Let Us Each Take Up Elijah's Mantle!
O God, our good and gracious Father in heaven, as we worship this day give us insight into Your word. May we be led to repent of our sins, to embrace Your forgiving love in Jesus, and to devote ourselves—our time and our talents—to the work You have entrusted to us here in this world. Enable us, O Lord, faithfully to follow You here in time, so that we might join You forever in eternity. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
“God is light and in Him is no darkness at all!” God calls upon us to walk with Him in the light, that is, we are to confess our sins, turn away from them, and rejoice in God’s forgiveness. While sin will unfortunately remain part of our lives while we live in this world, let us rejoice in our Advocate, Jesus, and share His message of redemption with the whole world!
Jesus here speaks frankly about good trees and bad trees, about industrious home builders and lazy home builders. Which are you? By the grace of God and the power of His Spirit may we all in faith strive to fulfill our callings by bearing good fruit to God’s glory and by building a solid spiritual foundation, which will withstand all the storms of our present lives!
Text: 2 Kings 2:6-18
Then Elijah said to him (Elisha), “Stay here, please, for the LORD has sent me on to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!” So the two of them went on. And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went and stood facing them at a distance, while the two of them stood by the Jordan. Now Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water, and it was divided this way and that, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground. And so it was, when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?” Elisha said, “Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.” So he said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.” Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” So he saw him no more. And he took hold of his own clothes and tore them into two pieces. He also took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood by the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, and said, “Where is the LORD God of Elijah?” And when he also had struck the water, it was divided this way and that; and Elisha crossed over. Now when the sons of the prophets who were from Jericho saw him, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him, and bowed to the ground before him. Then they said to him, “Look now, there are fifty strong men with your servants. Please let them go and search for your master, lest perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has taken him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley.” And he said, “You shall not send anyone.” But when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, “Send them!” Therefore they sent fifty men, and they searched for three days but did not find him. And when they came back to him, for he had stayed in Jericho, he said to them, “Did I not say to you, ‘Do not go’?”
In Christ Jesus, our Savior whom we serve, dear fellow redeemed:
There are physical items that are often associated with a particular person or office. For instance, we associate a scepter with a king, a gavel with a judge, and a baton with a band director. In the Bible there are certain physical items, which we associate with particular people and their callings within God’s kingdom. For instance, we often hear of ark of Noah and the rod of Aaron. Another such item, perhaps less well-known, is Elijah’s mantle. Elijah’s mantle was the large outer robe that Elijah wore, which over many years became symbolic of his calling as a prophet of the LORD. The Bible tells us that he used it to cover his face when God addressed him on Mount Sinai after he had become so very depressed by the threats of evil Queen Jezebel (cf. 1 Kings 19:13). He called Elisha to be an apprentice prophet by throwing his mantle over him (cf. 1 Kings 19:19). In our text Elijah left his mantle behind for Elisha when he was taken by the Spirit directly to heaven. Yes, Elijah’s mantle was the symbol of his call into the prophetic ministry, and when Elisha picked up that mantle he in effect assumed the ministry to which he had now been called as Elijah’s replacement.
My dear friends in Christ, we are not mere New Testament observers of Elijah and Elisha—looking at what happened to them, as if it has no reference to our lives. On the contrary, God has called each of us to join them in assuming roles within His kingdom. He has called us to be His representatives to forgive and retain sins. Listen to His words: “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you…. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21-23). Professor Ude reminded us in last week’s mission address that Jesus has called us to be His witnesses every day and in every place to which He leads us (cf. Acts 1:8). Today I would review with you the ministry God has entrusted to us here at Immanuel and encourage you—every one of you…every man, woman, and child—LET US EACH TAKE UP ELIJAH’S MANTLE! Let us not hesitate to assume our roles within our portion of God’s kingdom and to face the challenges that lie ahead of us. Do not fear those challenges for God has chosen you; God will equip you; and God will direct you!
The LORD had informed Elijah that his time of ministry was at an end and that he would soon be departing this earth. On the day of that departure, Elijah arose early for he had a long distance to travel—over twenty miles by foot. He suggested that Elisha remain behind, but Elisha refused. Repeatedly throughout the day, as the two of them traveled, various groups of the sons of the prophets informed Elisha that the LORD would be taking away his master that day. As Elijah continued to suggest that Elisha remain behind at each stop, Elisha’s anxiety seemed to increase to the point that he finally told Elijah, “As the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!”
What was Elisha’s problem? We are not told specifically within our text, but I believe Elisha was suffering from a problem that is very common. Elijah was about to leave some pretty big shoes to fill. Without question, he was the greatest prophet to serve God’s Old Testament people since Moses himself. He had spoken with God directly and for God effectively. God had given him the power to perform miracles. I can well imagine that Elisha, may have felt quite inadequate by comparison, and so did not want to see Elijah leave. These feelings were no doubt reflected in Elisha’s cry as the Spirit of God took Elijah up into heaven: “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” As Elijah was taken up into heaven, however, he allowed his mantle—the symbol of his prophetic call—to fall down to the earth, and Elisha took it up. The solution to Elisha’s problem was to realize that God had chosen him to succeed Elijah. God, having chosen him, would also be with him!
Every generation of believers has to confront this same issue—the transfer of leadership from the older to the younger generation. It is never easy, for God gives extraordinary gifts to each generation to accomplish the goals He has in store for them. That transfer, however, can and must be successfully accomplished for it is part of God’s plan for His kingdom work. I recall in a college ancient history class years ago, my professor commented that the sons of great men seldom matched the achievements of their fathers. I am sure that he did not intend for his comment to have a specific application, but I remember feeling as if he were looking directly at me. My father was a gifted man. He was a dynamic preacher, an exceptional linguist, and an effective writer. Father/son comparisons were bound to happen, but fathers and sons are not to be compared. Rather, each is called into the kingdom, is to take up the mantle of service, and is encouraged to be faithful when facing his particular challenges.
This Monday evening voters will be electing members to our church council and officers for our congregation. Numerous gifted individuals will be stepping down from the council. There will be some big shoes to fill. It would be very easy for our younger voters in particular to feel inadequate to fill those shoes—to assume the responsibilities that come with guiding a ministry as large as Immanuel’s. Yet, let us remember that God has chosen you—each of you—to play a significant role within His kingdom. Remember the words of the apostle Peter, “You are a chosen generation [and I emphasize “chosen”], a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light!” (1 Peter 2:9) God has accomplished many significant things through the members of Immanuel congregation down through the decades—four different churches were built, four different schools were built, two colleges were established, one hospital was built. We are now contemplating God’s will for our future. Where will that future take us? The challenges will be great, but let us not be afraid to address those challenges. God raised up men and women of vision in the past and He has and will do so again. LET US EACH, without fear and without hesitation, TAKE UP ELIJAH’S MANTLE, for God had chosen you for ministry, and you may rest assured that…
God will equip you! When Elijah and Elisha finally came to the Jordan River, God enabled Elijah to perform a miracle using his mantle. He rolled it up, struck the water, and the river parted, allowing them to pass over on dry land. Having crossed the river, Elijah said to Elisha, “‘Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?’ Elisha said, ‘Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.’ So he said, ‘You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.’” It was shortly thereafter that a chariot of fire and its horsemen appeared and Elijah was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha cried out after his mentor, his friend, his spiritual father—but he was gone, his mantle—the symbol of his prophetic calling—lying at Elisha’s feet. Elisha took up the mantle and returned to the Jordan. He cried out, “Where is the LORD God of Elijah?” He struck the waters of the river as he had seen Elijah do, and the waters parted allowing him to cross. Just as God had permitted the parting of the Red Sea at the beginning of Moses’ ministry and the parting of the Jordan River at the beginning of Joshua’s ministry, so God parted the Jordan River at the beginning of Elisha’s ministry. God thereby demonstrated that He would equip Elisha with everything necessary to fulfill his calling. As you go on to read of that ministry in 2 Kings you will find that Elisha indeed performed more miracles than his predecessor, Elijah, and was able to serve God faithfully and meet all of the challenges that lay before him successfully.
Even so the Lord will equip you! What is it that you need to fulfill your calling in God’s kingdom work here at Immanuel? Do you need the wisdom necessary to serve on the Board of Deacons and help guide individuals through their spiritual problems, or to teach Sunday School and successfully influence young minds, or to serve as an officer of one of the ladies’ organizations and effectively guide their programs? Ask the Lord for that wisdom and He will give it to you. He Himself says through the apostle James, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (1:5). Do you need the skills necessary to keep our physical plant running smoothly? Remember that when it was necessary to find individuals with the skills necessary to build both the tabernacle and the temple, God sent down His Spirit to provide those skills. Listen to these words from Exodus 35:30-33, “The LORD has called by name Bezalel…of the tribe of Judah, and He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom and understanding, in knowledge and all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work all manner of artistic workmanship.” God will equip you for every work of ministry He calls you to do!
Will He do so collectively for us as we look ahead and plan our joint ministry? Can He inspire us to be effective stewards of our resources, so that we can overcome our current deficit? Yes, He can and He will! Let us only remember that we are stewards of all that He has entrusted to us. What we possess is not our own to do with as we wish, but rather a trust from God to be used as He directs! Let us only strive to be faithful! Can He help us make plans for the necessary expansions our ministry requires? Yes, He can and He will! Let us only be unafraid and let us determine to be faithful! Can He provide us with leaders to guide us through the decisions that will have to be made regarding either remaining here in downtown Mankato, or moving to another location? Yes, He can and He will! Again, let us only be unafraid and determined to be faithful! LET US EACH TAKE UP ELIJAH’S MANTLE, for God will equip you, and rest assured…
He will also direct you! When Elisha returned from the wilderness without Elijah, the sons of the prophets of course had many questions. What happens next, however, almost seems bazaar. The sons of the prophets began badgering Elisha to allow them to send men across the Jordan to scour the area to see whether or not somehow the Spirit of God had failed to take Elijah to heaven, but rather had dropped him somewhere out in the wild. Elisha, who understood what God had intended through this process, at first refused to allow them to go, but afterward permitted them to go, being somewhat embarrassed by their badgering. Fifty of their men went and searched for three days. They found nothing, and when they returned Elisha told them, “Did I not say to you, ‘Do not go!’”
What was happening here? God had spoken to His Old Testament people and so directed them for decades through Elijah. Even though every indication was that He would now speak to them through Elisha, the younger prophets seemed unwilling to listen to him and only too willing to challenge him. In fact, their unwillingness to listen to Elisha led them to suggest something impossible—that somehow God might have failed in His attempt to take Elijah to heaven. Elisha, who should have stood firm, yielded to pressure, only to have his authority upheld by the Lord who had called him.
My dear friends—each generation of Christians must learn the Scriptures anew. They must by their study of the Bible be led by the Spirit to a full understanding of God’s intentions for them. The first and foremost of God’s intentions is revealed through His plan for our salvation. We were by nature dead in trespasses and sins (cf. Ephesians 2:1), but our God has made us alive again by His grace through faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Through His word He reveals His divine truths upon which we can with confidence build our faith. The devil will challenge the validity of Scripture at every opportunity. In our day of relativity and with the modern denial of absolute truth, we are assaulted on all sides by people and institution which challenge the truths of God and would seek to lead us to doubt God’s abilities and intentions, even as the sons of the prophets were led by doubts to suggest God had somehow failed in His intentions.
God does not fail! God’s intentions are always fulfilled. Let the unbelieving world suggest, as the apostle Peter says it will, that God will not return at the end of time, that this world will always remain as it has in the past. As Peter explained, the reason this world remains is because God is sustaining it and would have all men to come to salvation! (cf. 2 Peter 3) He is patient and loving, but let us not try His patience. Rather, let us with joy here the gospel proclamation of God’s good news of forgiveness and life. Yes, LET US EACH TAKE UP ELIJAH’S MANTLE! Do so with confidence, for God will direct you! Amen.
To God Alone Be the Glory!
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting