Elijah was a unique man for many reasons, but perhaps the biggest reason is that he is the only man in history who never died. God swept him up into heaven before Elijah ever saw death. So the question is . . . why? 2 Kings chapter 2 gives us a clue.
“CHARIOTS OF FIRE”
(2 Kings 2)
The biography of Elijah ends as dramatically as it began. The fiery prophet suddenly appeared before the corrupt court of Israel’s king and queen and declared, “Thus saith the Lord.”
With billowing hair, and a leather belt wrapped around a camel hair cloak - he was a startling figure - he appeared suddenly, and he created a national crisis with his challenge and his judgment. There could be no one like Elijah.
Jet the half brother of Jesus, our Lord, the Apostle James, writing about this unusual prophet declared, “Elijah was a man, just like us.”
While we are not called to bring fire from heaven, nor to lock the rain inside the clouds, we, like Elijah have the potential to live a life of purity, faith, and prayer.
For, as one man wrote, since Elijah was a person like us, we can be a prayer warrior like him.
Through our study of Elijah we have discovered some rather broad truths; let me capsulize them for you as we conclude the biography of an ordinary believer this morning.
Truth #1. Faith is willingess to obey God even when circumstances seem impossible.
Can you imagine the sheer nonsense of standing before Ahab and Jezebel and declaring the rain was going to stop.
Can you imagine the incredible challenge of living by a deserted brook, being fed from the beaks of birds, then being told to go live in a widow’s house only to discover that she is down to her last meal.
Who would ever buy into that kind of plan . . . it would take great faith.
Lewis Carrol writes, in his book, “Through the Looking Glass” about a conversation between Alice (of Alice in Wonderland) and the White Queen.
The queen asked Alice, “How old are you?”
“I’m 7 and a half exactly.”
The Queen responded, “You needn’t say “exactly,” I can believe it without that. Now, I will give you something to believe - I’m a hundred and one, five months and one day.
Alice protests , “I can’t believe that.”
“Can’t you?” The Queen inquires? Try again. Take a long breath and shut your eyes.”
Alice shouts, “There’s no use trying. One can’t believe impossible things.”
To which the queen responds, “I dare say, you haven’t had much practice believing impossible things. When I was your age, I always did it for a half an hour every day. Why sometimes I believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, the average person, and many among those professing Christ, that is the definition of faith - take a long breath, close your eyes to reality and believe something which you know is not true.
But, through the life of Elijah, we discover that faith is not closing your eyes and believing impossible things - faith is believing in God who does impossible things.
Faith is not an intellectual excercise you do before breakfast - faith is an active physical obedience . . . and when it’s all said and done, we have done nothing impossible - we have simply obeyed our God with whom nothing is impossible.
And Elijah goes down in history as a great man, not becuase he had great physical ability - he was a man just like us, not becuase he had incredible intellectual capacity - he had a mind just like ours; Elijah goes down in sacred history as a great leader simply becuase he obeyed His great God.
We have also been reminded that faith is not only willingness to obey God when it seems impossible, but the second truth is this:
Faith is the willingess to follow God even when faithfulness seems useless.
When following God doesn’t really seem to be paying off!
Imagine the testimony of Elijah - he followed God right into the courtroom of wicked Ahab and sleezy, slippery Jezebel - and he announced the truth - then God sends him into three years of personal suffering - at the end of his ministry, what does he have to show for it - three small schools with about 100 students - Baalism still rampant in the land - Jezebel still on the throne.
“Lord, since deciding to follow you, I have less friends, more pressure, a busier schedule, worse grades, angrier relatives, my car breaks down more often, I’ve developed allergies and my dog has started biting me.
You ever feel like the man who I read recently, praying rather tongue in cheek, “Lord if this is the way you you treat your friends, no wonder you don’t have more.”
You’ve been there haven’t you - following God, like Elijah, when your faithfulness seems useless.
Everything from our culture, to your corporate setting, to your unbelieving family remains unchanged - you wonder if you’re accomplishing anything at all.
We have walked with and studied Elijah’s life - we’ve seen him go through the deepest valleys of despair - following his most courageous acts of obedience.
We’ve discovered that living, breathing faith follows after God even when it may seem useless or impossible.
Now with that under our leather belts, let’s turn to the last chapter in Elijah’s biography - 2 Kings chapter 2:1. Many of my commentary friends, believe that these verse suggest a test of Elisha’s loyalty to the cause of Elijah . . .
A Test of Spiritual Endurance - let’s read what happens.
2:1 And it came about when the Lord was about to take up Elijah by a whirlwind to heaven, that Elijah went with Elisha to Gilgal. 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.” So they went down to Bethel. 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 - don’t talk to me about it - the implication is, it’s too painful a thought for me, or perhaps, don’t be worried about it - God is in control.”) 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.” So they came to Jericho. 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.” 6. Then Elijah said to him, “Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” And he said, “As the lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on.
Can you imagine what you would like to do if you knew this was your last week on earth.
I am convinced, not one of you would work overtime at the company - I really need to finish that project for my boss before I go. I doubt anybody here would wallpaper their dining room - no one here would spend one minute worrying which market to invest more stock in - we’d do exactly what Elijah did - he took a tour to visit those special places and those special people in his life . . . Elijah spent his last days in the company of his young prophets - those seminary students, who were preparing for the ministry in the school that Elijah had founded with his own blood sweat and tears.
And now he goes back to say:
“Farewell, dear friends . . . stay the course!”
He goes to remind them:
“Listen, when it’s bleak, and dismal and dark, God is faithful.”
Robert Jarboe wrote of a farmer who had a weather vane and marked at its base were the words, “God is faithful.” His pastor was visiting with him one afternoon and noticed the wording and was puzzled. He asked the farmer, “Do you mean that God’s faithflness depends on the direction the wind is blowing?” “Oh, no, the man replied, “I mean to say that regardless of which way the wind is blowing, God is faithful.”
Now verse7. Now fifty men of the sons of the prophets went and stood opposite them at a distance, while the two of them stood by the Jordan. 8. And Elijah took his mantle and folded it together and struck the waters, and they were divided here and there, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground. (imagine being among the fifty Bible college students - receiving, what I believe to be from there old founder and teacher, an illustration of God’s power - this was a lesson for them!) 6. Now it came about when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you befreo I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.”
Now you need to udnerstand exaclty what Elisha was asking for - while the Bible does record that Elisha performed twice the miracles and his ministry extended nearly twice the ministry of Elijah - Elisha isn’t asking for a magic wand that is twice as powerful as Elijah’s.
He isn’t asking for twice the prestige or twice as many miracles.
First of all, you notice that he asked for a “double portion”. Those Hebrew words come directly from the law that stated a man was to give his first born son a double portion of all that he has.
In other words, as a first born son in Israel’s times would carry on the family practice, the family properties, the family name - Elisha is asking, in effect, if he can carry on the work of God as Elijah’s heir.
And he recognized that in order to do that, what he needed was that first born son’s inheritance - not of property or business - but of the only thing Elijah had - his character - his spirit of faithfulness and courage.
Elisha is asking to inherit the character and ministry of Elijah.
“Elijah, I want to be used by God - I want to speak for God - I want to walk with God as you have done - I want to inherit that kind of life - can I, please?”
Now that’s a request only God can grant, becuase only God can bestow the office of prophet - 10. And he said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.”
Was this a trick? Oh no, but it was a wonderful test.
A Test of Spiritual Sight
Let’s read on - 11. Then is came about as they were going along and talking, that behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven. 12. And Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsement!” And he saw him no more.
Now in ust a few verses, the other prophets standing nearby will want to go and search for Elijah’s body. Why? Because, while they saw the whirlwind envelope Elijah and carry him upward - they didn’t see the fiery chariots and horses.
Elisha saw them - God allowed Elisha for a brief moment to see the invisible world that exists as much as this world exists. God answered his prayer and called him into the ministry as His leading prophet.
By the way, God is still looking for those who will pray Elisha’s prayer - “Oh God, my greatest desire is to honor you and glorify you and serve you!”
A.W.Tozer wrote, “God is looking for people in whose hands his glory is safe.
And Elisha never forgot that sight - we’ll study in detail that episode when Elisha asks God to remove the blinders from his fearful servants eyes -quickly, for now just turn to chapter 6:15. Now when the attendant of the man of God ha risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master? What shall we do?” 16. So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
Can you imagine?!
In the Book of Revelation, John records seeing 10,000 times 10,000 angels around the throne of God - that’s 100 million angels - just around the throne of our great God.
Now while, we may not see the angelic world, if our eyes were opened to it, we’d see this room filled with angels - listening intently to this declaration - some of them are probably saying to each other right now - did you hear that - that preacher actually believes we do exist!
Would you like to tell them you believe they exist as well - say amen!
Faith does not see less, it sees more. Faith does not take deep breathes and then close your eyes to reality, faith opens your eyes to sovereignty.
Faith acts, seeing as accomplished that which is based upon God’s command.
Many people, O.T. and N.T. alike are called to act without the benefit of seeing anything.
Take Noah for instance who acted, by faith in obedience to God, who would never see anything for 120 years, while he built the ark and preached coming judgment.
Somebody I was reading said, that one of the greatest acts of faith in all of history occured when Noah cut down the very first cedar tree. Can you imagine, in a eco-system that had not yet experienced rainfull, a conversation between Noah and his neighbor?
“What are you doing Noah”
“I’m building a boat”
“Because it’s going to rain”
“What’s rain, Noah?”
“I don’t know; as you know, we’ve never seen it before, but I believe it’s wet and boats float on top of it.”
Now I want to take some time to mention that the homegoing of this Old Testament prophet provides a powerful illustration for the rapture of the New Testament believer.
As you’ve studied Elijah’s life, maybe you, like me, have said, “I’d love to have experienced the moment when the first flock of ravens brought Elijah bread and meat; I would have thrilled to see Elijah emerge with that little boy who’d just come back to life, as Elijah placed him in his mother’s arms - wouldn’t it have been incredible to be on Mt. Carmel as Elijah lifted his hands toward heaven and then see the fireball streak downward explode the altar into flames.
And now - imagine, chariots of fire and prancing steeds blowing fire from their nostrils as Elijah stepped on.
Imagine being caught away and taken up to heaven without experiencing death - to have our bodies changed and glorified in flight - from mortal to immortal, from corrupt to incorruption.
Will there be some signal - some moment of preparation? The word in this chapter tells us that the fiery chariots and horses actually seperated Elijah and Elisha - then a whirlwind came and swept this fiery caravan to heaven.
The Apostle Paul tells us that we will also have a signal - take your Bibles and turn to what very well may be your experience - if you know Jesus Christ as your savior - you are awaiting the rapture - rapto is latin for the the greek wards translated, “caught away” that appear in I Thess. 4.
Why don’t you turn to that truth - it may be the last chapter of your biography!
I Thess. 4:15.
Abraham Lincoln once said that while he could find a whole company of men who would give their last drop of blood for the union, he was looking for people who give their first drop.
Lord, I’m willing to give you my last nickel - my last year of college, I’ll get squared away - I’ll give you the last years of my life - I’ll have time for you then - but not the first!
When a Christian leader or servant dies, the work of Christ continues.
One author put it this way - when a man or woman of God dies, nothing of God dies - When the work of a great person is finished, the beginning of another is started. When Elijah’s earthly wick snuffed out, Elisha’s wick burst into flame with God’s blessing and power.
Notice verse 13 - the power of God is still with us!
God never paints carbon copies, He only paints originals.
God never asked Elisha to mimmick the tone, accent and style of Elijah.
We could put it another way by saying - The methods God uses may change, but His message never changes.