Transfiguration Sunday February 6, 2005

INI

God Will Give You Strength in Unlikely and Extraordinary Circumstances

2 Kings 2:1-12

Scripture Readings

2 Peter 1:16-21
Mark 9:2-9

Hymns

135, 719, 521, 354, [TLH alt: 134, 135, 521, 354]

And it came to pass, when the Lord was about to take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, please, for the Lord has sent me on to Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!” So they went down to Bethel. Now 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; keep silent!” Then Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here, please, for the Lord has sent me on to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!” So they came to Jericho. Now the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho came to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the Lord will take away your master from over you today?” So he answered, “Yes, I know; keep silent!” Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, please, for the Lord has sent me on to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!” So the two of them went on. And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went and stood facing them at a distance, while the two of them stood by the Jordan. Now Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water; and it was divided this way and that, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground. And so it was, when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?” Elisha said, “Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.” So 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.” Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” So he saw him no more. And he took hold of his own clothes and tore them into two pieces.

Dear friends in Christ:

What do the following inventions have in common: vulcanized rubber, Teflon, radar, x-rays, penicillin, microwave ovens, and yo-yo’s? The answer is that they were all discovered by accident. An unattended stove with a pot of rubber led to the vulcanization process which revolutionized the industry. A scientist doing an experiment found that he was able to see through his hand, which led to the invention of the x-ray. There are hundreds of other inventions that came about purely by accident. It turns out that the result was even better than the intent.

A few years ago all we heard about was how Kurt Warner went from stocking shelves in a grocery store to quarterbacking the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl victory. One wonders what would have happened if the Rams’ regular quarterback hadn’t been hurt in pre-season. Would the Rams have won the Super Bowl? Once again the result was different and perhaps better than the intent. This is nothing new. Today we find out from God’s Word that God Will Give You Strength in Unlikely and Extraordinary Circumstances. May the Holy Spirit open our hearts to receive His message. Today we learn that I. God emboldened Elisha even as He took his master away II. Jesus revealed His glory to His disciples to give them strength in the future and III. The Lord will use many different means to help you as well.

I.

I’d like you to put yourself in Elisha’s shoes as the day approached for Elijah to be taken into heaven. First of all, know well that this was a dangerous time to be a prophet of the true God. Elisha had first started serving under Elijah during the reign of King Ahab who, with his wife Jezebel, was the most wicked of a long line of ungodly kings that ruled over Israel. Elijah had his life constantly threatened. After he had defeated 450 prophets of Baal his life was threatened again, and he thought that he was the only believer left in Israel. God told him that there were over 7000 in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. The Lord then had Elijah anoint Elisha to take his place when he would no longer be around.

As Elisha served under his master he was witness to great corruption and idolatry throughout the land. Even after Baal was proved to be a false god people still worshiped this idol in great numbers. The wickedness of Israel’s kings had permeated the nation, and Israel had become corrupt from the top down. Despite all of this, Elijah was very bold and courageous, strong in the faith—a fine example to Elisha. But now as this day came, Elisha knew that he would have to go on without his master Elijah.

As we see events unfold, we can see Elisha’s intent to remain by his master’s side even unto the very end. As they visited the schools of the prophets his intent remained the same. He didn’t seem ready for Elijah to leave him. Elisha’s last request was that he would be given a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Just as the first born son in those days would receive a double portion of the inheritance of his father, so also Elisha wished to be the spiritual heir of Elijah. He wanted to inherit that boldness, zeal, and seeming fearlessness.

This would be permitted if he witnessed Elijah being taken up into heaven. He did see this and he also picked up Elijah’s mantle (cloak) which was symbolic of that prophetic office. In the chapters that follow we find that Elisha indeed had inherited great strength. We read of a dozen miracles that God worked through Elisha. Even without Elijah, Elisha worked for many years through the reigns of several kings. It turned out to be better for Elisha that Elijah left because then he had more strength. God found a way to revive and strengthen Elisha even when it looked hard for him. Elisha didn’t have a double-portion of his spirit until Elijah was gone.

II.

The second example of God giving strength as needed is when He used the extraordinary circumstances of the transfiguration of Christ (cf. Gospel reading). As the time approached for Jesus to turn Himself over to be crucified, He took Peter, James, and John up to a mountain where He gave them a glimpse of His glory as the Son of God. Even though He taught with authority and did many miracles, His appearance was so common and ordinary that few realized that He was the almighty God. When He would be arrested, beaten, and then nailed to the cross He would resemble God even less. Bleeding, bruised, and dying He would by all accounts appear powerless. The disciples were unclear as to why this suffering was necessary. They would quickly forget that Jesus volunteered for this mission, and He willingly laid down His life as a sacrifice for sin. Seeing all of this the disciples could and would lose heart. After Jesus had ascended into heaven and the disciples encountered enemy after enemy they would still need courage.

Knowing all of this, Jesus took the time to reveal Himself as He really is—the almighty God. They saw the brightness of His glory. They heard the voice of the Father identifying Jesus as His Son, the Christ. This stuck with them. In our Epistle reading we learned how Peter recalled the event. Preaching the Gospel in a hostile world the disciples would recall how Jesus was on their side with His power as true God. They would have the certainty that this Jesus whom they were proclaiming was indeed the Messiah. They would have that vivid reminder that this all powerful Jesus laid down His life on His terms and that after this payment for iniquity He would use His power to rise glorified from the dead. Knowing their weakness and the problems they would face, Jesus gave His disciples strength by using an extraordinary event.

III.

Like Elisha and the apostles of Christ we are in a hostile environment as Christians. We may be sheltered from that hostility in many ways, but we are still not exempt. Opposition to Christ is always going to exist and it will be taken out on Christians. Even in this so-called Christian nation you will be called such names as a hatemonger, Nazi, homophobe, or Jesus freak if you profess your faith in Christ and talk about sin and grace.

There will also be other obstacles in this life—circumstances in which we’re going to need a spiritual boost. For instance, it seems as if almost every family has been touched by cancer. That is indeed a test of faith whether you are the victim or you witness a loved one going through it.

The economic landscape often changes and not always for the better. The future of a family, of a town, of a congregation can all seem to be in doubt when the financial picture looks dim. Take heart. The same Lord who used even the toughest of circumstances in the past for the good of His children—for Elisha, Peter, James, and John—that same Lord will use even what may seem to be the worst of circumstances to give you strength. He’ll find a way, and even make a way to give you courage and hope.

Through His Word God opens our hearts and shows us His love for us sinners. He works through the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to create and strengthen faith in Him. He also lets us communicate to Him by giving us the blessing of prayer.

Beyond that the Lord can even use tragedy to give us a new perspective in life. He can use poverty to refine our focus. Even in the loss of a loved one He can give us unseen benefits. In the Scriptures you will find a pattern of faithfulness from God to His people and that has not changed. You will find that in His heavenly wisdom God can work out everything for your good. Above all He loves you, with a love so great that He gave His only Son into death to give you life.

Like Peter, James, and John you are witnesses to the glory of Christ. Like Elisha you have witnessed the faithfulness of God in His Word. You have seen this and will see this in your own lives. So then, take heart and rely on God and His goodness.

—Pastor Michael M. Schierenbeck


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