From a sermon series on 1 Kings by See Huang Lim, a missionary at IBF.
In our last few sermons, we focused on the story of Elijah, one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament. Today, our story will begin to transition into Elijah’s successor, Elisha. We will be reading from 1 Kings 19:19-21. Here, I would like to draw 3 themes:
(1) God’s unique way of calling,
(2) the greatness of self-sacrificial service, and
(3) the cost of following God.
[Read 1 Kings 19:19-21]
God’s unique way of calling
First, Elisha’s calling is unique. One day, Elijah just happens to come walking across the field and throw his mantle on Elisha. I doubt Elisha knew that was coming.
When God calls, it is different for each person. For Moses, God appeared in the fire of the burning bush. For Mary, an angel appeared to her, telling her that she would give birth to Jesus. For Matthew the tax collector, Jesus came by his booth and told him to follow him. For some people, the calling is gradual and not so clear or dramatic. But in the examples I gave, there is suddenness and unexpectedness.
But sudden doesn’t mean unplanned. With Elisha, God has already planned ahead, even before Elisha or even Elijah knew. In chapter 19 verse 16, we know that God has made plans for Elisha to take over Elijah’s place. God would use Elisha to heal Naaman, an important commander who had leprosy, and declare God’s judgment on Israel. God had great plans for this countryside farmer.
For me personally, I never expected to become a Christian. My mother had always warned me to say to the Christians if they were to tell me about Jesus, “We are Buddhists. We are not interested in your religion.” And here stands a person who never thought he would be a Christian, giving you the message this morning.
God has plans for each of us. It may not be a plan for you to do something dramatic. But God can and will use you to draw others to know Him and to bring His kingdom into this world.
Recently, I was struck by the words of an old hymn called “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” One of its lines says, “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,/Who with His love does befriend you.” The words “ponder anew” means “think again”. As we start a new year, how about thinking and asking God what He wants to do in your life?
The greatness of self-sacrificial service
The second theme today is the greatness of self-sacrificial service. While Elisha may be remembered as a great prophet, it is worth pointing out that not all of his work as God’s prophet was glamorous.
In 2 Kings 3:11, the king of Judah asks the king of Israel if there is a prophet whom they could seek God’s guidance for a military action against Moab. The king of Israel responded by saying, “Elisha son of Shaphat is here. He used to pour water on the hands of Elijah.”
What was Elisha’s background? He used to plow fields. When God called him, he poured water on Elijah’s hands. He was simply Elijah’s servant. If you think of Elijah as a pastor, Elisha would be like the assistant printing out the church bulletin. It may not be glamorous and yet, God calls people to such service. And by the way, printing the bulletin, cleaning the building, locking the doors – none of it is glamorous but it is important!
Our ideas of greatness may conflict with what God has in mind. We think that greatness means a success or fame in life that makes us feel important or significant in the eyes of society.
Even Jesus’ disciples, James and John, had that idea. They asked Jesus in Mark 10:37, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” In Mark 10:42-45, Jesus corrected them, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Let me tell you the story of Dr. Matthew Lukwiya of Uganda. He was educated overseas. He could have stayed abroad but chose to return to Uganda and serve his people, though many fellow Ugandans left to look for more lucrative jobs. During the Ebola virus outbreak in 2000, he treated infected patients. One night, while treating a badly vomiting patient, Dr. Lukwiya became contaminated. He died six days later. Although he died, what he did prevented the death of perhaps millions of people by quarantining the virus. Being the only qualified medical practitioner to take action, Dr. Lukwiya demonstrated self-sacrifice.
Likewise, the story of God coming to this world in the person of Jesus demonstrates that God is willing to suffer the humiliation of the cross out of love for humanity. As Paul writes in Philippians 2, Jesus, though being in very nature God, made himself nothing and gave up his life to save sinners. As Paul says in Philippians 2:9, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.”
Jesus’ idea of greatness is not about making ourselves great through achievement. Instead, it’s about humility and self-sacrifice. It means doing menial things like pouring water or washing. It’s about making other people more important than yourself. It’s about using your God-given gifts and privileges, comfort, and even your life to help others. In the eyes of God, to be truly great is to put God and others above ourselves.
The cost of following God
Lastly, Elisha reminds us that there is a cost when following God. He had to give up the relationship with his family, security, and familiarity to follow Elijah.
In verse 20, he says to Elijah, “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and then I will come with you.” What Elisha says here is similar to someone who responded to Jesus’ call to follow him in Luke 9:61-62, “Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’ Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.'”
In spite of the similarities here, the person in Luke 9 is very different from Elisha. Bible scholars say that Jesus’ comment in verse 62 reflects a person who has decided to follow Jesus but is continually yearning for his old life. This man has a divided mind. In Luke 9, saying good-bye to family is an obstacle to commitment to God, but in 1 Kings 19, saying good-bye is Elisha’s entry into service. Elisha goes back to sever his connections, not to delay his commitment. He doesn’t hold back but was willing to sacrifice his familial relationship.
Verse 19 says that Shaphat has 12 pairs of oxens. This meant that Elisha is from a fairly well-to-do background. Shaphat’s farm offers a degree of earthly comfort that Elijah cannot offer.
Also, to follow Elijah meant that Elisha had to do away with his sense of familiarity. Farm, soil, livestock, and crops were things that Elisha grew up with. Within this familiar way of life which was passed down from one generation to another, there was a sense of predictability. Of course, that predictability, as assuring as it is, is only an illusion. Because life isn’t predictable.
In spite of these costs, Elisha readily responds to God’s call. For him, God’s call was above everything else. Is there anything that prevents us from following God wholeheartedly? We are like children holding to something small, but God wants to give us something bigger than we can ever imagine, if only we would give up that thing we hold so tightly. Our sacrifice is so small compared to the gift of everlasting life and satisfaction in Christ.
Sometimes, we place our own conveniences above God’s priorities for us. Don Carson, a Canadian theologian says, “Some Christians want enough of Christ to be identified with him but not enough to be seriously inconvenienced.”
We often forget that God inconvenienced himself for us, to the point of dying for us. Let’s not forget that God has done way more for us than we ever deserved. We can never repay him but we can choose to live out of gratitude and love.
In conclusion, let us ponder anew what the Almighty can do. Let us remember that when he calls us, he calls us into humble and self-giving service to others. Sometimes, when he calls, it involves the giving up of hidden idols in our lives. Until we learn to give up of those idols, we will not be able to fully follow God wholeheartedly, and we have nothing but Jesus’ words in Luke 9:62 directed at us, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”