The ‘death’ of Elijah is pretty extraordinary. The death of Elisha is not.
Truth be told, Elijah’s ‘death’ wasn’t even really a death. The postmortem in 2 Kings 2:11 reads:
As 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. Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.
Elisha’s death on the other hand most certainly was an ordinary death. And one barely remarked upon. His postmortem in 2 Kings 13 reads:
Elisha died and was buried.
But both deaths had one similarity. Following the end of the prophet Elijah and the end of Elisha, something remarkable happened.
Most people know something of what happened to Elijah if only from the name of the film. Elijah departed on ‘chariots of fire’. But Elisha’s end is less well known. We read that in the days of Elisha, raiders from Moab would descend on Samaria. The people would be terrified, literally dropping what they were doing to flee. On this particular occasion ‘what they were doing’ was burying a dead body. 2 Kings 12 tells us that in their haste to escape some men threw a dead body into the tomb of Elisha whereupon we are told:
When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.
That’s quite a story isn’t it? In fact, if we’re honest we’d say it’s not very believable. In fact, if wee read it in a book of Catholic saints we’d roll our eyes and dismiss it out of hand. But here it is in the Word of God— a dead man came into contact with the bones of the dead prophet and came back to life.
What on earth are we to make of this?
Well, I think this was a timely reminder to the people of that time. Those people needed reminding that God is the God of the living and because of that, the grave should not be seen as the end.
3000 years on it’s no less an important thing to know. A million things have changed since this event occurred, but one thing at least remains the same. We remain terminally ill people, literally dying of sin. And if you take time to listen to them, even some unbelievers have worked that out. The comedian Bill Hader was interviewed recently about his new comedy series. The headline on The Guardian website quoted the comedian asking: “What’s this disease that keeps making us make bad choices?”
It’s a good question isn’t it? In the newspaper today I read about a woman who paid £4000 to fix the potholes in her street. She said, ‘It’s a gift to my neighbours, who are very nice, and to our estate”. That’s impressive isn’t it? But in the same newspaper I also read of a massive fraud running into billions of pounds by people falsely claiming for help during the pandemic. What is wrong with us as a species that we can perpetrate acts of great kindness and great harm?
The philosopher Blaise Pascal observed:
“What sort of freak then is man! How novel, how monstruous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious! Judge of all things, feeble earth-worm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, glory and refuse of the universe… Man’s greatness and wretchedness are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us that there is in man some great principle of greatness and some great principle of wretchedness!
In his evangelistic video Life Explored, Rico Tice asks the same question. He says:
“We tell jokes, write poems, score goals, make music, make babies, build skyscrapers, cure diseases. But the garbage is easy to see too. We break promises, tell lies, murder, exploit, cheat and exploit and abuse. With the same hands we create wonder and unimaginable pain. Why are we like this?”
The answer of course, is that we are marred by the curse of sin. Bill Hader knows it, we know it, our great grandparents knew it, those undertakers of Israel who fled those Moabite raiders knew it too. We live with the curse and we will die from it too.
And yet in Elisha’s day. The curse was momentarily reversed. Contact with a man of God who had once preached the words of life and forgiveness, salvation and hope gave this man his life back! Read it again! Contact with the decaying bones of the dead prophet led to one man’s heart beginning to beat again, his blood to circulate, his eyes to focus, his mind to think.
What was this but a gracious hint, a powerful whisper from God to a dying people that there was hope in the Lord.
Today, we don’t need to put our hope in the bones of a dead man. We trust in the death and resurrection of a powerful saviour Jesus Christ who has conquered death and overcome the grave. The regeneration is different, the outcome more glorious.
Having mentioned a Bill, let me finish with a Will.
Our neighbour Will was in Chester a few years ago. He was sat with a beautiful wife in a beautiful city at Christmas; a beautiful time of year. And yet he remembers looking around and asking himself “what is the point of life?” He had everything he could have wished for and felt completely empty.
But he came into contact with a Christian. His life made contact with the life of a woman who knew the Lord. She shared her testimony, gave him good news and today he testifies that he is born again.
Will was a bit like that dead man. Quite by chance he came into contact with a person a bit like Elisha. A person who knew Jesus and who was willing to share the word of God and the promises of Jesus with a dying man. By God’s grace the Spirit came into his heart and he experienced real life.
As we observe the ending of Easter may we know the good news ourselves and may we be as Elisha was — a point of contact for someone to one day say: “My life touched their life, I came to know Jesus and I was never the same again…”