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Your Influence Lasts Longer than You Think

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July 15, 2012

He departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat…  Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. 1 Kings 19:19

Most of Elijah’s life was an uphill struggle in which God’s people had given way to rampant idolatry. He served through the reign of the worst King Israel had ever known up to that time, and through a period of judgment in which God withheld the rains.

For some time Elijah’s ministry was hidden from the people of God, and he was given a ministry to just one family in Sidon. Elijah wanted to accomplish more than his fathers did, so he must have wondered how that would be possible when God had hidden him in obscurity.

We saw how the greatest moment his life led to deep discouragement. Elijah called down fire from heaven, and when the people saw it they said “The Lord, He is God.” They were convinced, but not converted. And at the end of it all, Elijah must have looked at the situation and said, “What has changed? Ahab is still on the throne and Jezebel is worse than ever.”

After all the prayer and all the ministry, Elijah felt defeated. “What have I accomplished? Many of us have been in a place where darkness descends—your energy is drained, your motivation is gone and you say, “What is the point of continuing to be faithful to God in this work I have been doing?” That’s where Elijah was, and we saw last time that God met him there. God never abandons his honorably wounded servants.

We are looking today at the last years of Elijah’s life. We only know a little about them, but what we know is full of encouragement. Elijah accomplished less than he had hoped—he did not see the great national revival that he longed for; but he also accomplished more than he thought.

Elijah had worked and battled and struggled and often felt that he was getting nowhere. But at the end of his story we see the surprising influence of a godly life. I want to give you three snapshots from this last era of Elijah’s life: 1. Elijah’s last years, 2. Elijah’s last day, and 3. Elijah’s last moments. We find these snapshots in 1 Kings 19 and in 2 Kings 2.

A Godly Leader’s Last Years

The Lord said to him… “You shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.”  1 Kings 19:15-16

The last years of Elijah’s life are all about launching the ministry of others. The wisdom and kindness of God are written all over this story.

Elijah has been despair. He feels he has accomplished nothing. Then God delivers Elijah from the darkness through three wonderful gifts.

You may be in a situation of darkness today, and it helps to know the wonderful gifts that God gives to His people who are discouraged.

  1. God gave him the gift of work
    “Go return on your way.1 Kings 19:15

Elijah had been exhausted and discouraged. God allowed him to withdraw for a time, but brooding on your own tends to make the darkness worse. A.W. Pink says it well…

“The only hope for persons in such circumstances is to come out from their lonely haunts, and to be actively employed in some useful… occupation. This is the best cure for melancholy: to set about doing something which requires muscular exertion, and which will benefit others.” [1]

Useful work is a wonderful gift from God. God does not say “You’ve had your day, go off and retire some place where you won’t be in the way.” God calls Elijah to pour the remaining years of his life into a new generation of younger leaders who will continue the work he had begun.

Elijah’s role was different from what it had been. He was no longer the one prophetic voice of the nation, so he no longer had a national platform. But God had work for him to do, and as we’ll see, more was accomplished in this last season of Elijah’s life than in all that had gone before.

  1. God gave him the gift of a promise

God says “I will have seven thousand in Israel.”  1 Kings 19:18

Elijah felt so lonely for most of his life that he was constantly repeating this phrase: “I, even I only, am left.” Then God says to him, “There will be seven thousand.” It is rightly translated by the ESV in the future tense.

This is a marvelous promise that the work Elijah has begun will continue, and that it will be more fruitful in the future than in the past, “Elijah, the work that you’ve begun is so small, but it will grow. It will be fruitful.”

Plant seeds and God will make them grow. God’s Word is living seed.  Plant it in the lives of the people that God has put around you. Water the seed with your prayers and God will make it grow over time.

  1. God gave him the gift of friendship
    For most of his life, Elijah had worked alone. But in this last season of his life, when he is very discouraged, God gives Elijah the gift of friendship. Elisha became his friend and partner in ministry.

This must have seemed strange to Elijah at first. He was used to working on his own. I don’t suppose it was easy for him to adjust to this new way of serving, but it proved a great blessing in his life, and more was accomplished in this last era of his life than in any period before.

You will see this if you turn to 2 Kings 2, where we read about “the sons of the prophets.” Elijah and Elisha went down to Bethel and…

“the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha…” (2:3)


“the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho came out to Elisha…”
(2:5)


“Fifty men of the sons of the prophets also went…” as they were standing by the Jordan.
(2:7)

Where have all these guys come from? For years, Elijah felt he was the only prophet: “I, even I only, am left.” Now there are these “sons of the prophets” in Bethel, in Jericho and fifty of them standing by the river Jordan… God was raising up a new generation of men who would speak His Word with clarity and with power.

The Bible does not give us a precise time line for Elijah’s life. We don’t know how long Elijah and Elisha served together. One writer talks about a period of 10 years. [2] So, it’s reasonable to assume Elijah and Elisha may have spent a decade or more raising up a new generation of godly leaders.

We see the fruit of these efforts in this last glimpse of Elijah’s life. In hindsight, it turned out to be the greatest contribution of Elijah’s life because it multiplied.

This is a marvelous vision, and it is one that we are already embracing at The Orchard. This congregation is already pouring into the lives of young leaders who are finding their way in the ministry of the Word.

Preachers who proclaim the Bible will be birthed from churches that love the Bible. Think of what good would be done if a young preaching pastor and leader were launched into ministry from this church every year for the next decade.

Actually that’s already happening. What if the one became two, and the two became five, and the five became ten? Think what good could be done in the greater Chicago area by a congregation that loves the Bible birthing preachers and leaders who will be able to advance the work of the Gospel.

And think of the good that could be done around the world. Stephen Chandra will be with us again on Thursday evening. His great passion is to identify movement leaders and to equip them for the advance of the Gospel in Asia.

Here we are as a church and God has placed us, in His kindness, right next to Trinity and Moody. Think of what good could be done if we become true partners in raising up Asian evangelists and church planters. Paul says to Pastor Timothy, “What you have heard from me… entrust to faithful men who will teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).

This passion runs strong and deep in my own life, and I invite you to join me in this prayer: Lord, make us useful in raising up ‘sons of the prophets’ who will speak your Word with clarity and power in the greater Chicago area and around the world.

The second chapter of 2 Kings describes in detail the last day of Elijah’s life. What a remarkable day it was!

A Godly Leader’s Last Day

When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind…
2 Kings 2:1

 

Elijah is one of only two people in the Old Testament who went from earth to heaven without passing through death. The other was Enoch.

Elijah was in the unusual position of being strong and vigorous on the last day of his life. He used his last day to make a farewell tour in which he visited the sons of the prophets in three towns before crossing the Jordan River. Elijah must have travelled 25 to 30 miles on this trip, and I have no doubt that he preached a farewell message at each of the venues.

What a marvelous thing that when it comes to the last day of this man’s life, he doesn’t spend it making peace with God. Why? He already had peace with God.

And if you are a Christian today, you have peace with God too: “Being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Roman 5:1), “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

So when the day of departure comes, Elijah does not go into some kind of panic. He has peace with God. He stands in grace, and he knows that the hope of glory is ahead of him (Roman 5:1-5).

Elijah gave his last day to saying goodbye to the people he loved. Would that be you? Do not delay in putting things right with God. Don’t hang on to a secret sin or a double-life one day longer. Choose this day who you will serve.

The day began near Gilgal. Elijah was going to Bethel, which is about ten miles west. He says to Elisha, “Stay here. You don’t need to come.” Elisha knows it’s his last day with Elijah and he doesn’t want to miss a single minute. He won’t be shaken off.

They get to Bethel. The sons of the prophets also knew that this was Elijah’s last day. One of them says to Elisha, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from you?” Elisha says, “Yes, I know. Keep quiet” (2 Kings 2:3). “I don’t need you to keep reminding me!”

Think about people who are gifts of God in your life. You can’t imagine life without them. Elisha can’t imagine being in ministry without Elijah and he is like a sponge soaking up all that he can from Elijah in the few precious hours that remain. Learn everything you can from godly people who are placed around you while you have them.

Then Elijah went to Jericho, another ten miles or so back east. He meets with another cohort of these younger men. What a marvelous day this was for Elijah! The man who one said, “I, even I only, am left,” leaves behind a new generation of godly leaders who speak the word of God with clarity and power in multiple locations.

A Godly Leader’s Last Moments

 

As they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 2 Kings 2:11

What an amazing scene! The angels of God are described in the Bible as “chariots of God” (Psalm 68:17). “He makes His angels winds, his servants flames of fire” (Hebrews 1:7; Psalm 104:4).

Here the angels are made visible, and stooping down they lift Elijah up and whisk him away to heaven. This story gave rise to the song:

Swing low sweet chariot,

coming for to carry me home.

I looked over Jordan and what did I see?

coming for to carry me home. 

A band of angels coming after me,

coming for to carry me home.

This was a remarkable miracle, but the question is: How does it speak to us today? A faithful preacher must always ask two questions of every Scripture: How does this relate to Jesus and how does this relate to us?

When Christ returns, the New Testament tells us, those who are alive will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed. Some of us may be among these people. But the vast majority of Christians pass through death. So, how does this speak to us?

Before Elijah was swept up by the angels, we are told that he crossed the Jordan, “Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground” (2 Kings 2:8).

Back in the time of Joshua, God’s people came into the land of Canaan by crossing the Jordan from the east. Now Elijah, who is already in the land, is crossing in the opposite direction. He is heading out. The river Jordan is often used as a symbol of death…

When I tread the verge of Jordan

bid my anxious fears subside.

Death of death and hell’s destruction,

land me safe on Canaan’s side.

God had parted the Jordan to give His people a safe passage into the joys of Canaan below. Now He parts the waters to give Elijah a safe passage into the joys of heaven above.

Elisha walks behind him. It is not time for him to go yet, but when his time comes he will be as safe as Elijah was, because Christ has made a safe passage through the waters of death for all who follow him. That’s why the Christian can sing songs like this:

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:

When Jordan above me shall roll,

No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life

Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul

Elijah goes through the Jordan, and then he is lifted up into the presence of God. Put these two together and you have a beautiful picture of what will happen for every believer. What is death for a Christian? It is to pass safely through the Jordan, and to be lifted up into the presence of God.

What is death for a Christian? THROUGH and UP—and that’s what will happen to you. Through and up—through death and up into the joyful presence of almighty God. Through and up in Christ the Savior, and home.

A Godly Successor’s First Steps

 

Before we close, I want you to picture the last scene in the story. Put yourself in the shoes of young Elisha. God has given you the gift of this godly friend, who has been a means of God’s grace to, and with whom you have shared your life for these last years. Now he has gone. What in the world is Elisha to do now?

  1. He took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces

The tearing of the clothes is an expression of grief that was familiar in that culture, and still is in many cultures today. There’s an intensity of grief as he rips his clothing apart, “I have lost my best friend.” Spurgeon says “Jesus wept… and you could not be like Jesus unless you wept too.” [3] Never be ashamed of your tears at the death of a loved one.

  1. He took up the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him

When Elijah was taken up into heaven, Elisha must have felt an overwhelming sense of loss. He tears his clothes in grief and sorrow. But now he’s done weeping, and there he stands with his clothes in shreds. And what does he do now? Where does he go from here?

He looks round and there in front of him is Elijah’s cloak. The same cloak Elijah had placed on him when he called Elisha to ministry years before.

It had fallen from Elijah as he was taken up into heaven, and there it lay on the ground in front of Elisha.

Elijah doesn’t need the cloak. His work is over. But God has work for Elisha to do. He must continue the work that his dear friend and mentor had begun. So Elisha picks up the cloak and puts it on.

The right way to respond after you have grieved the loss of a godly person is to carry on in the path they’ve walked. Were they humble? Now you must be humble. Did they pray? Now you must pray. If you’re able to continue the work they were doing, do it; if not, encourage someone who can.

The picture of the rising prophet and the falling of the cloak makes me think about the ascension… For three years, the disciples had enjoyed the physical presence of Jesus. Now He would be taken from them. Jesus said, “I am going to the Father.” He said, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:17, 20).

They saw him going up into heaven, and they felt their loss, but on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fell, like the cloak and rested on them. They were clothed with power from on high.

  1. He called on the God of Elijah

Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?”  2 Kings 2:14

Elisha does not say, “Where is Elijah?” He says, “Where is the God of Elijah?” He is right there beside him. And He will be sufficient for everything that you need.

Elijah is gone, but the God of Elijah is here. The same God is with Elisha.  The same God is with you, and He says, “I am with you always.”

 

[1] A.W. Pink, Elijah, p. 244-245, Banner of Truth, 1963

[2] Ronald Wallace, Elijah and Elisha, p. ??, Hodder & Stoughton, 1999

[3] C.H. Spurgeon, sermon #3116, Preparing to Depart, 1865

 

© Colin S. Smith

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By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org



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