22nd Sunday After Pentecost November 13, 2011
2 Kings 2:1-15a
2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5; Luke 20:27-38
611(1-6), 410, 215, 611(7)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
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. He also took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood by the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, and said, “Where is the LORD God of Elijah?” And when he also had struck the water, it was divided this way and that; and Elisha crossed over. Now when the sons of the prophets who were from Jericho saw him, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him, and bowed to the ground before him.
When the Apostle Paul wrote his New Testament letters, he often spoke of the believers to whom he was writing as saints. “To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi…to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus…” With those words he did not mean that they were people who had done so much good in their lives so as to be rewarded with Heaven on account of the their great deeds. But he did mean that Christ had cleansed them of their guilt and they believed in that cleansing.
A “saint” was the way the Apostle referred to anyone who trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. So according to the Scriptural use of the word, you and I are saints. Today, the Sunday of the church year known as “Saints Triumphant,” we rejoice that I. As God’s saints we triumph here on earth and II. As God’s saints we triumph with Him in Heaven
Elijah was one of the greatest prophets the LORD ever sent to the nation of Israel. He sent him in order to preach to the people about the false gods and idols they were worshiping. Elijah was the one, you might remember, who participated in a “showdown” with the prophets of Baal. By setting up two altars, one to Baal and one to the true God, Elijah proved that the God of Israel was the real thing; for on God’s altar, fire came down and consumed the sacrifice, while on Baal’s altar nothing happened (cf. 1 Kings 18:20ff).
Elijah also had an assistant named Elisha who was to take up his ministry after him. The events in our Bible lesson today took place on the last day of Elijah’s ministry—the day Elisha knew the LORD was going to take his master away from him.
Elisha was sad to see Elijah go because he had learned much from him about the true God and about His Word. Elijah had been an important teacher and mentor and Elisha recognized the value of his master’s ministry. Wherever Elijah went that last day, Elisha wanted to follow. “As the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you,” [v.2] he said to Elijah. He followed Elijah to Bethel, then to Jericho, then to the Jordan River and across it. We can picture Elisha trying to gather every last bit of information that Elijah might pass on to him during those last hours.
Elisha had learned from Elijah that God’s saints triumph even in this life. It was a lesson Elijah had once needed to learn too. There had been a time when the great prophet had been discouraged and felt as though the believers in God had all but been defeated for good. Right after Elijah had faced the prophets of Baal and God had won the victory, Elijah had run off to hide for his life in a cave, complaining that there were no longer any Christians left and he might as well die too. God's answer was firm, but gentle, telling Elijah to get up and get back to work because there were still thousands who had not bowed the knee to Baal. The believers had not been overwhelmed and overrun even in the face of terrific opposition from the king (cf. 1 Kings 19).
So Elijah learned that there is hope, triumph, victory for those who believe in the LORD. It might not always look like victory at first, but with God on the side of His people, they will not be put to shame. This was part of the good news that Elijah preached in His ministry—indeed the good news that every preacher proclaims.
Jesus told His disciples once “Take heart! I have overcome the world” (cf. John 16:33). Those whose confidence is in Christ have likewise overcome the world. What do we mean by that? We mean that they stand in triumph even now over the things that can do the most harm to them.
They stand in triumph over sin for Jesus has broken sin’s threatening grip. By offering Himself on the cross as the sacrifice for sin, He suffered for all our unrighteousness. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
The believers stand in triumph over against the Devil. His accusations cannot discourage us or depress us. Pains of conscience, frustration and sorrow over our past, all these things which Satan uses to whisper into our ears, “You’re not really good with God,” we can throw back at him on account of Jesus.
The believers stand in triumph over temptation—not perfectly, to be sure, but with Christ’s cross in our hands we can say, “I resist the Devil and his works and ways.”
We already have the victory in all the important areas. That is why we can say, “I triumph here and now over this world and anything it can put in my way. I win because of Christ Jesus.” We can and should hold our heads high and be glad. There is no reason to look down and think, “Woe is me. I have such a hard life. The world has overcome me.” Elijah learned that lesson. He passed it on to Elisha. It is passed on to us.
When Elijah was finally separated from Elisha, an amazing thing happened. The LORD sent a chariot of fire and horses of fire to appear on the earth while Elijah was taken to be with the LORD in a whirlwind. Without experiencing earthly death, Elijah was simply gone. Taken directly by the hand of the Almighty.
It can serve as a reminder to us that the saints of God—the believers in Christ Jesus—do end up in the hands of their dear Lord at the end. No, we aren't likely to be taken by fiery horses, a flaming chariot, and a whirlwind. But we know that we will join the Lord. Paul said “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far (Philippians 1:23 NIV). And again in Ecclesiastes, “The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The day will come when God will reach down and take the breath of life from us as well—when He will gather us to Himself.
As God’s saints, we triumph in Heaven with Him too. In Luke 20 Jesus called the believers “children of the resurrection” by using the example of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—men who had died but whom God still counted as among the living because death is not the end for children of God. We are raised to life again—the deed is as good as done.
The new heavens and the earth will be part of our triumph as well. Through the prophet Isaiah God said “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17). All that is sin, evil, and sorrow will be replaced. The great “crown of life” will be ours (cf. Revelation 2:10). This is the goal of our faith. This is the reason we trust in our Savior Jesus—not just for this life, but for the resurrection of the dead and the life to come. He will come and take us to Himself. That is His promise. That is our triumph.
Elisha was sad at first when Elijah left him and went to be with the LORD forever. Just as we might be sad as we think of those believers who have been taken from us. Most of us can probably think of dear Christian friends and relatives whom we wish were still with us. But we do not need to despair about the departure of others or about our own departure either. Put away your fear! When God calls Christians to Himself through death, it is a triumph. Those who die in the Lord are truly blessed. They are safe in the hands of the Creator. They are safe with God, and He will also raise their bodies and give them everlasting life as we confess in the Apostles’ Creed.
Jesus said to Martha at the tomb of her brother Lazarus: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25 NIV). For us as saints today we rejoice that because of Christ we triumph both now over sin, death, and the Devil, and in eternity with life forevermore.
All was not over for Elisha after the chariot and horses were gone. He had asked for a double portion of his master’s spirit and God granted that to him. Like Elijah before him, he would learn to glory in the triumphs promised him by the God of Israel. Elisha picked up the work of the ministry right where Elijah had left off.
We do the same. You do not need to crawl into a cave like Elijah once did, depressed and discouraged. You have been given the message of Christ by others, now you take that message and you become the evangelists. You share the word of the forgiveness Christ has won on the cross. You share that word from person to person just as Elijah and Elisha. Our task now is to take up the same work of God that has been the work of every believer in Christ—the work of all saints triumphant—to tell of the wonders of our God and to tell of the victory that belongs to His children!
We pray that God would carry on this work to completion until the day of Jesus Christ. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.