Editor’s note: This series comes from a sermon given at a recent conference on discipleship for Chinese house church leaders. This sermon is addressed to the persecuted church, and is intended as a call to joyfully persevere through hardship, knowing that, in Christ, the victory has already been won.
Yang Mingdao is the collective pseudonym for Chinese staff within China Partnership. This sermon has been translated and edited from its original version.
Let us first read the word of God in 2 Kings chapter 2:
Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, “Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?” And he said, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.”
Elijah said to him, “Elisha, please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.”
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Then Elijah said to him, “Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the sons of the prophets also went and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.
Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. And he took up the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” And when he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.
Now when the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho saw him opposite them, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. And they said to him, “Behold now, there are with your servants fifty strong men. Please let them go and seek your master. It may be that the Spirit of the Lord has caught him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley.” And he said, “You shall not send.” But when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, “Send.” They sent therefore fifty men. And for three days they sought him but did not find him. And they came back to him while he was staying at Jericho, and he said to them, “Did I not say to you, ‘Do not go’?”
Now the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees, but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.” He said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. Then he went to the spring of water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the Lord, I have healed this water; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.” So the water has been healed to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke.
He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.
This is the word of God. Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, we come reverently before you and give thanks to you because you have revealed your precious word to us. You created this world by your word, and you regenerate sinners by your word. Through your word, you direct our lives every day. We come before you and give you thanks because your word illumines our hearts, and your word resurrects the dead. Your word preserves those in whom you delight so that they may enter your kingdom. Today we come humbly before you and pray that your word would enlighten our hearts. May your word help us. May it become the power of our actions so that we may not be mere hearers of your word but doers of it. May your word give us comfort and assurance of our victory. We thank you once again, and we pray this in the precious name of Jesus. Amen.
My favorite sport to watch is sprinting. The most exciting race is the 4×100-meter relay. In the 2008 Olympics, something incredible happened. The favorite to win the race was the Jamaican team, because the team consisted of gold medalists for the 100-meter and 200-meter races. Everybody expected that they would win the 4×100-meter race. But during the race, they did not pass the baton well between the second and third legs. In the end, the Russian team cheerfully finished the race and won the gold medal. The Jamaicans could have been the champions, but they lost. Mistakes in passing the baton also occur in the business world, and even within the church. We find many businesses, churches, and missions that were wonderfully led by the previous generation, who laid solid foundations and created a good platform. But their successors could not keep up, and problems arose as the baton was passed. This passage of Scripture tells the story of a perfect passing of the baton.
Today, we will consider from this Scripture how to pass the baton, to whom we should pass it, and what characteristics those who receive it should have. When we look at this passage in detail, we see that Elijah was a mighty prophet at the time. When God commanded him to call a disciple, he was told to call one man: Elisha.
The story of Elijah calling Elisha is very interesting. Elijah places his cloak on Elisha. Elisha is plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and so he says to Elijah: “I need to say goodbye to my relatives.” His farewell is also very interesting. He sacrifices the oxen, which he owns as a farmer, and burns the yokes as firewood to cook the meat. He invites everybody for a meal, and then he leaves with Elijah.
When a person is called, his calling is very clear. Elisha does not say, “I’ll leave these oxen with somebody else to take care of so that if things don’t go well with Elijah, I can come back to farm again.” He does not leave himself with any alternative, but sacrifices the oxen and invites everyone for a meal. He very definitively declares, “From now on, I will follow the path of Elijah the prophet.” He is very clear about his calling, and he gives up his entire past life. He pays the price for this calling.
When a person wants to become a disciple of the Lord, he must have a very clear calling, because the clarity of your calling determines how far you will be able to walk down this path. Elisha followed Elijah as his disciple for eighteen years. He simply followed, and followed, and followed. When you prepare for yourself an alternative path, it is very hard to follow. If you do anything halfheartedly, you will not be able to persevere to the end. The Bible tells us that a person who is halfhearted before God should not hope to gain anything from him. As disciples of the Lord, we must ask ourselves this question: the Lord has called me to be his disciple, but am I following him halfheartedly? A halfhearted disciple will not become a suitable successor. A successor must have a clear calling from the Lord.
What does it mean to be a wholehearted disciple of the Lord?