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TEXT: II Kings 2:1-18
SUBJECT: Elisha #3: Fiery Chariot
There once was a prophet in Israel whose name was Elijah. For twenty years, he served the Lord in circumstances both discouraging and dangerous. But now his work is over.
He leaves Gilgal to see the young prophets of Bethel and wish them a fond farewell. As he readies to leave that place, he orders his servant Elisha to stay behind. But for the first time in his life, the man says no to his master: As the Lord lives and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.
Elijah accepts the answer and moves on. He comes to Jericho, where other men are training for ministry. After wishing them well he turns to his servant and repeats the command: Stay here, the Lord has sent me on alone. But, Elisha is as pig-headed as Elijah: As the Lord lives and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.
Elijah makes his way down to the Jordan River. Near the west bank he pleads with his servant one last time: Let me go on alone. But Elisha's in no mood for dickering: As the Lord lives and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.
The prophet takes off his coat, rolls it up, and strikes the river. The waters part (as they had in the days of Joshua) and the two men walk across it on dry land.
Elijah now knows that Elisha is in on his secret. What is it you want, man? Why have you followed me all this way? 'I want a double portion of your spirit.'
Some have taken this to mean, 'let me be twice the man you are,' but this cannot be true. In a culture that prized age over youth, that would have been a grave insult. Elisha is speaking to Elijah as a son to his father. By a double portion he means 'let me be your heir -- give me what a first-born son is given.' And by a double portion of your spirit, he means he's not after Elijah's money or land or other earthly things, if he has any. He wants the same Spirit to rest on him as He did on Elijah. By your Spirit, he doesn't mean Elijah's spirit (his personality, his charisma, his power, and so on), but the Holy Spirit, to be with him as He had been with his master!
This is a big request. We think of it as high privilege (and it is), but more than that, it's a heavy responsibility. Elisha will need two things to take up Elijah's mantle: courage and a vision of God's Glory. In the next few minutes, his courage will be proven and the vision will be provided.
As the two men talk things over one last time, an incredible sight appears in the sky: horses-fiery horses, pulling a chariot made of fire. In light of Isaiah 6 and Hebrews 1, I take them for the Seraphim, fiery angels who stand before the throne of God. These high servants of Heaven have come to earth to take Elijah to their King.
The man steps into the chariot and rides into heaven in a whirlwind-the horses don't take a straight line, but spiral upwards into glory.
Elisha sees all this from below and is horrified! We think of angels as cute babies with wings or as pretty men. But they're not babies or men, cute or pretty. They're soldiers of God and magnificent in their power and dignity. Strong men cannot look at angels comfortably. But Elisha keeps his eyes fixed on them.
As they disappear from view, he sees something wafting its way down to him. When it gets closer, he sees what it is: Elijah's mantle or cape. He picks it up and hikes back to the Jordan River. Following the example of his master, he rolls up the garment, strikes the water, and cries, Where is the Lord God of Elijah?
The waters part as they had some time before, and now Elisha and everyone else, knows where Elijah's God is: not only in heaven with the glorified saint, but also on earth, resting on His servant Elisha.
The young men who watched it all from a distance, pay their respects to Elisha, knowing they spirit of Elijah is now with him.
Being his servants, the prophets ask Elisha for a favor: Please let us look for Elijah. It seems a stupid request, (and maybe it was), but mostly it showed their respect for the man. If the chariots of Israel had dropped him, they wanted to find the body and give it an honored burial.
Elisha insists it's a waste of time, but when they keep asking, he gives into their wishes and lets them go. Three days later they come back without finding their master. And Elisha can't resist saying, 'See, I told you so'.
FAIRY TALES AND THE BIBLE
I love fairy tales. The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen are among my favorite authors. Fairy tales are good for children (and their parents). The old ones teach good morals, and furnish the imagination of kids whose minds are so often drained by the busy and boring images they watch on TV.
But no fairy tale matches the color and the drama of the Bible! What a story this is! A man rides to heaven in a fiery chariot! And, unlike bedtime stories, it really happened! It's not the story of Grimm or Andersen or Tolkien or Lewis! It's God's Story!
I feel sorry for people who didn't grow up on these stories. I feel sorry for kids who have to memorize catechisms or repeat the Ten Commandments instead of hearing the Great Acts of God!
If you have children at home-or grandchildren-start telling them these stories. If you can't tell them, read them. If you can't read them, find somebody who can, and get them into the heads-and into the hearts-of your children!
Let children hear the mighty deeds
Which God performed of old;
Which in our younger years we heard,
And which our fathers told.
This is getting me way off topic, but I don't mind. Some things are worth getting way off topic!
There are three important characters in today's story. The first is Elijah. What does it tell us about him? Two things come to mind:
Elijah is approved by God. We know that, of course, but the people of his day did not. His is a revered name to us, but at the time, he was the most hated man in Israel. The people blamed him for the judgments that fell on them, the Royal Family sought to kill him, and even his 'friends' did not stand up for him or support the cause into which he poured his heart.
But in the end, it doesn't matter what others think of him. The Lord approves of him! His ride to glory proves it, proves it to his friends, to his enemies, to us, and, most of all, to Elijah himself!
It doesn't matter what others think of you. Don't go along with the crowd-not even if the crowd is godly! You are the Lord's servant-not mine, not the church's, and not that person who has gotten inside of your conscience. Seek the Lord's approval and don't worry about the disapproval of other people.
If you do, He will approve of you. Everyone who seeks, finds; all who ask receive; anybody who knocks, will have it opened to him.
Will God approve of you as publicly and spectacularly as He did Elijah? Probably not. Unlike him, you and I will likely leave this world the other way-by death. But for a believer, is death so much different than riding to heaven in a fiery chariot? Luke 16:22 seems to say it isn't. Speak of Lazarus, that rich poor man, the Lord says,
So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom.
Did you hear the words, 'carried by the angels'? Visibly, their departures could not have been more different-Elijah rides out in a fiery chariot and the beggar is buried in a poor man's grave. But, in a way the eye cannot see, their departures were the very same thing: escorted to glory by the Great Servants of God!
Elijah lived for the Lord's approval-and he got it. If you want it, you can have it too. In the same way he got it: by ignoring the expectations of people and living to please God.
Elijah had victory over the world. The man spent his whole life fighting. He fought the violence of Ahab and Jezebel, the indifference of his people, the dark cunning of Satan, and his own weakness. They often had the upper hand against him. But no more. In riding to heaven in a fiery chariot, Elijah was also riding roughshod over his enemies. Even death, the last enemy, was broken under his wheels. His foes were mighty and cruel, but in riding to heaven in a fiery chariot, he humbled them all.
Of course, he did. But can we expect the same victory? Yes we can. For God has chosen us for glory, and this means-even in suffering and death-we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
This is what the story says about its first main character, Elijah.
The second major part is played by Elisha. What does the story tell us about him? Two things:
He was humble. Elisha was a good man who had gotten the finest training a prophet could have. While the others studied in their little seminaries, he spent ten years learning from the master. While they read about prophets, he lived with one and saw what a man of God is and what it takes to speak up for the Lord.
At the end of his apprenticeship, he might have felt well qualified for the work he had to do. But he didn't feel that way. He needed God's Spirit and he wasn't ashamed to say so!
His calling was special and he needed a double portion of God's Spirit. But he's not the only one who needs the Holy Spirit. All believers do. We are called to communicate Christ to the world; to do it with what we say and how we live. Who has what it takes to do this? How in the world can you and I impress others with the beauty of Jesus Christ?
We can't do it. And so, we ask for the Holy Spirit to fill us so that, in us, He can do it. Only the Spirit communicates Christ. But He does it, most of the time, through His People.
We've all wondered why we witness so little and so badly. We fault our cowardice, our indifference, and other sins. But maybe the real reason we don't win the lost to Christ very often is because we haven't felt the need of or asked for a double portion of God's Spirit. Maybe we have no success because we have so little of the Spirit. And maybe we have not because we ask not.
God has not promised to give us everything we want in answer to prayer. Three years ago, a close friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer. I cannot tell you how often I prayed for my friend or how firmly I believed God would heal him. Seeing him two or three days before his death, I still thought the Lord would heal him. I don't regret my prayers at all. I prayed for a good thing, and prayed in faith. But the Lord said no. The best prayers are sometimes turned down because they're not according to God's will.
But praying for the Holy Spirit is God's Will! The Lord once told a story about fathers and sons; it goes like this:
If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or, if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or, if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?
Did any of you kids get a scorpion for Christmas? Anybody get a snake in your stocking? And how many of you had rocks for Christmas dinner? None of you kids got these gifts because your parents love you and know what you need. And here's the punch line: Compared to God, all parents are evil, and if evil parents give good gifts to their children, your Father in Heaven will give the best gift of all: The Holy Spirit!
This means: You don't have to wonder if it's God's will to give you His Spirit. It is-you can look it up in the Bible. Thus, you can pray in confidence: Lord, give me a double portion of Your Spirit.
And, like Elisha, you will get what you ask for. But, you'll only ask for the Spirit if you feel you can't get by without Him. And you'll only feel that way if-like Elisha-you know what you are, and therefore, what you need.
Elisha was a humble man who got a double portion of the Spirit. If we were humbler, we'd have more of the Spirit too.
Elisha put his gifts to use. Elijah's mantle was more than a coat; it was a symbol of Elijah's Spirit. No sooner did Elisha pick up his master's coat than he used it. I picked up the idea from A.W. Pink. In his Gleanings from Elisha, he says,
When his master's mantle had fluttered to his feet, he knew beyond doubt that his request had been granted. The garment was a token of receiving a double portion of his Spirit. 'And he took the mantle that fell from him, and smote the waters.' That was what the mantle had been given to him for-not to be idolized as a venerable [relic], but to be made practical use of!
The mantle was not given to make Elisha feel good about himself, much less to make him look down on others who didn't have it. The mantle-and the Spirit who went with it-were give to be used, used for the good of God's People, and the glory of the Lord.
That's just what he did with it. Used it.
The Lord has gifted every Christian. Your gift is what you have and what you can do. Some of them seem more spiritual than others, but in fact, since they all come from the Holy Spirit, every one of them is spiritual-whether it's preaching, Christian scholarship, singing, endowing a hospital, or bringing groceries to a shut-in. All our gifts are from the Spirit of God!
He gives them, not to admire or brag about, no less to bury in the ground, but to use. Don't try to identify your spiritual gift. Just do what you can, and in doing it, you'll find that is your spiritual gift.
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.
Elisha had prophetic gifts, and he used them to serve the Lord's People. You don't have the same gifts he had, but you are gifted. Get busy using them!
Elisha was dutiful. If Elijah left the world, Elisha stayed, and went on with the work. He doesn't remain on the other side of the Jordan and build a shrine to his master. He crosses over and takes up his master's work.
We have a rest coming, and it will be a long and comfortable one. But this is not the time for resting; as long as we're in the world, we're on the job!
Elijah and Elisha are important characters in our story, but the Leading Man is Jesus Christ. In one way, the story is historical-it really happened, about 900 BC, around the Jordan River. It is not legend; it is history.
But it is not only history. It is also prophecy. There is a movement in the Old Testament; the story is taking us somewhere. And where it's taking us is to Christ!
Our Lord said the Scriptures bear witness to Him. Not just the predictions we so often turn to, in Genesis 3 or Deuteronomy 18, Psalm 22 or Isaiah 53. Most of the Old Testament doesn't predict anything. But it all points to Christ because all its stories are His Story.
The five lessons we've learned today point to Christ.
Was Elijah hated by many, and approved by God? Yes he was, and in this way, he anticipates the Lord.
Who had more enemies than our Lord? He too, had wicked kings against Him, an ungrateful nation, and the appalling powers of hell. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and we hid, as it were, our faces from Him.
He was disapproved of His whole life. His dear mother scolded Him, and His own brothers were ashamed of Him. I won't even name His enemies who called Him a demon, crowned him with thorns, hung Him on a cross, and laughed at Him as He died.
But one Sunday morning, the judgment against Him was reversed! The man they hung on a cross, God raised from the dead. The man to whom they offered mock worship was given a name above every name! The man they called the devil was declared to be the Son of God!
Was Elijah victorious in battle? Yes he was, and so he points to Christ.
Our Lord's whole life was a struggle against dark powers both human and demonic. For a time, they had the upper hand-arresting Him, trying Him, torturing Him, crucifying Him, burying Him, and setting a guard to keep the tomb.
But then He rose from the dead and shattered the power of men, devils, and death.
He did it, not only for Himself, but for us too. The grave may have us for a time, but it has no victory, for His resurrection is only Stage One in God's plan to destroy death and all the fear, pain and sorrow that goes with it.
If Christ has won the battle, then in Him, we have too!
Was Elisha a humble man, depending on the Spirit of God? Yes he was, and so he looks to Christ.
How did our Lord do the great things He did? How, for example, could He stand up to Satan after forty days of fasting? He must have been half dead with hunger when the devil offered Him a loaf of bread. Where did He find the power to say no?
How did He preach the way He did? He was not an educated Man, but spent his life learning carpentry. The people who knew Him best wondered, Where did He get these things?
How did He walk on water, heal the sick, raise the dead, and turn a boy's lunch into a meal for five thousand men?
Because we know He is God, we tend to think He did these things on His own, by tapping into His Divinity, you might say. But if we did say it, we would be wrong. Our Lord never did that!
Jesus Christ stood up to the devil, preached the Gospel, and performed miracles by the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He has anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor.
Later, when accused of casting out demons by the power of Satan, the Lord said,
If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the Kingdom of God has come upon you.
When did He face down the devil? Right after His baptism, when the Spirit of God descended on Him in the shape of a dove.
When asked if he were the Messiah, John the Baptist said, no he wasn't, and that he wasn't fit to carry the shoes of Jesus, partly because, the Spirit has been given to Him without measure.
When did the Holy Spirit anoint Him and under what circumstances? Luke 2:21-22 tells us,
Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended.
Our Lord received the Spirit in answer to prayer. Why did He pray for the Holy Spirit? Because He needed Him. And if He needed the Spirit, how much more do you? So, pray for the Holy Spirit and for His daily filling.
Did Elisha make the most of His gifts? Yes he did, and this too anticipates Christ.
When filled with the Spirit, what did the Lord do? Mark says he immediately went into the wilderness to do battle with Satan. Forty days later, on the next Sabbath, he went into the synagogue and began preaching. Not long after that, He turned water into wine, and then a long string of miracles were performed. How many? We can't count that high. If they were totalled up,
The world itself could not contain the books.
The Lord never admired His gifts, but He used them for the glory of God and for the good of His people.
Was Elisha dutiful? He was, and so he points to Christ, who left the splendor of the Transfiguration to cast out a stubborn devil. If the Lord has joined Elijah, we're still with Elisha on earth. And this means we're on the job. So let's do it from the heart.
The love of God be with you all. Amen.
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