The departure of Elijah

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Sermon Notes of Rev.Dr.I.J.W.Oakley (10-9-1995 Guisborough Evangelical Church)


The departure of Elijah

2 Kings 2:1-22



Our Bible reading tells us of the dramatic departure of Elijah from this earth, and the introduction to Elisha, who was to be his successor. Earlier it was mentioned that it is a good thing that God does not answer yes to all the things we ask for. In his time of depression, Elijah asked to die – and if God had granted that, he would have missed this wonderful blessing. We need to leave all our affairs in God’s gracious hands, trusting him to use his own methods and purposes for us. God often has something far better for us than we can imagine.

It was frankly a supernatural departure. He had had no ordinary career, and this was certainly no ordinary departure. As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). Elijah entered God’s immediate presence without going through the portals of death. N.B. This does not mean he went into an unconscious state. He reappeared many hundreds of years later with Moses when the Lord was transfigured.

This glorious and supernatural entry into the Lord’s presence was God’s visible vindication of His servant, his message and life before an unbelieving and evil world. In looking at this story there are three clear lessons for us. One is linked to Elijah himself – he used his time between the present and death to great advantage. Secondly, Elisha realized the need for the power of the Spirit of God, and thirdly his need for God Himself.


Wise use of time before death

As Elijah was passing into old age, he did not waste his time. Most of his life was behind him now, but he did not just switch off. The righteous will still bear fruit in old age (Psalm 92:14). We are immortal till our work is done. While we are still on earth, there is always more to be done. It will not be the same activity as we have done in the past, but there will be new spheres and new kinds of work suited to our age and circumstance.

No doubt Elijah spent much time in communion with God, preparing for great change soon to take place. Then he spent time with the man who was to succeed him, talking things over with him and preparing him in every way. There is reference to schools of prophets in various parts of the land, where the next generation was prepared to carry on the ministry of the Word and work of reformation in Israel after Elijah’s departure.

The Bible often shows us the need for preparation for the future. We are not going to go on for ever. Elijah’s school of prophets, Isaiah’s disciples, and the Lord’s own disciples carried on the work. Paul gave advice to Timothy: And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others (2 Timothy 2:2).

Who will be carrying on the work in this place in 20 or 30 years time? It is irresponsible to live in the hope that good new people will have arrived to take over from us. We should be concerned to grow our own homegrown plants, and not leave it to others, encouraging, nurturing and training our own young people.

Elijah was making the most of his time, because he did not know how much or how little time he had left. So with all God’s people, we need to carry on our Christian life right up to the end, being Christ-like. Our end may be nearer than we think. Our candle may be almost burnt out. Ensure that your house is in order. If there is anything needing to be said or done, do it now. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

It is so important to see our lives, decisions, work and Christian service in the light of the fact that our candle is almost burnt out – and that may be as true for the young as it is for the old. If we bore this in mind at all times, what changes, what readjustments of priorities, what alterations we would make. What fools we are to just live for today. Oh to see life whole and see it as we shall see it when it is all over.

Richard Baxter (who wrote the hymn Ye holy angels bright) was a great 17th century Puritan pastor in Kidderminster. His life was one of continuous sickness, pain, bleeding and headaches. As a result, there was a seriousness and urgency about his ministry, and he made good use of every single day he was given – every sermon he preached, every conversation, every visit, and every prayer. “He preached as though he would never preach again; a dying man to dying men.”

Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing to you (Psalm 39:4,5). Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12).


The need for the Spirit’s anointing

We move now to Elisha, who was Elijah’s successor. He had to take up where Elijah left off, standing for God, preaching the Word, rebuking error, and encouraging the people of God. And Elijah was a very hard act to follow. This was a tremendous responsibility; the mantle of Elijah both literally and figuratively had fallen on him. He felt totally inadequate and more than fearful about the work which was ahead. Elijah had asked him, Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken from you? (2 Kings 2:9). Elisha did not ask for wealth or name or rank – as the man of the world wants – they would be no use for the work Elisha was to do. A spiritual work needs spiritual weapons, spiritual equipment and spiritual power. Therefore Elisha replied, Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.

This request for a “double portion” did not mean he was asking for twice as much, so that he would be twice as great as Elijah. A double portion is what was given to the heir, so Elisha is asking to have more than the other prophets, so that he is true heir of Elijah. And he received it. It made a great difference to his life and it was noticeable. When the sons of the prophets of Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha (2 Kings 2:15).

The lesson is obvious to us. To be effective for God we need divine equipment. Above all we need the Holy Spirit to fill, control and empower and use our lives. Because of the Holy Spirit, we have victory over sin, display Christ-like character with the fruits of the Spirit, and power for service. Thus equipped, the Gospel may come in power through consecrated lips and lives; our words may indeed be spirit and life.

As believers we are born of the Spirit, but are we controlled by the Spirit? Indwelt by the Spirit, but does He fill us? We possess the Spirit, but does the Spirit possess us? If the Holy Spirit takes full possession of our lives, the motive for our service will be for the glory of God, and not that we may be happy and comfortable. Lives wholly yielded to God will permit the Holy Spirit to do as He wills with us and through us. We will not be ruled by self, relying on self, with an eye to our position and glory, trying to keep in with the world as well as God.

Do you have an undivided heart? Have you yielded self to God without reserve? Is God in front of you, and the world behind you? This is the condition for God’s blessing, guidance and empowering of lives. C.T.Studd said, “God does not deal with you until you are wholly given up to Him, and then He will tell you what He would have you do.” Heaven will be as brass, and prayer will not have vital meaning until we come there. We need the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our lives that we may be fully alive in a spiritual way.

Martin Lloyd Jones, in A Sacred Anointing, encourages people, especially preachers, to seek the full blessing of the Holy Spirit. Plead with the Lord for the dynamic of the Holy Spirit. Be persistent and do not be put off. Seek it and covet it. Constantly pray for it. “Seek anointing until you have it.”


The need for the presence of Elijah’s God

After Elijah was translated into glory, Elisha took up Elijah’s mantle. He struck the water with it, and asked, Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah? (2 Kings 2:14). Elijah had gone for good; his presence was no longer. But Elisha wanted the presence of Elijah’s God. His only hope was to have His presence; he could not live without Him. The God who provided for Elijah, who revealed Himself to him, gave courage and strength to face evil on Carmel, who was patient with him when he sinned, who had enabled him to enjoy power in prayer, who showed that nothing was too hard for Him – Elisha needed that God in order to go forward.

The work is the Lord’s, and not ours. On Him is the final responsibility and to Him is the glory. Therefore it is important that as He calls us to service we have Him above everything else. The greatest object for our souls to seek after is God Himself. We love His house, but the courts of the Lord are dull and dreary if God is not there. We love the Word of God; by it our life is fed and nourished. But if God Himself is not in and with the Word, what does it avail in us? It is good to pray, but it is only an empty religious exercise unless we find God Himself in prayer. It is good to meet God’s people but it is only a social occasion if God is not in the midst. We cannot live, or rejoice, or be strong without Him. Only with Him shall we be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the Word of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58 AV). We need Him in life, and we need Him in death.

“My God is God Himself,

Not peace or joy,

Nor even blessing,

But God Himself.

Tis His to lead me there,

Not mine but His,

At any cost, dear Lord,

By any road.”

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