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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 2)
Text:2 Kings 4.8-37 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2024-02-04
Added:2024-02-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Song of Praise: “Jehovah Is My Light” # 27B:1,3,4,5

* Song of Preparation: “O Jesus, We Adore Thee” # 349

Scripture Reading: 2 Kings 4: 8-37

Sermon: The God Who Raises our Hopes (Part 2)
Prayer of Application

* Song of Response: “O Christ, Our Hope, Our Heart’s Desire” (Tune of TPH #237) # 267

* Benediction

(*You could also sing: 'My Hope is Built on Nothing Less' -- but we sang that a week earlier, so it was not chosen for this service).

* 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, “hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. That was a line said by one of the characters in the movie Shawshank Redemption. For me, it was one of those lines you hear once and never forget; it sticks with you.

 

One of the reasons that line ‘stuck with me’ is because it related so perfectly to the situation in the movie. Red, one of the prisoners in the movie – went before the State Parole Board again and again to plead his case. He would tell the board what he thought they wanted to hear -- how he was a changed man; how had been rehabilitated. But again and again, they denied his parole.  

 

So, the thought was, better to not hope at all than to hope and be perpetually disappointed, to hope and have your hopes crushed. And to a certain degree, we can see the wisdom of that – or at least we can sympathize with that sentiment.

 

Each one of us here has felt the pain, the sadness, the frustration, even the disillusionment and disappointment of hope that has been crushed. Yes, sometimes those hopes are small and inconsequential. I am an incurably optimistic Cubs fan. In Springtime, I always hope for the best, that the Cubs will field a championship caliber team. But soon thereafter, reality hits, and they have another losing season, I feel a little disappointed, but that doesn’t change or affect my life.     

 

However, there are many other things that we hope for that ARE consequential, that ARE life changing: a job, a spouse, the restoration of a broken marriage, the salvation of a loved one, healing from sickness or recovery from an accident.

 

When we dare to hope on something as critical and important as that – the risk is much greater.

Here in our passage, we see something similar. A barren woman has been promised a son. She didn’t want to venture to hope, she didn’t want to risk hoping again, but what God promised through His prophet Elisha was sure to be. The promise would come true. But it’s what happens after that, that is so perplexing.  

This evening, we are considering part 2 of our text. Here Elisha Raises the Hopes of the Shunammite Woman. Instead of longer points – I have broken down the narrative into these segments:   

1) A Promised Delivered

2) A Sudden Death

3) A Hope Restored     

 

 

1) A Promised Delivered

This morning, we talked about all that the Shunammite woman did for Elisha. She regularly provided meals for Elisha and Gehazi as they traveled through the city. That led her to the idea of preparing a room for Elisha, the holy man of God, so that when he passed through, he had a place to stop and sleep and rest. She prepared a small room for him on the roof of their home. It had a bed and table, a chair and lamp for him.

 

Elisha was so overwhelmed by her generosity and thoughtfulness that he offered to do something for her. But she said she needed nothing. Elisha wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, so that’s when Gehazi made the observation that this woman had no son, and her husband was old.

 

That’s when Elisha promised this woman something that she didn’t ask for – something that she didn’t even want to hope for. He told her that by this time next year, she would be holding a son in her arms. To this woman, who must have had her hopes for a child crushed many times before, this must have seemed like a cruel joke, like a big tease, like Elisha was toying with her emotions.

 

She said – don’t even kid around about that. Don’t deceive me. Don’t get my hopes up only to have them dashed again; it’s all too painful for me. But Elisha wasn’t kidding or teasing or playing around. The promise was genuine and sincere because it was God, through Elisha, who was making this promise to this woman, and God does not make any promises that he does not intend to fulfill.

 

And so that is exactly what happened. Verse 17 tells us: But the woman became pregnant, and next year about that same time, she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her. That’s all the text says about it, but we can be fairly certain that this precious gift, this miraculous blessing from God did indeed make her happy and cheer her heart; it raised her hopes and renewed her trust in the goodness and greatness of the Lord, the God of Israel.

 

I think it’s also worth pointing out how rare this type of miracle is for what we would characterize as an “ordinary woman” in a very ordinary situation. To be sure, the Bible records similar miracles for other barren women.  

 

Barren Sarah was 90 years old when she had Isaac – the son of the promise. Isaac’s wife Rebekah was barren until he prayed for her, and the Lord answered his prayer, and she became pregnant. God blessed them with twin boys, Jacob and Esau.

 

There was also barren Hannah who gave birth to Samuel; Mrs. Manoah who gave birth to Samson; and moving into the New Testament, there was barren Elizabeth who gave birth to John the Baptist.

But in each of those instances, God performed this miracle to fulfill some “grand redemptive-historical function” as Dale Ralph David put it.

 

But that is not the case here. Here in 2 Kings 4, this miracle, God’s extraordinary grace, is exercised on behalf of this very ordinary woman for no greater reason than to simply enrich her own life; to make her happy; to fill her heart with gladness. And that shows us the kindness and goodness of our God – who exercises that same kindness and goodness to us each day!   

 

2) A Sudden Death

The second point to consider is the sudden, tragic, unexpected death of this promised son. We’re not given many details about this son. His entire life spans a few verses. He is born. He grew. Then we’re told that one day he went out to his father in the field, who was with the reapers.

 

We might want to speculate that perhaps he went out to work alongside his father, and maybe he got heat stroke. But the text doesn’t say that. It only says that he went out to his father and said My head! My head! It sounds as if he was coming to his father to inform him of the excruciating pain he was feeling in his head. And he may very well have collapsed or fainted after that.

 

But the boy’s father, (who seems very detached from everything that happens here in this account) simply tells his servant to carry the boy to his mother. The servants did so, but there was nothing that the boy’s mother could do to save her son. He sat in her lap until noon, and then he passed away. Her son, the son promised by Elisha, the son she did not want to hope for, that son was now gone. Her hopes had been crushed after all.   

 

And so, she does the only thing she can think of. She is going to go see the man of God. First, she carries her son upstairs and lays her dead son on the bed of Elisha. Then she has her husband’s servants ready the donkeys for travel. She set off hastily – as fast as they could travel -- to Mt. Carmel where she must have known that she would find Elisha.

 

This is a very fascinating chapter for us as readers, because if you’re like me, you’re trying to figure out what’s going on in the heart and head of this woman. We know she loved her son. We know that she’s deeply grieved. And based upon her initial reaction, there is no panic, there is no hysteria, we don’t even see her breaking down in tears of sorrow.

 

On the one hand, it appears as if she responded in faith. In laying her son on Elisha’s bed, in going to see the man of God, she seems to know what to do. She’s going to go to the one man, to the one God who can help her – does she believe that Elisha can raise her son? We don’t really know for sure -- but at the very least, she’s going to see the man of God. 

 

So, we want to commend her for that -- for trusting in and turning to God even in the midst of her heartache. But then we wonder – does our impression of her and her faith change when she meets Elisha.

 

Verse 27: when she reached the man of God at the mountain, she took hold of his feet. Gehazi came over to push her away, but the man of God said, “Leave her alone! She is in bitter distress, but the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me why.”

 

It’s as if she held back her grief, her sorrow, her mourning for this very moment. Once she sees Elisha, then she lets it all out at once – in waves of emotion! I want to pause here a moment to consider what Elisha said – that the Lord had hidden this from him and not told him why this had happened. That’s a fascinating detail. It proves to us that there are some things that happen in this life, the purpose of which God sees fit to hide from our view, so to speak.

 

God withholds knowledge. We can’t explain why. Not everything God does has a clear and obvious answer or explanation in this life – no matter how much we want to think it does; and no matter how much we want to try to figure everything out.

 

God never promised us that we will know why. God never promised us that He will explain to us the reason for everything. Just look at Job and recall how many times he demanded an answer and an explanation from God. What he got instead is what he deserved. A strong and fitting rebuke: “Who is this that darken my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you will answer me.

 

And then the Lord went on for something like 124 verses spread out over 3 chapters telling Job that He is the Lord, the eternal and everlasting God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and God never had to ask Job, or anyone else for that matter, for permission, or for counsel, or for advice.

 

The same is true in our lives. The Lord brings about His good and perfect will, and always for his good and perfect reasons. But it would be terribly wrong and even blasphemous to think that God would do so in a cold, impersonal, fatalistic way -- where God simply does what he does in a heartless and cruel manner, without any regard for us.

 

That is impossible, because God’s nature and character does not allow it. God is compassionate and gracious. God loves us and cares for us as a Father loves his very own children. The Lord watches over us and guards and keeps us as a shepherd his very own sheep. And so, God would never carelessly or callously expose us to harm or pain or grief or sorrow.

 

The greatest proof and evidence of that is found in God’s own Son who sits at God’s right hand in glory, whose whole purpose in coming was to save us from our sin and misery, to redeem us from this fallen world, and to help us in our time of need – as we face the problems, the curse of sin, and evil, and sorrow, and pain and death here below. Christ is our heavenly high priest who sympathizes with us in our weakness, and who gives us grace and mercy in our time of need.

 

That is a God who -- while he may not always give us the answer – He is always faithful and he always cares, and he always loves, and he always provides the grace we need – it cannot be otherwise, because God cannot be otherwise.

 

Now let’s return again to the moment of their meeting. This woman seems to come in faith. She clings to the feet of Elisha in her great despair – which I would argue is better than having her hands wrapped around his neck and trying to squeeze the life out of him. I know that may sound silly, but I’m not really joking. That too is a response someone might have.     

 

But then listen to what she says: (vs 28): “Did I ask you for a son, my Lord? Didn't I tell you, don't raise my hopes?” She’s saying: this is all your fault Elisha. This is your doing. I didn’t ask for a son. I didn’t ask for this blessing, and now you’ve crushed my soul!! Why did you do this?

 

I want to call attention to a very interesting translation choice made by the NIV. Most other versions try to connect what the woman says in this verse to what she said back in 16 when she said, “Do not deceive me.”

 

Most translations have this for vs 28: “Did I ask you for a son, my Lord? Didn't I tell you, do not deceive me?” But here I think the NIV made a good choice in that the word for deceive found in verse 15 is not the word used in verse 28. Instead, the Hebrew word used in verse 28 means to be at ease, to prosper, or to rest. To be more exact, she seems to be saying – did I not tell you “Do not prosper me; do not put me at ease; do not try to raise my hopes again with this blessing?

 

That’s why I think the NIV did a better job of capturing the idea, the dilemma, the tragedy and heartache that this woman is enduring. You see, she did get her hopes up. She did receive this blessing from God which put her heart at ease, which gave her soul deep comfort.

 

But now that her son is gone, her faith is tried. We might ask (much like with Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac) will this mother love her son more than she loves God? Will she be able to say as Job did: “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord?”

 

So looking at this whole scene, do we conclude that her response one of faith, does she still think that Elisha can save her son, or is her response one of anger, resentment and despair? I think the answer is that two things can be true at the same time. True faith is not yet perfect faith. Our faith is often mingled with doubt, with anger, or despair We know this ourselves.

 

Remember the man in Mark 9 – the father with the demon possessed son. He cried out to Jesus to heal him, and Jesus said, “Everything is possible for him who believes.”  Then he said: “Lord I believe! Help my unbelief!”

 

We are Christians who cling to God in faith, we confess that we love God, we have faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we trust in all the precious promises of God – and yet at the very same time, in the midst of trials and tragedies, we panic, we are frightened; we cry out in anger – we don’t always respond as we should.

 

In the end, it is not for us to judge her heart or to gauge her level of faith. It is helpful to note that we hear no rebuke and no admonishment from Elisha or from God. It is probably best for us to simply sympathize with her, to identify with her in this time of tragedy and loss, and to humble our own hearts and pray that when we go through trials such as these that God would give us grace and strength to fall down at His feet, to cling to Him in our prayers, and to ask Him for His help and His deliverance.

 

3) A Hope Restored     

Finally, we want to consider A Hope Restored. We don’t have time to go over every detail of the miraculous resurrection of her son, but it is worth noting that this was not a simple resurrection – as if there ever really could be. Look at all that Gehazi and Elisha did to raise this woman’s son:

Vs 29: Gehazi laid the staff of Elisha on his face. That did not work. Vs. 33 Elisha prayed. Then in vs 34, Elisha laid down upon the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands, all that did was simply warm up the cold dead body.

 

Then vs 35, Elisha got up and walked back and forth, then he stretched himself out on the boy’s body again. (This is the spiritual equivalent of a code blue in the hospital and the nursing staff is hitting the patient with the paddles 5 times). Finally, the boy sneezed 7 times and opened his eyes. Why this strange process? We do not know, nor do we need to know.

 

But when compared to a similar situation – in Luke 7, where Jesus encountered a funeral procession of a mother with her dead son. Jesus stopped the procession, touched the coffin, and then said: Young man, I say to you get up! And he sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

 

Sometimes accounts like this in 2 Kings 4 are revealed so that they might point us ahead to the one who is better than Elisha, to our Lord Jesus Christ, to the one who would come in power, and who (by His own suffering and death and resurrection) would demonstrate God’s power over life and death, over sin and hell and the grave!

 

So, in that way it can be said that the raising of this woman’s son in Shunem did indeed restore her hope. But more than just resurrecting her son and raising her hopes once more, the Lord God raised her hope, and our hope in God himself. For God is a God who delivers us from death.

 

Psalm 68: 19-20 Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.

 

Psalm 116: 7-9 Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For you, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

 

The thing is, that woman’s son was eventually going to die again. Perhaps in her own lifetime, but hopefully after she died. And of course, we are all going to die as well. And some of us here have suffered the pain that this woman suffered – of losing a son, a child, a loved one early in life. There is no way of telling what grief or sorrow or pain may attend our way in this life.

 

And honestly, we don’t want to know that in advance. But what we do need to know, however, is the comfort, the assurance that we have a Savior, there is a Deliverer – and His Name is Jesus, and He will not give us over unto death; death has no dominion, no control, no power over us.

 

In Christ, we have won the victory – and even though these mortal bodies shall die and lie in the dust of the earth, the Lord will not leave us to the grace. He will take us to Himself. So, in the end, that quote about hope is not really accurate, is it? Hope is not a dangerous thing. No. Hope is a glorious thing. Hope is a sure and certain thing -- when your hope is in Christ. 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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