November 16-18, 2019
Pastor Timothy J. Spaude
Text: 2 Kings 2:1-12a
1. That’s what the death of a believer is.
2. That’s not what it always feels like.
3. But that is what it is!
Children here today, has it happened in your family that you can remember that one of your grandpas or grandmas died? Do you remember kind of how that went? I’m guessing it went something like this. So one of your parents got a phone call and you could tell they were upset. Maybe they started crying but they didn’t tell you what was happening or why. Then maybe a little later your parents talked to you and told you that Grandma or Grandpa went to heaven to be with Jesus. And of course you were happy for them. Maybe you even said something like, “Well that’s good!” before you went back to playing or whatever it was you were doing. Then later you noticed that Mom or Dad was still sad or crying so you were trying to figure out. Why were they sad when something good has happened like Grandpa or Grandma getting to go to heaven? Well that’s what we are going to talk about today, how the death of our loved ones who die believing in Jesus is something we are happy about and sad at the same time.
Probably one of the best illustrations of that in the Bible comes at a special point in the lives of two well known Old Testament prophets, Elijah and Elisha. Elisha was the prophet that God had picked to replace Elijah and we are the point where it is time for Elijah to go to heaven. The job of a prophet was to tell people what God said, kind of like a pastor today. “People of God, this is what God says.” So both of the prophets were daily using God’s Word. What a blessing that was for them! The Holy Spirit worked through that word just like He does today. The Holy Spirit was strengthening their faith daily just like He strengthens the faith of everyone in this room who studies and meditates on God’s word. That’s important to remember because we are going to see two different responses to the upcoming death of the prophet Elijah.
Now some of you are now thinking, “Hey, wait a minute! I know that story. Elijah doesn’t die. He gets taken right to heaven in a whirlwind!” You’re right. But maybe we need to understand death a little better. The Bible uses the word death for separation. When Adam and Eve sinned, they died immediately. Not physically but spiritually. They were separated from God and it showed. Before sin they walked and talked with God. After sin they hid from Him, made excuses and played the blame game. A separation had taken place. At physical death a person’s body and soul separate. The body goes back to ground from which God originally made Adam and the soul goes to heaven or sadly for those who reject Jesus, Hell. When people die they are separated from their loved ones. So keeping that in mind let’s look at how both prophets, Elijah and Elisha, deal with separation as Elijah gets to go to heaven.
“When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” Now if you are following along here Elijah knows he is going to get to go to heaven. This younger prophet, Elisha, whom Elijah mentored, knows it too. Elijah is trying to make it easier by not letting Elisha see the separation. But Elisha wants to hold on. “So they went down to Bethel. 3The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “but do not speak of it.” Ah, this is so classic! This time we meet some objective observers. They are not emotionally tied to Elijah. Did you know Elijah is going to heaven? They are able to talk about it factually. But look at the one who has the heart strings attached, Elisha. “Let’s not talk about it!” It happens again. 4Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” And he replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho. 5The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” he replied, “but do not speak of it.” Interesting. Elisha is a strong prophet of God, but even for him, death, separation, was hard. I don’t want to talk about it! “Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” And he replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on. 7Fifty men of the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. 8Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground. 9When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied. 10“You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise not.” 11As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more.” No matter how much Elisha wanted it not to happen, it did. But wait, what about Elijah? Did you notice how he kept going? He was eager for that separation. Why?
Welcome Home! Friends, that is exactly what happens when a believer in Jesus dies. Many of you have seen this or a similar picture and it helps us to understand why the death of believers is something to celebrate and be happy about. Elijah was an Old Testament believer. He got a miraculous ride to heaven in a whirlwind. The chariots and horsemen sound like angels to me. We don’t need to figure out the details of Elijah’s body and how God separated his sinful nature from him. That’s God’s business. What we can see and understand is how happy Elijah was to be home. His life had many struggles with Ahab and Jezebel and all the other ungodly kings. How good it was for him to be home in heaven. No wonder he kept marching toward it. He wanted to be home.
Welcome home is exactly what will happen to you and me and has happened to our loved ones who died in the Lord. We too celebrate. Elijah believed in the Messiah that would come. We and our loved ones believe in the Messiah who has come. We know His name is Jesus. We know how He undid the sin of Adam. We know He lived perfectly for us. We know that His death paid for our sins in full. Welcome home! That’s what the death of believer is. Now think of how good it feels when you have been away from your earthly home and you get to get back. Heaven is so much better. Peace, joy, happiness, full knowledge. Let’s pause now to remember the St. Jacobi members who got that welcome home since the last time we celebrated Saints Triumphant. James Ortiz, Rayleen Schultz, Ursula Arney, Maynard Wagner, Otis Krebs, Terry Wegner, Pat Bauknecht, Judy Wantuch, Lucille Henning, Robert Zirbel. All of us know the names of many more from the past or other loved ones who died in the Lord.
They got welcomed home. But for those left away from home, those on earth, the death of a loved one does not always feel like it. Children, that’s why Mommy and Daddy still cry even though they know Grandpa or Grandma are in heaven. That’s why Elisha didn’t want to talk about Elijah going to heaven. Remember death is a separation. Separation hurts. Separation is a consequence of sin. That’s why Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus. He saw the hurt caused by sin. Sometimes it seems even our wearing down bodies don’t want to give up because they seem to know God did not create them for that purpose. Sin is the reason we may not always be able to celebrate a believer’s death. Sin is why it may not feel like a welcome home.
But it still is a welcome home. Jesus proved it. Remember when He died in our place? After He had finished defeating sin by paying for it in full, what did He say? “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” He was going home. You will too. That’s why the death of a believer really is something to celebrate. Like Elisha there will be times when we won’t feel like it or someone else won’t feel like it either. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is. The little ones with the true child like faith know it. That’s what got me thinking a few years back after we had observed a Celebration of Life Sunday. I said to Pastor Waldschmidt, “You know life is a great gift from God but death is too. It’s how God takes us to heaven. Why don’t we have a celebration of Death Sunday?” So here it is. Maybe more accurately it’s a celebration of eternal life Sunday. The time when God says, “Welcome Home!”