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Elijah

Ascension

2 Kings 2:1-18

Elijah is about to leave the planet – literally. In this unusual transition we can learn much – about those we teach, about the journey of life, and the life to come.

(2 Ki 2:1-18 NIV) When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. {2} Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel." But Elisha said, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel. {3} The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, "Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?" "Yes, I know," Elisha replied, "but do not speak of it." {4} Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here, Elisha; the LORD has sent me to Jericho." And he replied, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So they went to Jericho. {5} The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, "Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?" "Yes, I know," he replied, "but do not speak of it." {6} Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan." And he replied, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So the two of them walked on. {7} Fifty men of the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. {8} Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground. {9} When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?" "Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit," Elisha replied. {10} "You have asked a difficult thing," Elijah said, "yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours--otherwise not." {11} As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. {12} Elisha saw this and cried out, "My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!" And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart. {13} He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. {14} Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. "Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?" he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over. {15} The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, "The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha." And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. {16} "Look," they said, "we your servants have fifty able men. Let them go and look for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley." "No," Elisha replied, "do not send them." {17} But they persisted until he was too ashamed to refuse. So he said, "Send them." And they sent fifty men, who searched for three days but did not find him. {18} When they returned to Elisha, who was staying in Jericho, he said to them, "Didn't I tell you not to go?"

Preparing Your Elisha

One of our favorite sayings concerning our children has been this: “We are not raising chickens for Colonel Sanders. We are raising eagles to fly.” The rest of the world, it seems, prefers chickens. We need to compare the two views:

  • The world holds that the purpose of education is to teach our children the grasp of certain skills and facts. In particular, those skills and facts which tend to be most profitable monetarily are preferred. The reason you learn to read and write is so that you can get a better job.
  • The Christian view is quite different. In the Christian view your education is to make you more like Christ. You are to acquire wisdom in preference to knowledge. Knowledge – like learning to read – is a tool for acquiring wisdom.

The world’s view is predicated upon our “new philosophy.” As there is no such thing as “right and wrong” to guide us, there remains only the principle of pleasure. The grind of education has been reduced to delayed gratification.

Contrast the older, Christian view. King William of England confided his son to the Duke of Marlborough as tutor. “Teach him to be but what you are,” said the king, “and I shall be content.” Worldly education stays on the temporal – what this can do for you now, or in the near future. Christian education stays on the eternal – what will you become forever?

So it is not surprising, then, that the prophet of God raises up his successor in ways which might surprise us.

Tension

As the time comes for the student or disciple to “graduate,” there arises a certain normal tension between the teacher and the student. We see it in this story; it is the transition from student to leader in Elisha.

  • We must remember that authority has as its purpose the benefit of those in submission. This is not just the pouring of facts into the students head, however.
  • When those in submission are about to become those in authority, there must be a time when the new authority asserts itself. This must be handled with grace.

We see these things here. Elijah is about to be greatly honored by God; he would have it done privately, in accordance with the humility he has taught. Elisha would see the glory of God revealed – in accordance with the desire Elijah has planted in his heart.

This gives rise to the tension, and the test. Elijah tells him to stay, three times. Elisha goes with him, three times. He’s ready for the test.

Signs of success

How do you know that you’ve succeeded in raising up a disciple, and not just a note-taker?

  • See the wisdom in what Elisha asks for! He knows the value of the Spirit, and this above all else he prizes.
  • He also asks for a double portion. This is the right of the first born, and here we see why. Elisha is asking for more of the Spirit – so that he might surpass Elijah in good things.

We know this with our children. Do we not want them to value the things we value? Are we not pleased when they rise higher than we could?

Symbolic: Our life, death and entrance into heaven

It is the most common symbolic interpretation of “crossing the Jordan” – the transition from life into death. We can examine this in some detail, with profit (pun intended).

Life: preparing others to carry on

Do you notice the “company of the prophets” spoken of here? Elijah has evidently been the teacher of these companies.

  • First, we must teach others as we can. Even if we are not among the great, we must do what we can to bring others along. Elijah spent time with his Elisha – but also with these hundred other anonymous souls.
  • Note that there is more than one company – we must not restrict ourselves, for example, to our own families. We must share with others too.

It’s interesting to note that Elisha’s life contrasts favorably with Elijah. Where Elijah walked in doubt, Elisha walked in confidence. He indeed inherited the double portion. I suspect some of us might have been jealous in that situation – the man who succeeds me will be twice as successful as I am? Not if I can help it! But isn’t that what we should aim at, in God’s kingdom? To God be the glory, not ourselves.

At then end of this life we need to see something important: Elijah went willingly to meet his Lord. Some of us are very reluctant to do that. One reason: we don’t really believe in life after death, and we don’t really believe in the resurrection of the dead. But our lack of faith does not change the promise of God.

Another reason might be this: no matter what good we have done, we all are sinners. When you come to the end of your life, you may look back and think, “I’m not worthy.” But was Elijah?

Why Elijah?

It’s a fair question. We know very little about Enoch, who was also taken up in similar manner. But we know a lot about, for example, Moses. David would have been a good candidate. Elisha would also. What about Isaiah or Ezekiel? Why this man?

  • So that we will understand that God does the choosing. He will have mercy upon those he chooses.
  • He has chosen us. We are the recipients of grace, through Christ. It is not on our merits we make it, but by his blood.

We’re not worthy. He is worthy, and that’s what counts.

Splitting the river

It is a sign of God’s power and favor resting upon someone – the ability to work a mighty miracle. Remember Moses dividing the sea, Joshua sending the Ark of the Covenant through the Jordan! So when Elisha does it, it is a sign that the power formerly in Elijah is now with him.

  • But with power comes responsibility. No authority comes in the kingdom without power; none comes without responsibility either. So Elisha has work to do – the same work Elijah did.
  • “Where is the God of Elijah?” he asks. The question is rhetorical; it is to show that God has not left at all. The faces change; the kingdom continues.

There is a lesson for us in this regarding our deaths. Many of us think that if our dreams cannot be accomplished in our lifetimes, then they cannot be accomplished. We must remember that the kingdom of God is eternal.

Most of us care little for our dreams when death approaches – we cling to life. But consider what waits: to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. In whose hands would you rather be? Have you forgotten the resurrection to come?

Symbolic: the resurrection to come

In the ascension of Elijah we can see forerunners of Christ’s ascension:

  • He ascends bodily - the prophets don’t think so. They search for his body, but God teaches us here that body and soul belong together. This union will be restored at the resurrection of the dead.
  • It is an event which shows the glory of God – as will our resurrection.
  • It is the “end of the road” for Elijah – like our deaths. But just as this ascension was foretold to the prophets, so the return of Christ is told to us.

There are contrasts, too: Christ ascended after death. Why the difference?

  • Obviously, his death was necessary for the atonement. It gave victory over the grave.
  • Also, it gave us a clear picture that we too will be with our Father after death.
  • And, like Elisha, the church was told it would do greater things – but only after our Lord ascended.

The sure and certain hope

We all must face our “River Jordan.” But when we do, let us face it reminded of what we have seen here:

  • The resurrection of the dead – promised from the time of Job – is our sure and certain hope.
  • It is guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus – the central fact of the faith.
  • We will rise not as disembodied spirits – ghosts – but rather as human beings – body and soul united in a new kind of body.

All this is certain for those who belong to Christ. As he told us, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Therefore, let us look to Him as we approach our deaths; there is no other way.

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