Elijah–Ordinary to Extraordinary ~ Message 7 “Chariot of Fire” 2 Kings 2:1-14

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Ordinary to Extraordinary – Elijah

Chariot of Fire

1 Kings 19:19-21, 2 Kings 2:1-17

Bruce A. Hess

If you would now, please take out the word of God and turn in it to the book of 2 Kings in the Old Testament and chapter number 2. If you don’t happen to have a Bible, there should be one under a chair in front of you. You can take that Bible and turn to page 273 and you would be parked at 2 Kings, chapter 2.

We’ve been involved in a series of messages we have entitled, “Ordinary to Extraordinary,” on the life of Elijah. If you have been with us in this series you know it has been an encouraging and challenging series. It has been especially encouraging because Elijah is really a regular, ordinary guy like us. In James 5:17, it says that he had a nature like ours. Part of what we see him going through is encouraging because, we realize that we are very much like him.

He experienced fear and loneliness in his spiritual walk and you might remember, after his greatest victory, what happens? He runs away. He runs away and he hides from Queen Jezebel. He goes through severe discouragement. He falls into self-pity. He even prays that he might die. He is basically ready to quit the spiritual race. And then, you might remember, he runs—like Forrest Gump—forty days through the desert. He ends up hiding in a cave where he is saying, basically, to God, ‘Why?’ Then, he claims he is the only righteous man left. So, this is a very encouraging series we’ve seen as we’ve looked at the life of Elijah.

But it is also challenging. It is challenging because Elijah believed, I mean really believed, in God’s promises. Elijah had boldness to face a hostile culture. Elijah called for public confrontation in the spiritual community. Elijah mocked 450 prophets of Baal, he took them on, 1 against 450. He raised a boy from the dead and through prayer he accomplished great things. So, it’s not only encouraging, but it’s a little bit challenging, calling us up.

You know, Scripture honors Elijah. Second only to Moses, he is the most mentioned Old Testament character in the New Testament. God honors Elijah. We see it on the Mount of Transfiguration. You remember that? You can look it up in Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9; but when Jesus appears, and His glory is pulled back, who is there with him? Moses and Elijah. If you’ve been with us in our study we’ve tracked him from Gilead—which was in the mountain country where he was from, east of Israel—and then we tracked him from there to the brook Cherith. We tracked him to the widow’s house. We saw him then at Mount Carmel. We saw him go out into the wilderness. We saw him take up in a cave on Mount Horeb, or Mount Sanai. We saw him in the vineyard of Naboth.

As we have been tracking him, there are some things in his story that we have skipped over. For example, we’ve skipped over 1 Kings 19 where he appointed Elisha as his successor. You can go read about that. We’ve also skipped over his confrontation of King Ahab’s son, who was King Ahaziah. He confronts him in the first chapter of 2 Kings. You might want to go read that; there are some interesting things in that chapter.

Today we come to 2 Kings, chapter 2, which is Elijah’s last day and I have entitled the message, ‘Chariot of Fire.’ I want to read the first fourteen verses of chapter 2 of 2 Kings and I invite you to follow along in your Bible as I read. It says,

“It came about when the LORD was about to take up Elijah by a whirlwind to heaven, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here please, for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.’ But Elisha said, ‘As the LORD lives and you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So, they went down to Bethel. Then 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; be still.’ Elijah said to him, ‘Elisha, please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.’ But he said, ‘As the LORD lives, (this is Elisha speaking) and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So, they both came to Jericho. The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho approached Elisha and said to him, ‘Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?’ And Elisha answered, ‘Yes, I know; be still.’ Then Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.’ And Elisha said, ‘As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So, the two of them went on.

Now fifty men of the sons of the prophets went and stood opposite them at the distance, while the two of them stood by the Jordan. Elijah took his mantle (his cloak) and folded it together and struck the waters, and they were divided here and there, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.’ And Elisha said, ‘Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.’ Elijah 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.’

As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven. Elisha saw it and cried out, ‘My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!’ And he saw Elijah no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. He also took up the mantle (the cloak) of Elijah that fell from Elijah and returned and stood by the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and struck the waters and said, ‘Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?’ And when he also had struck the waters, they were divided here and there; and Elisha crossed over.”

Now, you know, we would all agree that it is the norm, that we would be unaware of which day would be our last day. Is that not the norm? That is the norm. But occasionally, I think, God gives some insight to people. Occasionally, in His grace, He gives an indicator to them. My wife Janet’s grandmother, named Isabelle, was 105 and a half…that “half” was very important to her, 105 and a half! On Tuesday Janet talked to her and this is what Isabelle said, “Jesus told me I am going to be with Him on Friday.” What do you think happened on Friday? She went to be with Jesus. See, the norm is we are unaware of which day may be our last, but occasionally God gives insight and gives an indicator.

Here, apparently, in our story God had communicated to Elijah; who maybe then also communicated it to Elisha. And he also had communicated to the prophets, at these various schools of the prophets, during these various stops they were making, that this was going to be the day that would be Elijah’s last day on this planet.

Most of you are aware that I have had to face cancer two different times and when you are facing cancer, and you know that could limit your time on the planet, it influences your perspective, your perspective about life and death.

I still remember the first time I got word of that and how serious it was. I remember walking around and observing people. I was just noticing something about the way they interacted and everything. They were largely unaware of the fragileness of life and I was looking at it face-to-face. You know, when you are dealing with something like that, it affects your perspective about life and your perspective about priorities.

I want you to imagine for just a moment that you were maybe the exception to the rule. And God would tell you: ‘You’ve got weeks, you’ve got maybe months, to live.’ What difference would it make in your life?

Well, for one thing you might say, ‘I don’t know that I would get angry so easily, if I knew I only had so many days left.’ Or maybe you would say, ‘I am going to dismiss holding a grudge as a complete waste of time.’ Maybe—and I know this is part of how I felt—maybe, you would say, ‘You know what? I would express appreciation more freely than I have. I would give hugs. I would say I love you more.’

 If you knew you were facing your last days you might say, ‘Well, the state of the world would be far less distressing to me. I mean this is not my home. I’m going someplace else.’ Maybe you would look forward to the glory of heaven and the reunions that would be there.

No doubt, if you thought you were facing your last days you might choose to simplify your life, ‘I need to simplify things a little bit.’ Maybe you would share the good news of the gospel more freely. No doubt you would think strategically every day that you had.

Here is the question: if we would do that then knowing that, why not now? Why not now choose to think strategically every day of our life?

The Heidelberg Catechism, written in, guess where?, Heidelberg, Germany, 1563, nearly 455 years ago, was a typical catechism. What they would do with catechisms is there would be a question-and-answer format, and they would train you in Biblical theology with that. So, they would ask a question and then you would memorize the Biblical answer.

In the Heidelberg Catechism here is the very first question that gets asked, ‘What is your only comfort in life and in death?’ The answer you were to give is: “I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death–to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to Him, Christ, by His Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him.’

One thing that we learn from Elijah is he is living strategically on his last day.

Look at chapter 2 and verse 1 again. They start out, Elijah and Elisha, together in Gilgal. Then, they go from Gilgal and he says, ‘I’ve got to go to Bethel.’ Then, they get there, and he says, ‘I’ve got to go to Jericho.’ Then, they get there, and he says, ‘I’ve got to go to the Jordan River.’

Now, we’re not overly familiar with all the geography, but if you take those trips from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho to the Jordan River that is maybe some forty miles. They are not riding motor scooters, they are walking. We know that Elijah was not some rickety old guy who couldn’t make it around. Forty miles on his last day! But he was living strategically.

You know, we have seen him kind of disappear from the book of 1 Kings several different times, when he just seems to go away for a while. The question is, what was he doing in those times when he was out of our view? I think we learn in chapter 2 what he was doing. He was investing in the lives of others. At each of these stops that he makes; Bethel, Jericho, and the Jordan River, there is a school of the prophets that is there. These are prophets that he has been involved in investing in them spiritually and in training them spiritually. He has been building into the up-and-coming generation.

Why did he do that? He knew that he was not going to be here forever. By the way, men and women, the same thing is true of us; we are not going to be here forever. So, we need to be living strategically. At the core of living strategically, it means we are doing some things. For example, if you have children in your home and you are going to live strategically, you need to be training your own children spiritually, setting the example for them and building into them.

If we are going to be living strategically…you know that is one of the reasons why at Wildwood we have a Children’s Ministry; so we are building into all these young lives that are yet wet cement. It is why we have the AWANA ministry [Scripture memory program for children] and we are building some Scripture memory into our children. It is why we have a Student Ministry. It is why we have a College Ministry. It is why we get involved as a church family, because we want to be strategic in investing in world outreach.

Many of you know that a number of years ago, back in the 90’s, we started Latvian Christian Radio in the nation of Latvia. We also have a radio program there that is broadcast two times every week called, ‘Treasures for Every Day,’ where we take the messages that I deliver here at Wildwood, they are transcribed; they are translated into Latvian; then they are communicated on the radio by a leading actor in Latvia. I am telling you—I am totally convinced, I know many of the stories—that when we get to heaven one day there are going to be some Latvian friends in heaven who are going to thank us for being strategic in getting involved in something like that.

We are involved in multiple ministries around the world. Why do we do that? Because we are living strategically. We want to build into the coming generation because we are not always going to be here. Part of that is training spiritual leaders, not only here, but even worldwide. We are looking at that more as a leadership team, like how can we continue to be strategic and build into the up-and-coming generation.

If we are going to live strategically, it also means that we share the way of hope, we share the truth of the gospel. We do it with our neighbors. We do it with our co-workers.  We do it with our fellow students.

So, we see that in Elijah, he is living strategically. He’s not always going to be here so he is building into the up-and-coming generation.

You know there is another very striking thing that we saw when we read through this chapter, and that is the three-time “thing” that goes on with Elisha. Three times Elijah says to Elisha, “Stay here, the LORD is leading me to…” first Bethel, then to Jericho, then to the Jordan River. He says that to Elisha three times and three times Elisha’s response is what? “I will not leave you; I’m going with you.” What is actually happening there? What is Elijah doing by not just asking this once, but twice and three times? What is happening?

Well, I believe that what Elijah was doing was testing Elisha’s spiritual tenacity. Every follower of Jesus needs to have spiritual tenacity if we’re going to effectively live strategically. Because, you see, we always have enemies fighting against us.

One of the enemies is Satan and all of his forces. And we’re involved—whether  we believe it or not and realize it or not—every single day in spiritual warfare and we have the enemy that is always coming at us, in some ways trying to get us to not do the will of God.

Then, we have the world’s system that is out there that is trying to squeeze us into its mold; to try to make us think like they think and act like they act.

Then, we have the enemy of our own flesh, which can derail us from walking with God and living strategically.

In light of all of those things we have to battle—sort of like swimming upstream—every follower of Jesus needs spiritual tenacity if we are going to live strategically. It is exactly what Paul communicated to Timothy. In Paul’s last letter to Timothy, I want you to notice how much he talks about spiritual tenacity. He says in chapter 1 and verse 13 to Timothy, “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me.” Stick with the truth.

Verse 14 of chapter 1, “Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you,” which was not only the word of God, but also was the gospel message of salvation that leads people to hope.

He says in chapter 2 and verse 1, “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” You need to have spiritual tenacity, Timothy!

Chapter 2, verse 15, he says, “Be diligent (work hard) to present yourself approved to God…accurately handling the word of truth.” People always mishandle this book (the Scripture). Don’t you do that; you need to be tenacious in that.

Then, in chapter 3, verse 14-15, he says, “Continue in the things you have learned.” This is spiritual tenacity. “You, from childhood have known the sacred writings which are able to give you wisdom.” You need to always be garnering wisdom. Keep doing that.

Then, in chapter 4, verse 5, he says to him, “Always be sober minded (be clear headed), endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” He is saying to Timothy:  spiritual tenacity is what you need if you are going to live strategically.

I want us to all understand because I want to give ourselves a little bit of a break here. Spiritual tenacity does not mean that we don’t trip and fall down. Spiritual tenacity does not mean that we don’t get knocked down; because we look at the life of Elijah and what happened? He fell down several times. He got knocked down a few times. Spiritual tenacity, though, means that when we fall down, when we’re knocked down, we get back up;, and we get back up in His power and His grace.

Elijah knew that it was his last day and yet there is no panic, there is no fear, there is no dread. He is just very much at rest in God’s hands. In chapter 2, verse 9, he asks the question of Elisha, ‘What would you like me to do for you?’ What was Elisha’s response? ‘Man, I would like a double portion of your spirit.’ Now, some of that language is not something we really understand. But you know, in their culture, you would have multiple sons and the oldest son would receive a double portion of the estate. That is part of what Elisha is saying, ‘I’m like your adopted spiritual son and you know what? I want a double portion of your spirit.’

That question, ‘What would you like me to do for you?’ reminds me of when God approached Solomon. Do you remember that? And, God says, ‘I will give you a request. What is your request?’ You remember that Solomon does not say, ‘Well, you know what? What I need is, I really need a lot of money.’ Or, ‘I need the latest chariot,’ or, ‘I want a fat stock portfolio.’ Or, ‘What I really need, God, is this really big, fancy house with a lot of pools and everything else.’ Or, ‘What I really would like to have is this incredible surging business.’ He could have answered all of those things because God said, ‘I will give you what you request.’ But what does Solomon say? ‘You know what I would like to have, God, is a heart of wisdom.’

It just reminds me of Elisha. What do you want me to do for you? You know what I would like? I would like a double portion of your spirit. I want a double portion of your fortitude. I want a double portion of your boldness. I want a double portion of your perspective about things.

I haven’t actually figured this out, but someone has calculated that when you look at the miracles that Elijah did, and the miracles that Elisha did, Elisha did two times more miracles than Elijah. When you look at the length of Elijah’s ministry, the ministry of Elisha was two times longer.

You know, a big part in all of this is understanding God’s greatness and His power. We see Elijah going up, you know, in this big flash, up into heaven, and as he goes, Elijah leaves behind his cloak, his mantle, and Elisha picks it up. Where does he go? He goes right to the River Jordan. What does he do? He puts it in the water just the way Elijah did, then he is basically saying:  ‘God, work in the same way that you worked with Elijah.’

Part of what is going on there is everyone needs to learn to trust God for themselves. You cannot inherit this; you have to learn to trust God for yourself, and that is exactly what Elisha does. And, just as Elijah had touched the Jordan with his cloak and the river had opened up and then they could cross on dry land; so the same thing happened with Elisha. What is the common thing between Elijah and Elisha? The common thing is the greatness of the power of God.

You know, how did Elijah do what Elijah did? I mean, how did he do that? How does Elisha do two times more than what Elijah did? I mean, how did they together actually pull that off? Well, there are several clues given to us and I want to look at them.

The first clue is the name of Elijah. You remember we looked at this when we were back in chapter 17 of 1 Kings. His name is an amalgamation of things. The ‘El’ is the word for ‘God’ in the original language. The ‘jah’ is really the word for ‘Yahweh’ or ‘Jehovah.’ And the ‘I’ is the word in the original, for ‘my.’ So, literally, the name, Elijah, means:  ‘the Lord is my God.’ How did Elijah do what he did? Well, part of the clue is in his name.

The second clue we get are the very first words that come out of Elijah’s mouth when we first see him appearing on the scene in chapter 17 and verse 1 of 1 Kings. The very first words that come out of his mouth are: “As the LORD, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand.” How did he do what he was able to do? He had this deep confidence, this deep awareness of the presence of God in his life.

When we have a deep confidence and awareness of the presence of God this is what happens. When we have a deep confidence and awareness in the presence of God we come to love what He loves; we come to hate what He hates; we come to think what He thinks; we come to see what He sees; and we begin to concern ourselves with His concerns. Very important clue here is the deep confidence and awareness of the presence and the power of God.

There is a third clue that is given to us about how they pulled this off—both Elijah and Elisha. We have to go over a couple of chapters to the right in our Bibles to 2 Kings, chapter 6, where we have the story of Elisha and his servant. Now, this is one of my all-time favorite passages. I love this passage; and I think it gives us insight into what Elijah taught Elisha, and then in turn, Elisha is going to teach his servant the same truth.

What happens in this whole section is the king of Aram, who is warring against Israel, becomes enraged because he is moving his armies around and every time he moves his troops around, there is a counter move by the troops of Israel. So, he finally ends up saying, ‘There’s got to be a spy somewhere!’ And, they said, ‘Yeah, sort of a spy. It’s this guy named Elisha and God gives him divine insight. As you move your troops around, so he has counter movements for the nation of Israel.’ The king of Aram goes, ‘I want to get that guy. I want to get that guy!’

So, what he does in verse 14 is he sends out horses and chariots, all these tanks and everything else, a great army to where Elisha is. And they came by night, they sneaked in by night and they surround the city. All this giant army is around there and then what happens in verse 15, you have Elisha’s servant, the attendant to the man of God. He gets up early and he goes out and he is kind of a little bit drowsy and he is just clearing his head and he is starting to look around and he goes, ‘Oh my goodness! He looks all the way around. There’s the armies of Aram. We are completely surrounded. We are totally surrounded. Oh, my goodness! What are we going to do?’

He comes to Elisha and he says, the end of verse 15, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” Then, I just love Elisha’s response in verse 16, he says, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” The servant sort of spins around: ‘The ones who are with us are more than those who are with them? Wait a second, there are two of us here. I don’t get it.’

Then, you have verse 17, “Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.’ And the LORD opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” He basically was praying: ‘Would You give him a reality view of You, of Your greatness and Your power?’ And God did it.

See, the lesson we learn from Elijah and also from Elisha is that one person, plus God is more than enough. One person, plus God, is more than sufficient. And God calls ordinary people to do extraordinary things.  We may be ordinary, but we are called by God to do extraordinary things.

You know Elijah is known for his prayer life. Sometimes we think, ‘I don’t have a lot of energy in my prayer life. I’m not sure what I should pray for. I can’t seem to get much prayer done.’ But here was a guy who was known for his prayer life.

How was his prayer life fueled? By the greatness of God and His power. See Elijah didn’t pray to an anemic God; he had a real picture of who God was and the power that He had. You know who the real hero of this story of Elijah is? The real hero of the story of Elijah is God Himself.

“Open his eyes that he may see,” Elisha says. And Paul writes a similar thing to the believers in the book of Ephesians, chapter 1 and verse 18. He says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, that you would see.” What is he praying for? That you would see the surpassing greatness of God’s power. In fact, he says it is the same power that raised Christ from the dead and also seated Christ at the right hand of God; and that power, he says to those believers, resides inside of you. Inside of you.

In fact, he even goes on in Ephesians, chapter 3, verse 20, he says that God is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond everything we could ask or even think, according to His power—here comes the key phrase—which works within us. He is able to do, because of the greatness of His power, exceedingly, abundantly beyond what we could even imagine to ask or even imagine to think about. That is what fueled the prayer life of Elijah. God calls ordinary people to do extraordinary things. God calls ordinary people like us to do extraordinary things. Do you believe it? Elijah says, believe it, believe it.

When I think of Elijah and his life story, I think of the lyrics of a song by Chris Rice. Now, I am not going to sing this, so you can relax. But I am going to read the lyrics to the song. This just reminds me so much of Elijah.

Weak and wounded sinner

Lost and left to die

O raise your head for love is passing by

Come to Jesus, come to Jesus, come to Jesus and live!

Now your burden’s lifted and carried far away

And precious blood has washed away the stain

So, sing to Jesus, sing to Jesus, sing to Jesus and live!

And like a newborn baby

Don’t be afraid to crawl

And remember when you walk

Sometimes we fall

So, fall on Jesus, fall on Jesus, fall on Jesus and live!

Sometimes the way is lonely

And steep and filled with pain

So, if your sky is dark and pours the rain

Then, cry to Jesus, cry to Jesus, cry to Jesus and live!

And, oh, when the love spills over

And music fills the night

And when you can’t contain your joy inside

Then, dance for Jesus, dance for Jesus, dance for Jesus and live!

And with your final heartbeat

Kiss the world goodbye

Then, go in peace and laugh on glory’s side

And, fly to Jesus, fly to Jesus, fly to Jesus and live!

Let’s pray together. Father, we thank You again for Your word. We thank You for the life of Elijah. We thank You that he was a man just like us made out of the same cloth that we are and yet, he was someone who understood Your greatness and understood Your power. He lived strategically. May we be that kind of men and women that we might believe that You, indeed, call on ordinary people to do extraordinary things. For the honor of the Savior we pray, in His name. Amen.

Questions for Reflection

2 Kings 2:1 – 14

1. Have you ever known anyone who by God’s grace had indication their time on this planet was very limited? What was their attitude and how did they choose to live out their remaining time?  What did you learn from them?

2. If you knew you had weeks/months to live, what would you do differently?

3. What things about Elijah and his life have you found to be personally encouraging?  What things about Elijah and his life have you found to be challenging to you?

4. As we saw, Elijah spent much of his time building into others (developing his successor in Elisha and the schools of prophets).  Since we are not going to be here forever, what are some ways you can more effectively serve and build into others?

5. Spiritual tenacity should be a coveted trait for every follower of Jesus.  List some practical ways we can develop and deepen our spiritual tenacity. 

     What spiritual resources has God provided that can assist us in that quest?

6. It was stated that a big part of Elijah’s spiritual success was his understanding of God’s greatness and power.  Much of that can be observed in his prayer practice.  How can we remind ourselves of and grow in our understanding of His greatness and power?

7. Elisha’s prayer for his servant to see the spiritual reality “behind the scenes” is striking.  How might that perspective help us when we are called to face hardships, spiritual challenges, and ministry hurdles?

8. Bruce stated that when we have awareness of—and deep confidence in—the presence of God, the result is:  We come to love what He loves; we come to hate what He hates; we come to think what He thinks; we come to see what He sees;  we begin to concern ourselves with His concerns.  How best can we develop that awareness and confidence?

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