Sermon 1716 2 Kings 2.1-15 October 11, 2020
They say everything is looking up—when you are flat on your back.
I think they are wrong.
I think they always are wrong.
Because they don’t know the power of God and his plans for his people.
A change of location.
A change in attitude.
If you haven’t guessed it yet, this is the story behind “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”--Elijah is Taken to Heaven. If you understand that song, you will “get” this sermon.
“When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 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. 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, ‘but do not speak of it (1-3).’”
These words set the stage for the entire story. Elijah will be trying to spend the day giving Elisha the slip. It is understandable. We have this picture of the entire family gathered around the deathbed of a loved one to send their soul off to heaven. But sometimes it seems the person doesn’t want everyone around when it is time to go. The family goes out into the hallway to talk to the doctor, and when they come back in, mom is in heaven. That’s the way it happened for my mother. I’ve seen it a lot over the years at the departure of your mothers and fathers, grandmas and grandpas, too. Don’t feel bad. It seems they wanted it that way. Elijah felt Elisha didn’t have to see it. It wasn’t necessary. I get that.
I also understand how Elisha is like a bull dog. He will not let Elijah go. Oh, I have to introduce Elisha. Right after the Lord had powerfully shown he was the one and only God by sending fire to consume the sacrifice Elijah had set up on Mount Carmel, Elijah was forced to run for his life. Queen Jezebel wanted to kill him for showing up her worthless worship of her worthless idol, Baal.
After all he had been through, Elijah wanted to give up. He wanted to die. So the Lord appeared to Elijah and gave him the command to anoint Elisha as his helper, his prophet-in-training, if you will. It worked. Elijah never held another pity party in his life. A lot of times when people are looking up to you, that’s even more reason to stand firm in the faith the Lord has given you. Elisha was a good and faithful assistant to Elijah for many years. But now his service to Elijah was coming to an end. The Lord was going to take Elijah to heaven.
It was one of the worst kept secrets in the world. The Holy Spirit revealed it to Elijah. The Holy Spirit revealed it to the “company of the prophets” who were at Bethel, and Jericho. They tried to break the news to Elisha, because everyone knew Elijah meant the world to Elisha. But the Holy Spirit had revealed it to Elisha, too! “I know, but do not speak of it.” As if ignoring a problem makes it go away.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Going up. A change in location.
Elijah is on the wrong side of the Jordan River. That’s another spiritual, “Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore.” He rowed the boat across the Jordan River. On the other side heaven is waiting. Now you know the story behind that song, too. The Jordan is flowing steady and strong. No time to go upstream or down to find the shallow fords.
“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 (8).”
Elijah splits the Jordan River by striking it with his outer cloak. He is trusting Jesus and Jesus works a miracle through Elijah to get him where he needs to be, on the east bank of the Jordan.
“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 (11).”
Swing low, sweet chariot. Of all the people in the world, Elijah was one of two who were taken alive to heaven. If you are curious, Enoch was the first, in the days before Noah’s flood. Don’t tell me there is no other world. There is a heaven. Elijah is in it. Elisha saw him go. He went from earth to heaven, the best change of locations. Like a man gets into a sports car and speeds away at the end of a movie, Elijah is taken to heaven in a fiery chariot.
Since Jesus rose from the dead, we don’t need any more people going to heaven alive. We know there is a heaven. We know there is life after death. “Because I live,” Jesus promises, “you also will live (John 14.19).” But God gave his Old Testament believers added proof for their faith to cling to, added food for their faith to feed on. Elijah went to heaven. Every believer will go to heaven. We are not going to be abandoned on this earth. There will be a change of location for us all.
I am not expecting a chariot of fire to take me. I am not advising you to look for one, either. But I do know from what the Bible says, we are going up! When our soul leaves our body, when we are away from the body, we will be with the Lord. Unlike a cross country trip to see Grandma in Wisconsin, it won’t take three days, either. Today, as soon as we die, our soul will be with Jesus in Paradise. “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise,” Jesus told the believing thief on the cross (Luke 23.43). The fiery chariot shows how quickly this takes place. Fiery chariots always get the express lanes.
Elijah was taken bodily to heaven. On the Last Day our bodies will catch up to our souls. When Jesus comes, the souls of all believers who have already died will come with him. With a mighty voice, with the trumpet call of God, Jesus will open the graves of all and reunite the souls with their bodies. Everyone will come to life. The believers will rise to live with Jesus forever in heaven. Not a fiery chariot, but something better--the Lord himself will call us and hosts of angels will escort us to our eternal home in heaven.
Oh, happy day. Oh, happy day, when the saints go marching in.
Going up. It means a change of attitude.
Remember Winnie the Pooh? There was Tigger bouncing around and Winnie the Pooh Bear always getting into sticky situations. There was wise Owl and Piglet, surprisingly the voice of common sense. And then there was Elisha, oh, I mean Eeyore, always gloomy, always glum. Every sunny day threatened sunburns. A field of flowers spelled allergies.
Elisha should be happy. Elisha should be rejoicing that his master, after long years of service to the Lord of life, is going to go to heaven without tasting death. Elisha should be happy that the Lord is giving him such a powerful tool to prove to people that not only is the Lord, he is God, but that there is life eternal with the Lord. So why waste your time and destroy your lives with idols?
But Elisha is not happy. When the good news repeatedly reaches him, from the school of the prophets at Bethel and then at Jericho, he responds, “Do not speak of it.” When he sees Elijah go into heaven, of all the people in the Bible who have seen such a glorious sight, he doesn’t bow down in worship, awed by the power and love of our God. Gloomy Elisha is looking back at what they’ve lost. “‘My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!’ And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart (12).”
Yes, Elijah was worth more than all the military might of Israel. He was worth more than the chariots. He was worth more than the horsemen. But all Elisha sees is sorrow and loss. He tears his clothes in the deepest sign of grief. It’s as if Elisha doesn’t believe in going up. He needs a change of attitude.
This life is all we’ve known. My little town, a comfy bed, that face I’ve grown accustomed to over the years. Sunrise, sunset. It is a beautiful world. It is a beautiful life the Lord has given us. I wouldn’t want to leave it too soon. I am not going to ruin the moment by haranguing you about taking health precautions. You are welcome. But part of this beautiful life is loss. We lose parents to death. Some of us have lost children to death. Some of us have even lost a child before they’ve been born. The wages of sin is death. I walk in danger all the way.
If our attitude is focused solely on that loss, if we have so compromised and bartered away our hopes to accommodate that loss, what good is living? What hope is there? You see a skull behind every beautiful face. You see deadly germs dancing on the silverware. How much more does the Lord have to do to change our attitude?
“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. ‘You have asked a difficult thing,’ Elijah said, ‘yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise not (9-10).’” When Elijah was taken up to heaven in the fiery chariot, it happened so quickly that the outer cloak he was wearing flew off him, like a kid’s baseball hat flies off during the roller coaster ride. “Elisha picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. ‘Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over. The company of the prophets form Jericho, who were watching, said, ‘The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him (13-15).”
Where now is the God of Elijah? He’s where he always has been—right by your side.
The Lord is our life. Everything we do here on earth is to get people to change their attitude and see the Lord wants us all to be going up. So teach your children well. It is not the memory of you which will keep them going. It will be the Lord who will bless and keep them in the Christian paths you have shown them. Learn your Bible lessons well. At any moment any of us could get the call to heaven. I had a robust reaction to my flu and pneumonia vaccinations. I slept for 15 hours and when I woke up I still felt old. I came to church to get my computer to finish this sermon at home. I saw the parking lot full of the teachers’ cars from school. I saw the building, with all its leaks and cracks. And I thought, “Huh, it still runs without me.” Yup, this place can run without you, Eeyore. 1799 Wigwam Parkway, Green Valley Evangelical Lutheran Church, isn’t built around me or you, either. It is built around the message that changes our attitude. We are going up because of our ever-present Lord and Savior. He brought us to faith. He calls us to worship. He leads us into the work he has in store for us. He will always raise up believers and pass the cloak of Elijah on to them with the same courageous spirit.
Now, this doesn’t mean I am announcing my retirement or scheduling my funeral. That comes next year when the pharmacist says I have to get the pneumonia vaccine booster because of my underlying health risks (private insurance). I think they should at least level with us and say they are trying to save Social Security by killing off everybody over 65 with these more powerful than average vaccinations!
This does mean that I am going to have a change of attitude and embrace every moment as if it were my last. I am going to preach every sermon as if it is the last one somebody who, maybe they’ve never believed in Jesus, maybe they are wavering in their faith, I am going to preach every sermon as if this is the last sermon they are going to hear. I am going to use every hour I have to show the Lord’s love and kindness, not so people ooh and aaah and say what a wonderful person I was at my funeral, “Pieper! Pieper! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” I am going to show the Lord’s love and kindness at every opportunity so I can give him thanks and so people see what a wonderful Lord we all have.
Elijah’s cloak is laying at your feet. Will you pick it up?
A change of location.
A change in attitude.
Let them say what they want. They don’t know a thing about what is in your heart and mine. They don’t know a thing about what our Lord does and will do for his people. We are going up. It shows every day of our life.