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Away in a Whirlwind
Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 1...
Track 10 of 10 in the Elijah: The Humble Hero series
Running time: 56 minutes, 59 seconds.

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Mike Nobis Speaker: Mike Nobis
Sunday School Teacher, Former Elder at Madison Park Christian Church. Mike is President of JK Creative Printers & Mailing in Quincy, IL. He is married to Pam and has three children, Tom, Tyler and Jennifer. Mike has three grandchildren: Ryne, Ivy and Alicia.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Last week as Pam and I were heading to the cemetery during a friends funeral, somehow we got to talking about cemeteries and funerals and if it was a good idea to have all the arrangements made ahead of time or just deal with the situation when the time came. It is not something we talk about a lot to each other but for some reason it seemed to fit the moment. A lot of people don’t like to talk about death and some can’t even discuss the idea because it is too scary to contemplate and it makes them very uncomfortable.

I remember a few years ago I went to another friend’s funeral, a customer I had worked with for several years. The funeral was in Mt. Sterling and my father in-law asked if he could ride along since that area was where he lived and grew up as a boy and young man. After paying respects to the family Jack asked if I would take him to see his mother’s grave site in a little town next to Mt. Sterling, Hershman. While we were standing at her grave site, Jack said that he was ready to die. He was glad he was able to live a long and fulfilled life and it was getting time for the end; he was tired and ready to go.

I have to admit that I was surprised by his comment but I respected his thoughts and feelings. Jack has his funeral arrangements made so when the time comes, things will be easier for everyone. Jack is not a fancy guy but according to his taste and wishes, by his standards, he is getting the full deal. He wants his funeral to be proper and he looks forward to seeing Jesus when he comes back. What the “full deal” means I am not quite sure but I am sure that when that times comes in his life, it will be a day for him to enjoy.

Now for some people, that kind of thinking seems a little creepy. But for a person who has lived a full life, that is an important end for them to have. Death to a Christian is something to celebrate. We shouldn’t fear it because it isn’t an end, but a beginning. Paul emphasized that point when he wrote about the return of Jesus for the Church in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.

I don’t know about you, but death is something I don’t really worry about. I don’t find myself thinking about it a lot. Maybe it could be because I am healthy today. All that can change at any moment and when the time comes when death is looking me straight in the eye; I pray I have the same attitude and confidence in Jesus. But scripture tells us that we have every reason to be confident because of what Jesus did for us on the Cross and how he cleared the way for us to be with Him in heaven when we die. We should look forward to the “full deal” if that is his will for us.

For Elijah, God’s plan was a whole lot different. His was a no-death contract.

Elijah had an action packed life. Because he was a humble man willing to do what God asked, through the power of God, Elijah did some amazing things. God trained him to be ready for ministry, he stood against kings and was used by God to prove God’s almighty power. God even gave him a close friend to lean on in Elisha. Elijah was the man of the hour, a super hero beyond belief yet humble in heart. Elijah seemed to have reached the pinnacle of life’s experiences. But God was not done yet with Elijah; Elijah would also dodge death, slipping by the grim reaper.

It is hard to comprehend this last lesson because none of us have even experienced death yet personally. Many of us have been visited by death as loved have departed; but we personally have not experienced it yet so it is hard to comprehend what it would be like not to die a physical death. But how would daily life be if you knew ahead of time you wouldn’t die a physical death?

Missing death puts Elijah in a very rare class of people who experienced deathless departures. Only two in recorded history of time have exited earth without passing through the jaws of death. Enoch and Elijah; the last to experience this kind of departure will be those believers who are alive on the earth when Jesus returns. Those who are alive when Jesus returns will bypass death. Paul writes about this assurance when he sends his first letter to the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 15:51-54 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

What is remarkable about Elijah’s story is that he knew he was going to be taken up to heaven without dying. Because of this, Elijah leaves for us a fitting example of how we should live in anticipation of Christ’s return.

2 Kings 2:1 When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.

The Hebrew for whirlwind is translated, “in a gust, in a windy moment.” The event happened in an instant. Not only did God tell Elijah that the event would happen and how, but God also told him where it would take place. This explains why we see Elijah moving quickly to the Jordon. Imagine what this must have been like if you were an eyewitness to the event.

2 Kings 2:2-6 Elijah 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.” So they went down to Bethel. The 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.” Then 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. The 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.” 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.

Even though we don’t have direct scripture that says God told Elijah that he would be taken that day, Elisha and the sons of the prophets knew and we can assume that Elijah knew as well. But if he knew that God would take him at the Jordon, why then go around to other places on the way? Why not go directly to the Jordon?

Historians tell us that the schools of the prophets were located at Gilgal, Bethel and Jericho. It is believed that these were established by Samuel and acted as “seminaries” so to speak. Most think this was Elijah’s last time to visit the young prophets-in-training and to leave with them some words of encouragement.

But was there a deeper reason? Why did Elisha tell the young prophets to be quiet? Each time they asked Elisha if he knew the news, he said, “Yes” and asked them to be quiet. What was the reason for this? If you knew when you were going to leave this earth and as you made your way to the place God directed you to, what might be going through your mind?

I think Elisha was protecting Elijah as he was lost in a unique time of reflection and needed peace and quiet. How many of you have heard it or even experienced it that when a person is close to dying, his whole life passes before his eyes? Those who experience that never forget what that was like and many use that experience to go through some unique reflection on life. For those who survive a near death experience, the result can often be life changing. The younger prophet Elisha realized what was going on with his friend and gave him the room he needed to think and reflect.

The places where Elijah went and passed through were more than just places where there were “seminaries”, these cities also were significant in the life of the nation of Israel.

Gilgal: It was the place of beginning. Israel crossed the Jordon River and entered the Promised Land at Gilgal.

Joshua 4:19 On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho.

For Elijah, Gilgal was the place of beginning for Elijah’s final journey

Bethel: This place had tremendous significance to Israel. It was a place of prayer. Bethel means, “house of God”. This is where Abraham built an altar and where he often met God in prayer.

Genesis 12:8 From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.

How many times had Elijah been tested and at his personal altar laid his sacrifice down to God? That is what made Elijah so great he gave himself over to God and let God have control. From Elijah’s example, what steps o we need to take to turn things over to Jesus and lay ourselves down for his exclusive use?

Jericho: Jericho was a place of battle. One of the greatest victories early in Israel’s history was the battle of Jericho. This was a classic battle where God did everything. He asked the nation to follow him even when the method of war was opposite traditional methods of warfare. It took faith to accomplish the impossible, the greatest acts. Elijah was no different. He faced many battles and everyone required unquestionable faith in God. The result was God using his almighty power through Elijah to defeat the enemies of God.

Jordon: This was the place of death. Not necessarily a physical death, but a death of the self life. It was at the Jordon that Elijah remembered all the years where God was in control, not him. Elijah died to his own wishes, his own plans and surrendered the strength of his own flesh. He had learned to submit, to wait, to obey.

All 4 of these places represented the place of beginning, the place of prayer, the place of battles and the place of death. We too have such places in our lives.

Where was your place of beginning, your Gilgal, your home base in your Christian experience? This is the place when you were born anew. Then there is your place of prayer; where did you learn to sacrifice, to surrender the things dear to you and precious to you? It is during these tough moments that we go to God and give him everything; all the things we no longer can handle.

Some of us have endured tough battles. Where are the places where you have to do war against the one who tries to destroy your life with God. It could be at work, in a place where temptation attacks it’s hardest, a place where your flesh is the weakest. We all have these battle grounds to deal with.

We face the Jordon. For some of us, this reality is close at hand. Some are aware already while others are unaware and it is closer than we think. But there is another Jordon where is the Jordon for you when you realized you died to self?

Matthew 10:38 Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

What must be going on in Elisha’s heart as his old friend prepares for what is coming? 4 times Elijah told his friend that he really didn’t want to go where he was going and 4 times Elisha refused to leave his friend. What does the friendship of Elisha say to us today in our friendships?

2 Kings 2:7-10 Fifty 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. Elijah 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. When 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. “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.”

What does the request Elisha makes of Elijah tell us about Elisha? What lesson can we learn fro m this? Don’t be afraid to ask God for the big things in life. Too often Christians think way too small. What do you make of the reaction Elijah had from Elisha’s request? Here is a man who asked God for many great things and yet is taken back by Elisha’s request.

2 Kings 2:11 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.

As two friends were walking along talking together, in an instant, Elijah was gone. The following verses tell us Elisha was stunned and amazed with awe at the event. Elijah was gone, just that fast he no longer was there but we have to remember that when a man or woman of God dies, nothing of God dies with them. We tend to forget this. We get so caught up in the lives of certain individuals that we begin to think we can’t do without them. That is limited thinking. God always has an Elisha waiting in the wings to pick up where Elijah left off.

Exit Elijah, enter Elisha.