Devotional for February 11, 2018
Based upon the First Reading for the Transfiguration of our Lord, 2 Kings 2: 1-12
The time was coming when God would be taking Elijah away. Soon Elisha will be left behind alone to do the work that the two of them had been doing together. There is a tone of real melancholy in these verses. The kind of melancholy that we also feel when we are about to say goodbye – perhaps for the final time – to someone whom we love very, very much.
Elijah and Elisha are walking along on their final journey together. They pass through three of the holiest shrines in Israel – Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho. At each of those places the older prophet says, “Stay here, for the Lord has sent me on.” I think what he was saying was this. “Why don’t you remain here with these people? Wouldn’t staying with them help make our parting less painful?” But each time Elisha says, “As the Lord lives, and as you live, I will not leave you.” I really admire Elisha’s devotion. He knows that the parting will be soon. He does not know when or where it is going to happen. But he knows it is going to happen and it will be soon. And he wants to be there.
And so Elijah and Elisha come to the Jordan. It is time to cross over. Elijah takes his mantle and strikes the water. The waters part, and the two of them cross over on dry land. After crossing over, Elijah asks Elisha, “Is there one thing I can do for you before I am taken from you?” Elisha answers, “Yes, please let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.” “All the good that you have done, I want to be able to do twice as much.”
Now at first what Elisha is requesting seems very greedy. But it is not. Elisha is asking to become Elijah’s successor.
Parents, do you remember standing in the driveway and watching – kind of sadly – as son or daughter drives away in the family car for the first time alone? The keys are no longer in your possession. You have given them away. And along with the keys, you have given a double portion of your spirit.
Or what about the time when responsibility for the family business is passed on to the next generation? Son or daughter is given a double portion of the parents’ spirit. Or what about when daughter has her first baby? Or when son becomes a father for the first time? Parents become grandparents. The change affects everyone. It is never the same again. A double portion of the spirit has been given.
I remember how strange it felt the first time my conversation with my parents ended not with their praying for me, but instead with their asking me to pray for them. A double portion of the spirit had been given.
And Jesus tells us that He wants to give us a double portion of His spirit. In John 14 He said: “Those who believe in Me will do the same works that I have done. In fact, they will do greater works, because I am going to the Father.”
And so Elisha makes his bold, believing request for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah answers, “If you see me as I am being taken from you, then you will receive it.” Then all of a sudden a chariot of fire and horses of fire separate the two of them. Elijah is taken up by a whirlwind into heaven, and Elisha sees him no more.
There is a point beyond which Elisha cannot go. At least not yet. Like the signs at the airport that say, “Passengers only beyond this point.” The boundary crossing between life and death Elisha cannot cross – at least not yet. The chariot of fire and horses of fire did not come for him. They stop the disciple from being able to follow the master. He cannot cross over – at least not yet. But he can stand in awe and in wonder.
And we also have had times of great glory when we too have had to remain behind. Like when father escorts daughter down the aisle. He can only go so far before he gives her to another and then goes to stand beside her mother. After loving words of support and blessing, parents sit down and watch a transformation take place as God makes two into one. There is praise and rejoicing, but there is also a boundary crossing.
And what about the time of the death of one of God’s saints. If you have ever been present when one who believes in Jesus dies, then you know what a holy and special and privileged moment it is. A few days later we gather together to honor the loved one and to hear the words of the Good Shepherd, who has promised to guide us through the Valley of the Shadow. We hear of the one who has gone on before us to prepare a place for us. We hear words of comfort and committal. And, like Elisha, we stand in awe and in wonder. Someone we love has gone over the Jordan and has experienced a boundary crossing. Oh, the pain of separation. And yet also the joy of transformation. Oh, the grief. And yet also, oh, the glory.
Yes, there are times in our lives too when chariots and horses of fire keep us from following. And so with Elisha we cry. And, like Elisha, we see them no more.
We feel like Peter, James, and John, as they follow Jesus back down the mountain and on to Jerusalem, wondering what will happen to Him – and to them – once they get there.
And so back from the wilderness with Elisha we come, wearing the master’s mantle. Back down the mountain with Peter, James, and John we come, having experienced a glimpse of Christ’s glory. We feel lost and alone. We wonder what to do next. We wonder what will happen next. One thing we know for sure. It will not be the same.
And this knowledge that it will not be the same is what is being expressed in Elisha’s tearing his clothes, because once you tear your clothes, they will not be the same. Your clothes, once torn, will never go back to what they were before. Once you have experienced a boundary crossing, you will never go back to what you were before.
Our clothes are torn, but we have seen the Lord’s glory. We have received a double portion. We are wearing the master’s mantle. And so, like Elisha, we continue on because we know that a lot still needs to be done before that time when we, too, cross over, and we, too, are carried into the presence of Jesus by that chariot and those horses of fire.
Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE