2 Kings 2:1-14

Sermon preached on December 02, 2007 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

I love one of the jokes that Bill Goccia tells. It has to do with what you would do if you found out that you had just an hour to live. Bill says,

"I know exactly what I'd do. I'd go to a parade."

Then when you ask him why he'd go to a parade. He'd say,

"Well, I'm actually not sure if I'd go to a parade or go and chaperone a school dance. Both of them seem to last an eternity."

Bill hates parades and chaperoning school dances. When he does either they seem to last forever. So he jokes that if he only had an hour to live he'd like to go to one of them because an hour at them seems like hours and hours.

But seriously, what would you do if you found out that you only had hours to live? What would your reaction be if you knew that you were going to leave this earth at 4 o'clock this afternoon? Would you jump up out of your seat and race out of here because there were things that you absolutely had to do?

This is a question that we all need to ask ourselves because none of us knows when we will leave this life. The end of your earthly life can come very suddenly and unexpectedly. Three years ago Heather was in the wedding party at the wedding of her closest friend from university. But last month she was at the funeral of the groom. She said it was so sad and even more so because the men who stood with him at his wedding were the pallbearers. He wasn't sick or anything. On Halloween night he and his wife got dressed up in costumes and went to friends to celebrate Halloween with them. He suddenly just dropped dead. There was no warning or anything. He was 27 years old. One of his friends who was with him the night he died posted some pictures of him at the party on Facebook. In the pictures he was all smiles. He was having a great time. He was dressed up as a bumblebee and you could tell that he was really enjoying himself. He had no idea that he was just minutes from death. It was so sad.

The point is that you need to be ready. You don't know when your end is going to come. In this regard the prophet Elijah has much to teach us. In the passage before us Elijah is just hours and minutes from his departure from this earth. How he spent his time is a great lesson for us.

The first thing I want you to note here is that

Elijah's focus was on helping others spiritually.

Elijah was concerned about helping others remain faithful to God and true to Him. In the hours before his departure from this life Elijah visited the prophets of the Lord at Bethel. Then he went to visit the prophets of the Lord at Jericho.

We're not told what he did when he visited them but we can be sure that he was urging them to be strong in the Lord and His grace. It was the same when he took his leave of Elisha. In verse 9 he said to him,

"Tell me, what can I do for you
before I am taken from you?"

His actions remind me of the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy. You'll remember he told Timothy that he knew that the end of his life was near. In verses 6 and 7 he said,

"the time has come for my departure.
I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the race,
I have kept the faith."

Paul knew that he was going to die soon. So what was he concerned about? He was focused on helping Timothy, his son in the faith. 2 Timothy is a very person letter to Timothy. Paul knows that he's not going to around much longer to help Timothy so he leaves him with instruction that is vital to him.

In 2 Timothy 1 Paul urges Timothy to fan into flame the gift of God which was in him and to be bold in proclaiming the gospel—for God has not given us a spirit of fear,

"but of power, of love, of self-discipline."

He urges him not to be ashamed to testify about the gospel of Jesus Christ and urges him to join him in suffering for the gospel. The motivation for Timothy to do that is the great grace of God that was shown to him in Jesus Christ, who saved us,

"not because of anything we have done
but because of his own purpose and grace."

Paul is exalting the grace of God. He reminds Timothy how this grace was given to us in Christ before the beginning of time and how now it has been revealed in the appearing of Jesus. He reminds Timothy that Jesus has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light in the gospel. Paul tells him that this was his gospel and that is why he is suffering. Then he tells Timothy that he is not ashamed of it. He goes on to tell Timothy that what he has heard from him to keep as the pattern of sound teaching. He tells Timothy to guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit.

In chapter 2 of 2 Timothy Paul urges Timothy to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. He tells him not to get involved in civilian affairs- but to endure hardship and to work hard for Jesus. He told him to remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David—and again that this is his gospel for which he is chained but that God's word cannot be chained so he endures everything for the sake of God's elect, that they too may obtain that salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.

Paul then gives a faithful saying, that if we endure we will reign with Him. Paul urges Timothy to keep reminding people of these things. He urges Timothy to do his best to present himself to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, but who correctly handles the Word of God. He urges him to avoid godless chatter, to flee the evil desires of youth and to be gentle with those who oppose him, in the hope that God will grant them repentance and escape the trap of the devil.

In chapter 3 Paul tells Timothy that in the last days there will be terrible times and how people will be lovers of themselves. Paul tells Timothy to expect persecution and be prepared for it for everything who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Then he closes that chapter extolling the holy Scriptures, which are able to make him wise for salvation though faith in Christ Jesus. He closes that chapter with the words,

"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."

Then in chapter 4 Paul writes,

"In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus,
who will judge the living and the dead,
and in view of his appearing and his kingdom,
I give you this charge:
Preach the Word;
be prepared in season and out of season;
correct, rebuke and encourage—
with great patience and careful instruction.
For the time will come when men
will not put up with sound doctrine.
Instead, to suit their own desires,
they will gather around them
a great number of teachers to say
what their itching ears want to hear.
They will turn their ears away from the truth
and turn aside to myths.
But you, keep your head in all situations,
endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist,
discharge all the duties of your ministry."

Then Paul describes what his final days are like. He said ,

"For I am already being poured out
like a drink offering…"

What he means by that is that his final days are like a sacrifice. In the Old Testament a drink offering was the final act of some sacrificial ceremonies, where wine was gradually poured out as an offering.

When Paul likened his final days to a drink offering, he was showing that his whole existence during that time was like a sacrifice. Paul was willingly giving himself for others, not in the sense of dying for their sins, for only Jesus could do that—but in the sense he gave his whole effort to help other Christians. His death was a freewill offering for the sake of the church to encourage other believers.

In other words, what we see in the apostle Paul shortly before his death was that he was being the 'living sacrifice' that he spoke about in Romans 12. His life was a sacrifice for others. He was not living for himself—but for them.

Remember what Jesus said being His disciple. He said, (Luke 9:23)

"If anyone would come after me,
he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me."

The Christian life is essentially a life of service—of not doing what you want, but of doing what God wants. Part of that will often involve suffering—like being a sacrifice.

That's what we see about Elijah's life. Except for the incident when he sinned, he was concerned about helping others—and not just helping others in a normal way—but in a sacrificial way. His life was given over to serving God and trying to bring others back to God. The only time he failed was when he became afraid and ran away from Jezebel. Then he became discouraged and wanted to give up. He said that he had had enough.

Did you ever feel like that? Did you ever feel that you've given all you had to give—yet others, or God asked for more? You said, "I've had enough," but more was required. God requires a sacrifice, indeed, as the Bible speaks about it—a sacrifice of praise. You give all, and you praise God during it.

In summary, the great truth we see here is that

if you found out that you had only hours to live, your focus should not be on yourself, but on others and how you can help them spiritually.

I want to apply this in two ways.

First, if you found out that you were going to leave this earth and 5 o'clock this afternoon, you shouldn't jump up out of your seat and run out of the building to do something that you really want to do before you die.

I think the Make-A-Wish program for kids with terminal illness is a wonderful program. It enables them to fulfill at least one of their wishes before they die. I remember Keturah Putney was granted a wish by them and her wish was to ride in one of the big orange tractor trailers.

Nichole Davis got to go sky-diving. Wow. One of the things I've always wanted to do is jump out of one of those army planes where the back just opens and the parachutists get to walk or run right out the back and start free-falling. That looks so cool. I'd love to do that before I die. (But of course, not right before I die.)

This life is not primarily about enjoying yourself, about pursing your pleasures—whatever they are—sex, traveling, sports. I mean, I read about some guys who traveled to see every NY Yankee away game. Their activity reminded me of John Piper's book, "Don't Waste Your Life". Life is not about you enjoying yourself, about doing things for yourself to indulge your pleasure.

Thus, if you found out that you were going to die this afternoon, you shouldn't jump up and rush out and do something you always wanted to do. That would be a waste. There are more important, better things to do.

Secondly, if you found out that you were going to die this afternoon, you shouldn't have to jump up and rush out because you've left some things undone and you need to put them right before you die.

Are there things in your life that you need to take care of before you die? Like, have you done something against someone else and haven't apologized for it? Have you lied, cheated or stole in the past and you realize that you need to make those things right before you die.

Lee Atwater was a political consultant to President's Reagan and Bush. He was known for dirty tricks politics and smear campaigns, and was named the "Darth Vader of the Republican Party". He was ruthless. There was one incident where a candidate of an opposing party had had trouble with depression while he was a teenager and had electric shock treatments for it. Atwater told the reporters that the candidate 'got hooked up to jumper cables' - a reference to electroconvulsive therapy that the candidate had undergone as a teenager. The candidate later said,

"Lee seemed to delight in making fun of a suicidal 16-year-old who was treated for depression with electroshock treatments,"

He did take delight in it. Atwater was referred to as the "happy hatchet man".

But in 1990 he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. He was told that he was going to die within a year. He became a Christian and issued a number of public apologies to individuals he had attacked during his political career. He had a lot to try to set right. That's what he spent a lot of his final year doing.

No one here should be in that situation. The reason is because you shouldn't even be here if you have something like that in your life. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 5:23-24?

"if you are offering your gift at the altar
and there remember that your brother
has something against you,
leave your gift there in front of the altar.
First go and be reconciled to your brother;
then come and offer your gift."

You're not even supposed to be here worshipping if your brother has something against you.

So if you've got things in your life that need to be straightened out before you die—you need to take care of them right away. You're not allowed to put them off. They should be taken care of long before you die. They should have been taken care of before you came here today. You don't see Elijah going around putting things right with people he had wronged—no. His life was such that he was continually taking care of such things.

The last great truth I want to draw your attention to here is that

when it comes to leaving this life, what you need is grace and mercy.

Elijah was a great prophet. But he was also a sinner. He had sinned greatly. He wasn't ushered into heaven because he had done more good things than bad. I remember a joke I heard about someone who died around the same time as Mother Teresa. He was standing in line at the Pearly Gates and was two are three places behind Mother Teresa while she was being interviewed. It took a long time and at the end of her interview St. Peter said to Mother Teresa,

"Couldn't you have done a little more?"

No one can get into heaven on the basis of their good works.

Many people think that they'll be all right when they die—that it doesn't matter what they have believed or how they have lived—as long as they weren't really bad, someone like Hitler or Stalin.

But that's not true. The curse against sin is not that our good deeds have to outweigh or bad deeds, or many good deeds for many years—the curse is death.

Death is a horrible reality. In the Bible it is described as a great enemy. Picture the scene here. Elijah was going to be delivered from death—what was required? Great power. The word that is translated 'whirlwind' here means just that—it's a wind like a tornado. In the whirlwind were the chariots and horsemen of Israel. No doubt this is a reference to
the accompaniments of the angels. When Elisha was in Dothan he told his servant that there were more that were for them than against them. When he prayed that his servants eyes be opened. When they were the servant, (2 Kings 6:17)

"looked and saw the hills full of horses
and chariots of fire all around Elisha."

Angels came and took Elijah to heaven. They did so with great force, with great power.

It's interesting to note the contrast between Elijah's and Jesus' ascension into heaven. Elijah was taken with great force, in a storm. Jesus ascended gradually, peacefully. In 1 Thessalonians 4 the apostle Paul also tells us that the Christians who are going to be left when Jesus comes are going to be, (1 Thessalonians 4:17)

"caught up together with them
in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air."

It's going to be at the great trumpet call of God. We are going to ascend peacefully. The implication is that with Jesus, the battle with death has been won. Death has been defeated. Indeed, in 1 Thessalonians 4 the death of Christians is referred to as 'sleep'. It's all because of Jesus, because of His work. He took the curse of sin for us. He paid the price. No one can lay a charge against us. The price for our sin has been paid. Jesus has gained heaven for us.

Are you ready to meet your Maker? If you have Jesus, you are. If you don't—you're not ready. You need Him. Go to Him today.