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Tuesday
Mar202018

The Fire of God's Judgment II

2 Kings 2:1-15.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 18, 2018.

Last week we saw how the fire of God was a symbol of the judgment of the wicked, that is, when they are found to be lacking before God.  This week we will see that the fire of God can also be seen as a judgment of the righteous, in that they are found to be acceptable to God.

This amazing story of Elijah’s ascension into heaven may raise the hackles of all cynics and skeptics.  However, it is in the Scripture for a reason.  It challenges our understanding of what is possible, but it also teaches us the ultimate purpose of God.  Though mankind knew that each person would one day die and go into the grave, in the persons of Enoch and Elijah, the righteous are given the hope, even the understanding, that the grave is not their final destiny.  God is able to take whom He will into the heavens with Him.  It is in the examples of Enoch and Elijah that we see that God does not intend the righteous to share the same fate as the wicked, even though our experience tells us that they all end up in the same place.  God will do what is necessary in order to lift the righteous into His presence.  

Let me encourage you today.  Even though our Heavenly Father is a consuming fire, we need not fear Him if we are walking in faith in His Son, Jesus.  The same power that takes the wicked down in judgment is the power that will lift you up into the presence of God, according to His judgment.

Elijah’s last mission

We are told right off the bat that Elijah is going to be taken into heaven in a whirlwind.  So if you pictured Elijah riding in the fiery chariot, you will see later that this is not the case.  This is to be Elijah’s last mission and as he follows the instructions of the Lord, he is led to the place where he will leave this world.

It is clear that it has become common knowledge that Elijah is to be taken by God, at least among the prophets and those who served them.  Either Elijah has made God’s plan known to the other prophets or it was another prophet who public ally prophesied that Elijah would be taken on a particular day.  Nevertheless, we see the “sons of the prophets” warning Elisha of what is about to occur.

Who are these “sons of the prophets?”  This is metaphorical language, which speaks of a person (like Elisha was to Elijah) who serves a prophet.  In some cases this would function much like we see with Jesus and his disciples.  They followed him around, lived with him, and learned from him.  It was often done in the hopes that eventually they would become like their masters, i.e. prophets.  The proven, elder prophet would be training those who came to them.  In Elijah’s case there is only one servant, but it is clear from this passage that some of these groups were quite large with 50 people mentioned at Jericho.  Now we do see a resurgence of the idea of a “school of prophets” today.  People will take classes and learn how to be a prophet.  We do need to be careful with this idea.  Not everyone who served the prophets became prophets themselves.  A person could not call themselves to be a prophet by just showing up.  To be a prophet was made clear by the fact that God was clearly speaking to them and through them.  Thus it might seem cool to be a prophet, but going to a school or hanging out with a prophet does not necessarily make you one.  This is up to God.  Even then, even those with the calling of becoming a prophet, and who will become people of great faith, need to learn and grow in the area of hearing God and representing Him.  

Now we see Elijah going from town to town.  In each town he tries to get Elisha to stay there while he goes on.  Now this could be seen as Elijah wanting privacy in this intimate time of his life.  However, it is more than likely that Elijah is testing Elisha, in order to see if he will stay the course.  It is important in life to do more than just want to do something.  We must also learn to follow through.  Of course, it is important what your target is, and Elisha desires a good thing: to be with Elijah when he is taken by the Lord.  Sometimes God does not give us what we want immediately to see if we will persist.

When Elijah and Elisha get to the Jordan River, we are told that 50 sons of the prophets are watching in the distance.  At this point, Elijah performs an amazing miracle, he strikes the river with his rolled up mantle and it parts in two that he and Elisha can walk through on the ground.  Why would God instruct Elijah to do this?  It is not like they couldn’t cross at the fords.  One thing to see here is that it will give credence to the fantastic story that Elisha will tell when he gets back.  Second of all, it will demonstrate that the power of God that was with Elijah has not left.  It is now with Elisha.  But more on that later.  

Suffice it to say that this miracle of parting the waters is a signature act of God.  The Jordan River was parted three times: by Joshua, by Elijah here, and as we will soon read by Elisha.  We also see in the Bible that Moses parted the Red Sea so that all of Israel could escape from the armies of Pharaoh.  Why all this parting of water?  It harkens back to the creation account where we are told that God separates the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.  It is a way of God saying, “I’m here!”

On the other side of the Jordan, Elijah asks Elisha what last thing he can do for him before he leaves.  Here Elisha asks for a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit.  Many teachers have made a big deal about Elisha performing exactly twice as many miracles as Elijah.  That may be true.  However, Elisha is not asking to do twice as many miracles or to be twice as powerful as Elijah.  A double-portion is terminology that goes with matters of inheritance.  Elijah is about to be taken from the earth.  Typically one would put their affairs in order and have a will to bequeath all their effects to their inheritors.  In Israel the estate would be divided between the sons in a way where the eldest would receive two portions compared to the other brothers.  For example, if there were three sons then the estate would be divided into 4 parts.  The eldest would get two (50%) and each of the other brothers would get 1 part (25%).  This was a picture of the blessing of God upon the eldest who would now be taking the place of the family patriarch.  Elisha is not worried about getting a material inheritance because Elijah did not amass any estate in this life.  What Elisha wants is a spiritual inheritance, and is essentially asking to take Elijah’s place, or to be used by God in the same way.  IT is interesting that God has given His Spirit to all who put their faith in Jesus Christ.  As Elisha looked to Elijah, the man of God, and hoped to have the same Spirit, so we must learn to look to Jesus and ask the Father that the Spirit of Christ would rest upon us and empower us for what we need in order to face this life.  May we become the spiritual inheritors of Christ.  In fact, in Christ we can all inherit a “double-portion” of His Spirit.

At some point as they are talking, a fiery chariot with fiery horses speeds between the two, separating them.  Then Elijah is caught up by a whirlwind that supposedly is in the wake of the chariot.  What Elisha actually saw is not told to us, we simply have his description of what it looked like.  Regardless, we see Elijah ascending into heaven in a fiery whirlwind.  This is not quite as grand and majestic as the ascension of Jesus in Acts 1.  But it is amazing, nonetheless.

I mentioned in the opening that Elijah and Enoch are unique in the Old Testament in that it is not said that they died, and that they do not go into the grave, but up towards heaven.  In fact Hebrews 11:5 tells us that Enoch did not see death.  This raises all sorts of questions.  Is it possible for a material being to be in heaven?  Isn’t it supposed to be a place for spirits only?  Well, Jesus has a material body and He is seated at the right hand of God.  I know that his is a glorified body, but I want us to see that there is much we do not understand about the physics of the material world and the spiritual world.  Because these two men of the Old Testament do not see death, and Malachi prophesies that Elijah will return before the coming of the Messiah, some have speculated that perhaps they are the two witnesses of Revelation 11.  We don’t have time to go into this today.  However, I would just say that it is clear that we are leaving the strong foundation of biblical witness and crawling out on the thin limb of speculation or opinion, at this point.  Regardless, of the full extent of its implications, the ascension of Elijah gives the righteous the hope that we too shall dwell with God by His mighty power.

Elisha begins his new ministry

As Elijah is taken up into heaven, we see the shock and amazement of Elisha as he cries out, “My father, my father, the chariot and the horsemen of Israel.”  Father here is a metaphorical term of endearment that is the complement to “son of the prophet.”  This spiritual chariot and horsemen convinced Elisha that the real defenses and protection of Israel came from God Himself.  In 2 Kings 2:6, Elisha and his servant Gehazi will be surrounded by the king of Syria.  We are told that Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.”  Then the Lord opened the servants eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.  We must never look to the things of this world as our true defenses and help.  It is God’s spiritual defense and help that is our true source.

Elijah’s mantle had fallen to the ground as he was snatched up.  A mantle was often designed in such a way that was indicative of both the profession a person had, and the individual themselves.  Thus Elisha taking up the mantle of Elijah is symbolic of him stepping into the shoes of Elijah.  God would now work powerfully through Elisha as He had with Elijah.  This is how it has always been in God’s kingdom.  Those who have gone before must train and disciple those who are coming behind.  At some point the older generation passes on and the younger generation must step into their shoes, and carry on the work of the Lord.  Not all are called to be prophets as Elijah and Elisha were.  However, there is a calling on our life which asks us to pick up a mantle that has been left behind.  We must learn to bravely pick up the mantle of what God calls us to do, not because we are confident in ourselves, but because we trust the God who is calling us.

As Elisha comes back to the Jordan River, he cries out, “Where is the God of Elijah?”  In the mouth of a foreign warlord, this would be seen as a mocking question.  But in Elisha’s mouth it is simply asking, “God are you still with us and in particular me?”  It is also important for the sons of the prophets who see Elisha coming back.  The question, and God’s response will highlight in their mind that God is with Elisha like He was with Elijah.  Did they ever get a show that day.  When Elisha strikes the river, it parts again (twice in one day).  They witness that the spirit of Elijah was on Elisha.  That spirit is the Holy Spirit of God.  May God help us to see what He is calling us to do.  In a way we are all prophets.  We have been given a message from God to share with all those around us who do not know it.  We must learn to trust Him to give us direction and empower us to do it.  Thus each day is a new day to rise up and ask, “God are you still with me?  Help me to walk with you today as long as I have time left on this earth.”

God's Judgement II audio