Elijah: Every deam lost. Every dream fulfilled.

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on August 23, 2009

2 Kings 2:1-14

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The Lord’s
Day Morning
August 23, 2009


1 Kings 19; 2 Kings 2:1-14

“Elijah: Every Dream Lost. Every Dream Fulfilled.”


Dr. J.
Ligon Duncan III

The
Anthem: – “He that shall endure to the end.” (Elijah) …..Mendelssohn

Amen. You
have no idea how true those words are or how applicable they are to the life of
Elijah and to the message we are going to consider this morning.

If you
have your Bibles, I’d ask you to turn with me to first Kings, first Kings
chapter 19. This year is the two hundredth anniversary of Felix Mendelssohn’s
birth, and Mendelssohn is the author of so many great choral compositions, one
of which is his magnificent oratorio, Elijah. And on next Lord’s Day
Evening, August the thirtieth, our choir is going to lead us in worship using
those glorious Scriptural texts and that amazing music.

And in
preparation for that, I think it’s appropriate for us to look at the life of
Elijah and try and distill from it very, very significant truth for us today.
You may be saying to yourself, “What in the world could my life possibly have in
common with this prophet of old who called down fire from heaven, who parted the
Jordan River with his cloak, his mantle, his prophet’s manual? This prophet who
faced down the wicked King Ahab, this prophet of peerless worth in the history
of Israel — what could my life possibly have in common with him?” — A lot. A
lot.

Let’s look
to God in prayer before we read His Word. Let’s pray.

Our
heavenly Father, we come before You and we ask that You would open our eyes to
behold wonderful things from Your Word. Lord, we ask that You would show us the
desires of our hearts, some of them pure and good, some of them idols, but both
of those desires capable of displacing the One whom we ought to love above all
things else. Show us then these desires, and then O God, show us our sin in the
worship of them rather than of You. And then show us Yourself in Your glory and
let us taste and see that You are good and then open our eyes and our ears and
our hearts to behold wonderful things in Your law that we might see Your grace
and Your gospel and Your matchless worth and declare that You and You alone are
and ever will be our vision. This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is
the Word of God. Hear it:

“Ahab told
Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with
the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do
to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by
this time tomorrow.’ Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and
came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he
himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a
broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now O Lord,
take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.’ And he laid down and
slept under a broom tree. And behold, and angel touched him and said to him,
‘Arise and eat.’ And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked
on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And
the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, ‘Arise
and eat, for the journey is too great for you.’ And he arose and ate and drank,
and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the
mountain of God.

There he
came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the Word of the Lord came to him,
and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He said, “I have been
very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people if Israel have
forsaken Your covenant, thrown down your alters, and killed Your prophets with a
sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.’

And He
(that is the Lord) said, ‘Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.’ And
behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and
broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.
And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And
after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.

And after
the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his
face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And
behold, there came a voice to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’
He said, ‘I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the
people of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your alters, and
killed Your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek
my life, to take it away.

And the
Lord said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And
when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the
son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of
Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the
one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one
who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave
seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every
mouth that has not kissed him.”

Amen.
Thus far the reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write
its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

I wonder —
what are your greatest losses in this life? What are your unfulfilled dreams,
your unsatisfied and unsatisfiable desires and plans, yearnings, and longings?
I wonder what they are. I wonder what are the hopes and treasures you’ve never
obtained, though you’ve always wanted them, or had them taken away from you from
before your very eyes. I don’t ask whether you have these things, I know you
do, we all do. Some great to the point of being unbearable, some less so, but
we all have them. And my friends, the question is — what will we do with them?

And
Elijah has something to teach us about that.

And I
wonder how you’ve responded to yours — how have you responded to the loss of
your greatest treasure, or your failure to obtain it? I wonder what you’ve
cried out deep in the darkness of the night through blinding, hopeless tears,
and I wonder what you’ve hoped for after you’ve asked God, ‘Why?’ and you’ve
heard no audible answer, and your heart is just as restless and unsettled as it
was before you asked. And I wonder how you’ve responded to a life you’ve longed
for, slipping through your fingers right before your very eyes.

I shared
with you a letter I had received from Jay Harvey just before we left for
sabbatical this summer. Many of you know and remember and love Jay and his wife,
Melody, and family. Jay was an intern here. He was one of the most brilliant
students that I have taught in twenty years of graduate education. He is the
total package — smart, personable, engaging, hardworking, loving husband, wise
and dear father. Many of you know that when Jay and Melody had their son Jacob,
here just across the street, the diagnosis was cystic fibrosis. And then in the
letter that I received in the late spring, early summer, he said that Melody had
been diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy. That’s a chronic,
progressive, neurological condition that affects the skin and the muscles and
the joints and it means chronic, irremediable pain. And when he wrote me that I
thought, “Lord, that is just like You. You take the choicest of Your servants
and You hold their treasures up before their eyes and then You say that you
can’t have them.”

And then
last week — no, I’ve got to tell you this before I tell you that — then, while
we’re in the cool of the mountains in North Carolina, comes this letter from
Jay:

“Jacob is
doing well spiritually and holding his own physically. At seven, he has
profound spiritual insight. I had to tell him when he was six years old that he
would die sooner than most people, but that I would not pity him, because God
had a plan for his life that was perfect and the Lord Jesus had only lived to be
thirty three years old or so and He did more than any human being that had ever
lived. I also told him that I could not help him. I couldn’t help him out of
his problem, but his heavenly Father could. All this said with tears made a
profound impact on him that has, by grace, remained to this day. He has joy
from the Spirit, as far as I can tell, and he reads Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s
daily reading plan every day.”

That’s
four chapters of the Bible every day…he’s seven. And then, you could have
knocked me over with a feather when Jay said this:

“I would
rather have him born again than well.”

And then I
get this letter last week from David Calhoun, my beloved professor of church
history from Covenant Theological Seminary, just retired in the last year or
so. David is one of the most brilliant and godly men I’ve ever known. He ought
to be playing with grandchildren, enjoying his retirement, preaching sermons up
a storm, and writing books left and right. The product of his ministry so far
has been nothing short of astounding. I bless God at every thought of him.
Instead, he is fighting for his life against either the third or fourth
occurrence of his cancer and on Thursday, he had open heart surgery. You see,
the chemotherapy has killed his heart. I received this letter from David and in
it he said: “In grim but trusting humor, I told Anne (that’s his wife, Anne,
spelled just like my Anne) I told Anne that it would be nice to have only one
terminal illness.” But then he said, “but God knows best as always.” And I
could go on friends.

I received
a message not three days ago from a dear daughter of this congregation whose
marriage I had the privilege of performing, and I can remember, and Anne can
remember it too, we sat at the rehearsal dinner and we thought, “These are
amazing people.” And their friends — their friends were godly, mature,
committed young people. And I thought, “She’ll be such a good mother, and he’ll
be such a good father, and he’ll love her well.” And I received her message:
“For seven years we’ve longed for children and the Lord has not given them to
us.”

And I
could go on all morning long and you don’t have time for me to go on all morning
long, but I think, “Lord, this is just like You. I’ve seen this before.” And
so I wonder, has the Lord ever brought you your greatest treasure, whatever it
is — Lord, don’t let him die. Lord, spare her to me. Lord, let me serve You in
this vocation. Lord, take away this pain in my family. Has the Lord ever come
to you with your greatest treasure and held it up before your eyes and drawn
close to your ears and said, “You can’t have it.” And you ached, irremediably,
irreparably, incurably. Then He brought it to you again and said, “You see it?
You still can’t have it.”

And I
wonder what you’ve done, because what you do in response to that may be the
most important thing you do in this life.

And that
my friends, is the story of this man, Elijah. It’s the story of a man of
power who yearned for good and great things and who served the Lord courageously
and yet who knew what it was to walk in this world right up to the very end
of this life with his hopes utterly dashed.
Do you see why I said what the
choir just sang was so appropriate? This man had yearned for one thing and one
thing only, as far as we know, through the whole course of his existence as a
prophet of the Lord — he wanted to see God glorified in Israel. He wanted to
see the temples of Baal smashed and the idolatry of Israel banished and the
people of God revived in their worship of the one true God, believing in His
promises and obeying His ways, glorifying God and finding in Him their all
satisfaction. And in first Kings 18, he has won his greatest victory — he has
faced down the wicked King Ahab. You remember Ahab and you remember
R. G. Lee, the famous pastor of Belview Baptist Church in Memphis, who had that
famous sermon, “Payday Someday” — he described Ahab like this: “Ahab was the
vilest human toad to ever squat on the throne of Israel.” And Elijah had faced
him down and called fire down from heaven and had overseen the wiping out of the
prophets of Baal, and what he wanted more than anything else was revival. He
wanted Israel to turn back to God. It wanted repentance. He wanted
conversion. He wanted to be the instrument of conversion and restoration in
Israel so Israel glorified God.

And
instead, a messenger showed up to him with a letter, written in the hand of a
woman named Jezebel who said, “May it happen to me if at this time tomorrow I
don’t have your hide. I will murder you.” And suddenly this man forgot every
drop of theology he had ever taught and he ran, scared, to the south, not just
to Judah, but past Judah and down in to the wilderness to the mountain of God –
perhaps not even realizing that all along the way that God was providing for him
what he needed. And then at the mountain of God he went into a cave and wanted
to die.

Do you see
how many times “enough” is said in first Kings 19? Have you ever gotten there?
– Lord, it’s enough. I can’t take it anymore. I just want to die. That’s
where Elijah is — he’s in a cave and he just wants to die. And God comes to him
and He says, “Elijah, come out onto the edge of this mountain, on this
precipice. Come out here because I am going to come to you and I am going to
show you My glory. I’m going to show you the thing you have wanted to see in
Israel all your life. Come out onto the edge of this mountain.” So God comes
in a whirlwind. It’s not an F5, it’s an EF6. The side of this granite mountain
is dissolving in the face of the power of this whirlwind, but Elijah has not
come outside — he’s still inside. And then the Lord comes in a mighty
earthquake and then in fire, but Elijah’s still inside; he wants to die. He
doesn’t even want to see the glory of the Lord. And finally a small whisper
inexorably draws him out. But do you see what Elijah does? He wraps his face
in his cloak. It’s kind of hard to see when you’ve got your cloak wrapped
around your face. It’s kind of hard to see God’s glory when you’ve got your
cloak wrapped around your face, but you understand what’s going on? Every dream
he’s ever had has been shattered. He’s lost it all. Life is not worth living
anymore and now he doesn’t even want to see the glory of God. And you’re
waiting for one of those inimitable moments when God comes in kind words of
comfort to a servant who is broken to the core of his being and you don’t get
it.

That’s not
what happens — for the second time in the passage when God finally speaks, His
words are, “What are you doing here? This is not where you’re supposed to be!
I’ve got stuff for you to do!” And then His follow up to that is, “Head north,
young man, and you pass right through Judah and you pass right through Israel,
and you head straight to Syria because” — you want to hear the tender words of
compassion? Hear God’s tender words of compassion: “Elijah, I’m putting you on
the shelf. You’re done. The only ministry that you’re going to have for the
rest of your life is preparing the way for others who are going to do the job
that I had sent you to do. So, you’re going to go appoint a Syrian king, a
Gentile, a goyim, a dog is going to do what I didn’t let you do. And
you’re going to appoint Jehu, a son of perdition, if there ever was one, and
he’s going to do what I didn’t let you do. And you’re going to appoint Elisha,
and he’s going to do what I didn’t let you do.”

Oh my
friends, you can’t possibly imagine how hard those words were for a man who had
lived for one thing. But when I read them this summer I thought, “I’ve seen
this before!” There was another man on that mountain where he stood — a man
named Moses who wanted to do one thing in the last forty years of his life and
that was to bring the children of Israel into the Promised Land, the land of
Canaan, but he sinned. And God said, “Moses, I’m going to let you see the
Promised Land, but I’m not going to let you put one of your toes in it.” And
you remember in Exodus 33, Moses cries out to God, “Lord, I want to see Your
glory!” And you know what God says? “Oh my dear, dear servant Moses. My
faithful, courageous servant Moses…No!”

I’ve seen
this M.O. before. I’ve seen this mode of working. I’ve seen this modus
operandi.
You know, when a voice whispers in your ear, “You ought to always
have your heart’s desires.” You can be assured that that voice always speaks
with a hiss from a forked tongue. But when you hear a voice say to you, “You
see that treasure? The thing that you want more than anything else in the
world? You can’t have it, but I’ll give you Me instead.” – You can always be
assured where that voice comes from. It’s just like you, Lord; I’ve seen this
before.

So Elijah
goes stumbling on, wounded, wounded to the death in pain every step of his way
the rest of his life, until the day comes when God summons him to the Jordan.
Turn with me to Second Kings chapter two. I wish I could read the whole passage
— please this afternoon read verses 1 through 14. But especially I want to draw
your attention to verses 9 and following because it’s just extraordinary.
Elisha, you see, asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit and Elijah says
something really weird — “You will only be able to get it if you see me when I’m
taken.” Now, have you ever wondered what in the world is going on there? What
do you mean I’m not going to get it if I don’t see you when I’m taken, but I am
going to get it if I see you when I am taken? Well my friends, look at how he’s
taken:

“As they
still went on (verse 11) and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire
separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.”

The man
who was so dead of all his hopes and bereft of all his treasure that he didn’t
want to see the glory of God in the whirlwind was ushered into glory — by a
whirlwind and horses and chariots of fire.

“And
Elisha saw it and he cried, ‘My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and
its horsemen!’ And he saw him no more.”

Why did
Elisha have to see him? — So that he could come back and tell the writer of
Second Kings, “Let me tell you how God took him! He not only took him on horses
and chariots of fire; He took him by the whirlwind and he saw His glory.”
Because the One who took him is worth infinitely more than anything He had ever
taken from Elijah. And He showed him His glory whether Elijah wanted to see it
or not.

But I want
to tell you my friends, it gets better than this because we see Elijah again
before the Bible’s done with. You remember where? It’s Luke 9. This afternoon
while you’re reading all of Second Kings, 1 to 14, read Luke 9 from about 28
on. You get to see Elijah again and it’s in the New Testament. And Elijah,
well, guess where he is? He’s on a mountain. And you know who he’s with? He’s
with Moses! You remember Moses? The man who said, “Lord, I want to see Your
face; I want to see Your glory.” And God had said, “No, you’re not even going
to be in My Promised Land. You’re going to see it from afar, but you’re not
even going to be in My Promised Land. You’re not going to be in Canaan.” But
it gets better than that – Elijah and Moses together are on a mountain…with
Jesus. And you know what they’re seeing? They’re seeing His transfigured
glory. The man who begged God, “Let me see Your face. Let me see Your glory”
and God said, “No”, is looking into the face of Jesus and beholding the
transfigured glory of God. And the man who said, “Lord, I don’t want to see
Your glory” is seeing the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

You know,
that same Jesus once said to His disciples, “Not one of you will give up mother
or father or sister or brother or houses or fields for Me that I will not give
it back to you in this age and in the age to come one hundred fold.”

Do you see
the lesson that Elijah has learned? A costly lesson. A brutal lesson because
God has ruthlessly and empathically pursued his fundamental idolatry and He’s
ripped it from his heart and then He said, “I’m enough for you, Elijah. I’m the
only treasure worth having and I’m the only treasure that can’t be taken away
from you. Elijah, I am to be your vision.”

And my
friends, every single one of us faces that choice. And there’s a difference in
how we face it. Believers face this choice and they ache and they cry and they
mourn and they ask why. They ask it a thousand times. But in the end, they go
limping along their way for the rest of their lives having learned His grace is
sufficient for me and His power is perfected in my weakness and they go on fixed
on Him as their treasure.

But
worldlings, worldlings ever after, are fixated on the treasure they lost and
they cannot see the treasure that they would gain if they would but trust Him.
Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain that
which he cannot lose.” And I would only add, especially if what it is that you
cannot lose is God Himself. Let’s pray.

O Lord,
be thou, You, You alone, You only, our vision, our treasure, through Jesus
Christ our Lord we pray it. Amen

Grace,
mercy and peace to you, from God, our inscrutably wise and unfathomably loving
heavenly Father, and His Son, the Lord Jesus, the Messiah. Amen.

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