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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Trust in the God who has power over death
Text:2 Kings 4:18-37 (View)
Topic:Death Defeated

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 37

Psalm 102:1 (after the law of God)

Psalm 18:1,2

Hymn 73:1,2

Hymn 36

Scripture readings: Luke 7:11-17, Luke 24:1-12

Text: 2 Kings 4:18-37 (begin reading at verse 8)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

On this Easter Sunday we’re commemorating and celebrating the empty tomb of our Saviour.  We’re remembering the glorious resurrection of Jesus.  On Good Friday, we saw again how he not only suffered our hell, but also died our death.  But the cross wasn’t the end of his story.  He was taken down from the cross and buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.  Then, on that Sunday morning, his disciples came to the tomb and found it empty.  The angels told them, “He is not here, but has risen.”  God had raised him from the grave.  Death could not keep him down.  He was victorious over our great enemy, death. 

Now we could spend our time this morning on any one of the gospel accounts of the resurrection.  But instead, I want to take you to the Old Testament.  In article 25 of the Belgic Confession we say as a church that the Old Testament was a time of shadows.  The Old Testament was a time when we see hints and clues to the coming Saviour.  We hear prophecies and promises.  We see types -- there are people who point to Christ as prophets, priests, and kings, and others who should point to him, but fail to.  When we go to the Old Testament, we find that it too is all about Jesus, but in a different way, a shadowy way. 

In the Old Testament, we also find people and events pointing ahead to the glorious reality of Easter Sunday.  That’s why we’re in 2 Kings 4 this morning.  At first glance, this passage contains some odd elements.  There are things here that get your attention, raise your eyebrows.  One of the strangest things is Elisha lying himself on top of this dead boy.  I’ll explain what that’s about this morning.  But more importantly, we’re going to hear what this passage says to us about our God, the one who raises the dead, the one who raised Christ from the dead.  I preach to you God’s Word and we’ll see how it exhorts us to trust in the God who has power over death

We’ll his power revealed in:

  1. Shadows
  2. Realities

With our text this morning, we’re in the time period some 800 years before Christ.  This is the time when God’s people were divided into two kingdoms, one in the north and one in the south.  The events in our passage take place in the northern kingdom.  These events involve an important prophet named Elisha.  He had been a protégé or student of another important prophet, Elijah.  When Elijah was taken up into heaven, his mantle fell upon Elisha.  Elisha became Elijah’s successor as the most important prophet.  As a prophet, Elisha’s calling was to be an instrument through which God would reveal himself and his will.

Earlier in chapter 4, we read of how Elisha came to Shunem.  Shunem was a village about 24 km southwest of the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee.  We’ll see later on that the location of Shunem is an important part of understanding this story’s significance.  Elisha came to this village, Shunem, and got to know a wealthy woman.  After enjoying her hospitality a number of times, she eventually decided to make a room at her house especially for Elisha.  She honours the prophet, the man of God.  She values what he does and who he is.  In response, he wants to do something for her.  He becomes aware that she’s been barren, unable to have children.  God reveals to Elisha that she will have a son and he shares that revelation with her.  She doesn’t believe it, but sure enough, the following year, she did have a son.  God blessed her with a baby boy.  We can well imagine the joy she and her husband had at that. 

But one sad day God brings her to the valley of the shadow of death.  The child was older and he walked out to visit with his father in the fields.  Suddenly the boy had a massive pain in his head.  Some commentators say he obviously suffered sunstroke.  Well, the text doesn’t say.  It could just as well have been a cerebral hemorrhage or even a brain tumour.  We don’t know what it was, but we know what it did.  The father sent his son via a servant back to the house.  The boy sat on his mother’s lap till midday and then died.  Just like that.

The woman had been childless, suffering the pain of barrenness.  Then God suddenly brought her this unexpected blessing of a son.  Then just as suddenly he took him away.  It’s important to remember that God was involved with all of this.  You can think of a mother earlier in 1 Samuel.  Previously barren, Hannah prayed and God gave her Samuel.  After his birth, we hear Hannah’s response in prayer.  One of the things she says is in 1 Samuel 2:6, “The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.”  That echoes what Scripture says in many other places.  For example, Deuteronomy 32:39, God says, “I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.”  Both life and death are in God’s hands.  When a baby is born, God is behind it.  When someone’s earthly life is over, God is behind it.  He is sovereign over it all. 

The Shunammite woman may very well know that, but she doesn’t accept that this is the end of the story for her son.  She believes God can still do something for her son.  So she doesn’t arrange his funeral.  She doesn’t lay him in a grave.  Instead, she lays him in the prophet’s bedroom on the prophet’s bed.

I want you to notice something here about the language Scripture uses for the boy.  It’s something subtle, but it tells us something about how God wants us to view our human nature.  Look at verse 21 again:  “And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God and shut the door behind him and went out.”  Notice that word “him.”  Hebrew has a word for body.  That word is used in Isaiah 66:24, “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me.”  But that word is not used here.  Instead, it says “him.”  That boy’s body is still “him.”  It’s an essential part of who he is -- a component of his human identity.  Sometimes Christians have held this view that the essential part of our humanity is our immaterial part, our soul.   The soul is really what matters.  The body is just a container for the soul – it’s not that important.  But Scripture doesn’t teach that.  Scripture teaches that your body is an important part of your identity as a human being.  Your body is you just as well as your soul.  The two belong together.  When you die, the two parts of you are separated.  If you’re a Christian, your immaterial part goes to be with the Lord.  But your material part goes to the grave to await the resurrection.   But even after your death, your body is still no less you.  That’s why we treat dead human bodies with dignity.  That’s why Scripture uses the word “him” here.  It’s also why later in the Gospel According to Mark, the same language is used for the body of Jesus after his death.  He was placed in the tomb.  His human body was also an important part of his identity as a true human being. 

Now going back to verse 22, the woman calls for a servant and a donkey because she’s going to quickly go find Elisha, the man of God.  Her husband doesn’t seem to be aware that their son has died, because he asks why she would want to do that.  Normally, people would go to the prophet’s house at Mount Carmel on special occasions, but this was just an ordinary day.  Her answer is peculiar.  She just says, “All is well.”  In Hebrew she simply says, “Shalom.”  Here it could mean something like, “Never mind” or “Whatever.”  She’s just focussed on getting to Elisha.  So they head to Mount Carmel, going as fast as they can.  This is a distance of about 20 kilometers to the west of Shunem. 

Elisha sees her coming from a distance and he sends Gehazi down to meet her and inquire about her and her family’s well-being.  She says the same thing to Gehazi that she said to her husband, “Shalom.”  She’s not thinking about anything except getting to Elisha.  She’s a woman on a mission and she’s not going to waste time talking to anybody else. 

Finally she gets to the man of God himself.  She grabs hold of his feet – it speaks of her desperation.  She needs his attention.  Gehazi wants to push her away.  But Elisha stops him.  He can see that she’s in turmoil.  Something’s going on.  But God hasn’t told him.  He’s the man of God, but he still has limitations in his knowledge.  God doesn’t always tell him everything.  Here he has to figure it out.

He hears the woman’s cry, “Did I ask my lord for a son?”  Did she ask for that blessing?  Why would she say that unless something has happened to the boy?  Then she says, “Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me’?”  Why would she say that unless something has happened?  Elisha puts two and two together and concludes that the boy must have died. 

So he points Gehazi in the direction of Shunem and tells him to rush over – don’t talk to anyone on the way.  There’s to be no time wasted.  Gehazi is to take Elisha’s staff and put it on the face the boy.  Elsewhere in the Old Testament, staffs were used to accomplish miracles.  For example, you can think of the staff of Moses in the time of the Exodus.  So Elisha thinks that maybe God will work a miracle through his staff.  Meanwhile, the woman refuses to let Elisha go.  She knows that he is the man of God.  They set out together for Shunem.  Gehazi has run on ahead and when he gets there he does what Elisha told him to do, but nothing happens.  The boy remains dead.  Gehazi quickly runs back along the road to Mount Carmel and meets Elisha and the woman coming towards him.  He reports that his mission has been a failure.  Elisha has to come himself.

He arrives and finds the boy in his specially built room.  Then in verse 33, we read that he closes the door behind him and the boy.  But it’s not just the two of them.  There is a third party.  Elisha prays to Yahweh, to the LORD.  That’s something Gehazi hadn’t done.  But Elisha prays.  He prays for the life of the boy.  He prays because he can’t give the boy life himself.  He doesn’t have the power.  God has to do it.  God can work through Elisha, but ultimately God is the only one who can raise the dead.

Then comes the weird part – at least it seems weird to us today.  Elisha lays on the boy, mouth on mouth, eyes on eyes, hands on hands.  Doing this, he can feel the boy’s skin getting warm.  He got up, walked back and forth once, and then did it again.  Elisha stretched himself out on the boy.  By doing this he is coming into close contact with a dead body, making himself unclean according to the Levitical laws.  What a strange picture!  Let me try and explain it to you.  The man of God was using a symbolic action.  This close bodily contact was a symbol of life being transferred from one person to another.  There’s a sort of union or bond between the man of God and the boy.  It’s as if the prophet is sharing his breath, sight, and strength with the boy.  The man of God is symbolically imparting life – but what he does in symbols, God does in reality.  God is the one who actually sends the boy’s soul back to his body.  God is the one who shocks the boy’s heart back into action.  God is the one who starts his lungs contracting and expanding again.  God is the one who has power over death. 

That’s how we see the amazing picture in verse 35.  The boy sneezes seven times and then opens his eyes.  Miraculously, he’s been brought back to life.  He wasn’t dead for days, only hours, but that doesn’t change the fact that a miracle happened here.  And after the miracle, Elisha is able to reunite the boy with his mother.  There’s not going to be a funeral that day.  Instead, there’s going to be great rejoicing at God’s power over death, displayed through the man of God.  We see her bowing to the ground in gratitude before God’s prophet. 

All that took place in the shadows of Christ.  It all pointed ahead to him and how God has shown his power over death in Christ.  If we look at Elisha for a moment, we see a prophet with limitations.  He is not omniscient.  Elisha doesn’t know what’s going on with the woman when she arrives at Mount Carmel.  Elisha isn’t able to revive the boy without prayer.  He relies on God’s power.  There is one more limitation in the shadows here and it’s not immediately obvious from our text.  The boy who is raised from the dead is not around here on earth anymore.  Along with his mother and Elisha, he’s now dead -- he died again and he’s still dead.  There’s a taste of resurrection here, but it’s not a lasting resurrection.                

Flash forward now to Luke 7 and we’re getting out of the shadows and into reality.  In Luke 7, we see another one and only son with his mother.  They’re from the town of Nain.  Now you remember that I mentioned earlier that the location of Shunem is noteworthy.  It’s noteworthy because of the connection with Luke 7.  There is a hill in Israel called the Hill of Moreh.  Shunem was on the south side of this hill.  Nain was located on the north side of the hill.  Shunem and Nain are on opposite sides of the Hill of Moreh, about 3 kilometers away from each other.  One side of the hill saw the shadow, the other side saw the reality. 

In Luke 7, the funeral was underway.  They were on their way to the tomb with the man – notice again how Scripture says “a man who had died was being carried out.”  It’s his body, but it’s still him.  Jesus sees the mother weeping and he has compassion on her.  His heart breaks for her and what death has done to her.  Then Jesus stops the funeral procession – in fact, he’s about to cancel the funeral altogether.  He simply speaks, “Young man, I say to you arise.”  Unlike Elisha on the other side of the hill some 800 years earlier, Jesus didn’t have to pray.  As almighty God, he has power himself over death.  He can speak and the dead will arise at his word.  The dead man is raised and just as Elisha gave the boy to his mother, so the Holy Spirit says in verse 15 that “Jesus gave him to his mother.”  The shadows are giving way to realities here – Jesus is revealing in his person the God who has power over death, the God we all ought to trust.  Jesus doesn’t have the limitations that Elisha had. 

But perhaps someone might say, “But hold on, what happened to the young man in Luke 7?  Didn’t he later die again too, just like the Shunammite boy in 2 Kings 4?”  Just so.  The young man from Nain faced death a second time too.  He’s no longer around either.  That tells us that the time of Luke 7 wasn’t yet totally the time of the reality of resurrection.  That has to wait.

Before resurrection can be a full reality for us, there has to be the first fruits.  Christ is the first-fruits of resurrection.  Ultimately, God’s power over death is displayed at its greatest power on Easter Sunday morning.  Jesus is raised from the dead by the power of God.  And he is raised, never to die again.  Unlike the boy in 2 Kings 4 and unlike the young man in Luke 7, Jesus Christ will never again die.  If you’re a believer, some day that will be your story too.  He is the first-fruits for permanent resurrection for you who believe in him too.  By his power, you too will one day be raised, never to die again.

That happens through your being united to Christ.  Draw your thoughts back to that strange picture of Elisha laying on the boy.  I said it was a picture of union, the prophet sharing his breath, sight, and strength with the boy.  It was a picture of him sharing life with the boy.   That’s a shadow.  That shadow points us to the reality of what we have by being united with Christ.  United with Christ, he gives us life.  He imparts to us breath, sight, and strength.  He does that spiritually speaking, but he also promises to bring our dead bodies someday back to life.  That happens and will happen when you’re united to Christ.  And how do you get united to Christ?  How does it happen that he’s the vine and you’re a branch connected to him?  That happens through faith created by the Holy Spirit.  It comes by trusting in the God who has power over death, the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ for your salvation.  Union with Christ comes by your saying, “I am dead without him.  To live, I need his resurrection life.  I trust that not only was he crucified for me, to pay for my sins, but he also rose from the dead so I can live forever.”

The reality is that, for all believers, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is our resurrection.  Like Elisha embraced that unclean dead body to give life, Christ embraced us when we were dead in sins and trespasses to give us life.  Scripture says in Romans 6 that we were crucified with him.  Moreover, we are so united to him that we were also raised with him.  Jesus Christ is now our life, our sight, and our strength.  The power of God over death is in Jesus Christ.  Brothers and sisters, we’re called to continue placing our faith and trust in him, in the one who has power over death.                       

In our passage for this morning, we see a broken world.  We see a woman go from grief to joy to grief to joy.   It’s a world that’s been broken by sin.  Death isn’t in this world as a natural thing – no, death doesn’t belong here.  It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.  We see a messed up world in Scripture and around us.  But Scripture also reveals that we have a God who is going to do something about it.  He has already done something about it in Jesus Christ – raising him from the dead, showing his power over death.  Loved ones, trust him that someday he will make everything right.  He will wipe away all tears from our eyes.  Death will be done.  Death will be dead – and we will live and praise our God forever in his presence with glorified bodies and perfected souls.  AMEN. 


Our Father in heaven, God of grace,

We live in a broken world.  We face grief and sorrow.  We encounter disease and death.  Father, sometimes this world weighs on us.  But we thank you that you have shown your power over death.  You did it in a shadowy way with Elisha, and in the most poignant way with our Saviour Jesus.  Thank you that for us as Christians death has lost its sting and power.  We thank you for raising our Saviour from the dead.  We thank you for his resurrection victory.  We’re grateful that we can be united to him and share in his resurrection.  Help us all to continue to trust in him, to trust in you through him. 



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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