Tuesday, 02 September 2008 07:42

The Triumph of God's Promises

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Let us read 2 Kings 4:29-35: Then he said to Gehazi, Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thine hand, and go thy way: if thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not again: and lay my staff upon the face of the child. And the mother of the child said, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And he arose, and followed her. And Gehazi passed on before them, and laid the staff upon the face of the child; but there was neither voice, nor hearing. Wherefore he went again to meet him, and told him, saying, The child is not awaked. And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed. He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the LORD. And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm. Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him: and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes.

We have been learning how God richly blessed the Shunammite woman. He molded her life through His Word. He promised her a son after she had given up all hope of ever having one. Then she went through the crisis of her life when her boy died. With tremendous confidence she continued to be able to say, It is well; God is good, and I trust in Him! She also wrestled by faith with God in prayer, at the feet of Elisha. Now comes the great triumph the Lord gave, turning her tears into joy.

While Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, is running on ahead with the staff of the prophet in his hands, Elisha gets up to follow the Shunammite woman back to her home. Elisha does not leave her, because he promised she could stay with him. But he also does not walk next to her. He walks behind her, so that he can still pray to the Lord and seek guidance. We are not told anything about the long walk to her home, except that Gehazi returned to report that the child had not awakened.

When they finally arrive at the home, Elisha climbs the stairs alone, closes the door, and is left in the room with the body of the little boy stretched out cold and lifeless on his bed. If ever in his life Elisha felt powerless, it must have been when death stared him in the face. He does the only thing he can do pray to the Lord who alone has power over life and death. Then he gets up and stretches his body over the body of the child, warming the cold body with his own body. This is not an act of magic as pagan priests or prophets might have attempted. It is simply another act of prayer, this time not with words but with his body. After walking back and forth, and no doubt praying again as he walked, Elisha stretches his body over the child for the second time. This time the child sneezes as the air comes rushing back into his lungs, and he opens his eyes. Never did a sneeze sound better!

Now how did this miracle of resurrection happen? By what power was it accomplished? There are some who are willing to speak great words here about the power of faith. They are willing to warmly praise the faith of the Shunammite woman, and to say: See, if you just have enough faith, God can do anything! This remark is not entirely wrong, though the focus is wrong. In Hebrews 11, the great hall of faith as it is sometimes called, this resurrection is mentioned as one of the things accomplished by faith. At the end of a magnificent stirring list of examples of those who through faith obtained great things, we find this brief reference in verse 35: women received their dead raised to life again. This refers to our text. It was by faith that this boy was raised from the dead. However, neither Hebrews 11 nor 2 Kings 4 describe her faith in such a way as to make her faith in and of itself powerful over death.

What then is the power that leads to the triumphant victory of a dead boy sneezing and opening his eyes? Someone may want to say that it must have been the fervent prayers of Elisha. Now we know that Elisha learned many things from his master, Elijah. If you read 1 Kings 17, you find Elijah praying to God until the dead son of the widow he was staying with was raised to life again. In fact, James 5:16 even uses Elijah as an example of how the fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much, or makes a big difference. Elisha had surely heard from Elijah just how this happened. Elisha knew it was possible! That is why he walks all the way to Shunem, and then, like Elijah, prays to God for the life of this boy to be restored.

What does this mean then? That the prayers of Elisha raised the boy from the dead? If so, then when God does not answer our prayers, does this mean our prayers were simply not powerful enough? Do you see how putting the focus on the faith of this mother, or on the prayers of Elisha, can very quickly become man centered? The danger with this focus is that it robs the believer today of comfort and hope. It makes you depressed because you think your faith or prayers are not strong enough. Maybe they arent, but even that may not take away from the glory and wonder of this text.

There is really only one reason why by faith this mother receives her dead child, and why Elishas prayers are answered. Both Elisha and the Shunammite cling to the promise of God. He had promised this woman a son. Therefore they plead His word. God never lies. His words may confuse you, but God never lies. Without the faithful promises of God, both faith and prayer would be a waste of time. But with such a God on the throne, His people have someone to believe in and someone to plead with in prayer. Because the God who is sovereign over life and death makes promises, it is possible to triumph.

Even the children know how this works. If you try to ride your bike in a cornfield or on a mountainside, you wont get anywhere. But if you take the path, you can go far. The drowning man is not helped by a rope thrown next to him, unless someone is hanging on to the other end on the shore. Without an all powerful, promise-making, promise-keeping God, faith and prayer are useless. But because God is who He is in this chapter, what reason to believe even when you dont feel like it, to hope even in the darkest moments, and to pray even when you think it wont change a thing.

Someone may want to say, But I dont have a promise like this one. True, but you are no worse off than Elisha or the Shunammite woman. The text hints at the reason believers today have to pray and hope. Notice again what Elisha does after he prays. He lies down on the childs body in a way that his own body covers the same body part of the child. He does this in order to identify with the boy in his death, so that the boy can share in his life. We dont have to wonder why this happened. God has given His church the greatest prophet, the Lord Jesus Christ. He identifies with the humanity of His people, even to the point of the bitter and shameful death of the cross. Through the death of Jesus, His life spreads its warming glow to those who trust in Him. Through the horror of His cross, His resurrection power reaches all whom He saves.

Here is the great answer to the times of suffering and sorrow Gods children face in this world. No matter what your struggle is, whether it be your own sin or the suffering of others or the death of other believers, the answer is the Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him God makes powerful promises to sinners. Sooner or later these promises will all come true in the lives of His people. Not life or death or anything else can stop God from doing all He has promised! That is reason to wrestle in faith, to pray fervently, no matter what.

The New Testament gives us still more insight into this miracle. If you read Luke 7, you find Jesus in a city named Nain where a dead boy was being buried. Once again he was the only son of his mother. If you look on a map, Nain and Shunem are found on the very same hill. Do you think the people of Nain had forgotten the Scriptures about Elisha and the miracle performed right in their town next door?

Only now Jesus, the greatest prophet, shows Gods power more clearly than the prophet Elisha. He could only sympathize with the sorrow of the Shunammite. Jesus could say, Dont weep. This is the most cruel thing you can say at a funeral, unless you have power over life and death. Elisha could only pray. Jesus did not need to pray or ask. He simply speaks the word, Young man, arise. Elisha had to lay on the dead boy twice, but Jesus does it in an instant. Luke 7:16 tells us the response to Jesus miracle. The people say, A great prophet has arisen among us!

This is the prophet God points you to from His Word today. He says, This is my well beloved Son, hear Him! You dont need to find the feet of an Elisha to cling to. You can cling to Jesus feet in prayer, and to His promises. If you are a believer, you have every reason to say with awe, God has raised up a great prophet among us! If He can save even from death, He can save from anything! What reason to believe, and to pray!

Someone will say, But why doesnt God raise the dead like this today? Doesnt this make our text irrelevant for daily life? For the same reason that all the other people who died during Jesus earthly ministry stayed dead. It is not yet time for all to be raised. It is not yet time for all to have their sorrows removed. This resurrection day in 2 Kings 4 and the New Testament are previews of the great resurrection day, the great final triumph of God for all His people. Suppose you are cooking a meal. You may taste the food ahead of time, but you dont eat your fill until everyone is sitting down together. So the resurrection happens just often enough in Scripture to whet our appetites for the return of Jesus Christ. Just like the smells of food make your mouth water in anticipation of the feast, so this resurrection should make each of Gods children eager for that great day!

Until then, He may send His people sorrow after sorrow. His providence can cut so disappointingly into your hopes, dreams, and hearts desires for many years. But one thing can never happen. His promises will never lose their power, or in any way deceive those who trust in Him.

What about you? Do you believe these promises? Do you cling in faith to this great prophet, Jesus Christ? Then you too have every reason to believe that Gods sovereign ways will triumph in your life to, and make you triumph through Jesus Christ.

Pastor Eric Moerdyk

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