Heaven for Twenty Million
March 2, 2003
2 Kings 2:1-12
by Tony Grant
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to 2 Kings chapter 2 and follow along as I read verses 1-12. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
1 Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.
2 Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel." But Elisha said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel.
3 The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?" And he said, "Yes, I know; keep silent."
4 Elijah said to him, "Elisha, stay here; for the LORD has sent me to Jericho." But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they came to Jericho.
5 The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?" And he answered, "Yes, I know; be silent."
6 Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan." But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on.
7 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan.
8 Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit."
10 He responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not."
11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.
12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
Amen. The word of God. thanks to be God
No Dough, No Go
From N Sync to N Spacethat is where Lance Bass, one of the stars of the boy-band N Sync wanted to go. He wanted to soar into space in the nose of a Russian rocket, but when he could not pull together $20 million for the ticket, Bass was bumped. "No Dough, No Go," reported The Washington Post. Russia soared into the space tourism business two years ago when California investment banker Dennis Tito plopped down $20 mil and became the first person to bankroll his own ride into orbit. South African millionaire Mark Shuttleworth soon followed in his footsteps.
Lance Bass wanted to be next, but not with his own cash. He wanted to fly to heaven using other peoples money. After approaching Radio Shack and Pepsi for sponsorship, Bass spent several months in Russia, modeling spacesuits and undergoing training. He was following the lead of a Hollywood promoter who believes that the next great frontier in space is celebrity game shows.
Problem was, nobody paid. The Russians waited and waited, and finally lost patience. "Its ridiculous!" groused the top Russian space spokesman. Lance Bass is "eating right now on our account and hes living on our account and he hasnt paid a single kopeck .... Weve been spending our own money and we dont want to do that. The whole idea was to make money on this."
These days its no problem to book a reservation for heaven. But make no mistake: if youre dealing with the Russians; they want their $20 million up front.
The prophet Elijah ascended to heaven in a whirlwind, not a rocket but his liftoff was every bit as spectacular as the launches we watch today on CNN. His blastoff included a chariot of fire and horses of fire, a sight so overwhelming that it caused his protoge, Elisha, to cry out in amazement as Elijah disappeared from view (2 Kings 2:11-12). Like a roaring rocket that causes us to stand slack-jawed until it becomes a tiny speck and then disappears into space, Elijah exited the earth in a blaze of glory.
The Transition of Authority
II Kings Chapter 2 is divided into three segments: the preparatory interaction between Elijah and Elisha (2:1-8); the central ascent (9-12), which highlights the enduring pre-eminence of Elijah; and finally, an exhibit of Elishas new authority and his "wonders" in Israel (2:13-25).
In chapter 2 everyone is aware that the prophet Elijah is about to be taken away. The chapter begins with the statement: "Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind." Elijahs journey into heaven is to be in a storm of stupendous proportions which demonstrates that Elijah is as special in his departure as he was odd while on the earth. But before this, not yet finished with his earthly work, Elijah is "sent" by God throughout the central territory of Israel. No reason is given, but the prophet remains obedient to God as he goes to Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho and lastly the Jordan River.
As the story moves to its climax, it is as if it is a deathbed scene, although the central character never dies. Elijah does grant Elisha one "last wish." The request is for--a "double share" of Elijahs spirit. This request stems from Old Testament lawwhere the firstborn attains a "double portion" (Deuteronomy 21:17) of the inheritance. Elisha is not asking for twice as much spirit as Elijah, nor to excel over his master, but for recognition as his masters spiritual elder son. He is asking to succeed Elijah.
The report about the actual ascent of Elijah into heaven is filled with incredible forcefiery horses, a chariot of fire, a whirlwind. Elijahs ascent into heaven is unique in the Old Testament. This is an act beyond human affairs. The point is that Elijah is outside our human sense of reality. He is in the storm, with this unearthly chariot and horses. He is taken up to heaven, while Elisha remains. The fact that Elisha first sees, and then could no longer see, testifies to his reception of the "double portion" of which he had asked.
The departure of Elijah moves Elisha to tear his clothes a gesture of grief in a time of loss. There is a linguistic play on words here. Usually, a grieving person is just said to tear his garments, but Elisha specifically tears his garments into "two pieces"suggesting that the two prophetsElijah and Elisha--have been torn apart, and now Elisha must proceed without his master. One generation has gone on; another continues.
All Dogs Go To Heaven
We might study this passage of scripture for what it has to say about the transition of authority the passing of the mantle from one generation to another. But there is another topic suggested here which I suspect we find more interestingnamely heaven.
God does not expect us to scrape together $20 million and book passage on a Russian rocket, nor does he promise that we will escape our earthly existence in a whirlwind, surrounded by chariots and horses of flame, nor is it likely that we will be walking with God and find ourselves in glory, like Enoch. So how do we get to heaven? Who is going?
Some magazines are not afraid to tackle aspects of these profound questions. In its September 1999 issue, Dog Fancy raised a philosophical query that has perplexed sages for centuries: "Do Dogs Go to Heaven?" Notice that no one ever asks, "Do cats go to heaven?" I wonder why? In any case, Dog Fancy called upon a priest, a rabbi and a ministeralso a Buddhist, a Baptist and Mary Buddemeyer-Porter, author of Will I See Fido in Heaven? These distinguished experts immediately began scrapping like puppies fighting for a bone.
The Rev. Brian T. McSweeney, vice chancellor of the Catholic Archdiocese of New York, started the controversy. "Heaven was designed for humans," he said. "The reason dogs may be there is for us, not for themselves. Dogs will go to heaven perhaps because of our relationship with them."
Rabbi Gershon Winkler of Cuba, New Mexico, said that a dog is certainly eligible for heaven but only if its a good dog. "Every animal, based on how it lives in this world, will reap its reward, its divine bliss in the world to come."
Thats ridiculous, said the Rev. Andrew Linzey, professor of theology at the University of Nottingham in England: "I think the idea that animals can make moral choices and should therefore be held responsible for their actions is absurd."
Buddemeyer-Porter agreed. Dogs will get to heaven regardless of their behavior on Earth, she said: "It doesnt make any difference what dogs do because they are innocent of any sin."
Strange Ideas about Heaven
As a dog lover, I most heartily agree. But that is not really the question we are addressing today. The questions we are interested in are: What is heaven like? How do we get there?
By coming to church, you have come to the right place to find the answers to those questionsor at least to begin to find some answers. On several outdoor church signs, I have seen the proclamation: "Free Trip to Heaven. Details Inside"--Which is not exactly true. If you want to know about heaven, come to church. That is true, but we are sort of short on details.
And whenever we even talk about heaven we are apt to get a little confused. A man asked his neighbor, whom he had not seen in years, "Hows your wife?"
"Shes in heaven," replied the friend.
"Oh, Im sorry." Said the man. Then he realized we should not be sorry that someone has gone to heaven, so he added, "I mean, Im glad." Then he realized that we should not be glad that someone has died, so he stumbled around for something else to say and finally blurted out, "Well, Im surprised."
There will be a lot of surprises in heaven, but let us begin with the basics: There is a heaven. Most people agree with that, and the Bible announces it loud and clear.
But we do not know where heaven is. It is a curious thing about human nature: If we are headed for a particular destination, we want to know where it is. That makes sense. Knowing where something is is crucial to getting there. But the Bible does not give us any clues about heavens location. Traditionally, we have thought of the universe as a three-storied affair with the earth on a middle plane, hell below us, and heaven above us. Third-millennium dwellers such as ourselves know, however, that in space, there is no up or down, backward or forward. Heaven is not out in space, not up there. We do not know where it is. Perhaps we should think of it as another dimension of space and time.
People have strange ideas about how to get to heaven. Andrea Yates, the American woman who drowned her five children in the bathtub, apparently told doctors that she did it because she wanted her children to go to heaven. She was afraid they might eventually be corrupted and spend eternity in hell. Without giving too much recognition to the ramblings of a woman who was clearly unbalanced, we must reluctantly admit that there is an insane logic in Yates thinking that her children are better off being killed and going to heaven than risking a sinful life and the possibility of hell. They are certainly better off in heaven, but the fact that she killed her children indicates that she will never be in heaven.
Most Americans seem to think that that all good people, whether or not they consider Jesus Christ to be their savior, will live in heaven after they die on earth. In 1999 the public is almost divided on the matter: 53% agree, 40% disagree. [see Barna.org] So a little over half of all adults believe that if a person is generally good, or does enough good things during their life, they will earn a place in heaven. This is an anti-Christian view, which discounts the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Heaven By Grace
The Bible says that heaven is not for those who think they can pay or work their way there. It does not matter if you drop 20 dollars or 20 million dollars in the church coffers, philanthropy does not get you a ticket. Church membership is no guarantee either. Good works do not punch your ticket to paradise.
We get to heaven only by the grace of God. "For by grace you have been saved through faith," says Paul to the Ephesians, "and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God not the result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Accepting this gift of grace is a transformative event: We live changed lives. We do not do the bad stuff anymore; we do the good stuff. Paul puts it another way: Acceptance of the gift of grace results in a metamorphosis. We are new creations in Christ; the old has passed away, and everything is new.
Thats why we can say that knowing that we are headed for heaven changes our lifestyle. Back in the 19th-century, an American tourist visited a Polish rabbi named Hofetz Chaim. The American was astonished to see that the rabbis home was only a simple room filled with books, plus a table and a bench, the tourist asked, "Rabbi, where is your furniture?" "Where is yours?" replied the rabbi. "Mine?" asked the puzzled American. "But Im a visitor here. Im only passing through." "So am I," said Hofetz Chaim. [Source unknown] We pack light for the journey. This means laying aside "every weight and the sin that clings so closely," and running with perseverance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1). In Christ, our priorities have shifted. Our values are different. Our lives have taken on new meaning.
With our new lifestyle, we are preparing for heaven. We are in training for heaven. Even a Lance Bass or a Dennis Tito had to undergo training even if they were paying $20 mil to go. The difference is that they had to prepare themselves for the challenges of outer space, while we have to prepare ourselves for inner space. We prepare for a new environment dominated by "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). Moral and spiritual discipline plays a large role in the training of Christians aspiring for heaven. Paul makes this point repeatedly. For example, he says in 1 Corinthians 9: "Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training" (9:25 NIV). We are in strict training, preparing to meet God.
Heaven is the place where God and his people reside together. Revelation 21:3-4: "God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."
We do not know a lot of details about heaven, but we know heaven is where God is, and that tells us enough for us to know that heaven is where we want to go when we finish this life. And you do not need $20 million to go there. With Christ in your heart, you can be certain you are heavenbound.
A college student was giving a speech in class on the lack of certainty in our age. "Certainty is impossible," she said. "We can know nothing for certain."
With a smile, the old professor said, "Are you SURE of that?"
She emphatically replied, "Im certain!"
We do live in an age of uncertainty. It seems as we learn more and more about everything, we are certain about less and less. However, one of the characteristics of the early Christians was their certainty. They knew for certain that our sins are forgiven. They knew for certain that we are children of God. They knew for certain that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Unfortunately, most people today do not have such confidence when it comes to eternal life. They hope, they wish, they would like to think, but they do not know for certain. As a result, they have no confidence in the face of death, because that is a certainty. Death is a certainty. Sometimes we hear people say, "Nothing certain except death and taxes." That is not a Christian statement. A Christian would say that with Christ in your heart, heaven is a certainty. You can depend upon it. You can count on it. If you have Christ, you have heaven. Amen.
Baker, Peter. "No dough, no go, Moscow tells pop star: N Syncs Lance Bass booted from space shot." The Washington Post. September 4, 2002, C1.
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