Thursday, February 5, 2015

Passing the Torch


James May shares this -- the flame in the Marathon Tower in each Olympic stadium is the most recognized symbol of the Olympics, dating back to the Games of ancient Greece.  Athletes competed in a relay race, passing a torch from one to another until the last runner, in a long procession of runners, would sprint to the top of the stadium and light the flame to signal the beginning of the competition among the greatest athletes in the world for the Gold Medal. For many years the flame was extinguished due to neglect, world turmoil and other events but it was officially reignited in 1928. The idea of the marathon relay, where runners would once again carry the torch, was revived in 1936 for the Berlin Games. The relay began at the location of ancient Olympia and ended in Berlin, Germany after passing through seven countries and covering a total of 3,050 km. The journey of the torch took 12 days and 13 nights, and 3,331 torchbearers each took a turn at carrying it along the way. From then on, the Olympic Torch Relay has remained an important part of the Olympic tradition and the torchbearer is the person who is honored by carrying the Olympic Flame. The flame carries a message as it passes through each town, city and village. It announces that the games are about to begin; it embodies and spreads the ideals of the Olympics and speaks of the union and peace amongst the people, the allegiance, the courage, the fraternity and solidarity of all of the competitors. As with the Olympics above, what is taking place in this portion of 1 Kings 19 is a passing of the torch of sorts, but there are other lessons intertwined in the text…and so, we explore.

When we last left Elijah, he was discouraged and depressed.  But, the Lord has a message of hope for his frustrated servant.  When Elijah was having his self-pity party back in the cave, the Lord could just as well have said – fine, just stay there, and I will move on, find someone else to do my work.  But, the Lord does not do this, as he did not deal with Elijah according to his poor attitude, but on the basis of His grace and mercy.  And considering this is how the Lord deals with us when we are struggling, we can all be thankful. In 1 Kings 19:15-21, the Lord tells Elijah to return to his place…to return to serve, to handle the tasks he has to perform.  No matter how much or how often His servants fail Him, God is never at a loss as to know what to do.  His servants’ responsibility is to obey. 

Once back on the horse, Elijah’s first responsibility is to anoint Hazael to be king of Syria.  This is interesting in that this is a gentile nation…and yet, the Lord chooses the leader there.  Once again, God can use whoever it is that He so chooses.  And in this case, He chooses Hazael.  Then Elijah is to anoint Jehu to be king of Israel.  Even though the nation is divided, Israel is still under the divine covenant and is responsible to the Lord.  Elijah’s third task is to anoint Elisha to be his own successor.  Elijah has complained because the past generation failed, and the present generation has not done any better (v.4). Now, God calls him to help equip the future generation by anointing two kings and a prophet.  This is sort of the Old Testament version of 2 Timothy 2:2, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  True to what it often the case with God’s leaders, the people he chooses are not especially significant…Hazael is a servant to the king, Jehu is the captain of the army, and Elisha is a farmer. Once again, as Paul shares, even the “foolishness of God” is greater than “the wisdom of men,” as by the time Elisha and Jehu finish their work, Baal worship is just about wiped out in Israel (2 Kings 10:18-31). 

No one generation can do everything, but each generation must see to it that people in the next generation are called and trained…and that the tools to do so are made available for them to continue working for the Lord.  God is calling Elijah to stop weeping over the past (because it cannot be changed), to stop running from the present (as it accomplishes nothing of value), and start looking ahead to what God is going to do.  It is always a good lesson for us to remember that when God is in charge, there is always hope!  God is giving Elijah assurance that all of his work has not been in vain, and that his ministry has not been a failure, for there are still 7000 people in the land who are faithful to God.  This is a big deal.  There is a place for big lectureships and mass gatherings, but we must remember the importance of one on one time spent with those around us.  Jesus spoke to large crowds, but He always had time for individuals and their needs, not to mention His own teaching, training He did with twelve individuals.  When Elijah finds Elisha plowing in his field, he doesn’t say a word to the young man, but simply casts his outer garment over him to indicate that the Lord has called Him to serve the prophet and ultimately be his successor.  Elisha makes certain preparations and then he goes to the task.

Bev Sesink shares this -- Parents, if you get angry with your kids for something they do wrong…and you lose it…do you wait for your children to apologize or do you set the example and go to them? Teenagers, do you find it beneath your dignity to humble yourself to obey your parents’ reasonable expectations? I remember one time saying to my mother when I was 18, “this is beneath my dignity.” If she could have, she would have rolled her eyes and laughed but she was dumfounded that I would have displayed such a proud and haughty response. Demonstrating my lack of humility. Do we display this kind of attitude toward God when He speak to us?

I think that we live in a time where a lot of folks believe that the things that God asks them to do are “beneath their dignity.”  I believe that we probably all have felt that way a time or two.  But, there are no nearby caves in order to hole ourselves off from the world.  Like Elijah, we have a responsibility to fulfill the ministry of the Lord, whatever that might be.  We can see that exercising an attitude of contempt, pride was among the mistakes that Elijah made in his life, but God overlooked and overruled it.  Elijah was walking by sight and not by faith, and this was not acceptable to the Lord.  He doesn’t like it any more when we do it, either.  But, Elijah had a sensitive heart for the Lord and sought to do what God would have him to do.  It is probably no secret as to why Elijah was the representative of the prophets in the scene on the Mount of Transfiguration.  He was not and is not recognized as a great person because he was extraordinary in any great way, and in fact we have seen that he was quite flawed. But Elijah does have an extraordinary belief and trust in a great God…and because of this, God is able to use him.

God has handed to each of us a torch to bear for him. That torch is the light of the Gospel, the knowledge of God and His ways, and the Word of God.  It is put into our hands and our hearts by the Holy Spirit and the fire is ignited so that we may burn as lights in a sin-darkened world.  And as we learn from this story, perhaps the greatest work that we can do is teach and train those of the younger generation to be faithful to God’s calling, whether this be our children, or other “young ones in the faith” that the Lord brings our way.  As with Elijah, we are not perfect…all of us have flaws…but, God uses flawed people to accomplish His purposes.  We do indeed have a tremendous responsibility to teach, mentor, so let’s seek to take this seriously, as the Lord leads us.  Let your light shine in such a way that all men can see Jesus in us, and then, run with it and to pass it on to the next generation so that we will not forget God, but carry on the faith and work of the Lord!

Blessings, Don

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