Any Star War fans out there? Have you heard of the rule of two?
Yoda famously said this in the Phantom Menace:
“Always two there are, no more… no less. A master and an apprentice.”
For the Sith, because they are evil, the apprentice is always looking for a way to destroy their master and become the Sith Lord. Except Palpatine just doesn’t die, and outlasted every other apprentice he had from Darth Maul, Count Dooku, Darth Vader until Episode 9. Actually, let’s not try to remember the new trilogies. Personal opinion.
What’s my point? Whether it’s intergalactic fantasy, or actual trades, especially the trades, like a plumber or electrician, there is apprenticeship. There is the trade school where you learn your basic skills, and then you come under an experienced tradesman of an existing company, where you work for them and learn the ropes, before you eventually go out on your own and start your own company or join a larger one.
Churches have a loose structure like this too. Except it’s not just a rule of two. Afterall, if we want to make disciples of all nations, if we just have a rule of two it will take a long time to disciple the ends of the earth. (Also we aren’t evil and want to rule the galaxy with an iron fist). So even Jesus, our exemplar of disicpleship and apprenticeship has as many as twelve which are known as the disciples, later the apostles, but also women disciples, and three particularly close ones, Peter, John and James.
At MCBC we have in each ministry a chair or vice-chair, who oversees the whole ministry operation, and each functioning ministry has its own chair like nurturing who is responsible for sunday school, and worship chair who is responsible for our sunday service. As for small groups, we have leaders and we have members. We used to have a fivefold leadership structure in small groups but that never got any traction, so we mainly have a bible study leader who either rotates or the group organically chooses someone to be in charge of games or recreation, another for food and snacks, another for prayer, etc. That’s of course all pre-Covid.
And if you have been here long enough you would have heard us, quite often, make an announcement that we need more workers, more people to serve God. We have gone through flourishing times where we can have more small groups because we trained more small group leaders, and there have been others times where we have had to combine groups, when either a small group leader quits or experience burnout.
The question becomes how do you keep everything running? How do we keep everything going? Should we keep things going?
Ministry exists for discipleship, that is making us more Christ-like as a people of God called the church, by learning to love and serve one another and those outside the church, our neighbours, our society. But disciples are trained to disciples others, to take on ministry so that the gospel is heard and lived and God is glorified. That is how the church continues to be healthy. A church is always one generation away from extinction, if somehow we fail to pass the baton and raise up a new generation, by showing them the ropes, walking with them, and equipping them to live their faith in minsitry whether inside or outside the community of faith.
GOD Thank you Ambrose for sharing from 1 Kings 21 the story of Elijah’s nemesis King Ahab and his purchase of Naboth’s Vineyard last week. And also, is it more than 3 weeks ago now that Tim spoke to us about Elijah’s ‘depression’ and spiritual burnout, and how God restored him and took care of him as he fled from Jezebel who is now 850 prophets of Baal and Ashrerah short (since they were slaughtered) at Mount Carmel. So this week’s message ties quite a bit to Tim’s message.
Now those with a sharp eye might notice I have skipped 1 Kings 22 and 2 Kings 1. Why is that? For one, 1 Kings 22 does not cover Elijah’s life at all, it only talks about the King of Judah and Israel joining forces to attack the king of Syria at Ramoth-gilead. During the battle King Ahab of Israel is mortally wounded and dies in his chariot. His son Ahaziah took over and that’s when we get into 2 Kings 1. Ahaziah became sick and injured due to an accident by falling through the lattice, and like his father seeks out the Philistine god instead of the LORD God. When he finally comes around to it he sends fifty men twice to ask Elijah to go to the king. The men insult Elijah and as a result are burnt to a crisp. The third captain of fifty men comes and pleads for their lives, so Elijah goes to Ahaziah and affirms his death. This ended the Omri-Ahab dynasty, just as it was foretold. There are difficulties in covering those two chapters in a sermon because they are not directly related to Elijah, and they cover themes which are hard to apply to our life.
And so we come up to the final story of Elijah. Elijah is the master, and Elisha is his apprentice whom we first learned about in 1 Kings 19.
God told Elijah he wasn’t done with him yet. He was to anoint three people who will play a pivotal role to the spiritual and political future of Israel: Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha.
19 So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him.
And although there was some hesitancy from Elisha at first so that he asks to go back to say goodbye to his parents first, Elisha ultimately heeded Elijah’s calling. Elisha left his family, his livelihood, to become trained by Elijah. It’s interesting afterwards we hear of him no more until 2 Kings 2. But what we do see in 2 Kings 2 is a relationship which has flourished and now its time to bid farewell to his master, his father, his friend Elijah, who will be carried into the heavens by a whirlwind we are told. How did Elijah prepared Elisha? Our first point:
I. AN APPRENTICE HAS A DEEP RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS MASTER (2-7, 9, 11-13)
I. AN APPRENTICE HAS A DEEP RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS MASTER (2-7, 9, 11-13)
(Let brothers and sisters read, stay on screen)
2 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. 3 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.” 4 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. 5 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.” 6 Then Elijah said to him, “Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. 7 Fifty men of the sons of the prophets also went and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan.
There’s a literary pattern in the structure of these verses, all tied together by an exchange between Elijah asking Elisha to go no further, and Elisha’s heartfelt plea for him to go on this last journey with him. The words here show that of a loyal apprentice:
“As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” It is an oath of commitment and dedication to not abandon his training or trainer. Perhaps Elijah was testing Elisha who wanted to bid farewell to his parents before, whether he now has the resolve.
Masters test their apprentice.
They need to know they won’t quit when things get tough. Elisha obviously has past the test, three times. Those reading this might see an obvious parallel to another master:
Jesus and his apprentice Peter who denied him three times and was restored three times by being asked “do you love me?” then feed my sheep.
The other point of note is there are three groups of the sons of the prophets from three places: Bethel, Jericho, and Jordan, three places which have been made famous from Exodus to Joshua. The sons of prophets is possibly a guild or company of prophets, perhaps prophets-in-training. They were able to prophesize Elijah’s departure. Not sure if they were proving a point that they have the power or ability but Elisha confirms he too knows of this imminent farewell. His focus is on Elijah, not the prophetic power.
And as the last act of Elisha’s faithful following, Elijah asks Elisha what he wants.
9 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.”
Now this double portion of the spirit does not mean he wants to be twice as powerful as Elijah. This is common language in the Old Testament to mean he wants to be the sole heir of Elijah’s mantle, to be Elijah’s successor.
17 but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.
The firstborn in the family carries the right of succession. Recall how Jacob tricked Esau into giving up his birthright for a bowl of stew, and tricks his father Jacob to bless him as the firstborn. The firstborn inherits everything from the father. Elisha isn’t asking to be the most powerful prophet, even excelling Elijah, but to be the heir of his ministry. This was probably what Elijah would have wanted Elisha to have. Elisha knows the spirit on Elijah isn’t his own ability but comes from God’s anointing and presence. And so Elijah also carefully reveals it is not his to give but if God would give to Elisha, he would see him up until he’s taken up in a whirlwind.
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. 12 And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. 13 And he took up the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.
What a beautiful picture! Elijah was in conversation with Elisha after they cross the jordan when it all happened, still instructing and encouraging him when the theophany unfolded. Elisha cried out with the most endearing name and also an acknowledgment of Elijah’s ministry being the warrior for God’s name and reputation.
Sure enough, a chariot of fire and horses comes down from heaven and separates Elisha and Elijah, and Elijah was taken up by a whirlwind. He mourns the loss of his master by customarily tearing his own clothes in two except we know Elijah didn’t die. He just, disappeared. Elijah leaving behind his cloak. The cloak whose shadow fell onto Elisha on that fateful day as he was tending to the family livestocks. Indeed he saw Elijah taken up, he is the heir of Elijah’s ministry, his successor apparent.
But this scene is largely unseen by all but God, Elijah and Elisha. How will others know Elisha has succeeded Elijah’s ministry? Point two:
II. AN APPRENTICE MIRRORS THE WORK OF HIS MASTER (13-25)
II. AN APPRENTICE MIRRORS THE WORK OF HIS MASTER (13-25)
13 And he took up the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 Then he took the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” And when he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.
Familiar scenes, familiar actions. In fact, Elijah had just done the same thing in verse 8, rolled up the cloak and struck the water so it separated. This separation of water should remind us of another master and apprentice, that is Moses who took a staff which split the red sea in Exodus 14 and his apprentice Joshua who then split the Jordan (coincidence) in Joshua 3. One commentator notes the Jordan river is not so deep it can’t be swum through by Elijah and Elisha, which all the more shows Elijah through the spirit has even thought about how to affirm Elisha’s double portion heir and successor status. This was for Elisha’s sake he knows he has the spirit which was working in Elijah, as much as it is for the company of prophets to attest to the miracles Elisha has and is about to perform! Though they bowed to Elisha and acknowledged his succession, they still wanted to send a search party to find Elijah, for since Enoch in Genesis 5 has someone been taken by God or to God, they want to make sure what Elisha already saw with his own two eyes. Elisha let’s them, and after a three day search, Elisha says something to the equivalent of I told you so. Or maybe:
“You’ve failed, sons of the prophets. I am a prophet, like my father before me.”
What should become obvious is Elisha cross the jordan as Elijah did and is tracing back the steps of Elijah literally. Now he’s in Jericho and Elisha has been given an opportunity to demonstrate his ability from God through the spirit as the town water is bad and is causing sickness, poor crops and miscarriages. So Elijah instructed the city folks to bring him a new bowl and poured salt, and throw the salt into it, the LORD has healed this water according to Elisha’s words. The apprentice has become the master. The circle is complete.
Next we see a bizarre story at Bethel where small boys, probably better translated as young adolescents jeered at him. Although the exact meaning and implications of what they say, “go up, you baldhead” and Elijah bringing a curse which caused 42 of them to be mauled is unclear, what is clear is some sort of judgment was pronounced. Whether it was disrespect for the prophet of the LORD means disrespect to the LORD God, resulting in retribution or something else, that this was a hooligan up to no good and may have threaten his life, this shows Elisha has been given the power to heal and to destroy.
So as we now gather up all the pieces of this story of succession, let’s sum up the two points again. There’s a deep relationship that is forged between a master and an apprentice. A disciplemaker and a disciple. And secondly, what the master does and has taught, the disciple will do. What does it have to do with us?
Although we aren’t given much of the daily details, and to be honest we are given more details about how Jesus discipled and apprenticed the twelve, but not so much we can see a formula, we know there’s always a deep relationship involved. Like Elijah, those of us who are serving in various ministry need to know we aren’t going to be there forever. Nor should we be. Otherwise, the ministry will rise and fail solely on your well-being. That’s not God’s way. And no, you don’t have to be caught in a whirlwind and disappear, we do need to think of investing into a future generation so we can multiply the effects of ministry.
Last week as I watched the late Rev. Dr. Hay Chun Maak, our consulting pastor at MCBC for many years before he went back to Hong Kong, and remember him through watching a video, I came across something he said in the video commemorating his 65 years in ministry. He said, and I quote:
“In my life time, I can at least build ten local churches. I teach everything and teach ten youth workers and these young workers are like me, and each of them build ten churches, there would be a hundred churches. Suppose they are able to equip one hundred youth workers, then we would in total build one thousand churches. But suppose they are able to equip a thousand youth workers, then adding it up they would have built ten thousand churches.”
What a grand but sobering thought.
But it has happened, if fact, MCBC is one of those hundreds or thousands of churches because our founding pastor Rev. Tommy Wong and his wife were students of Rev. Maak! Praise the LORD!
But let’s talk about more immediate concerns, how do we live this out in particularly in small groups?
Well, small group leaders, are your relationship deep with God and deep with others? God has placed a Elisha, a Joshua in your midst. If you can’t see them, ask God to open your eyes. He or she is there. If you have, are you intentionally investing in them, slowly giving more and more responsibility and authority to lead in your group? How have you prepared a jordan moment for them to be recognized? How have they mimic your work, or better yet, excel yours? Balancing healing and correction? Do you have a whirlwind plan, when you can step aside? All of this need to be saturated with prayer, courage and humility. However, unlike Elijah, God is not done with you yet. Where is God calling you to next?
WE There’s so much more we can unpack but the most important is to start NOW because there’s a possible worker, ministry leader, and even church planter in your midst! How will you faithfully accept the calling not only to lead but to equip for the sake of the next generation of God-fearing servants of Jesus?