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?

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