The Mantle #1
2 Kings 2:1-18, Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8-10
(c) Copyright 2008 Rev. Bill Versteeg
The disciples had been arrested by miracles.
First there was the crucifixion, an offering offered in righteousness and purity, even the Roman Centurion had to admit that this crucified one was "the Son of God." But many doubted. Thomas, one of them, struggling with not knowing. He had a condition of being stuck between two opinions - either Jesus was God or he was not, either he was Lord or he was not, and the only thing that would convince him would be to see the sure evidence that the sacrifice was accepted - Jesus with the scars of sacrifice still in his hands. And when Jesus appear to him, his only response was "My Lord and My God." Resonating the words of the nation of Israel many many years earlier, when they struggled with two opinions on Mt. Carmel, the fire came down, they witnessed the sacrificed accepted and they cried out "The Lord he is God, The Lord he is God."
The disciples continued to be arrested by miracles. Jesus appearing to them, eating with them, breaking bread with them, opening their minds to old words, their own story. Truly it was ingrained in their mind when they called Jesus "Lord" - the Lord he is God, the Lord he is God.
Then this last Thursday, years ago, they witnessed yet another miracle, another event that would cause them to reflect on their rich and storied history. He promised to cloth them with power from on high, and then, blessing them, he ascended into heaven. Reading the story of the ascension, picturing it in our minds, might sound anticlimactic, like a good movie that has just come to the credits. But that would only be if we have forgotten an ascension that happened, once again, much earlier. The ascension of Jesus would have brought this story to their minds.
2 Kings 2
Elijah Taken Up to Heaven
2 When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel."
But Elisha said, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel.
3 The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, "Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?"
"Yes, I know," Elisha replied, "but do not speak of it."
4 Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here, Elisha; the LORD has sent me to Jericho."
And he replied, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So they went to Jericho.
5 The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, "Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?"
"Yes, I know," he replied, "but do not speak of it."
6 Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan."
And he replied, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So the two of them walked on.
7 Fifty men of the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. 8 Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?"
"Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit," Elisha replied.
10 "You have asked a difficult thing," Elijah said, "yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise not."
11 As they 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. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, "My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!" And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart.
13 He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. "Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?" he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.
15 The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, "The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha." And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. 16 "Look," they said, "we your servants have fifty able men. Let them go and look for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley."
"No," Elisha replied, "do not send them."
17 But they persisted until he was too ashamed to refuse. So he said, "Send them." And they sent fifty men, who searched for three days but did not find him. 18 When they returned to Elisha, who was staying in Jericho, he said to them, "Didn’t I tell you not to go?"
Luke, the only author who in detail records the ascension highlights some very interesting parallels between the ascension of Elijah and the ascension of Jesus.
Both of their ascensions, in the Greek versions (Septuagint) of the texts uses some identical phrases. Both use identical words for ascend, both use identical words for into heaven, both use the same words for those who looked on, on witnessed the event, both Luke and 2 Kings give only an earthly perspective of the ascension event. Both passages paint the picture that this is the end of an earthly ministry, both passages have the one ascending speaking to his followers. Both passages expect that the work of the ascender will be continued by those who witness the ascension. Luke, is very intentional in bringing to our mind the ascension of Elijah in the way he pictures and words the ascension of Jesus so that the disciples, so that we recognize that this is not an anticlimactic moment, the end of the movie, he does it so that we recognize that this is the beginning of an incredibly exciting chapter 2.
Let me notice one other parallel between these two passages that will shape my comments this morning and especially next Sunday morning.
Notice that Elisha asks Elijah for a double portion of his Spirit. (Verse 9b). Now he is not asking for twice as much as Elijah has, rather as a first born son would ask for his inheritance, which was double the inheritance that the rest of the children received, Elisha is asking for an inheritance of Elijah’s spirit so that he can continue on the ministry.
Elijah is taken up into heaven by the whirlwind following the flaming chariot of God, and what Elijah leaves behind is a piece of clothing - his cloak or mantle. Elisha takes this cloak, he strikes the water with it just like Elijah had done, and a miracle occurs, the water divides, he gets to pass through the Jordan river on dry ground, just like Elijah had done earlier. And the school or company of 50 prophets who were watching recognized immediately that the spirit of Elijah now rested on Elisha.
Elisha asked for the spirit, got a piece of clothing and all who watch saw that it was the spirit that Elisha received.
Now Luke, in his description of the ascension gets really interesting. Notice in Luke’s description that Jesus promises to the disciples power, but he uses garment or mantle words - "wait till you are clothed with power from on high."
Acts chapter 1:8 makes it clear that Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit that they would receive at Pentecost. And when Pentecost comes the onlookers this time perceive what is happening, they see that something has come over these disciples who now have the power to speak in languages they can all understand and they are pressed to ask, "what does this mean?"
To summarize this parallel Elisha asks for the spirit, gets clothing and then the spirit is recognized by the onlookers. Jesus promises clothing, gives the spirit and the change, the clothing, is recognized by the onlookers and they are pressed to ask the question, "what does this mean?"
I think all of us quickly get this point. As we celebrate ascension Sunday, we are reminded by of Elijah’s ascension by Jesus ascension, and the very point of Elijah’s ascension was that his earthly ministry was over and that ministry was to be continued in power by his follower, so to, at the heart of Jesus ascension is that his earthly ministry was over and his ministry is to be continued in spiritual power through those who follow him. After all, Jesus said referring to his ascension in John 14:12 12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. If we believe that Jesus has in fact ascended to the right hand of the Father, then we also believe that the inheritance of the Spirit of power is for us today for we are witnesses to his ascension through the scriptures given us by Luke. The ascension was not the anticlimactic end of the movie, it was notice that the all exciting chapter two is coming, the very reason why Luke not only wrote his gospel, but he also wrote the book of the Acts, the acts of the church under the power of the Spirit. We are called to be clothed with the power of the Spirit, not understood by this world, maybe mocked by some, but we continue the ministry of Jesus in this world.
Now there is one more theme that arises especially from 2 Kings 2 that pushes us to ask questions about ourselves. Once again, this involves a parallel with Luke description of the ascension. Remember, Jesus said "Stay in the city." He told his disciples just prior to his ascension to stay and wait for the power of the Spirit.
Remember that really interesting dialogue between Elijah and Elisha.
Elijah says to Elisha "Stay here, (in Gilgal, in Bethel, in Jericho), God has send me on to the next place - finally to the Jordan river. And each time Elisha replies "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you."
Both Elijah and Jesus say Stay here....
Elisha responds "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." And when Elisha asked for his inheritance, a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, Elijah made it very clear that it would take that kind of commitment, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." kind of commitment for him to receive and to carry a double portion of his spirit. Again, there is a very clear parallel in the teachings of Jesus and what happened in this passage. Jesus expects of us, if we would be people who inherit the clothing of his Spirit, to be people who have an Elisha kind of commitment, a "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." to Jesus. Jesus said, whoever would come after me, and the implication of coming after is not only being a disciple, but in light of the ascension, a disciples who does what Jesus did, whoever would come after me, must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me. And to take up the cross is to have the same kind of commitment to Jesus and Jesus had to us - even to the death. Jesus expects from us an Elisha kind of commitment - "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you."
What is your commitment to Jesus, knowing that in the hour of trial, he will sustain you? It is by grace we are saved. It is not by our commitment that we are saved. Like marriage, it is not commitment that makes the marriage, but marriage expects commitment to one another.
There is a reason why commitment to staying with Jesus, being faithful to Jesus as he sustains us by his grace is so important. Remember what Elijah said to Elisha when Elisha asked for a double portion of his Spirit.
Elijah said "You have asked a difficult thing." Elijah was not calling dropping his mantle as he ascend in a whirlwind a difficult thing. Elijah was talking about carrying a double portion, an inheritance of his spirit a difficult thing.
So to is inheriting our double portion of the Spirit of God. The church in North America thanks to some of our false prophets and our affluence turned the Spirit of Christ poured out on us into a success and wealth name it, claim it and frame it gospel. We have reduced the clothing of power that Christ promised into ecstatic worship experiences, and don’t get me wrong, I personally hunger to see more of the power of the Spirit among us in signs and wonders. But in our Christianity, where is the message that to wear the mantle of the Spirit is a difficult thing? It is you know! The Spirit’s power at Pentecost was immediately misunderstood and ridiculed. And as those spirit clothed disciples continued in ministry, it was not long before Stephen was stoned, the church was persecuted, the apostles were hanged, martyred and crucified, followers were fed to the lions. When we ask for the Spirit, when we hunger to be clothed with power from on high, we ask for a difficult thing, the kind of difficult thing that requires the commitment "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you."
What will you say to the master? What will you say to Jesus? Will you carry his Spirit even though it causes you to suffer?
What will you say to Jesus?
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.