THE SPIRIT AND THE POWER OF ELIJAH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Kings 3:11
12-3-61 7:30 p.m.
Now last Sunday night, we spoke in the second chapter of the Book of Kings, of the translation, the rapture of Elijah. And tonight we are going to follow through with the tremendous impact of the life of Elijah upon the nation and upon the Christian, upon the Christian gospel. Now, not because it is a part of the text, but because it is the background of this wonderful thing that happened to Elijah, let us turn to 2 Kings second chapter, and let us read together verse 9 through verse 15. Second Kings chapter 2, verses 9 through 15. Now everybody together 2 Kings 2:9-15:
And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.
And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.
And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.
And he took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan;
And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the Lord God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over.
And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.
[2 Kings 2:5-15]
It would be almost impossible for us to realize how great did Elijah figure in the imagination and in the life of God’s people in the earth. It was an astonishing thing, the proportion to which Elijah grew in the memory of Israel. He alone had stayed the awful tide of idolatry and brought the people back to serve the living God.
Like the Jungfrau in a great Alpine range in Switzerland, stands high and separate and apart, so did the character and life and ministry of Elijah rise to vast proportions in the memory and in the sight of Israel. Whenever a child was circumcised, there was always a chair placed there for Elijah. At the annual observance of the Passover, always, at the table there is a chair set for Elijah. And it was the universal expectation of the people of God that, before the Messiah came, Elijah would appear. These things were constant in the life of the people: the greatness of the character of this mighty prophet Elijah.
For example, and through the Bible we are going to look for just a moment at the stature of this great, mighty, holy prophet of God. In the next chapter, chapter 3 of 2 Kings, Jehoshaphat, who is a godly man and the king of Judah, as they face a certain and inevitable disaster in Moab, Jehoshaphat says, “Is there not here a prophet of the Lord, that we may inquire of the Lord by him?” [2 Kings 3:12].
And one of the king of Israel's servants answered and said, “Yes, there is a man here by the name of Elisha who poured water on the hands of Elijah.” What a remarkable thing! And Jehoshaphat said, “Then the word of the Lord is with him” [2 Kings 3:12]. I say, what a remarkable thing!
Just the fact that a soldier in the army of the kings of Judah and Israel could say to Jehoshaphat, God’s great king in Jerusalem, “We have a man here who poured water on the hands of Elijah.” That was enough. Any man who had done that was a man who knew the great prophet and in whose soul the spirit of Elijah must abide; so Jehoshaphat said to bring him, for the word of God must abide in him—just because the soldier said this man poured water on the hands of Elijah.
Now, I turn the page. In the ninth chapter of the Book of 2 Kings, it closes as the prophecy came to pass regarding Jezebel:
Wherefore they came again, and told him. And he said, This is the word of the Lord, which he spake by his servant Elijah the Tishbite, saying, In the portion of Jezreel shall dogs eat the flesh of Jezebel.
[2 Kings 9:36]
Now, the next chapter, chapter 10, verse 10: “Know now that there shall fall unto the earth nothing of the word of the Lord… which the Lord spake by His servant Elijah.” Why, it was a proverb. It was a thing repeated: “Know ye not that there shall fall unto the earth nothing of the word of the Lord… which the Lord spake by His servant Elijah.”
And now, coming to Jehu: in that same chapter 10 of 2 Kings, the [sixteenth] verse, he says to the man of God, he says, “Come with me. Ride with me in my chariot and see my zeal for the Lord.” And, when he was come to Samaria, he…and there did he carry out all according to the saying of the Lord, which He spake to Elijah; verse 17. Now, go through the prophets, and we come to the last one: Malachi. In Malachi 4:5 and the Old Testament ends with the prophecy of the coming of Elijah:
Behold, behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
That closes the prophetic dispensation. And the Old Testament ends with the great prophecy that, “I will send Elijah before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”
Now, when I turn to the New Testament, that is the atmosphere in which you open the Book of the new dispensation. Wherever there was a religious movement, wherever there were religious stirrings among the people, immediately, the people began to say to one another, this must be the fulfillment of the prophecy. This must be the coming of Elijah.
Now I want to show that to you; for example, in Luke, the first chapter and the seventeenth verse: four hundred years after Malachi, the bright and glittering angel Gabriel, who stands in the presence of the Almighty is seen on the right side of the altar of incense in the sanctuary in the Holy Place. And he speaks to Zechariah, the high priest for that day, and he says to him that he shall have in his home, born to his heart, a son. And that son shall go before the Messiah in the spirit and in the power of Elijah.
Then I turn the page, and John the Baptist, in the first chapter of John and the nineteenth and twenty-first verses, John the Baptist is preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and he’s baptizing his converts in the Jordan River. And there is a great sweeping movement among all Israel. And the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem sent down an official deputation to the Jordan River, and they said, “Who art thou?”
And, he confessed, and denied not….
And, they asked him, If you are not the Christ, what then? Art thou Elijah? And he said, I am not….
And they said, Then why baptizeth thou then, if thou be not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor that Prophet?
[John 1:20-21, 25]
Immediately, in the great, surging movement of God, they thought this must be Elijah!
Now you will find the same thing in the sixteenth chapter of the first gospel. In the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord has His disciples at Caesarea Philipi, and, He says to them, “As all men muse in their heart, concerning the ministry of the Christ, whom do they say that I am?” [Matthew 16:13]. And, they said, “Some say You are John the Baptist raised from the dead: and others say You are Elijah come back to life again” [Matthew 16:14]. Wherever it moved, there did men expect the power and the might and the spirit of Elijah.
And then to show you how they never got away from the dynamic, driving, fiery influence of the great prophet, they came to a city here, in the ninth chapter of the Book of Luke, they came to a city, and the city refused them. And when the disciples, James and John, the sons of Boanerges, the voices of thunder, and the sons of lightening, when they saw it, they said: “Lord, wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elijah did?” [Luke 9:54]. That was the spirit from which they could never forget or escape.
And in the twenty-seventh chapter of the First Gospel, of the Gospel of Matthew, our Lord is on the cross dying, and He cries and He says, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” “My God, My God,” lama, lama, “why,” sabachthani: “hast thou forsaken Me?” And those that stood by said, “He calls for Elijah,” for in their language they misunderstood Eli for Elias. And they ran to get a sponge. And one said, “Let be. Let be, let be; let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him” [Matthew 27:46-49]. Nor would it have been anything unusual had Elijah appeared to deliver the Lord from the cross to those that believed in Him.
So mighty a stature did he assume; in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans, “God has not cast away His people” [Romans 11:2]. Do you not remember the Scripture that said of Elijah, how God hath preserved for Himself seven thousand in Israel?” [1 Kings 19:18]. And, then, just once again: James, the pastor at Jerusalem closes his beautiful appeal, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elijah was a man of like passions with us, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not; and he prayed earnestly that it should rain, and it did” [James 5:17-18]; Elijah, the great prophet of God. In the constellations of God's greats through all the centuries, there will be no star that shines more beautifully, and steadily, and mightily, and gloriously than the deeds of this prophet of God: Elijah.
Now, I have reserved one other thing that I might speak of it: the transfiguration is described in the three synoptic Gospels, and I have taken the one in the middle, which is the one according to Luke. “And it came to pass,” in Luke 9, “And it came to pass,” verse 28, Luke 9, verse 28:
And it came to pass about eight days, He took Peter and James and John, and went up to the mountain to pray.
And as He prayed, the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment was white and glistering.
And, behold, there talked with Him two men, Moses and Elijah:
Who appeared in glory, and spake of His decease, the Greek word there is exodos, and spake of His exodus which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.
And Peter and they that were with him were heavy in sleep: and when they awoke, they saw His glory, and those two stood with Him. It came to pass, Peter said, Master, it is good to be here! Let us make Thee three tabernacles; for Thee, for Moses, for Elijah.
And while he had spake, there came a cloud… the shekinah glory of God, and they feared, as they entered the cloud. And the voice, saying, This is My Son beloved; hear Him. And when the voice was passed, the cloud went away, and no one there but Jesus only.
Now, in the remarkable thing of that hour, the remarkable thing, the face of Jesus transfigured in the glory of the sun and His raiment, white and blistering as no fuller, as no dyer could make them, that shekinah presence of God, the glory of the light of the presence of the Father in all of the marvelous phenomena that characterized that glorious hour, the most incomparably great was this, that there appeared to the Lord on one side Moses, and on the other side Elijah, speaking unto Him. Ah, what a phenomenal thing! What a miraculous, mysterious thing! What an amazing thing, and what a thing fraught with so much for us who believe in Jesus.
Well, let us just, for the moment, say a few of the things. First, why were they there? Why? Well, the Book says: they were there to encourage our Lord and to sustain our Master as He faced the ordeal of the pouring out His life as a criminal on a cross, on a Roman gibbet [Luke 9:31].
The sun of our Lord and Savior was about to set in a sea of shame and disgrace, and in that hour these two were sent in order to magnify the intrinsic worth and character of God’s Son and our Savior. It was a sign to us, as well as a glorious comfort to Him as He faced the awful tragedy of death like a malefactor, like a criminal: put away from the sight of men, judged not fit to live in the earth. God’s Son and these two spake.
Now I want to go back up to heaven: when all heaven looked down, and the Book says the angels were interested, and they watched with loving care and concern the development of the life of our Lord in the earth, and, then on the horizon, they saw that awful and tragic hour, the death on the cross; all heaven was astir, all heaven moved. And somehow in the courts of glory, it was decided that two should go to speak to our Lord, to comfort Him and to encourage Him.
Now, what two should be chosen? Oh, I could think of many. Adam could have been sent. That would have been in keeping with the second and greater Adam, who won back for us the Paradise lost in Eden. I could think that Abraham could have been sent, the father of the faithful. I could think that David might have been sent, whose greater Son the Lord Jesus was. I could imagine Isaiah could have been sent, who wrote in his prophecy, as though he stood by the cross and saw Jesus die.
Oh, how many could have been sent? An archangel could have been sent or a seraph or the cherubim could have been sent. But not one of them chosen, not a seraph, not a cherub, not an archangel, not an angel. I guess their presence would have just dazzled the disciples, bewildered them, not knowing their rank or station. And it was not Adam, was not Abraham, nor was it David or an Isaiah. But these two were chosen: Moses and Elijah [Matthew 17:1-4]. For, said Philip, “Come and see, come and see Him of whom Moses in the law did write and of whom the prophets did speak” [John 1:45-46]. And the greatest of the prophets to the Jew was Elijah. So there they speak to the Lord, the one representing the Law and the other representing the Prophets.
Then one other thing about them, why they were chosen. I would think that the way they entered into heaven was also a factor in their choice. When Moses died, as we read this morning, his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated. He was still in the vigor and in the prime of his life, at one hundred twenty years of age [Deuteronomy 34:7], and God kissed his spirit away and laid his body to rest in a sepulcher that no man ever knew, nor has known to this day [Deuteronomy 34:6]. God took Moses with Him up to heaven.
And Elijah—as the sermon last Sunday night—Elijah departed to be with the Lord in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, absent from the body, present with the Lord [2 Kings 2:11]. There did mortality take on immortality and corruption take on incorruption [1 Corinthians 15:53]. Both of these, unusually, were taken up to God. And as such, they were chosen to appear to our blessed Lord.
Now may I make a brief comment about what I think, what I think it means to us? First: I think it means to us a whole volume, a whole library. Sermon after sermon on what it means to die, what it means to die. These two have entered the glory of the Lord. Are they not sentient? Are they not alive? Do they do not know? Are they not cognizant? Are they not sensitive?
Why, not only are they alive, and not only are they quickened, and not only do they glorify God in heaven, but they knew what was coming to pass on the earth. “Wherefore seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” [Hebrews 12:1], they look, and they see, and they know, and they realize how much beyond the things of Christ, I do not know, but in things of the Spirit, and in things of Jesus, and in things of salvation, these who are in glory; they are cognizant, they know, they see, they watch. And down are these two in the earth, Moses and Elijah, talking to the Lord about His exodus that He should accomplish at Jerusalem. In one act did we come into the world, and in a great act, either in death or in the rapture of his faith, we shall be in the presence of the Lord to live, to live, to live, world without end.
Now the other thing: and what did they speak of, and what were they interested in when they came down from glory and were with our Lord? They were talking about this atonement of our Savior, without which no man shall ever see the face of God. They talked with Jesus about His cross, and about His atoning life, and the blood poured out. They talked to Jesus about His death, about His death.
And I can well imagine, as Moses talks to the Lord, and he says, “Lord, I know, I know, the awful suffering and the awful agony, Thy soul made an offering for sin, Thine unknown suffering. I know,” said Moses, “but,” says the great lawgiver, “I am here in heaven on the promise of Your sacrifice for my sins, for in my anger did I slay a man and hide him in the sand of the Egyptian Nile [Exodus 2:11-12], and in my anger did I strike the rock when God said speak [Numbers 20:8-11], and, in my petulance and the volitive nature of my soul, did I forsake the commandments of Lord. I am a sinner, Lord. I am a sinner too, and my hope for heaven lies in the atonement that washes my sins away.”
And then, I can imagine Elijah speak: “O Lord,” he says, “O Lord, I also know what it is to fail God. In my weakness, I fled in terror and in my petulance and frightfulness in the wilderness; I prayed to die, when God had a great work for me to do [1 Kings 19:4]. I also am a sinner, Lord. I am a sinner. And my hope for heaven lies in atonement for my sins on the cross.”
And then both of them spake together, “O Lord, and beyond us, the souls of all the people of all the world, we depend upon Thee, O Lord Christ, upon Thee.” And thus encouraged and thus enheartened, did the Lord descend from the top of the mount, down into the valley, set His face to Jerusalem, cried in the agony of Gethsemane, and died for our sins on the tree.
This is My body, which is broken for you: remember Me.
This is the blood of the new covenant, shed for the remission of sins: this do in remembrance of Me.
“And they appeared to Him in glory and spake of His death which He should accomplish at Jerusalem” [Luke 9:31]. The great thing in conversation in heaven was the atonement of Christ. And the great gift God offers to us today in the death of His Son is the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life, in the grace and forgiveness of God our Savior. And it is ours for the loving. It is ours for the having. It is ours for the trusting. It is ours for the believing. It is ours for the asking. It is ours for the accepting. It is ours, oh, bless His name, in the goodness and mercy and love of Jesus.
Would you accept it tonight? Would you? While we sing our hymn of appeal, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus. Somebody you, put his life with us in the fellowship of the church. As the Spirit of the Lord shall say the word, shall open the way, shall make appeal, make it tonight. Make it tonight, one somebody you, or a family you, a couple you, a child, a youth. I can’t make the appeal, it must come from God. I’m just an echo, a voice. The Lord saves the soul. He writes our names in the Book of Life, He forgives our sin; it is in Him that we trust. And if the Spirit of the Lord moves you to come, make it tonight, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.