When you lose a mentor or role model

Elisha taken uo to heavebn in a chariot of fireRead 2 Kings 13 v 10 – 21

I want to share a bit of a mish-mash of lessons and bits of wisdom based on events surrounding the death of a great man called Elisha who is often confused with his mentor, Elijah.

Forget what you’ve heard about the Holy Spirit not coming until the day of Pentecost, there’s nothing that happened in Acts that didn’t happen in 2 Kings. it’s all there in the time of Elijah and Elisha – healings, miracles, the dead being raised, fire from heaven, God’s people acting with God’s authority to get his will done.

It’s easy to get Elijah and Elisha confused. It’s mainly Elisha I want to talk about but let me give you a quick resumee of Elijah to help you tell them apart.

Elijah:

  • performed 5 major miracles
  • called for the famine in Israel,
  • was fed by ravens
  • was cared for by a widow.
  • multiplied oil and flour
  • raised the widow’s son from the dead.
  • challenged the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel,
  • called down fire from heaven,
  • challenged King Ahab over Naboth’s vineyard
  • was taken up to heaven by chariots of fire (-“swing low sweet chariot”) 

Elijah was Elisha’s hero and mentor. All leaders have to eventually move on, move over or move up.  They move on because God’s called them to work somewhere else or they move over because they’ve let God down and had to forfeit their ministry. That happened to me back in 1994. Finally, they move up to glory when their time on earth is finished. People the world over are grieving for Billy Graham who has finally gone to be with his Lord. In the passage I’m going to be looking at in a moment, Elisha grieved for Elijah in a similar way.

What do you do when your spiritual mentor and leader moves on, moves over or moves up? Elisha’s response was to say to Elijah. “I want a double portion of the Spirit that’s on you. I want to do the things you’ve been doing for God and then go beyond it.” He stepped into Elijah’s shoes.

Who is your spiritual mentor and are you expecting to step into their shoes one day?

One of the things that inspires me about this period of Old Testament history is the way it shows us a pattern of discipleship.

Pattern of discipleship

Each prophet has disciples who are learning to be like them. Elijah has Elisha; Elisha has Gehazi. There are schools of prophets. In chapter 2 when Elijah’s about to be taken up to heaven, Elijah and Elisha go on this journey. They go from Gilgal to Bethel, from Bethel to Jericho and in each place there is a company of prophets who meet together.

In Chapter 6  there’s talk of a company of prophets who meet with Elisha and it’s obviously a growing company because they need to build new living quarters. The experience, insight and gifting of the prophets is being passed on, transferred, multiplied as each prophet disciples others.

It’s partly a spiritual transfer of power and anointing but it also involves the practical transfer of learnable skills. That’s something I passionately believe in and which we desperately need to see in the church today.

The church is infected with the celebrity culture of the age in which we live. We want great preachers and miracle workers who can put on a show. We want to basically be entertained by their performance in the things of God. Billy Graham carefully resisted this pressure all his life. Not many of the evangelical celebrities have the vision to pass on their anointing and skills and even less do the people of God have a hunger to step into the shoes of the men and women of God.

Elisha wanted to suck every bit of knowledge and training from Elijah that he could and he wanted all the spiritual anointing that Elijah had himself.

Is that the attitude you have to your church leaders? Maybe you have church leaders who want to hold on to their celebrity status and not to give away what God has given them. Beware of leaders like that. Look out for the leaders who want to pass on what they have and make you like them.

Elisha is a good example in his eagerness to grow and develop and in his relationship with Elijah.

God answered Elisha’s request. He did all the things Elijah did but better and he did more miracles than Elijah. Let's Look at a summary of Elisha’s life.

There are 5 stories of miracles Elijah did, 12 of things that Elisha did. During Elisha’s lifetime he miraculously purified contaminated water and stew. Boys who jeered at his bald head were attacked and eaten by bears.He didn’t just multiply a widow’s oil so that kept her alive, he got a widow to call in all the pots she could get from her neighbours and filled them all from her pot, then sold it all for a great profit/prophet (that’s a pun, sorry!)
Elisha also raised a lady’s son from death and multiplied food. He made someone’s axe head float to the surface after it had fallen in a river. It was Elisha who told Naaman to dip himself in the Jordan to be healed. He also challenged a number of political leaders with prophetic words from God.

Elisha did all that Elijah did and more, because he had a double portion of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. So if Elijah was caught up in a fiery chariot and taken up to heaven, what do you expect tto happen at the end of Elisha’s life?

Read 2 Kings 13 v 14 – 21

v 14  Elisha was suffering from the illness from which he died

v 20 Elisha died and was buried,

That can’t be right? After all he did? Him with the double portion of the  Spirit of God? This guy who’s healed people and raised the dead – sick himself? Dying? Dead? That can't be right, surely?

I think a lot of people must have found this was a huge challenge to their faith. Had God deserted Elisha? Was God deserting them? Had Elisha done something wrong? It didn’t add up. Elisha and sickness and death simply didn’t belong together.

This is my second challenge – it’s about how as Christians today, we relate to death.

In my lifetime I’ve witnessed the death of a number of men and women of God. I remember back in the early 1980s when David Watson died – an evangelist who had been at the forefront of Charismatic renewal and had an amazing healing ministry – he got cancer and died at a relatively young age. And lots of people were asking, "Why?"

During David Watson’s illness another man with a great healing ministry came over from America to pray for him - John Wimber. I was there in a minister’s conference at Holy Trinity Brompton when someone asked John Wimber the question “Why did David Watson die?” He said “I think we lost the battle for him.”  About 15 years later, John Wimber also died as a result of cancer in his 60s.

I had a situation once when I was a pastor where the whole church was fasting and praying for a man who was seriously ill. I was sitting in the church lounge with a group of people who were holding a day of prayer and fasting for this man’s healing and God told me what to say at his funeral.

You know we have to realise that healing is always a special exception to God’s normal plan. We can ask for it. Jesus told us to heal the sick and if we are obedient to him we need to have a go and if we do, God will see to it that it often works. Sometimes it is God’s plan to show his glory through healing someone. But we don’t know. If we were more in tune with God we probably could know – but then who’s going to say to someone “I think God’s telling me you’re not going to be healed?”

Healing, when it happens, is a sign to validate the message of the kingdom. It is there to make unbelievers sit up and take notice. It’s normal in an evangelistic context but it’s never the norm. There will always be times when it isn’t God’s will or we haven’t the spiritual power and faith or insight into the real causes to do it and people – lovely, wonderful, Christian people included, get sick and die. It even happened to Elisha!

So when your prayers and your ministry don’t appear to work, don’t get discouraged. One day most of us, possibly all of us, are going to die. Early or late, through illness or old age. But we have a hope that goes beyond death. We have a resurrection to look forward to, being with Jesus, a new heaven and a new earth. One day there is going to be a generation of Christians who won’t die but who will be caught up to be with the Lord when he comes. Some of us might be among them if the Lord comes in our lifetime. “We shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed,” Paul says in Thessalonians. Some of us will be caught up like Elijah, some will get sick and die like Elisha but we will all be changed to be like Jesus and we will all be part of his new heaven and new earth.

So, Elisha gets sick and dies. However, the sickness and the death aren’t the whole story. Significant things happen around the time of Elisha’s death. Either side of Elisha’s death are two interesting events.

Elisha’s in bed, feeling weak and not very well and He has a visit from the King of Israel, Jehoash. Jehoash and Elisha probably had history. The Bible says Jehoash “did evil in the eyes of the Lord” which probably means he had had some visits from Elisha over the years.

It’s a little bit difficult to work out what’s going on here, Is Jehoash is coming to see Elisha because he loves and honours him and wants to see him before he dies? Or Is Jehoash coming because he’s in trouble and he needs some divine help and he thinks Elisha may be able to swing it? He could be coming to pester Elisha on his death bed to ask the old man to give him some advice and guidance about the war with Aram which isn’t going in their favour. It could be any of those but I’m inclined to give Jehoash the benefit of the doubt and to say he was genuinely sad for the old man and possibly repentant about his own sins. But Jehoash says something strange to Elisha:

“My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel."

Those were the very words that Elisha had said himself years before when Elijah got snatched away by the horses and chariots at the end of his life. They also might link up with an incident back in chapter 6 where God opened the eyes of Elisha’s servant Gehazi to see horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

What was going on here? Was Jehoash hinting that Elisha wasn’t for this world much longer?

Was he just expecting that Elisha would get the fiery chariot treatment too and was trying to encourage him?

 Or was he saying.  “I’m standing with you where you stood with Elijah. I want a double portion of your double portion?”

Or is he saying "Look, Elisha old son, I’m in a bit of a fix and I could do with some fiery chariots and horsemen to add to my rather feeble army, otherwise we’re going to get slaughtered!”

I don’t know. But Elisha responds with his last prophetic act. He tells the King to fetch a bow and arrows. He tells him to shoot an arrow out of the window to the East (the direction of their enemies). Then he tells him to take the other arrows and to hit the ground with them

Jehoash is a bit nonplussed but he says, “OK” and strikes the ground with the arrows three times.

Elisha gets annoyed. “You ninny!” He says “stupid boy!” (the scribe missed that bit out!) “You should have smashed the arrows on the ground four or five times. Then you would have completely annihilated the Arameans. As it is you’ll only defeat them three times and then they’ll recover.  Jehoash had failed to understand that Elisha was carrying out a prophetic drama which was determining the outcome of the war with Aram. The ferocity with which Jehoash struck the arrows indicated the force with which he was going to beat the Aramaeans. Elisha was hoping for Jehoash to respond with some oomph and enthusiasm, instead he responds half heartedly.

There’s a bit of a warning there about half-heartedness. That’s my third challenge. When God tells you to do something, do you obey enthusiastically or half-heartedly? When you worship, is it with your whole heart or holding a bit back? Half-heartedness is one of the curses of today’s church. We’ve all got things we’d rather be doing.  It creeps up on us. Some of us are half-hearted because we’re not sure if we really believe, some because we’re not sure if we are willing to pay the price. Some maybe because we’ve been let down and don’t want to be disappointed again

But half-heartedness is never an acceptable or appropriate response to God. Whether we are working for God, worshipping him or whatever, let’s do it with oomph!

OK, my final challenge, or encouragement really. I want to encourage those of you who feel that there is something about you that will stop God using you. A lot of us have a real difficulty when we start to enter the realm of the Holy Spirit because we think “God can’t do anything great through me because…” It might be because I’m ill myself or disabled, or elderly or too young, or because I let him down big time, because I continually let him down. Hands up who has that problem sometimes? Your faith fails you in Christian service because of something negative that you believe about yourself.

Elisha is ill. He’s confined to his bed. He’s terminally ill. But he’s still prophesying. And the prophecy he makes is still fulfilled. God is still using him on his sick bed.  And then there is something even more amazing.

Elisha dies. He is buried in a tomb. Dead. His dead body lies there, rotting for some time. We don’t know how long. Weeks? Months? Years. The next word is Once, so we don’t know how much longer “once” was. But the country was plagued every spring by Moabite raiders who came in and pillaged and robbed and took off what they wanted.There’s a funeral and some men are about to bury a body when they see a band of Moabite raiders in the distance. They happen to be near to Elisha’s tomb. “Quick, someone says, “Let’s dump him in with Elisha and hot foot it out of here” They deposit the body on top of Elisha’s bones and start running as fast as they can. They’ve gone a few yards and there’s a voice behind them shouting “Hey, wait for me!” They look over their shoulders and there’s the dead man they’ve just buried running after them. I think they probably just ran a bit faster.

God used Elisha to raise the dead even when he was dead himself. You can’t get sicker than dead. You can’t get more disabled than dead.

God used Elisha on his sickbed. God used Elisha even when he was dead. God can use you, whoever you are and whatever’s going on in your life.

Don’t be discouraged and think God can’t use you because you are ill yourself or elderly or even sinful.  I’m not saying sin doesn’t matter. I’m just saying that none of it has anything to do with your worthiness or physical condition. It is all God’s grace.

Why did the corpse come to life when it touched Elisha’s dead body? 

Perhaps there was a residue of power in Elisha’s bones?

This was a man who’d walked with God all his life and had soaked in God’s presence. The anointing of God was so powerful, even on his bones, that it jump-started the other man to life?

Or maybe this was a sovereign act of God in which God directly acted to honour his servant.

Whatever, it means that you don’t even have to be alive to raise someone from the dead, you don’t have to be in perfect health to heal them.

How does this impact you? What’s God saying to you through Elisha's story?

 

Images accessed from www.flickr.com under a Creative Commons licence. Elijah and the chariot of fire © copyright aci XIII. Billy Graham © copyright Ninian Reed.