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Fifth Sunday of Epiphany
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Mike Moffitt, February 7, 2021

The Proof Is in the Power

Text: 2 Kings 4: 8–22, 32–37

Not long before Teresa and I came to Light of Christ I learned a new lesson about the power of Jesus’ name. One of the members of our church in Roanoke owned a farm with a house, barn and horse pasture. He rented this to a couple with two children, a boy and a girl. Over a period of months, some strange unexplained occurrences happened at the home that scared the family and had really changed the personality of their son who was around 10 years old.

Both of the children had complained about the man in their bedroom who often spoke with them and then disappeared. Things began to come up missing around the house and would later be found somewhere else. There were unexplained noises that startled them, but they never could find the source. The son began to act out violently at home and at school. He attacked his teacher which brought about his being expelled from school and being assigned to a mental health counselor. The children also commented about strange things going on in the barn that frightened them.

The wife’s brother was visiting one weekend and they were telling him about the weird things that were happening. He laughed at them and went out to the barn making fun of the whole thing and calling out to whatever was there to show itself. Suddenly something cut the palm of his hand so deeply that he needed stitches. It wasn’t so funny after all.

They called their landlord and he called the church asking if they could come and meet with our Senior Pastor and me after church. We agreed and the couple showed up with their son and told the story to us. The boy was very respectful, and they had put a cross around his neck as a talisman hoping to ward off evil. We agreed to follow them to their home and pray throughout the house, barn and property. On the way, Tom asked me what we should do. Neither of us had ever done anything like this. We had both performed house blessings before but never gone someplace to deal with an evil spirit if that was indeed the problem.

Upon arriving we went into the house praying out loud in Jesus’ name and anointed every door and window with oil. We went to the barn and all around the property praying in Jesus' name. We then prayed over the family anointing them with oil in Jesus’ name and asking a covering of protection over them.

I had no idea what to expect and nothing out of the ordinary happened while we were there, but the occurrences of weirdness stopped as did the violent episodes with the son. We checked back with the parishioner who owned the property over a period of many months and there were no more complaints. He and his family had lived in the house for years before moving and he admitted there were strange happenings when they lived there too. I confess that as we were driving to the home I was wondering if I was in over my head. Was there a demonic presence there? If so, what had invited it in? I decided that whatever we encountered was no match for the power of the name of Jesus Christ and the authority he had given me in his name.

Something changed in me that day. I decided that wherever I went or whatever I was called to do I needed to remember who I belonged to and the power of his name. I am not able to do the impossible or make unfounded promises about what is going to happen in the future, but I can speak the words that God gives me and have total confidence in his power and authority.

Today, our focus will be on the Old Testament reading from 2 Kings 4:8–37. In our bulletin I left out verses 22–31 but we will read those in a moment because it is an important part of the story. First, let me set the context in order to more fully understand the importance of our passage. 

Chapter 4 begins with the story of a widow of one of the sons of the prophets who came to Elisha for help. Her husband had died and left her in considerable debt. The creditors were coming to take her children as slaves in lieu of the debt. All that she had was a small jar of oil, so Elisha has her borrow as many large vessels as possible from her neighbors and tells her to pour from her small jar into those vessels until everyone is full. Then she is to go and sell the oil to pay her debt and then she’ll have enough to live on. The small jar does not run out until every vessel is full. The story doesn’t mention her questioning the words of Elisha, only her compliance with his instructions. This is an important story as a prelude to our story this morning.

Our story begins with Elisha going to Shunem a town in Northern Canaan. A wealthy woman there recognizes that he is a man of God and invites him to come into her house and join her family in a meal. She not only does this once but has him eat at her house whenever the prophet comes through their town. She asked her husband to add a small furnished room on the roof of the house for the prophet to stay in while in their town.

What was it about Elisha that made her recognize him as a man of God? He was most likely quite different from the prophets of Baal, or others who pretended to a life of piety but were often degenerate. This was a time when a righteous man was not often found, and I suspect that the spirit of Elijah—that had come upon Elisha when the chariots of fire had taken Elijah away—was manifested in the demeanor of the prophet. It could be that word had gotten around how Elisha had assisted the widow, and people would assume that a prophet with power and connections to God like that could have been very wealthy if he could perform those kinds of things, but clearly, he lived modestly. Because of this the wealthy woman wanted to be a blessing to this godly man of humility.

Elisha decides to try and understand the motivation of the woman and asks her what she would like him to do for her. Is she receiving him in honor as a prophet or is she seeking to benefit from the fact that he is a prophet? Again, perhaps she has heard how Elisha was a blessing to the widow. So, he offers to speak to the king on her behalf or to the commander of the army if she needed protection.

Elisha, although not extremely popular with King Jehoram, the son of Ahab, the king of Israel, had helped the king defeat the enemies of Israel and therefore would have the right to ask for the king’s favor. The kings were often wary of the prophets because you never knew what they were going to say next. Elisha could have arranged for the Shunammite woman and her family to come up in the world socially and to possibly eat at the king's table or benefit from the power and authority of the king.

She responds with humility that she is content with what she has and prefers to live among her own people and requires nothing additional, even though she lacked the one thing that would bring her the greatest happiness: a son. Elisha’s servant informs him that she is barren and has no son. This is not only a matter of shame in that culture but would also mean that if her husband were to die, she would have no son to care for her and could end up in poverty like the widow in the first part of chapter 4.

Elisha hears from God and goes to the woman and tells her that she will have a son by that same time next year and her response shows the sensitivity and shame of being barren. She asks Elisha not to raise her hopes of something that could never happen, but she conceives and the next year she does indeed give birth to a son.

When the child grew to the age where he was able to accompany his father in the fields, perhaps to play or help, he cries out, “My head, my head.” The father may have assumed that his son was likely suffering from the intense heat of that area, so he carries him into the house and gives him to his mother, and then returns to the field thinking that the child will be fine. Instead, he dies while being cradled on his mother’s lap. She carries him up to the room of the man of God and places her child on the bed of Elisha and closes the door. It’s what happens next that for me is the most amazing part of the story. Let me read to you 2 Kings 4:22–31,

Then she called to her husband and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.” And he said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor Sabbath.” She said, “All is well.” Then she saddled the donkey, and she said to her servant, “Urge the animal on; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” So, she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.

When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant,

Look, there is the Shunammite. Run at once to meet her and say to her, ‘Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?’” And she answered, “All is well.” And when she came to the mountain to the man of God, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came to push her away. But the man of God said, “Leave her alone, for she is in bitter distress, and the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.”  Then she said, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?’”  He said to Gehazi, “Tie up your garment and take my staff in your hand and go. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not reply. And lay my staff on the face of the child.” Then the mother of the child said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So, he arose and followed her. Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. Therefore, he returned to meet him and told him, “The child has not awakened.”

The Shunammite woman did not let on to her husband or the servant that the child had died but instead asked for a donkey and the servant to go with her to see the man of God. The husband was confused because it’s wasn’t time for Sabbath worship or the new moon festival, but she assured him “all is well” and headed for Mount Carmel. When Elisha saw her coming and sends his servant Gehazi to find out if something is wrong. Like her husband, Elisha could see no reason for her to be coming to him. She assured Gehazi that “All is well” and that she needed to speak with Elisha personally.

It’s when she approached Elisha and fell down and wrapped her arms around his feet that the truth could come out. In the ancient Middle Eastern culture when someone wrapped their arms around the feet or knees of someone it was a sign of intense distress and was saying, “You’re not going anywhere until you help me.”

I believe that she was unwilling to tell her husband, their servant, or Gehazi the truth because she knew that they would delay her and actually could only grieve with her but could never provide the comfort that she was seeking. Like her, they were powerless to solve the problem that confronted her. It was Elisha the prophet who had promised her a son from God and she felt that it was only the prophet who could make this right, no one else.

She would only confront the one who made the promise because she knew that he alone would be able to make it right again. The prophet of God could make intercession to his God on her behalf and she was not going to settle for anything less. She had not asked for the son but had received him with unsurpassed joy. Her shame had been removed and her future was more assured because she was given the gift of this son. She had been content to live in quiet humility, accepting her barrenness, never thinking that anything could be done about it. This prophet had promised her this great blessing that now lay dead on the bed of the prophet back at her home and this was not something that she could accept.

I absolutely love this story as an example of great faith. In the midst of the shock of the sudden and unexpected death of her precious child she declares that “All is well” and then goes about moving in faith towards the only apparent solution to the tragedy.

As I again considered this story, I realized that God wasn’t simply dealing with the life and faith of the Shunammite woman, but he was teaching and dealing with the faith of Elisha his prophet as well. Remember that Elisha told his servant to not stop the woman from holding on to his feet but said, “the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.” Elisha is being tested, too, and I can only imagine the concern that welled up within his own mind. Elisha seemed mystified that this woman (whom he presumably often prayed for) was in a crisis that was hidden from him. Those who have an intimate relationship with God are not inclined to panic but will be curious as to what he is doing when he grows silent, because experience has taught them that he is up to something.

I love the fact that Elisha had the humility to admit that he had no idea what was going on because God had not shown him yet. Even though the woman does not tell him directly that the child is dead, Elisha could tell from her distress that the situation is dire and demanded that he act quickly. So, he sent his servant to take his staff and lay it on the face of the child. The Shunammite woman let him know that she wasn’t going to leave him until the situation was resolved, so he decided to go to the woman’s home and deal with this directly.

Elisha usually didn’t go to deal with situations himself but gave instructions as to what needed to be done. In the story of the widow in the beginning of chapter 4, Elisha told her to go and gather vessels and by faith pour the oil from her small pitcher, thereby teaching her to trust the word of God through the prophet. The Shunammite woman was putting her faith in the word of the prophet instead of the God who was the only giver of life, but in her defense, it had been the prophet that foretold the miraculous birth of her son. Sometimes the man/woman of God is the face of God and his prophetic voice until people come to know him personally.

Elisha went into the room and closed the door and follows the same pattern as Elijah, his mentor used when he raised the son of the widow of Zarephath in 1 Kings 17:20–23. He cries out to the Lord and stretches himself out full length upon the body of the child, twice and life is restored. The child is given back to his mother who bows at Elisha’s feet in thanks and honor, then departs.

It is worth noting that Elijah and Elisha were both types and symbols in their prophetic office of what Jesus would be as the Great Prophet like Moses. You will notice that when the prophets raised the dead they cried out to God, but Jesus, as God, commanded the dead to be raised.

I love the stories of Elijah and Elisha in the Books of 1 and 2 Kings, which were originally one book. Prophets played a very major role in the history of Israel. The historian wonderfully captured the message and ministry of the prophets as those who proclaimed God’s word and revealed his power and authority in demonstrable ways. They always passionately and uncompromisingly insisted on total and undivided allegiance to the Lord, and strongly opposed any alliance or political posture that would put in jeopardy the distinctive relationship that Israel had with God.

This insistence on covenant faithfulness often put the prophets in opposition to the kings and queens who were willing to compromise politically, morally and religiously with Israel’s neighbors. The prophets spoke and showed what could happen when God’s people were faithful to the word and law of God, like in our story this morning. However, they also clearly revealed and showed what would happen when they were not faithful. The prophets spoke the commands and promises of God while demonstrating God’s power and authority through physical manifestations but time and again the hearts of the people grew hard and they turned aside to other gods and to the cravings of their flesh.

In our Epistle reading this morning the Apostle Paul, a mighty prophet, models the heart of the prophet in 1 Corinthians 9:16, 

For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

The Apostle was following after the example of the prophets who could not help but speak the word of God that burned in their hearts. In Jeremiah 20:9 the prophet cries out in complaint after once again he had been beaten because he spoke God’s word, 

If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.

The Apostle Paul, like Jeremiah, could not keep the word of God within himself no matter the cost. In verses 22–23 he shows that nothing is more important to him than the proclamation of the Gospel,

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

He had found that the reward of faithful obedience to the gospel far outweighed the costs.

Today, we are confronted with what is now quickly becoming a pagan culture that is demanding that Christians compromise our beliefs and give allegiance to the laws that demand that we not only agree with the right to abort the unborn child but allow our tax dollars to pay for it. They promote lies that insist that women are far better off physically and emotionally when they abort their children. The evidence is that they often end up devastated by what they have done and find it difficult to believe that God will forgive them.

It appears that this administration is demanding that all types of sexual perversion be condoned and anyone speaking against that can be charged with “hate speech.” There is the implied threat that those who disagree with the lies and abominations that are being forced on the American people will pay a heavy price, just like it is in socialist regimes around the world. The Constitution is being trampled upon but of greater importance is that God’s word has been relegated to the “irrelevant file.” However, God has never been more relevant than he is today and those who would disregard his Holy word will pay an exceedingly heavy price.

So, what should our response be? Well, as I said earlier, “I decided that whatever we encountered was no match for the power of the name of Jesus Christ and the authority he had given me in his name.”

Like most of you, I’ve read the book and Jesus won, not just a skirmish but the war. He’s coming again but, in the meantime, he still moves in power through those who bow down to him as Lord and King. He is not threatened by puppet dictators who think they have final authority. As a matter of fact, Psalm 2 says God laughs at the kings of the earth who gather against him and his anointed.

In our Gospel reading from the Book of Mark we saw that Jesus wasted in establishing his authority over sickness and demonic oppression and possession. Mark 1:32–34,

That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34And he healed many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

They’ll know us too if we remember that we have the authority of Jesus’ name and are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. I think this teaches us how we should be praying. Political ideals and agendas won’t defeat the true enemy, only the name above all names can do that. Ask God’s Spirit to remind you whose you are and the power and authority that has been given to all who have bowed their knee to Jesus.

Let’s pray.

©2021 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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