“A Greater and Better Way”
II Kings 2: 1-2, 6-14; Luke 9: 51-62; Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Pearl: The high calling and different way of being a follower of Christ.
Function: To move worshippers to aspire to greater commitment to the true heart and spirit of the way of Jesus the Christ.
Elisha was an ambitious protégé of Elijah.
1. Elisha did not shy away from the rigors of being a prophet of God.
a. Elijah gave him the chance to leave repeatedly. This reminds you of Ruth with Naomi. Naomi wanted her daughter-in-law to leave and find a man and get on with her life rather than stay with her.
i. Repeatedly Ruth insisted on staying with Naomi.
ii. Repeatedly Elisha insisted on staying with the great prophet.
b. Elijah knew the rigors of the prophetic office. Elijah is considered one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament and yet he did not have a rosy career. Even after his great victory over the prophets of Baal he went and hid for fear of the retribution of Jezebel. Elijah had great highs and lows in his service for the Lord. So he wanted his young protégé to be sure of his intent.
2. What was behind Elisha’s ambition? He requested of Elijah: “…a double portion of Elijah’s spirit.” In other words, he asked that the life of Elijah be repeated in his life. That is why I said Elisha was ambitious! That was asking a lot!
a. Elijah told him that if he saw him being taken up into heaven then his request was granted. In fact, Elisha did see this amazing event and so it was that Elisha took on the cloak of prophetic office.
3. There are times in life when we all have great ambition.
a. A young man joined the Marines. He left the family farm and, during what ought to be the very best, fun years of his life, enlisted in the Marines. Why did he do it? What attracted him to the rigors of basic training and boot camp? Was it his sense of patriotism? Was it his desire to give back something to the land that had given so much to him? No, he said that none of these factors motivated him. Here is how he described what propelled him toward the Marines; “I wanted to be tested. All my life I’ve gotten by easy. Nobody ever demanded much of me at home or in school. I think that maybe my parents and teachers didn’t think I had much ability or talent. I wanted to be somewhere that people believed in me enough to demand big things out of me. I wanted to show what I was made of. That’s why I joined the Marines” (“Pulpit Resource,” June 2010, p. 60).
i. Perhaps his church did not also demand much of him.
At a certain point Jesus “set his face” for Jerusalem. This notion of having “his face set” was repeated so you get the idea that Jesus was stepping up his urgency and stepping up his mission. He was gazing ahead and fixing his eye on the end.
He cast his eyes on Jerusalem. He was looking ahead to the cross.
When Jesus and his band entered into Samaria and it was evident that he was headed for Jerusalem the Samaritans rejected him and didn’t want to have anything to do with him. The Samaritans did not view Jerusalem as the holy city but instead viewed Mt. Gerazim as the holy site. This was a major point of disagreement between Jews and Samaritans who had no love for each other.
This is what kindled the passion of James and John who wanted to call down fire from heaven upon them for their cold reception of Jesus.
The point is that Jesus was narrowing his focus and fixing his gaze and his mind upon his ultimate mission. In so doing he invited others to join him in his gospel mission. Not only did he invite others to join him but many enlisted in his cause when they saw his passion and his ambition. Yet Jesus did not shy away from explaining how demanding was the call of Christ upon those who believe in him and seek to follow him as a disciple. It is a demanding life and it calls for a dedication to a different kind of life and altogether different spirit.
Jesus casts a wide net seeking followers. But he also wants all who join with him to count the cost and be willing to make his cause a very high priority. In fact, he bids you to make it the very highest priority in your lives. To those who did not catch the high priority of his invitation he suggested that they adjust their priorities.
i. One said, “First let me go and bury my father.”
ii. Another said, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
iii. The other said, “First let me say farewell to those at my home.”
Those are very natural and you would think appropriate things to do before going on the road with Jesus. Yet Jesus let them know that they cannot hesitate—they cannot be distracted by any other concern (noble though they may be).
Some things demand incredible commitment.
i. There are very special demands placed upon soldiers who are given the assignment of guard duty for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.
1. A soldier on guard duty takes 21 steps during his walk across the tomb of the Unknowns. It alludes to the 21 gun salute, which is the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary.
2. For the same reason the soldier hesitates for 21 seconds after his about face and his return walk.
3. His gloves are moistened to prevent his losing his grip on the rifle.
4. He carries the rifle on the shoulder away from the tomb. After his march across the path, he executes an about face, and moves the rifle to the outside shoulder.
5. The guards are changed every thirty minutes, twenty-four hours a day, and 365 days a year.
6. To apply for guard duty at the tomb, soldiers must be between 5’ 10” and 6’ 2” tall and their waist size cannot exceed 30”.
7. Soldiers selected for this duty must commit two years of life to guard the tomb. During this time they cannot swear in public or do anything to disgrace the uniform or the tomb in any way.
8. Guards dress for duty in front of a full-length mirror.
9. The first six months of duty a guard cannot talk to anyone, or watch TV.
10. Every guard spends five hours a day getting his uniform ready for guard duty.
11. The tomb has been patrolled continuously, 24/7, and 365 days a year, since 1930.
In a similar manner the life with Christ demands our all. Jesus demands our total dedication. He demands our full focus and attention. This passage in Luke begins a section which contains many challenging statements from our Lord.
Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing (10. 41-42).
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters (11. 23).
From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded (12. 48b).
Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple (14. 26-27). In this time “hate” did not carry the same kind of emotion that it does today. This was a statement about priority and not to disregard family or to treat them dishonorably.
Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it (17. 33).
There is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life (18. 29-30).
Our Lord is gracious and kind and loving in every way. At the same time his way is demanding. He does not understate the magnitude of his Way. He does not equivocate. He does not try to put a positive spin on the calling to be his follower. It is a hard life. It is a challenging life. Yet it is the life which is truly life!
The Christian life is what that young man who joined the Marines was looking for. He said, “I wanted to be where people believed in me enough to demand big things out of me.” This is what the call of Christ is all about.
Following Jesus will bring you the opportunity for “greater things!”
You are invited by our Lord to follow him. He invites all. Yet he makes clear the high calling that it is to be a disciple of Jesus the Christ.
He wants zealous followers.
Yet he demands that his people have the right spirit. James and John were offended for their Lord when the Samaritans rejected him. They became enraged and asked Jesus if they should call fire from heaven down upon them. Jesus couldn’t believe his ears and he rebuked them—“Of course not!”
Jesus needs highly committed and passionate followers but he does not want them to have the kind of spirit which wants to kill others who don’t see things in the same way!
There are believers today who would be ready to call down fire from heaven upon other people. This is not the spirit of Christ Jesus. This is not the kind of “Spirit fire” which Jesus wants to motivate his followers today.
He wants a fire kindled in your hearts which is for those who are on the margins.
He wants fire kindled in your hearts that leads to compassionate caring.
He wants a fire kindled in your hearts for justice and fairness for all.
Elisha asked for a “double portion” of the spirit of Elijah. It was granted.
The demands for Jesus’ followers today are specific and precise, yet they are manifested in myriad ways. These demands are to be seen and known among you 24/7, 365 days a year. Your code to live by is defined in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, generosity, and self-control. To fulfill this you have received more than Elisha received, you have received more than a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. You have received the Holy Spirit. “Live by the Spirit, and be guided by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25).