Summary: Because God has power over death, believers have no need to fear bad news.
It’s going to happen if it hasn’t already. You will, one day, have to stand beside a hospital bed on which lies your lifeless son, or daughter, or father, or mother, or grandparent. Their cheeks will be the color of spilled milk. Their fingers will no longer have the strength to grasp yours. And their eyes may be open but they won’t be able to see anything, least of all you.
Well that’s a cheerful way to start a sermon! No, death is not a cheerful subject but it’s something that touches us all. Are you ready for it? You can be. Listen to this passage from the psalms. “[A righteous person] will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD” (Psalm 112:7). Today’s sermon about Elisha, that bald ‘n’ bold prophet, will illustrate why a believer does not need to fear bad news, not even if it’s news about a loved one’s death.
Elisha was not the kind of prophet to stay in any one location for a very long time. He had many people to visit and encourage and so was always on the move. One day when he passed through Shunem, which was north of the capital city of Samaria, a believer invited Elisha home for dinner. This Shunammite woman, as she is simply called, insisted that whenever Elisha was in the area he should stop for a bite to eat. Elisha did so and as the visits became more frequent, the Shunammite woman convinced her husband to build a spare room for the prophet so that he had a private place to rest when he came to town.
I have met many believers like this Shunammite woman - believers who are eager to support and encourage God’s ministers. On behalf of God’s prophets I thank you. When you drop off something delicious to eat, or make time to fix and clean something in church, or write a thank you note for a Bible class or sermon that was particularly meaningful to you, it makes me marvel at how God’s Word does not return empty. These acts of service are a testimony of your love for Jesus and the salvation that he has given to you. Keep looking for opportunities to serve in this way because it encourages my faith!
But be careful that you don’t do these acts of service for what you might get out of them. That’s the world’s business model: take care of your customers because then they will take care of you by bringing you a lot of business and money. Believers don’t serve so they can get something in return even if it’s only a word of thanks. Look at the Shunammite woman. When Elisha asked what he could do for her in return – perhaps get the king or the local army commander to help her in some way – she replied that she had all she needed.
And we too have all we need, don’t we? We have God’s love. We have his promise of forgiveness. We have his assurance that he will provide our daily bread. And so even if we should never be repaid or even thanked for our service to others, we have good reasons to continue serving without grumbling and complaining. But we won’t remember that if we don’t continue to hear about all that our Lord has done and keeps doing for us. That’s perhaps why the Shunammite appreciated Elisha’s visits so much. That bald ‘n’ bold prophet must have shared a devotion whenever he dropped in and reminded the Shunammite of God’s blessings.
The Shunammite woman insisted that she didn’t need anything in return for her kindness, but Elisha was determined to honor this faithful woman. When he found out that she did not have any children, he announced that in a year’s time she would have a son. Apparently this was a blessing that the Shunammite woman had been praying for, but she greeted Elisha’s announcement with apprehension. It’s how your wife might feel if after a particularly good meal, you announce in a moment of euphoria: “Great meal, honey. To show my appreciation I’m going to get us a babysitter next weekend so we can fly to Vegas!” Do you suppose your wife would start packing right away? Don’t you think she would first want to see the airline reservation? Sure, it was nice that Elisha had promised the Shunammite an end to her childlessness, but did he really have the power to promise such a thing? The woman thought that it was better not to get her hopes up. And yet just as Elisha had said, in a year’s time the Shunammite woman had a son.
And all was well for a number of years. Elisha continued his visits and the Shunammite’s son grew until he was big enough to accompany his father into the fields. But then one day he complained that his head hurt. This was more than a mere headache, for the father ordered a servant to rush the boy to his mother. There the boy sat on her lap but grew steadily worse until he died.