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The Call of Elisha

Date: Mar. 1, 2015

Author: Michael Mark

1 Kings 19:19-21

Key Verse: 1 Kings 19:21

“So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant.”

To be called means to be chosen, to be selected to belong to something. In the NBA and the NFL, they have events called drafts where the professional sport teams choose from among the best college athletes to join the league. The players have been called to join the league. When you pick your teams in your fantasy leagues, you are calling players to be on your team. In academia students apply to get into college, and decisions are made whether to accept or deny students. The students who are accepted are called to enroll. In God’s kingdom, God has also called on people to enter into his kingdom, and to become children of God. Many are invited, and are offered the gospel, but only a few respond, so only a few are chosen. Just like for college, invitations and marketing materials are sent out, but few will respond, fewer still are chosen. When God calls, not everyone responds. Unlike academia though, those who are chosen are not selected based on their merits, but on God’s sovereign will. Be assured though, that if this worries you in your heart, and you want to enter God’s kingdom, it is a sign of God’s calling you, and today we will see how to respond to God’s call. Some people are not interested in God’s call, and they won’t bother to come. I’m not talking about those who can’t make it here a week or two now and then, but those who are not interested would be those who never seek any place in the future (it doesn’t have to be here) to hear God’s word. They won’t bother to listen, but if you are interested in responding to God’s call, please listen (and God help me). In today’s passage, we will see the calling of Elisha, who was appointed to be the successor to Elijah, and through that also learn about what it means to be called by God.

Last week, we saw Elijah run away in fear, even after such a great victory in the epic battle between God and Baal. He had expected all Israel to repent after seeing the great power of the Lord, but instead he learned that the queen Jezebel had swore to kill him. Fearing for his life, he fled over 300 miles south to Mt. Horeb, taking around 40 days to get there. It was there he wished to die, thinking he was the only prophet left. God appeared to him in a gentle whisper, showing his great compassion, mercy and kindness in the midst of his awesome power, and spoke to Elijah. He told Elijah to go and anoint Elisha to succeed him as prophet, and also to anoint new kings over Aram and Israel. God had shown he was still in control, even though Israel had not repented, and told Elijah that he was not the only one left, but he had reserved 7,000 in Israel whose knees had not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths had not kissed him.

Elijah went to Abel Mehola to find Elisha after hearing God speak. Look at v.19, “So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shapat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him.” Abel Mehola was around 10 miles to the south east of Jezreel, the place where Elijah had originally run away from. He traveled all the way back up there from Mt. Horeb, another 300 miles, to find Elijah. To put that into perspective, that’s about the distance between Chicago and St. Louis, or about the distance between Chicago and Quincy, IL, where our very own Dan is from, maybe about a 5 hour drive from here.

When Elijah arrived, he found Elisha plowing. If you are like me and from the city, the only concept you might have of plowing is snow plowing. This plowing is a little bit different. Plowing is an important job in farming. A plow is driven into the ground to break up the soil, allowing air to mix in and also burying the leftovers from the harvest, providing nutrients for the soil. Breaking up the soil also prepares it for the next crop, making it a much better environment for the roots to grow. The best way to plow is to go up and down in a straight line across the field, one row at a time. Here we see Elisha riding in a team of 12 pairs of oxen. That’s 24 oxen going up and down the field. This shows that Elisha came from a wealthy family that owned lots of land – with all of those oxen it was more than several football fields. Elisha himself was driving the twelfth pair.  Driving oxen and plowing is hard work, but here we see that Elisha, though he was heir to a wealthy estate, was a dedicated and hard working man.

Elijah went up to Elisha and threw his cloak around him. A cloak is like a large cape, and this cloak was rough and hairy, kind of like camel’s hair. It seemed to be a unique cloak that Elijah wore, because some people recognized him by it. When Elijah threw his cloak around Elisha, this symbolized the designation of the successor to the office of the prophet. Elijah had carried out God’s command to anoint Elisha the son of Shaphat to succeed him.

Apparently Elisha knew exactly what this meant. Look at his response in v.20, “Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. ‘Let me kiss my father and mother good-bye,’ he said, ‘and then I will come with you.’ ‘Go back,’ Elijah replied. ‘What have I done to you?’” Elisha didn’t say “Excuse me sir, I think this was yours.” He didn’t even ask, “Who are you?” but said, “I will come with you.” Elisha must have known who Elijah was, probably from epic tales of the epic battle. He also must have known that the passing of this cloak meant he was called to succeed Elijah. Notice also that Elisha left his oxen and ran after Elijah. Why did Elisha have to chase after Elijah? Well, we do know that Elijah could outrun horses for 15 miles. Maybe he zipped by Elijah and threw his cloak on him and zipped away, like Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man. But more likely, either Elisha was bewildered at what happened while he was plowing, or he continued to plow, being a dedicated plowman, until the oxen got to the end of the field, at which point he got off and ran back to Elijah.

Elisha knew exactly what it would cost to follow Elijah. He knew it meant leaving his father and mother. He was a good son, so he wanted to bid them farewell, for he may be gone for extended periods of time, if not gone for the rest of his life. He knew it also meant leaving behind his friends, and even his wealth. For those of you who are familiar with a certain passage in Luke, Jesus rebukes a man for wanting to say goodbye to his parents. This was not a parable Jesus told, but an actual person Jesus spoke to. Luke 9:61-62 says that a man said to him, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” What do we make of this? Was Elisha wrong for wanting to say goodbye?   The answer is no – Jesus answer shows that there was a difference between this man’s heart and Elisha’s heart. Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” To plow, you had to look straight and focus straight ahead. If you looked backwards, you might plow crooked or off-track, and make the plowed soil uneven. It’s like driving a car. When you’re on the road, you always look straight ahead. If you look back, or look at your phone, you could end up in an accident. So Jesus was saying that you cannot follow him, and then look back at the world – like Lot’s wife did when they escaped Sodom. You cannot follow Jesus, and still long for the things of this world. Elisha’s heart was different. He was ready to give up everything to follow Elijah.

Elijah responded to Elisha’s request saying, “Go back, what have I done to you.” This is also some what of a confusing response. What does Elijah mean, “Go back, what have I done to you?” There are three interpretations of what he could mean. It could have been a rebuke, reprimanding Elisha for desiring to see his family, and for giving such a half-hearted response to the call of God. It would be read as, “Do you really want to go back, after I have given you this call?” But this interpretation seems weakest, especially considering Luke 19:61-62 we just talked about. The second interpretation could be that it’s a solemn warning, as in, “You may go back, but consider what I have done – remember that this is a call from God,” Or, “You may go back, but it’s not I who have called you, but God, consider this.” The third interpretation, and the strongest I’d say, is that it’s an approval from Elijah. “Go back, I haven’t done anything to stop you.” The “What have I done to you,” was an expression to say, “Do as you please.” In light of the next verse and seeing what Elisha did, it seems Elijah would have trusted Elisha not to delay after he said goodbye, and if there really was an issue, perhaps Elisha might not have went back.

Look at what Elisha does in v.21, and can we all please read this together: “So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and become his servant.” Elisha slaughtered the two oxen he was plowing with, and even burned the plowing equipment, which was mostly wood, to cook the meat. The oxen and plows would have belonged to him, since he destroyed them. He was going all in – no turning back. He gave up his former occupation and made sure he could not go back to it. In 1519, Hernan Cortes from Spain landed on the shores of Mexico with 600 men, who had no armor. It had been over 600 years that the land had not been conquered by other armies with more resources – but Cortes did something bold. He issued an order, “Burn the boats,” and destroyed his own army’s ships, so his men were faced with 2 choices: conquer or die. This tactic worked, and he became the first man in 600 years to conquer Mexico. The Moravians, one of the oldest Christian protestant denominations, used to send missionaries who would pack their belonging in coffins, never expecting to return.

Notice too that the people ate the oxen that had been slaughtered. 1 cow yields a lot of meat, and Elisha had slaughtered 2, and fed them to the people. A cow is typically 1650 lbs, and yields about 675 lbs of meat. That’s enough for around 1,300 8-oz steaks. That’s a lot of beef! I don’t know how many people Elisha was feeding, but he threw a huge feast. This may have been an occasion to celebrate because Elisha had been given the honor to become a prophet, and not just any prophet, but successor to Elijah one of the Lord’s greatest prophets. To be called as a prophet of God, it would make sense that Elisha would have never bowed the knee to Baal or kissed him. And in seeing this feast perhaps his family, his parents, maybe even his neighbors and his servants were some of those who were also faithful to God, and part of the remnant God had reserved for himself. This feast was his farewell banquet to his family, friends, neighbors and servants.

After the feast, Elisha set out to follow Elijah and became his servant. Elijah as we have seen in the past is a very elusive person and not easy to find, but Elisha is able to find him. He would have let Elisha know how to find him after he said goodbye to his parents. Elisha became his servant, in the same way Joshua became successor to Moses. He was faithful, and would be faithful to the very end, never leaving Elijah’s side.   He became the companion of Elijah from this day forward – after the epic battle, after Elijah’s fleeing, and before the upcoming battles with Aram.

Elisha was called by God to be the successor to Elijah. He was found by him, working hard and diligently on his family’s farm. When he received the call, he responded humbly, asking to honor his parents. He gave up his worldly occupation, and gave thanks to God with a banquet, and finally set out to follow Elijah, committing his life to his service. He was faithful to his calling, and he responded by faith, believing in the God of Elijah. There was only one Elijah, and there was only one Elisha – no one here, and no one else these days would be called to an office like Elisha; no one here would be called to do what Elisha would do. So how does God’s calling relate to us? What is God’s calling to us?

According to the Bible, God has called us all to belong to Jesus Christ (Rom 1:6). God has called us to be his holy people (Rom 1:7). God has called us out of darkness and into his wonderful light (1 Pet 2:9). God has called us to one hope: resurrection, redemption and eternal life through salvation in Jesus Christ (Eph 4:4, 1 Tim 6:12). God has called us to persevere in our faith (Heb 10:39). Sometimes we wonder, “What is God’s calling for my life?” These Bible verses are very clear: to belong to Jesus, to be holy, to persevere in faith – before you ask God, “what do you want me to do,” are you doing these very things just mentioned?

When Elisha was called, he received a cloak, and this was a calling he could not refuse. God had ordained before he received the cloak that he would be successor, and when he did receive the cloak, he immediately accepted. When we are called, we receive the gospel, and we do not refuse the call of God. People leave lives of sin when they receive the gospel, some people suffer punishment from their families for answering the call of God. The gospel is our entrance into the kingdom of God, faith in the gospel is the sign of our having been chosen and called by God. The gospel is the good news of God’s love – that he sent his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to lay down his life and to die for our sins. The good news is that he rose from the dead, defeating the power of death, and winning for us the forgiveness of our sins, reconciliation with God, and a hope in rising from death into eternal life with him. It is by God’s grace that we receive faith in the gospel. It is by God’s decision alone that we are called into his wonderful light to receive salvation. Just as a college basketball player is not drafted unless teams want him, God chooses those he saves. It is so that no one can boast, we are all sinners before God, all humanity on an equal playing field with the Lord, and that he may receive all of the glory. In an NBA draft, a player cannot make a request to be drafted – however, God is more gracious. If you are unsure about your faith in the gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ, and you desire more faith, all you need to do is ask – ask God for more faith, ask God for more grace, and you shall receive.

The gospel is not just for new believers, new people who are called into God’s kingdom. The gospel is even for “old” believers, who need it just as much. The gospel is not only the starting point of answering God’s call, but the gospel is the way in which we continue to walk day by day, year by year and continue to answer the call of God. The gospel is God’s grace and mercy to save us. It is the good news of Jesus’ dying for our sins. The gospel is God’s holiness and purity to sanctify us daily. It is the good news that all of our sins are paid, and wiped clean. All of our sins are forgotten and remembered no more. The gospel is God’s liberation and power to set us free from sin. It is the good news that Jesus rose again from the dead, defeating any power of sin and death. By the gospel we say, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Finally, the gospel is our comfort and strength, and our support to grow. It is the good news that Jesus Christ has ascended to heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, interceding for us, watching over us, and sending us his Holy Spirit. When Satan hurls his fiery darts at you, the gospel is your shield to extinguish his flames. The gospel helps us get back on track in our walk of faith, whenever we may slip. The gospel is God’s gift, it is a treasure, so treasure it in your heart.

Practically, how do we live in light of the gospel? How do we answer the call of God and live according to the gospel? Why do we need the gospel? Because without the gospel, we will fail at living up to God’s calling. It is the gospel that picks us up, and helps us to move on. Let me provide 5 practical examples based on God’s calling. God has called us to belong to Jesus Christ, he has called us to be his holy people, and has called us out of darkness and into his wonderful light. So first, we should count ourselves dead to sin, and put to death the misdeeds of the body. Eph 5:3-4 says, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanks giving.” Sin hinders our walk with God, it makes us feel more distant from God, and it makes us feel guilty. But who can do this? Who can be that holy? Surely I cannot. Sometimes when I sin, I feel as though God will punish me for it by bringing me some misfortune. There was a time things were going well for me at work, ministry, everything. I committed a sin, and I thought, oh no, is God going to mess things up at work for me? Is he going to cause other bad things to happen because of my sin? Granted, if I willfully and consistently with no feeling of remorse commit grievous sins, then bad things will happen. If I go clubbing and drinking all night, after I’m married, I will reap what I sow. But say this sin, I really felt bad about, and guilty for. Then I remember the gospel. I remember God’s love, to send his one and only Son, to die on the cross for all my sins. There is not one sin he cannot atone for. I confess my sins to God, and ask for forgiveness. In his great love and his mercy, he forgives me, and this is shown by his blessings in the future. God will restore your heart. Now do I go back and commit those same sins again? No, yet only by God’s grace, because I remember that it is those sins that put my Savior to death. And I eagerly look forward to that day when we take communion, just to confirm one more time, God’s great love and grace toward a sinner like me, and receive the forgiveness of my sins. Because the gospel is power over sin, I watch out for when I am in temptation, and pray. Watch and pray in order to put sin to death. Just as Jesus died to sin, count yourselves dead to sin as well. And always remember there is forgiveness in Christ.

The first practical example in answering God’s call was to count yourselves dead to sin. The second example is to do good works. Note that we do not do our good works apart from the gospel. Our good works do not please God. But in light of the gospel, and with faith in the gospel, we do good works. What are good works? They are the ordinary, mundane things of life. In this society of self love, the overnight celebrity and celebrity worship, everyone wants to be a superstar, everyone wants to be a hero. But we can glorify God by the ordinary things we do. If you are a student, study for God’s glory. If you are an employee, work as if working for God. If you are a married, be loving and faithful to your spouse. If you are parents, take care of your kids. If you are living at home, honor your father and mother. God gives us the ability to work and to make money, and to provide for our families – he blesses us daily, and if we work offering ourselves to God, the work is holy and acceptable to him. You don’t have to be someone like Elijah or Elisha to please God, but you can please God by delighting in the regular things you are given to do. In truth, actually, before Elisha was called to be a prophet – he was called to be faithful, and we have seen that he diligently worked hard on his family farm before he became a prophet. And here also I want to answer the question, “What is God calling me to do?” In the sense of a specific task. Calvin and Luther placed a high value on the ordinary things of life. They described man’s every day work as their calling. Your calling is your every day work. Whatever you do, that choice is up to you – God may give you some convictions, some desires, some interests, and skills that are different from other people, but I don’t think you can go wrong if you give yourself to God and honor him with what you do. Elisha would probably be perfectly content to drive plows the rest of his life, and as he was faithful daily to the Lord, he was called to become a prophet. We are not all like Elisha, we don’t have to all be like Elisha, but the same God gives everyone different abilities, and if you do great in the ordinary things, offering yourselves to God, and serving him, you are doing great.

The third example of practically living out God’s calling is to love one another. In Eph 4, Paul writes to live a life worthy of the calling we received by being completely humble and gentle, bearing with one another in love. He exhorts the church to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Through the gospel we are all called to belong to Jesus Christ, the one body, and so all called to one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, by his Spirit he has united us so we can help and encourage one another. In making every effort we should get rid of any malice, any deceit, to be kind, and to forgive one another. We should meet together, sing, eat together, and give thanks to God together often, encouraging one another.

Which leads me to my fourth practical example of living out God’s calling: persevere and grow in the faith. We are all one body, so we meet to encourage one another and help one another grow. We encourage one another in the faith and help one another out. This may become increasingly important as persecution of Christians seems to be increasing all over the world, and even here. There may come a time of testing of our faith, but by the gospel we persevere because it is the truth. We also help one another persevere. In Heb 10 we are called to persevere through hardship – encouraging believers to stand side by side with others who were mistreated, and suffering along with those who were in prison: joyfully accepting the confiscation of their property because they knew they had better and lasting possessions. Paul encouraged them that they will be richly rewarded, because Jesus is coming soon, and he will not delay. I was also really encouraged by the testimony of the neighbors 21 Libyan Christians who were beheaded by ISIS in the middle of February. It was a terrible, horrific and tragic event, but there was a recent news article saying that by their blood, they are unifying Egypt, and their martyrdom has generated increased sympathy for Christians in the country. In less than 36 hours, a tract was printed and in about one week 1.65 million tracts were distributed, reading “Who fears the other? The row in orange, watching paradise open? Or the row in black, with minds evil and broken?” The neighbors of the martyrs quoted this verse about their brothers, from Rev 12:11, “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives as to shrink from death.” Because of the gospel, we can persevere, because we believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and is coming again soon.

Very briefly, the fifth and last practical example of living out our calling is to bear witness to Christ and his gospel. We mortify our sins, we do our duties, we persevere, to bear witness to others that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Lord of our lives. We preach the gospel to others in our words and our deeds. The gospel is the good news of God’s salvation, it is the light that God sent into the darkness of the world, and the light that we received. We in turn shine this light to lead others to the light, to the Lord – that he may receive glory through the salvation of sinners.

Elisha received the call of God to become Elijah’s successor when he put his cloak on him. Elisha accepted the call, and left everything to follow Elijah. You know the name Elisha means “God is salvation.” In a play on words, in the title of this message, the call of Elisha, also means the call of “God is salvation.” God has called us to belong to Jesus Christ, to be his holy people, to come out of the darkness and into his light, to have a hope in eternal life through Jesus Christ, and to persevere in faith. All this he has promised us through the gospel. When we believe the gospel, we receive God’s calling. When we believe the gospel, we see our sin, and that God has paid our debt. We see that this world is empty, but the true reward is waiting for us in heaven. Through the gospel, we die to our sin, we leave everything, again some people have suffered by hands of their own families, in order to follow Jesus. We give up the world in order to gain Christ, and we give our lives wholly to serve him, in deeds whether great or small. God has called us to a perseverance of our faith, and to a hope in eternal life. God has called us to belong to Jesus Christ, to be his holy people, to come out of the darkness and into his wonderful light, will you respond to the call of God is salvation?

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