Walking with God

Text: 2 Kings 2:1-12
Date: Transfiguration + 2/19/12

“After six days,” six days since our Lord Jesus Christ told His disciples of His coming crucifixion, death and resurrection, He was transfigured, privately, before the inner group of Peter, James and John. Today, as every year, we celebrate on the last Sunday of the Epiphany season The Transfiguration of Our Lord, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the penitential season of Lent, the exclamation point of the entire Epiphany season which has announced the Light that has come into the world, ushered in by the star of Bethlehem, shown forth in the preaching and healing ministry of Jesus, but now to be dimmed and even doused in the darkness of His greatest work, His innocent suffering and blessed death on the cross. It is a sort of reassurance for us, that is, for faith to endure through the scandal and offense of our Lord’s bitter suffering and cruel death. As the Lord’s Supper is said to be for faith “a foretaste of the feast to come,” so the Transfiguration of Our Lord is for faith a glimpse, an earnest of our own resurrection on the last day and the sinless purity God sees in us through the blood of Jesus shed for us.

The Old Testament reading for today is the account of the prophet Elijah being taken by God’s angels directly to heaven without seeing death. So is the Christian hope we sing in the prayer, “Lord, let at last Thine angels come, To Abr’ham’s bosom bear me home, That I may die unfearing” (LSB 708:3). Moses, you will recall, was “buried by the Lord” and taken to heaven through death. These two, Moses and Elijah, appear in conversation with Jesus at His Transfiguration, both the Law and the Prophets pointing to and finding their fulfillment in the death and resurrection of Christ. That we have three eyewitnesses of Jesus’ Transfiguration is important for us as the early Church Father Origen said, “If you wish to see the transfiguration of Jesus as seen by those who went up into the lofty mountain apart from the others, view with me the Jesus in the Gospels,”[1] their eye-witness testimony. As Peter, James and John were eyewitnesses of our Lord’s Transfiguration, so was the prophet Elisha the eyewitness of Elijah’s ascension. And not only he but also fifty young “seminarians,” students in the school of the prophets. Our own “walk with God” is not by sight but by faith, faith informed, enlivened and shaped by God Himself working through the Holy Scriptures and the eyewitness accounts. So today we take a walk with Elijah and Elisha, the sons of the prophets, and with these three apostles and discover that, through them, we are Walking With God.

Elijah knew what was about to happen to him because the Lord had revealed it to him. Elisha knew what was about to happen to his master and mentor because the Lord had revealed it to him. Even the young “sons of the prophets” in each of the towns where Elijah had established seminaries for their instruction in Gilgal, Bethel and Jericho also knew what was about to happen because the Lord had revealed it to them. However, Elijah did not know that all these others knew! He figured everyone would think he was simply on a visitation tour of these towns. He even tried to go it alone, urging Elisha to stay behind. But Elisha would not, insisting, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you” (vv. 2, 4, 6). Finally, then, with a sign reminiscent of the Lord dividing the waters of the Red Sea before Moses, Elijah and Elisha went across the Jordan River on dry ground, to the other side.

There, being invited by Elijah to “ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you,” Elisha asked for a double portion of his master’s spirit. As Elijah’s divinely appointed successor, this request was to ask as for the inheritance of a first-born son especially in relation to the other “sons of the prophets.” Elijah left this to the Lord and Elisha, indeed, proceeded in the spirit of Elijah. Yet Elijah would always be greater as he represented all the prophets on the Mount of our Lord’s Transfiguration. There we do well to remember that Moses went to God through death and Elijah through glorification. So St. Paul assures us it will be on the Last Day when “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are [still] alive, who are left, will be [changed,] caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess 4:16-17; 1 Cor 15:51-52). As Moses the great lawgiver departed this life by way of the law that works death as the wages of sin (Rom 6:23), Elijah, who was appointed to speak for future times, was taken to heaven as the forerunner of Christ, thus predicting the ascension of our Lord.       You see, what made Peter’s idea wrong that day of erecting three tents on that mountain was that the two, Moses and Elijah, as great as they were, were still fellow servants of the One declared by the voice from heaven as God’s one and only Son.

After Elijah’s departure by means of the fiery war-chariot, Elisha took up his master’s mantle as a visible sign to others that he was the divinely appointed successor. We might say a similar thing of the apostles, the few who saw and testified to His Transfiguration, and all who saw with their own eyes the Lord’s triumphal ascension and procession into heaven, that these are the divinely appointed witnesses and ministers and, through them, all the “sons of the prophets” who follow them to this day, of whom we sing in the hymn,

God of the prophets, bless the prophets’ sons;
Elijah’s mantle o’er Elisha cast.
Each age its solemn task may claim but once;
Make each one nobler, stronger than the last. (LSB 682)

Through the ministry of the Gospel saving faith is given to walk with God through the challenges, chances and changes of this world to the goal of the glory of heaven. We sing not, “And He walks with me and He talks with me,” but rather the other way around:

I walk with angels all the way,
They shield me and befriend me….

I walk with Jesus all the way,
His guidance never fails me….

My walk is heav’nward all the way;
Await, my soul, the morrow,
When God’s good healing shall allay
All suff’ring, sin and sorrow.
Then, worldly pomp, begone!
To heav’n I now press on.
For all the world I would not stay;
My walk is heav’nward all the way. (LSB 716)

[1] Ancient Christian Commentary on Mark, Thomas Oden, InterVarsity Press 1998, p. 111.