From a sermon series on 2 Kings by See Huang Lim, a missionary at IBF.
We have been seeing God at work through the prophet Elijah’s ministry. In our text this day, we will read about Elijah handing over his leadership to his disciple, Elisha. Let’s pray.
[Read 2 Kings 2]
From today’s passage, I have three questions. If you are not a Christian, you may feel that these stories are absurd. I want to address this briefly with my first question: Is it irrational to believe in miracles?
Even as a Christian, you may find Elisha’s experiences to be impossible or so different from your own life. I will address this with the second question: What do these miracles tell us about God’s power today?
Lastly, the story of bears mauling the children is shocking for a modern reader, especially in Japan where the topic of child abuse is becoming more sensitive. So my final question is what do we learn about God’s character from these stories?
Is it irrational to believe in miracles?
My first question: is it irrational to believe in miracles? Before we analyze today’s passage, I want to address this question for the sake of our friends today who are not believers.
Now, many people don’t believe in the Bible because the Bible records miracles, and they have already assumed miracles can’t be real. Thanks to science, they say, we can see how many so-called miracles actually have natural or scientific explanations. I agree that many so-called miracles can be scientifically explained.
However, I would also caution that while science is a powerful tool, it is a tool with limits. Science can only measure physical, natural causes. It cannot prove or disprove supernatural causes. For example, science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. Using science to measure God is like trying to use a telescope to measure someone’s heartbeat.
So how can we know if God exists? One convincing evidence or clue is the person of Jesus Christ, who is the central character of the Bible.
This Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh. While on Earth, he performed many miracles like healing the sick, raising the dead, and calming a storm. For the sins of humanity, he was nailed to the cross. He died a criminal’s death even though he did not do any wrong. Then, He rose from the dead.
Christianity hangs on Jesus – on whether his claims were true or not. So, actually before we even talk about Elisha’s miracles or other supernatural things in the Bible, we should begin with this question: is the Bible telling the truth about Jesus?
As I mentioned in an earlier sermon, there are ample reasons to believe that the records of Jesus in the Bible are historically reliable and were not simply fabricated. There are also strong reasons to believe Jesus is alive and that his power is at work in the world today. I won’t go further into this topic now, but feel free to ask me about it later.
Just consider: How is it possible that many intelligent people from different fields believe in Jesus and the Bible? – e.g. scientists, artists, world leaders, etc. Wouldn’t it be interesting for you to investigate why they believe in Jesus and the Bible and miracles?
With that, let’s move on to my second question.
What do these miracles say about God’s power today?
What do we learn about God’s power today? My short answer is that God’s power is the same today as it was yesterday.
When both Elijah and Elisha parted the Jordan river, they were reenacting the events of the book of Joshua chapters 3-4 from several hundred years earlier, when God parted the same river for Israel to enter the land of Canaan. In other words, the God of Israel in 1400 BC is the same God of Elijah and Elisha in 850 BC.
Then, almost 1000 years after Elisha, Jesus came. Jesus’ work on Earth also showed the power of the same God. But did that power end with Jesus? Does God only show his power through a few remarkable prophets? Can we experience God’s power for ourselves today?
After Jesus’ resurrection, he promised his disciples that God’s Spirit—and therefore God’s power—would come on his disciples. In Luke 24:49, he said, “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
The book of Acts tells the story of what happened when God fulfilled that promise. When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, they were radically changed. They were mostly uneducated fishermen. But they suddenly became bold and proclaimed without fear that Jesus was God’s promised Messiah and Savior, even though that caused them to be persecuted by religious authorities. They suddenly gained deep theological understanding. And they also showed the power of God through miracles and healings.
Are those miracles only for biblical times? Or is God’s power available to us today? The Spirit’s power is the same today. God still heals. God still delivers people from demonic oppression. God still performs miracles through ordinary believers today.
A few years ago, there was a case of demon possession in my home church back in Malaysia. It was the daughter of a church member who attended the same Bible study group as me. For the sake of time, I won’t share details of the story, though feel free to ask me later. Long story short, after church members prayed for the girl, she was freed from demonic oppression and is now a believer.
What does the Bible say about gifts of the Spirit such as healing, miracles, wisdom, and prophecy? To summarize Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians chapters 12 to 14: the Holy Spirit decides what gift or ability to give to each believer. The purpose of such spiritual gifts is to build up the church in spiritual maturity.
But more important than having such gifts is love. Some people in the Corinthian church prideful about their gifts. That is why Paul’s teaching about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 14 is sandwiched by the famous chapter 13 about love. If you have no love, he says, your gifts are meaningless. It is possible to be gifted and capable but lacking in maturity and love.
For example, in a book on preaching, pastor Tim Keller says that to be good preacher, there are many things more important than talent for speaking. For example, the person’s character, their heart towards God, and the work of God’s Spirit in their life. This is why you sometimes hear news about pastors of big churches who are suddenly caught in some scandal—because a person’s ability and a person’s heart are not the same thing. You can be an eloquent, charismatic preacher but be far from God in your heart.
So in the end, if we want to experience God’s power, let’s start in the right place. That is, to cultivate a heart for God himself.
What do the miracles say about God’s character?
My third and last question is: what do we learn about God’s character in today’s chapter? Let’s look at the scenes where Elisha heals the water of Jericho and curses the boys in Bethel.
To have a fuller understanding of the miracle in Jericho, it is important to know that this was a cursed city. In Joshua 6:26, Joshua cursed Jericho, saying a curse would fall on Jericho if anyone rebuilt it. In 1 Kings 16, Jericho was rebuilt by Hiel, and he died. The curse extended to the land, polluting its water.
But now, through Elisha, God reverses this curse. Why? It is to show His heart. God doesn’t take pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23). Yes, God inflicts suffering to discipline His people when they go astray and rebel against Him. Yet, He also is merciful and “heals wounds inflicted by His blow” (Isaiah 30:26).
So God’s grace extends even to those who do not deserve it. But at the same time, His judgment extends to all who despise Him. The curse on the boys may seem excessive for us modern readers, especially when we understand that these children could have been as young as 11 or 12 years old. Let’s take into consideration a few things.
First, Bethel had become the center of bull worship (1 Kings 12:25-33). Turning to other gods violated the Israelites’ contract with God, especially when God had explicitly instructed His people that they shall have no other gods except Him.
We can guess that the people of Bethel were openly hostile to God, as demonstrated by the boys’ actions towards a prophet of God. In verse 23, they tell him to “go up” or “get out”, which either means they wanted Elisha to perform an Elijah-like ascension or just telling him to “get lost.”
If we read Leviticus, we might not find the bears so shocking. Leviticus warns that Israel’s failure to fulfil the contract with God would result in a curse. See Leviticus 26:21-22: “If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve. I will send wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children, destroy your cattle and make you so few in number that your roads will be deserted.”
Just imagine you’ve rented a room, and your contract doesn’t permit dogs. But you decide anyway to keep a dog. Not only that, you tell your landlord you have a dog and insult him. Do you expect to be able to continue staying in that rented room?
Do not think that it is only the Old Testament that is so severe. In the New Testament, Jesus tells a very similar story in Mark 12. In his parable, the tenants of a vineyard, representing Israel, kept on treating God’s servants shamefully. Finally when God sent his Son, the tenants decided to kill the Son. The end result is that God himself would “come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
I wonder if we have become dull to the gravity of sin. Are we unaware of how serious sin is to God, such as when we ignore God or insult him? Do we just view sin as little naughty things that we do, which don’t really matter? Let’s remember that it was for our sins that Jesus was nailed to the cross.
However, as 2 Kings 2 reminds us, the same God who listened to Jericho’s plea for healing is also ready to forgive and heal us. While we were still ignoring God, Jesus died the death that we deserved. He took the punishment for our sins upon himself, so that we can escape the wrath of God. This forgiveness is available to all who call upon the name of Jesus.
In Jesus we see the most remarkable miracle of all history. After he died for our sins, he returned to life on the 3rd day. This is the most remarkable miracle because it proves that Jesus has power over death as well as sin. It proves that he is God in the flesh who loves us. Those who witnessed Jesus die and return to life were greatly impacted. Some of them wrote the New Testament to record these events for us. Some of them died for their faith.
If this good news about Jesus is true, then the implications are huge. If you are not a believer yet, take time to investigate the claims of Jesus’ resurrection. If you are a believer, then do people see the power of Jesus’ resurrection in your life? For example, are you more joyful than you were before you became a Christian? Are you showing fruit of the Spirit, such as…?
Let me end by asking again: is it irrational to believe in miracles? No. If there is a Creator God, we should expect to see miracles. And what do these miracles in 2 Kings 2 tell us? They tell us about His power, mercy, and holiness. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Let’s pray.