2 Kings 2:1-12 (The Transfiguration of Our Lord—Series B)
“A Word You Can Trust”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
February 11, 2018
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Our text for this morning is the Old Testament lesson recorded in 2 Kings 2:
1When Yahweh was about to take Elijah up to heaven by the windstorm, Elijah and Elisha were walking from Gilgal. 2And Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, I pray you, for Yahweh has sent me as far Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As Yahweh lives, and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel went out to Elisha and they said to him, “Do you know that today Yahweh is taking your master from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know. Be quiet.” 4And Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, I pray you, for Yahweh has sent me to Jericho.” And he said, “As Yahweh lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho. 5And the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha and they said to him, “Do you know that today Yahweh is taking your master from over you?” And Elisha said, “Yes, I know. Be quiet.” 6And Elijah said to him, “Stay here, I pray you, for Yahweh has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As Yahweh lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. 7And fifty men from the sons of the prophets went and stood opposite them at a distance while the two of them stood by the Jordan. 8And Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water and it was divided to one side and to the other, and they two of them passed over on the dry ground. 9And it happened when they had passed over that Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “I pray you, let a double portion of your spirit be on me.” 10And he said, “You have asked a hard thing. If you see me taken from you, it will be so. But if not, it will not be.” 11And as they were continuing to walk along and talk, behold! a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven by a storm wind. 12And Elisha saw it and he cried aloud, “My father! My father! The chariot and horsemen of Israel!” And he did not see him again. And he seized his garments and he tore them in two pieces.
Elisha was none too happy about Elijah’s imminent departure. Yet, he is equally as sure as Elijah about its occurrence. “And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel went out to Elisha and they said to him, ‘Do you know that today Yahweh is taking your master from you?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I know. Be quiet.’ . . . And the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha and they said to him, ‘Do you know that today Yahweh is taking your master from over you?’ And Elisha said, ‘Yes, I know. Be quiet.’” Three times Elijah had asked his disciple and successor, Elisha, to “stay here.” Elijah had the word of Yahweh sending him to Bethel and to Jericho and finally to the Jordan River. Elisha, knowing what was going to happen to Elijah, was not persuaded to stay behind.
Note the quiet and unquestioning confidence everyone—Elijah, Elisha, as well as the members of the prophetic schools—has in the guidance God gives His people through His revealed Word. Yahweh had revealed the matter to all of them, and despite not wanting Elijah to be taken away, they trusted the Word of God and placed themselves under His wisdom and authority.
As you and I well know, it is not always an easy thing to trust in the Word of the Lord. And we have a decided advantage, I believe, because the Word of God has been written down for us in the pages of the inspired and inerrant Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Yet, we Christians face the temptation to distrust that Word when we cannot understand it or when we do not agree with it.
When I was in college, I had a small poster that read, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” I wish that saying was as accurate as I once thought. Yes, God spoke His Word through the prophets and the apostles. Yes, by faith, you and I believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule for faith and life. But that doesn’t always settle things for us. The Word of God says don’t lust. But Christians like us get trapped in the world of pornography, lust, and sexual immorality because it makes us feel good. Our sinful nature wants to lust, wants to consume itself with as many of the pleasures of this world as possible, at the very expense of following the true Word of God. God’s Word says it. I believe it. But I want to do things my way, for my benefit. I want to love myself first and foremost—not God and certainly not other people.
When we do not agree with God’s Word, we naturally begin to change that Word to suit our own needs and wants instead of following what the perfect God has set up perfectly for us. Failing to trust in God’s Word and live according to that Word by grace through faith will lead us to a distorted picture of who God is as we actually remake God. For example, a person does not agree with God’s Word that stealing is wrong. He thinks that he can do whatever is necessary to better himself, no matter how he hurts or harms his neighbor in his or her body. Since God must want this person to be happy, He will overlook the sin. Robbing from Peter to pay Paul isn’t all that bad in the grand scheme of life, so God and His Word ends up being manipulated to serve the person’s ends.
Consider what Elisha might have done had he acted according to His sinful nature and not according to the new person of faith created in Him by the Spirit. He might have attempted in various ways to stop God’s plan, to ensure that Elijah did not follow the Lord’s Word. Even though Elisha did not want Elijah to be taken away from him, nevertheless, he trusted the Lord’s Word and received it by faith and followed it. When you and I, then, do not agree with God’s Word, let us be turned by the power of the Holy Spirit to repentance and faith, trusting more firmly in the Word of truth so that we do not make God into the divinity of our imaginations, but let Him remain the Lord of our life who has spoken truly by His Word.
There are also times that we are tempted to distrust the Word of God when we simply cannot understand it. The thinking goes, “If I can’t understand it and make sense of it and fit it into the reality that I know, it must not be true. I must change it to fit with my understanding.” The story is told by the Rev. Michael Lockwood in his book, The Unholy Trinity: Martin Luther Against the Idol of Me, Myself, and I, “A friend of mine, who went to seminary as a mature age student, had a moment of self-insight a couple of years into his seminary training. He realized that up to that point in his life he had been adjusting the Bible to fit with his reason, without even being aware of what he was doing. Whenever he came across something in the Bible that did not seem reasonable to him, he instinctively twisted it around to fit with what he thought was right. Then one day he suddenly realized that if the Bible is God’s Word, he needed to adjust his thinking to fit with God’s wisdom instead of the other way around” (Lockwood, Kindle location 4269). We, too, must beware of allowing our own thinking to reign as master in place of God and His Word.
Again, Elijah and Elisha, and the sons of the prophets may not have understood exactly what Elijah’s “being taken away” meant, but they did not attempt to change it to fit into their reasoning. They received it as the Word of God, true and faithful. They trusted the prophetic Word of Yahweh, not doubting that God had told Elijah what He’s going to do with him and equally sure that the Lord was going to do it.
We, too, can believe the prophetic Word of God in the Holy Scriptures to be true. It is a prophetic Word that pointed to the Christ, the Savior whom God would send into the world to save the world from sin, Satan, and death. Jesus is that Savior, the Christ, true God who became flesh and dwelt among us in order to bring the Gospel Word to us. Six days before the Transfiguration, Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man’” (Mk. 8:31-33 ESV).
Jesus knew what His divine mission was, where He was going, and what He would do—die on a cross for the sins of the world and on the third day be raised for our justification. Jesus’ prophetic Word predicted His Passion. Like Elisha, Peter and the disciples were none too happy about it. Hence, Peter’s rebuke of Jesus, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22 ESV). But unlike Elisha, the disciples did not trust the Word Jesus had spoken. They were unsure of what Jesus’ mission was all about, even when He told them. So Peter, James, and John are given a front row seat on the mountain to see Jesus in His divine glory. It is to prepare them for His death and resurrection, to show to them that Jesus is God-made-flesh who freely chooses death and resurrection to save people from their sins and the condemnation of death. They might not understand or even agree with it, but they are given the sure Word so that they can nevertheless trust in the promise.
The word of the cross will always be foolishness to those who are perishing, and yet, to those who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). Moses and Elijah, present with Jesus on the mountain, confirm the truth of Jesus’ Word about the cross and the resurrection. Jesus’ Word is true, to which both the Law and the Prophets testify (Luke 24:44). Jesus is the Son of God who became fully human so that He might suffer and die in humanity’s place, winning their forgiveness with His shed blood on the cross, and rising again promising resurrection and eternal life in body and soul to all who believe in Him.
You and I have the inspired, inerrant Word of God spoken by the prophets and the apostles in the Holy Scriptures. We believe and confess that “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20-21 ESV). And that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17 ESV).
As Jesus promised on the night in which He was betrayed, you have been made holy by this Word of truth (John 17:17). The Gospel has delivered to you, through the gift of faith, the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus for you on the cross. The Gospel has granted you eternal life through the gift of saving faith in Jesus who died and rose again for you. The Word does what it promises, just as it did in the days of Elijah and Elisha.
You, children of God, have a Word from the Lord that you can always trust. It is the Word of truth recorded in the Scriptures that brings the Gospel of Jesus Christ to each one of you. When your sinful nature doesn’t agree with what you hear, the Word, by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, brings you to repentance and faith whereby your receive forgiveness and a faith strengthened to trust that Word of truth more firmly. When you cannot understand the Word and your human reason seeks to be lord over it, again, it is the Word of truth that humbles you by the power of the Spirit and leads you to repentance and faith so that you can trust the truth of the Word even when it defies human logic and reason.
Like Elijah and Elisha, with a quiet and unquestioning confidence, trust in the guidance God gives you through His revealed Word. With the help of the Holy Spirit, live ever more faithfully under His wisdom and truth. Amen.