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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Old Prophet, New Prophet, Same God
Text:2 Kings 2:1-18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Revelation of the Gospel
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-09-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 89:1,3                                                                                   

Ps 130:3,4                                                                                                      

Reading – 1 Kings 19

Ps 136:1,2,7,8,12

Sermon – 2 Kings 2:1-18

Hy 48:1,2,3,4

Hy 37:1,2

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


Beloved in Christ, there’s not many of us who like to give speeches—they even say that public speaking is the #1 phobia among the general population. But there’s no question that a  speech can have great power. Think of the famous speeches, delivered by people like Winston Churchill or Martin Luther King, Jr. There are memorable phrases, stirring themes, soaring eloquence, and they demonstrate so clearly the power of the spoken word! All that a person might have done is stand up and talk in the Parliament, or give a short speech in Washington, but words can inspire millions and move them to action.

As Christians we already know this, that the spoken word can be used for great good. Look at how the LORD uses words. Our God is a speaking God, for He opens his mouth and tells us things about himself, about life, and the path to redemption. His speaking is powerful, and a key way that He’s spoken to us is through the prophets. “Thus says the LORD,” a prophet says—and everyone better listen. These are words to inspire, to teach, to warn and call to action.        

In the Old Testament we meet many prophets. There was Samuel and Nathan, Isaiah and Jeremiah, Amos and Obadiah—men who delivered the words of the LORD. And in our text are two more prophets, Elijah and Elisha. Living in a time of great wickedness, Elisha showed that God still had something to say to his people, even words of life and hope. Let’s begin our study of Elisha with a sermon on this theme,

The LORD calls Elisha to serve as His prophet after Elijah:

  1. the old prophet
  2. the new prophet
  3. the same God       

 

1) the old prophet: The stories of Elisha are set in the time of Israel’s kings. The age of the kings was a time of varied fortunes for the people of God, a time of blessing but also curse. The first book in this duo, 1 Kings, opens with the glory days of King Solomon. At that moment in history, God’s people are unified, her territory is the largest it’d ever be, and she gladly worships the LORD at the temple in Jerusalem.

Yet all too soon things begin to weaken and wane. Solomon’s heart is captivated by his foreign wives and their gods. Then Rehoboam, king after Solomon, has to face a rebellion which ends with the ten northern tribes going their own way, under their own king.

And the northern kingdom quickly descends into idolatry. King Jeroboam is worried about the people crossing the border to visit Jerusalem, so he sets up idols to the LORD at Dan and Bethel. This was a grievous sin, but it seemed right to all the kings who came after him. The sad refrain was heard for decades, “King So-and-So walked in the ways of Jeroboam and in the sin he… had caused Israel to commit.”

For that was the standard by which a king was measured: were they obedient? No matter how long a ruler ruled, or what grand cities he built, or what battles he won, obedience was the central question. In fact, that is always Scripture’s measure of the good life: Have we lived by true faith in God and done his will?

Because of this focus, the book of 1 Kings pays a lot of attention to one who was particularly wicked: Ahab of Israel. This was a man who tolerated injustice and who mocked  God’s Word. He even tried to outdo Jeroboam’s idolatry. For if you’re going to worship one idol, you might as well as worship a whole pile of idols. So Ahab went to Sidon, a nearby country, from where he imported not only a wife—Jezebel—but another god, Baal. Together, king and country turned away from the one true God.

After such evil, you might say that 2 Kings begins on a positive note: at last Ahab is dead. But unfortunately his son Ahaziah is just a chip off the old block. He continues to lead the land of Israel along evil paths.

These are the dark days during which Elijah has been a prophet. His inaugural sermon was to proclaim a three-year drought on the land, God’s covenant curse on idolatry—not a great way to begin a ministry of preaching! And of course, his word came true.

But Elijah also performed miracles, like the never-ending bin of flour and jar of oil, or the resurrection of the widow’s son. If you think about it, these miracles were like flashes of light into the darkness. Even as God inflicts his curse, He hasn’t gone away. He’s still mighty, still gracious, still moving hearts.

Then came the great challenge on Mount Carmel, the showdown between the 450 prophets of Baal and the one prophet of the LORD. If it was a matter of volume, there’d be no contest. Those who are hostile to God can often make more noise than the righteous. They yell and scream and get the headlines, but in the end, truth prevails. In a dramatic way—with consuming fire from heaven, then refreshing rains on a weary land—God shows that He alone is God. The people gathered at Mount Carmel cry out, “The LORD, He is God!”

You think that event would’ve turned the tide and started a reformation in Israel. But Elijah is still a fugitive, running from the evil Ahab and his nasty wife. 1 Kings 19 sees him utterly discouraged, ready to die. What more could he have done or said? As a prophet, it seems like God gave him a “mission impossible.”

But God then appears and He speaks to him, not in the wind, fire, or earthquake, but in a quiet voice. For Elijah needs to know that God’s silence doesn’t mean that God is inactive. God is still working; this becomes clear when He tells Elijah: “Elisha the son of Shaphat… you shall anoint as prophet in your place” (1 Kgs 19:16).

Elijah is coming to the end of his ministry, but the good news is that God isn’t done talking to his covenant people. If God stops speaking, they die. For we cannot know the truth, or ourselves, or God himself, unless God speaks. But in grace, God reveals himself. After Elijah, there will be someone to complete his work.

This is actually the only place where God tells a prophet to appoint another prophet as the next one in line. It’s unusual, because prophets didn’t hold positions of official leadership, not in the same way that a king or a priest did. But these are desperate times: God will make sure that Elisha is ready to keep calling God’s people to faithfulness.

The old prophet is about to retire, but Elijah won’t retire in the usual way. In 2 Kings 2, we read that “the LORD was about to take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind” (v 1). This is an extraordinary event. For everyone dies—it’s one of the results of sin, that our bodies give up their spirit and there is separation until Christ returns. But in the Old Testament there are two men of God who are privileged not to die but to be taken directly into heaven: Enoch, way back in Genesis 4, and now also Elijah. God will reward him for a life given to faithful ministry.

While it’s most extraordinary, in our text everyone seems to know that it’s going to happen: Elijah knows about it, Elisha knows, as do the sons of the prophets; they say, “Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from you today?” (v 3). And as everyone waits for Elijah’s departure, there’s a tension in the air. We can hear it when Elisha replies to the question from the sons of the prophets, “Yes, I know; keep silent!” (vv 3, 5).

Why would there be tension? For years, Elijah has been a gallant warrior for God; he’s been Israel’s great spiritual commander. And he’s leaving when things are still most uncertain. Israel is almost a pagan nation, and its highest leaders are determined to reject God’s truth. To lose the great Elijah now is terrible—how can the righteous remnant carry on without him? There’s a serious anxiety about what comes next.

Probably for all of us there are moments like this when we hate to think about what comes next. Especially after a big life-change, we dread the uncertainty of what’s coming. Losing one job, finding another. The last child moves out of the house. A husband or wife passes away. Finishing years of school. Moving to a new place. The loss of stability is frightening, and it brings tension into our life.

But God is faithful. That’s always the undercurrent in the stories of Scripture, and in the stories of our life, and it is here too. The great Elijah is moving on, but God is already preparing future blessings, and He does by setting apart Elisha.

See how Elijah takes his successor on something like a farewell tour. First they go to Gilgal, the one that was west of the Jordan near Jericho (v 1). Then it’s on to the “son of the prophets” at Bethel (v 3), and on to Jericho, where they meet up with another group of prophets (v 5).

We should say something about these “sons of the prophets.” In 1 and 2 Kings, we read about these small communities springing up in various places. They probably weren’t appointed to be prophets, but because of the unfaithfulness sweeping the nation, these men banded together to preserve God’s truth. And like a son learns from his father, these men wanted to learn from the prophets. They knew the voice of God was still heard through a few of his servants, and just how vital that was.

This farewell tour was a way for Elijah to show everyone who cared that Elisha is his replacement; he’s the one who will soon be speaking for God. And along the way, Elisha himself is going to be assured that God’s power is with him.

God has told Elijah that he’ll be taken up from the other side of the Jordan. He and Elisha come to the river, and “Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water” (v 8). His mantle, or his outer garment, was something like the symbol of his office. This was his trademark, how everyone knew him: the prophet of God in his robe of animal skins. He takes off his cloak, slaps the water with it, and the water parts, so “the two of them crossed over on dry ground” (v 8).

This event echoes a couple events earlier in Israel’s history. Think of when Moses took his staff, his own symbol of authority, and he parted the Red Sea. Forty years later it happened again, when in Joshua’s time the people miraculously crossed this same river to get into the promised land. Here too, God makes a mighty display: He controls the forces of nature for the good of his servants. With this God, nothing is impossible.

With Elijah and Elisha on the other side of the Jordan, it’s time for Elijah to leave: “As they continued on and talked… suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them” (v 11). A chariot with horses was the fastest means of transport in that time, and the mightiest weapon of war. But this isn’t some earthly vehicle, it’s from God’s own heavenly army.

When he sees it, Elisha cries out, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” (v 12). This was a fitting escort for him, because Elijah was of more value than any army. He’d done more to preserve his nation than any kings and generals, for God’s Word is far more effective in the battle against evil than soldiers and swords, horses and chariots. The Word is true power!

We often picture Elijah riding into heaven while on this chariot, pulled by flaming horses—an impressive commute into the clouds. But we should read the text carefully. It actually says that the chariots and horses “separated the two of them,” and that Elijah is taken by “by a whirlwind into heaven” (v 11). The chariot and horses were his escort, but the whirlwind was his ride.

Elijah is taken up, but this isn’t the last we see of him. We see him again on the Mount of Transfiguration. There he appears with Moses, standing beside the Lord Jesus. Elijah is there as representative of all the Old Testament prophets. And why should he be there with Jesus? For centuries all the prophets had pointed ahead to the Christ, just as Moses had pointed ahead to the Christ through the sacrifices and ceremonies of the law—and now finally, here He is! Elijah and Moses stand on the mountain with him, and we’re even told what they talk about: Jesus’ approaching death.

And that’s always the message of Scripture, whether the law, the prophets, or the apostles. It’s about Christ. The Bible is about God as He is revealed in Jesus. He’s the main character. Remember what Jesus said in John 5: “Search the Scriptures, for they testify to me.”

This means that when we read Scripture, and study the Bible, or listen to sermons, we shouldn’t only think of questions like, “What does this have to do with me?” or “How can I apply this to my life?” Those aren’t bad questions—in fact, we need to ask them. But there’s something else. We should be keen to see what the Bible says about our God and Saviour, to hear how it all speaks of Him. “What does this story tell me about the greatness of God, his love and faithfulness? How does this text increase my delight in Christ and his saving work?”

Elijah had given his years to speaking for God, and about God. The old prophet is gone, and it’s time for the new prophet to begin.

 

2) the new prophet: Let’s go back in time, years before our text, when God commands Elijah to appoint his successor, Elisha. We don’t know much about him, except that he’s from a wealthy family. For notice how when Elijah meets him, Elisha is “plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him” (1 Kgs 19:19). That means there were 24 oxen working the field—this was some large-scale and prosperous farming.

Elijah comes up to him “and threw his mantle on him” (v 19). Again, this was that distinctive cloak he’d always worn. And for Elijah to throw it onto him was to show that a new position and divine authority is being given to him. He will be God’s new prophet.

And Elisha is willing. He takes a couple oxen and slaughters them, and with a yoke he starts a fire to cook the meat. There’s a lot of meaning in this too, for by it, Elisha is making a clean break with his past life. No more farming, no more cows and plows, but he’ll be a prophet now.

It’s similar to what Jesus’ disciples do. Think of when He called Peter, James and John while they’re out fishing. “When they brought their boats to land,” Luke tells us, “they left everything and followed him” (5:11). Together with what Elisha did, that’s a powerful example. Christ calls us to total devotion, full commitment.

And it should make us think: Are there things that we must leave behind, if we’ll be true followers of Christ? The Scriptures tell us, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us…” (Heb 12:1). Lay aside all that hinders, all that distracts—make a clean break from everything that keeps you from whole-hearted service.

Elisha is willing to do the work God gives him. “He arose and followed Elijah, and became his servant” (1 Kgs 19:21). Notice he doesn’t begin as an equal with Elijah, but as a “servant,” an apprentice. They spend a period of time together, but then when Elijah must be taken up, he wants to go by himself; we read in 2 Kings 2:2, “Then Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here, please, for the LORD has sent me on to Bethel.’” He prefers to go through the experience on his own, perhaps out of humility, thinking of the glory that’d be given him.

But Elisha insists on staying with his master, probably out of a deep sense of loyalty, and a reluctance to see him go. They cross the Jordan together—they’re finally at the departure gate—and Elijah gives opportunity for one last request. And Elisha responds, “Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me” (v 9).

When he asks for a “double portion,” Elisha is realizing what a tremendous task awaits him. To be a prophet of the LORD and to speak boldly to kings and hostile crowds—even to remain faithful in a wicked time—you need so much help from God. And he’s right to ask for a double portion, for the law said that the oldest son ought to receive a double portion of the family inheritance. Elisha will carry on the work of his “father,” so he needs a big share of his gifts.

Elijah knows that it’s not up to him to grant a double portion of his spirit, for the Spirit goes where He wills. But God will indeed equip Elisha in a mighty way; the coming chapters record a number of the astounding miracles that he performs.

Elisha’s request is a reminder of just how much we all need the Spirit. God has made you a prophet, a priest, a king—God has given you an office and calling. And how can we ever trust in God, or be faithful to his Word, or have courage to stand up against evil, or show love to our neighbour, if not through the mighty working of the Holy Spirit? Every day we need a generous portion of God’s Spirit, and so we should ask every day: “Please let a rich portion of your Spirit be upon me.”

Afterwards, when the sons of the prophets see Elisha on his own, they want to send out a search party for Elijah. They knew that God was going to take him, yet they wonder if it’s permanent. During Elijah’s ministry, there’d been other times that he disappeared suddenly—moved by God’s power—only to reappear elsewhere. Elijah was gone, but was he really gone? They also might’ve been concerned that he’d died, and they fear the dishonour of leaving his corpse unburied.

Elisha can’t convince them not to bother, so they send fifty men to search, to no avail. In a way, it seems like an unimportant part of the story, but it was good to have final confirmation: Elijah really is gone, and Elisha is the new prophet in his place. New prophet, but the same God!

 

3) the same God: Names are often important in Scripture. The old prophet’s name is Elijah, which means “My God is the LORD”—a fitting name for a man who defended the LORD’s honour in a time of great idolatry. As for the new prophet Elisha, his name means “God is salvation.” This too, is such a good description of the message that Elisha will bring by his ministry: God saves his people. We’ll see that God saves them from the bad water of Jericho, He saves them from their Syrian enemies, He saves from death, and He saves from sin.

The God of Elijah and Elisha is the same wonder-working, promise-keeping, sinner- saving God. That is shown in a powerful way after Elijah ascends. For Elisha takes up the mantle, the symbol of his office, the confirmation that he is God’s servant.

And then as he strikes the water of the Jordan, he asks the question, “Where is the LORD God of Elijah?” (v 14). That’s not a doubting or searching question, but it’s more like a prayer. “God, show your power! Show what you will do through me!” And at once it becomes clear that the same power will be moving through Elisha. God’s strength is not tied to a particular period of time, nor is it tied to a particular person.

That’s a human tendency, of course, to assume that the future will never be as good as the past. We hear the complaining question in Ecclesiastes, “Why were the old days better than these?” (7:10). In the same spirit, we might glorify periods of time from church history, or times in our own life. Things were better then. Things were simpler. Especially when the church faces threats and attacks, or when our life is struggling, we wish for happier, safer times.

But God’s power isn’t limited to a certain time or certain person. Elijah teaches us: Don’t look to the man, or rest in what you can see, but look to God. For God is ever the same in his power and goodness. God will always accomplish great things through his Word, just as God has always done. For his Word is not ineffective, but alive and always powerful.

The same God is the God of our salvation. In Christ, the same God is still saving and sanctifying his people, for God ensures that his Word will continue to be preached, and taught, and believed, and obeyed. For Christ’s sake, the same God is keeping us from the evil one, for the same God still says that there is no temporal power, no human might, that can stop God’s work in his church. Through his Holy Spirit and through his Holy Word, the same God is preserving and shaping a people for himself. May God give us ears to hear him, and hearts to trust and obey!  Amen.         




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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