“And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year.
And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.”
This life is nothing but a continual death!
Such is the confession which the church always declares in the prayer that she utters before the seed of believers receives the sign and seal of Holy Baptism!
Mind you, this we say in spite of the fact that we continue to celebrate the glorious resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ!
What makes it so difficult for us to discover the victory and life in these glorious events is the fact that we see so little of them!
Always we are reminded of the Word of the Psalmist, “Our days are as an hand breadth, and our life is as nothing before God.” Or again, “The days of our life are seventy years, and if we are strong eighty years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” What Moses said some fourteen hundred years before Easter is still true two thousand years after.
When we think of this, the thought becomes oppressive!
For it means that since that first Easter little change has taken place in the world. It also means that nothing of the life-giving power of Christ’s resurrection has shown up in our flesh. Since the day that Christ arose from the dead, not one grave has opened!
Strange, is it not?
Would we not expect that after such a powerful and glorious resurrection all the graves would be opened?
But when you confer with the Bible you find that, with two or three exceptions, the miracle took place before Christ’s resurrection.
Quite naturally, then, we ask: What remains of our confession which we are taught to repeat with the Heidelberg Catechism: “The resurrection of Christ is a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.”
Our text has something to teach us on this matter!
First of all, it shows me what I see every day with my natural eyes: that not one grave is opened!
Secondly, it shows me what I must nevertheless believe: that presently all graves shall be opened!
Finally, it teaches me, that this faith rests not on what I can see with my natural eyes, but on the abiding Word of God!
And Elisha died, and they buried him!
Most natural, indeed!
The way of all flesh!
The man of God had been sick, of his sickness whereof he died. Eighty years he had lived, the age of the strong. A ministry of some fifty years had come to its close.
At last, the vigor of youth, and the stability of middle age had waned. The troubles of old age crept in upon him. He took sick, and retired to his bed. Undoubtedly, like others before and after him, he tried to get up; but could not. One day he was better, and the next he was worse.
Undoubtedly, too, all the means of communication were kept busy relaying throughout the land of Israel the news of the condition of this man of God. He was well-known throughout the land. Even the king of Israel came to visit him in his sickness, and to express his, sympathy and sorrow. He had recognized in Elisha a great statesman and a deliverer of Israel. While he stood by his bedside, he gave vent to his doubt for Israel’s future when he cried out in despair: “O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof?” Words these were which Elisha himself had uttered on another occasion, but with different significance. He means to say: What shall happen to Israel and their armies when you are gone?
But alas! No physician could keep him alive. The old man gave up the ghost. He died, and was buried!
Indeed, Elisha went the way of all flesh!
Though in life he may have greatly distinguished himself, his end was that of every one of us.
He lived! He worked! He accomplished his vocation! He became old! He took sick and died! He was buried!
It was all so very natural!
It was so very common!
Yet most peculiar!
Peculiar it was, because it was so common!
We should have suggested at least a departure like that of Elijah. Not to die, but to be suddenly translated with a fiery chariot to heaven! With Elijah all was so particular! So unnatural!
And Elisha was so closely related to Elijah. Their relationship was not like that of an Isaiah and a Jeremiah, who lived and prophesied independently of each other. No! Elijah and Elisha belonged together. And Elijah was so particular, so special! Also his departure!
Yet Elisha’s departure was so common!
Could it be that after all Elijah was so much greater than his successor? O, indeed, he was great! Think of him with his hoary head as he stood on the top of Carmel challenging the hosts of Israel with their king, with the priests and the worshippers of Baal! Is it not he who appears on the Mount of Transfiguration with Moses and the Lord Jesus? And did not Malachi prophesy of him that before Christ would appear in the flesh, Elijah must first come? Indeed, it appears that Elijah far exceeds his successor in importance and grandeur!
Yet, so to think, is to make a mistake that is two-fold!
First, you forget the relation of the two. And secondly, you place too much value on the form of departure, putting a stamp on their worth.
Elijah and Elisha in their relation were like John the Baptist and the Christ, whose way the former came to prepare. Elijah, like John, was a prophet of wrath, and .a preparers of the way for the one to follow Elisha, on the other hand, like the Christ, was a prophet of grace, a revealer of life. He is not honored in his departure for his person. He is permitted in his death to speak of the reign of grace anew!
The miracle in his grave!
The occasion was the invasion of the Moabites who interrupted the funeral of a man. It is not important to know who the man was. He was undoubtedly an Israelite. As they were burying the man, the raid of the Moabites took place. And those, whose responsibility it was to inter the remains of the man, espied the enemy approaching. And in fear they had to leave off their work. Thus in haste they cast the body into the sepulchre of Elisha, the man of God.
And behold! when the body of the dead man was let down into the grave and it touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood up on his feet.
A miracle of resurrection!
Not because there was a certain power in the bones of Elisha. Elisha was dead, and had no power. The work of Elisha was finished when he died and was buried. Nor could there be any hidden magic or power in a pile of dead bones.
But the word of Elisha, nay, the Word of God which had been given to Elisha to speak while he lived, continued to be the powerful Word of life after his death. Therefore Elisha had to die and be buried. Therefore Elisha could not, like his predecessor, ride in chariots of fire into heaven. For that reason this man of God must die and be buried in the very midst of the land of Israel. That the Word of the resurrection which he was privileged to speak while he was alive in the body might continue to speak through his dead body to a people threatened with death and extinction under the judgments of God!
The testimony of the miracle!
Glorious, powerful Word of the resurrection!
Hear, O Israel! So Elisha bad spoken while he had lived!
The Lord, your God, hath spoken unto you through his servant Elijah that He is Jehovah your God. He cannot away with your sins. He must needs display His wrath. He must send upon you destruction, death, and the grave. But I also am His servant, whom Jehovah, your covenant-keeping God, hath sent unto you to declare that He will deliver you out of the claws of death and the grave! Such had been the testimony of the Word of God through Elisha while he lived!
But could that Word die with God’s servant?
Nay! The Word of God abides forever!
And the power of that Word I will demonstrate before your fearful eyes at the grave of My servant. Such is the testimony of the Word of God at the grave of Elisha!
Wonderful Word of life!
Much richer now than when Elisha spoke it! Yea, even richer than it resounded from the grave of this servant of God!
Richer, because now the very Prince of life has died and was buried; but Who broke the power of death and the grave! Triumphantly He spoke before His death, “I am the resurrection and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me? Much more triumphantly He spoke that Word through His own resurrection!
And so that Word of resurrection, that powerful Word of life still speaks!
Let the unbelieving king of Israel, and all the hosts of the ungodly weep and howl when their great ones die and are buried! They mourn as those who have no hope. Let them continue to cry in despair, “O my father, my father, the chariots of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!”
But let the children of hope hear the Word of the Lord!
The Word of resurrection and life!
That Word which cannot be stilled by the power of death!
Let these children not fear those Moabites, those angels of death!
But lay hold on the Word of life which has been spoken unto you by My servants, the prophets, and by My Chief Servant, unto Whom I have given power not only to speak, but to raise the dead!
That Word you must hear, not only at the grave of Elisha, but at every other grave of the children of God!
That Word will give you power to cry out triumphantly with the apostle: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That Word abides unto life everlasting!
Amen, and Amen!