Sermon on 2 Kings 2:1-12
Text: When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel.”
But Elisha said, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.
3 The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?”
“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”
4 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the LORD has sent me to Jericho.”
And he replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho.
5 The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?”
“Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.”
6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.”
And he replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.
7 Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. 8 Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.
10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours — otherwise, it will not.”
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.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday. It is a Sunday that we observe every year. In our Gospel lessons, we are taken to the top of a mountain and have the privilege to see Jesus. What makes this observation of Jesus so special is that we get to see Jesus in all of his glory. We read in Mark’s account, “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” (Mark 9:3) We, also, get to hear the Father’s endorsement of Jesus, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7) Two Old Testament heroes of faith appeared on the mountain, talking with Jesus about what was going to happen when he reached Jerusalem. One of them was Moses, the one through whom God had given his law to the people of Israel. The other person was Elijah. This morning, we are going to turn our attention to Elijah, specifically, the end of his life. In doing so, we are going to talk about THE GLORY OF A GODLY LIFE. 1. It Is Glorious When It Is Spent Serving The Lord. 2. It Is Glorious When It Ends In Eternal Life.
What makes a life glorious? If you were to ask most people, they might say that a glorious life is one where you are elevated above others. You are recognized as being better than others. You are named the Most Valuable Player in the Super Bowl. You win a Grammy, an Emmy, or an Oscar, which says that you are the best actor or singer, at least for that year. The word looks at a glorious life as being one where you are recognized to be the best.
Let’s look at it from another angle. What would you like to be said about yourself in your obituary? What from your life would you like to be highlighted? Would you like to have written there that you were a loving spouse, parent, or child? Would you like to have listed all of the various organizations that you were a part of? Are there any accomplishments that you would like the people who are reading your obituary to know about? What would you like to be said about you when you were gone?
In essence, that is what is happening in the last verse of our text. God had revealed to Elijah and Elisha that Elijah’s time on this earth was coming to an end. After they crossed the Jordan River, “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.” (Verse 11) When Elisha saw this, he cried out, “My father! My father!” (Verse 12) Elisha recognized that Elijah had been his spiritual father. After Elijah had anointed Elisha to be his successor, Elisha had spent his days in Elijah’s presence. He was learning from Elijah.
We, also, note that Elisha said, “The chariots and horsemen of Israel.” (Verse 12) Elisha was not talking about the vehicle in which Elijah was riding. He didn’t say “The chariot and horses of Israel.” Rather, he said “The chariots and horsemen of Israel.” In other words, Elisha was referring to the fact that Elijah had been a defender of Israel against many attacks. However, these attacks had not come from the Assyrians, Ammonites, or Philistines, who were all political enemies of Israel. Rather, these attacks had come from inside Israel, especially from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. They had introduced Baal worship into the land of Israel, which included human sacrifices. Four hundred women were hired as “prophetesses” who served in Ashtoreth’s temple, which was legalized prostitution. The Bible notes of King Ahab, “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him.” (1 Kings 16:30) Israel was rotting from within, destroying itself spiritually and morally. Elijah was called by the Lord to be a witness to the people of Israel.
From the outside, it certainly didn’t look as though Elijah’s life was all that glorious. He was hated by the king and queen. He was accused as one who brought trouble on the land. There were many times when he was, literally, on the run for his life. He had to hide out in the desert or in foreign cities. No, it certainly would not appear that his life of serving the Lord glorious. However, looks can be deceiving. Elijah was not called to proclaim a message that would make him popular. He was called to be a defender of the truths of God’s Word. He was called to be salt and light for Israel. In that respect, he was very successful. He had the opportunity to serve the Lord in this way. Though it might not appear to the worldly eye as such, Elijah’s life was glorious in his service to the Lord.
You and I have also been called into service to the Lord, as well. We are called to be salt and light in the world in which we live. There is certainly call for it. When you read about the conditions in Elijah’s day, you might shudder. However, is the world in which we are living really any different? In Elijah’s day, human life was sacrificed to Baal. In our day, human life is often considered as cheap and expendable. In Elijah’s day, there was temple prostitution. Look at the way that the world around us accentuates the human body. Marriage is considered either as an antiquated notion or something that is disposable. There are constant assaults on basic morality all around us. As we live for the Lord, we are called upon to be defenders of what he tells us in his Word. This isn’t just one person’s way of looking at things. This is what God wants. When we stand up for the truths of God’s Word, we do not do so with a better than thou attitude. We do so out of love, first of all, for God and his Word. Secondly, we serve the Lord in this way out of love for those around us. We want them to see what they are doing is wrong so that they will turn from it to a lifetime of serving the Lord. When we act as the defenders of God’s truth, most of the time, it will not seem to be all that glorious. You will meet with resistance. You will have people asking you who you think you are to impose this way of thinking on them. You will have people who become angry with you. That is to be expected. However, we do not define glorious or successful as the world does. Our lives as successful and, therefore, glorious, when we are faithful in our service to the Lord.
Remember that what Elisha spoke as, in essence, the eulogy at Elijah’s passing. Remember the scene as it is described in our text: “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.” (Verse 11) Elisha saw what a person is not ordinarily permitted to see – the glorious way in which the angels of heaven gather saints to eternal glory. However, Elijah did not pass away. He is one of two people that did not have to die before he entered heaven. The other one was a man by the name of Enoch. (Genesis 5:24) This brings up the question as to why Elijah didn’t have to die before he entered into heaven. Every believer before him and since his time have all died before they entered heaven. Why didn’t Elijah have to die? It is true that he was a great prophet before the Lord. However, he wasn’t sinless. When you read his account in the Bible, you can see a person who had faults. He sinned. So, why didn’t he die? There is only one answer: pure, undeserved grace. In his undeserved love for Elijah, God chose to bring him into the glories of heaven.
It is for this same reason that you and I will, one day, enter into the glories of heaven. On our own, there is no reason why God should allow us into heaven. We are born sinful, outside of the family of God. We, also, know that we continue to sin every day. We are not always the light of the world that God wants us to be. Our sinful nature likes to hide in the dark places. If left on our own, we would not have heaven to look forward to. Rather, we would spend our eternity apart from God in hell. However, God showed his grace to us in the fact that he sent his Son to be our Savior. Jesus loved us so much that he became a human being to live a perfect life for us. Later this week, we will enter into the season of Lent. During this time of year, we see the grace of God in action so clearly as Jesus stepped into our place and was punished for all of the sins that we have ever committed. He paid the debt that we owed because he loved us. By his resurrection on Easter morning, he showed us that our sins are forgiven and that the way to heaven has been opened to us.
For some, maybe all, of us, we will enter heaven through the sleep of death. We will close our eyes and await the time when Jesus will come back in all of his glory to awaken us. However, it may be that we are still alive when Jesus comes back on the Last Day. If that is the case, we will not die. Rather, our bodies will be glorified and we will be taken to heaven. Whatever the case may be, whether we are alive or dead when Jesus returns, all believers will spend the rest of eternity in the glories of heaven that Jesus has won for us. Then, we will live a glorious life for all eternity with all the other believers in the presence of our gracious God.
The world places a great deal of importance on glory and fame. However, all of their glory and fame is only fleeting. For example, the Roman Empire was a world power at one time, lasting approximately 500 years. However, can you name three Caesars? Every year Academy Awards are given out. Can you name the person who won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1995? (In case you couldn’t remember, it was Tom Hanks for “Forrest Gump.) That is the problem with earthly glory. It doesn’t last that long. The glory of a godly life is quite different. It isn’t something that many will herald. You probably won’t get your name on the front page for doing it. That’s OK. We don’t do it for earthly acclaim. We do so out of love for what Christ has done for us. The other difference is that this glory will not last for just a moment. The glory that we will experience will last for all eternity. That is the glory of a godly life. Amen.
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