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Kings and Kingdoms  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Upsetting the Equilibrium
There was a woman at the church in Oregon named Eleanor. She had been a commited member of that church for decades. One Sunday, Eleanor walked slowly to her usual spot. I went up to shaker her hand and ask how she was doing. She looked around and responded, “I’m 92 years old. I’ve been at this church a long time and I’ve been on this earth a long time. These days, when I come to church, I’m not even sure where I am.”
Eleanor was experiencing disorientation. The local church she loved and served had become nearly unrecognizable. Babies she’d seen born and raised in the church were now grown and had children, even grandchildren, of their own. The choir loft was replaced by a drum set. The pastors didn’t preach on the platform or wear a suit; they even wore jeans! The people in the congregation talked about unfamiliar things. The church Eleanor knew had faded into her memory. Her familiar forms and styles of worship were replaced with newer expressions. She had a sense of being displaced. She had always been a part of that community, but it was harder and harder for her to see precisely where she fit in to this place she called church. Where she fit into a disorienting new generation.
As we look at our text this morning, this is the same experience the Israelites were having in their time. They were disoriented and didn’t know what their future held. If you would turn with me to 2 Kings Chapter 2. We will begin in verse 7 and please stand for the reading of God’s Word.
2 Kings 2:7–15 NRSV
7 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8 Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground. 9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 10 He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” 11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. 13 He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over. 15 When the company of prophets who were at Jericho saw him at a distance, they declared, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” They came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.
The Word of God for the people of God: you may be seated.
Analyzing the Discrepancy
A. The Disorienting Times
The time of 2 Kings is disorienting to the people of God
Full of political turmoil
Of questioning where God was
The Israelite people have long been split between Israel in the North and Judah in the South
Now God’s people are witnessing the nothern nation of Israel conquered by Babylon and carted off
Naturally, this is unprecedented for Israel
This was the land of promise
Their home promised to them by God
But, the kings who ruled them had become increasingly wicked and further away from God
This is when Elijah, God’s prophet entered the scene
He spoke against these kings idolatry and wickedness
For it, he became a hero to the Israelites
Everyone knew Elijah
They knew of his confrontation with Jezebel
They knew of his showdown with the prophets of Ba’al
He was famous in the land for being God’s mouthpiece, for his faithfulness to God, and for the Spirit of God resting upon Him
B. History making
By the time we reach the first chapter of 2 Kings
Even Elijah’s appearance is known by all (he’s hairy and has a leather belt)
The author writes about the folly of kings
In our modern history books, the victors are written about
This author is concerned about the losers
No recounting of glorious battles or great accomplishments. Not about a prosperous reign
The first chapter of 2 Kings is about a king who falls through the lattice of his roof and dies
They don’t have those stories in modern history books
So, as we come to our text today in chapter 2 of 2 Kings
Everyone knows Elijah the prophet
No one knows Elisha
Elisha is the son of a farmer
A young man
Has not spoken for God yet
But is shadowing Elijah
Elisha senses that change is coming
He has a sense that Elijah time is almost up
But, Elisha is unwilling to let go of Elijah
So he follows Elijah wherever he goes, tailing him, shadowing him
He follows Elijah to the Jordan, with Elijah’s fifty followers
Elijah takes off his mantle, strikes the water, and a dry path across the waters opens up (Moses)
While the fifty followers stay behind, Elisha follows Elijah across the Jordan (even though he is told to stay behind)
When they get on the other side, Elijah just turns around and says, “What do you want?”
You’ve been following me day in and out, across the land, across the Jordan, “Tell me what I can do for you!”
Elisha asks to inherit a double share of his Spirit
This is profound. A huge request.
At first glance, it seems that he is asking to be twice the prophet that Elijah was. What arrogance!
However, in Ancient Israel, fathers would divide their possessions among their sons.
Whatever the father earned throughout his life went to the sons
The eldest son, the primary heir, receives a double portion of whatever the other sons get
What Elisha is really asking Elijah is “Could I be a son to you?”
I do not share your DNA, but if you’re willing can I call you father?
Would you make me your heir and allow me to inherit the legacy you have built?
Not your money or land, but your Spirit; the power of your faithfulness to a holy God?
That is an incredible request
Even Elijah acknowledges this: You have asked a hard thing is what he says in verse 10
But he tells Elisha that if he sees him go, then it will be done
And sure enough, as they continued walking, chariots and horses of fire separates them
Elijah is taken up into heaven by a whirlwind
When Elisha realizes that Elijah is gone, he cries out to him “father, father” and tears his clothes in grief
C. The passing of the mantle
Where Elijah stood, before a tornado carted him off into heaven, was his mantle
A mantle in these days was like a cloak
Where you may have many different sets of underclothing, you typically only had one mantle
Your cloak, your mantle, many times could identify you just by wearing it
Think about people today who are easily identified by their clothing
Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire founder of Facebook, is often seen as one of the most poorly dressed rich people in the world
On any day, you will see him in a drab, gray, hooded sweatshirt over a drab gray t-shirt; even when courting donors or in important meetings
When asked about this attire, he responded that he doesn’t wear the same shirt and hoodie all the time
He has an entire wardrobe filled with the same kind of shirt
It is how he wants to be identified
Unlike today, mantles in Israel were vitally important
It was your means of survival: a shield from the windswept sands, a barricade against the sun’s heat, and would keep you warm at night.
It was not a fashion accessory; it was a necessity
But, it also told quite a bit about who you were
The rich would probably have ornate and decorated mantles
It told a lot about where you came from and who you were
A highly recognizable part of you
Now let’s imagine the scene with Elisha
Elijah’s fifty followers are standing on the other side of the Jordan river bank
They’ve seen Elijah and Elisha walk across the dry ground of the parted waters
They wait and wait, until they start to see the waters part again
Through the pathway of dry ground, a man appears
They squint to see the man’s face, but his mantle is far more recognizable
It is the mantle of Elijah, the prophet of the most high God
But, as this man draws closer, and are able to see his face, they realize it isn’t the great prophet
It is the young relatively unknown man who bears the mantle of Elijah
They understand what this means: The same Spirit that has been with Elijah now rests on Elisha
Disclosing the Clue to Resolution
D. God’s faithfulness
Perhaps a better way of saying it is that there is a continuity to God’s faithfulness that doesn’t stop from one generation to the next
God does not leave or abandon His people in a time of change
Yes, the people of Israel are being ruled by foreign kings in a foreign land
Children are being born who have never set foot in the promised land, never worshipped in the temple
It is a disorienting time for God’s people
Even though Elijah’s gone, the faithfulness of God remains
Just as the mantle of Elijah is not lost
But was passed down to Elisha so the Spirit of God continues to be upon them
God’s voice will still speak
What the author is illuminating to us is how the world of the Kingdom of God understands political life differently than the world of the earthly kings.
No matter what happens in Israel, or what prophets leave
The same God who spoke through Elijah is going to speak through Elisha
Experiencing the Gospel
E. Not about winning
The goodness in Elijah’s leadership wasn’t found in Elijah at all
It was the way Elijah cloaked himself in God’s faithfulness
Now, Elisha wears that same cloak
2 Kings is suggesting that the continuity of good leadership has more to do with God’s faithfulness than it does with winners and losers
Certainly this was Jesus’ message as well. He lost his life and didn’t consider His status and position as something to be gained.
His leadership was about showing God’s faithfulness even to faithless people
He himself was faithful to the point of death on the cross
The story of God does not advance upon the back of victors
It instead advances upon the backs of those who are willing to cloak themselves in the faithfulness of God
It is isn’t about winning
In this passing of the mantle, it doesn’t mean that Elisha won the election for head prophet
He didn’t beat our Elijah in some political race
Rather, his donning of the mantle shows that he is covered in God’s faithfulness
And it is the mantle and not the man the other prophets recognize and respect
Even in the midst of great disorientation, 2 Kings focuses us on what matters: the Spirit of God leading the people of God through the work of faithful servants
Anticipating the Consequences
F. The Election Disorientation
We live in extremely polarizing times; it is disorienting for everyone
A couple elections back, I was waiting in line to vote in person. I had waited all day as I had to work so the line was long. Across the street , there were people carrying signs on both sides of the political spectrum
At one point, a lively conversation between two men almost came to blows
These two grown men had a disagreement about which candidate should occupy office, but it led to a heated exchange
When the police arrived to disperse the crowd, the two men looked at each other, realizing each of their messages would never be heard by the other, and turned away, signs in hand, silently parting company
What I witnessed demonstrated how attached they had become to the world of earthly kings
These men were so desperate in the face of change. They needed the change to go their way
While they both probably had good reasons for their positions, they were desperate for change to go their way because all they had to hold onto in this time was the possibility that their guy would win.
They had no hope beyond the winner of that election
In this world, for people to have hope in the changing times, their only hope lies in their person ascending the throne. Their hope lies solely in the fact that they are on the winner’s side.
Its important not to compare the prophetic mantle to a political office
I have heard many people say, “I respect the office even if I don’t respect the person.”
The mantle is not a national icon or political exploit
It is a prophetic symbol of God’s presence
While kings and kingdoms come and go, God’s faithfulness remains
The difference between the two is the point. They operate according to a different logic and a different way of life.
In 2 Kings chapter 1 is consumed with the transition and succession of kings
What happens if the king dies? Who will take his place?
Who will be the winner in the transition? Who will lose?
Things that matter to this world
Chapter 2 offers a different message: the mantle of the prophet is incredibly different from the crown of the king
In the world of the Kingdom, we don’t need to fear times of disorientation and transition as the world does
It will be the same God speaking.
G. Our political landscape
I’m not even dismissing political leaders.
It is right and good to desire that our political leaders have the virtues that God calls His creation to have
We should long to see leaders who defend the poor, the widow, the orphan
We should crave leaders who are selfless and compassionate; outraged by injustice and steady in crisis
But, the ability of these leaders to enact true transformation depends on the hand and blessing of God
Not by the works of their own hand
Because our world of politics and presidents operates differently from the Kingdom of God
We may not be able to expect thing like the establishment of God’s Kingdom
For the vast majority of candidates, we will not be able to hold them to a standard that is beyond their realm of understanding
They are of this world, while we are of the Kingdom of God
Which world to you most readily live and which world do you believe will truly make a difference.
We need to ask which world can deliver hope beyond the anxiety and violence of an election cycle
Which world has no fear of regime change
Which of these worlds can bring about justice and reconciliation
Remember which world you live in
I want to encourage each of you, as the election draws near:
To educate yourselves about the local and national propositions and candidates
Engage in the political process and know why you are voting the way you are
Be sure that when you’re handed one of those “I voted” stickers, and you affix it to your chest, it doesn’t hide the cross.
Our lives must tell the story of the Kingdom of God instead of this world
In the changing of the guard, God should be glorified
Here’s a radical way of living in our time: What if the people of God, us, were so deeply formed by the world of God’s Kingdom that when we wake up in the morning after the election, no matter what the outcome, we were first inclined to offer praise to God for God’s faithfulness that has sustained generation after generation and will continue to do so for generations to come.
Despite feeling disoriented by the times and differences in the church
Eleanor, the woman in Oregon, said this: “I still come and I still praise God because it is not about my preference or my will, but about living for Jesus in every moment.”
She understood that even in disorienting times, God was still faithful and worthy to be praised
The reality is kings and earthly kingdoms will pass away
Believe it or not, America will not always exist. Israel thought they’d always be Israel and then they split in two and were eventually carted off
God faithfulness will be there four years from now and 400 years from now
Let us find hope in that
Let us be faithful to that Kingdom
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