The Appointment Elijah Did Not Keep (Part Two)

2 Kings 2:1-14

Fifty men from the sons of the prophets came and stood observing them at a distance while the two of them stood by the Jordan. Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water, which parted to the right and left. Then the two of them crossed over on dry ground (2:7-8 CSB).

The Bible tells us reality of the supernatural. With our physical senses, we experience the natural realm constantly. This is the usual and the normal. Anything supernatural is a very unusual experience. But it does happen! When Sharon and I saw the pictures of three new arteries that grew on my heart in answer to prayer, we had a glimpse of God’s supernatural power. (The arteries weren’t there when I had a heart attack, but they were there a year later after prayer.) When we see people who have lived in rebellion against God suddenly turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26:28b NIV), we also experience God’s supernatural power in what is called the new birth.

God is able to reveal his will to mankind. The Lord told Elijah, Elisha, and the company of the prophets what he was going to do, and they were able to understand his revelation. In the Bible, God speaks plainly to us. Our failures to understand are related to our failures in listening. Some people are unwilling to invest the time required to listen. Many are prejudiced against what the Lord says and do not want to listen. Others listen through the grid of the traditions of people and only hear what they have been told to hear. And we could give other examples. But when we simply and attentively listen, we discover that God’s word is plain. The men in this account knew what God was going to do. As God was able to speak to them in dreams, visions or some other way, so he is able to speak to us through his written word. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV).

God is able to act in the natural realm with supernatural power. Remember the crossing of the Jordan river, when Israel crossed into the Promised Land. God acted through Elijah to do something similar for his two prophets. Here was something beyond natural experience. I have said to people in Pennsylvania, “Which of you rolls up his coat, strikes the Delaware River, and crosses over on dry ground when you want to go to the Jersey shore?” They probably use one of the bridges to cross the river. But in this account, we are talking about supernatural power, displayed according to God’s will. It prepared the younger prophet Elisha for what the Lord was about to do for Elijah.

Elijah would not keep the usual human appointment with death. God would act to take of Elijah alive from this world. Death brings separation. You talk with someone, but then death seals their lips and you can speak with your loved one no longer. You experience the pain of separation. But this pain of separation would not be the suffering caused by death, but the shocking intervention of the supernatural. Elisha was talking to Elijah when suddenly a chariot of fire separated the two. Elisha then saw Elijah go up to heaven in a whirlwind.

Why did God act with his supernatural power then? Because he wanted to make his power known and honor his servants. The Lord chooses his times to so act. One day, he will take his people to be with him forever. Some will be raised from the dead. Others will rise alive to meet the Lord in the air. Our faith looks forward to supernatural acts, all done by the great power of the true and living God.

Grace and peace, David

Elijah’s Greatest Challenge (Part One)

1 Kings 17:17-24

Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” (17:17-18 NIV)

The Scripture passage referenced above presents us with perhaps the greatest challenge to Elijah’s faith. What he had to face is with us today. The worldly-minded person still scoffs at us and what we believe. Is there a factual and historical reality to the resurrection of the dead? Does the Christian truly have a reason for hope in this otherwise hopeless world? Every unbeliever assumes that a Christian is a fool. “Why waste your life on following Jesus Christ? The dead can never live again,” they think. But they never consider what the Maker of heaven and earth can do!

We have already seen Elijah trust God for some great things. But now his faith faces its greatest challenge. Can God raise the dead? And consider this. Never before in human history, as far as we know, had a resurrection from the dead occurred. Neither Noah nor Abraham nor Moses nor Joshua nor Samuel nor David had performed or witnessed someone raised from the dead.

Many times people, including God’s people, find themselves in horrible situations. We might call these events a “dark providence”. Here are three puzzling aspects of the situation in which they found themselves (17:17-18).

  • The widow and her son had earlier been rescued from death by the Lord’s mercy (17:8-16). Was all that God had done for them now to be undone? It didn’t make sense. You and I are able to acknowledge that there is an incalculable amount of trouble and sorrow in the world. But it is hard to accept when it comes near us, isn’t it? It is harder when blessing is replaced by misery.
  • She was doing God’s will at that time by feeding Elijah (17:9). She had believed the word of the Lord to her. If she trusted and obeyed the Lord, why was she having such sorrow? Do not think it unusual if you encounter sharp and painful difficulties in the service of God. Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you (1 Peter 4:12 ESV).
  • All had seemed to be going right. Wouldn’t God want her to keep on being happy? When I was secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.” Lord, when you showed your favor, you made me stand like a strong mountain; when you hid your face, I was terrified (Psalm 30:6-7. CSB).

Remember that we live in a world that is filled with sin and under the curse because of sin. Our immediate happiness is not the ultimate purpose in the universe. God has a greater goal — the display of his own glory. For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen (Romans 11:36 NIV; cf. Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).

To make matters worse for Elijah, he was blamed for all this (17:18). Regardless of who you are and what you do, people won’t always approve of you. Perhaps you, too, will be blamed for things you had no connection with. For example, many coaches and managers have been blamed for the failure of their teams, when the actual reasons are the injuries of key players, disgruntled players, or the actions of the owner or upper level management. Elijah wasn’t to blame. Life and death are in the hands of God. God’s people can receive criticism because we are looked on as his representatives (cf. Matthew 10:24-25).

Estimate the cost before you join Christ’s team! A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:25-27 NLT).

Grace and peace, David

Paradise Regained: Starting at the Resurrection

IMG_06101 Corinthians 15:20-28

In the beginning the Holy God created a perfect world and a people made in his image, sinless and able to glorify God by enjoying him always. The Holy God used to communicate with his people and they with him in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). Filled with joy, right with God, and in perfect fellowship with one another, it was truly Paradise. But the darkest day in human history happened early. Adam rebelled against God, and his transgression brought God’s curse and the resultant ruin that our race still bitterly experiences. Paradise had been lost. Now death, disease, discord, despair, and disaster became part of human life.

However, the loss of Paradise was not humanity’s only problem, as tragic and terrible as that was. Rejecting God’s rule, people became the followers of a new leader, willingly following the evil one in a sinful way of life (Ephesians 2:1-3). Rightly, the Holy God responded to mankind in holy wrath (Romans 1:18-32). But mankind responded, not in repentance, but by striving to build up a rebellion, a kingdom or reign of darkness, against God’s kingdom or reign (Psalm 2:1-3). Now as far as overthrowing God’s reign or rule, this kingdom of darkness is hopeless and totally insignificant in power.  In fact, when he views this rebellion, the Lord laughs (Psalm 2:4). He is God, the Creator, the Almighty, the Lord of the armies of heaven, and Sovereign over all. Let us worship God, as we consider his eternal reign (Psalm 47:2; 103:19; 145:11-13).

How did God respond to human rebellion? Before we can understand his response, we must understand who the Lord is and his eternal purpose. In everything God works to lift up the glory or shining significance of his name. He wants to display all that he is, and to have a people who will sense and share his glory. Like an overflowing fountain, he chooses to display his love, patience, goodness, kindness, mercy, peace, and joy. And he freely chooses to share what he is with a totally undeserving people, by his sovereign grace. He shows himself as all that we need that our comfort and joy might be only in him (Isaiah 40:1; cf. 51:12). We lost Paradise, but God’s story, the story of the Bible, is how God decided to regain Paradise for his chosen people, all to the glory of God’s name. God tells us he does this by setting up another kingdom in humanity—the kingdom of God through his Son. Let us listen to the story of his glory.

God’s kingdom involves the salvation (resurrection) of his people (15:20-24). The central idea of God’s reign is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In contrast to the basic truth of the gospel (15:3-8), some people connected with the Corinthian believers had been denying that there was a physical resurrection (15:12). Paul first responds that such denials are against the truth of Christ’s resurrection and our hope in Christ (15:13-19). Now he proceeds to demonstrate that Christ’s resurrection has made necessary everything included in God’s reign or kingdom, including the resurrection of all Christ’s people. So Paul sets forth the centrality of Christ’s resurrection. He calls Christ “the firstfruits of those who sleep” (those believers who have died, cf. 15:18). The idea is that Christ is the first one in the resurrection to eternal life, and his resurrection guarantees the resurrection of his people (cf. 16: 15; cf. 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:14). In other words, the resurrected Christ is God’s pledge that many others will be resurrected also. In Christ’s resurrection, there is the regaining of Paradise, but it is a regaining with power (cf. Romans 1:4; cf. Ephesians 1:18-21).

Next, Paul steps back a bit and places the event of Christ’s resurrection into the purpose of God in history. Since the losing of Paradise happened through a man, so also through a man Paradise must be regained. The Greek text reads simply: “For since through a man, death, also through a man [the] resurrection from [the] dead” (15:21). In God’s infinite wisdom, he chose to display his glory through a man to counter the effects on mankind’s rebellion against God. The glory of God would shine forth brilliantly through his Son taking on human flesh (Philippians 2:6-8), and through his true humanity bring about his purpose. God acts to build a new humanity through Christ’s resurrection. Again, the Greek text simply says: “For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22). Paul uses the “Two Adams” to set forth the truth of the relationship between, on the one hand, Adam and his fallen, sinful, and cursed humanity, and, on the other hand, Christ and his new, justified and glorified humanity. Anyone in Adam only has death; Paradise is lost. But everyone in Christ certainly shares in life; Paradise is regained. “Those who are ‘in Christ,’ those who have entered the new humanity through grace by means of his death and resurrection, will just as certainly ‘be made alive’; they will be raised from the dead into the shared life of the risen One” (Fee, p. 751, his emphasis).

Then Paul must answer a question: “If those who are in Christ share in his resurrection, then why do his people die? Why aren’t we living in the fullness of his resurrection now?” So he answers, “But each in his/its own order: [the] firstfruits, Christ; then at his Coming, those who belong to Christ; then the goal: when he hands over the kingdom/reign to God the Father, when he brings to an end/abolishes all rule and all authority and power.” God is working out a plan. In the first order is the resurrection of Christ. When he raised Christ from the dead, God the Father set in motion a process to bring about his goal. That goal is end of all opposition to his reign and the display of the full glory of his reign. In the second order is the resurrection of those who belong to Christ. This explains why Christians die. Though resurrection power is already at work in us, it is not yet God’s appointed time for the full expression of the second order. As we have been redeemed spiritually, so will our bodies will be redeemed, and we will enter glorious freedom (Romans 8:18-25). Paradise will be regained, but it is a better Paradise of glory.

Those who follow Christ must live with a “resurrection outlook”.  We must be thankful for the now of Christ’s resurrection and assured of what will happen when Jesus returns and we are resurrected. Is the confident expectation of resurrection glory part of your world and life view? Make it part of your daily thoughts.

Grace and peace, David