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.
What kind of character should a person have who receives the baton, who is called by God? If we think about 2 Kings 2 carefully, we find something that can help us understand this passage. Even though this section is quite long, all of the events revolve around three locations. The first is Bethel, the second is Jericho, and the third is the bank of the Jordan River.
Elijah is about to leave and pass the baton, and he takes Elisha with him. He thinks his successor should probably be Elisha, but even though Elisha has followed him so long, Elijah is still not very willing to pass the baton to him. It is difficult for a person to hand over their entire ministry to another. All of us hope for a better person to succeed us, but every time we pass on the baton, we feel like the person receiving it is not qualified enough. We see that Elijah is experiencing similar reservations. God gave him a command to pass the baton when his time is up, but this is hard. He is probably thinking, “I’m still a mighty prophet on earth!” As he passes the baton, his dialogue with Elisha is very interesting.
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Elijah says, “Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” In other words, “You can choose not to come.” But Elisha unexpectedly says, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” In other words, Elijah says, “If you don’t want to carry the baton, I will keep doing what I’m doing.” But he never imagined this foolish young man would follow him to the end. Elisha was very resolute: “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”
In that day, Bethel and Jericho were not reputable. To the prophets, they were dangerous cities, so Elijah goes there to test Elisha. The second time he goes to Jericho for the same reason: “I am going to Jericho, a city cursed by God. Are you willing to come?” Elisha says again, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So, they go to Jericho. Elisha was not afraid to enter the city. After going there twice, Elijah concludes this young man is fearless. So he goes somewhere else—he crosses a river. He says, “Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” He didn’t imagine Elisha would say he was willing to follow him across the river.
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about testing your successor when you, as a pastor or a ministry leader, wanted to pass them the baton. But here we see that Elisha was able to pass the test. Even if he had to climb a mountain of swords or swim in a sea of fire, he was determined to follow Elijah. This kind of successor is hard to find. The Bible mentions three trials here; anytime something occurs three times in the Bible, it means that this thing often happens. In other words, we can imply from the text that a disciple must undergo continuous trials, but that he is able to emerge victorious in the end. Elisha was resolute in answering Elijah and in following him, unlike some of our co-workers in church who are resolute in answering us, but not in following us. Through these three short dialogues, Elijah comes to understand one thing: Elisha was called by God.
After crossing the Jordan, Elijah speaks to Elisha. We should reflect on what Elisha’s master of 18 years says to him. He said, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” In Chinese kungfu novels, this means the master is about to teach his disciple his secret move. It is like saying, “You’ve done well. Now, I will entrust you with this kungfu school’s distinctive move.” Sometimes you find that the person who quietly follows you gives very surprising answers. Elijah says, “You can have anything of mine,” but Elisha says, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.”
This is a difficult situation. I don’t know what kind of expression Elijah had on his face at the time. He was thinking, “I’m willing to give you all that I have, and I’ll do all that I can for you.” But Elisha says, “Please let the spirit who is on you be on me.” It’s as if he is saying, “I’m sorry, but you can’t do much for me.” Don’t you feel depressed? A person follows you for a long time and eventually impresses you to the point where you are willing to hand over everything to him, and then this person says, “Sorry, master, I don’t want what you are giving me. I want the one who gives to you.” It is quite interesting to consider how this master and disciple parted ways. I imagine Elijah said something like, “O Lord, please take me away immediately!”
Elijah responds to Elisha, “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.” If you received this answer, you might think you had a 50 percent chance of getting what you want. This is how they part ways. Actually, Elisha’s request is quite interesting. The Bible tells us that the firstborn son receives a double portion. Elisha is requesting the blessing of a firstborn son: “I want a greater blessing!”
When a disciple follows the Lord, he faces greats temptations. We can categorize these temptations into two types. The first teaches you how to say “no” to the world. When temptations of the world come along, you must have the courage to say, “No!” The greater challenge is the other type of temptation; to have the courage to say “yes” to all the things that God has placed before you. You must not only say “yes” in your speech, but also in your actions. Elisha shows us that, even though the life of a disciple is full of temptations, we must be willing to pay the price and to give our all to gain victory over all of these temptations.
Failure is not an option, but an aberration. This is very different from how disciples today think. For us disciples today, failure is an option. How many brothers and sisters, or even pastors, pray, “O Lord, please forgive my weakness!” That is to say, “O Lord, I have two options—one is weakness and one is strength. When I am weak, please forgive my weakness.” We are saying, “O Lord, when I want to follow you I will; but when I do not want to follow you, then I will be weak.” And when I am weak, I will say, “O Lord, because you are a loving Lord, you are willing to forgive me even when I am weak. So I will give you a chance for you to forgive me.” But in the Bible, I do not see that God has given us an option to be weak. We see from this passage that failure is not an option, but an aberration. Being a disciple means following the Lord wholeheartedly.
We see something interesting in verse 20, as we once again focus on these three cities to see if Elisha is truly the disciple of the prophet. In Bethel, God judges some young boys through Elisha. The people of Bethel know that Elisha has crossed the Jordan, that he is powerful, and that God is with him. But it seems as if the people of Bethel do not care. Even though the power of God is on him, the boys of Bethel mock Elisha. Therefore, God manifests his judgment on those who jeered at him; God manifests his own righteousness through Elisha. When they jeer at Elisha, Elisha curses them in the name of the Lord, and two she-bears come out of the woods and tear 42 of the boys. In this incident, God demonstrates that he is not to be mocked.
Similarly, at Jericho, God again manifests the same truth to prove that Elisha is his prophet. Jericho is also a cursed city, and in this city, there was a problem with the water. So Elisha performs a miracle. He pours salt into the water and purifies it. Throughout this entire course of events – in Jericho, in Bethel, and beside the Jordan River – God manifests one truth: God is with Elisha. God does not only help Elisha receive the baton, he also proves that he is with Elisha. This is a very successful passing of the baton.
Have you ever been tempted to say “no” to the opportunities or challenges God placed before you? When or how?