[INTRO] “Imagine, if you will, a gift. It’s not big. You could wrap it in a golf ball-size box. This gift can do incredible things for you however. It will bring all of your family together. You will feel loved and appreciated like never before and reconnect with friends and acquaintances you haven’t heard from in years. Adoration and admiration will overwhelm you. And this gift will recalibrate what’s most important in your life. Does Amazon carry this item? Does it have the Apple logo on it? Is there a waiting list for this thing? No, not for hemangioblastoma. Heman-gio-blas-toma. That’s a brain tumor, the gift that I received.”
If you’re a fan of TED talks on the internet, you may have seen that speech (slightly adapted) by Stacey Kramer. She wanted her audience to understand how she came to see as a gift the brain tumor she survived. I don’t know if Kramer is a Christian, but she certainly described her brain tumor experience in a way a mature Christian might. You guys, it takes ridiculous faith to see a brain tumor as a gift from God. Whenever something unexpected, unwanted, and uncertain comes into our lives, we Christians can still consider it a gift. I want to explain why as we continue our sermon series on Elisha – that bald ‘n’ bold prophet who, in today’s sermon, serves a widow who had to deal with something unexpected, unwanted, and uncertain and yet would come to see it as a gift.
The last time we left Elisha, he had been giving counsel to kings. Elisha was a man who moved in distinguished circles yet he wasn’t stuck up. In today’s sermon text the widow of a prophet felt comfortable approaching Elisha with a serious problem. Her husband had not only died, he had left her in debt and now the creditor was coming to take her two sons as slaves for payment of the debt. When she approached Elisha for help, he asked what she had in the house. “Nothing,” she replied, “well, except for a small jar of oil.”
Is that really all her husband had left her – a small jar of oil? Not at all! That now-deceased prophet had left something worth more than a million dollars. He had left his family with a working faith in God’s promises. So while this widow was certainly concerned, even panicked about her situation, she knew where to turn for help: to the Lord [END OF INTRODUCTION].
The titles of these books are certainly descriptive of their contents: the history of the kings and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. First and Second Kings are part of a larger body of the Old Testament known as the 12 Historical Books (Joshua–Esther). It’s important for you to know because you have to read history like history and interpret history like history when it comes to scripture.
Circumstances of Writing
Background: The history recorded in 1 and 2 Kings covers approximately 410 years. First Kings begins around 970 b.c. with the death of King David, and 2 Kings ends around 560 b.c. During this time, the nation of Israel split into two kingdoms (930 b.c.), and both kingdoms went into exile (Israel in 722 b.c. and Judah in 587 b.c.).
Message and Purpose
During this time Elisha was the servant and successor to Elijah, one of the most famous prophets in the Bible. We see in 2 Kings 2:1-8 that Elijah, who was Elisha’s mentor, was taken up to heaven on a fiery chariot with horses made out of fire. Elisha asked Elijah for a double share of his spirit so that he could become Elijah’s successor. So when Elijah was being taken up to heaven, he threw his cloak off and Elisha caught it, signifying that he was now Elijah’s successor, and he received that double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Later on in his ministry, Elisha prophesied that a barren woman from a place named Shunem would have a son. This was a wealthy woman who had a high standing in the community. Whenever Elisha would come to Shunem, she would always give him room and board. But then the woman actually made a room for Elisha on the roof of her house, in ancient Israel, the Israelites would go out on the roof at night because the roofs were open and cooler. So because of this, Elisha wanted to bless her. She had this son, and the child grew. But one day the child was mysteriously found to be ill, and this is where our story begins…..
2 Kings 4:18-21 New Living Translation (NLT)
18 One day when her child was older, he went out to help his father, who was working with the harvesters. 19 Suddenly he cried out, “My head hurts! My head hurts!” His father said to one of the servants, “Carry him home to his mother.”20 So the servant took him home, and his mother held him on her lap. But around noontime he died. 21 She carried him up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and left him there.
The very first thing we observe is the respect that the Shunammite woman had for Elisha. She barely knew Elisha, and he was a stranger to her, but because of WHO he belonged to, and because of WHO Elisha represented, she honored the man of God. This is very significant because the woman was a Shunammite.
Who were the Shunammites? These are dwellers in the city of Shunem. Nowadays, biblical archaeologists believe ancient Shunem is located at the modern city of Tel Rehov in Israel, in the Jordan Valley. This woman wasn’t even a Jew, yet she respected and honored the God of Israel far more than many of the Jews did! She respected the person God sent, what he had to say, and the way he went about it.
The Shunammite woman honored God’s message, messenger, and methods
First and foremost, we are talking about Elijah and Elisha, and the fact that they were prophets, but what is a prophet, exactly? The word prophet comes from the Hebrew נָבִיא (nä·vē’). It means spokesperson, or messenger. So the blue people from the movie Avatar? They are called Navi, right? It means prophet in Hebrew. A prophet was the messenger to the people on behalf of God. Telling the future is optional; but a message of repentance is mandatory.
Lamentations 2:14 (NLT) 14 Your prophets have said so many foolish things, false to the core. They did not save you from exile by pointing out your sins. Instead, they painted false pictures, filling you with false hope.
Proverbs 29:18 (NLT) 18 When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful.
Now today, we don’t have “prophets,” but through the Holy Spirit, every believer has the potential to prophesy! All throughout the book of Acts, we see regular believers whom the Holy Spirit allowed to see future events before they happened, etc. But overall, the prophets weren’t afraid to expose sin, and we must not be afraid to call sin “sin,” and expose the sins of those around us, after repenting of our sin.
Now, although each believer is called by God to do God’s work, he has definitely also set aside leaders in the church. It is very important to make the lives of your Christian leaders as easy as possible by honoring them.
Hebrews 13:17 New Living Translation (NLT) 17 Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.
my mentor and pastor, Pastor Wes Mathis, is someone that I constantly pray for. I will check up with him concerning his health, all the time. And finally, I listen to his advice, and submit to his authority, even though I may not always agree. The Shunnamite woman submitted to and honored Elisha’s spiritual authority. Even after her son died, the woman still honored Elisha’s authority. And in turn, God honored the Shunnamite woman.
The Shunnamite woman respected God, his message, messenger and methods so much that she placed her dead child on the bed of the prophet and closed the door. Do we take our burdens to our prayer closet and leave them there? Or do we try to carry dead things with us wherever we go? Are we carrying dead sins, dead dreams, dead weights that need to be placed in Jesus’ room and left there? Let’s leave unfaithfulness, hardness of heart, and all of the things that so easily ensnare us at the foot of the cross, and leave them there. Let’s see the ridiculous faith of the Shunnamite woman.
Verse 22 takes us to right after the Shunnamite woman’s son is born, and is probably already weaned, but falls ill.
2 Kings 4:22-28 (NLT)
22 She sent a message to her husband: “Send one of the servants and a donkey so that I can hurry to the man of God and come right back.”
23 “Why go today?” he asked. “It is neither a new moon festival nor a Sabbath.”But she said, “It will be all right.”24 So she saddled the donkey and said to the servant, “Hurry! Don’t slow down unless I tell you to.”
25 As she approached the man of God at Mount Carmel, Elisha saw her in the distance. He said to Gehazi, “Look, the woman from Shunem is coming. 26 Run out to meet her and ask her, ‘Is everything all right with you, your husband, and your child?’” “Yes,” the woman told Gehazi, “everything is fine.”
27 But when she came to the man of God at the mountain, she fell to the ground before him and caught hold of his feet. Gehazi began to push her away, but the man of God said, “Leave her alone. She is deeply troubled, but the Lord has not told me what it is.”28 Then she said, “Did I ask you for a son, my lord? And didn’t I say, ‘Don’t deceive me and get my hopes up’?”
We see that the Shunnamite woman’s son died and she sent a message to Elisha. She told his servant Gehazi that everything was fine, but she fell at the feet of the man of God, and asked him why he got her hopes up!
Just like this woman, we can be honest with God! We can say, Did I ask for this, God? Did I ask for a son? Did I ask for Misawa?!! Did I ask for this divorce? Did I ask for my family member to be sick? Or to die? Did I ask to be a single parent? Did I ask for my kids to act out all the time or be rebellious? Did I ask for this co-worker who is always dropping F-bombs left and right, when they know I’m a Christian!? Did I ask for my professor in my online classes to give me all kinds of work, like I don’t have another job? We didn’t ask for any of this stuff, Neighborhood Church. But! the Shunnamite woman, instead of running to alcohol, or drugs, or random sexual encounters, or gambling, or even to the gym (actually the gym ain’t bad as long as you workout AND seek the Lord), she ran straight to God, and God’s people, and it was there that she raised her questions and concerns, and confessed her doubts. This Shunnamite woman ran back to the source of her blessing, the man of God, who of course represented God, as God’s messenger. She didn’t even start preparing her son for burial, she didn’t start the mourning process. And God responded, through his prophet! He showed her that even when things are dying, He is faithful.
Even in dying situations God is faithful
You may feel that your marriage is in its death throes. You may have a rocky relationship with your parents. Maybe you thought that this year would be the year you were gonna get promoted, and it didn’t happen. Or you may be wondering why you are here in Misawa. You may still be thinking your last assignment was your best one yet!
No matter what happens, don’t lost your grip on the faithfulness of God. Don’t lose your determination in his ability to heal, set free and deliver. So did God respond to this woman’s pleading? He sure did…
2 Kings 4:29-37(NLT)
29 Then Elisha said to Gehazi, “Get ready to travel; take my staff and go! Don’t talk to anyone along the way. Go quickly and lay the staff on the child’s face.”30 But the boy’s mother said, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I won’t go home unless you go with me.” So Elisha returned with her.
31 Gehazi hurried on ahead and laid the staff on the child’s face, but nothing happened. There was no sign of life. He returned to meet Elisha and told him, “The child is still dead.”32 When Elisha arrived, the child was indeed dead, lying there on the prophet’s bed. 33 He went in alone and shut the door behind him and prayed to the Lord. 34 Then he lay down on the child’s body, placing his mouth on the child’s mouth, his eyes on the child’s eyes, and his hands on the child’s hands. And as he stretched out on him, the child’s body began to grow warm again! 35 Elisha got up, walked back and forth across the room once, and then stretched himself out again on the child. This time the boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes!
36 Then Elisha summoned Gehazi. “Call the child’s mother!” he said. And when she came in, Elisha said, “Here, take your son!” 37 She fell at his feet and bowed before him, overwhelmed with gratitude. Then she took her son in her arms and carried him downstairs.
So we see from the text that the Shunnamite woman went and sought out the prophet Elisha. This woman was perfectly satisfied, content, an accepting of the life she currently had. But yet and still, she was blessed by the Lord with a son! How does a person develop ridiculous faith? That kind of faith happens when we keep praying, not matter what the circumstances look like
So again, if Elisha represents God, it is very interesting that the Shunnamite woman would settle for nothing less than the man of God himself. And if he represents the presence of God, then she would not settle for any substitutes. She needed God to speak, and she needed him right now!
And why did Elisha lay across the body of this child?
The late great Charles Spurgeon says this: The prophet’s mode of operation when he lay upon the child and put his mouth upon the boy’s mouth, “and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands,” is full of instruction. Spiritual life is the gift of God, but if the dead are to be raised by our means we must enter into hearty sympathy with them; we must create spiritual contact, and become in a great measure identified with those whom we would bless.
So you know that the boy was physically dead, and was resurrected. But this also points to what happens spiritually when a person becomes a Christian. They are born “again,” but the original Greek actually means born from above, born from a different place. The book of Titus describes being converted to Christ like being “regenerated,” right? So again, when you convert to Christianity you are not just morally improved, you are brought back to life. You MUST understand this!! Now, Elisha first placed his mouth on the boy’s mouth, giving him words of life, words that edify. Why? Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God being spoken to us, right? Because how can someone hear the Gospel unless it is preached? Elisha placed his eyes on the boy’s eyes, giving him physical and spiritual sight AGAIN, but from above, through the Spirit. Just like when we share our faith with someone, and they are born from above, their spiritual eyes are opened for the first time and they understand the seriousness of the Gospel and the significance of Christ and they are blown away. Now, Elisha’s heart was probably lined up with the kids heart as well. And then his hands touched the boy’s hands. So what did Jesus say to the disciples in the New Testament when they first followed him? In Matthew 4:19, he said “follow me’’ that’s the head. We made a decision, a commitment to follow Christ. Then he said, and “I will make you,” that’s the heart. That’s the process of spiritual formation, of growing more Christ-like everyday. Then he said, “fishers of men,” that’s the hands. Once we follow Christ, then we begin to change the world around us, and serve God’s people. Elisha laid on the boy’s head, heart and hands. With us, our head, heart and hands are brought to life when we come to Christ.
Spurgeon also says we may gather instruction from the signs of life which satisfied the prophet: — the child sneezed seven times.
This evidence of life was very simple. Nothing is freer from deception than a sneeze. It is so far from being artificial that it is involuntary. As a rule we sneeze, not because we wish to, but because we must. Yet Elisha asked for no further evidence of life. He did not ask the little boy to repeat a psalm, or walk a mile, or climb a tree; he knew that he was alive although the act of the newly given life was of the most elementary kind. In the same way let us feel thankful when we hear the first groan of distress or see the first tear of repentance in someone we embrace with the Gospel. Repentance for sin, desire after holiness, childlike trust in Jesus, tearful prayer, careful walking, delight in the word of God, and intense doubt are among the elementary signs of life, the sneezes of those freshly raised from the dead.
Just like the Shunnamite woman brought her son to the prophet even though he had died, we must bring the souls of our unregenerate neighbors, friends, co-workers, and those we are romantically involved with to Jesus and leave them there. Surely he is a God who specializes in resurrections. So don’t stop praying until that peace of God fills your heart.
Don’t let go until God says so
When situations happen, or when you need direction, or when life throws you a curveball, or if there is a sin that you just can’t seem to shake, don’t be discouraged. Ask God for ridiculous faith, for freedom from sin, from doubt, from anxiety and worry. As surely as the Lord lives…..those were the Shunnamite woman’s words. Crying out to God is something that does in fact pay off. Here is what the Bible says about Elijah, who was Elisha’s mentor:
James 5:16-18New Living Translation (NLT)
16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. 17 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! 18 Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.
And the Bible says that Elisha, the successor of Elijah, was given a double portion of Elijah’s anointing. Folks, these guys were regular folks like us. They were just willing to pay the price, to sacrifice, pray, fast, and separate themselves from all the distractions and the push and pull of daily life to get alone with God, and get some real spiritual power.
God is resurrecting things and people all around us. He’s breathing life into everything we see. This Shunnamite woman… She just ran to the man of God and laid her son at his feet. Let’s run to the Lord and lay at his feet at a random time on a Monday at lunch!
I am starting to book lunches with the Men from Neighborhood twice a week. But the rest of the week I don’t run any errands at lunch. I don’t go out to do anything. I go straight home, turn my phone and TV off and get on my face. That is a discipline I hold to with extreme determination. Even my lovely bride knows that if she’s home with me at lunch, if she’s not praying, she better not distract with something that can with till later. That’s ridiculous faith, when we are at a promotion ceremony, awards ceremony, or a dining out, or the BX or barber shop or Shomoda Mall, and we just pray right there on the spot, in our heads for everybody to be saved, and walk out and shut the door and believe God will do just that. God is giving our congregation beautiful, healthy, babies. People are celebrating anniversaries, and all kinds of stuff. Open up your eyes, church. People are putting on stripes, bars and oak leaf clusters that they maybe thought they would never be able to put on. God is providing people with the ability financially to go back to school. It won’t be that much of a leap for us to go from faith to ridiculous faith, will it? God is blessing us all around….we just need to look up!