Faithlife Sermons

The Freedom of Fear - 2 Kings 2:1-14



There is a fear that incarcerates and a fear that liberates. The wrong type of fear turns your whole life into a prison even if you’re free, and the right type of fear sets you free no matter how oppressed you may be. For example, in 2018 Purdue University did a study on the relationship between affluence and life satisfaction. What they found is that once a household income exceeded $105,000 that people tended to have a lower degree of satisfaction with their lives. Further, they also discovered that the children of affluent families were more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Their research suggests that extra money often results in pursuing more material gain and social comparisons, which leads to a lower wellbeing. They fear they won’t be able to maintain their standard of living.
Contrast that with the pastors I know in Eswatini. The live under a totalitarian regime that robs from its people to support the lavish whims of its king. They live in a country that has the highest HIV infection rate, per capita, in the world. Many of them walk miles and miles to attend the conference, which may be the only theological education they receive. And, do you know what they do between sessions? They don’t check the DOW. They don’t scroll through Facebook to see how they measure up. They aren’t shopping for more real estate. What they have is what they have. No, they sing. Without instruments. Without sound systems. Without air conditioning. They just sing together. Because you see, they don’t have many of the things that we believe are necessities, but they do have Jesus. And, their ruling fear is that He doesn’t receive enough glory and praise from their lives. What a beautiful freedom!

God’s Word

Your relationship with fear determines the direction and quality of your life. The wrong fear puts you in prison, and the right fear sets you free. And, we’re going to be studying this together over the next four weeks as we begin the transition this morning from the life of Elijah to the life of Elisha in the Big Story. And, as the mantle of leadership is literally being passed from Elijah to Elisha we begin to see Two Types of Fear (headline):

Fear of “what” might “be.”

Dictators rule by effectively imprisoning an entire nation. And, how do you imprison 200,000 million people? You can’t build physical fences big or strong enough; so, you have to use psychological ones. The goal is to begin with the fear of ideas and values that the state find intolerable. That’s the role of propaganda. (Show slide of Soviet Propaganda “God’s slaves” and “masters of life.”) Here, the Soviets wanted to convince their citizens that Christianity was an attempt to keep them in the darkness of slavery and that Soviet atheism would set them free — fear of Christianity, that is. If the fear of ideas didn’t enslave, then the fear of terror and existential threat was used. Stalin slaughtered more than a million of his own people, sending the KGB to their doors at all hours of the night. That is, he used the fear of what might be, whether it be the ruining of their lives through Christianity or the KGB taking dad away to imprison his people.
This is exactly what Jezebel had done in Israel. She had worked on one side to show them what they’d miss out on if they didn’t have Baal. They might be impoverished or starve without him. And, when prophets didn’t bend to her will, she ruled with terror, executing them en masse. As we saw last week, Elijah had fallen victim to her methods, willing to die so that he didn’t have to face the threat of her killing him. But, God brings him through it, and we’re able to see what a foolish fear that is. And, here at the end of his life, we see what life looks like on the other side of this fear so that we can see how dishonest it really is. Elijah teaches us that:
“Failure” isn’t “fatal.”
2 Kings 2:2-3 “And Elijah said to Elisha, “Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?” And he said, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.””
I want you to think of Elijah under that broom tree from last week telling God that he’d had enough. He was quitting and ready to die. He had looked at what was happening with Jezebel trying to kill him, and he felt like a total failure, which he assumed meant the end for him one way or the other. But, in the decade since he thought he’d ruined his life, God had used him for to establish at least two schools of prophets, one in Bethel and one in Jericho. Fear told Elijah he was finished, but God told Elijah he was just getting started. Fear said that Elijah’s future belonged to Jezebel, but God proved to Elijah it belonged to him. The fear of what might be lied. His most influential work, his greatest combat against Baalism, his legacy for the future was the result of him investing himself in schools of prophets who could carry on what he had started. Elijah had a moment of weakness followed by a decade of faithfulness. If you’ve failed and you’re afraid to try again, look at Elijah! If you’re so afraid of failing that you don’t even want to try, look at Elijah!
You may indeed fall. Elijah did. But, if God wasn’t willing to work through fallen people, none of us would have a hope. You see, the worst thing that could happen if you go all-in on what God is calling you to do is to fall down, but even our FALLING ISN’T FUTILE.
“Falling” isn’t “futile.”
God never wastes a fall in the lives of his children. Notice that Elijah says that “the LORD has sent me.” Here’s Elijah, old and weakened by age. It’s his last day on this earth, and He knows it. But, the LORD has one final mission for him — visit the schools. Why? It’s not just sentimental. God sends Elijah on a journey where he — and Elisha and the other prophets too — can see face-to-face how good and faithful God has been despite his own futility. You see, God had prepared him so that he could prepare others. Those schools were born out of Elijah’s complaint to God that he was the only prophet. So, think about this. God had used Elijah’s lowest moment to prepare him for his greatest work. That’s the testimony here. You see, God uses everything that happened yesterday to prepare you for the mission you have today. Your falls aren’t wasted. Your pain isn’t wasted. Your disappointments aren’t wasted.
The fear of what might be tries to scare you away from doing what God has set before you. It seeks to put you in a prison of terror. It says, “But, what if you fall again.” Well, God used my last fall, and He’ll use that one too. Or, then it might say, “But, what if you’re not ready?” Well, like Elijah, I’m not alone. And, like Elijah, I’ll trust that God has worked through every previous moment to prepare me for this one.
Because you see...
“Fear” isn’t “final.”
2 Kings 2:11 “And 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.”
Isn’t that what we’re really afraid of? We’re afraid that our worst fear will become reality and that’ll be as good as it gets. We fear that our kids will reject us or our friends will betray us or career will can us, and that’ll be it for us. The fear of what might be locks us into prison and then tries to convince us there’s no escape. Remember Elijah telling God that he wanted to die. His worst fears were realized, and they seemed final. But, there’s a beautiful irony here. Elijah never dies! Amazing. The man who was so overcome with fear that he wanted to die never ends up dying at all. In fact, and I know this is the 201 course but it’s beautiful, I made the case last week that Elijah is in many ways on a similar journey as that of Moses, who also has a very mysterious death and who also never realized his dreams. Elijah dreamed of seeing idolatry wiped from Israel, but he doesn’t live to see it. Moses dreams of seeing the Promised Land, but he never lives to see it. Until Matthew 17 of course. There, on the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus is revealed in his glory. And, who joins him there? Moses, representing the Law, and Elijah, representing the prophets. And, I want you to imagine Moses standing there in the Promised Land with Jesus for the first time. Oh, his fears were proven liars, and his God-centered dream was realized and accomplished through Christ! And, then there’s our boy Elijah, who thought he was the prophet to overcome the idolatry of Israel. And, he lays his eyes on Christ, the true and greater prophet who could really change the hearts of his people. Oh, his fears had lied to him! God wasn’t finished. His fears weren’t final.
And, that’s the case for us, brothers and sisters. We’re not going to die either. We’re going to be resurrected with Christ. And, in an instant, every fear of what might will be fully eradicated by what actually is.
You see, that’s the key that unlocks the prison of fear this world put us in. It’s the One who actually is. It’s the truer reality. It’s a greater fear — a fear that liberates. It’s the fear of...

Fear of “who” certainly “is.”

Men like Stalin and Hitler lock their people into psychological prisons, but there are some whom they can’t imprison no matter how they threaten them. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man like that. He was a pastor in Germany when Hitler seized control. While many pastors and churches capitulated to the Nazi agenda, Bonhoeffer combatted it on every front. He would ultimately be arrested, imprisoned, and executed for his participation in the Valkyrie plot to assassinate Hitler. One of his executioners wrote these words of him years later: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer... kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.How can a man so oppressed live so freely that he can die courageously? The answer is found in a sermon Bonhoeffer preached just after Hitler came to power in 1933: “God lets our lives be broken and fail in every direction, through fate and guilt, and through this very failure God brings us back; we are thrown back upon God alone. God wants to show us that when you let everything go, when you lose all your own security and have to give it up, that is when you are totally free to receive God and be kept totally safe in God.” That is, it might be said that Bonhoeffer was so driven to please God that he had no fear of man. His fear of God liberated him of it.
We see Elisha taking over here, and you can imagine his temptation toward fear. So, the question is: what will he fear most? What could be, or who certainly is? Elisha shows us that:
“Fear” precedes “faith.”
2 Kings 2:1-6 “Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, “Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?” And he said, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.” Elijah said to him, “Elisha, please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.” Then Elijah said to him, “Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to th…”
I want you to note the journey that Elijah and Elisha take. From Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho to Jericho to the Jordan. If you read Joshua 1-8, this is the exact path of Joshua when he takes over for Moses. So, Elisha and Joshua have the same starting place. If Elijah is Moses, then Elisha is Joshua. And, do you remember what God says again and again to Joshua at the start of his great work? It’s the same message He has for Elisha here: “Be strong and courageous!” That is, the fear of succeeding such a mighty prophet, the fear of taking on such an enormous responsibility, the fear of fulfilling such a tremendous calling presents an opportunity of faith. Fear always precedes faith. That’s why it requires faith.
When you’re afraid what or whom will you trust most? What you feel, or who you know? Another way to ask is: Are you most devoted to yourself, or are you most devoted to the Lord? Devotion to yourself leads to the fear of every possible loss of comfort or prestige or acceptance, but the fear of the Lord alone sets you free from all of those things so you can actually live. The fear of the Lord is the backbone of great courage!
“Pain” precedes “power.”
2 Kings 2:8-10 “Then 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. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.””
Elijah finally asks Elisha why he’s been following him around all day. And, Elisha asks for “a double portion” of his spirit. He’s asking for two things in one question: 1) The double portion refers to the inheritance the eldest son receives from the father to run the estate. He’s asking for his job. 2) The power of God in greater degree because he’s a lesser man than Elijah. He humbly asks that Elijah give him a fatherly blessing, that is. But, Elijah’s response is the key. Elijah knows firsthand how heavy the prophet’s cloak is. It’s comes with the power to divide the Jordan but the responsibility of saying the very thing that cause kings and queens to want to kill you. It’s painful journey.
And, pain scares us, doesn’t it? We’ll do almost anything to avoid pain. Disobey, drink our lives away, or wrap our lives with the bubblewrap of hyper-vigilance. But, it reminds us of exactly what Jesus says to the mother of the John and James when she asks Jesus to let her sons be the greatest in heaven. He tells her that she doesn’t know what she asks, for greatness in the kingdom is shaped like a cross. It’s a painful journey with significant costs. But, on the other side of the cross is resurrection. Everybody wants to split the Jordan, you see, but very few are willing to walk the painful road to get there.
Elijah is asking Elisha what I’m asking you: Do you really want a powerful life, a life that will outlive you? Do you want the kind of life that is characterized by the awesome power of God? Then, you’ll have to let the fear of God drive away the fear of pain. If any man or woman wants to gain his life, they must first lose it.
“Risk” precedes “reward.”
Just before Joshua saw God miraculously tear down the walls of Jericho or freeze the sun in its place, he stood on the edge of the Jordan needing to get across. And, it was there that God told him that he must be ‘strong and very courageous.’ It was a time of fear and risk. And, God parted it to show him a precursor of what was to come. And, here’s Elisha in the same spot. He has God’s call, but he needs God’s confirmation. So, he takes that heavy cloak, that cloak that will demand his life, and he slams into the water just as Elijah had done. Everything he understood himself to be, everything he believed himself appointed to do was on the line. This was the starting line, and you can imagine how his knees trembled as he swung. And, the river parts as a precursor of what God was going to do through him.
But, God was confirming to Elisha that he could be assured that he’d never be left to his own power. And, you’re not either. God demands that our lives be lived through risky obedience. The risk of sharing the gospel with a coworker. The risk of living on less to support the ministry of the church. The risk of living differently than our neighbors at the risk of our social reputations. But, the risk precedes the resurrection. For if you never risk, you’ll never see the Jordan part.
And, what do you fear most? Never knowing hardship, or never knowing God? One fear incarcerates, and the other fear liberates.
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