Monday, February 20, 2006

Sabbath Sermon - How to live in a Godless World (2 Kings 6:8-23)

How do you feel about this world we live in? There are some Christians who are like Eeyore the depressed donkey in the Winnie the Pooh stories. They are always lamenting the state of the world.

They are other Christians who have a really positive outlook and that’s great, but when trouble strikes in their lives, and they are diagnosed with cancer, or when they are wiped out financially, they find that their optimism was just that, it wasn’t based on God’s word, and now that trouble has come they flounder in their faith, and in fact some are so badly shaken that they don’t recover.

And then there are those who come to church and they can’t see the point in joining the church, because from where they stand it seems to be doomed.

And there are others who when they look at the church they see either a group of misery-guts who talk about joy and whose face looks as if it would crack if they ever smiled, or they see another group who are so filled with a shallow joy that falls apart when trouble comes – and they wonder what’s the point?

So how are you to live in a world that ignores God, defies God, where Christians get cancer, where children of Christians get knocked down – how are we to live? Because on this hinges the questions – is Christianity real, has it anything to offer when live falls apart?

Paul answers that question for us in 2 Corinthians 4:18:
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
He gives us a new perspective, and that verse in 2 Cor sums up wheat we learn from 2 Kings 6:8-23. Here we see three principles for living in a godless harsh world before Christ returns.

See the Futility of defying God v1-14
Can you picture the scene here? First of all we should notice the wickedness of what is happening here. The King of Aram was at war with Israel – What is wrong with that? Well his general Naaman has recently been healed of leprosy. The Bible tells us that it is a great sin to return evil for good. And here the King of Aram attacks the country that was responsible for helping their great general.

It may be that Naaman refused to be part of it, for v8 strictly should be translated, “He conferred with his servants”.

And he insists on carrying out this wickedness – flying in the face of God’s goodness to Naaman. And as he pores over the maps of Israel he decides to set up an ambush in a particular location, knowing that the king of Israel would be passing close by. But he waits and he waits and nothing happens.

So he chooses another venue, and waits and waits. And nothing happens.
So he chooses another venue, and waits and waits. And nothing happens.
So he chooses another venue, and waits and waits. And nothing happens.

And at this point you can see him standing in his tent with his servants and officers around him, and he slams his gloved fist down on the table and shouts, “Well who is the traitor?” and he walks around the tent glaring at each one of them in turn.

Eventually one of his men says, “Please sir, its none of us, its Elisha the Prophet, he knows everything we do. Even the very words you speak in here”.

You see you can’t defeat God. You can’t outwit him, you can’t out think him, you can’t out manoeuvre him, you can’t out last him, you can’t out run him, you can’t surprise him, you can’t defy him forever. He knows your actions, he knows your thoughts, even before you think them.

How do you live in this world if you are a Christian? Don’t envy the ungodly – Because God will frustrate their plans. God is always one step ahead. They may seem to get away with everything. Nothing happens without his say so. God runs no mopping up operation. Like a master chess player he knows what way you are going to move even before you move.

How do you live in this world? If you aren’t a Christian – you aren’t ever going to outsmart God. It shows the folly of trying to outthink God. Look at the king’s words in v13. Elisha is the source of all the problems, God reveals to him everything that the king is thinking, all his plans, so in the face of such an invincible weapon what does the king do – go home and resign himself to the greatness of Elisha’s God. No, we read in v13:

"Go, find out where he is," the king ordered, "so that I can send men and capture him."

As if Elisha isn’t going to know about it!! Do you see how futile it is to defy God? Defiance of God never works. It always ends in defeat. Every secret thing will be revealed. The very thoughts you have right now as I preach this.

How comforting that is for the church – Nothing the world can do will frustrate God’s plans. Nothing will stop the growth of his kingdom. We could be depressed at how the media always twist things to uphold sinfulness, and to hide righteousness, and to make Christians seem narrow minded. But nothing they do will halt God’s kingdom. Politicians and councils may make things hard for churches but only if God the supreme commander allows. No-one and nothing can harm, or hinder the church unless our supreme Defender allows.

We should note that there are times that he does allow trouble to come to us. But that is always for our good. But no plan of Satan catches God unawares. How depressing that must be for the enemies of God.

Any wonder the Psalmist says in Ps 2:
1 Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. 3 "Let us break their chains," they say, "and throw off their fetters." 4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.
As you live in this godless world, remember that there is no chaos, God is guarding his people.

Don’t focus on the evil around you v15-17
The forces descend on Dothan. Elisha’s servant is going out to chop wood for the fire for breakfast or something similar, and as he opens the door you can almost picture him shutting it again in shock, and then opening it a crack and peering out. Then he runs to Elisha,

15 "Oh, my lord, what shall we do?" the servant asked.

Here is a young believer. He is Gehazi’s replacement. He hasn’t been with Elisha long. He is new to the job. And he is afraid. Young believers are often taken aback by opposition. Things can go so well at eh start for the first few months, but then the Devil comes with some attack.

And it isn’t just young believers that falter – we all can if we forget one simple lesson. Elisha hasn’t forgotten it though, and he tells the young man the most startling of truths. “Things are not what they seem, Those that are for us are more than those who are against us.” It must have seemed like madness to this young believer. He could see the chariots, the tanks of the day lined up outside the village. Probably hundreds of soldiers. And there he stands with a frail old man with long white flowing beard beside him.

More of us than them?!?

But Elisha could see what the young man couldn’t see. He could see the armies of Heaven arrayed in majesty all around them. And Elisha prays and this young man learns a lesson that has been recorded in scripture for us to read so that we will not forget it either.

There are realities that the natural eye cannot see – the soldiers couldn’t see the heavenly host
There are realities which the untrained spiritual eye cannot see – the young believer couldn’t see them

But they are realities nonetheless. And God will enable you to face fear and danger and a godless world with courage when you lift your eyes from what is seen to what is unseen.

How we may ever actually see fiery chariots and horsemen, but that makes them no less real. And we need to remember the reality. We tend to think of angels as nice willowy feminine creatures with soft and gentle complexions, but how is it that every time in scripture that they appear, they have to say, “Don’t be afraid.” The Angel of the Lord visited the Assyrian camp later on in 2Kings and he dispatched with 185,000 soldiers in one evening.

And we see further the futility of defying God here. The lives of those soldiers hung by a very slender thread, at a word from the commander of the heavenly hosts they would have been swept off the face of the earth.

Friend, if you are not a Christian – God holds your life in your hand right as we speak, he can cut the silver cord of your life. He could place his finger on your heart and stop its beat and summon you into his presence to give account. You could be swept into eternity in a split second.

Christian friends, remember this lesson – Invisible spiritual realities are far greater than visible problems and circumstances. Whatever problems you face, you may not see the chariots, but they are there nonetheless. Scripture tells us in Psalm 34:7 “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”

In Hebrews 1:14 we read “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”

This is how much God cares for his children. Billy and Anne and Esther – cruise. Ministering servants there to take care of needs.

An ocean liner left a British port during WWII and headed for a harbour in the U.S. Enemy ships were everywhere. The captain was given secret directions charting the route. Added were these instructions: “Keep straight on this course. Turn aside for nothing. If you need help, send a message in code.” After a few days at sea, the crew spotted an enemy cruiser on the horizon. It appeared to be trailing them. The captain immediately sent a coded message: “Enemy cruiser sighted. What shall I do?” The reply came from an unseen vessel: “Keep straight on. I’m standing by.” No friendly ship could be seen, but the captain kept the liner on course until it safely reached port. Within a short time, a British submarine glided quietly into the same port. Although it had been out of sight, it had been present all the way.

There is an unseen army watching over the people of God

On this morning Elisha was aware of this level of protection. That explains the perfect peace that surpasses understanding that he had. It didn’t make sense in human terms to be calm in the circumstances. That’s why he was untroubled.

Have you ever seen that in an older Christian – facing illness or death, completely at ease? Its because they are conscious of the level of God’s protection for them.

If he has given his Son for you – he isn’t going to lose you at this stage.

And there will be times when you will need to lean of the fact of v16, when you can’t see the chariots of v17.

Remember the legions. Peter forgot the legions of Angels. He thought he had to do it all himself. He lashed out with the sword in the Garden and Christ said, “Could I not call more than 12 legions of Angels to rescue me?” That’s 72,000 angels. God’s protection and care of you is more real than you can ever imagine. And its ok to ask him like Elisha did for a glimpse – sometimes we are like the young fearful believer and we need a glimpse – it may come through a verse of scripture, a promise, it may come through another believer, it may come through a passage like this, where suddenly you are made aware that you are not alone.

Lift your eyes from the problem – it may be serious surgery, it may be illness, it may concern for family, it may be farming problems – lift your eyes from the problem and look beyond them to the provision and providence and care of God. Bunyan in Pilgrims Progress has Christian approaching the Castle Beautiful – on the path are two great lions, and they are fearsome, and there was only a narrow pathway between them. And they frighten young Christian, and Bunyan adds, “The lions were chained, but he saw not the chains.” How much worry and fear would we be freed from if we learned to see the chains that restrain evil, or the angelic hosts that are arrayed around us.”

And there may be a need for you to be like Elisha to others and to

Help other believers to see the invisible
Notice what the prophet doesn’t do. He doesn’t rebuke the fearful believer harshly. He is gracious
Notice what he did do – he assured him – do not fear, and gave him a reason – he teaches him this great truth
Then he prayed that the young believer would be able to see this for himself.

Here’s how to live in a godless world with a deep contentment – not a na├»ve jollyness that is unaware of the difficulties, but a peaceful calm that acknowledges the difficulties but sees beyond them to the God who is in control.

Display Christ’s love to those who would wrong you v18-23
There is a danger that as we live in a world that ignores God, and as we see the futility of defying God, and as we see the awesome forces arrayed on the side of God, the great danger is that we become self righteous. The Christian can look down their noses at unbelievers, as if they are stupid – forgetting that God had to open their eyes before they could see the truth also.

Or there is the danger that the Christian who loses sight of these previous two great truths can become frustrated and seek to take matters into his own hands.

But that is not how God wants us to live. In this chapter we have seen what our attitude to God should be, what our attitude to problems should be, and now in v 18-23 we see what our attitude to those around us should be.

How do we react to those who deliberately and defiantly flout God’s laws, and seek to harm, insult or persecute God’s people?

In 1 Peter 3:9 we read “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

And that is what we see Elisha doing here. We are to do nothing but good to those who are outside of Christ. The soldiers are arrayed outside Dothan. And Elisha prays for another miracle. It is the reverse of the first. In it he had prayed for a young man’s eyes to be open, here he prays for an armies eyes to be blinded. I don’t think that it’s the case that they couldn’t see, for they were able to travel the 10 miles to Samaria, but rather that they couldn’t see what they should have seen.

Do you see how easy it is for God to confuse those who would oppose him?

Now some would accuse Elisha of lying in v19 when he says,

"This is not the road and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will lead you to the man you are looking for." And he led them to Samaria.

But who was it that they had been looking for originally v8-9. They had been looking to attack the king of Israel. They had only been looking for Elisha because he had spoiled their attacks so often. It was the king they wanted. And in any case – here is a man of God, who has just prayed for God to work a miracle, and then another one, and in a minute or two will seek a third miracle. Is it likely that God honours a man who speaks lies?

So he leads them to Samaria, and he prays for their eyes to be opened. And suddenly they realise that having been in a position of power they are now in the enemy stronghold.

And the King of Israel is beside himself with vengeful glee, “Shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?”

And Elisha teaches him this great lesson – Don’t retaliate to the ungodly. Do not repay evil with evil.

How easy it can be for the Christian to get fed up being the subject of mockery, of being passed over, of being ripped off, or being ignored, and to want to seek some form of revenge. We want people to know what it feels like.

But here, Elisha, the man whose life had been threatened shows us how to react.

He sets the men down to a feast. And now can you imagine the story that these men tell as they go back home? “We suddenly found ourselves in the palace of the King of Israel with his soldiers all around us, and we thought we were dead men, but the man of God the one Naaman had told us about ordered that we have a feast!”

Friends that should be our response. Paul writes in Romans 12:17-21
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
And why should we treat people like this? Because this is how we have been treated ourselves. God has every right to wipe us off the face of the earth, but instead of the wrath we deserve we are invited to sit at the Kings table and feast at his expense.

How can we display anything less to those who frustrate, mock, irate, tease us.

How should we respond?

Prayer – not "Lord, make them nice, but save them, bless them, give me a love for them."
Show kindness when they are needing sympathy, politeness that is genuine not cold, loe that acts.

And as we live in this world, with these three attitudes of heart we will be a witness to the unseen God, who spares those who deserve death.

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