Preached: February 19, 2012
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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith in Jesus is 2 Kings 2.
As [Elijah and Elisha] were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. (2 Kings 2:11,12).
This is the word of our Lord.
Moses stood next to him as divine glory beamed from Jesus’ face. Through Moses the Lord had delivered his people from Egypt. Through Moses the Lord first had his word written down. Through Moses the Lord had given the commands to establish Israel’s worship and system of sacrifices, pointing ahead to the one, true Sacrifice, who alone pays for sin, Jesus Christ. We can understand why of all the Old Testament believers Moses was there with Jesus at his transfiguration.
But why Elijah? Just as the Lord used Moses at the beginning of Israel’s national history setting them apart until the Savior came, so also he used Elijah when the light of his truth was nearly smothered by the dark clouds of Baal worship in Israel. During the kingship of Ahab, when the true faith was nearly extinguished, the Lord raised up his prophet Elijah. Like chariots and horsemen standing as the last line of defense against the onslaught of the enemy, so Elijah was the chariots and horsemen of Israel standing against the forces of darkness.
Elijah’s days were dark days for true believers in Israel. About half a century earlier at the death of King Solomon, the northern ten tribes, the Israel of Elijah’s day, left Judah and David’s royal line to have their own king. But that meant leaving behind the family line of the Savior and leaving behind the temple and the worship of the Lord as he had established it.
No doubt, at first many in Israel clung to the true faith they had learned as children. But now it was fifty years later. That generation was just about gone. The current king, Ahab, had married Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Phoenicia. She brought with her Baal worship, a mixture of idolatry and adultery, heathenism and hedonism. Through her husband she made it the state religion of Israel. Prophets of the Lord were put to death. The people were told to worship Baal and make use of the temple prostitutes, both male and female. It was their patriotic duty in order to bring fertility to the land. So dark were these days that at one point in his ministry Elijah felt that he was the only believer left.
What about the times we live in? Sometimes we fall into the false generalization that the earth is more corrupt now than any other age. How could things get any worse? Look at what our children are exposed to!
Now, dear friends, it’s good to be aware of the spiritual dangers our present world presents, but it’s also dangerous to over-dramatize how bad things are. Do you see why? First of all, we fail to see the blessings the Lord has graciously given us. Second, we’re tempted to despair and give up, figuring: “Things are so bad. What’s the use in trying to train the next generation rightly? What’s the use in spreading the Gospel? People won’t believe it anyway.” Third, such thinking can harden our conscience as we try to justify ourselves with excuses like this: “I know I shouldn’t be joining in or even putting up with this or that evil, but the times are so bad how can I help it? In fact, I should be complimented for not being as bad as a lot of other out there.”
Now, as I said, we do need to be aware of the evils of our time and diligently guard against them. But don’t play that “woe-is-me” card. We’ll talk about the evils of our day in little bit. But seeing how dark things were in Elijah’s day helps give us the proper perspective for our day.
Prophets of the Lord were executed by Queen Jezebel. How many pastors in our country have been executed for preaching God’s truth? Have any even been put into jail or forced to flee because of God’s truth? How many of you had to sneak out of your house this morning to come here and worship, hoping that no one would report you to the authorities? Give thanks to the Lord for the religious freedom we have. And even on those Sundays when our attendance is poor, I don’t think any of us feel that we’re the only believer left in America. Give thanks to the Lord for the fellowship of the church, the communion of believers, he’s blessed us with. In addition, God has not withdrawn his word from us yet, as he did in the days of Elijah when he sent his prophet away from Israel to the widow in Zarephath. Although many churches have corrupted God’s truth in our day, some still faithful proclaim his Word in our land. What a blessing to brighten the darkness!
Because of the people’s idolatry in Elijah’s day, the Lord sent no rain for three and a half years. They lost three or four harvests in a row. I’m not talking about a bad crop or a low yield, but no crop. When was the last time you had to choose whether to starve your children or starve yourself? Give thanks to the Lord for the earthly blessings he showers on us, despite our unworthiness. Use those earthly blessings to bring him glory, by passing on his truth to the next generation and by spreading the Good News of forgiveness and life in Jesus.
Maybe at times because of the evil of our age, we do face ridicule or disadvantages, but those are no excuses to compromise God’s truth or to justify lukewarmness. On Mount Carmel before he called on the Lord to send down fire to burn up the sacrifice, Elijah made it clear that you can’t waver between two opinions when it comes to faith. We either follow the Lord or we’re following some other god. Will you follow the Lord, standing with Elijah like a line of chariots and horsemen against whatever the enemy may charge at you with? Will you follow the Lord, or will you compromise his truth, which is the same as joining the other side? If the Lord could give Elijah the strength to stand firm despite the great forces of evil arrayed against him, your God certainly has the strength to firm up your spirit if you rely on word. Stand firm in the Lord, dear Christian. Stand firm with his word. Stand firm like a line of chariots and horsemen.
On the other hand, dear Christians, fellow soldiers of the cross, even though our times are not as dark as Elijah’s, don’t be blind to the evils, the growing evils, that we do face. Stand firm like chariots and horsemen, just as Elijah did. Stand firm with the word of the Lord, which is part two.
About nine centuries after Elijah, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV). So often we compromise because we don’t realize how evil the world around us is. It so often carries the banner of friendliness while undermining God’s truth.
Our country will talk about God. We include him in the Pledge of Allegiance, and on our coins we say we trust in him. Should that make us feel good that we’re a Christian nation, so we can go along with the flow? Listen carefully when our country talks about God. They’re not talking about your God, the Son of the Father, Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen One, the only Savior from sin and death. They’re talking about a generic god, a tolerant god, a god who thinks that love means letting us do as we see fit as human rights aren’t violated. That’s just as false a god as Baal ever was. See the evil for what it is and stand firm like chariots and horsemen, like Elijah.
Consider the moral decline. We might not have prostitution practiced in the name of religion like Baal worship promoted, but look at how God’s family plan is under attack in our country. Divorce is accepted as normal. And if the number of divorces does decline that’s only because more and more couples decide to live together rather than get married. And even as man and woman turn their back on marriage, more and more states and churches want to approve of homosexual marriage as good and lawful. And how many unborn babies are sacrificed on the altars of convenience, choice, and privacy? As you can read in the statement from the WELS President in the insert, our country may be coming to the point were church organizations might be required to subsidize the insurance cost of abortion inducing drugs. Are you standing firm like chariots and horsemen?
And maybe the greatest darkness we face, the darkness that creeps into our Synod, our congregation, our own heart, is the darkness of apathy -- apathy toward God’s Word. Why do you think things deteriorated so badly by Elijah’s day? The people didn’t care enough to go to the temple in Jerusalem to hear God’s word. They didn’t care enough to take to heart what the Lord’s prophets proclaimed but listened to other prophets who words were more pleasing. And the worst part about apathy toward his word is that God finally gives you what you want. “You don’t want my word; I’ll take it away.” Then there is no hope.
What gets between you and God’s Word? What gets between you and hearing his message proclaimed faithfully in church each week? What gets between you and studying his word at home and in Bible class? What gets between you and pondering his Word, inwardly digesting it so that it becomes a part of the way you think and live every day? Although the details of what gets in the way vary from person to person, apathy toward God’s Word is a grave temptation we all face. It’s so easy to imagine we already know enough or that we can make up for missing it later on. Without his word burning in our hearts, how can we stand firm as chariots and horsemen? His word is the sword of the Spirit. A warrior needs to practice with his sword. If he only touches it when there’s danger, he won’t be able to stand against the attack. Pick up God’s Word and wield it each day so that you can stand firm like chariots and horseman.
In his mercy the Lord has not yet removed his word from among us. Hear it. Take it to heart, before it’s too late. Pray that the Lord’s word continue to be taught among us in truth and purity for generations to come. In Elijah’s day, the Lord saw to it that even after Elijah was taken into heaven, the work of the prophet continued. Elisha would carry on that work of proclaiming God’s word. And where did Elisha come from? He came from the farm. Some time before Elijah was taken to heaven, he went to Abel Meholah. There Elisha was plowing with oxen. In fact, he and the other workers had twelve yoke of oxen, no doubt a large, prosperous family farm. But Elisha left that behind to proclaim the word of the Lord. Where will our next generation of pastors come from? You know the answer.
Like Elijah, dear Christians, stand firm like chariots and horsemen. Stand firm in the word of our Lord. For the One greater than Elijah has come. You see him standing there in his glory on the Mountain of Transfiguration. You hear the Father declare: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7 NIV1984). Yes, dear friends, listen to his word. For Jesus speaks full of grace and truth. “I have come to seek and to save the lost, to give my life as the ransom for all. I am the resurrection and the life. I am the truth and the way and the life. Come all you who are weary and burdened with guilt and I will give you rest, rest for your souls. For I am the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. I am the living water for you who hunger and thirst that righteousness that stands before God, my righteousness freely credited to you. Come you, the poor in spirit who mourn over your sin, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.”
His word calls to you, dear friend, with that still, small voice, the quiet whisper of the Gospel. Listen to him. Cherish his word. Meditate on it with your mind. Treasure it in your heart. Feed on it with your soul. And practice it in your life. For it his word that gives you the strength to stand firm no matter how dark the day. It is his word that equips you as chariots and horsemen to stand firm against the assaults of Satan. It is his word that brings you joy and delight and, in the end, the heavenly victory, the crown of life, just like Elijah.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.