Book of Second Kings is where we’re going to be today. Second Kings chapter two, and you’ll know, and I’ll go ahead and confess to you I’m skipping chapter one. The reason I’m skipping chapter one is because the content found in chapter one we talked about last week. It deals with Elijah and calling down some destruction and fire. We talked about how you deal with judgment in scripture. Today’s the last week that we’re going to focus on the series of Elijah together.
And in today’s message in Second Kings chapter two, you’ll note that this is the end of Elijah’s life on earth. Elijah is one of two characters in scripture that we find never really has any recording of his death. Enoch and Elijah, both of them just sort of disappear, and Elijah goes out in a blaze of glory in this story. But here, in the context of Second Kings chapter two, we are looking at the end of Elijah’s life, at least on earth.
It’s often at death or near the end of life that we tend to refine our lives by focusing our attention on things that matter. We heavily consider, towards the end of life, I think, what we do with our time, places we go, people we visit with. When I look at scripture, some of my favorite portions of scripture are the last moments of someone’s life. Jesus, some of my favorite passages of the Bible. John chapter 13 and John chapter 17, the last six hours Jesus spends with his disciples in the most intimate of settings, where they’re celebrating the Passover in Upper Room. Or a book like Second Timothy, where Paul knows that he’s about to meet the end of his life, and he writes that letter to Timothy.
If you had just a few days left to live, how would you spend it? And what would you do? Who would you spend it with? Can I encourage you that those goals towards the end of our days that may be noble, if we knew that we just had a few hours or a few moments, days left, those noble pursuits in life, don’t wait till the end to do them. If they’re honoring, if they’re worthy, if they’re good, they should really be a part of our every day lives. And when you look in Second Kings chapter two, honestly, the life of Elijah, knowing that he’s about to meet his end, he doesn’t really do much different than what he had done with his life previously. He may intensify the amount of what he does, but it’s a pretty similar routine to what he had done throughout his life because Elijah knew life matters. Not just his but those around him.
In Second Kings chapter two, first six verses, it begins like that, “And it came about when the Lord was about to take up Elijah by a whirlwind to heaven that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. 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 you yourself live, I will not leave you. So they went down to Bethel, and then the sons of the prophet 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.
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, 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 said, yes, I know. Be still. Then Elijah said to him, please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to 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.”
In case the naming of Elijah and Elisha get a little confusing in this story, and you see they’re starting out here Gilgal, and Elijah wants to go on further into this journey, and tells Elisha to stay, but Elisha refuses. He wants to be present, and as he continues to travel, the prophets in each town come out and tell Elisha that his master is going away. And Elisha says be still. I like the uniqueness of this moment. This is not something done privately that God has shared, not only with Elijah and Elisha that Elijah’s days or moments are numbered, but he’s sharing this with all of God’s prophets as if to say here comes God’s wisdom into your town. Don’t let this moment pass you by. This is precious. One last moment to meet this man of God, to allow him to impart and pour into your life.
And knowing that God had revealed this to the prophets, they go to Elisha and they tell him this. And Elisha’s response is just shut your mouth. Right? I mean, he doesn’t want to think about what is to come. He just … he just wants to live in the moment because he knows what’s about to take place. Just like the prophets gather around Elijah, so Elisha just wants to saturate in these final moments with his … with the one who mentored him, discipled him, led him before God, showed him the power of this great God.
Elijah doesn’t do much different with his life towards the end than what he had done previous. He just takes a heavier dose of it. I think in this story, Elijah knows that God is going to take his life as soon as he crosses the Jordan, but rather than take that route directly across the Jordan, Elijah goes on this journey, and he begins to visit these particular towns. These towns are towns where the prophets are known to be trained. It was thought that the prophet Samuel had set these locations up in order to train prophets. What Elijah is demonstrating in his life towards the end of his days are the same things that he showed to us on Mount Carmel when he called down fire. If you remember that story together, we read how Elijah in those moments, as he goes on the Mount of Carmel and these false prophets are leading these worship ceremonies to their false god, Elijah then, before God calls down fire and lights the altar of his sacrifice, he prays, and his prayer’s for Israel.
He sees a nation created on the promises of God that have forsook this God and had a civil war and are divided. He’s in this northern kingdom of 10 of the tribes, 10 of the 12 tribes, and not one king was a Godly king. His heart is for their souls. And so knowing that this is the end of his life, where does he go? He’s goes to the prophets because he understands that these prophets, from these prophets will come ministries that will help lead God’s people, to encourage them, to pass on the torch, to see them become who God has called them to be.
Guys, can I remind you that our position is no different. That God has you in a place in this world, and as He works in your life, He has called you to be a light of encouragement to people around you. We say as a church that we should celebrate because what we celebrate we replicate. It creates a particular culture. To take time in the lives of people and to encourage them on down the paths that God has called them.
And not only was Elijah meeting with these people, but I think not only is it meeting with people that’s important, but the location in which he chooses to do this also carries significance. It tells us in the story that when Elijah goes to meet these prophets, he meets them in the location where these schools are, but he meets them in cities that have, or town that have a very particular meaning to the people of Israel: Gilgal and Bethel and Jericho.
To Israel, Gilgal is a place of beginning. If you read the story of Israel they’re called by God through Abraham to become a nation that blesses all people. And they’re taken into slavery in Egypt, and then God sets them free through Moses. And in Moses, they still have this longing towards false idols, and so God takes them through this wilderness for 40 years. Finally, finally, under Joshua, they cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, and the first town they camp is Gilgal. It says in Joshua 4:9, now the people came up from the Jordan on the 10th of first month and camped in Gilgal on the eastern edge of Jericho. Here they are listening to the Lord and their leader, Joshua. A place of God’s promise fulfilled, a place of new beginning in the Lord, a place where they have finally reached this Promised Land.
Not only was Gilgal important to Israel, not only is this location just a place of beautiful reflection on the identity of God, God also brought them to Bethel. Bethel means to house of God. This is where Abraham built an altar to the Lord and dedicated himself. It wasn’t just one time at Bethel where Abraham meets with God, but this became a location where God continued to meet with His people, where they laid their lives down for His glory and to their benefit.
In fact, in Genesis 12 and verse eight, talking about Abraham, “Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east, and there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord.” Look, just a few chapters later, look how God identifies Himself. “I am the God of Bethel.” This place of intimacy. This place of connection before God.
And last, Elijah visited Jericho. Mind you, he could have just gone straight across the Jordan where the Lord was going to take him, but he then makes his way to Jericho. And Jericho is the place of battle. It’s the first place where God’s people had driven a formidable wedge against their opposition. Jericho, to the Hebrews, was what D-Day was to the American’s, or to us as Americans in World War Two. It was storming the beaches of Normandy. It’s where they see the faithfulness of their God as they walk in faith, and the battle’s ahead of them. It’s where God shaped their identity first as a nation, when they first step in faith into this promised land and fight their first battle under the Lord.
Not only were these places important to the Lord, but I think they also provided opportunity for Elijah to reflect. Being with the people that he loved in significant places of his nation. Elijah, in walking this path, it really reveals where his own heart is. You think about Elijah’s life. We’ve learned together that Elijah was not perfect. He had battles. He stood against Ahab in the Kerith Ravine. At one point, he became suicidal in his thoughts, but he remembers where he’s been and how he ended up there.
Maybe Elijah could have used those moments to reflect in the same locations where God had showed Himself to the nation of Israel, how God had showed Himself in his own personal life. Gilgal being a place of beginnings. How in the beginning of Elijah’s story in First Kings chapter 17, when Elijah comes before Ahab, and he declares his name is Elijah, which means God is his Lord, and the Lord is his God. His identity, rather than in himself or anything else, belongs to the Lord. We all need a Gilgal, a foundation for which we find who we truly are.
And not only that, Elijah, he travels from there to Bethel, and he thinks of the places where he met God. He poured out his soul, and it wasn’t perfect moments. It was in the brokenness that he meets the Lord and he worships Him. In the Kerith Ravine, the birds feed him in the drought. At Zarephath, where he depends on the hands of a widow to find his Lord faithful. Or what about Jericho? He goes on top of Mount Carmel in this large moment of spiritual warfare, or when he finally confronts Ahab and Jezebel and declares that God is going to take their lives. It is a battle.
And what about your story? These towns mark the hand of God in the way He works. That the same God that met His people in those locations is the same God that meets you in yours. Where is your Gilgal, your Bethel? Where is it that you’ve given your life to God? Or the place that you continue to meet with Him? What about in those battles that you face? How has God shaped you in Him?
As you think about these locations, I think it’s important for us not to see these as events and places but to recognize the God behind all of them. Our tendency sometimes, when we read these Bible stories, is that we isolate them as stories left unto themselves, and we fail to see the great grandeur of God’s story as He shows Himself faithful from beginning to end. That, yes, these may be stories that are isolated, but there is a far larger story in which God has created for all of us to see in His goodness through Him.
In Revelation chapter two verse 4, God records to the seven churches in chapter two and chapter three, and the first church He writes is to the church of Ephesus. In that story in chapter two, He writes of all the good things that Ephesus has done. But in verse four, He says this very unique thing. He says, “But I have this against you. You’ve left your first love.” It’s interesting how we as people react in times of blessing. Israel faltered in these moments. They go into this Promised Land. They see the great had of God on them during the days of David and Solomon, and before long, rather than look to God, they look to those blessings as an end in themselves. And they leave their first love, which is the Lord.
That’s where Israel gets off track, but I’m reminded throughout the series together, one of the things that I’ve said to us is that God uses good things to encourage us, and God uses hard things to change us. If I added a final thought to that, I would just say for us but in all those things it’s crucial that we see the Lord. His hand.
There’s a story of a father who was in a hospital. He contracted this particular illness where he wasn’t allowed to have any human contact, but he loved his son. This father, unable to spend at least a few days with his child, he was able to get his hands on this toy, and he constructed it for his child. He gave it to the nurse. And from his hospital room, he actually had a view to where he could look down to the bottom floor. He was located on the third floor, and he could look down to the entry way into the hospital. He hands this toy to the nurse and knew that his son was going to show up to the hospital that day even though he couldn’t have contact with him. He asked the nurse to give it to his son, and he sees his wife and child walk in.
The nurse goes down and hands it to the son, and the boy’s so excited. He looks at his mom with excitement and hugs at her. He looks at the nurse with excitement and hugs her. And all the while, the father’s just staring from his hospital room and just says just look up. Just look up. The father wanting to connect with the son and the love that he demonstrates through the gift, right? Eventually, the son looks up and sees the expression on his father’s face, and they rejoice in the love expressed through that gift.
We tend to fail when we see the bigger picture, or we fail to not see the bigger picture, I should say, of God in all things, rather God calls us to look up. We as people want reason to justify our existence, to fight the universal fear of living life with meaninglessness. But when we fail to see the goodness of God in those things, that is the very trap that we fall into. It’s where Israel failed and faltered in the blessings they received from God. Unfortunately, the things that with choose can often become toxic to our souls when we fail to see the goodness of our God behind it all.
To quote Rocky Balboa, Rocky in one of the movies, his girlfriend, I think it was one of the first ones, his girlfriend asks him, “Why go the distance, Rocky?” I don’t know if she said it like that. It was probably too masculine there. But why go the distance? You know the pictures of Rocky. Horrible makeup job in those early films. It’s all busted up, and he says this, “So I know I’m not a bum.” Rocky made his battle athletics, and he sees athletic achievement as what gives him meaning to life. There’s the problem. We don’t see the Lord. While battles can be helpful, you aren’t your battles.
The reason I think this is important for us to know is because you will not walk in victory in every battle you face. Elijah certainly didn’t. If you find your identity simply in the battle itself and not the Lord behind all those things, if you find your identity in the battle, it will lead to despair, if you fail, because your identity is gone, or worse yet, pride, if you succeed, looking down on others.
In thinking about this, this past week, reading authors like C.S. Lewis and Tim Keller and Jonathon Edwards, all of them expressed thoughts on the danger of self-grander and how it is the enemy of humanity. Life about my glory rather than the Lord’s glory. If we fail to see the goodness of God in the things that we have in our lives, if I find identity in the things around me rather than beyond those things in the God who has created me, if I find, for example, my identity in being a good parent, I have no true self. I am just a parent, and if something goes wrong with my children or parenting, there is no me left. I will be a failure. If my kids don’t live up to my expectation, I walk in the identity of failure.
If my battle and identity is to conquer business or become wealthy, yet I end up broke, I’ll be in despair. Or worse, if I succeed, I’ll walk in pride, looking down on those around me that aren’t as good as me. If my highest goal and identity is in a relationship and that relationship doesn’t work, I fall apart. Or worse yet, if it succeeds, my identity is no higher than what that other individual thinks of me.
There are an infinite variety of ways to measure our identity as people. Some get it by wielding power. Others from human approval. Some from self-discipline and control. Everyone is building their identity on something, but identity apart from God, it’s inherently unstable. Without God, our sense of worth may seem solid on the surface, but it never is. It can desert you in a moment.
And not only is the idea of self-grandeur toxic for our own soul, it becomes toxic for the lives of people around us when we live for that purpose apart from God’s glory. If your highest goal is the good of your own family, then our tendency will become to care less about other families. If our highest goal is the good of our nation, our tribe or our race, we’ll have the tendency to become racist or nationalistic. If our ultimate goal is individual happiness, then we’ll put our own economic power and interest ahead of others. If we battle in politics and get our worth from political position, then politics really isn’t our … it’s not about politics, it’s about us masked behind a political cause where we get our own worth, and in so doing, we despise and demonize the opposition. If we get our identity from an ethnicity or socio-economic status, then we feel superior to other classes and races. If you’re a moral person, you see yourself as superior to people that are licentious in life. If anything along that way threatens your identity, you’ll not just be anxious but paralyzed with fear.
However, in Jesus, your identity is never threatened. In God, our ultimate good or life’s center, we will find our hearts drawn out to not only us but to all families and people and races and class, the whole world in general, blessed from the identity of losing ourselves to the glory of God. It becomes to the benefit of all people ’cause nothing in this world become my identity but Jesus alone.
No matter what your goal is in life, it doesn’t matter if it’s God or not, no matter what your goal is, you’ll always fall short. You’ll never achieve the highest or the end goal, or you at least you shouldn’t. Your goals aren’t high enough if not. But we’re flawed. Even in Jesus, in our flaws, in our sins, you’re incredibly loved. Jesus meets us in our sin, make us new. We belong in Him, and every day He transforms our life.
The thing that made Elijah so powerful, different than the rest of the nation, and the rest of the nation sees the results they achieved physically in this world as an end of themselves. But Elijah saw the God behind it all. The Kerith Ravine, Mount Carmel, Zarephath, Gilgal, Jericho, Bethel, and he didn’t think how great he was but how great God was. If you have Elijah’s view on our circumstances, you’re never your successes or your failures, but rather you are the Lord’s and your identity is greater.
Church, we don’t get our victories in places-that leads to pride or despair-but we find our victory in Jesus, who makes us new in Him every day. I think that’s why in the book of Lamentations, if you ever read the book, it’s a book of weeping, or excuse me, it’s Ecclesiastes, I should say. I hope I wrote it down as … I wrote it down as Lamentations. It’s Ecclesiastes. He says this, he says, “This I recall to mind, therefor I have hope, the Lord’s loving kindness indeed never ceases, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion says my soul. Therefor I have hope in Him.” Every morning. You’re not your failures. You will fail, but you’re not your failures. You will succeed, but you’re not your successes. You were created for God and His glory. You belong to Him. Your identity is deeper than those things, and which is why I can say in this passage every morning. Every morning new am I in your God. You are my portion says my soul. I have hope in You.
In Psalm 51 verse 10, it says this, “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” How do we know? How do we know if things grip our lives rather than God? How do we know if we can see beyond the temporal things of this world and we really live for His glory? Can I just give you maybe one thought as it relates to this text to measure ourselves? It’s whether or not you can celebrate when other people succeed. If you have idols in your life that you long for, and you see the successes of someone else in that area, what happens? Resentment, bitterness, jealousy? Or celebration?
When your life turns to celebration over the success of others, the things that you think matter to your own life, it determines what leads your heart, the idol or the Lord. In fact, I would say one of the things that just lets us resonate with this idea is what happens here at the end of Second Kings chapter two. In verse seven, it talks about Elijah’s desire from here. It says, “Now 50 men of the sons of the prophets went and stood opposite them at a distance while the two of them stood by the Jordan. Elijah took his mantel and folded it,” which is his cloak. It symbolizes the power of the Lord. “And he 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.” The rivers separated. “When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you, and Elisha said, please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.”
Here’s what Elisha’s asking. Because of you Elijah, I’ve seen the possibility of what God can do with our people. Perhaps God could double that. In a world where Elijah lives for his own glory, he would say no way, sucker, I’m going down as the greatest man in history. Right? Rather Elijah’s heart is not there because his concern is God’s glory.
He goes on from there and says he said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I’m taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if not, it shall not be so. As they were going along and talking, 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.” Elisha receives, based on what Elijah says here, this double portion. Through Elijah, Elisha was introduced to the possibility of what God could do for his people if his people would turn their hearts to Him.
God is the one who must answer what Elijah’s prayer is, but how great a work God could do. I think about the life of Elijah going into these moments, that Elijah walks into Israel in the midst of just darkness, and he lays a foundation for the Lord to work through his people. God uses him as that tool. That foundation becomes the platform for which the next generation could be blessed.
Guys, when I think about our church, in terms of the story, I see ABC as a groundbreaking place for His glory. Our hearts for His glory, and that foundation that we leave becomes a place where God can build upon that things to come for generations to be blessed. Granted, it’s determined by what that generation does with what they’ve been given, but it’s your hand that passes that torch-to make it about self or His glory.
How do you get there? When other people succeed, what rests in your heart? To celebrate or to be jealous? Do you see the God beyond your circumstances? Do you see the things that you do in your life as an end in themselves? Or do you see them rather as the hand of God pouring out His blessing? Do you look up? Is your position in this world for your glory or for His? Have you met God in Gilgal? Have you had that new beginning? Do you have a place of Bethel, knowing our heart’s battle? Our hearts wrestle to let go of the god’s of this world, to live for the One that matters. Do we find His glory over us in the Jerichos?
Guys, I can tell you, the answer to all of this is very simple. It’s die to self. In the death of ourself, we live for a far greater glory because the glories that we make out of our own self grandeur, it not only robs us for the joy for which we were created, it robs the lives around us because we make life about self, and we use other people go get there. But when we see the goodness of Christ, who’s laid His life down for us, He’s already given it all. In that goodness, we can die to ourselves to live for a greater purpose in Him.