Summary: God teaches the importance of the gospel ministry, It's a gift that we should not take for granted.
Bullies, bears, and a baldy. Did I capture your attention when I read the Old Testament lesson this morning? It was a longer than usual reading, but if your mind started to wander, I bet you sat up when you heard how two bears mauled 42 young men for making fun of the prophet Elisha. What’s that all about? Who exactly was this Elisha that God would send bears as his bodyguard? Well that’s what we hope to find out over the coming weeks as we start a new sermon series on the prophet Elisha. I’ve entitled the series: “Bald ‘n’ Bold” because this describes Elisha. He may have looked unimpressive, but he was bold in word and deed because God had commissioned him to serve the Israelites with his message of salvation. Today we’ll look at the beginning of Elisha’s ministry and learn how we went from plough-hand to prophet.
Elisha lived about 850 years before the time of Christ in what was known as the Northern Kingdom of Israel. This kingdom was ruled by the wicked King Ahab whose wife Jezebel had done her best to stamp out worship of the true God. Fighting this menace was the prophet Elijah. But things were so bad that for a time Elijah was convinced that he was the only believer left in Israel. That was not the case, however, and to prove it, God sent Elijah to anoint Elisha to be his successor as prophet.
Elisha worked as a plough-hand for his father. In fact that’s where Elijah found him – out plowing his father’s fields with eleven servants – each driving their own yoke of oxen. In today’s terms Elisha’s father would have been wealthy enough to own and operate twelve tractors! Therefore Elisha was no lowly farmhand just trying to eke out a living; he came from a family that lacked for nothing. When you remember that fact, what happened next seems all the more striking. Elijah took his mantle, which I suppose looked something like a cape, and put it around Elisha. Not a word passed between the two men, but Elisha knew exactly what the gesture meant. It meant that God had called him to be a prophet – someone who would serve as his spokesmen.
What kind of thoughts and questions would run through your mind if God made it known that you were to leave your current place of employment to serve on a mission field? Wouldn’t you like to know where you were going and for how long? Wouldn’t you wonder what kind of benefits you were going to receive and how much vacation time? But Elisha did not ask any of those questions even though he was about to take a huge pay cut and enter into a calling that the king and queen were trying to stamp out. Instead Elisha simply asked permission to say farewell to his parents. And this was no delay tactic because the next thing that Elisha did was to butcher the oxen he had been using to plough and then cooked the meat over his farming equipment which he had chopped up into firewood. There was no going back for Elisha. He made a clean and complete break with his past.
While God has not directed me to put my stole around you and call you into the public ministry, he did wrap Christ’s robe of righteousness around you in baptism and called you to make a clean break with every kind of sin. So if having too much to drink is a problem, then stop hanging out with those friends who keep dragging you to the bar. If you’re having a hard time keeping your patience, make changes in your life so that you’re not so busy and therefore don’t become irritated so quickly with others. A complete break with sin is what God calls for, not compromise. By thinking of your baptism you will be reminded that you have the power to make that kind of break with sin. For in baptism the power of your sinful nature and its mastery over you was broken, just as surely as a surging tsunami will break any barrier that stands in its way.
Elisha began his ministry by following Elijah around and learning from him. And what a great mentor Elijah was! Elijah demonstrated how to confront wickedness when he boldly spoke to King Ahab about his sin of stealing Naboth’s vineyard and allowing that neighbor of his to be murdered in the process. Elisha would also see how Elijah eagerly served right up until the day God called him to heaven. That true event served as the second part of our Old Testament reading. We heard how God made it known to Elijah that his time on earth was coming to an end. What did Elijah do when he learned that? Did he scurry around trying to knock off all the items on his bucket list? No. Instead he travelled to the towns where there were schools to train men to serve as prophets. He must have gone there to give encouragement.