Friday, January 20, 2006

2 Kings 6:1-7 - Do not be anxious about anything

Sorry for the long absence - things are always fairly busy in January, and along with that, I have decided that I don't want to become mastered by the need to blog. "Everything is permissable, but I will not be mastered by anything."

What lessons do we learn from this passage? Perhaps as we read through it you were wondering - what are we going to learn from this today?

Are there any lessons? Don't chop wood near a river with borrowed tools. That we should be as conscientious as this man was when we do borrow from others? Don't involve ministers in building projects? Use professionals?

Part of our problem when we come to read the Bible, and especially these Old Testament stories is that we are constantly looking to find ourselves in them. What should I learn from this? How does it apply to me? Is there an example for me to follow or avoid?

Those are good questions and they have their place. But instead the first question we should ask is, "What does this tell me about God?"

And when we ask that question we see the lesson straight away. God cares about axe heads. Or God cares about things that happen to us, that in the big scheme of things aren't really that important. This lesson that God cares is one that the writer of 2 Kings has been driving home for quite some time now. This is the same sort of miracle as the five in ch4. There we saw God provide when someone was in great need - the widow who was in debt, he provided when a woman was is despair - she was childless, he provided when she was in deeper despair, and her beloved son had died, he provided when there was danger in the pot of stew, and he provided when there was a shortage in the dinner menu.

God is a God who provides. And the writer of 2 Kings wants us to really get this. Why does he tell 6 stories when one would have done?

We're very good at finding things to worry about aren't we? It isn't enough to be told "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear" for we'll think "what about family, or my job - he didn't mention those.

But there are no loopholes in God's care policy. He cares for us in every way. That's what these stories drive home - they're the foundation for Paul's command, "Do not be anxious about anything."

God cares for us in every aspect - be it in need, in personal pain, or grief, or danger or shortage, or in this case, just an ordinary every day accident. God cares.

We're going to look at this passage from three directions

God cares for his people in every circumstance
Three aspects to God's care:

God is concerned about the simple needs of his people
Can you imagine the scene?

There is a theological college - that's what the company of the prophets was. They are tight for space. And these men of God are practical men, they decide that they would like to built larger premises. But rather than just head off and do their own thing, they seek the guidance and permission of their teacher - Elisha. He gives them his wholehearted support, and they ask him to accompany them.

So off they go down to near the Jordan river and they are busy chopping trees. One man has shown initiative and gone and borrowed an axe. And as he swings at the tree trunk with all his might the axe head hurtles off and there is distant splash. And as the axe head sinks so does his heart - for it wasn't his, it was borrowed.

And he laments his case to Elisha, the man of God. Note that is what he is called in v6. The author wants us to realise that it is not Elisha who is the focus, it is God who is about to act.

And Elisha chops down another branch and throws it in, and as it sinks, the axe head floats. It is a miracle for heavy iron axe heads do not float.

God is concerned about an axe head. The laws of physics, the laws of the universe, are temporarily suspended because an axe head has fallen in a river. What does that tell you about your God?

No concern is too small for him. It might be a relatively simple need, but it still matters to God. On a world scale there might be trouble brewing in Assyria, the King of Israel might be flouting God's law at every turn, there might be a famine in the country, but down by the Jordan one of God's people has had a simple accident, nothing traumatic - just a lump of metal fallen in the river.

But that matters to God. I find that immensely comforting. I've found that, have you? - God is concerned about roofboxes - Expand - Start with sitting in café reluctant to spend €1 on the Dealer. Begrudged spending the money because not likely that there would be a roofbox in it

Tomorrow your car might not start - is it worth praying about?
Your washing machine might break down just as you are about to start 5 loads of washing.
You may have some mundane ordinary task to do on the farm - clipping of fencing, and you need to get it done, but things keep getting in the way - is that something you can bring to God?
Your heaters may not come on on a cold morning …

Surely we should be able to cope with these sorts of things?

Do not be anxious about anything. Why - not because these things don't wind us up - but because we don't have to be anxious.

God is concerned for the Genuine needs of his people
Having emphasised the simplicity of the need, we need to be balanced and emphasise that this was a real need.

The axe head has flown off the handle and sunk out of sight into the river. And the man is conscience stricken. Why so? It was borrowed. What's the big deal - can't he pop next door to Diver's hardware and get a replacement?

It's not quite so easy. Although the Iron Age had been around for about 2-3 centuries, Israel had struggled with this new technology. Iron implements weren't that common. It took a tremendous amount of effort to smelt the ore. Many hours had to be spent. Huge numbers of trees had to be felled to light the fires to heat the furnaces. The ore needed to be quarried. The tools had to be shaped and sharpened.

This was a Rolls Royce of tools. And your man has just heaved it into the river!

And there isn't much spare cash floating about in these times - these are the men that go out scavenging for food. This man has borrowed and lost something that he has no hope of replacing.

This is a genuine need. This wasn't that he would have liked an iron axe head for himself. That would have been luxury. This is a man going into quite a sizeable debt. And what do we learn about God? God is concerned about our genuine needs.

Here is why you don't need to be anxious about anything - if there is anything that would genuinely be for your good for God to do - he will do it.

Of course our problem is that we often have different ideas about what would be good for us - or what we need. But here God demonstrates that he is not blind to our distresses or our emergencies, or genuine needs.

In fact sometimes it is in our distresses, emergencies or genuine needs that we see God act in the most marvellous ways.

God cares in advance of our needs
The key issue for the man on the bank of the Jordan was that when he turned to look for the man of God - Elisha was there.

The presence of the man of God was the crucial factor in this incident. Why was Elisha there? Look at v 3. Well done that prophet who asked Elisha to accompany them on a building expedition! Where would they have been if that question hadn't been asked? And yet God had prompted that man to ask that question at that time, so that later on in the day, or maybe even a day or two later - we don't know how long they were at this task - Elisha was there when he was needed.

So much hangs on such an insignificant detail. But God had the answer in place long before the problem arose.

Have you found that? I have - let me go back to that roof box - God had had a man in Belfast buy a roof box, for a car very similar to ours, and leave it at a camp site in Kerrykeel, and then in the week that I decide to look for one - he tells the campsite manager to put it in the Dealer.

I remember another time when I was in this situation that this man finds himself in - I had borrowed a car. I removed a chunk of the paintwork up the side of the car. Distraught - how could I ever afford to pay for that. I got home, and found a cheque that had been posted two days previous sitting on the table.

Here is another reason we shouldn't be anxious about anything - God often provides in advance for the needs of his people. And seemingly insignificant details and decisions can turn out to be the very things God uses to provide. And so often we find that God had his provision in place long before we needed it.

God cares for his people. Let me emphasise that God cares for his people. These are his prophets. This level of care and attention isn't bestowed on everyone. The person who refuses to put their trust in Christ has every reason to be anxious about everything. For they do not have a heavenly father looking after them in every circumstance in life.

You see for those of you who are Christians when Christ died at the cross for you he did much more than wipe out your debts. He brought you into his family. He purchased for you all the rights and privileges of the sons and daughters of God. What father can sit by and see his children anxious about anything? It may be a simple need - Eva is upset because Piglet has fallen below the bed. Do I tell her not to be silly - its only a stuffed toy, and she can have breakfast without it?

Here too is the depth of his care for us. Everything you need for life and godliness has been purchased for you at the cross. All that you will need is available. God has prepared it all in advance.

Perhaps you look at your life and you can identify more with the axe head than the man who lost it. You feel as if you are at the bottom of the muddy old Jordan. You feel that things are hopeless. God cares and God is able to raise you up out of whatever depths your soul may have plunged to. It may be that in your discouragement it seems to you that God doesn't care, and that things are too bleak, that the situation is hopeless. Here we see a God who specialises in turning hopeless situations around.

Don't lose hope - do what this man did take your request to God. He who wouldn't let the prophet lose an axe head certainly wont allow you to be lost.

But it would be wrong simply to look at this passage in terms of our personal needs - there is more to it than that.

God cares for his church in dark days
This passage shows God's care - not just for his individual people, but also for his people as a body - the church.

As we look at this passage and ask the question, "What do we learn about God here? Or What is God doing here?" we see something else.

And we need to bear in mind the people that this book of 2 Kings was written for. They were in exile in Babylon. The author of Kings is being guided by the Holy Spirit to select accounts that will be not only of help to us, but also of help to them in the dark and discouraging days in which they live.

And so what do they see when they read this passage?

What has just happened? Gehazi, the servant of the man of God has just been dismissed. The cause of God in Israel would seem to have taken another blow. The heart of Elisha's right hand man was not set on the things of God after all.

But look at how ch 6 starts off:
The company of the prophets said to Elisha, "Look, the place where we meet with you is too small for us.
Gehazi may be gone, but God's work is flourishing. Bishop Hall writes:

"There was no loss of Gehazi; when he was gone the prophets increased. An ill man in the church is but like some shrubby tree in a garden, whose shade keeps better plants from growing. The view of God's just judgments doth rather draw people unto him than alienate them."

Gehazi may be gone, but the theological college has to be extended. What may seem loss to man is not loss with God.

The people in exile could identify with this, many of their people had been lost, the true remnant was being whittled down. The question in their minds was, "Is there a future for us? Does God still care?" In this passage both those questions are answered. Even while God is removing the godless from among the church, he will also be extending it, bringing others in to fill the seats of those who once sat there.

Not only has this happened in the context of Gehazi being removed, but also in the context of an idolatrous godless nation. And amongst this godless nation God is building his church. God still cares for his people although the nation may have forsaken him.

It would have been encouraging for another reason. Look at the miracle itself. How often does the church seem to be like that axe head? All seems lost, we seem sunk in the depths of muddy old Jordan. If we knew our church history - how much help there is there.

I mentioned last week about the revival in 1859 in Ulster and we may wish that we lived in such days - days when spiritual issues were discussed in public, and people went to church en masse. But those days started among bleak dark days. And it is in the darkness that God often starts, because it is in the darkness that his true and faithful people get really down to the serious matter of prayer, and begin to take seriously the command to reach out.

When the church seems sunk, when the world pronounces the death of the church, or pronounces it to be irrelevant, God raises the axe head to the surface again.

Look at it from another perspective - here are the people of God working at some great scheme. As they work, an accident happens, something unforeseen that would seem to be a great hindrance to the work. And yet events that to all would seem to signal the end of the work, are not a hindrance to God. God may take away men from congregations, but if his work is truly being done he will provide and the work will flourish.

A key figure in the life of a church may be taken, but God will provide. So let us be encouraged - God cares for and builds his church even in the darkness.

God cares for sinners in hopeless lostness
I want to finish by addressing those of you who haven't put your trust in Christ yet. By now you know all the facts, you may even believe the facts to be true. If anyone said that Jesus didn't exist, or that he was a liar you would argue with them that they were wrong. But yet you still haven't come to that point where you have thrown yourself before him and said, "I need you to save me."

There is encouragement for you. For you are like this man in this story. There has been placed on you an enormous debt that you cannot hope to pay off. It is your debt. For you have borrowed something from God - your life. It isn't yours, it is on loan from God. Every breath you take, every step you make, is a gift from him. And one day you will have to give an account of what you did with your precious God given life.

And if you haven't placed it in his care and in his service for safe keeping, you have lost it at the bottom of muddy old Jordan. It doesn't matter what you are doing, whether you are living at decent life, or living a foul life, when you're on the bottom of a river bed it doesn't really matter.

But the day of reckoning will come when the owner will seek the return of what was leant. And like this man there will be an enormous debt to pay.

The good news is that just as for this man God had his provision in place long before it was needed. God has had his provision in place long before you needed it. Jesus Christ will redeem your life, rescue you from the depths of rebellion and lift you out of the miry clay of judgment. The good news of the gospel is that God has already provided the answer - Come to him. Come now.

Be like this man, turning to the man of God he said, "Alas it was borrowed." "Alas, my life is borrowed, alas I will have to give account and I cannot pay." And when you turn to the Man of God, God the Man, he will raise you up, and pay your debt.

Here is reason to praise God.

Why? Because God cares, not just for his people and for his church, but for lost sinners.

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