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5th Sunday in Lent
2 Kings 4:18-37
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus,
What causes you stress? There are these studies that rate different events in life as to the amount of stress that they cause a person. You can probably guess what some of the top ones are: divorce, incarceration, major injury or illness, job change, move, but what is always in the top five if not number one? The death of a spouse or the death of a close family member or loved one. I think we’d all agree that the tragic loss of life is one of, if not the most, stressful thing that we face in life. And it makes sense. You can recover from an injury or illness or relationship break, adapt to a new job, but there’s a certain finality that comes with death. God tells us that the reason we face death is because of sin. The wages of sin is death.
Today in our Lenten journey to our Savior’s cross we’re looking at this opposition of life vs. death. How does our Savior give us the calmness, give us the peace to be able to say even in the face of death, “It is well”?
What we have in our text this morning is an incredible account of something that happened during the ministry of the prophet Elisha. Elisha served in the Northern Kingdom of Israel and as a whole, the Northern Kingdom was a spiritual mess, full of idol worship and many had abandoned trust in the true God. But we see a refreshing difference here. As a prophet, Elisha would travel around to different places sharing the Word of God. One of the places that he went to was this place called Shunem, an area in the northern kingdom. While he was there a certain lady, in fact, she’s not even named, just called the “Shunammite” who was wealthy served Elisha meals when he came. Then, she decided to build an addition on her house so that Elisha would have a private room to stay in when he came to Shunem. In return Elisha wanted to do something for her since she had been so gracious to him. But she pretty much told him, “I’m content. I don’t need anything.” Then Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, said, “Well, she has no son and her husband is old.” In this time and in this culture not having a son was about the worst thing a woman could experience. First of all, that meant that the father’s name would die out and all their inheritance would have to go to someone else. It also meant that the woman had no social security. A son was the main way for a woman to be taken care of after her husband passed away and we’re told that her husband was old. If she was young, she faced many years of being a lone widow. So, Elisha promised her in a year she would have a son. To which she responded, “Don’t mislead your servant, O man of God!” She didn’t want to get her hopes up, she had been down this road many times, she had resolved herself to the fact that she would never have a son. But, in a year, she had a son, just like Elisha had promised.
That’s where our text picks up. One day her son, as a young boy, was out with his father in the harvest field when he complained, “My head, my head!” He was suffering probably from a heat stroke. His father has him carried in to his mother. His mother held him till noon and tragically the boy died. Now, imagine being in that situation. What would you have done? I know I would have been distraught, probably panicked, frantically trying to do something or just despaired. What does she do? She goes upstairs, lays the boy not on his own bed, but on the bed of the man of God, shuts the door and goes out. She calls her husband to send a servant and a donkey so she could go to the man of God. He’s confused, why go to the man of God now? She responds by saying, “It’s all right.” The KJV translates it “It shall be well.” The Hebrew simply says, “Peace.”
She sets off on the some 20 mile journey to Mt. Carmel where Elisha was. He sees her in the distance, knows something’s wrong, tells Gehazi to run to meet her and ask, “Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is your child all right?” She responds, “Everything is all right.” The KJV says, “It is well.” The Hebrew simply says, “Peace.” She pretty much blows Gehazi off and arrives where Elisha was, falls down at his feet grasping them. Gehazi comes over clearly upset and is about to push her away. He’s the Elisha’s executive assistant, who does she think she is coming in to Elisha without an appointment! But Elisha stops him. Then she says, “Did I ask you for a son, my lord? Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes’?
Elisha then knows something has happened to her son. He sends Gehazi with his staff to run to the child and lay his staff on the boy’s face. Now why would Elisha do this? He thinks time is of the essence and Gehazi is young so he sends him to run the 20 miles to her home and since he’s a prophet he has a staff so he sends his staff. It’s like the doctor sending his stethoscope to the sick person. The woman, however, refuses to leave Elisha so Elisha heads out toward her home. Gehazi gets there tries what Elisha told him to do, but nothing. Finally, Elisha arrives, goes to the room where the boy’s body was lying, shuts the door. The first thing he does is pray to the Lord. Then he stretched himself out on top of the boy and the boy’s body grew warm. He got up, walked around some more, then got down again on the bed and stretched himself over the boy – mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes. Elisha called for his mother and said, “Take your son.” She came in, fell at his feet, bowed down, took her son and went out.
Who’s the hero of faith in this account? It’s not the husband, he’s hardly involved. It’s not Gehazi, he gets in the way. It’s not really even Elisha, he’s not really sure what to do! It’s the woman, it’s the mother. How does she do what she does? She does some incredible things here. Her little boy, her son, her only son dies. Can you imagine? Some of you can. What does she do? She lays him on the prophet’s bed, tells no one, not even her husband, and just sets out to God’s prophet. She lets nothing get in her way. When people ask her if everything is all right, what does she say? “It is well.” How can she do this? How can she say, “It’s all right, it’s well”? She just lost her only child! She’s clearly hurting and troubled, but she’s also well, she also has peace. How is that possible? How can she be in pain and yet at peace?
I think we can all agree on the number one stressor in life, the number one thing that causes grief and pain in life is the loss of a loved one. But what do we learn from this woman of faith? How did she have such poise and peace? What did she do? She didn’t ignore it, didn’t pretend she wasn’t hurting, nor turn to self-medication. Where did she go? She went to God. She went to the one individual who spoke for God, God’s representative, God’s prophet. In other words, she clung to her Lord for help. Elisha was just the messenger, the ambassador for God. She knew the only source of help in life and in death is the Lord. In the face of bitter pain, agony, and grief she clings to the Lord.
And what did the Lord do for her? She received her dead son back. Why? To show that God has the power over death. Now, you might think, that’s nice- she got her son back, I didn’t. I don’t know about you, but it’s a nightmare of mine to think about losing my wife or losing one of my children. Death is an unwelcome guest in every home, in every life. It haunts, it hurts, it gives you stress and anxiety. Why so? It shows us the stark reality of our sin- the wages of sin is death. So what do you do? You can turn to any number of things to try to deal with the stress – anger, bitterness, self-medication, your own remedy. But those will never give peace. Rather, like this mother, cling to your Lord and Savior.
What’s interesting is what Elisha does. Apparently, the Lord instructed him to do this bizarre thing and climb on top of the boy mouth to mouth, eye to eye, hand to hand. God’s prophet, His messenger completely covers the dead boy with himself and the boy is raised to life. I don’t know why Elisha did this, but I do know that someone has done this to you. You see, Jesus has covered your dead body mouth to mouth, eye to eye, hand to hand. How so? We’re told, “God made him who had no sin (Jesus) to be sin for us.” In other words, God transferred the punishment of your sin and my sin to Jesus on the cross, he covered you taking your punishment on Himself. If you’re in a fox hole with a friend and someone throws in a grenade you have two options. You can jump out of the hole and save yourself killing your friend or you can jump on your friend, covering your friend and absorbing the shrapnel, losing your life but sparing your friend. That’s what Jesus did on the cross for you and me. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” He’s completely covered you with His holy and perfect life. “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus because all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.” Through baptism God brought you from spiritual death to spiritual life and now sees you covered with Jesus. Through faith you were brought to new spiritual life, eternal life. That means you’re eternal! Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life those who believes in me will live even though they die.”
How can we face life and death with the poise and the peace like this Shunamite woman? It’s clinging in faith to our God who has the power over life and death. Yes, this woman received her son back, but that was only temporary. Far more importantly because of Jesus one day in heaven we will receive all our believing loved ones back just like this woman. Jesus will take your hand and say, “Here, take your son, your daughter, your loved one.”
We have an illustration of this peace right before us. In a few moments were about to sing a hymn. It was written by a man named Horatio Spafford. He was an American lawyer who lost everything in the great Chicago fire of 1871. Two years later he sent his wife Anna and their four daughters on a ship across the Atlantic to England for a trip. The ship hit another ship and began to sink. As it was sinking Anna gathered her four daughters and they began praying. The ship went under and everyone was scattered and the four little girls drowned. Anna was found unconscious by a rescue ship floating. They rescued her and took her to England. She wired her husband back two words: saved alone. When Horatio was on the ship over to England to bring his wife home he began to write this hymn. Notice what he says, just what the woman said, “It is well.” How could he write about peace and being well with such grief? Look at what the hymn is focused on: Jesus. My sin not in part but the whole is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more.
That’s where peace is found. When grief strikes- cling to the Lord Jesus and know I’m not being punished, look at the cross God punished all my sins there. When I think God doesn’t care – look at the cross – there God forgave all my sins. Look at the cross where God says, “See I’ve lost a child too, not involuntarily, but voluntarily, for your eternal salvation.” It’s there where in the midst of grief and sadness you can say, with this Shunamite woman, “It is well.” Amen.