The Shared Life
A Father’s Day Message
Romans 8:28 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
2 Kings 2:1-12 1 When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3 The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “but do not speak of it.” 4 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” And he replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho. 5 The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” he replied, “but do not speak of it.” 6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” And he replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on. 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.
The story of Elijah and Elisha is as close to a father and son story as you could get without the two people actually being father and son. There is no doubt that Elisha viewed Elijah as both an earthly and spiritual father. He even called him his father in verse 12 of the passage as Elijah was being taken up into heaven in a whirlwind. A parent-child relationship is certainly a very influential one; one that shapes a person’s heart, mind, daily life and future. I want us to consider some aspects of their father-son-like relationship that we could seek to implement into some strategic earthly relationships.
Let me begin by saying that your life’s work involves other people. Your life’s influence is supposed to continue when you leave this world and be carried on by others that you invest in. Elijah was directed by God to throw his cloak around Elisha in I Kings 19:20. That was a sign that Elisha had been chosen to follow Elijah, to learn from Elijah and then to carry on Elijah’s work when God took him to heaven. Just as God led Elijah to Elisha, we need to be praying and asking God who it is that we are supposed to invest in.
The first aspect of this relationship that I want us to note is the time Elijah and Elisha spent together. They were together a lot.
I love how the text gives us a picture of Elijah and Elisha walking together. Elijah would inform Elisha of where God was sending him next, and then he would say to Elisha, “But you can stay here.” It isn’t that Elijah didn’t want Elisha to go, but there was a test of his commitment to follow in Elijah’s footsteps that was happening. A good mentor will help us sift through our motives and priorities to help us hone in on what is best for us. Elisha was more than willing to go. He didn’t want to miss out on what God would say or do through Elijah. He had a great desire to be with Elijah, even though he was much older.
It is awesome to see people from different generations connect and bond in friendship and mentorship. It isn’t just that Elisha was drawn to Elijah, but Elijah also needed Elisha. When God instructed Elijah to throw his cloak over Elisha which was kind of a like a “tag, you’re it” moment, Elijah was pretty much at an all-time low. He had just gone through a major time of depression. He had actually been suicidal. He had secluded himself in a cave. He felt so alone, as if he was the only one who had been willing to obey God. God came to him and gave him not only a new focus, but a new friend to help him through the rest of his life’s journey. This was a win-win relationship for both men. Elisha needed a mentor and a ministry and Elijah needed a new project and some company to bring encouragement to him.
Now, as our text opens, we read that God was about to take Elijah up in a whirlwind. Somehow, there was an understanding that Elijah’s time on earth was about up. His earthly journey was ending. Time for Elijah and Elisha’s relationship was short. This was known, and so when Elijah told Elisha God was sending him to this town and that town, Elisha wanted to be there with him. He didn’t know if a “goodbye” would be a “goodbye” for the rest of his earthly existence. He wanted to make the most of the time he and Elijah still had.
We never know how much time we will have with someone. Every day is a gift. We need to make the most out of the special relationships God has given to us. Perhaps young people understand this better than the rest. I know our kids like to squeeze in as much activity with as many different people in as many locations in the same day as possible. There is a zest for life that includes being with friends and enjoying each other’s company. While we may have more to juggle in our adult lives and can’t do quite as many things due to the “adulting” we have to do, we still have to find times to invest in meaningful relationships with others.
I love our moms of teens group that is meeting every other Monday. I believe the next meeting is at Joy Holbrook’s home. It is a time for moms to get together and talk about parenting strategies, and parenting joys and parenting challenges and to support one another in friendship and prayer.
I love our men’s group that meets during the school year on Wednesday nights. Their theme verse is the one about iron sharpening iron. It is a time for the men to go deeper and to gain insight and to share life’s journey with one another.
Our Sunday School ministry provides that kind of atmosphere as well, where you can get to know people with shared interests and learn from one another. You may have the experience, the insight, the life story that will give someone what they need to come out of the cave, to come out of hiding, to get beyond their depression, to give them the life focus that they need to walk on. That only happens in relationship.
With whom could you share some life? With whom could you share some time? With whom could you walk? Certainly, our families should be a big priority. If your father is living, set aside some time not just on Father’s Day, but in the coming days to invest in that relationship. Don’t forget about your mom, your siblings, or any extended family. When you show someone that you want to be with them, when they become a priority to you, they receive great affirmation and a wonderful gift.
So, Elijah and Elisha started to walk from town to town so that Elijah could meet up with these schools of prophets which were kind of like little Bible colleges. There he would be giving final instruction in the Scriptures. It was like God was taking Elijah on a historical tour and was giving Elisha the opportunity to tag along for the inspiration.
You see, Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho, and the Jordan River were major pieces of Hebrew history. Each town had a story. Each town had a significant message tied to it. As Elijah and Elisha would travel from place to place, Elijah would have an opportunity to remind Elisha of what God accomplished in each place. Elijah could share what he knew about each place with Elijah, and what a rich time of transferring of knowledge it would be.
I have enjoyed visiting places I have lived before and as I have had opportunity, I have shown my family my former high schools or homes or churches and have talked about the life events that made me what I am today. It’s fun to go down “Memory Lane” and that is what was happening as these two prophets walked together.
Their journey began as they left Gilgal. It was the first place the Israelites camped after they crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land (Josh. 4:19-20). They knew they had “made it” when they had crossed into Gilgal. It was there that the new generation of Jewish men submitted to circumcision and officially became the “sons of the covenant” (Josh. 5:2-9). The covenant of circumcision signaled a new day for the Nation of Israel. Therefore, Gilgal could be called the place of new beginnings!
Doesn’t everyone need to be reminded that a fresh start is possible? Even though God was going to take Elijah to heaven, He would still create a new beginning for Elisha as he picked up Elijah’s mantle. Each generation has the opportunity and responsibility to raise up new leaders! Even though Gilgal had become a place of idolatrous worship, Elijah never abandoned it. He knew God could do something new even though God’s people had turned away from Him.
Bethel was the first place on Elijah’s farewell tour. It was a fifteen mile walk for the pair. It was at Bethel where Abraham and then Jacob worshiped. It was at Bethel where Jacob had the dream of the angels ascending and descending a ladder or staircase that reached to heaven. During that experience, Jacob heard God promise to be with him and to care for him (Gen. 28:11-19). Bethel means “house of God.” Jacob vowed at Bethel to obey God. Years later, Jacob returned to Bethel to recommit himself to God (Gen. 35). Bethel was a place of dreams and a place of commitment and recommitment for the patriarchs.
Elijah and Elisha took another fifteen-mile hike west to Jericho. The battle of Jericho was the first victory for Joshua and the Israelites just inside the Promised Land. Jericho was also a place where a guy named Achan messed up big and took the spoils of war that had belonged to God alone, which led to a major defeat for the Israelites in the battle at Ai. From an awesome victory to a sad defeat. From conquering to crumbling. Jericho was a reminder of how quickly things can change when you don’t do things God’s way, something critical for Elijah’s successor, Elisha, to know.
They next took a short five-mile jaunt to the Jordan River. Surely, they conversed about how the nation of Israel had to cross the Jordan River to get to the Promised Land. They were free from slavery in Egypt, but they would have to cross the Jordan and claim their inheritance. I mean, what good is freedom if you don’t claim your inheritance, right? As the priests of God carried the Ark of the Covenant, signifying the presence and the saving power of God, as they carried it into the Jordan River, the Lord opened the waters and the people passed over on to dry land. To commemorate the miracle, Joshua had people gather stones from the river bed, and they built a memorial on the other side out of the rocks. Perhaps we could call this Joshua’s “smiling rock ministry.” ? Oh, I am sure Elijah recounted the story to Elisha, and when they came to the banks of the Jordan, Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the waters with it and the Jordan parted for the pair to cross. The Jordan would represent a barrier to the plan of God and how we are to move forward in power and faith. Oh, anybody here this morning got a river that needs to be crossed?
Oh, Elisha would need to be reminded at the banks of the Jordan that nothing is too hard for the Lord, for with God, all things are possible! And later in chapter 2 of second Kings, Elisha would use the cloak of Elijah to strike the waters of the Jordan and they would part again!
Elisha learned on his walking tour that he didn’t need to just visit the place of new beginnings or the place of dreams or the place of victories, but he needed to learn that he could cross over the Jordan Rivers of his life and trust God to see him through.
Another aspect of the relationship between Elijah and Elisha was a sharing of motivation.
Our lives need to inspire people. Our spiritual energy, enthusiasm and passion need to draw others to find their life’s purpose. Look at verses 9-10: 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.”
If I could summarize what Elisha was trying to say it is this: He wanted what Elijah had, and in increasing measure.
He wasn’t asking for twice as much of the Holy Spirit, or for a ministry twice as great as Elijah’s, but he wanted the intense passion, an even greater motivation to follow God’s lead. What an inspiration Elijah must have been. I can picture the two walking and talking, and can almost visualize Elisha with his cell phone out, taking copious notes.
Let me remind you that Elisha saw himself as a son to Elijah. If you think about that, it isn’t strange that Elisha would ask for a double portion from Elijah. In Deuteronomy 21:17, there was a law of inheritance for a firstborn son. That son would receive a double inheritance. Elisha viewed himself as a firstborn son of the prophets. Like a firstborn son serving a father, Elisha had walked with Elijah and attended to his needs (3:11; 1 Kings 19:21), but the only inheritance he desired was a double measure of his master’s inner spirit of courage, faithfulness, faith in God, and obedience to God’s will. In saying this, Elisha was accepting the prophetic ministry that Elijah had begun and declaring that he would carry it on to completion, with God’s help. So many parents hope their children will follow in facets of their footsteps, but WOW! Elisha wanted to do what Elijah had done and with double the enthusiasm and spiritual energy!
Elijah was honest with his friend and told him that such a gift was not his to grant, for only the Lord could do it. However, if the Lord allowed Elisha to see his translation from earth to heaven, that would be proof that his request had been granted. Then it happened! As the two friends walked along talking, a fiery chariot drawn by fiery horses came between them, and a whirlwind lifted Elijah out of sight—and Elisha saw it happen! Elisha had spiritual eyes to see because God granted his request for an increased spiritual passion and prowess. It was a confirmation that God was equipping him to carry on the ministry of Elijah.
The final characteristic I would point out from this father-son-like relationship was the sharing of ministry.
Elisha could pick up where Elijah left off because he knew what to do. He had heard Elijah teach. He had seen Elijah part the waters with his cloak. He had watched carefully the actions of his mentor, and he was equipped and ready to take over when Elijah left.
Not only did Elisha enjoy the loyalty of the sons of the prophets as his mentor, Elijah, but the leaders of Jericho also respected him and sought his help.
Elisha not only performed miracles, but he brought practical help to the people as he actually healed the waters at Jericho. Look at 2 Kings 2:19-22 (NIV) 19 The men of the city said to Elisha, “Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive.” 20 “Bring me a new bowl,” he said, “and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. 21 Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, “This is what the LORD says: ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.'” 22 And the water has remained wholesome to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.
Who are you in a relationship with that you are training to do the work of the Kingdom? Who can you equip to become a Sunday School teacher, worship team member, or usher? What stories of the past can you tell that will help those who are coming up be reminded of the things God can do? Who do you need to make some time for? Maybe like Elijah, you have found yourself in a lonely and depressed place. Perhaps the greatest prescription for depression is to begin investing in someone else.
What about those of you who are a bit younger? Who do you look up to, and how can you get to know them? Had Elisha not been committed to walking with Elijah, he would never have gotten to see him taken up in the whirlwind. What an awesome experience that was! What questions can you ask of the older generation in order to learn from their wisdom? Who is it that has such a passion and zeal for Christ that you would like to have more of that spiritual fire? Whose work could you carry on when God calls them home? If there was ever a day we needed a generation with the spirit of Elisha it is today! We need young men and women of spiritual passion who are committed to doing God’s work.
The spiritual life isn’t meant to be lived in isolation. We were made to walk with each other, to learn from each other, and to share in friendship and ministry together. Who is God calling you to share life with today?