Sunday, 30 June 2013

Who speaks for God?

2 Kings 2:1-14


Elijah is one of the greats in the bible.

God called him to be his representative in a dark world.

It was hard. He did not have an easy message to speak. It did not make him popular.

He challenged the people to stop wavering between following God and following Baal, a non-existent pagan god; to stop choosing between this god now and that god then.
He confronted the whole religious establishment of the time because they misrepresented God.
He even challenged King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. He declared God's judgement on them because they had introduced pagan worship into the life of Isael.

King Ahab describes him as 'my enemy', and as 'the troubler of Israel'.

And God confirmed his words in the way that he answered Elijah's prayers: he caused a drought for 3 years; he brought down fire from heaven; he raised a widow's son from the dead; he made the waters part – just like Moses or Joshua.

Today we read how the mantle of Elijah literally falls on Elisha.

Let's see how it is worked out in the passage:

Elijah goes to Bethel (v2) and then to Jericho (v4) and then to the river Jordan (v7). He takes his cloak, strikes the water and the waters part (v8). Elijah does things like that. He crosses the Jordan, is separated from Elisha by the horses and chariots of fire and is taken away in a whirlwind (v11). As he ascends, his cloak falls to the ground (v13). Elisha picks up the cloak, and then does the journey in reverse. He goes back to the river Jordan, strikes the water and the waters part (v14). He returns to Jericho (v18) and then to Bethel (v23).

And the key verse for this chapter is verse 15, when the prophets meet Elisha by the river Jordan and say, 'The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha'.

We are being shown here that Elisha is the new Elijah: he is now the one who is called to represent God and to speak for God.

God has prepared him for this work

1. He knows that God has called him to this work.

God called him - through Elijah - to be a prophet (1 Kings 19:16).

A prophet is one who sees things as God sees them, who understands reality as God understands it, and who therefore can speak for God.

Do you notice that Elijah doesn't actually go up to heaven in the chariots of fire? The chariots of fire separate him from Elisha, and then he goes up to heaven in the whirlwind (v11).

But in v12, we are told three simple words, 'Elisha sees it'.
It is probable that if others had been there they would not have seen the chariots or horses of fire.

In 2 Kings 6:15-17, Elisha and his servant are in a city which is besieged. The servant despairs. And so Elisha prays and says, 'O Lord please open his eyes that he may see'. And God answers Elisha's prayer and the servant sees, 'and behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all round Elisha'.

So God has called Elisha to do the work of a prophet, and God has given him eyes to see.

2. God prepares him for this work by calling him to be a servant, an apprentice, to Elijah.

In 2 Kings 3:11, Elisha is described 'as the one who washed Elijah's hands'.

Before he can exercise his ministry he needs to learn to be obedient.

It is very important that if you are going to be used by God for great things, that you have learnt not simply to do the work of a servant - but to have the heart of a servant.

And in being Elijah's servant he was trained by Elijah - not in the sense that Elijah sat down with him and taught him, but in the sense that he lived with Elijah. He saw Elijah in action. He saw what Elijah was like when he got up in the morning, when he was depressed, when he was stressed, when he was decisive. He saw Elijah's outer life and he was able to glimpse Elijah's inner life.

He learned by watching Elijah. We see that happening in our passage. When Elijah has gone, and Elisha comes to the water, we see the student who has learned from his teacher. He does exactly what he has seen Elijah do a few minutes earlier.

3. God prepares Elisha for this great work by giving him a deep hunger for the spirit of God.

Elisha knows that God is going to take Elijah.
The prophets in Bethel tell him it will happen (v3).
The prophets in Jericho tell him it will happen (v5).

And on three different occasions Elijah asks Elisha to stay behind. And on three separate occasions, Elisha refuses

He refuses, I think, because he loves him. He loves him as a son loves a father. When Elijah is taken, he cries, 'my father, my father' (v12). And he is going to stay by Elijah to the very end.
But he refuses, and this is more important, because Elisha knows that he needs the spirit of Elijah which is the presence of God.
So when Elijah asks him, 'What do you want?', he says, 'Give me a double portion of your spirit?' (He is not being greedy. It was the way of saying, 'make me your heir'. It was the heir who received the double portion at the feast to celebrate the inheritance).
Elisha knows he cannot do anything without the spirit of Elijah, without the God of Elijah. So when he comes to the water and strikes the water, he cries out, 'Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?'

And as the waters part, and he crosses the waters, so the prophets recognise that, 'The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha'.

Elisha is the one who now represents, speaks for, God

Who speaks for God today?

Popes, archbishops, bishops, church councils, vicars?

The message of the New Testament is that each person who is a follower of Jesus Christ can speak for God.

Just as Elijah went up in the whirlwind, so Jesus Christ went up when he ascended. Just as Elijah's cloak fell to the ground, so Jesus said that if he went to his Father in heaven, he would send his Spirit to come on all who believe in him.

And so as Christians

1. You need to know that you have been called to represent God, to speak for God

We have been called to be, in the words of Peter, 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light' (1 Peter 2:9).
When you became a Christian, God opened your eyes. You had been spiritually blind. You now can begin to spiritually see.

People will often say this: Now that I am a Christian, the bible comes alive for me; I see things in a completely different way.

We live in a world which is blind.

When we lived in St Petersburg we had the privilege of going regularly into the Hermitage and seeing some remarkable paintings. People came from all over the world to look at them. They were amazed at the shapes, the use of colour, the proportions and the beauty of the paintings. And they praised the painters: da Vinci, Rembrandt, van Gogh and Picasso.
And then they came out and walked along the bank of the frozen river Neva, and they looked at the little figures walking across the river on the ice paths, and at the sun reflecting off the ice. It was a haunting evocative picture.

But they were blind.

We stand amazed in front of human masterpieces, but we are blind to the divine masterpiece that is in front of our eyes every day of every year. Look at the smallest flower; look at the night sky, look at your neighbour. Each person here is far more amazing, far more incredible than any Turner, Renoir or Matisse.

As followers of Jesus, God has begun to open our eyes so that we can begin to glimpse this world with the eyes of God

- so that we see this world as his world
- so that we can see ourselves and others with the eyes of God: created and precious to him, beloved by him;
- so that we can see our sin with the eyes of God: not just as something that messes us up and messes other people up, but as an act of rebellion against God and as something that eternally separates us from God;
- so that we see Jesus Christ with the eyes of God: not simply as a Palestinian peasant who went around doing good and was unjustly crucified, but as his eternal Son who loved us and died for our sins;
- so that we can begin to see events and circumstances in the light of the promises of God.

We are called to be people who see 'chariots and horses of fire'. That same vision is given to the prophet Ezekiel. In chapter 1, he sees the vision of one who rides a chariot of fire.

And having seen, we are called to speak, to declare reality as it really is.

Some people may see into the future.
Some people may see into the hearts of men and women.
That may be part of prophecy but it is not the heart of prophecy.

Prophets are people whose mind has been taught and shaped by the bible, who see reality with the eyes of God - and who then speak.

2. If we are to be representatives of God, then we need our Elijah’s

Elisha needed his Elijah

Can I suggest to those of you who are younger in the faith that you need to find an Elijah - not necessarily someone to serve, but someone to learn from. Find an Elijah who will commit to spending time with you, to read the bible together with you, to help you see reality from God's perspective, to pray for you. Seek out a genuine god-father or god-mother.

And can I suggest to those of you who are older in the faith that you should be seeking your Elisha. You’ve been round the block quite a few times. You’ve sat under a bible teaching ministry for many years. You should be someone who not only feeds on the word of God, but someone who feeds others with the word of God. Maybe you need to pray that you have the courage to go to someone and say, ‘Would you like to meet so that we can look together at the bible and pray together?’

3. If we are to be representatives of God then, like Elijah, we need to hunger after the Spirit of God, and hunger for more of God.

Elisha knew that he could do nothing, let alone part the water, without the Spirit of God.

Without God we are blind and empty and powerless

We cannot understand a bible passage in the right way without the Holy Spirit
We cannot change a single sinful habit in our life without the Holy Spirit
We cannot remain faithful in the face of ridicule or opposition or temptation or suffering without the Holy Spirit
We certainly cannot convert a single person without the Holy Spirit

Elijah knew that he could not promise Elisha the gift of the Spirit. It was not his to give. Only God can give His Spirit. All he can say is that if Elisha sees him being taken from him, then it will be as he requests.

But with Jesus it is different. Jesus has promised that because he goes to the Father he will give us his Spirit. He has promised that if we come to him and ask him, he will give us his Spirit.

Brothers and sisters, we are called to an astonishing task and an awesome privilege.

Walking hand in hand with each other, like Elijah and Elisha, and walking in the power of the Spirit, you are called to be a light of God in this dark world.

You are called to be a representative of the living God in this blind world.

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