I was really unprepared for my brother’s confession that day.
I had grown up the youngest in a family of four boys. And none of us were Christians, neither my grandparents, who were our legal guardians, nor my brothers.
Tim was the closest to me in age. But he really surprised me when he told me that he liked reading the stories in the Bible.
I never would have guessed that the Bible would become important to me years later.
Since my brother Tim died when he was 18, I can only wonder now which particular stories in the Bible he read. And did they inspire faith?
I wonder if he ever read the last story of Elisha? Do you know what that story is?
In that last story, recorded in Second Kings, chapter 13, Elisha was actually dead.
In fact, there was not a prophet of God in Israel at all at that time. There were just the dead bones of Elisha.
The nation of Israel had rejected the messages that God had sent through His prophets.
And by the time the Bible records this story there had been a lot of oppression and war.
Small raiding armies from Moab would invade villages in Israel every spring to steal the food and the wealth that the Israelites had produced.
They would steal from homes; they would take their goats and sheep. They would steal anything. And they would kill anyone in their way.
Well, the raiders were on the war path one day in a village at the same time a funeral was going on. The people looked up from their funeral procession, they saw them coming.
Now, you may realize that in those days middle-eastern custom, people usually wailed loudly at funerals. So there was probably wailing with loud cries of mourning going on here.
My guess is that when they saw these soldiers coming, they discovered that they had abundant reasons, additional reasons for wailing. And reason to run.
And, of course, when you’ve got to make tracks really fast, the last thing you want slowing you down is dead weight.
So they quickly stuffed the body into the nearest tomb they could find and ran away to hide. It just happened to be Elisha’s tomb where they did that.
And as soon as the dead body touched the bones of Elisha, the man came back to life.
Now I can’t help but wonder what that newly-resurrected man thought. What about you?
He comes back to life, sits up, and looks at his surroundings. There’s just enough light to see what’s around him.
Brushing back the cobwebs, “Huh. . . Where am I?”
“What’s that fluttering sound I hear? Are those bats?”
“What are these strange sticks? Eeew, I’m in a pile of bones.”
Now if that had been you, what would have been your first thought?
Oh, let’s stick around.
No, man! Get out as fast as you can.
He scrambled out of that tomb, and what did he see? All his family and friends running off in the distance.
Waving and yelling, “Hey everyone, I’m here. I’m alright. I’m not sick anymore. Where are you going?”
Just then he heard a noise behind him. Turning around, he noticed a bunch of scary-looking soldiers coming his way.
“Oops, I think I’ll get back in that tomb.”
What a very strange story! It’s easy to think about the humor of the situation. After all, doesn’t God have a sense of humor?
But seriously, it’s amazing to me that even after Elisha’s death, God used his dead bones to raise someone from the dead.
Of course, Elisha had, really, nothing to do with it. God did.
And one day Elisha will learn the story of what his bones were up to after he died.
But those dead bones were not just any dead bones, and if we had been there, we would naturally guess that they had belonged to someone important, wouldn’t we?
Someone who was connected with God?
Someone who God must have used for a special purpose and message while he was alive?
It’s true, Elisha was no ordinary person. He was someone who was endowed with a double measure of Elijah’s spirit.
And just as we can understand something about the designer by studying what He has designed, wouldn’t the book of Second Kings, wouldn’t the life of Elisha tell us something about the God behind him?
I believe, definitely, that God used those dead bones so we would examine the ways in which God used him to bless people’s lives, and then. . .
Well, what could be the messages from these stories of Elisha’s life?
One very beloved and familiar story involving Elisha tells us about a poor woman and her little jar of oil. It’s in Second Kings, chapter 4.
And you remember that she had recently become a widow.
I can only imagine how that last week passed before her like a nightmare, so unreal and yet never ending. And so painful for her.
Her husband, her companion, her friend, the father of her boys, her provider, was dead.
After the funeral, friends and family left and she was all alone, except for her two boys.
Now her husband had gone to the schools of the prophets, which meant that he was a prophet, or at least a prophet in training. And that meant that made her the wife of a prophet. But now that was all gone. She was a widow, one of the lowest positions in society. Automatically poor.
But at least she had her sons.
They were so full of energy. They had spunk. They brought joy to her heart.
Both of them reminded her of her late husband. They had his smile and his eyes.
I picture her washing dishes one day when she heard knocking at the door. As soon as she opened it, a mean-looking man pushed his way inside.
“Woman,” he yelled. “Your husband owed me a lot of money. You must pay me back. And I don’t want to wait much longer.”
“But sir! All I have are my two sons and this little jar of oil. I don’t know how we can ever pay you.”
He snarled back at her. “Well, then I will just have to take your two sons and sell them into slavery to pay your debt to me. And don’t think I won’t do it. Give me my money in three days, or I’ll sell your sons.”
And then he left her, all slumped down at the kitchen table, sobbing.
“What am I going to do? I’ve lost my husband. I can’t bear the thought of losing my boys. God, I need your help!”
And then a thought came to her. “The prophet of God, Elisha, he’s in the village. I will go to him for help.”
So she went to Elisha. Told him the whole sad story.
About her godly husband dying. But also about him owing money.
And the harsh creditor demanding payment. And that if she didn’t pay him, he would sell her two sons.
Elisha prayed. “Okay, God, what’s the answer? What can I tell her?”
And then the idea immediately came to him. “Wait a minute!” he said. “What do you have in your house of any value?”
“Sir, I have nothing but a small bottle of olive oil.”
“Perfect,” Elisha told her. “Ask your neighbors for their empty jars. And after you’ve borrowed as many as you can, go home and shut the door behind you and your sons, and then begin filling the jars with oil and set each one aside as you fill it.”
So the woman did exactly as Elisha told her.
She went down the street one way and her sons went down the other way, knocking on neighbor’s doors.
There you have it. Right there in the Bible, the first ingathering campaign. Yes.
Knock, knock. “Excuse me, sir! Would you be so kind to loan me your empty jars?”
And her sons did the same. “Hello. Excuse us, sir. Our mother would like to borrow any empty jars you have. Please!”
And so that’s how it went, from house to house. Soon they collected so many they didn’t have enough room for them all.
And then they shut the door, and then the widow began filling the jars, one by one, from that small bottle of olive oil. She filled the first one. It filled all the way up. And then the next jar after that. And then the next. And the next after that.
“Bring me another jar,” she said.
“We don’t have any more,” her sons said, looking around at all the bottles and jars full of oil cluttering the floor of their house.
It really was amazing! It was a miracle!
What the prophet said would happen, happened.
So the woman went right away to Elisha for further instructions. “Alright,” he replied. “Now go sell the oil and use part of the money to pay what you owe the man. And then you and your sons can live on what’s left.”
I love that story... and there’s another great story, you remember, when Elisha stopped an invasion of the Syrian army. It’s in Second Kings, chapter 6.
The Bible tells us there that the king of Syria was at war against the Israelites.
And so he’d get together with his officers and huddle and give them the game-plan. And they would set up camp at a certain place to lay an ambush.
But each time, Elisha would send a warning to the king of Israel. “Don’t go near that place. That’s where the Syrian army has set up camp to ambush your troops.”
And so the king of Israel would warn his troops to be on guard. And the danger would be averted.
Well, the king of Syria was furious when he found out what was happening. He called in his officers and asked, “Which one of you has been telling our plans to the king of Israel?”
“None of us, Your Majesty,” they replied. “It’s an Israelite named Elisha. That’s what we hear. He’s a prophet, so he can tell his king everything—even what you say in your room.”
“Find out where he is!” the king ordered. “I’ll send soldiers to bring him here.”
So they learned that Elisha lived in the town of Dothan and they reported that to the king (2 Kings 6:11-13 CEV).
So he sent a detachment of highly-trained commandos, to capture Elisha.
During the night, his troops surrounded the small hill where Elisha lived.
And the next morning, Elisha’s servant saw the Syrian troops surrounding the place. Running to his master, “Elisha! Sir! What are we going to do?”
“Don’t be afraid,” Elisha answered. “There are more troops on our side than theirs.”
And then his servant’s eyes were opened to see all the fiery horses and flaming chariots from heaven just waiting for Elisha’s command to strike them down.
And then some very interesting things began to happen.
The Syrian troops, armed with their best, shiny swords and shields, riding on tough looking chariots with spikes coming through the wheels, were coming closer and closer and closer.
They were about 30 feet away when Elisha decided to have a little godly mischief.
He prayed, “Lord, make those soldiers blind!” So the Lord zapped them blind (and stupid). Well, maybe they were stupid already.
Then Elisha walked over to these now confused and disoriented troops. “Uh, hello. Excuse me, gentlemen? What is it you’re looking for?”
“Hmm. Ah, I see. No, you’ve come to the wrong place. This is not where you need to be. Come and follow me and I’ll lead you to the man you’re really looking for.”
So he grabbed one hand and all those strong, fearsome soldiers were fumbling around to find a hand, or maybe it was a shoulder to hold on to.
Isn’t that sweet? Big, bad, brave soldiers.
And Elisha led them straight to the capital city of Samaria.
And what a sight that must have been to those manning the city gates.
Elisha, the prophet of God—they knew who he was—there at the beginning of a long column of blinded, enemy soldiers, crying out, “Open the gates.”
So the big, heavy wooden doors creaked open.
And he led the men into the center of the city square and presented them to the king of Israel.
“Uh, uh. Should I kill them, sir?” the king asked.
“No! You didn’t capture these troops in battle, so you have no right to kill them. No. Here’s what I tell you. Give them something to eat and drink and then let them return to their leader.”
So the king ordered a banquet for Syria’s best troops, his enemies, mind you. After they finished eating, they were free to go.
And for a long while after that, the Syrian troops stopped invading Israel’s territory. Imagine that.
Don’t you love that story? I certainly do.
What conclusion could we possibly come to when we think of all those experiences and the ways in which God used Elisha to bless people’s lives?
There’s this story of Elisha leading blind, enemy soldiers to where they could be fed—could that be describing God’s way of turning His enemies into friends?
There’s that story of God miraculously supplying oil so that a poor widow could pay off her dead husband’s creditor and then have some left to live on. Does that tell you about the kind of God who cares for the disadvantaged, the powerless and the weak?
And then that very strange story about the dead bones of Elisha and the man coming back to life—is that a picture of a creative God who will try to get the attention of His rebellious people any way He can in order to communicate with them?
There are so many other stories from Elisha’s life that I haven’t even touched on.
These stories about Elisha and all the prophets of God, in fact, they’re not just about a bunch of dead bones, dead men and dead women, dead stories, dead sermons, long since past. I believe they speak powerfully to a living God that we can trust today.
Elisha’s ministry is like a billboard with a bold, clear message on it.
It’s like God is shouting out in neon colors, “Hey folks, don’t forget, I’m still around. I’m still here.”
Prophets and messengers may come and go. But friends, the truth about God is still the same.
I invite you to read the stories and draw your own conclusions from them.
These stories are the evidence that God lays out for us to consider and thereby know what He is like.
In fact, read all the stories of the Bible.
Some of us might even ask ourselves if we spend more time doing other things than the time we spend reading the Bible. Things like watching sports or TV in general, or spending time on the Internet or even just simple, mundane things like thinking about the faults of others. I don’t know. You name it.
Folks, let’s read the Bible. Let’s spend time in the Bible with God.
And once you’ve read the stories, ask yourself the question, “What does this story tell me about the kind of God I believe in and love?”
After all, what God wants most is not our religiosity. Certainly not our pretensions. “Oh yeah. I’m fine. I’m doing alright. Yeah.”
No. God wants us to know Him in a spiritually intimate way. As a close Friend.
Jeremiah 31 and Hosea 6 tell us that what He wants most of all is steadfast love and the knowledge of God.
Jesus tells us that what God wants is for us to be His trusting friends.
These stories help us to know God. And not only to know God and to love Him, but also to like Him. And then trust Him. And then be healed.
There is no substitute. There is no substitute for reading the Bible!
That’s where the power of Christianity is. And I want that power. What about you?
Let’s sing hymn number 547, “Be Thou My Vision,”.
Hymn of Praise: #60, Blessed Jesus, at Thy Word Scripture: 2 Kings 2:8,9 Hymn of Response: #547, Be Thou My Vision
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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 3/3/08