The Appointment Elijah Did Not Keep (Part One)

2 Kings 2:1-14

The time had come for the Lord to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal, and Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord is sending me on to Bethel.” But Elisha replied, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel (2:1-2 CSB).

James described human life in this way, What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:14b NIV). So it is with the best and the worst of people, small and great, rich and poor, unknown and well-known. We all appear on the stage of planet earth, make significant decisions and actions for which we give account, and yet which God also uses as he weaves the large tapestry of history for his glory. Then we reach the end of our lives, and keep that appointment which all of us must. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27 NIV).

So it was with Elijah. He was born and suddenly appeared in the public life of Israel, announcing a drought on the land. Then God miraculously fed him at the brook and at the widow’s house. By God’s power Elijah raised the widow’s dead son to life. After three years of drought, he called Israel back to God at the contest on Mt. Carmel. The Lord heard his prayer for fire and later rain, and continued to use Elijah for many years to stand for the truth in a country that was religiously twisted and morally corrupt. Then it was time for Elijah to die….

No, it wasn’t! Though Elijah had once prayed to die, the Lord had a different end to Elijah’s stay on earth. Billions of people have inescapably marched into the jaws of death. Only two have escaped: Enoch and Elijah. When the Son of God returns in power and great glory, all his people who are alive at that time will also avoid death. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 ESV). Come, Lord Jesus!  But while we must remain, what are some lessons we can learn from the close of Elijah’s life on earth?

When the situation appears hopeless to us, the living, sovereign God is able to act. As Elijah looked at life from his limited perspective, it often seemed to him that little positive religious change was occurring. He said, “I’m the only one left”—after Obadiah had told him of one hundred other prophets (1 Kings 18:22). Elijah said, “I’m the only one left”—after he had experienced God’s answers to his prayers for fire and rain (1 Kings 19:10,14).

Yes, Elijah thought he was the only one left, but look what the Lord was doing!

  • Elisha was appointed as Elijah’s successor, and he remained faithful to Elijah until the end. God provided Elijah with a friend in the ministry.
  • Micaiah boldly stood up for the truth before Ahab (1 Kings 22:1-28). We might be unaware of their courageous stand, but God has a people for his glory.
  • Elijah was able to start or assist in the ministry of at least two “schools” of prophets at Bethel and Jericho. To train others for ministry is an important task though not very dazzling.

Though it was not God’s time to destroy the altar for false worship at Bethel, he used Elijah to raise up a testimony against it. (The Lord had already announced that Josiah, a descendant of David would destroy it later in history, cf. 1 Kings 13:2. Why did the Lord wait? He acts mercifully to allow people an opportunity to repent.) Though during the time of Ahab, the cursed city of Jericho was rebuilt, God had men to speak for him in that place.

Let us avoid an “Elijah complex”, supposing, “I’m the only one left.” Or as more of us might think, “Our small church and a few small faithful sisters churches are the only ones left to stand for God.” We can waste a lot of precious time moaning over the terrible times we live in, or we can labor for the cause of God and truth with a bold faith.

Grace and peace, David

The Lord’s Sudden Coming (Part Two)

img_4308Luke 17:31-37

Pause for a moment and think about your life today. What did you do? Probably you did stuff you usually do, starting with your wake-up routine, unless you work third shift like I used to. Third shifters begin their days with work! In any case, most of what you did was what you usually do on any work day: get dressed, have breakfast, commute to work, work, talk to people, work, lunch break, work, commute home, take care of your pet, talk to family, have supper, try to relax, and go to bed.

The world is often deceived by “usualness” (2 Peter 3:3-7). Worldly-mindedness ignores the next world and only lives for and in conformity with this present world. Everything went along fine for those people, up to the day Noah entered the ark or Lot left Sodom. But you see, they had not thought about any sudden catastrophe ending their world! Everyone proceeded on the assumption that everything would always go on as it always had (2 Peter 3:4)! God and judgment were not in the thoughts. They thought that God will never bring judgment, just as everyone thought jets would never be used as bombs to destroy buildings. “It will never happen,” is the carefree attitude.

The people of Noah’s day and of Sodom were not expecting judgment. The sun rose on both mornings, as it had on all other mornings. You can almost hear them taking about the weather, breakfast, their plans for the day, Uncle Herman’s bad knee, and how nosy Aunt Mabel had been lately. Yet sudden judgment fell. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape (1 Thessalonians 5:3 NIV).

The worldly-minded person ignores God, his kind warnings, and his gracious offers of salvation. Again, we see that human nature does not change. People ignorantly imagine that to be godless, irreligious and antichristian is very modern or postmodern. “Don’t be bound by the chains of a worn-out religion! Be chic, urbane, sophisticated and pleasure loving!” The truth is that godlessness and wickedness are very ancient. Noah was a preacher of righteousness and the whole world ignored him. Lot pleaded with his sons-in-law, and they thought he was just joking (Genesis 19:14).  “Irreligion and godlessness should never cause a true Christian to be pessimistic or to be filled with doubt as to whether the gospel is true or not after all. For it has all been predicted” (Lloyd-Jones, p. 292). When people ignore God’s warnings, they only spite themselves. The refusal to hear Noah or Lot did not stop those judgments from coming. My friend, do you think shutting your ears to Christ’s kind words will prevent his coming? You deceive and injure only yourself.

Christ’s return will be a time of separation (17:34-35). Some will be rescued from the wrath about to fall; others will be left for judgment. The Bible does not teach in anyway “universal salvation”. There is a heaven to gain and a hell to flee, and all people will experience both: some the one destiny, some the other. The Lord’s sudden coming will affect the righteous and unrighteous at the same time. In a moment, the godly will be removed from the judgment about to fall, just as Noah and Lot were. Life was going on normally for God’s people, too, when God rescued them from wrath. Salvation will come suddenly. So will wrath. Some people will be left for judgment, just as those of Noah’s day and the people of Sodom.

Physical closeness will not save. In this way, the coming judgment is different from the Flood and Sodom. What mattered then was whether you were inside or outside the ark or outside or inside the city. Physical relationship or personal friendship will not matter when Christ returns. One will be taken and the other left.

Though Christ will come to rescue his chosen people, his return will be the instrument of judgment on those who do not believe (17:27, 29-30, 37). Universal judgment will fall on all those left (17:27, 29-20). The haunting refrain is “and destroyed them all”. Certain judgment will fall on all those left (17:37). As vultures feast on carrion, so the ministers of God’s wrath will come on the spiritually dead.

Are you ready for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ? In the Gospels, Jesus often spoke about his return. He exhorted people to be prepared and alert. The only way to be ready is to turn to God in repentance and faith in Christ. If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved (Romans 10:9-10 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

Fluctuations in a Broken World

IMG_3228Psalm 9:13-20

Life in our world is inconsistent. Circumstances vary like the changing of the wind. Winners become losers, and losers surprisingly win. The powerful suddenly fall, and the lowliest rise to rule. Years of good health unexpectedly end, while others have their strength renewed when recovery appeared hopeless. We have learned from this psalm about the Lord’s certain triumph, but the bright prospect of eternal joy does not mean that the walk of Christ’s people through this broken world is a pleasure tour. We can expect the ultimate victory of Jesus the Messiah, but God’s chosen path to that end is a journey of ups and downs. David willingly wrote about this aspect of the true story of God’s glory.

Life’s changes make us renew our prayers (9:13-14). In the previous verses, it seemed that David was very confident (9:7-12). He believed that God would act for his good. However, hope is not equivalent with instant deliverance. David was still in the midst of suffering at the hands of his enemies. For this reason, he continued to call out to God. Consider his requests.

  • He prayed for compassion. He wanted the Lord to look and see his condition. Because he knew that the compassionate God (cf. 2 Cor 1:3) would pity what he was going through, David could talk this way because he believed that God was able to see and to act in our broken world. His experience of God was not theoretical but real.
  • He asked the Lord to rescue him from the jaws of death. He knew that the Lord could save him even in his desperate situation. This kind of confidence comes from walking daily with God.
  • He promised to tell what the Lord had done for him. Here praise and mission join in his heart. He wants to help others have faith in God.

Next, David prophesied about the destiny of the wicked (9:15-18). In this section of the song he used a number of “prophetic perfects” that view the outcome as already accomplished. This is necessary in the life of faith. In our present circumstances, we might not see the immediate downfall of the enemies of the Lord and his people. As the old hymn says, “Oft the wrong seems oh so strong, but God is the ruler yet”. Notice that David wrote that the wicked unwittingly contribute to their judgment. They fall into the pits that they dug for others. An example of this is wicked Haman in the book of Esther. The wicked “return to Sheol” (9:17 HCSB). Sheol is the realm of the dead. Since sin and death are partners (Romans 5:12), their destiny is the fullness of the realm in which they have lived. David boldly states the final fluctuation. Though the present may be very difficult, the needy and the afflicted who trust in God will never perish.

Finally, David prayed for God to act (9:19-20). Prayer is not wishing for life to get better. It is communication with God to act for his glory and our good to make life better. He called upon God to “arise”. This word occurs a number of times in prayer, and is a bold way of telling the Lord to get up and act quickly. Yet the Spirit of God led David to pray in this bold way (2 Samuel 23:2). So then, we should follow David’s example and present our requests with boldness. He also asked the Lord to produce a change in the attitudes of their enemies. The nations need to know that God rules over all. They are not in charge; God is. In the chaos and confusion of the world, we can pray this also. Perhaps some will come to repentance when they realize that Jesus and the gospel will prevail over their schemes.

Grace and peace, David

On Groundhog’s Day

A very happy Groundhog’s Day to you! And a Happy Birthday to my lovely daughter, Sarah Janelle! I was born near Punxsutawney, PA, and so Groundhog’s Day was always an event in our family, and when Sarah was born on February 2, it became more special. I must admit that our family never made the pilgrimage on Groundhog’s Day to “Punxy” as my grandparents usually called the town. But I did take Sharon and our children there one day, while we were on the way to visit my grandparents, who lived in good old Homer City. There are a lot of towns with different names in that area, including Coral, Black Lick, Commodore, Glen Campbell, which was not named after the singer, and my birthplace of Indiana. Many times when asked, “Where were you born?” I would answer, “In Indiana.” Before I could complete the phrase, they would ask, “What town in Indiana?” But I digress.

Today Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow, and so according to legend, “Spring is just around the corner!” This is a rather safe prediction, since the vernal equinox is on March 20 this year. If he had seen it, six more weeks of winter would have been a confident prediction as well. You can do the math.

However, that is not my subject today, but rather it is this: What forecasts do you build your life upon? Most people obsess over weather forecasts and the over-hyped storm warnings that promise even a couple inches of snow or even rain. “Ladies and gentlemen, we might get up to an inch of rain today! For your own safety, please stay inside! This might signal the coming apocalypse!” Okay, I made up the last line, but I’ve heard the middle one too many times. Other people are into horoscopes, card and palm readings, and psychic predictions. Why do people love the forecasts, predictions and prophecies of so-called experts? Could it be we have a problem with fear of the future? What “future fear” are you struggling with this week?

There is a forecast that we ought to pay attention to. It is one of the oldest in human history, beginning with Enoch (Jude 14-15) and confirmed by Christ (Matthew 24:44) and his apostles (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Peter 3:10-13). The Lord Jesus Christ is going to return. He will come to judge his enemies and to rescue his dearly loved people. Are you thinking about that certain future event? If we are wise, we will be ready for it, and living according to it. We do not have to fear it, if we know the King of kings and Lord of lords who is coming to take us to himself.

Grace and peace, David

The result of the mission of the Servant of the Lord

DSCN0110Isaiah 42:3c, 4b

The Servant established justice. Jesus the Messiah acts in a big theater of operations: “on earth”. For nearly 1800 years, it looked like Jesus was only at work in western Asia, Europe, North America, and northern Africa for a time. Then suddenly, he started to shine his light in other places for about the next 200 years. Now, all around the world people from every tribe and language are coming to the Lord and Savior, Jesus. We live in great days of the progress of the mission. We need to abandon our local, provincial interests and praise the Lord for what he is doing in the world today. Certainly, the darkness is dark, but the true Light is shining and more and more people have received the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:6). We should shake off the gloom and get involved in Jesus’ mission, as the early apostles did (Acts 5:41-42; 13:46-52).

Christ told Peter that he would build his church (Mt 16:18). This prophecy expresses that same certainty. His justice will be brought to earth, because God’s appointed goal is to make a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1-2; 22:1-5) to share with his new creation people.

The Servant of the Lord established hope. The idea of the Hebrew word is “to wait” or “to hope”. The word can mean either. Here I think the second is better because of Matthew’s use of hope in his use of the Septuagint (LXX) translation of Isaiah (Matthew 12:21). The islands, the most remote places of the earth, will have hope or confident expectation. The eternal inheritance his people share in him provides them with a certain basis to expect much more than they could have in this world that is destined to pass away. Let us live as people with an eternal destiny ought to live. To be specific, this means that we will need to invest time in setting our thoughts on things above. Reread and meditate on Colossians 3:1-4. This requires us to meditate on what we have in Christ, including what we will surely have in heaven. We must strengthen your heart with these things!

The basis of this is the Servant’s instruction (torah). One of the great truths of the Gospels is that Jesus is the great Prophet or Teacher. His instruction becomes a crucial part of our hope, which restructures our world and life view. We now are to think of ourselves, our lives, and our share eternity with the living God in conformity with Christ’s instruction. Since he is the fulfillment of the old torah, his new torah, given through him and his apostles and prophets by the Holy Spirit becomes our torah. He is God’s final revelation (Hebrews 1:1-2); he is the Word or Message. His instruction about God’s saving reign becomes the basis for our hope. He has revealed the Father (John 17:6-8). Believing his message is the way to life (John 5:24). To believe his instruction means the difference between eternal wisdom and eternal foolishness (Matthew 7:24-27). Don’t be foolish! Let’s build our lives on Christ and his instruction!

Grace and peace, David