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Order Of Worship (Liturgy)
“Christ’s Power Foreshadowed in Elisha”
2 Kings 4:8-37
Have you noticed how many towns and cities in the United States are named after biblical places? If you ever wondered whether the early settlers of the United States valued the Bible, consider that ten states have a town or city named Bethlehem, nineteen states the name Goshen, and the same is true for most other biblical names. Even our home state of Illinois has eight different cities or towns with biblical names, including Zion, Lebanon, Hebron, and Bethany.
Because there are so many biblical names for towns in the United States it is somewhat surprising that there is no town or city called Shunem. Shunem was on a fertile plain that stretched for the better part of 15 miles before rising up to Mount Carmel. The plain of Shunem contained rich farmland and many people who lived in Shunem were well-to-do. One of the well-to-do residents of Shunem is a main character in this biblical account. We are not given her name. She is simply referred to as the Shunammite.
Although we are not given her name, we are given a character sketch of her. Not only do we read that she was well-to-do, but she was also thoughtful, looking at how she might best use the blessings she had from God to be a blessing to others. She fit the description of what a godly person who has wealth should be. She fit the description of 1 Timothy 6, where Paul instructs Timothy, Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
She noticed that Elisha frequently traveled through Shunem, so she said to her husband in verse 9-10, “I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.”
Homes in the Mideast had flat roofs, and it wasn’t uncommon for people to spend time on their roof. It is likely that they made a separate stairway for Elisha to use so that he could come and go as he pleased, finding refreshment after traveling throughout Israel.
Elisha obviously appreciated her thoughtful gesture and hospitality, so one day Elisha said to his servant, Gehazi, “Call the Shunammite.” So he called her, and she stood before him. Elisha said to him, “Tell her, ‘You have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you? Can we speak on your behalf to the king or the commander of the army?’ ”
She showed her character in her reply. Instead of looking for more influence with the king or with the commander of the army, she expressed satisfaction with where she was in life and simply said, “I have a home among my own people.”
But as the passage goes on, we see that even those who seem to have everything yet endure heartbreak. Elisha did not pick up on the heartbreak right away, but his servant, Gehazi, did. After hearing that she did not want influence with the commander or the king Elisha asked his servant, “What can be done for her?”
Gehazi said, “She has no son, and her husband is old.”
Some of you know what that heartbreak is like. You can have all sorts of material blessings. You can have a beautiful home in Shunem. You may have a successful business or a productive farm. But for most married couples, if there is not the joy of a little baby’s birth, none of the material blessings begin to make up for the void that is there. Those who are unable to conceive invariably carry deep within their hearts great sorrow, and most often unresolved questions, as to why God would withhold that blessing of childbirth.
This woman represented the truth of Proverbs 14:10a, Each heart knows its own bitterness, and Proverbs 14:13, Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief. She had so much by way of material blessings, as well as spiritual. It is evident that she had the spiritual blessing of salvation, that her hope and trust was in God, and that she wanted to help the servant of God, Elisha.
She also had a faithful husband of many years who was a hard worker. But she had a deep sorrow in her heart. She had been unable to conceive. She never had the joy of motherhood. And although it is a great sorrow today, in Old Testament times barrenness carried with it a stigma which pierced the pain even deeper into the heart.
When Elisha realized this situation he called the Shunammite to him, and said, “About this time next year, you will hold a son in your arms.”
“No, my lord!” she objected. “Please, man of God, don’t mislead your servant!”
But the woman became pregnant, and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her.
The Power of Faith
As read that the Shunammite gave birth to a son, raised him, only to see him die a tragic death we see, first of all, the power and action of faith for both the Shunammite and Elisha. When the boy died, the woman went straight to Elisha. It showed great faith on her part. It showed that she truly believed that Elisha, being the servant of God through whom the promise of life had been given to her when she was barren, would also be able to give her son life once again.
It was an act of great faith that drove her to Elisha, and in Elisha we also see the power and action of faith. He had faith that God would bless the woman with a child when he gave that promise, “About this time next year, you will hold a son in your arms.” And again Elisha exercised faith when the child died.
When he went to the Shunammite’s house and lay upon the boy, he exercised great faith that God would restore that boy to life. It was an exercise of faith as great as when he asked the Jordan River to part. In both instances Elisha had faith that God would do what is impossible for any man to do. He lived by faith and not by sight.
The Power of Prayer
Because he lived by faith and not by sight, Elisha was also a person of sincere prayer. That is a second truth we see in this passage. The passage teaches us the power of prayer. Verse 33 describes how he went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the Lord.
One commentator, Alfred Edersheim, lists five aspects that may have been in Elisha’s prayer of faith. Edersheim writes: “He pleaded the promise of God, the honor of his name, the faith of his servant, the need of the mother, the grief of the household.” (Practical Truths from Elisha, page 112)
Although the Bible doesn’t give us all the aspects of Elisha’s prayer, we do know that when Elisha shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the Lord it was a prayer of faith. And God hears and answers the prayers of his people.
The answer for us does not include the restoration of physical life. In fact, we do not pray for those who have died a physical death. But how often do we pray for the spiritual life of those around us? How often do we pray for neighbors and friends and family members who are dead spiritually?
And how many times does God yet answer that greater prayer – for spiritual life to be given to those who are dead in sins and trespasses? He answers more times than we may ever know. But like Elisha, we need to be faithful and fervent in prayer asking God to give life – not to the physically dead, but to those who are dead spiritually.
The Power of God
But not only do we see the power of faith and the power of prayer in this passage. Above all, the passage teaches us the power of God. After all, the resurrection of the child is a shadow of the resurrection of Jesus and all who have faith in Him. You know the familiar words of Jesus, spoken at the tomb of Lazarus, and repeated at so many funerals of Christians across the land. In John 11:25-26 Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Do you believe that just as this young child in Shunem was raised to life, even though his physical body was dead, that our bodies also will be raised, bearing a likeness to the glorious body of Jesus Christ? That is part of what is portrayed as Elisha got on the bed and lay upon the boy, mouth-to-mouth, eyes to eyes hands to hands.
But, of course, the skeptic reads this passage, and says, “The boy was obviously not dead. Elisha performed mouth to mouth resuscitation. There is no miracle here.”
But quite the contrary, Elisha’s act of breathing into his mouth portrays the breath of the Holy Spirit who breathes the breath of everlasting life into those who are spiritually dead. Earlier in the service we read from Ezekiel 37:1-14. That passage describes the power of God’s Holy Spirit to breathe eternal life into those who are spiritually dead.
It is also one of the clearest passages in the Old Testament pointing ahead to the resurrection of the body. It points, along with this passage, to the truth that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about in John 3:5-6, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Going to Christ Alone
In this unique slice of history, which took place so long ago in the town of Shunem, we see the power of faith, the power of prayer, and above all the power of our faithful, omnipotent God. But it also teaches us, by way of application, that in all situations, at any time, we are to go straight to Christ, of whom Elisha was a foreshadow.
It may seem somewhat strange that the Shunammite did not stop to tell Gehazi, or anyone else, about her son’s death. She continued straight to Elisha and would only speak to him. It may seem strange until we realize that Elisha, as a servant of God in the Old Testament, was a shadow of the ultimate servant of God the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ.
All Scripture points to Him, including this unique passage in 2 Kings 4. Most of you are familiar; I’m sure, with the words of Jesus to the disciples who were on the road to Emmaus. They had been talking about the crucifixion and the disappearance of Jesus and they were amazed by all the events that had transpired at Calvary and at the open tomb beyond.
Suddenly Jesus appeared next to them on the road, walking with them, but they did not recognize Him. He asked them what they were talking about; they expressed their amazement at all the things that had transpired. And then Luke records these remarkable words of Jesus (in Luke 24:27), Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.
Christ is certainly written about in the Old Testament as well as the New. And as we read about this woman, with one supreme goal, the goal of reaching the man of God, we are reminded that in all situations, at any time, we are to go straight to Christ of whom Elisha was a foreshadow.
She did not stop to talk to Gehazi, or anyone else. She wanted to go straight to the man of God. Yet there are many who will go to the saints, praying to them, or to Mary, expecting that they will intercede on their behalf. But there is only one intercessor – there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man, Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 2:5)
Our risen Savior ever lives to intercede on our behalf. We can call upon him in prayer, over any situation of life at any time of the day. Did you notice how the Shunammite’s husband expressed surprise that his wife was going to see Elisha? In verse 23 he asked, “Why go to him today? It’s not the new moon or the Sabbath.”
In his mind, you would only approach the man of God at certain times. And there are many professing Christians who act much the same way. Instead of a special observance for the new moon, they approach the Lord in outward worship at Easter and Christmas, but seldom at other times of the year. And there are many who will attend church on Sunday, and yet throughout the week, seldom approach the Lord with prayers of adoration and praise, as well as petition and supplication.
We learn from this passage to go straight to Christ, at any and all times, being fervent and faithful in prayer, as was Elisha.
But the passage also teaches us that in our relationship to God, no religious symbol or ritual, including the sacraments, can take the place of Christ. Elisha commanded Gehazi to run as fast as he could to the boy, and to lay Elisha’s staff on his face. The prophet’s staff, in the Old Testament, always carried great significance. Perhaps most often we think of Aaron’s staff, which was used in such a mighty way in the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt.
In a similar way, Elisha’s staff represented the power of the word of God because it belonged to God’s servant and accompanied him wherever he went. But the staff itself was not enough to bring life to this young man who had died. In that way it is like the sacraments, precious as they are as they signify and seal God’s promises of redemption to His elect, they yet have no power to bring salvation.
Yet so many people trust in the sacraments. Many people, when asked about their salvation, point out that they were baptized, or that they took the Lord’s Supper. The thief on the cross was not baptized but he was saved. On the other hand, Judas Iscariot broke bread with Jesus, yet was a son of perdition who perished eternally.
One of the reasons we always need to go straight to Christ, just as the Shunammite woman went straight to Elisha, is because there is no power in any religious ritual. Even the sacraments, which are wonderful blessings to those of us who believe in Christ, cannot give new life from above to anyone. The only way to be raised from the dead, spiritually, is through faith in Jesus Christ, as the Holy Spirit gives new life from above, the blessing of God the Father to his elect.
As the passage closes we find the Shunammite falling at Elisha’s feet in gratitude. She bowed to the ground, so thankful for the giving of life and restoration of life that God provided through Elisha.
The Day is coming – the great and glorious Day – when you and I will bow before the One whom Elisha foreshadowed and was a “type” of. We who believe in Christ will bow before Him in joyful praise and adoration, acknowledging that He is the One who, out of sheer grace, has earned eternal life for all who believe in Him. Amen!
- bulletin outline -
When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch. He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the Lord.
(2 Kings 4:32-33)
“Christ’s Power Foreshadowed in Elisha”
2 Kings 4:8-37
I. In this passage we see that even those who seem to have everything (8) experience heartbreak (Proverbs 14:10a,13). It also teaches:
1) The power and action of faith, for the Shunammite (22-28) and Elisha (15-16; 32-35)
2) The power of prayer (33)
3) The power of God: The resurrection of the boy is a shadow of the resurrection of Jesus all who have faith in Him (John 11:25-26). Elisha’s act of breathing
into his mouth portrays the breath of the Holy Spirit giving new birth to those who are spiritually dead (Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 3:5-6)
II. Application: In all situations, at any time (23), we are to go straight to Christ (25-27, 30), of whom Elisha was a foreshadow (Luke 24:27). No religious symbol
or ritual, including the sacraments, can take the place of Christ (31)
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 02/1, Rev. Ted Gray
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