Sunday, May 28, 2006

Left Behind

Text: 2 Kings 2:7-15; Acts1: 8-11

When Elijah left Elisha and when Jesus left us, they leave behind the continuation of their mission and the means of empowerment to fulfil that mission.

I. Introduction
Conn Iggulden’s Emperor series consists of four historical novel about Julius Caesar (The Gates of Rome; The Death of Kings; The Field of Swords; and The Gods of Wars). To complement this, I read Adrian Goldsworthy’s In The Name of Rome, a non fiction book about the various Roman generals who built the Roman Empire. Men like Caius Marius, Julius Caesar, Pompey and Titus (who besieged Jerusalem in 70 AD). I find the Roman strategy of building the Roman Empire fascinating. First they conquer an area either by besieging a city or defeating a local enemy ruler or chieftain. Next, they leave behind a garrison to occupy the conquered city as the army marches on. This garrison of well trained Roman soldiers was not only to keep the local population in check but also to offer them protection. The Romans were great engineers. They would improve the conquered city by building infrastructures like aqueducts to bring water from the mountains, sewers and roads. Better roads will bring commerce, trade and Roman culture. Gradually the conquered cities will be assimilated into the Roman Empire. Many of the great cities of Europe were Roman cities, built upon existing cities: London, Paris, Plague and Istanbul. This is due to the work of those who were purposely left behind by the Roman armies and their generals.

II. Biblical Texts
This evening, we shall look at two passages concerning ascension to heaven and those who were left behind. One is from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. We shall see who ascended and what happens to those who were left behind.

2 Kings 2:7-15
2KI 2:7 Fifty men of the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. 8 Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground. 9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?"
"Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit," Elisha replied.

10 "You have asked a difficult thing," Elijah said, "yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours--otherwise not."

11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, "My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!" And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart.

13 He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. "Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?" he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over. 15 The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, "The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha." And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.

Thursday 25 May was Ascension Day. Some churches celebrate Ascension Day. Ascension Day is 40 days after Easter when the disciples say Jesus ascended to heaven.

Acts 1:6-11
AC 1:6 So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."

Comparison of the relationship of the two passages

Elijah & Elisha
Jesus & Disciples
Elijah’s mission: Preaching Repentance
Jesus’ mission: preaching salvation
Elisha’s request: for double portion of blessing
Disciples’ request: restoring the kingdom to Israel.
Condition imposed
If you see the me being taken up
If you wait in Jerusalem
Means given
Elisha received spiritual gift and Elijah’s cloak
Disciples receive the Holy Spirit
Mission given
Continue preaching repentance
Be His witness; Kingdom of God
Succession confirmed
Elisha confirmed as successor of Elijah
Disciples confirmed as Jesus’ successor on earth

Here we can appreciate the close relationship Elijah has with Elisha and Jesus with His disciples. In modern terms we would say that there is a mentoring process and there is a succession plan. In each of the narratives given in the Old Testament and New Testament, we see the completion of one’s given part of the mission and the passing on of the torch to someone else to carry on the mission.

III. The Missions of those Who Left

a. Elijah

We are introduced to Elijah in 1 Kings 17:1 when he confronted King Ahab and forecast numbers of years of drought on the land. The drought will end when he said the word. This is what the Lord commanded him. Ahab was considered the most evil king of Israel, the Northern Kingdom (1 Kings 16:30). Then Elijah has to hide because King Ahab sent his men to look for him. Elijah was a prophet. His mission was to preach repentance. His mission was to call people to repent and turn back to God. That is also the overall theme of the Old Testament.

b. Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ is God incarnate. God incarnate means God became man. Jesus’ mission is to be the sacrificial lamb for all the sins of mankind. He did it by taking on our sins and dying on the cross for us. Follow onto to this is that Jesus is to bring the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is already here and yet to come. The Kingdom of God basically means the rule of God in our hearts. Put God first or give God top priority in our lives.

IV. The Missions of those Who are Left Behind

a. Elisha

The mission of the prophets were to preach repentance and call the people of Israel (Northern Kingdom) and Judah (Southern Kingdom) back to the worship of one true God. The people are easily swayed or attracted to the other gods of their neighbours such as Baal and Ashtoreth. These are fertility gods of the Canaanites.

b. The Disciples
The disciples make up the Church. When Jesus ascended to heaven, His physical presence on earth is the Church. That’s why the Church is also called the Body of Christ. Jesus’ mission to the church is to be His witnesses. Starting in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the rest of the world. Being His witnesses and making disciples of Jesus Christ is closely related.

V. The Empowerment of Those Left Behind

a. The Cloak of Elijah

Elijah asked Elisha what he wanted. Elisha asked for a double portion of his (Elijah’s) spirit. Scholars generally agreed here that Elisha did not really ask for Elijah’s spirit but for his gift of prophecy. First born usually receive a double portion. What Elisha was actually asking is that Elijah confirms him as his successor and passes onto to him Elijah’s spiritual gifts. Elijah answer is revealing. It is not up to him to confirm Elisha’s confirmation as his successor or to give spiritual gifts. It is God’s prerogative. Hence he gave a condition. If you see taken from you, then you shall have what you asked. So when Elisha saw the flaming horses and chariot, he knew that God has given him what he asked for. It is also interesting that Elijah left his cloak behind. Elijah knew that the other prophets may not accept Elisha’s words so easily that he is to be their leader. Hence he left his cloak to Elisha. Elisha used his cloak to divide the Jordan River just as Elijah did and walked across the dry river bed. Even then, as the later part of the chapter shows, the other prophets still want to search the surrounding area for Elijah. God has equipped Elisha to carry on Elijah’s mission. The spiritual gift of prophecy.

b. The Holy Spirit
In Acts, Jesus told His disciples to stay in Jerusalem. When he leaves, He will send the Holy Spirit who will give them the power to be His witnesses. Thus Jesus did not leave behind his disciples powerless. He knew that there are forces that will attack his disciples. But He knew He had to leave. He left so that he can take His place at the right hand of God and to continue to intercede for us as our High Priest in heaven while here on earth; the Holy Spirit empowers us to continue His mission of bringing redemption to the rest of the world.

VI. Lessons for Us

Steven Spielberg’s movie, “E.T” wonderfully illustrate our point about left behind. E.T. stands for extraterrestrial or aliens. The story is about an alien exploration team while on earth was surprised while in their attempts to collect plant samples and accidentally left one of them behind. Fortunately, the extra-terrestrial soon finds a friend and emotional companion in fatherless 10-year-old Elliot, who discovered him looking for food in his family's garden shed. E.T. slowly gets acquainted with Elliot's brother Michael, his sister Gertie (a very young Drew Barrymore) as well as with Earth customs. The rest of the movie is about how these children and the alien outwit attempts by the US government and the local sheriff department to capture the alien. But before long, E.T. gets seriously sick, and because of his special connection to Elliot, the young boy suffers, too. The mothership finally came back for the E.T. after the alien made the first galactic phone call, “E.T. call home”. This movie illustrates what it’s like to be left behind, what is “being in the world but not of the world” and how by his/her presence impacted the lives of the children.

We have all been left behind. It is not a mistake. It is part of God’s plan. Jesus had to leave us when He has completed His part of the mission. But He did not leave us powerless. He sent the Holy Spirit to help us fulfil His mission.

a. Our Mission
Be His witnesses in the world. What is more important is not to lose the focus of Jesus Christ as the centre of our lives and ministries. Until and less we are focused on Christ, we will not be effective witnesses of Him but instead poor imitations of our Saviour.

b. Our Mean
Allowing the Holy Spirit to empower us. The Holy Spirit is a Spirit of Truth and Freedom. The Holy Spirit does not compel us to allow Him to work. We have to allow Him to work. So if we are to receive power and become Christ’s witnesses, we have to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. Recently I was on a 10 days silent retreat. Being on a silent retreat is challenging as those of you who have been on such a retreat will tell you. Being on such a retreat will force you to separate from the world and to focus on God. Unfortunately you will also have to face yourself. During this retreat, I came to the realization that we cannot be holy by our own effort. All our efforts will always be tainted by our natural self. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit can we make any progress.

Conclusion Summary
When Elijah left Elisha and when Jesus left us, they leave behind the continuation of their mission and the means of empowerment to fulfil that mission.

Soli Deo Gloria

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