Sermon delivered October 4, 1997

by Pastor Kent Crutcher

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Saved by the Branch

How many of you have worked at summer camp? (A good showing of hands.) Praise the Lord! I wouldn't trade it for anything. There's not other experience. If you can possibly get out of working at a fast-food restaurant in the summertime between classes, go work at camp. The money is not as good, but memories are far better.

My first day of work at Cohutta Springs Camp was staff week. Now staff week is avery busy week because that's the week the staff all gets to know each other, learn how to work together and also get the camp ready for operation. It's been sitting there with cobwebs and no telling what else has happened, and you have to put the thing together, get your programs together and you just have one week. My first day of staff week they said, "Kent, you're going to go help set up Native American Housing." I thought, "What?" "Tepees." "Oh! Okay." And so I went to help set up the tepees. I didn't know how hard it was. I had no respect for our native Americans. There we were on one of the hardest jobs in the whole camp getting those tepees set up.

You have to go up and clear the brush of the tops of the mountains, and the ridge that overlooks the camp. You have to set up two tepees on the mountain and three over at Indian camp. That took us a good two days. Not only do you clear the brush, you also have to cut poles. Often the old poles would lay there all winter and rot and you'd have to shake them to see if they'd break. If they broke, you'd have to make another one. You'd have to look for a tree about eight inches in diameter and just as tall as it would go. Then you'd have to chop that tree down and trim up the branches and you have a new lodge-pole.

Well, it was in the process of chopping down one of these poles, swinging at with all I was worth because my ax was quite dull, my ax suddenly became very light in my hand. That's a bad sign. Before I could stop it, I was swinging just the handle alone down into the tree, and that jarred my bones. You know how that is. The ax head had flown off over my head and landed in the leaves and I was so thankful that nobody was standing there.

Ax-heads have not changed much over the past few thousand years, have they. Turn to Deuteronomy 19:4,5. This is talking about the cities of refuge. Deut. 19:4,5: (NIV) "This is the rule concerning the man who kills another and flees there to save his life--one who kills his neighbor unintentionally, without malice aforethought. For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and as he swings his ax to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbor and kill him. That man may flee to one of these cities and save his life." Ax-heads haven' change much, have they?

Turn now to 2 Kings 6 (NIV). This will be the main scripture for today.

The third year that I worked at Cohutta Springs Camp, we were putting on the Walk-Through-the-Bible program on Sabbath afternoons. This was done every year and consisted of the kids moving around the camp witnessing different scenes from Bible times that were acted out by the camp staff. It was to teach kids about the Bible, but it was also a way to keep them out of trouble on Sabbath afternoons. It got them doing something wholesome. Walk-Through-the-Bible was a big production. All the staff would dress up in costumes of Bible times and all over the camp we'd put on scenes that happened during the Scriptures: mainly scenes of miracles and stories of Jesus and other interesting events in the Bible. One year we did a whole series on the story of Joseph.

Well, the third year I was there, one of the scenes that we did was the floating ax-head. Now, I was the narrator and we had all the kids there together, going from scene to scene. And we finally came to the one on the floating ax-head. This one fascinated me. It amazed me the first time I saw it. It actually happened. There it was!

The story was unfolding and the man was chopping wood and his ax had a nail through the head and through the handle. As he was chopping wood everything went fine. And he reached and stretched and rests a little bit, and slips the nail out of the ax-head. The next time he swings back, the ax-head goes flying back and lands in the river. Well, it was supposed to be the Jordan River, but I guess it was the Cohutta River. It was right there where the river comes out of the woods into the lake. The ax-head would splash right there, convincingly right in the middle of the river. "Oh no! What are we going to do?" And then, "Elisha" would be called and he would come out and pray and throw a branch in the river. And that ax-head would come right to the top! And the kids would drop their teeth. "Oh! How did that happen?"

Well, I had children come to me and bribe me, trying to get me to tell how we did that. It was all hush, hush, but that was a long time ago, so I think I can tell now. It was all pretty neat. Before camp started we'd dug a trench through the ground and under the water and laid in some PVC pipe. We covered it all back up. Through that pip we ran a wire. On the other end of the wire was hooked a wooden ax-head shaped and colored just like the metal one. When a given signal was heard, the splashing of the branch in the water, the person hiding at the end of the pipe would pull the wire and the wood ax-head would come to the top. Oh, it as so neat! And then, when all the kids had left we had to shuffle around a bit to find the real one. Sometimes it took hours. But that's the way it worked.

It worked every time, except once. That one time, the ax-head decided to release itself before the branch was thrown in. And Elisha stood there... And that's when we learned the word, "Improvise." The kids were still amazed it floated, it just happened at the wrong time.

By the way, we also did things like turning water into wine: that was always half way through so the kids could have a refreshing drink. The burning bush...

2 Kings 6:1 "The company of the prophets said to Elisha, 'Look, the place where we meet with you is too small for us.'" The company of the prophets: this is the school of the prophets. These are the young people that are here learning about becoming pastors, prophets, teachers: learning religion. "Our classroom is too small." You know, we hear that cry here at McDonald Road. Don't we? Our classrooms are too small. We say, "Praise the Lord!" That means that we have a lot of folks coming. Still a problem that we need to deal with, we're working at it. "Our classroom is too small:" a nice problem to have.

The influence of Elijah and of Elisha had been so great upon the young people that the Schools of the Prophets were becoming overcrowded. People couldn't wait to become students in the Schools of the Prophets. People were impressed by what they had seen and what the had heard. Are our young people this morning impressed by what they see and hear? Are they impressed around the dinner table by what they hear about the church. Does that make them want to say, "Yes! I want to be a part of that church when I grow up. Maybe I am a part of it now. That would be neat. Maybe I could even be a leader in the church some day." Is that the way we speak about our church to influence our young people to want to take part, or do they hear complaints, and so forth, that make them say, "My folks don't like it, why should I?" Hmm! Let's be careful of the influence we have on our young people.

I would love to hear that the theology department over at Southern University was bursting at the seams with theology major and religion major students. I'd like to see the next new building going up on campus be the new large religion department because of people wanting to serve the Lord in that capacity.

Verse 2: (Here's the students talking.) "'Let us go to the Jordan, where each one of us can get a pole; and let us build a place there for us to live.' And he said, 'Go.'" Note the willingness of the young people to do the work. "Let us go and get a pole and we will build a place for us." They didn't want someone to build it for them. "Can you arrange for us to have a bigger classroom here? We really need it." NO! They said, "Let us go and do it. We'll do it." Elisha said, "Go." They wanted to be involved. Our young people don't need a special program built for them. They want to be a part of THE program! Valuegenisis: A survey taken of our young people a few years ago came up with an overwhelming response from the young people. They didn't want something done for them. They wanted to do something. They wanted a piece of the pie. In fact, this survey began a "Piece of the Pie Ministry." An effort to get the young people involved in what we are involved in. That's what they wanted: to be a part of the church. I find it amazing: it was the young people... They were the ones that got the Advent Movement started! Did you ever notice that? Late teens, early twenties: these were the very first pioneers of our church. The young people... If I don't miss my guess, it'll be the young people that help to finish the work.

But notice, these young people say they don't want to do it alone. Look at verse 3: "then one of them said, 'Won't you please come with your servants?' 'I will,' Elisha replied." "We want to do it, but we don't really want to go and start it ourselves. We don't have the experience, we don't have the know-how. We need some guidance." They invited an older person whom they loved, whom they trusted, whom they respected to go with them. I found that was nice. But notice his willingness. "I will come." He was willing to go out on a venture that was started by the young people. Oh, he didn't say, "I've got to come and lead it up" or "This isn't my idea" or "Go try it yourself. More power to you. I hope it works." He says, "I'll come. I'll help wherever you need me. I'll be there for you." Young people, don't put aside the vast experience of those who have gone before. It's invaluable. Older people, don't put aside the energy and fresh idea of young people. GOD NEEDS US TO WORK TOGETHER.

Verses 4,5: "And he went with them. They went to the Jordan and began to cut down tree. As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron ax-head fell into the water. 'Oh, my lord,' he cried out, 'it was borrowed!'" What a sinking feeling; to borrow something and then to lose it. The value of an ax-head was very high in that day. If I were chopping with your ax-head and I lost it, you know what I would do? Before I even cam and told you that I lost it, I'd go down to Ace Hardware and I'd buy you a new one. And I'd bring it to you and say, "I lost yours. Here." They couldn't do that. There was no Ace Hardware around the corner. Ax-heads came by all kinds of means. Maybe it was handed down by generations to generation. These things ere valuable. No wonder the student was horrified. It was far out. It was valuable. I can even imagine that when the young prophet came up to the man. "You have an ax. We're wanting to build a new school. Can we borrow your ax?" And the man probably took that ax lovingly and said, "This is for a good cause and I know you'll be very, very careful with it. Right?" "Yes, we'll take good care of it." You know that took place, don't you. And when that ax-head flies into the Jordan River, he knows that it's lost. He despairs, he's thinking very quickly, "Oh, I've got to confront this man I've borrowed the ax from. What am I going to say? How will I ever make it up t him? I'll have to work for him for years to pay for it."

Then Elisha did something that must have seemed very strange. Verse 6: "The man of God asked, 'Where did it fall?' When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float." Explain that! No PVC pipe, no wires, no signals, no mistakes, no tricks. The iron was heavy. The iron had sunk to the bottom of the river and there it lay in the mire, in the mud. It was helpless. What could that ax-head do? It could do nothing to raise itself. Even if that ax-head could have struggled there in the mud it would ave only made itself go a bit deeper. While it lay there, it was useless. It was not fulfilling the purpose for which it had been made. Is this not the picture of you and me? Lying there in the mud in our sins, unable to raise ourselves up, and if we try, we sink deeper. And we're not fulfilling our purpose. Doing nothing for the Lord while we're in sin. Remember, being underwater in scriptures is symbolic of death. Here's a sinner covered with sins, might as well be dead. And just as the ax-head could not lift itself up out of the mud and water, the sinner, helpless, lying there, useless, and dirty.

The young man who had lost the ax-head consulted with the man of God on the banks of the Jordan. He wanted that ax-head so much. What could be done to recover it? You know how wonderful what the consultation between God the Father and God the Son over us lost sinners. What can we do to recover them? The branch must be broken and thrown in to death.

Jeremiah 23:5,6. Remember, this is in the Old Testament speaking about that which was to come which we have recorded in the New Testament. "'The days are coming,' declares the Lord, 'when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.'" Then Who is the Branch? Jesus Christ.

The coming Savior is often referred to as the Branch in the Old Testament. Only one thing could save the lost race. The Branch, Jesus Christ, had to be cut down for our sins and thrown into the river of death.

Only one thing could have saved the ax-head. The branch had to be cut down and thrown into the river Jordan. When it was cast into the river, the branch at once began to exercise it's miracle working power on the iron in the mud. No one can explain how it was done. It was no trick, but a mystery. No one can explain the drawing power of the True Branch, Jesus Christ, either. But it is real!

The helpless iron felt the drawing power of the branch, and the helpless sinners feel the power of the Savior and are lifted right up out of the mire of sin, until the one who has lost them puts out His hand and draws them to Himself. Then we are able to be used once again for our intended purpose. Yes, maybe you've been in the mud a little too long, under water. And maybe the iron of your soul has become pitted and ruined and rough and dull, but you know what? In the hands of the Savior He can smooth out that ax-head once again. He can sharpen the blade. Yes sharpening the blade is kind of rough. How do you sharpen the blade? You put it up against something harder than it is, hones it down and makes it useful. Being a Christian is not easy. But it is good. It sharpens the soul. The rust falls away from our lives, preparing us for the Kingdom. A total transformation will not take place until we are there in the hands that created the ax to begin with.

Back to 2 Kings 6:7. "'Lift it out,' he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it." God does for us only what He can do. But He allows us to choose whether or not we will accept His gift of salvation. Just as the young men did not ignore the floating ax-head, don't ignore God's gift. Reach out and claim it today.

Opening song: #82 - "Before Jehovah's Awful Throne"
Scripture: Jeremiah 23:5,6
Closing song: #341 - To God Be the Glory

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