Suppose you discovered a fountain of youth and it had the power to make you youthful and beautiful forever! What would you do? Would you give the water to your friends? Would you share it with the needy and sick? Or would you hide it and keep its power only for yourself? The Gospel is a fountain of living water . . . are we sharing it with others?
“A Beggars Paradise”
(II Kings 6:24-7:20)
Luigi Tarisio was found dead one morning - his run down home was nearly barren of furniture - he evidently had little time or money for creature comforts. But as relatives searched through his home, they eventually came to his attic where they discovered 246 exquisite violins. Stuffed in drawers, boxes; some wrapped in blankets, his obsession with violins was startling. Found in the bottom drawer of a dusty cabinet was a Stradivarius. Luigi Tarisio had robbed the world of much wonderful music all the time he treasured his instruments and kept them hidden away. Can you imagine? Instruments designed for beautiful music had purposefully been kept silent.
In William Meyer’s book, The Image Makers, he tells the stories behind many of the large budget advertising wars in which modern giant corporations endeavor to communicate the message of their product with greater zeal and effectiveness than that of their competitors: Back in the 70’s Pepsi was going to come out with one of its biggest “warm-fuzzy, tear-jerker” campaigns--the “Marry Me, Sue” spot. In this 30-second soap opera, folks from a prairie two are out under the broiling midday sun watching a skywriting show. Among the spectators is a cowboy and a young woman. As the camera pans the crowd (drinking Pepsi), we notice that these two are exchanging shy glances at one another. There’s definitely something going on between them. The viewer is then shown some of the skywriting and more shots of the perspiring audience drinking Pepsi. Finally, the camera scans the heavens where the skywriter’s ultimate message--”Marry Me, Sue”--takes form. Sue, with tears welling up in her eyes, nods her head. The cowboy reaches over and hugs her. The theme music, which has been playing throughout
this half-minute, suddenly builds to a crescendo. But meanwhile, over at Coca Cola, they had a six-month’s advance warning of this impending campaign for Pepsi. They told their ad agency they had to come up with an equally mushy and moving commercial to beat Pepsi to the punch, or lose a $750 million world-wide account. Coke’s agency worked around the clock for several weeks and came up with the famous Mean Joe Greene commercial where he is offered a coke by a little kid and he downs it all in one long gulp. Coke and a little kid have brought Mean Joe Greene back to the land of the living--and then Joe tosses the kid his jersey. The cola wars continue.
By the early 80’s Pepsi was spending nearly $300 million on promoting the “Now” theme. Coca Cola was shoveling out close to $400 million to tell us that “Coke Is It.” Don’t tell Coke or Pepsi that communication isn’t important. Together they spend nearly 1 billion dollars a year telling you there really is a difference.
The question is, what are you and I doing to communicate to our generation that Jesus Christ really makes a difference.
Are we like some silent Stradivarious hidden away? While a world spends billions communicating their message about flavored water, do we sit on our hands and collect dust?
That question is put into living drama in the Book of II Kings. I want to invite you back to our study in this Book and specifically to chapter 6 and verse 24.
The prophet Jeremiah, under Divine influence and inspiration utilizes a style of writing that allows us to see behind the curtain - this story is told in a behind the scenes way. While the center stage is occupied with the scenes of war, we’re taken back stage and shown the horror of cannabalism by the starving Israelites; then we’re taken behind the scenes to the home of Elisha as he handles an attempt on his life; finally, we’re taken off stage and away from the primary action - we’re wisked away, outside the city walls to secretly observe four lepers who make an incredible discovery.
Let’s pick up the narrative at verse 24. Now it came about after this, that Ben-hadad king of Aram gathered all his army and went up and besieged Samaria.
By the way, the apparant contradiction between the last part of verse 23 and verse 24 can be answered best by taking both verses at face value. Verse 23 says that the raiding bands did not pillage Israel again. Some time elapses - we don’t know if it’s months of a few years, but verse 24 tells us that Ben-Hadad launches, not a raiding party, but an all out war - with his entire army, he now surrounds the capital city of the Northern Kingdom and cuts off their food and water supply.
Notice the result - 25. And there was a great famine in Samaria; and behold, they besieged it, until a donkey’s head was sold for 80 shekels of silver, and fourth of a kab (two quarts) of dove’s dung for 5 shekels of silver.
This is gross! I’ll add no commentary to that - but the worst and saddest is yet to come; v. 26. And as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall a woman cried out to him, sying, “Help, my lord, O King!” 27. And he said, “If the Lord does not help you, from where shall I help you? Form the threshing floor, or from the wine press?” (In other words, I can’t do anything for you -and it seems the Lord isn’t either!” 28. And the king said to her, “What is the matter with you?” And she answered, “This woman said to me, Give your son that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.” 29. So we boiled my son and ate him; and I said to her on the next day, “Give your son, that we may eat him; but she has hidden her son.”
You read this and ask, “Is it possible for someone to ever descend to such a revolting deed?” It was here!
Frankly, the idolatrous nations and these idoltrous Jews developed a rather low view of children - children were often sacrificed by the Baalites to satisfy the false gods.
30. And it came about when the king heard the words of the woman, that he tore his clothes--now he was passing by on the wall--and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body.
Stop for a moment - can you see the implication of this king - he’s wearing the standard garb for spiritual confession and mourning - but it’s a secret - this passage is tied together with the thought of keeping the truth a secret - the lepers will keep it a secret - and here the King is unwilling to go public with his confession.
The truth is, half-hearted confession is not confession. His heart was not repentant - and it becomes very obvious in verse 31. Then he said, “May God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on him today.” Let’s kill the prophet of God.
This introduces us to scene #2 - we’re taken into the home of Elisha who knows that the executioner is on the way - for the sake of time - let me riefly say that the King is setting out to execute his best friend - whom but God’s prophet could lead to the way to safety.
This brings to mind the execution of Jesus Christ - by means of crucifixion. He was the friend of sinners - He loved the world - Jerusalem was the city He wept over in compassion yet it would be Jerusalem that would shout, “Crucify Him.”
And so here, rather than admit their need for a word from God, they now set out to kill the prophet of God.
Chapter 7 verse 1. The Elisha said, “Listen to the word of the Lord; thus says the Lord, ‘Tomorrow about this time a measure of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.’” 2. And the royal officer on whose hand the king was leaning answered the man of God and said, “Behold, if the Lord should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” Then he said, “Behold you shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.”
Stop here a moment.
This royal officer was represents the voice of rational, logical skepticism. The royal officer, at this moment made great sense - Elisha made no sense.
“Why, if God opened the windows of heaven, surely there still couldn’t be plenty of flour and barley to eat.”
It just can’t be done!
The church is most often paralyzed by fear and unbelief - the motto of a dying church has always been, “We’ve never done it that way before; or it’s counterpart, “We've always done it this way.”
I have to tell you how my mind and heart have been stretched - two weekends ago we sponsored a 10k run. You should’ve seen it - banners outside; an official time clock mounted on top of a van - more than 100 runners from local running clubs came - our dedicated team who set the run up had garnered everything from police cars to stop traffic to corporate sponsors for food - tables lined the front parking lot, loaded down with big containers of gourmet coffee - boxes of cheesburgers - fresh fruit - bagels. I did notice they failed to get Krispy Kreme to be a sponsor - hopefully that’ll be corrected next year. The idea was to introduce them to Colonial - all I did was pray before the race and talk briefly after the run about how Colonial wants to help them run the race of life. You should have seen the people in the cars when the policeman would stop them to let a runner cross into our parking lot and head for the finish line. It was great - we were stopping traffic all the way back to the intersection - it was better than Sunday morning. I couldn’t help but think, some of those drivers were thinking, “Well, what’s that church up to now.” So many of the runners came up to me afterward and said, “Man, you guys put on a first class run - great traffic control - well organized - we’re coming back; we’re going to visit your church.
What an incredible way to communicate the truth.
This officer said, “Hey, if God wanted to save us - he’d use conventional methods - bottom line - even God can’t save us now!”
And Elisha prophesied that this unbeliever would see God’s deliverance, but not enjoy it.
The final scene takes us outside the city walls, away from the panic of the city - verse 3 introduces us to four lepers. As usual, lepers were excluded from life within the city, and so, in this day, they often made little huts just outside the city walls.
Rabbi’s of old believed and taught that these four lepers were none other than Gehazi, Elisha’s former servant who was stricken with leprosy and Gehazi’s sons.
Now, let’s just read the narrative - it will all be self-explanatory - climb into this scene and follow them closely:
3. Now there were four leprous men at the entrance of the gate; and they said to one another, “Why do we sit here until we die? 4. If we say, ‘We will enter the city,’ then the famine is in the city and we shall die there; and if we sit here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us go over to the camp of the Arameans. If they spare us, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die.” 5. And they arose at twilight to go to the camp of the Arameans; when they came to the outskirts of the camp of the Arameans, behold, there was no one there. For the Lord had caused the army of the Arameans to hear a sound of chariots and a sound of horses, even the sound of a great army, so thay they said to one another, “Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us.” 7. Therefore they arose and fled in the twilight, and left their tents and their horses and their donkeys, even the camp just as it was, and fled for their life. 8. When these lepers came to the outskirts of the camp, they entered one tent and ate and drank, and carried from there silver and gold and clothes, and went and hid them; and they returned and entered another tent and carried from there also, and went and hid them.
You need to understand that their camp was not like a camp prepared by our army in desert storm.
These ancient camps were moving cities. Herodotus wrote that when the Greeks conquered Mardonius, they plundered his armies camp. In it was found, “many tents richly adorned with furniture of gold and silver, many couches covered with plates of gold and many golden bowls, goblets, and other drinking vessels. On the carriages were bags containing gold and silver kettles; and the bodies of the slain furnished bracelets and chains, and golden ornaments, not to mention embroidered apparel, of which no one was interested.
Can you imagine being one of those lepers - you’re life has been one scrap after another - one morsel of food begged - and now, with no one to beg from, you’re starving - you come to this huge camp - there’s no-one there. You rush into one tent and stuff yourself with food - and then rush to another and eat some more and then take the money lying in the open and hide it.
This is a beggar’s paradise - they probably pinched themselves to see if they were truly awake! They’re laughing and crying at the same time - “Hey look at the food I’ve found here - hey come over here - you’ve got to see this bag of gold and silver - Hey over here - we can trade in our filthy rags for silk robes - I can’t believe this is happening! Listen, let’s hide some of this loot - we’ll be set for life.
Somewhere in all of this, one of them, maybe two said, “Hey wait a second.” “Huh? What’s wrong, what is it. . .” “Well, I was just thinking about, you know, Samaria - people are starving, children are dying. . . this isn’t right.”
A school teacher was trying to impress her students with the importance of honesty. She asked her class, "Suppose you found a briefcase with a million dollars in it. What would you do?" A little boy raised his hand and said, "Well, if it belonged to a poor family I'd return it."
What would you do if you found a Stradivarius - keep it hidden as your silent treasure - or allow it’s music to be heard.
9. Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, but we are keeping silent; if we wait until morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now there come, let us go and tell the king’s household.”
My friends, good news is to be shared. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not to be hoarded but heralded - the grace we’ve received is not to be retained but reflected. A Stradivarius is to be played.
I think it’s ironic that outcast, despised men were chosen to announce to the city the wonderful good news.
So also shepherds, considered unclean and denied access to the temple worship were the messengers that “Unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”
Unlearned fisherman became the first commissioned representatives of God’s message of grace.
Don’t ever think that God can’t use anyone to be one of His messengers.
16. So the people went out and plundered the camp of the Arameans. Then a measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel and two measures of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the Lord.
By the way - in verse 19 & 20 of chapter 7, as the judgment of God fell on the mocking unbeiveing officer, it is a stricking illustration of all who scoff at God’s power and plan for salvation - for one day - all unbelievers will see the glory of God and they will know the truth of an eternal paradise - they will see it - but they will not be able to enjoy it.
If the church is to communicate the message, it must first repent of its pathetic failure.
The blunt estimates are that 82 million Americans do not own a Bible and never attend a church, not even on Christmas or Easter.
The truth is, in the year 1900, there was one church per 12,000 Americans. Today, there is one church for every 27,000. And the majority of them are reaching less than 200 people per church.
Why? Let me read you a parable and answer to some degree that question.
Now it came to pass that a group existed who called themselves fishermen. And, lo, there were many fish in waters all around. Streams and lakes were filled with fish, and they were all very hungry. Week after week, month after month, year after year, people who called themselves fishermen met in meetings and talked about their call to fish, the abundance of fish, and how they really should go fishing. They built large buildings for local fishing headquarters, and issued pleas on a regular basis for more fishermen. But they didn't fish. They organized a board to send out fishermen to other places where there were many fish. Their great vision and courage to speak out about fishing was seen in their promotion brochures and spirited rallies to wish these fishermen well. But the staff and committee members just never got around to fishing. Large, elaborate training centers were built to teach fishermen how to fish. Persons with doctorates in "fishology" were hired to do the teaching. But all they did was teach fishing -- they didn't fish. After one stirring meeting on "The Necessity of Fishing" one young fellow left the meeting and went fishing. He caught two outstanding fish. He was honored for his excellent catch and scheduled to visit all the big meetings, to tell about his experience. So he quit fishing to travel about telling his story to people who claimed to be fishermen, even if they never found time to fish. And Jesus said, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matt. 4:19
If the church is to communicate the message, it must rekindle its primary focus.
It’s time for you to ask yourself, "What business are you in?" You might mistakenly think you are in the computer business. You are not. You might, in error, think you are in the medical business. You are not. My friend, you are in the business of the King; God’s ambassador on earth, placed by His plan inside the medical profession or in the computer world or pharmceuticals or sales, but your business is His commission - sharing with people, one at a time, that you have found a treasure - and it has satisfied your soul; cleansed your conscience; reserved a place in eternal paradise - and you want them to have it too.
The church today is either distracted or paralyzed - it has forgotten it’s mission - and therefore it does not move like a mighty army - it moves like a tortoise looking for a comfortable hole in some sandy beachhead until Jesus takes us home.
We do not well!!!
On January 21, 1930, the most far-reaching radio broadcast up to that time was scheduled. It was King George's message at the opening of the session of the London Arms Conference. For the first time the entire world was to be brought within the sound of the king's voice. Here in this country, however, we almost missed it. A few minutes before the king was to speak, a member of the control room staff of the Columbia Broadcasting System tripped over a wire and broke it, severing the connection. Harold Vivian, then chief control operator, grasped one of the broken wires in one hand and the other wire in his other hand, thus restoring the circuit. 250 volts of electricity shot through his arms and coursed through his body, but he held on and the king's message came to all America through the tingling body of that technician.
My friend, the King of Kings has a message for your world - will you provide the connection between heaven’s message, and a starving world.