serve God, and to be equipped by God to do so. Here is a test of a person's character - The man of God asks "What do you want me to do for you?" How would you respond? If you were told as a Christian that you could have anything you wanted. What would you ask for? He didn't ask for wealth, or honour, or safety, or success.

Elisha wants the necessary spiritual gifts to do what God has called him to do. He recognises that he can't do the task ahead without the equipping of God. He wants the same spirit that rests upon Elijah to rest upon him too. And here we see his hunger - anything in all the world - and he wants the Spirit of God to rest on him. And again we see his persistence. Elijah acknowledges that Elisha has asked for a difficult thing - not the blessing itself, God gives that, not Elijah. But Elijah recognises what young Elisha is asking for - he is saying "I want to stand where you have stood, to be God's ambassador to kings, to stand in the teeth of the storm and speak for God. And Elijah says, "You are asking for a difficult thing." And then he again seems to offer Elisha a way out - all along he has been giving Elisha an escape route, and now he does it again - "If you see me go, it will be yours." I understand this to be a challenge to count the cost of discipleship. It is going to be a hard life Elijah tells him, you can turn away now, but if you want the blessing stay here with me. And he stays.

In his Cry

"Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?"

The next thing that happens is that a fiery chariot and horses sweep between them, separating Elijah and Elisha. And then a whirlwind comes along and in the whirlwind Elijah is taken up to Heaven.

And at this Elisha is overwhelmed with grief - "My father, my father." It was a personal loss to Elisha. God's servants are not inhuman machines, and Elisha feels greatly the loss of the man whom he had lived and worked with for the last 10 or so years.

And as Elijah disappears from view, left behind is his cloak, and Elisha lifts the cloak. It is his token that he is to Elijah's successor, that his request has been answered. And he heads for the Jordan and as he gets to the Jordan, what does he say? Does he say, "Here is Elijah's cloak, a relic of this great saint of God - I must build a shrine to it and worship it."? Or "Here is the cloak of mighty Elijah, it will spilt the waters as it did before"?

No - he cries out "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah" because he knows that is the only solution. And he cries out - "where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" A passionate heartfelt plea.

Will you make it your plea - for your congregfation, for your own life? Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?

And the whole chapter is building up to this climax - Is Elisha going to be the divinely appointed successor to Elijah or not? Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah? Will God act for this servant as he acted for the previous servant? For this generation as in the previous generation? Is God with this follower of God as he was with Elijah?

The Answer
Imagine the scene. Elisha approaches the river with the cloak in his hand. On the other side 50 of the Prophets from Jericho were standing watching. They had seen Elijah and Elisha cross over. Now they watch as only Elisha returns they see in his hand Elijah's cloak. What will happen next? Elisha approaches the banks of the Jordan and strikes the waters and cries out "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah" and the waters part.

Here is the answer. The Lord the God of Elijah is with Elisha. Poor Elisha has lost Elijah, his grief is real, but he has not lost Elijah's God, and therefore all is well. The servant of God has gone, but God has not gone.

This passage teaches us that although times may change, and godly leaders come and go, God does not change. Is there any truth more comforting in an uncertain world than this? God, the same mighty God that was with Elijah, and so powerfully worked through Elijah was the same mighty God that was now with Elisha, and our God does not change and when in our day and in our generation we cry out, "Where NOW is the Lord, the God of Elijah?"

The Lord Jesus Christ answers, "I am with you always until the very end of the age."

And we see God's presence with Elisha in the next few verses as first of all the prophets recognise that Elisha is the successor - look at v15. Not only so, but when they seek his opinion about where Elijah is, and they set out to search for him, they learn that he not only has God's power present with him, but the wisdom of God with him as well.

Christian friends, not only do we have God's power at work in us and through us, and God's presence with us, but we have God's wisdom at our disposal. "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."

Elisha retraces the path taken by Elijah through Jericho and Bethel and there displays that God is with him by the miracles he works there.

Friends the great lesson here is that our God remains with his people and works through them. And so our great hunger and longing should be to know God's presence with us, the God who said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you," the God who said to Paul, "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you", that is the God who is with us. And like Elisha we should hunger, not just to know in our heads that he is with us, but to see him at work in us and through us, to have his power and wisdom evident in our lives.

Will you pray this prayer?

Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Introducing Elisha - 1 Kings 19

We're starting to look at Elisha over the next number of weeks in church. Here's the outline of where we went in the introduction.

Context – It is possible to serve God in Difficult times
Time: 850-800 BC After David and Solomon.

Place: Israel is split in two. The Northern kingdom is a godless place
Elisha & Elijah serve God in the Northern kingdom

Situation: Several generations of idol worship
Sexual immorality widespread
False teachers in the church
A coldness among the people of God

Often we think that no time is as bad as our own. Yet Elisha's world was much like 21st century Ireland

But God still had his people and still had his messengers
Even when God is angry with a nation, God is still tender towards his people

Contrast – God has shaped each of his people the way he wants them to be
Elijah – Possibly a poor background
Elisha – Well off family

Elijah – A lonely life mostly in the countryside
Elisha – Lived with the prophets and with people in cities

Elijah – A Prophet of Judgement
Elisha – A Prophet of Grace

Elijah – Extremes of temperament
Elisha – Even tempered and self controlled.

Elijah’s Message – God is Holy
Elisha’s Message – God is tender

Elijah's miracles - mostly judgment
Elisha's miracles - mostly healing and restoration

Both godly, both the men God made them.
God has different men for different times, different people for different situations.
Elisha doesn’t try to be Elijah. We need to be content with who God has made us, while yet striving to grow in godliness.

Calling – The Marks of the Servant of God
God’s call is an authoritative call that he expects to be obeyed. He calls all men and women to follow Christ.

Four characteristics of the man or woman who follows God
  • Diligent at whatever work God has given them – v19
  • Immediate obedience to God’s word – v20a
  • Willingness to sacrifice – v20b
  • Humble service – v21 (see 2Kings 3:11)