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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Faith and the Floating Axe Head
Text:2 Kings 6:1-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith Tested
 
Preached:2017/03/26
Added:2017-04-26
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


 
“Faith and the Floating Axe Head”
2 Kings 6:1-7
 
There was an evangelist many years ago who had this letterhead for his stationary:
 
The Red Sea parted.
 
The sun stood still.
 
The axe head floated.
 
And then the words of Psalm 48:14: For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even to the end.
 
The evangelist wanted to impress upon whoever read one of his letters that the God of whom he wrote – the God revealed in Holy Scripture – is truly an awesome God, able to do what is impossible for man.
 
And we certainly see that in the passage before us. We have before us another example of the power of God at work through his servant, Elisha. As we have seen earlier in our study, Elisha was somewhat unique among the Old Testament prophets in that he was also a teacher of many other prophets; he was similar to a seminary professor today. There was a group of men who desired to learn about the word of the Lord, and Elisha taught them in what was known as the company of prophets. It was, in many ways, the Old Testament equivalent of a seminary.
 
The company of prophets had been blessed with numerical growth. But with growth comes challenge. The challenge for them is that they needed a larger meeting place and residence hall. They had outgrown the place where they met together to study the word of God and they were in need of more “dorm rooms.” So they said to Elisha, “Look, the place where we meet with you is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan, where each of us can get a pole; and let us build a place there for us to live.”
 
In making that decision, they used wise planning. They recognized the need for more space and they sought the solution. The Jordan River has by its banks a wide variety of trees including willows, poplars, tamarisks and alders. So it was a natural and wise decision to go cut those trees to build a larger meeting place.
 
We are not given a blueprint for their plans. But undoubtedly they put thought into how they would build the new meeting place and residence hall. In such an endeavor much careful thought is required. Building programs invariably run into problems. A building program, even for a church, or perhaps especially for a church, can present a challenge: There are always many different views on how to build, where to build, and, of course, how to fund the cost of building.
 
The first church that I served did not have a building of its own. It met in a Grange Hall. I spent the better part of five years trying to get them established in a building, and in retrospect, I would have been much wiser simply to have done the work of ministry, allowing the building to come together in God’s time through his means.
 
Although God is the one who provides for his people, including the places where they meet, he gives us clear instruction for any type of building expansion. In Luke 14:28-30 Jesus said, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’”
 
Although we are not given the blueprint, and although they didn’t have all the code restrictions that building committees today need to deal with, we know that they used wisdom as they prepared a larger meeting place. We see their wisdom in many areas, including that that they recognized their need for Elisha’s presence. In verse 3 one of them said, “Won’t you please come with your servants?”
 
I will,” Elisha replied. And he went with them.
 
Elisha was, as we have seen throughout our study of his life, referred to as “the man of God.” He was a foreshadow of the true Son of God, Jesus Christ. In him we see a shadow of the one who would be born in Bethlehem, truly God, truly human.
 
His presence at the building site was crucial. Later on the Psalmist would write, in Psalm 127:1, Unless the Lord builds the house, its laborers labor in vain. Even if you have the best plans, and the most modern equipment, along with skilled laborers, unless the Lord adds His blessing – unless He builds the house – all is in vain.
 
We had the resources in the first church I pastored. We had the plot of ground. We had the approval of the planning department. Everything was in place, but when we drilled for water, even though we were in an area where most wells struck good water at 40 or 50 feet we could not draw water, even at over 500 feet. Unless the Lord builds the house, its laborers labor in vain.
 
Working Together
 
Not only do we see the wisdom of the company of prophets as they first contemplated how they had outgrown their meeting place, and planned to build a larger place near the banks of the Jordan River, but we also see their willingness to work together.
 
The Apostle Paul would later write, in Colossians 3:23, Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as for the Lord and not for men. By contrast, many Proverbs describe the frustration of working with someone who is lazy.
 
From this passage we don’t gather that any of these men in the company of prophets were lazy. We don’t hear any excuses from them saying, “We are students of the word so we can’t work with our hands.” In fact, quite a few commentators point out that these men may have been “tentmakers,” and were used to working with their hands, even as they sought to learn more about the word of God as they studied under Elisha’s tutelage.
 
We see their willingness to work together in verse 2 where they say, “Each of us can get a pole; and let us build a place there for us to live.” There was no talk about getting a certain number to do the work; rather each one was willing to work for the good of the project.
 
We see that again in verse 4 as they went to the Jordan River and began to cut down trees. We realize that it was not just a select few doing most of the work, which often happens within churches, but rather each one was working to do their part in building the new meeting place.
 
But as with every building project, inevitably something goes wrong. Usually something goes wrong when everything seems to be going smoothly. In this case the plans had been made, the company of the prophets seemed to be making progress, the workers were eager, Elisha was present, and they were doing the work of God’s kingdom. But then the iron axe head from one of the axes flew off the handle and sank into the Jordan River.
 
Character Revealed Through Trial
 
The man who had been using the axe called out in agony, “Oh my lord, it was borrowed!”  As we hear the anguish in the man’s voice, and as we read of the miraculous recovery of the axe head, we see that the passage teaches us, among many other truths, that the true character of a person is revealed in trial. This man was obviously anguished that the axe head was borrowed. Had it been his own axe he may have berated himself for not being more careful in looking at the handle, as it must have been gradually becoming looser within the head. And he may have expressed sadness at losing the axe head, but he would not have had that great remorse that we hear reflected in his anguished cry, “It was borrowed!”
 
By contrast there are some, perhaps even many, who would say, “I’m glad that wasn’t my axe head! It’s too bad that it’s lost and it was borrowed, but these things happen and there was nothing that I could do to prevent it. I will have to find someone else to borrow another axe head from.”
 
The true character of a person is revealed in trial, not only in the big complex trials of life, but in the sudden small trials as well. When working with wood, as these prophets were doing, when the hammer hits the thumb we often see the true character of a person.
 
Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks,” Jesus said in Luke 6:45. And so often in the sudden, relatively small incidents in life we see the heart of a person revealed. When the hammer strikes your thumb, and when it strikes mine, what words come out of your mouth and what words come out of mine?
 
Or in the case of the borrowed tool that gets broken or lost, are we somewhat nonchalant or do we have the same type of anguished grief that this man had when he exclaimed, “It was borrowed!”?
 
The Tender Care of God
 
Another truth that is taught here is that God cares for His people in every aspect of life. As the Lord used Elisha, and the stick he threw, as an instrument to cause the axe head to float we are reminded that he cares about even the small things in your life and mine.
 
Sometimes we seem to think that God would only care about the big obstacles in our life: a diagnosis of cancer, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or some other life-changing event. And then, even at those times, sometimes in our sorrows, as the devil does his work, we begin to doubt; we wonder if God cares about us at all. But this small incident, tucked away in a small passage of the Old Testament, reminds us that God cares about every aspect of our lives, even the borrowed axe head that is lost.
 
I knew someone who bought a new vehicle, and then found out that the seat hurt her back so much that she could not drive it for any period of time. She had one of those air bladders installed in the seat to give it lumbar support, and she asked me, “Is it wrong for me to pray that this would make the seat more comfortable?” It was another way of asking, “Should I only approach the Lord in prayer with the so-called ‘big issues of life’? Or can I go to the Lord and call upon his name for help and consolation in the ‘little things’ of life?”
 
And the answer is that we are to go to the Lord in prayer over the little things as well as the big. How did David put it in Psalm 55:22? Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. And how does Peter use that verse in 1 Peter 5:7? He writes: Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
 
That is a main point of this passage: God cares for every aspect of your life and mine. And because He does we are commanded to cast all our cares and anxieties upon him, even when the borrowed axe head is lost.
 
The Response of Faith
 
And then a third truth that is taught here is that God’s divine power requires a response of faith from each one of us. We see the faith of God’s people exercised in several different respects in this short passage. We certainly see the faith of the company of prophets. They did not rely just on their building plans; rather their reliance was on the Lord. They recognized that he provided the means; they recognized that they would have to exert the effort, but as they went to the river bank to cut down the trees, they went there with the faith that God would bless their effort to build a bigger building to meet in, and that he would bless the work that was needed for residence halls.
 
The same is true today. So many people put their faith in their resources, in their blueprints, their contractors and their subcontractors, failing to realize that unless the Lord builds the house its laborers labor in vain. Our faith must always focus on our faithful God, and not upon our own resources and efforts.
 
We also see faith exercised by Elisha. When Elisha heard the anguished cry of the man who had lost the axe head, he asked, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, then the iron floated. Elisha had faith that God would do what is impossible for man. The axe head was made out of iron, so it had a great amount of weight, yet God caused it to float to the surface.
 
Elisha had seen how the Lord had provided in so many other ways: oil for a widow’s lamp, food during times of great famine, the healing of leprosy for a Syrian commander, and even the resurrection from the dead for the Shunammite’s son. Since God had graciously provided in all those ways, as well as many others, would he not also provide for the recovery of the axe head?  This, too, was an act of faith on Elisha part.
 
And then also there was faith on the part of the man who had seen the axe head fly from the handle into the Jordan River. Did you notice in verse 7 how Elisha didn’t reach out and take the axe head out of the water? Instead, Elisha said to the man, “Lift it out.” Then the man reached out his hand and took it.
 
God is the one who gives us the gift of faith. You know by heart, many of you, Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
 
And yet although God gives the gift of faith to his people, each one of us must exercise that faith. We cannot rest on our own works. Rather just as the company of prophets had faith that God would bless their labors, so our faith must always be in him, even as we work with all our heart as working for the Lord and not for men.
 
Just as Elisha had faith that God would bring about a means for the recovery of the axe head, so we need faith, as we go to the Lord in prayer, not only for the so-called “big things” in life but for the little things in life as well, knowing that God cares about every aspect of our life, just as he cared about the anxiety of the man who lost the borrowed axe head in the river. And then, just as the man reached out and took the floating ax head out of the water, we must reach out and take the promises of God with the faith which he has graciously given to us.
 
Nowhere is that more clear, than at Calvary. The eternal Son of God, Christ Jesus, offered himself as the only acceptable sacrifice for sinners. He covered – propitiated – the sins of his people, with his precious blood. But that gift of salvation is yet a gift that needs to be accepted by faith. Even though God gives the gift of faith, the active acceptance is necessary in the life of God’s elect.
The gospel of John puts it so clearly. In chapter 1 he writes: He (Christ) was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:11-13)
 
And toward the end of the gospel, in the closing verses of chapter 20, John writes: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
 
You see, God’s divine power requires a response of faith from each one of us. May it be said of you and me that like the man who reached out and took the floating axe head from the water, that we, too, by God’s grace and enabling Spirit, have reached out in faith and taken hold of the promises of our faithful, Almighty God! Amen.
 
- bulletin outline -
 
 
As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axe head fell into the water. “Oh no, my lord!” he cried out. “It was borrowed!”
 
The man of God asked, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float. “Lift it out,” he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it. - 2 Kings 6:5-7
 
“Faith and the Floating Axe Head”
2 Kings 6:1-7
 
I. The company of prophets had been blessed with numerical growth (1). As they built a larger meeting room and place to live they:
    1) Used wise planning (1-2; Luke 14:28-30)
 
 
 
 
    2) Recognized their need for Elisha’s presence (3) as he was a foreshadow of Christ (6a; Luke
        24:27); and unless the Lord builds the house, its laborers labor in vain (Psalm 127:1)
 
 
 
 
     3) Willingly worked together (2, 4)
 
 
 
 
II. The recovery of the lost axe head (5-7) teaches:
     1) The true character of a person is revealed in trial (5)
 
 
 
 
     2) God cares for His people in every aspect of life (5; 1 Peter 5:7)
 
 
 
 
     3) God’s divine power (6) requires a response of faith from each one of us (7; John 1:12)

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Ted Gray

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