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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
 www.bethelurc.org
 
Title:The God Who Raises our Hopes (Part 1)
Text:2 Kings 4.8-17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Servanthood
 
Preached:2024-02-04
Added:2024-02-08
Updated:2024-02-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* Song of Praise: “To the Hills I Lift My Eyes” # 121B
God’s Holy Law
Assurance of Pardon
Song of Response: “Lord, My Petition Heed” # 86B:1-5
Congregational Prayer
* Song of Preparation: “Like a River Glorious” # 485

Service of God’s Holy Word

Scripture Reading: 2 Kings 4: 8-17
Sermon: The God Who Raises our Hopes (Part 1)
Prayer of Application
* Song of Response: “In Christ Alone” # 265

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, when I was in seminary we second and third year students would often be away on weekends to exhort, to fill pulpits in the churches in the surrounding states. On those weekends it would not be unusual to travel four or five hours away to Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin or Ohio. Then we’d all be back to seminary on Tuesday and we’d share our stories of how the weekend went.   

 

Each of us had our favorite churches to preach in, and our favorite places to stay, and there was one place in particular that I remember. At a small church in Wisconsin there was a lovely couple, an older couple, whose kids were grown and out of the house. They had prepared what they called an “Elisha Room”.

 

It was a room in their house that they had converted into a bedroom for students and pastors who came to preach at their church. And just like the text says – there was a bed and a lamp, a table and a chair. And, whenever I read this passage my thoughts go back to them – and to their joy, their enthusiasm and generosity in hosting us strangers in their home, breaking bread with us, and offering us gracious hospitality and a place to rest while we were away for the weekend.

 

It was a beautiful act of Christian service -- and it was all patterned after what this woman did for Elisha here in 2 Kings 4. This morning, we’re going to take a closer look at that. But we’re also going to be focusing on what Elisha – and really, what the Lord did for her in response. As Elisha promised that she, a barren woman -- would be blessed with a son.

Here, Elisha Raises the Hopes of a Shunammite Woman.

1) Her Selfless Service

2) Her Rich Reward    

 

1) Her Selfless Service

The opening verse of our text tells us that one day Elisha went to Shunem.  The city of Shunem is mentioned several times in the Old testament. It was in the northern kingdom, part of the tribal land of Issachar, and close to the city of Jezreel. If you are familiar with the location of the Sea of Galilee, Shunem was located just a little south and west of the southern coast of the Sea of Galilee.

 

The text tells us that a well-to-do woman was there who urged Elisha to stay for a meal. We might ask why her wealth is mentioned. I think there are at least two good reasons. First, when we compare this account to the previous account (in vv. 1-7), we see a stark contrast. In the first 7 verses we meet a very poor woman. She was a widow, a pastor’s wife who had two sons.

 

She was so poor that she could not pay the debts that her deceased husband owed, and it seemed that she was on the verge of starvation. But through his prophet Elisha, the Lord provided for her in a miraculous way. Thanks to that miracle, of the multiplication of the oil, she was able to pay off her creditors and have enough to survive on for the future.

 

But here, we meet a woman who is wealthy. Her husband is still alive and he is working – a farmer most likely. However, this wealthy woman, as rich as she is financially, has no sons. In that regard, she is poor. So just like today, everyone has different challenges and trials.

 

In the Lord’s wisdom and providence, one is rich where another is poor, and one may be poor where another is rich. To this woman’s credit, she seemed to be content with her situation in life. Even after all that she did for Elisha, she never asked for anything in return. She never asked for a son – and that fact weighs heavily on this passage.

 

But I believe there is another reason that her wealth is mentioned. In the Bible, there is a history of God using wealthy women in the support of the ministry of the Word. In Christ’s ministry, Luke 8:1-3 tells us of a group of women (there is “Mary Magdalene, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, who was the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna, and many others” the passage says). They supported the work of Jesus and his disciples out of their own means, out of their own wealth.

 

Jesus and his band of disciples traveled great distances, they had to eat, they needed clothing, they needed funds to stay here and there. It was no different for the Apostle Paul and his fellow apostles in their work. Romans 16 mentions by name many of the women who assisted the Apostle Paul and the other Apostles in the Gospel ministry.

 

When we talk about the role that women play in the life and ministry of the church, we often limit that conversation to the things that women cannot do, and where they cannot serve. But if we read our Bible carefully, we’ll find examples like this which show us (from a positive perspective) the role which women played in the spread of the Gospel.    

 

As our text says, this wealthy woman invited Elisha to stay for a meal. From there, it looks like this became a regular practice -- so that whenever he passed by that way, he stopped there to eat.

 

Incidentally, this text also gives us a glimpse of the labors and life of the Lord’s prophet. Elisha, just like his master Elijah before him, traveled a lot. They put on a lot of miles – and it appears that they frequently walked. Back in chapter 2, Elijah and Elisha walked from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho, then they crossed to the other side of the Jordan, and after Elijah was taken up into heaven by a whirlwind, Elisha returned the way he had come.

 

So, these men would go wherever the Lord sent them, and from what we read here, they may have had a regular circuit, a pattern of visiting various cities and places. To teach, to encourage, to heal, to help – whatever the need may be.

 

So, we can assume that Elisha passed through Shunem quite often, and this woman saw an opportunity to help, to be of service to this holy man of God. She wanted to do more than provide a meal for Elisha; she wanted to prepare a room, a place where he (and presumably his servant Gehazi) could rest peacefully and stay the night. So that’s what she did.

 

She explained her intentions and plans to her husband, I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. Let’s make a room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.

 

And from what we read in verse 11-12, Elisha was greatly blessed by this. In fact, he was so blessed, he was so moved by her generosity and hospitality, that it motivated him to want to do something to show his thanks and gratitude. We’ll get to that in our second point. But first, I want to make a few observations about what she did, followed by some practical applications for us.  

 

First, we notice her heightened sensitivity to the needs of others. Even though no need was ever verbalized or expressed by Elisha, she discerned a need, and she filled it. I wonder how sensitive are we at discerning the needs of others around us?

 

How “in-tune” are we with the ministry of our local church, with the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ, or maybe our neighbor next door -- to be able to discern a need? It could be something as simple as bringing over a meal or offering to pick up groceries.

 

We have neighbors who live a few doors down from us, and we have this arrangement where they will take our dog for a walk when we are away; and we return the favor when she and her husband are away. A couple years ago, when she heard that we had Covid, she texted us and asked if she could pick up groceries for us. Her thoughtfulness and kindness took me completely by surprise.   

 

We’re not that close -- we’ve talked at the park now and then, but that’s about it. Yet she has a caring spirit. That humbled me. It made me think that I could be more sensitive to the needs of others – even in our neighborhood as well. It’s something to pray about, to ask the Lord to help make us more aware, to have our eyes open; to look for opportunities to help and to serve others.    

 

This tells us also that the saving grace that God gives to us through His Son Jesus Christ, not only saves us from our sins, but it should transform our lives so that we cannot help but show God’s love and care to others – to care for their needs, to help even when they don’t ask.  

 

Just think, if our neighbors who don’t know the gospel of grace are putting us to shame with their deeds of love and mercy, then perhaps it is time for us to examine our own hearts and lives; perhaps we need to start praying that God would work in our hearts to help us show His love to others.   

 

A second observation (I hinted at this earlier), is that this woman was willing to invest her own wealth and resources, her own time and energy to provide what was needed for this man of God.

 

This kind of generosity also rises from the Gospel of grace. In 2 Corinthians 8-9 the Apostle Paul encourages the church in Corinth to give generously – and the motive for doing so, was the generosity that Christ showed to us when he gave himself for us on the cross. 2 Corinthians 8:9 Paul writes: I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 

 

Here this woman is already living out that Gospel principle of generosity – and if she sees and senses that, then how much more ought we who live on this side of the cross, who know even more personally and intimately the love and grave of the Lord Jesus Christ!  

 

A third observation: This woman was willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of others. In this case, she was willing to offer open-ended hospitality to Elisha -- whenever he was passing through town. Not whenever it worked for them. Not, please knock and see if it is convenient. No. It was “Our house is your house. The room I have prepared is your room.”

 

Here, too, we must see that this virtue, this quality of hospitality flows straight from the Gospel of grace. God, in Christ, has shown His grace and mercy to us – even though we are undeserving sinners, strangers and rebels – yet God has taken us in. God has shared with us the blessings, the bounties of His heavenly home.

 

Christ our Savior came and He suffered and died on the cross – all to save us from our sins, and to go on ahead of us to prepare a room, a heavenly mansion for us in glory, so that when our traveling days on earth are done, we may enter into His glory, we may dwell in that heavenly mansion and enjoy peace and rest and live with God forevermore.

 

That is the hospitality of God’s grace that must now be reflected in our hearts and lives here below – as God also calls us to exercise hospitality. God places so much emphasis on the exercise of hospitality that it is one of the qualifications for office in the church of Jesus Christ. 1 Timothy 3:2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach... etc.

 

Then there’s Hebrews 13:2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Since God has opened his kingdom to us, we are to open our home, our church, our church family, our friend groups to others, yes even to perfect strangers – for that’s what the Biblical word for hospitality means: “Stanger-love”.  

 

In the end, we see that this woman of 2 Kings 4 is a Godly woman, a woman of virtue, endowed with, and overflowing with the grace and kindness and goodness and generosity of God. May that be true of us also beloved – so that others can see in us the love and care and kindness of Christ.

 

2) Her Rich Reward   

Now we notice secondly, her rich reward. We said earlier that Elisha was greatly blessed by this woman’s generosity and hospitality. He was so blessed, so moved in fact that one day he had his servant Gehazi summon the woman to come before him. When she arrived, Elisha said: (vs. 13) you have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you? Can we speak on your behalf to the king or the commander of the army?

 

Elisha knows people in high places, in positions of influence, and with the right word, spoken to the right people, he can pull some strings. He can get them that beautiful vacation home alongside the shore of the Sea of Galilee (or maybe just a weekend stay); something like that perhaps.

 

But she declined his offer. She had no needs; she was content. This proves that what she did for Elisha was a selfless, sacrificial act of Godly service. She did not do it to get a reward; to benefit from it. It shows us that her heart was right before the Lord, Her motives were pure.

 

So, what can be done for such a kind and generous woman such as this? It was Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, who thought of one possibility. Verse 14. “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.” We might rephrase it this way: Well, there is the obvious need. There is the one thing that is missing, but she prefers not to talk about it. She prefers not to be reminded of it. She prefers to live her life being thankful for what she has, and not thinking about what she lacks. So, there’s that!   

 

Elisha heard that and immediately he tells Gehazi to summon her once more. She returns, and then Elisha tells her the news: About this time net year, you will hold a son in your arms. We wonder if Elisha thought that this news would brighten her face, that it would bring tears of joy, that she would be falling at his feet in gratitude, unable to speak because of her overwhelming joy.

 

But I think any wife (and husband) who has lived through the pain, the frustration, the sorrow and sadness of being unable to conceive -- or of being able to conceive only to suffer one miscarriage after another –you know the agony of having high hopes for several weeks, and maybe months, only to have those hopes crushed again and again.

 

You dare to hope, until it’s too painful to hope anymore. That’s where this woman is. This is what her response reflects. She says: No, my Lord. (In other words, Please, promise anything, but do not promise that!). Do not mislead (do not deceive) your servant, O man of God.

 

She is really telling Elisha, “Do not play such games with me. Do not toy with my emotions. Do not awaken within me this yearning, this desire that has long since faded away. It is too precious of a thing to hope for – too great a hope to risk disappointment.”  

 

In his commentary, Pastor Ryken suggests that there may even be the presence of some bitterness towards God, a resentment, a sorrow that has built up over time, that she has not just lost hope, but perhaps she has also become doubtful and skeptical of the goodness of God.

 

That’s perfectly understandable given her situation. We are all weak, fallen sinners. The trials and the losses we experience in our lifetime can leave us spiritually scarred and wounded. We don’t always respond the way we should to those trials; sometimes we do grow skeptical, even cynical of the goodness of God; sometimes we question or we doubt how it can be that God is able to work our tragedies, our losses, and all of our sorrow and pain to our own good. It just seems like a cliché.  

 

But in spite of all that we experience – in spite of all the sorrows and disappointments we might encounter here in this veil of tears, one thing that we need never question, one thing we need never doubt or be skeptical about is the goodness and mercy and love of God toward his own.

 

God never changes – and God cannot change -- otherwise He would cease to be God. And thus, God’s treatment of His people cannot change. His love and grace and mercy and goodness toward us is unfailing and unceasing. And God’s promises are always sincere and He is always faithful to keep His promises.

 

So no, in spite of all that we may have endured in this life, God is not playing games with us. God is not toying with our emotions. God is not trying to get our hopes up, only to dash them again. God is ever and only good and faithful and loving and kind – and that is what our confession must be come what may.

 

And let us never forget this – God will “make good” on every promise he made to us. He cannot fail. No, in this life, God does not offer us everything that we could ever want or desire. But His promise is this: He will give us all that we need; and in the end, we know that He is sufficient.

 

Knowing God as our heavenly Father; having Jesus Christ as our Savior, Lord, and King; possessing the Holy Spirit and all the spiritual blessings in Christ for this life and the next – that’s all we need. That’s a blessing, that’s a promise far greater than anything this earth can afford!

 

And this is not false hope; this is not some “pie in the sky” optimism. Peter tells us that in God’s great mercy, He has given us “new birth, into a Living Hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

 

We’ll talk more about that hope tonight, but already here, we can say that the ultimate hope of this woman is bound up not in the promise of a son whom she would hold in her arms, but rather in the promise of another son, of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who would hold her in His arms, who would be her Savior and deliver. And that is the Son in whom we must find our hope as well. Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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