Running the Race, Finishing the Course
2 Kings 2:1-2:14 (NIV, NIRV, TNIV, KJV)
Sermon Series: Elijah: A Man Just Like Us
2 Kings 2:1-14 – Running the Race, Finishing the Course
Today we are wrapping up our series on the life of Elijah. Since January, taking a few months off in between, we have seen this man at his best, and at his worst. We’ve seen him victorious, riding high in God’s triumph. And we’ve seen him defeated, walking low and slow in despair. Today we look at how he left this earth, successfully leaving in a literal blaze of glory. But, even as we see one prophet of God leave, we find another just beginning his ministry. I want to take a few moments, thinking about Elijah’s departure and how Elisha must have felt about it all. Let’s read 2 Kings 2:1-14.
The Bible only tells of 2 people who did not die on their way to heaven. Enoch in Genesis 6 and Elijah in 2 Kings 2. Well, I suppose Jesus ascended to heaven, but He certainly did taste death before He got there. Skipping death was certainly a rare thing. Yet, Elijah was of a unique breed to do it. He was faithful to do what God wanted from start to finish. He was willing to serve God even when he thought he was all alone in it. He was willing to stand up to the forces of evil and put his life on the line. His prayers were powerful, his life was exemplary. He was far from perfect, though. He was prone to mood swings and self-induced loneliness. Yet he never let his foibles get in the way of faithfulness. Elijah was a good man.
And he ran the race well. Thinking of the Olympics this time of year, we can see he was a runner for God. Thinking of Paul’s words in 2 Timothy, Elijah fought the fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. Folks, perseverance is how Elijah won. He was not a sprinter – he was a marathon runner. He kept going when it would have been easier to quit or back away.
I think of Allyson Felix, who has won a silver medal this year for the women’s 200m run. She’s been called the world’s fastest teenager, and she’s also a Christian. She said this: “My faith means everything to me, and in every way, my goal is to bring God the glory.” She has also said this: “God gave me this ability. My speed is definitely a gift from Him, and I run for His glory. Whatever I do, He allows me to do it."
And when Allyson suffered a leg injury in high school, hindering her running, her faith was really put to the test. This is what she said about that time in her life: "I try to keep my priorities straight. When I got injured, it was frustrating, not being able to run like I knew I could. I really had to sit back and keep going to the Lord and depending on Him." That, friends, is the spirit of Elijah. Running the race, despite difficulties, and continuing to press on. That is perseverance. That is how Elijah ended so well. That is what we are called to as well.
But there was one problem about Elijah leaving. Elisha was left behind. Elisha was now left to fend for himself, to manage his own faith, to press on despite losing a loved one. Maybe you have felt these same ways. Maybe you have felt left behind. Maybe you have wondered how you will be able to make it.
We have all seen losses to varying extents. The loss of parents or grandparents, the loss of a spouse, either by death or by separation, the loss of a dream, the loss of a job... these weigh on people’s hearts. The sense of loneliness and the sense of emptiness that come with loss sometimes seem unbearable. And often our hearts grow callused, to prevent future pain. One woman, perhaps the wife of a military man, a police officer, perhaps even a pastor, explained her loneliness and said, “I got so tired of saying good-bye, that I stopped saying hello.”
But unfortunately, loss is part of life. Hardships are part of life. Death is part of life. Sin is part of life. And no-one, not even a Christian, is immune to it all. I think of the story I read of a group of British tourists, vacationing in Arizona, who spot a cowboy by the side of the road with his ear to the ground. "What’s going on?" they asked him.
"Two horses, one grey and one chestnut, are pulling a wagon carrying 2 men," the cowboy says. "One man is wearing a red shirt and the other a black shirt. And they’re heading east."
"Wow, you can tell all that just by listening to the ground?" says one of the tourists.
"No" replies the cowboy. "They just ran over me."
Poor guy. But we all have been run over by circumstances of life. And Elisha was facing a similar thing. He was about to lose his mentor, his best friend, and he was not looking forward to it. See the pain in the words when he was reminded of Elijah’s impending ascent to heaven: v3, v5. Now, I don’t think that Elisha was simply sorrowful for losing Elijah. I think the pain was more than simply losing a loved one. I think it’s deeper than that. Look at the words in v14.
If Elisha had just missing Elijah, wouldn’t he have likely said, “Where is Elijah? Where has he gone? Why has he left?” But he didn’t. He asked about God. That leads me to agree with the Bible commentators that Elisha was not as concerned with where Elijah went as he was concerned with, “well, what am I going to do now?” He was now the top dog, the head prophet. And would he be able to do as good a job as his teacher had done? Elisha was battling a sense of loss, yes, but he was also battling a feeling of inferiority. He was questioning his competency about leading a group of prophets and speaking the words of God in the task to which he was called. The man was full of self-doubt.
You know, if we felt like Elisha when it was simply a feeling of loss, we were right. But now, we can see we are even more like Elisha. Many of us struggle with an inferiority complex. Many of us have learned to hide it, though. Some of us adopt a boisterous personality, always seeming on top of things. Some of us use sarcasm and biting humor to cover up our own feelings of inferiority. In fact, the word “sarcasm” comes from a Greek word “to tear the flesh.” Tearing others makes us feel better about ourselves. Some run and hide. Whatever our tactic of defense, feelings of inferiority haunt most of us, no matter our IQ or our abilities.
And Elisha felt unable to perform the task God gave him. He certainly wasn’t alone in that regard. Moses asked the questions, “Who am I to go to Egypt? What if this happens? Are you sure about this?” Jeremiah said, “I can’t do what you want. I’m too young.” Which is funny, because many older people say, “Well, I’m too old.” So at what age is a person competent for God’s work?
Now, Elisha had the credentials. He had worked with Elijah. He had Elijah’s mantle, that is, an animal skin draped over his shoulders which showed that the owner was a prophet of God. He had the goods, but his question was, Is God going to help me? Will He use me? Elisha had the symbol of God’s power, but he wasn’t sure of God’s presence.
“Where now is the God of Elijah?” This was not so much a statement of defiance or loneliness but an honest question. Is God going to do thru me what He did thru Elijah? Can I do what Elijah did? Can I lead like Elijah? Can I perform miracles like Elijah? Can I do this by myself? It was not so much doubt but more wondering about competency.
But you know, self-doubt isn’t much different from God-doubt. “Is God strong enough to use even me?” These questions, though honest and well-meant, are really about God and not us. We’re not sure God can forgive us enough to the point that we become useful again. We’re not sure God is powerful enough to use us despite our flaws. We’re not sure God is wise enough, I mean after all, He told us to do this particular thing. How wise is that?
Now, I understand misunderstanding God’s will or God’s voice. There have been times in my life that I thought God was saying one thing, but looking back it wasn’t. Then, there have been times when I thought something was God’s will, but when things turned out in a way very different from what I expected, I came to the conclusion it wasn’t God’s voice back then. Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. God, after all, doesn’t promise ease or a trouble-free life. In fact, if life is too easy, I have to wonder when was the last time you acted in faith.
But I do know God has a ministry of some kind for you. Encouraging others, giving, teaching, serving, leading, visiting, speaking… each of us has a role to play in God’s kingdom. He didn’t save us just so we could sit around as trophies. He saved us to be useful to Him. And when you resist doing what God is leading you to do, you are robbing God of the obedience He deserves, you are robbing yourself of the privilege of being used, and you are robbing others of being brought closer to God. Doubt is fine if it keeps us humble. But when it immobilizes us, it becomes sinful and selfish. Far too many Christians claim to be serving God, but in reality they are simply serving themselves.
Let me tell you about Myrtie Howell. Myrtie was a devoted Christian woman. But she had lived a hard life. Her family was very poor. When she was 10, she quit school and went to work in a steel mill for 10 cents a day. She married at age 17. But in early 1940, her husband was killed in an accident. And when that happened, she lost her home and had to go back to work to support herself and her three kids.
Years later, her declining health forced her to move into a old, high-rise nursing home. A few weeks later, her youngest son died. And that’s when she fell into a depression. She said, "Lord, what more can I do for you? I’ve lost everything that ever meant something to me. And now I’m stuck in this dark, dreary room. I have nothing left to live for! I want to die! I’ve had enough of this prison. Take me home."
But then God spoke to her as clearly as possible. He said, "I’m not through with you yet, Myrtie. Write to prisoners."
So she wrote a letter and sent it to the Atlanta Penitentiary. And this is what the letter said: "Dear inmate. I am a grandmother who loves and cares for you. I am willing to be a friend. If you’d like to hear from me, write me. I will answer every letter you write. A Christian friend, Grandmother Howell."
The letter was given to the prison chaplain. And he gave her the names of eight prisoners she could write to. Prison Fellowship gave her some more names. Soon, she was corresponding with up to 40 inmates a day. She became a one-woman ministry reaching into prisons all over America.
She said, "I thought my life was over. But these past few years have been the most fulfilling years of my life! I thank Prison Fellowship! And most of all, I thank Jesus!"
That is running the race as Elijah did. That is finishing well. That is overcoming doubts as Elisha did. That is resisting feelings of inferiority. That is being usable by God. That is being available. That is what you are called to.