Tag Archives: Elijah

Passing the Mantle

The following message is based on 2 Kings 2:1-14 and covers Elijah’s departure from Elisha, and the passing of leadership. It was delivered on November 3, 2013.

Change is never easy. But oftentimes, it is good. Transition is a challenge, but it can be an occasion of growth. We are reluctant to experience change. Sometimes it is downright painful, whether it is the change of a career, the change of a marital status, the experience of loss, or the redirection of life.

Sometimes transition can be seen as a changing of the guard. Speaking of which, it is something special to observe the changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Rain or shine, this is done. It is a duty of honor. Because the person laid to rest there is representative of all who gave their lives and went unrecognized.

A lot goes into the changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknowns. Their website states: “An impeccably uniformed relief commander appears on the plaza to announce the Changing of the Guard. Soon the new sentinel leaves the Quarters and unlocks the bolt of his or her M-14 rifle to signal to the relief commander to start the ceremony. The relief commander walks out to the Tomb and salutes, then faces the spectators and asks them to stand and stay silent during the ceremony.

The relief commander conducts a detailed white-glove inspection of the weapon, checking each part of the rifle once. Then, the relief commander and the relieving sentinel meet the retiring sentinel at the center of the matted path in front of the Tomb. All three salute the Unknowns who have been symbolically given the Medal of Honor. Then the relief commander orders the relieved sentinel, ‘Pass on your orders.’ The current sentinel commands, ‘Post and orders, remain as directed.’ The newly posted sentinel replies, ‘Orders acknowledged,’ and steps into position on the black mat. When the relief commander passes by, the new sentinel begins walking at a cadence of 90 steps per minute.

The Tomb Guard marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp “shoulder-arms” movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel stands between the Tomb and any possible threat. Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed — the 21-gun salute.”

Maybe you have experienced a changing of a guard. Have you gone through some sort of transition lately? A new job, a death, or a graduation? A new phase beginning? Where is God in those situations? Today’s story is about the changing of a guard. For the last several years, Israel’s chief prophet has been the man known as Elijah the Tishbite. He has done his work. He has defeated the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. He has seen the death of Ahab and Jezebel. It is now time for him to go to God. Incidentally, only two people have been taken from the earth in this way: Enoch and Elijah. Everyone else died. We have that mysterious verse in Genesis 5:24: “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.”

Elijah was a special servant of the Lord with unique talents and abilities. But who would replace him? God told Elijah back in 1 Kings 19:16: “Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.” This rite of succession would be formalized by the passing of a mantle or cloak. What was a mantle? It was a Piece of clothing that held significance. It meant leadership or a place of importance. In this instance, God was with both of His prophets and now was the time for the guard to be changed. Back in 1 Kings 19, Elijah had placed the same cloak around Elisha for the first time, as a symbol of anointing this man to take his place and be God’s spokesperson to the nation. The cloak was important.

And now, a few years later, it was time for the ceremony to become reality. As Elijah and Elisha journeyed from Gilgal to Bethel and ultimately to Jericho, two companies of prophets informed Elisha that his master, his mentor was about to depart. These communities were schools of prophets. Elijah was the pinnacle prophet of the nation and now Elisha was assuming his position. Elisha knew that it was time for Elijah to go to the Lord and it was not a happy time for him. He did not want Elijah to go. Verses 1-10 function as a long goodbye. He may have felt something similar to the disciples when Jesus told them that it was good that He would depart, so that the Holy Spirit would come. Jesus said in John 16:7: “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

In verse eight, Elijah and Elisha come to the edge of the River Jordan. The act of parting the waters and crossing to the other side was significant. It is a reminder of God’s presence. No one can part water except God. The definition of a miracle is the suspension of the natural elements for the purposes and testimony of God’s greatness. On another occasion, God parted the waters of the Red Sea for His children. At a strategic time, when Israel was most vulnerable, we read of the angel of the Lord hemming the Israelites in and Exodus 14:21 tells us: “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. 22 And the sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.” God would do the same thing at the River Jordan as Joshua and the people of Israel went into the Promised Land.

When Elijah is about to be taken up in the air by the whirlwind, Elisha asks for something special: a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, in order to do the work of the Lord. This brings up the importance of Christian leadership. Not everyone is meant to be a leader. Each person has his own set of spiritual gifts. Not everyone could be an Elijah or an Elisha. But if you are a Christian, He has called you to be equipped so that you can minister to others. What role does God want you to play in His kingdom? Are you living up to the calling that He has placed on your life? Paul wrote in Romans 12: 4: “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”

In addition, interesting are the parallels between John the Baptist and Jesus; Elijah and Elisha. Elijah paved the way for Elisha. John the Baptist did the same for Jesus, being that “…voice crying out in the wilderness, ‘make ready the way of the Lord.’” God allowed Elisha to have a double portion of Elijah’s spirit upon request. John recognized that this would be given to the Anointed One coming after him when he said in Matthew 3:11: “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” When he saw Jesus, he would say: “Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.” Then, when Jesus came to be baptized, John was hesitant, saying in Matthew 3:14: “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?”

God is often depicted as a warrior, fighting for His people. Unlike Baal who was matched by the seat and river, God has complete power over His creation. When Jesus returns, it will be to do battle with the evil forces of the earth. What side will we be on? Revelation 1:7: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.”

Then it came time for the goodbye. 2 Kings 2:11: “As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. He called out to Elijah as he was taken up into the clouds. It was not to get Elijah’s attention to the events happening around him, but to draw attention to the ministry of Elijah himself. To have the prophet’s presence is to have the chariots and horsemen of Israel. That is why two companies of fifty men were torched when King Ahaziah’s men were on their way to consult Baal-Zebub about the king’s health in 2 Kings 1.

At Elijah’s departure, Elisha tore his clothing and asked a powerful question in verse 14: “Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it.”Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over. 15 The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. The mantle had been passed. This was a new day and the changing of the guard/prophet for God’s people.

The challenge is to adapt to the change that comes to all of us. After a time of mourning or readjustment, it is time to serve the Lord with new vigor and determination. Change is inevitable. And change is good. And it is coming, regardless if we are ready or not.

While visiting the U.S. after World War II, Winston Churchill was aboard a train bound for Missouri with President Harry Truman. They were in a special car which had the presidential seal hung up on a wall. Truman noticed Churchill studying the seal and he pointed out that he had changed it so that the eagle on the seal was turned toward the olive branch instead of the arrows. “Why not put the eagle’s head on a swivel,” suggested Churchill. “That way you could turn it to the right or the left, depending on what the occasion warranted.”

On this All Saints’ Sunday, we have acknowledged these loved ones and fellow Christians. We’ve remembered them with a short tribute. We wish they were still here. If they were able, what would they say to us? How would they advise us for years of fruitful ministry? “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” we might ask? He right here with us, as long as we follow Him.

Ministry that is Messy

The following message is taken from 1 Kings 16:25-33 and introduces the life and ministry setting of one of the greatest Old Testament prophets, Elijah. It was given on September 8, 2013.

I trust that you have had a good summer. I certainly did. Many of you knew that I was on sabbatical, a wonderful opportunity afforded to me by the Board of Ministries. While away, I worked on my D.Min. dissertation, which pertains to Christian Education. I also took the opportunity to visit some of our neighboring churches in the area, particularly those that are contemporary in their worship style. I discovered some new things. Some things I liked; other things I did not. It was a great learning experience.

I also spent significant time with my immediate family. I am pleased to report, we all still love each other. No other living arrangements at the time. Today, I want to touch on the aspect of family and the role of its leadership. I’m a firm believer that men are called to be the pastor of their homes, caring for the spiritual needs of their wives and children. I recently read of an incident reputed to have taken place in the late 19th Century that underscores the vital importance of both honesty and consistency in the home.

It seems that a father had two sons who had become attached to a stray dog that wandered onto their farm. They saw an advertisement in the local paper about a lost dog that fit the description to a tee. The dog was coal black except for a few white hairs at the end of his tail. Not wishing to disappoint his sons, the father carefully separated the white hairs on its tail and pulled them out. When the rightful owner heard about the dog, he went to the farm to take him home. It was quickly obvious that the dog recognized the man as its master. But when the man wanted to leave with the dog, the father said, “Didn’t your ad say that your dog had white hairs on his tail?” Finding none, the man was forced to leave without his dog. Some years later, the father wrote of the event saying, “I kept the dog, but lost my boys.” Those boys became notorious outlaws – Frank and Jesse James. Never underestimate the power of influence, especially in the home. We can learn the same lesson in the last few verses of 1 Kings 16, as we consider the line of Israel’s kings. From this we learn that…

OUR WORLD HAS ALWAYS BEEN SPIRITUALLY MESSY.

Jeroboam ruled Israel from 931-910 B.C. and was Israel’s first king after the split. He did evil by setting up high places, alternative sites for worship instead of urging the people to go to the temple in Jerusalem. M.S. Seale tells us that Jeroboam: “…also set up two golden calves, as symbols of fertility, which were part and parcel of Canaanite Baal worship.” He was the first among a long line of evil kings.

About 25 years later followed Omri, who was worse. We do not know much about Omri, except that he had a poor reputation. He was a man lacking integrity. 1 Kings 16:25 tells us: “And Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, and acted more wickedly than all who were before him. 26 For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat and in his sins which he made Israel sin, provoking the LORD God of Israel with their idols.” If this was not enough, he did not know how to be a good father. We are not told how many children he had, but one stands out from the rest. You have heard of him- his name was Ahab.

As bad of a leader that Omri was, Ahab was even worse. That is something noteworthy of sin, is that it is very difficult, even impossible for it to remain stagnate. Sin, if left unrepentant, will grow more extensive and worse as time goes on. Verse 30 says: “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. 31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. 32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.” The word for provoke is the Hebrew s[;K’ (kaas) which means to be vexed or angry. Something of special notice is that Ahab made the Asherah pole, a wooden symbol of a female deity, a sign of further entrenchment of the religion of the Canaanites.

Ahab’s reign lasted for 22 years, from 874 to 853 B.C. 1Kings 16:31 tells us that the marriage of Omri’s son to Ethbaal’s daughter may have been arranged by Omri for diplomatic reasons. Jezebel’s presence gave official support in Israel to the worship of Baal. This moral and spiritual decline eventually led to their captivities. The northern kingdom was taken into captivity by Assyria in 722 B.C.; the southern was taken into slavery by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. We are told that the acts of Omri and Ahab provoked God. Notice that the Scripture does not read that God looked the other way; that God understood; that Omri and Ahab were just dysfunctional. No, their actions provoked God. Why so? Because that is what the sin of idolatry does- it provokes God. It has been said that idolatry is the displacing of God; we are guilty of idolatry any time we take something and put it in the place of God. If God be the greatest good, if He holds the place of our Creator and Father, then it is only appropriate that He occupy the place of preeminence in our lives. He is greater than all and we are to love Him with our whole heart, mind and strength.

Today, there are many examples of idols, depending on the person. For some, it is money. For others it could be their career. And then there are activities or a hobby. It could be things that we think we could not live without, like the Internet, or a relationship. For others, it may be a substance, like alcohol. For the Old Testament Jew, as well as the Christian, nothing was to take the place of God. Our lives respond to God’s grace in worship. Anything short of that worship is idolatry.

Why does idolatry provoke God to anger? Because it is taking the glory that is due Him and giving it to another, to a material thing or a foreign god. Notice what God said after He had delivered them from slavery and the rule of the most powerful nation in the world. Exodus 20:2: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

This time of year, many spend hours watching football. You should know that I love football. I played and both of my boys are playing this fall. I like to watch a good football game just as much as the next guy. Nevertheless, I realize that football cannot occupy the place in my life that is reserved for God alone. I ran across an interesting quote from Chris Norman, the former standout Linebacker for Michigan State, who recently gave up a career in the NFL to pursue God’s true calling in his life. He told John Piper: “Football is a game that is filled with passion, intensity, and effort. Football is a safe haven that can propel character development in the lives of young men. And football is a gift from God that has been graciously given for millions upon millions of people to enjoy. But while football is very good, it can never become a god.” God will never occupy second place.

What are the idols in your life? Is there anything that you could be paying too much attention to? Is there something more important than your relationship with God? Do not run the course of Jeroboam, Omri and Ahab. Rather, be the exception, rather than the rule.

DESPITE THE MESSINESS, GOD CALLS US TO GLORIFY HIM.

It is in this environment of waywardness and idolatry that God called a man by the name of Elijah. Elijah was an interesting figure of the Old Testament. He was from the town of Thishbe, in the area of Gilead. (Show map) Significance is that Israel was divided into two kingdoms: The north (which kept the name Israel) and the south, commonly known as Judah.

Elijah ministered in a time when the people of God were moving away from their Creator King. It is sometime after David and Solomon, who ministered around the time of 1,000 years before Christ. The life of Elijah spans from 1 Kings chapter 17 to 2 Kings 2, a span of four chapters. Elijah was a prophet, a spokesperson of God during the time of Ahab’s reign in Israel. He spoke the word of the Lord to a godless culture.
Elijah’s name means: “Yahweh is God.” Yahweh is God’s covenant making name, taken from the burning bush incident with Moses in Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.” And so we are reminded that Elijah’s name means: Yahweh is God and there is no other. This name was particularly unique given the idolatry present in Israel at the time and the worship of Baal by its leadership. The moral and spiritual state of Israel during the 8th century B.C. is not altogether different than our country today.

In the New Testament, Jesus spoke of His own exclusivity in telling the disciples of His departure. Philip asked: “How do we know the way?” Jesus said in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” After the resurrection, in the early days of the church, the apostles became convinced that Jesus was the unique Messiah, come from God, who is our Savior. Acts 4:12 states: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Yet, we live in this pluralistic world and America becomes more and more the merging of different cultures. While living in Lansdale, we had Muslim neighbors from Bangladesh, with whom I was on friendly terms. My nephew recently decided to pursue Buddhism. You and I live in a land where you are free to worship anything in any way you want, as long as you do not hurt another in the process. Nevertheless, that does not make these religious systems synonymous with truth. All roads do not lead to the same place. The cross was God’s way of reaching out to us. Whereas Abraham’s son Isaac was spared, Paul tells us of a great contrast in Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all– how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” What do you say of Jesus’ sacrifice? Is He optional? How can we respond to Christ’s love with indifference? All of the Old Testament points to Jesus and His great sacrifice for us. This is why He said in Luke 24, as He appeared to His followers on the road to Emmaus: “’How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

How do we react to other religions? Well, we love our neighbor as ourselves. We understand that one’s religion is a sacred aspect of their lives. We don’t demean it, yet we do not affirm it either. We love the Hindu, the Buddhist and the Muslim, but we do not agree with their theology. Rather, the most loving thing to do is to point them to the One who has died so that forgiveness could be a reality.

Stuart Murray notes that we are approaching, if not already arrived in a culture that is post-Christendom, where the Christian faith and those who adhere to it go from the center to the margins, from the majority to the minority, from settlers to sojourners. In this scenario, Christians are aliens, exiles and pilgrims in a culture where we no longer feel at home (Murray, Post Christendom, 20).

God is looking for more Elijah’s today. By that I mean that He is on the lookout for those who are loyal; those who are willing to go against the grain of our culture, and be sold out to Him. Are you that person? Will you be willing to destroy the idols in your life to follow Christ? Until we realize that we are helpless without Him, only then can He do a work in us and use us. We are a lot like the foolish sheep. In the Highlands of Scotland, a sheep would often wander off into the rocks and get into places that they couldn’t get out of. The grass on these mountains was sweet, and the sheep would jump down ten or twelve feet to nibble on it — and then they couldn’t jump back up again. They might be there for days, until they have eaten all the grass. Then the shepherd would hear them bleating in distress.

The shepherd waited until each animal was so faint it couldn’t not stand. Then he would rope it up and pull it out of the jaws of death. Why didn’t the shepherd rescue the sheep when it first was trapped? Because they are so very foolish they would dash right over the precipice and be killed! Such is the way of humanity too! We often don’t go to God till we have no friends and have lost everything. Jesus said: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”