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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:The Testimony of Life at Death
Text:2 Kings 13:1-25 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Death Defeated
 
Preached:2017/05/21
Added:2017-05-31
 

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.


 

The Testimony of Life at Death”

2 Kings 13:1-25
 
Have you ever mixed up the names of Elijah and Elisha? They both sound similar, and both prophets had similarities in their ministry as they served the Lord through a difficult time in Israel’s history.
 
But although there are many similarities between the two prophets their deaths are dramatically different. Elijah had the unique experience of being translated directly into heaven. He never experienced physical death; he was carried to heaven in a chariot of fire.
 
But when it came time for Elisha to leave this earth there was no chariot of fire. He was not carried unscathed into the realm of glory. Instead verse 14 tells us that Elisha was suffering from the illness from which he died.
 
And as we visualize Elisha, now an elderly man, perhaps 80 or even 90 years of age on his deathbed, we are reminded that God’s children are not exempt from suffering.
 
No Exemption from Suffering and Death
 
Do you think that Elisha, as he lay suffering on his deathbed, wished that the Lord would whisk him into heaven as he had done for Elijah? Perhaps that thought crossed his mind, but knowing Elisha from what we have read about him (over the past few months), it is more likely that on his deathbed he focused on the Lord who had been so faithful to him throughout his life. Undoubtedly on his deathbed he had assurance that the Lord his God would be faithful to him through the experience of physical death.
 
Elisha could relate to those familiar words of Psalm 23 that even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me and your rod and your staff they comfort me.
 
The rod and staff of the shepherd were used in many ways, including driving away the enemies of the sheep. When our ultimate enemy, the devil, sees a child of God suffering from illness, he often makes that godly person the bull’s-eye on his target. But the Lord is faithful to his people at the time of their physical death, just as he is faithful to us throughout the course of our life. He guards his people from the attacks of the evil one. Although there may be moments of doubt and times of pain, the Lord’s strength is made perfect in the weakness of physical death.
 
As the weakness of our lives succumbs to the power of physical death, our soul is brought into the glorious presence of God. For the true believer, there need not be any fear of death, for Christ has conquered death for us. As 1 Corinthians 15:54-56 puts it:
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
    “Where, O death, is your victory?
      Where, O death, is your sting?”
 
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He
gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
 
Laboring in Obscurity
 
As we visualize Elisha on his deathbed we are also reminded that those whom God raises up to be leaders in his kingdom often labor in obscurity.
 
The events that we read about last week, in 2 Kings 9, transpired about forty-five years before this passage in 2 Kings 13. In 2 Kings 9:1 we read how Elisha sent the young man from the company of prophets to anoint Jehu as the next king of Israel. After that nothing is mentioned about Elisha again.
 
But during that forty-five year span much is written about the turbulence and bloodshed in Israel. Jehu continued to annihilate the lineage of Ahab and in the process put to death the priests of Baal. Those forty-five years were filled with war and political intrigue, marked by rebellion against God and his word.
 
So as Elisha lay on his deathbed, do you think he reasoned that his ministry for the last forty-five years was in vain? Many a minister has looked back on his work and wondered if it was all in vain. Many a minister at times feels as Jeremiah must have felt. Jeremiah worked for forty years but never had a single convert.
 
But God does not measure success the way we do. We are so quick to measure success by numbers, but God measures success by faithfulness. Elisha was faithful, and even though his faithful proclamation of the word of God did not bring repentance to the nation of Israel, his ministry was not in vain. As the Apostle Paul pointed out to the Corinthians, neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:7)
 
But he also wrote a word of encouragement in 1 Corinthians 15:58: My beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. Throughout his life, and again at his death, Elisha set the example of steadfast faithfulness to the Lord.
 
Physical Death and Spiritual Life
 
As we visualize Elisha on his deathbed we also are confronted with the reality that physical death is common to all. Verse 20 gets right to the point as it states Elisha died and was buried. The common saying that the only two certainties are death and taxes, holds biblical truth. Jesus told us to render under Caesar what is Caesar’s. As long as there have been governments there has been taxation upon the citizens of those governments.
 
And death is even more universal. There are some who may be successful in evading taxes, but no one is successful in evading physical death. As Hebrews 9:27 points out, it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment. But Hebrews 9:28 adds the consolation: So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
 
And it is salvation through faith in Christ that the unusual experience described in verse 20 and 21 point to. Those verses describe how the Moabites used to enter the country every spring. The Moabites instilled terror in everyone whom they came across. They were ruthless marauders who would not hesitate to torture and kill people as they robbed them of their possessions.
 
On one occasion, a group of the Israelites were in a “funeral procession.” They were taking the body of their loved one to bury him. Caves were often used for tombs in those days, as were vaults, dug out of the side of a hill.
 
We are not told exactly how Elisha’s tomb had been formed, but as this group of people was going to bury their loved one, they saw the band of Moabite raiders coming their way. Gripped with fear they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. And as soon as his body touched Elisha’s bones, verse 21 tells us, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.
 
Skeptics of the Bible find that to be another fanciful story. But to those of us who know Christ, and know the Scriptures that were inspired by God to teach us about Christ, there should be nothing surprising about this passage. Throughout our study of Elisha’s life we have seen that he is a foreshadow – or type – of Christ. Chapter by chapter we read how he was called the man of God. We saw how he was a foreshadow of the true eternal man of God, the eternal Christ who took on human flesh, Jesus.
 
And we know that spiritual life is given to all who have faith in Christ, just as life was given to the dead man thrown into Elisha’s tomb. In John 11:25-26, we read the words that Jesus spoke to Martha at the tomb of her brother Lazarus: Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
 
Then, going to the tomb, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:43-44)
 
The unique experience of the corpse coming to life here in 2 Kings 13:21 is but a foreshadow of the gift of everlasting life given to all those who come in contact with the man of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, by repenting of their sins and having saving faith in him alone for their salvation. This unique account also points us to the certainty of the resurrection of the body and assures us that death holds no victory over those whose faith is in the Lord Jesus Christ.
 
How else does this unique passage apply to you and to me? One application is that the passage serves as a warning to us. It warns us in this way: Johoash typifies those who show outward respect for the Lord’s kingdom but have no real faith in God.
 
Only a Thin Veneer
 
Did you notice in verse 14 how the king of Israel, Jehoash, went to see Elisha when he was on his deathbed and wept over him? He called out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”
 
He showed an outward respect for the Lord’s kingdom and the prophet of the Lord, but he demonstrated no real faith in God. Verse 11 describes how he did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam but rather continued in them.
 
In that way he is like the many powerful political figures who have invited Rev. Billy Graham to visit them. Billy Graham has been called “The Preacher to the Presidents” because every president since World War 2 has met with Billy Graham, most of them multiple times. (The current President of the United States, Donald Trump, met Billy Graham in 2013). But how many leading politicians sought him out – not only presidents but many other politicians – because of his position as a well-known minister in the kingdom of God?
 
We can hope that in each case there was a sincere faith on the part of the politicians inviting Billy Graham to visit them. But unfortunately there is often an outward show of interest in the things of God, especially if it is politically advantageous, while at the same time there is no heartfelt faith in the God revealed in Scripture. Among politicians, as well as those ruled by them, there is often a thin veneer of outward religion, but nothing more.
 
That was the case with Jehoash. Although he sought out Elisha when he heard that Elisha was on his deathbed, he showed lukewarmness in doing what Elisha told him to do. Elisha instructed Jehoash to get a bow and shoot some arrows eastward toward Aram (Syria). After Jehoash shot the arrows Elisha told him to retrieve the arrows and strike the ground. Jehoash did so, but he only struck the ground three times. Verse 19 tells how the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times.”
 
Why did Jehoash only strike the ground three times? Some commentators question whether he thought the whole scenario was foolish. Some liken it to Naaman’s initial reaction when Elisha’s servant told him to dip himself seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman thought that would be a foolish exercise and was angered by the command. Some believe that Jehoash had a similar reaction to the instructions Elisha gave him.
 
Others point out that it represents a spiritual lukewarmness. Instead of recognizing it as an opportunity to receive God’s blessings, Jehoash responded apathetically and just “went through the motions.”
 
But it has been pointed out that it wasn’t just Jehoash who was apathetic to the commands of the man of God. Some point out that many professing Christians treat the commands of Scripture the same way.
 
For example, many professing Christians treat prayer the way Jehoash responded to Elisha’s command to strike the ground with the arrows. They pray a few times, and that’s enough. The same type of prayer is lamely offered before each meal, and perhaps before turning in for the night, but enthusiastic, fervent prayer isn’t offered because there is that same spiritual lukewarmness.
 
Each one of us should look at the response of Jehoash to the man of God, and ask ourselves how fervent we are in our response to the man of God whom Elisha foreshadowed. How fervent and responsive are we to him, in our prayer life, and in all the other aspects of our day to day living?
 
God Is Faithful to Every Promise
 
Another application in this passage is one of great comfort. The passage teaches that the Lord is faithful to all his covenant promises. Verse 22-23 describe how Hazael king of Aram oppressed Israel throughout the reign of Jehoahaz. But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob...
 
Jehoahaz was the father of Johoash. During his reign the Aramaeans (Syrians) had decimated the forces of Israel. Verse 7 points out that nothing had been left of the army of Jehoahaz except fifty horsemen, ten chariots and ten thousand foot soldiers, for the king of Aram had destroyed the rest and made them like the dust at threshing time.
 
And verse 4 describes how Jehoahaz sought the Lord’s favor, and the Lord listened to him, for he saw how severely the king of Aram was oppressing Israel. Jehoahaz was not a godly king. He had done evil in the eyes of the Lord just as his son, Jehoash did.
 
They both followed after the sins of Jeroboam – whom you recall introduced the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan – which led Israel astray and eventually into captivity for their sin of forsaking the one true God who is ever faithful to his covenant.
 
And yet even though Jehoahaz, and his son, Jehoash were wicked kings, and even though Israel had become an exceptionally wicked country, verse 23 tells us the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To this day he has been unwilling to destroy them or banish them from his presence.
 
God’s covenant promises are fulfilled in Christ. It is in Christ that every promise God has made is fulfilled. 2 Corinthians 1:20 assures us: For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.  Christ is the one who was promised to Adam and Eve. Christ is the seed of the woman who has crushed the serpent, the devil, and is eternally victorious over him.
 
And it is in Christ that we see the covenant promises of God fulfilled in their entirety. And those of us who are in Christ by saving faith in him will rejoice in the fulfillment of those promises throughout all eternity.
 
Though Dead, He Still Speaks
 
And then a third application from this passage is that the testimony of our life still speaks, long after we have died, whether we are like Jehoash, or like Elisha.
 
In the immediate context, the testimony of Elisha’s life was fulfilled in the last sentence of the chapter which tells us three times Jehoash defeated him (Ben-Hadad), and so he recovered the Israelite towns.
 
During those episodes where he was able to defeat the enemy three times, Jehoash must have remembered the incident with the arrows. How frequently he must have wished that he had struck the ground more furiously, trusting that through that symbolic action, the God whom Elisha served would bring total victory over the Syrians.
 
It was after those three victories that Jehoash died. (You may have noticed that this chapter is not in chronological order. The author may have planned to cover the reign of King Jehoash in summary form, there in vs 10-13, and then was inspired to add on the account of his visit to Elisha on his deathbed).
 
But what do we remember of Jehoash at his death? We remember that he had an outward profession, but no true faith in Elisha’s God. His death still speaks, and it speaks a warning.
 
But Elisha’s life also still speaks. Even though the last 45 years of his ministry are not recorded for us in Holy Scripture, his life still speaks as a testimony. His life is a testimony to the faithfulness of God, and also how God by sanctifying grace, enables those who believe in him to grow increasingly faithful and obedient to him in their lives. Elisha exemplifies what Hebrews 11:4 says about Abel, that though dead he still speaks.
 
And that is also true for your life and my life. After we are dead and gone, the actions of our life will speak to those who are left behind. They will either speak of a strong vibrant saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, leaving an example for others to follow. Or they will speak of lukewarmness, of an outward profession that was hollow within.
 
By God’s grace may your life and my life, after our years have come to a close here on earth, yet speak of our love, faith, service and obedience to the One who lay down his life so that all who believe in him will not perish but have everlasting life. Amen.
 
 
- bulletin outline -
 
 
Now Elisha had been suffering from the illness from which he died. Jehoash king of Israel went down to see him and wept over him. “My father! My father!” he cried. “The chariots and horsemen of Israel! - 2 Kings 13:14
 
“The Testimony of Life at Death”
2 Kings 13:1-25
 
I. Elisha’s death reminds us:
    1) God’s children are not exempt from suffering and death (14), but God gives grace and victory through it (Psalm 23:4; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57)
 
 
 
 
    2) Those whom God raises up to be leaders in His kingdom often labor in obscurity (about 45 years have passed between 2 Kings 9:1 and this passage,
         with no mention of Elisha during that span), for neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes it grow (1 Corinthians 3:7)
 
 
 
 
    3) Physical death is common to all (20; Hebrews 9:27) but spiritual life is given to all who have faith in Christ, just as life was given to the dead man thrown into
         Elisha’s tomb (21; John 11:25-26)
 
 
 
 
II. Applications:
     1) Johoash typifies those who show outward respect for the Lord’s servants (14) but have no real faith in God (11, 17-19)
 
 
 
 
     2) The Lord is faithful to all His covenant promises (22-23; 2 Corinthians 1:20)
 
 
 
 
     3) The testimony of our life still speaks, long after we have died, whether we are like Jehoash (10-11) or like Elisha (14; Hebrews 11:4c)
 
 

 




* 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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