2 Kings 2:1-18 (Part 2) – Trusting God with The Why & Living Out The What…

Posted: April 5, 2019 in 12-2 Kings

2 Kings 2:1-18 (Part 2 of 3)

Elijah Taken into Heaven

Today, we have to ask questions and maybe not get satisfactory answers. Why does God take people away while they seem to be in the midst of their best years of ministry? Recently, here in the Quad Cities, we have had to ask that question. Amy Rowell, the director of the local branch of the non-profit agency, World Relief, known as World Relief Moline, passed away suddenly at the age of 48. She died from the effects of Influenza-A of all things. She was fine and fit and working to resettle refugees from other nations here in our Quad Cities just as short as two weeks ago. She even had an interview with our senior pastor at Calvary Church as short as three weeks ago (for use in our monthly Outreach Minute video segment for church services). In that video, she seemed vibrant, healthy, and about her ministry’s work. But two days ago, my wife, who is outreach coordinator at our church, and my senior pastor attended her funeral. Within a week or so after contracting influenza, she was gone. Just in a flash of a week, her work here on earth was done. Although my wife had not known Amy for very long but because of Elena’s position at the church, she and Amy had become good friends. Elena admired Amy a great deal for the passion and zeal with which Amy lived out God’s command to love our neighbor. As Pastor Tim said Wednesday night, “we don’t get to choose who our neighbors are, but God commands us to love them…our neighbors…regardless of where they come from, regardless of what they look like…we are to love those who are right in front of us, our neighbors!”

World Relief Moline is part of the global World Relief organization and here in the Quad Cities, they provide resettlement services to refugees who fled persecution in their home countries to come to the United States in hopes of a better life. They partner with local churches to provide assistance to refugees to integrate these refugees into productive lives here in the US, and in particular here in the Quad Cities. Amy was a bold believer, but she did not preach. She was an effective servant of the Lord who shared her faith whenever she could but her actions of faith and living out the gospel is what made you admire her so much. What a passion she had “for the least of these” and she World Relief Moline as her ministry and not a job. She loved the least of these, our new neighbors from foreign lands, well.

So why did God take her away in the prime years of her ministry? She was doing so, so much good in this ministry. Thousands of people have been resettled in the Quad Cities by the efforts of Amy and her team, are leading productive lives, and many have come to know Jesus or grown deeper in their relationship with Him because of World Relief Moline and Amy Rowell. Why did God take her away…when she was in the grand scheme of human time…just getting started good! She was hitting the prime of her ministry at age 48. Why? Why does God take people away in their prime effectiveness in the lives sometimes and yet others are allowed to work for the Lord until an old age and die only have they have grown too old to do the work anymore? Why does God do things like this? We ask why and we do not get answers that satisfy us?

We have all asked this question before? I know I have. I bet you have too. We have all most likely experienced the sudden death of someone in our family or among the friends we have. Usually if you have not experienced the sudden death of a family member or a friend, you probably just haven’t lived long enough for something like this to have happened to you. We ask why, Lord? Why? That’s the idea that came to mind this morning as I read 2 Kings 1:1-18 a second time this morning. Why did God take Elijah up into heaven right in what appeared to be the prime of his ministry? There is no mention in the Bible of Elijah becoming an old man and it seems as though he was just getting started as a prophet, a man of God! He had garnered great respect from all people but the Bible does not ever say he was getting old. The amount of space in the Bible dedicated to his life is small compared to, say, someone like Moses who lived a long, long life, got a lot of biblical press coverage, and was specifically stated to have grown old and died. No mention of that type of thing with Elijah so Elijah was, in my mind, just getting started good. He was in his prime. Just beginning to make an impact. Just beginning to have great influence for the cause of the Lord. But…bam…he was gone in an instant. Why does God do things this way sometimes? That’s the frame of mind with which I want us to look at this passage today. Let’s read the passage now:

2 When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal. 2 And Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Bethel.”

But Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you!” So they went down together to Bethel.

3 The group of prophets from Bethel came to Elisha and asked him, “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?”

“Of course I know,” Elisha answered. “But be quiet about it.”

4 Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Jericho.”

But Elisha replied again, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together to Jericho.

5 Then the group of prophets from Jericho came to Elisha and asked him, “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?”

“Of course I know,” Elisha answered. “But be quiet about it.”

6 Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to the Jordan River.”

But again Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together.

7 Fifty men from the group of prophets also went and watched from a distance as Elijah and Elisha stopped beside the Jordan River. 8 Then Elijah folded his cloak together and struck the water with it. The river divided, and the two of them went across on dry ground!

9 When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.”

And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.”

10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.”

11 As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress.

13 Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen when he was taken up. Then Elisha returned to the bank of the Jordan River. 14 He struck the water with Elijah’s cloak and cried out, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Then the river divided, and Elisha went across.

15 When the group of prophets from Jericho saw from a distance what happened, they exclaimed, “Elijah’s spirit rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. 16 “Sir,” they said, “just say the word and fifty of our strongest men will search the wilderness for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has left him on some mountain or in some valley.”

“No,” Elisha said, “don’t send them.” 17 But they kept urging him until they shamed him into agreeing, and he finally said, “All right, send them.” So fifty men searched for three days but did not find Elijah. 18 Elisha was still at Jericho when they returned. “Didn’t I tell you not to go?” he asked.

For today, in this passage, we see that Elijah is only the second person in all of biblical history to be taken alive into heaven. Enoch was the other one. Even Jesus died. This is a cornerstone of Christian theology. The Son of God died, but then rose from the dead three days later. However, Enoch and Elijah did not die. They were taken from earth to heaven by God.

“Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” reads Genesis 5:22–24. Others listed in the Genesis 5 genealogy are clearly said to have died. But Enoch simply “was not, for God took him.” No explanation for why he did not die is given.

We read of Elijah in 2 Kings 2:11, “And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” Elijah had warned Elisha, who he was walking with, that he may be taken to heaven. And he was. Elijah, one of God’s most powerful prophets, did not die but was simply taken to heaven. Malachi 4:5–6 speaks of his return.

Some believe Enoch and Elijah are the two witnesses described in Revelation 11:3–12 and were taken in preparation for this role. There is no direct evidence that Enoch and Elijah are the two witnesses of the end times, though it is possible. Others think that Enoch and Elijah were spared death because of their faithfulness in serving and obeying God. But the Bible is silent as to the specific reason why. God does not directly tell us in an audible voice nor does He give revelation to any biblical character. There is no doubt that Enoch and Elijah were faithful and obedient children of God. So much so that the Bible points them out as great men of biblical history. But the “why” is not specifically answered.

So here we are with the same exact question when it comes to Amy Rowell here in the 21st century in America, in the Quad Cities. What a dynamo of faith and faith in action was Amy. Taken too soon by our limited human understanding. She leaves behind a husband and four teenage children. How do we respond in these situations?

One thing to start is not to claim to know why God chose this course of action. To say that we do is simply a disservice to our faith, a disservice to the church that Christ died for, and unhelpful to grieving people. When we ourselves cannot explain to ourselves why God chose this course of action, then, we should not try to have an answer for others who are grieving. The best thing we can do for those who are grieving an unexplainable loss is to simply love them, simply BE THERE with them as they grieve.

What I do know and trust is that God’s plan and purpose for our loved one and for our lives are not subject to whims, accidents, circumstances, illnesses, and evil. God works through these things to bring about His will. We stand on the assurance, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isa. 43:1–3).

In an article at Lifeway.com, I found this excerpt of a message from a funeral sermon:

David Watson was the dynamic pastor of the St. Michael’s Church in York, England. Large crowds filled the sanctuary week after week to hear him call them to faith and fellowship with Jesus. In the prime of his life, Watson was diagnosed with cancer. The people prayed, and he fought it. But, in the end, it ravaged his body and he went home to the Chief Bishop of his soul.

The following Sunday, a cherished friend was asked to lead in the worship and the communion service. When he stood to speak, emotion overcame him as he thought of the absence of his recently deceased friend. He wept, as did the grief-stricken congregation. Then someone thought about a phrase that David often used. Sometimes, even in the middle of a message, Watson would shout, “Our Lord reigns!” Quietly, but strong enough to be heard, he said, “Our Lord reigns.” Another picked it up. Then another joined them. Soon the packed sanctuary was filled with hundreds of voices, chanting together on their feet, “Our Lord reigns!” For minutes, it rocked the cavernous worship hall. Applause and cheering broke out.

Depression gave way to celebration. The Sovereign of the Sudden was, is, and always will be in charge. In our pain and sorrow, we stand on the everlasting truth, “Our Lord reigns!”

Maybe the outcome of a sudden death of an “on-fire for the Lord” person such as Amy Rowell is that her impact will be even greater as people honor her memory by taking up her mantle and expanding her ministry. Jesus told his disciples that they would be able to impact the world in far greater ways after He ascended into heaven than they did when he was on earth. God is a sovereign God and often achieves His will in ways that we do not like or even understand. Sometimes we have to trust His “big picture” view as we have such a “small picture” view of time, space, and eternity. To claim that we know what God is doing is wrong, because we are not God and we are limited. Often God shocks us in these ways to make more people aware of their calling to take up the mantle of those who were taken from us suddenly.

That’s the hope that we must have. Elisha was left behind to carry on the ministry of Elijah and He did it well. The disciples were left behind to carry on the ministry of Jesus. And boy did they! We are left behind here in the Quad Cities in the 21st century to carry on the ministry of Amy Rowell. Let us love our neighbors. Let us welcome those who are escaping persecution. Let us assist the refugees among us to become part of our society. Let us not get hung up on the differences. Let us not consider them as “them” and consider them as “us”. Let us love the people that God has put in front of us. Let us love our neighbors. Let us love them in such a way as they ask why we would do such a thing for them without expectation of return. Let us then tell them that Jesus commanded us to love God (and this is how we do that). Let us tell them that Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor no matter who that neighbor is (and this is how we do that). That is how we make sense of Amy Rowell’s sudden passing – to honor her passion and her mission by expanding it and making it the passion of numerous others. That’s how we express our trust in God over a sudden death of a passionate disciple – to carry on their work, to deepen and expand it, to honor their memory with our own hands and feet.

Let us trust God with the why…because we do not know why nor can we have the answer right now, if ever…but we can be about the what…love your neighbor. Love the least of these.

Amen and Amen.

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