A sermon delivered by Randy Hyde, Pastor of Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ark., on June 27, 2010.
A Lord’s Supper Meditation
2 Kings 2:1-14; Luke 9:51-62
The author of our story in 2 Kings wouldn’t have made a very good scriptwriter or mystery novelist. Usually, in a suspenseful story, the drama is held out until the very end, and only then do we find out who done it or what the twist may be. The viewer or reader is left in the dark until the climactic scene is revealed.
But not here. Right off the bat we are told that Elijah is about to leave the premises. And not only is Elijah about to go, we find out it will be by means of an ascension… an ascension in the midst of a mighty whirlwind, no less. And only after we are told that are we informed of the events leading up to such a dramatic exit for the prophet of God. It was like putting the final scene first; for example, in a murder mystery, telling us immediately who the killer is, then telling the story that leads up to the crime. Pretty unconventional, wouldn’t you say?
Like we said, the author of this story in 2 Kings wouldn’t have made a very good scriptwriter or mystery novelist.
Elijah the Tishbite has been mentoring Elisha. I know, because of the fairly similar spelling of the names it can be a bit confusing… Elijah and Elisha. But just think in alphabetical order. J comes before S… Elijah, then Elisha. The older, then the younger.
Elijah has been bringing Elisha along, showing him the ropes of how to be a man of God. Evidently, Elisha took his internship responsibilities very seriously. Maybe too seriously. Elijah kept trying to find a little time, not to mention a place, when he could be by himself, ponder what it was that God wanted him to do, maybe just have some me time or do a little traveling by himself. His plans were to go to Bethel, and he wanted his young protÃ©gÃ© to stay in Gilgal. But Elisha stuck to him like – well, like Festus used to say on Gunsmoke – like ugly on an ape. He just wouldn’t let him go. “As the LORD lives,” Elisha said to his mentor, “and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”
Somehow we get the feeling that maybe Elijah didn’t consider that to be much of a blessing. He wanted to be left alone. But look at it from the younger man’s perspective. The old prophet isn’t getting any younger, you know. Who’s to say that something won’t happen to him along the way? As we’ve mentioned before, travel in those days was a bit dicey. You never knew what might happen. Elijah needed a companion, just in case, just in case.
But Elijah was stubborn and tried it again. Except this time he intended to go to Jericho. “Stay here,” he said to Elisha, “stay here.” But Elisha was stuck on the same old refrain. “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” It happened a third time. This time Elijah wanted to go to the Jordan. “Stay here,” he said, but you know what he heard in response, don’t you? “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”
Evidently, by this time, Elijah knew his young friend meant business and wasn’t going to take “stay here” for an answer. And perhaps he figured out that God meant business too. “Tell me what I may do for you,” he said to Elisha, “before I am taken from you.”
It was just the opening Elisha had been looking for. He didn’t ask for gold. Elijah had none. He didn’t ask for success. That was not in the cards for a prophet… any prophet. And he didn’t ask for the old man’s library. Elijah didn’t own a book to his name. “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit,” he said. “A double share of your spirit.”
Do you know someone who has been a particular blessing to you, a person who has modeled for you the way you would like to live your life, who has been consistent in living out the kind of faith you would want to have yourself? You could do nothing better than to sit down with that person and tell him or her just how you feel. And it wouldn’t hurt at all to ask for a double share of that person’s spirit. Who knows, it might just come to you as it did to Elisha.
But Elisha got something else from the old prophet, something he didn’t ask for and did not expect. It was Elijah’s mantle, the cloak he used when he traveled. Here’s how it happened…
When Elijah and his young friend got to the Jordan River (remember, Elijah wanted to go to Jordan alone but Elisha wouldn’t let him), Elijah took off his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water with it. The waters of the river parted, leaving them dry ground on which to walk to the other side. Hmm, that sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? It think that’s been done before.
It was after this that Elijah asked what he could do for Elisha and the younger man asked for a double dose of the old man’s spirit. You get the feeling that Elijah didn’t like to give direct answers. Maybe he didn’t like direct questions either. So, instead of giving the younger man his blessing, he said, “You have asked a hard thing. However, if you see me being taken from you, your request will be granted. If you do not see me when I depart, you won’t get what you’re asking for.”
We don’t know if it happened immediately, or if it was some time after. We are simply told that while they were walking and talking, a chariot and horses of fire came between them, and Elijah ascended in that whirlwind that was mentioned at the very beginning of our story. We, the readers, are left with no doubt that Elisha saw what happened to the prophet. His wish would be granted.
Or would it? Elisha isn’t so sure. He looks at the ground where Elijah had just stood and there lays the prophet’s mantle, the cloak he had used to part the waters of the River Jordan. There’s only one way to find out if his wish had come true. Elisha goes back to the banks of the river, rolls up the mantle just as Elijah had done. “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” he cries out, and strikes the water. Immediately, the water is parted to one side and to the other, and Elisha, having indeed received Elijah’s spirit, walks to the other side.
I have a friend who is a pastor in Macon, Georgia. Jim is an Old Testament guy, did his doctoral work in Hebrew and once told me he finds the stories there to be much more compelling than much of what is found in the New Testament. This account from 2 Kings illustrates his feelings and helps us understand why he views scripture the way he does. The story is intriguing, and even though the climactic scene is revealed at the beginning of our story and then told again near the end, it definitely holds our interest all the way through.
The question is, does it teach us anything? Perhaps a better question is, don’t you wish it were that way today? Don’t you wish we could find out the answers to the questions we’ve been asking? Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a “magic” mantle or cloak with which we could strike the waters and see if we have been blessed? After all, we often do have questions…
Will the chemotherapy work? Will I get that job I need so desperately? Will my children find happiness?
Now, before you go get a shawl or overcoat from the closet, roll it up, and venture down to the Arkansas River to give it a shot, understand that it might not work. In fact, I have a feeling the only thing you’ll be left with is a cleaning bill. No, instead, it might be better to look for the lesson to be learned from our story. What do you think it might be?
I think it is found, not in the mantle or the river, but in the refrain that Elisha, the younger man, offers to his older mentor. “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” “I will not leave you.”
There comes a time, regardless of the circumstances or the questions that confront us, when we are faced with the need to remain faithful… to each other and to the God who has brought us together. Life can get tough, and when it does there is that tendency to want to bail out, to walk away, give it up, throw in the dice, and say, “What’s the use?” I’ve been there. Have you?
Jesus could have done that. Not only was he betrayed, but our story from Luke reveals how he was given false promises by those who had no intention of following him to such a place as a cross. Yet, he stayed with his disciples until the very end, and promised them, in the bread and in the cup, that he would be faithful to them. He didn’t use the young prophet’s exact words, but he lived them, not only in that upper room but at Calvary too… “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”
And that’s what this table is about, isn’t it? It’s a place of faithfulness, where we will make our vow to the One who gave himself for us. So if you have a mantle or a coat, don’t go down to the river and strike the water with it. Put it on your shoulders. You’ll need it for the journey, the journey that requires our faithfulness.
May we be found faithful, Lord, not because we are given proven answers, but because you have promised to be faithful to us. Through Christ our Lord we pray, Amen.