When Jesus said, Follow me, he wasn't just calling us to step into a new life . . . He was calling us to forsake the old one. That's why it's called the "cost" of discipleship. It's not enough to walk on water . . . we have to burn the bridges.
“BARBECUING YOUR BRIDGES BEHIND YOU”
(I Kings 19:19-21; II Kings 2:1-6)
Grateful to be back - having spent time with some of the most wonderful missionaries in the world - Bill and Becky, Billy and Danielle - they send their greetings in return. Thank you for praying for Benjamin and me as we traveled and ministered in Kagoshima, Japan.
I also learned a little Japanese - Connechua - can you say that? That means “David Williams is no longer a member of this church”! Or it can mean, “Hello” - take your pick.
READ ARTICLE ON “SMALL TOWN”
I’m not sure a little town like that exists - but when you hear that description, if your like me, there’s something deep down that says, “That’d be a wonderful place to live; a place that seems close, so personal, and a lot slower.”
Our city and our flurried lifestyle is best portrayed by another article I read recently; a moving van was in front of a suburban home and the homeowners - husband and wife - were busy tidying up the front yard when a woman who lived a few doors down was walking by - she waved and said, “Welcome to our neighborhood.” After a few nervous moments the wife spoke up. “I don’t know quite how to say this, but we’ve been living here for almost two years. You see, we’re not moving in, we’re moving away.”
Or maybe you’ve come to the same conclusion that Harry Truman did about his town, Washington D.C. He once quipped to a reporter, “If you live in Washington, and you want a friend, get a dog.”
At the very time in Elijah’s life when he was convinced no one cared about him, and if you’d ask him, he’d probably say, a dog would not even be interested, God had a special plan . . . a plan that involved a friend.
I invite your attention back to the Books of the Kings and specifically, to the introduction of a man who will arrest the focus of Biblical attention for several chapters - his name is Elisha.
Jeremiah, the author of Kings first introduced Elisha to us in chapter 19 of I Kings.
While you’re turning, let me refresh your memory. As we studied the life of Elijah, chapter 19 was that deep, dark episode that revealed Elijah’s depression and despair - to the point that he prayed in v. 4, “It is enough, now oh Lord, take my life” “I’ve had enough; please take my life.”
We called our discussion of this chapter, “Throwing in the Towel” - because Elijah was doing just that - he was signaling defeat - Baal was just too big to beat.
You remember that God does nothing about Elijah’s request to die. God didn’t answer his prayer . . . aren’t you glad that God doesn’t answer all of our prayers?!
He didn’t respond with anything other than to provide a long rest for one tired old prophet; interrupted twice by special food delivered by an angel.
And when Elijah woke up from his well deserved rest, God instructed Elijah to do three things.
And one of those three things was to find a young man named Elisha and draft him into prophetic service. Look at the last part of verse 16b. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall annoint as prophet in your place.
Now that doesn’t mean Elijah was relieved of his duty; God wasn’t saying, “Listen Elijah, you were doing really great by the brook - you never complained and then at the widow’s house you stuck it out and on Mt. Carmel you were so courageous - but this “I’m too discouraged to go any further, I want to die” routine. . .well, that does it - “Gabriel, get a replacement down there pronto.”
Oh no - God has some wonderful plans for his discouraged servant - and, in the end, a chariot ride to paradise.
But what God does say to Elijah provides incredible insight, not only into the loving faithfulness of God, but the needy character of every child of God - He says, Elijah, go find an associate to help shoulder your burden - I’ve already picked him out for you.
Sooner or later, God’s design is for the children of God to encourage other children of God.
Elijah needed a friend. And the Word reminds us, Elijah, was a man just like us.
While you were singing earlier in the service, Pastor Scott and I were in a couple different children’s classrooms asking kids the question, “What is a friend like, and why do you need one?”
Here are some of your children’s answers:
READ CHILDREN’S DEFINITIONS!
Aren’t they great?!
An English publication offered a prize for the best definition of a friend - the winner said this; “A friend is one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.”
To Elijah - in chapter 19, the whole world had walked out. He had forgotten the promises of God; He’d forgotten the provision of God; he’d forgotten that other people and prophets were in the same position as he - and God’s solution to Elijah’s despair was a friend named Elisha.
Now while our normal inclination in a study like this is to identify with Elijah - since we would all love to have a friend like Elisha, I belief the thrust of the word is to encourage us to be Elisha - to be a friend to someone else.
So, I want you to meet Elijah’s friend this morning - he’s a farm boy from the Jordan valley. The Bible gives us some background information into Elisha’s rather wealthy background in verse 19. So Elijah departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was plowing with twelve pairs of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth.
Get the picture here - Elijah, acting as the crew chief in the field is plowing behind 11 servants. Each of them have a pair of oxen and they're working in eschelon formation as they move across the vast fields. This is like having 12 big tractors operating at the same time - this was no small operation.
Evidently, his father, Shaphat, had vast holdings in the area; as a wealthy man he was undoubtedly an influential leader among the townspeople of Abel Meholah.
Abel Mehola means, “meadow of dancing” and the name suggests the joy and happiness that was prevalent in the lives of the people who lived in this fertile farm region.
Now the last part of verse 19 tells us that Elijah, evidently, walked across the field to where Elisha was ploughing and the text reads . . . “Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him.”
Not a word was spoken between them, but Elisha immediately knew what it meant.
Everybody in Israel knew what it meant - that camel hair mantle represented all that Elijah stood for; it represented his position as prophet and teacher.
Sir John Malcolm wrote of eastern customs, “When a great teacher died, he bequeathed his cloak to the disciple he most esteemed . . . it’s transfer marked out his heir to the role.” Elijah was calling Elisha into the ministry.
Then, it seems, that Elijah just kept on walking across the field. As soon as Elisha recovered from what must have been obvious shock, he ran after him. v. 20. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?”
Elisha’s response is an immediate “Yes!” But first, he wanted to go home and tell his family goodbye. But don’t misunderstand, this was not a compromise - Matthew Henry wrote that Elisha went back to “take leave” not to “ask leave of them”.
And don’t misunderstand Elijah’s comment in the latter part of verse 20. “Go back again, for what have I done to you?”
It sounds rather cold to the English reader - it’s seems like Elijah was saying, “Go on back home - what did I do to you?!”
However, the words, “What have I done to you?” are a challenge from Elijah for Elisha to think about what just happened; to carefully consider the call. The words could be rendered to an english culture by saying, “Go back home again, and while you’re there, consider carefully what I have done to you.”
In other words, “Elisha, I’m asking you to leave your home, your position, your land, your parents and all the creature comforts that you know to follow me - and as you already know, I’m a wandering, crusty old prophet.” You’d better think about it some more.
So Elisha returned home and will you notice what he did - v. 21. So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah.
Now you’ve heard the phrase, burning your bridges behind you - well, Elisha ate his.
He had a neigborhood barbecue - got all the farm hands, their families, the children - this was dinner on the grounds like never before - can you imagine consuming two full grown oxen - and, I guess, they used splinters from the plow to pick their teeth when they’d finally eaten all they could hold.
Here’s a thought for you -
The call of God in Elisha’s life was the setting for celebration, not sorrow!
We’re not told anything about his father or mother’s reaction - can you imagine the typical response - “Elisha, are you crazy. . . .” this is the family farm - how can you just walk away. Besides, you’ve got it made here - you’re the heir to a fortune. And who’se this Elijah character - I understand he’s just a wanderer - where you gonna live - how are you going to provide for yourself? What kind of future is there in being a prophet!
C.T. Studd - Several generations ago he left his family fortune in England and set out for Africa as a missionary. When his father died he recieved his inheritance as the first born - in todays economy, more than a million . He immediately gave it all away - some to Hudson Taylor; some to George Mueller and his orphanges and some to a young evangelist named D.L. Moody. My friend, C.T. Studd is still reaping from that investment. I have a picture of him hanging in my office - there is a large portrait of his family home in England - a mansion of marble and stone with fields and servants quarters - then there is a small inset photograph of C.T. sitting outside his hut in Africa with chickens milling around.
You wouldn’t dare tell C.T. now - man did you blow it; what a waste!
Hey Mom, I think I might want to become a preacher - Son let me get you some aspirin, maybe you’ll get over it.
Hey Dad, I think God is calling me to become a missionary - “A what?” “A missionary” How often will I be able to see you . . . “Well, I believe it will be a couple of months every 3 or 4 years.”
Has it ever occurred to you that your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God will be in the form of your children. Your willingness and support in seeing your children sail away. . .that is no small sacrifice! And there isn’t one person in heaven regretting that sacrifice today!
By the way, does this mean that every Christian should give up all employment except that which directly relates to a ministry? Absolutely not. Each Christian has a unique calling and each calling has it’s own unique demands. What God does want, as one author wrote, is for every Christian to sacrifice to the point of fulfilling the demands of their particular contribution to the ministry, whether it’s teaching a Sunday school class or parking cars, or stuffing envelopes.
Evidently Elisha had the support of his family - there was no turning back either - and they joyfully took part in this celebration as Elisha, in his public acceptance of the call, barbecued his bridges behind him.
Now you need to understand that there is a N.T. parallel to Elijah’s call to follow Elijah. Only you’re not invited to wear a camel hair mantle, you’re invited to wear a yoke.
Would you turn to Matthew 11. Look at verse 29. Jesus Christ says, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.”
In this invitation there are at least 2 denials. If you want to walk with Christ as His disciple - ever learning, ever growing. . .
There is the denial of self-interest.
This metaphorical use of the word yoke was common in the day of Christ. A student during the first century was often referred to as being under the yoke of his teacher. One rabbinical writing urged his young students, “Put your neck under the yoke and let your soul receive instruction.”
The idea of wearing a yoke has powerful implications.
A yoke was made of wood, and it was hand carved to fit the neck and shoulders of each individual oxen. The more caring the master, the better the fit.
Well, your Master Discipler invites you to wear His yoke - He has hand crafted it for you - the curriculum for your growth and progress is different from anyone else’s in this auditorioum - different from any other Christian on earth.
And the wonderful thing is that your master is totally caring and perfectly wise in the way He’s constructed your yoke.
Secondly, to grow up in Christ, demands a denial of self-management.
Notice the text again, “Take My yoke (the one I designed) upon you (you wear it not Him), and learn about Me.
He doesn’t wear the harness, you do. He has the reigns in His hand and He turns you to the left or right; He puts you in the field of His choice, He works as long as He sees fit, and He fashions the work for you to accomplish. And then He stops you at His will - He’s the master, your the servant.
There are far too few disciples because there are far too few people who will give up the reigns.
Now notice the thrust of the disciples curriculum - Jesus said, “and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.”
The teacher is Christ and the subject matter is Christ.
Dr. Vandora of Sanford University said, “The greatest means of teaching is through modeling.” Isn’t it amazing that Jesus knew that without ever attending Sanford.
In other words, to everyone who will slip into that divinely crafted yoke, Jesus Christ says, “I will open my life up to you and you can take a good long look - we’ll walk together”
Jesus, the greater Elijah asks, “Will you follow me - will you wear My yoke?”
And O.T. Elijah asked, “Elisha will you follow me - will you become my disciple and wear my mantle? Elisha said, “Yes I will” and for the next ten years he walked by his side.
Well, what did Elisha become?
Now go back to I Kings 19 Look at the last phrase of verse 21. “Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.”
Hey Elisha - you’re the personal student of Israel’s great prophet - it must be exciting!
Hey, have you caused the oil and flour of some poor person to increase overnight?
Resurrections - have you raised anybody from the dead?
No I haven’t
How bout those ravens - they bringing you any food?
Um. . .I don’t suppose you’ve killed any prophets of Baal.
Well, what are you doing?
I’m serving my friend.
Ladies and gentlemen, the mark of a distinguished disciple is that he or she is willing to be known merely as his master's servant.
And the call of Elisha to servanthood, was the setting for a celebration.
To become a disciple/a learner of Jesus Christ - if you are willing to enter the classroom of specialized training, uniquely drafted for you then that discipleship will require several things:
First, Discipleship will require reshaping . . . are you pliable.
We so often forget that God has commanded us to change. To be conformed to the image of our discipler will require radical reshaping. Are we willing to change?
Can you imagine how the life of Elisha was revolutionized - for ten years he walked with Elijah - a man who had had servants serving him, now serves another.
Secondly, Discipleship will demand denial - are you willing.
Walking with Jesus Christ has lost it’s accompanying challenge to sacrifice our lives, our time, our talents.
What is it in your life that you are willing to give up in order to advance the cause of Jesus Christ?
Henry Dunant was a wealthy Swiss banker who was well on his way to increasing his millions. He traveled to France to meet with Napoleon about a business venture that would increase both of their fortunes. When he arrived, he was told the General was gone, preparing for a battle, taking place nearby. Henry Dunant ordered a coach to take him to the battlefield, so intent he was upon securing Napoleon’s agreement. When he crested a hill near the battlefield, he was just in time to see the calvary’s charge - he saw them collide, he heard the gunfire, the clash of swords, the screams of wounded men. He was incredibly moved by the carnage or war - in fact, he stayed for three weeks after the battle, helping bandage the wounded, care for the crippled and provide shelter for the families who were now without daddies. Henry Dunant never returned to Switzerland . . . he gave his entire fortune away to a new cause which he himself created. In 1901 he received the very first Nobel Peace Prize - attached to it a very handsome sum of money, which he promptly put back into the cause he had created - a cause known around the world as “The Red Cross.”
He was a committed disciple to his cause - and to his cross - so should we!
Finally, Discipleship will involve intimacy - are you available?
This is a most amazing thing. What Elisha became to Elijah over the years was nothing less than a dear friend.
Turn ahead to II Kings and chapter 2.
Elijah is going home to glory soon. The prophets know it, Elijah knows, Elisha knows it. So Elijah decides to go once more to three of the prophets schools that he founded and give his farewell challenge.
In a very moving scene, Elijah tries to leave Elisha - perhaps because he knew his time was short and he didn’t want to worry his friend.
2 Kings 2:2. And Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here please, for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” (skip to v. 4) And Elijah said to him, “Elisha, please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”
Elijah, I’m walking with you to the very end. Elisha had begun as a faithful servant, now he’s nothing less than a loyal friend.
One of the most touching phrases occurs twice in each of the first two locations where Elijah and Elisha traveled. Look at verse 3. Then the sons of the prophets who were at Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the Lord will take away your master from over you today?” And he said, “Yes, I know; be still.” Lit. “be quiet”. (skip to verse 5) And the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho approached Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the Lord will take away your master from over you today?” And he answered, “Yes, I know, be still; be quiet.”
Imagine that! Elisha’s a prophet in training - he’s recieved his theological instruction directly from Israel’s leading prophet - you would expect this mature heir to Elijah to respond, “Yes, Elijah will be taken away from me today - praise God from whom all blessings flow. . .Romans 8:28.”
NO! He said, “I know it, but don’t talk to me about it, please.”
Elisha and Elijah had become dear friends. And dear friends are impossible to replace.
Let me show you something else. Hold your finger here and turn to chapter 3 (still in 2 Kings).
This is well into the ministry of Elisha - Elijah is already in glory. In verse 11, King Jehoshophat is asking for a prophet of the Lord. A servant answers in verse 11b by saying, “Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who used to pour water on the hands of Elijah.”
Don’t miss this! Even though God would use Elisha to perform twice as many miracles as Elijah - even though it was under Elisha’s ministry that Jezebel and Baalism are stamped out - he is still known abroad as the man who served Elijah.
Perhaps Elijah was troubled with arthritic hands - Elisha would heat some water in the campfire kettle and then pour that warm water over his hands to soothe them.
Elisha’s first and greatest ministry was simply to become Elijah’s friend.
By the way, Elisha was doing more than pouring water - he was pouring encouragement over the heart of his aging friend.
2) That leads me to another thought about the call of Elisha - His call and ours may be to private obscurity, not public opportunity.
Has God called you to a background ministry of encouragement and service? You happen to have what I like to call, the gift of presence - you’re just there - an encouragement alongside someone who needs water poured over their hearts.
Like Jonathan was to David, like Barnabas was to Paul.
Maybe your greatest ministry on earth will be that one - and long after you’re gone, people who know you or of you will say, “Oh he was an encourager; oh how she lifted my troubled heart.”
Elijah had prayed to die - God sent him a friend. And the smell of prime rib, steak sandwiches soon filled the air - there was a feast to enjoy.
Now everyone of us in this auditorium are exactly the same in one regard - we all need a friend; and we all want a friend like Elisha - but the challenge of this story - is to become an Elisha - it is to become a friend.
Perhaps you could start your search by heating up some water and barbecuing some prime rib - and then go looking for someone who needs the soothing treatments of your friendship - it may be your grandest moment yet as you deny self-management and self-interest as a disciple who’se chosen to wear the Master’s yoke.
Thre will always be a shortage of friends - but there will never be a shortage of people who need a friend like Elisha.
PRAY - Make me a servant, humble and meek, Lord let me lift up those who are weak...and may the prayer of my heart always be, make me a servant...today.
I came across this little article that reads: You know you’re in a small town when:
The nearby airport runway has grass on it.
Every sport is played on dirt and the big rivalry is between teams sponsored by the hardware store and the Cafeteria.
You know you’re in a small town because you don’t use your turn signal because everyone already knows where you’re going.
Where the pickup trucks on main street outnumber the cars 3 to 1.
You dial a wrong number and talk for 30 minutes anyway.
You miss a Sunday at church and receive a get-well card by Wednesday.
You know you’re in a small town because when someone asks you how you’re doing, they’ll pull up a chair and listen to what you have to say.