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Sunday, October 16, 2016

[Matt's Messages] "Where is the God of Elijah?"

“Where Is the God of Elijah?”
The King of Kings in the Books of Kings
October 16, 2016 :: 2 Kings 2:1-25  

Last week, we crossed over from 1 Kings to 2 Kings which wasn’t much of a change because it was originally probably one book.

And the main prophet, Elijah, from book one was the headliner in the sequel, the first chapter of book two.

But now, in chapter 2, the main prophet of this ongoing story is about to change.

We’re going to go from Elijah to Elisha. Look at verse 1.

“When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.”

So, the author tells us up front that this is a really big day.  This is “accession day” for Elijah. It is “succession” day for Elisha!

Do you remember Elisha? We met him back in 1 Kings chapter 19.

Elijah was depressed about the Lord’s apparent lack of victory, and the Lord whispered to him and gave him a friend.

Elisha was plowing a field with twelve yoke of Oxen, and Elijah threw his cloak around him and took him on as an assistant.

Elisha had a big barbecue of the oxen, shared it with the neighbors and then went out with Elijah as his little shadow.

And I say, “shadow” because he hasn’t been mentioned since, but I think he was there the whole time, watching, watching, watching Elijah the big prophet in action.

But today, that’s all going to change. Change is in the air.  (Literally, right?!)

Now, it’s not totally clear how much everyone knows about this change. As I read this story, I think that Elijah knew most of what was going to happen. Probably not every miraculous detail, but that today was the day.

And, as you read it, you see that Elisha seems to know that, too.

And so do this group called “the company of the prophets” or the “sons of the prophets” which show up in 3 different places.

Apparently all of God’s prophets were somehow aware that today was the big day.

And I don’t think they were happy about it.

Nobody really wanted Elijah to go. Especially his assistant. V.2

“Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel.’ But Elisha said, ‘As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.’ So they went down to Bethel.”

Now, in this story, it’s important to pay attention to the geography, the place names.

They start out at Gilgal and they go to Bethel.

Bethel is the southern tip of the northern kingdom.

Jeroboam set up one of his golden calves here.

So, it’s not been a particularly godly place. Remember that for later in this chapter.

Elijah has to go there, YHWH has said so.

And he tells Elisha to stay behind.

You know what I think is going on there? He’s offering for Elisha to stay behind. It’s not a command so much as an offer for Elisha to quit, to get off of the train.

“You don’t have to do this, Elisha. You don’t have to watch me go, and you don’t have to take up my role. Not if you don’t want to. You can stay here. It’s okay.”

But “Elisha says, ‘No. I’m in.’” So they go to Bethel. V.3

“The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, ‘Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?’ ‘Yes, I know,’ Elisha replied, ‘but do not speak of it.’”

“Let’s not talk about that now.

Yes, I’m aware of what day it is, but I don’t want to talk about succession. I just want to be with my friend.” v.4

“Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay here, Elisha; the LORD has sent me to Jericho.’ And he replied, ‘As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.’ So they went to Jericho.”

Stop number two. Pay attention to the geography.

What kind of a place was Jericho?  It was also not a good place, historically.

The walls came tumblin’ down there back in Joshua’s day.

And what has happened to Jericho in the Books of Kings?

It was, sadly, rebuilt by a guy named Hiel of Bethel. And he did at the cost of losing his firstborn son and his youngest son because of the word of the LORD. We learned that back in chapter 16.

Historically, not a good and godly place. But the LORD wants Elijah to go there.

Elijah gives Elisha and out, but he doesn’t take it. So they go, and there are other prophets there, too. V.5

“The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, ‘Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?’ ‘Yes, I know,’ he replied, ‘but do not speak of it.’”

“Now is not the time for that conversation. Now is the time to stick with Elijah.”

Do you feel the tension growing? You know it comes in threes, right?

Bethel, Jericho, now, the Jordan. V.6

“Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.’ And he replied, ‘As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.’ So the two of them walked on.”

He’s kind of retracing or backtracking the path that Joshua took back at the conquest of the Promised Land.

That was the Jordan, then Jericho, then Bethel and Ai, and then the whole nation over time.

This is Bethel, then Jericho, and now the Jordan.

How are they going to get across? V.7

“Fifty men of the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan.”

These guys don’t ask, “Do you know it’s today?”

They just watch. V.8

“Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.”

What does that remind you of?

The Red Sea Rescue, yes, but even more the crossing of the Jordan.

Because this is crossing the Jordan. And on dry land!

Now, they’re alone.

No more company of the prophets.

Just the two of them, and Elijah asks a key question. V.9

“When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?’ ‘Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,’ Elisha replied. ‘You have asked a difficult thing,’ Elijah said, ‘yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours–otherwise not.’”

Now, I’ve always assumed that Elisha was going big here with this request.

He wants double the prophetic power of Elijah!

And we’ll see just how much God uses him in the next 12 chapters. It’s amazing!

It might be double.

I think he was asking for something more modest than that. He was just asking to receive the blessings of a spiritual father.

The “double portion” is the portion of the firstborn son.

It’s double what any other sons would get.

He’s just saying, “I want to be your heir.” “I want to inherit your position in the family of prophets.” “I want to take up the role that the LORD promised for me back in chapter 19 when He said that you should anoint me as your successor.”

“I’m ready to take over.” That’s the double portion.

And I don’t think he said it lightly.

I think he realized that this was a heavy responsibility.

And it would only come with grief, with the loss of his friend and mentor!

I think that’s why Elijah said that was a difficult things that Elisha asked for.

I could be wrong. He could have been asking for more spiritual power than Elijah had.

Either way, it would only come if Elisha saw Elijah be taken.

So it was good that he stuck with him all day long.

And then it happened. Verse 11.

“As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.

Elisha saw this and cried out, ‘My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!’ And Elisha saw him no more.”

What a moment!

There is no Marvel movie CGI that could compete with that moment in history.

That really happened.

A chariot of fire and horses of fire whoosh in and separate the two of them.

And then Elijah goes up and up and up in great big swirling storm.

And then he’s gone!

He’s just gone.

And that thing that Elisha says? I never noticed this before, but I don’t think he’s talking about the chariot or horses of fire.

He says, “The chariots and horsemen of Israel.”

He’s talking about Elijah there.

He’s crying out, “There goes the real army of Israel.”

“That guy was worth an armored division!”

“That guy was the true army of one of Israel.”

“And now he’s gone.”

It’s statement of grief and sadness and lament. V.12

Elisha saw this and cried out, ‘My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!’ And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart.”

He was grieving something fierce.

Elijah was his spiritual father.

And he was gone.

Oh, it’s exciting that it came in whirlwind. Just like at the end of Job. Same word for the storm here.

It’s exciting that it came with the chariot of fire. Nothing else quite like it in Scripture.

It’s exciting that Elijah apparently cheats death. It doesn’t say it outright, maybe this included his death. But it seems more like Elijah just got a heavenly ride, translated straight to God like Enoch. And Baal “the storm god” and Mot the “death god” lose again!

But it feels terrible to Elisha. Because he’s left alone.

Have you ever felt like Elisha?

Like your world just ended?

Like nothing was every going to be good, never going to be the same again?

Like you know that you have to go on, but your heart is full of grief and sadness and lament and loss.

Maybe you’re feeling that way, today.

I haven’t told you the title of today’s message yet.

Last week, it was a question that the LORD sent to Ahaziah.

This week, it’s a question that Elisha asks the world in verse 14.

“Where Is the God of Elijah?”  Look at verse 13.

“He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah [that was all that was left of him here] and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. ‘Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?’ he asked.”

Where is the God of Elijah?

Did you ever feel that question?

Elijah is gone. Where is Elijah’s God?

That spiritual hero has passed from the stage of human history.

Where is God?

That era is clearly over. Is God still around?

The work is not done, and yet our leader is gone. What now? How do we go on? Who will finish the job?

I’m not Elijah. He was a giant. He was an army. What now?

Where is the God of Elijah?

I think that Elisha felt that question.

But he was also clearly making a statement.

Because even as he asks it, he picks up the mantle, the cloak of Elijah, and just like Elijah did, he strikes the Jordan from the other bank. V.14

“When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.”

Where is the God of Elijah?

#1. RIGHT HERE.

The same God that parted the Red Sea.
The same God that parted the Jordan for Joshua.
The same God that parted the Jordan for Elijah.

Is still right here.

No matter what else changes, the God of Elijah is still here and still at work.

That’s one of the reasons why I like that song, “Days of Elijah.”

Parts of it don’t make much sense. David never rebuilt "a temple of praise.”

But saying, “These are the days of Elijah” over and over again remind us that God si the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Do you need to hear that?

Have you been shaken by something recently?

A year ago, this week, we were shaken, as church by the sudden loss of of our friend Blair Murray.

And I couldn’t help but think about that as I wrote this message.

But there’s been plenty of other items to shake our world in the last 12 months.

Do you find yourself asking the question, “Where is the God of Elijah?”

Is He still around?

Can we still count on Him?

No matter what else changes, our same God is here. Right here.

Elisha knew that and he asked the question in such a dramatic fashion, not just because he felt it but because he saw the answer coming.

Yes, God is here. Right here. With us.

#2. WITH US.

The company of the prophets may not have seen what happened to Elijah on the other side of the Jordan, but they saw the Jordan splitting in two once again and Elisha come walking over on dry ground. V.15

“The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, ‘The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.’ And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.”

They get it.

The God of Elijah is still here.

He’s with Elisha. He’s still with us.

With little old us!

I think that part of the point of this whole passage is that you don’t have to be “Elijah the Army” for God to use you.

You don’t have to be Billy Graham or Franklin Graham or Dale Linebaugh or Lew Sterrett.

You don’t have to be Blair Murray.

You don’t have to be anybody except someone who belongs to the Lord.

Just think about this:

You plus God are a big enough team to accomplish whatever mission the Lord wants you to take together. Right?

You plus God. Is that a big enough team?

You feel like it’s a trick question, don’t you?

"Well, what is He going to ask me to do?"

Don’t worry. He’ll do it with you.

Because the God of Elijah is right here with us.

Do you need to hear that today?

I’ll bet you do. What might be the mission that God is sending you on?

You know that he doesn’t just deploy us from back behind the lines? He goes with us, right?

You plus God are a big enough team to accomplish whatever mission the Lord wants you to take together.

You say, "Well God minus me is a big enough team to accomplish His mission, too, right?"

Absolutely. But He’s inviting you along.

And there is nothing to lose.

He doesn’t just use giants, one-man armies, somebodies.

He uses nobodies. Elisha was a farmer.

Now he’s the new Elijah.

What might be the mission(s) that God is sending you on?

Now, I said pay attention to the geography.  Where are they now?

They were across the Jordan. Now they’re at Jericho with the company of the prophets who are showing respect for their new leader. V.16

“‘Look,’ they said, ‘we your servants have fifty able men. Let them go and look for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley.’ ‘No,’ Elisha replied, ‘do not send them.’ But they persisted until he was too ashamed to refuse. So he said, ‘Send them.’ And they sent fifty men, who searched for three days but did not find him. When they returned to Elisha, who was staying in Jericho, he said to them, ‘Didn't I tell you not to go?’”

Elijah is truly gone. It wasn’t a big fakeout, and he wasn’t killed by the story, and his body dumped somewhere. He’s gone. Gone, gone.

And Elisha is at Jericho.  Now, watch what happens there. V.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.’”

“People die here.

You know the curse on Jericho. Is there anything that can be done?”

Yes. V.20

“‘Bring me a new bowl,’ he said, ‘and put salt in it.’ So they brought it to him. Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, ‘This is what the LORD says: 'I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.'’ And the water has remained wholesome to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.”

Number three. Where is the God of Elijah?

He’s right here with us...

#3. DOING MIRACLES.

Redemptive miracles!

He’s turning around the curse of Joshua 6 and 1 Kings 16.

He’s bring sweet water like He did at Marah in Exodus 15.

He’s turning around something barren and dead and bringing grace and new life.

He’s the God of redemptive miracles.

I don’t know the why the salt. Perhaps it’s like a seed.

Or maybe it’s something even deader, salt water, can now produce life because of God’s Word.

I don’t know. But it reminds me of the Cross.

Where God took our sin and death and turned it, transformed it, changed it into grace and life.

Jesus Christ took our sin on Himself and died the death that we deserve.

And somehow out of that, miraculously, comes grace and eternal life!

The point that the author of Kings is making, I think, is that this is the same God.

This is the God of Elijah. Elijah was here. Now Elisha is here. But they have the same God.

And He’s up to his same old tricks.

Redemptive tricks!

Is that encouraging to you? It should be. Because He’s up to these redemptive tricks still today.

Pastor Dale Ralph Davis writes about this in his commentary on 2 Kings.

He says, “Isn’t there hope here for that woman in the third row from the front [at church] who has had two abortions in her past? Does this text not address the man who still despairs as he looks back to that sin-twisted, knowingly rebellious decision he made, and, though he has long since repented in tears and sincerity, a cloud seems to hover over his life–he fears that he can never enjoy the sunlight of God’s smile again. Or perhaps it was that immoral act, years ago, that has infected your marriage and infested your conscience; and, though finally confessed, you are convicted that, though God may tolerate you, he can never welcome you or delight in you. Sometimes [we] must grab such folks by the scruff of the neck, and when they say, ‘Hey, where are you taking me,’ we must say, ‘I’m carting you off to Jericho, and when we get there, I’m going to shout at you, ‘Here is your God!’ Is there anything as thrilling as that–as meeting the Lord who ‘binds up the brokenness of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow’ (Isaiah 30:36).”  (2 Kings: The Power and the Fury, pg. 37).

The God of Elijah is right with us in this room doing redemptive miracles.

#4. AND KEEPING HIS PROMISES.

Which also means keeping His threats.

Let me show you what I mean with this last story.

Where is Elisha?  Pay attention to the geography.

He’s at Jericho. Where did Elijah come from before he went to Jericho on that last day?

Bethel.

So it’s back to Bethel to show that it’s the same God as before. V.23

“From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Go on up, you baldhead!’ they said. ‘Go on up, you baldhead!’ He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria.”

This is not a random story.

And as much as I like to joke about it, it’s not a story about the blessings of being bald or the danger that comes from making fun of us who are!

And it’s not a story about how cruel God is to children.

Here’s what’s happening.

Elisha has come to Bethel to retrace Elijah’s steps.

But unlike at Jericho, Elisha is unwelcome.

At Bethel, they reject him.

As he’s walking along the road, a gang of young punks start to threaten him.

The King James has “children” here, but they are not little kids. They are youths. They are somewhere between twelve and thirty.

They are the Bad Boys of Bethel. Young thugs.

And there are a bunch of them. Forty two die, but it’s clear that there are more than that in the crowd.

And they are taunting, jeering, disrespecting and basically threatening the prophet.

Remember what happened last week when the prophet of God was disrespected by King Ahaziah and his 2 captains with their 50 man tactical teams?

Last week, we said that Elijah’s God was dangerous.

The same God is with Elisha.

These young punks say, “Go on up, you baldhead” which is a pretty serious thing to say.

“Go on up” be saying, like Elijah. How about you go to heaven.

Or it could be “Go on up the road. We don’t like your kind here. Get out of town.”

And they could be just making fun of Elisha’s baldhead or they might be saying that he’s not much of a prophet.

Elijah had a big head of hair. Remember?

“You’re no Elijah! You're follically challenged.”

“Where’s the hair, ‘Mr. Prophet’?”

What did God say would happen to Israel if they rejected Him?

Here’s what Leviticus 26:22 says, “If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve.  I will send wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children,”

Elisha was just calling for God to keep that promise.

And God did.

The main point here is that God has stayed the same.

The God of Elijah is the God of Elisha.

The jealous dangerous God of Elijah that we saw last week is the same jealous dangerous God of Elisha that we see this week.

And He is still keeping His promises and His threats.

That’s scary to realize if you are God’s enemy.

But it’s so sweet to realize if you God’s child.

Are you God’s enemy?

So many are. That is our default position.

Ephesians 2 says that all of us were dead in our transgressions and sins and followed the ways of this world and its evil ruler.

But God, who is rich in mercy makes us alive with Christ if we repent of our sins and put our faith in Jesus Christ and believe His promises.

We receive His grace.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:9).

And that was true then and it’s true now.

Bethel, Jericho, Jordan, Jordan, Jericho, Bethel.

Days of Elijah, Days of Elisha, Days of Jesus, Days of Paul

2016.

Where is the God of Elijah?

He’s right here, right now, with us, doing redemptive miracles and keeping His promises including His threats.

May be we rightly scared if we are His enemies.

And rightly rejoices if He calls us His sons and daughters!


***

Messages in this Series:

01. Who Will Be King?
02. The Wisdom of the King
03. The Temple of the King
04. The Incomparable King of the Temple
05. A Breathtaking King
06. The Turned King and the Torn Kingdom
07. The Two Kings and the Tearing of the Kingdom
08. The Word of the LORD
09. In the Eyes of the LORD
10. The LORD Lives
11. The LORD Is God!
12. The LORD Is Still God.
13. “You Will Know that I am the LORD”
14. "Thus Saith the LORD!"
15. What the LORD Says
16. Is There No God in Israel?

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