A merciful knock across the head
by Jack Wald | September 21st, 2003

I Kings 17:1-24

There are two stories this morning. The first is the story of Elijah raising the son of the widow of Zarephath from the dead. The second is a longer story of Elisha rasing the son of the Shunammite woman from the dead.

Why is it that when people read the account of Elijah raising the son of the widow from the dead or of Elisha raising the Shumannite woman’s son from the dead that they go to great lengths to say that the two sons were not really dead?

Then [Elijah] stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”
22 The LORD heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.

When Elijah took the boy to his room and laid his weight on him, people say that what he did was a form of artificial respiration. I know about this. When I was a pastor in Ohio, I worked on the Emergency Squad as a volunteer EMT – Emergency Medical Technician. We went on one call and the woman was not breathing when we arrived and she had no pulse. I put a tube down her esophagus and we began artificial respiration and she began again to breathe. She lived for another three weeks and then she died.

Artificial respiration involves a lot more than laying down on a person three times.

In the Elisha story we read
When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch.  33 He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the LORD.  34 Then he got on the bed and lay upon the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out upon him, the boy’s body grew warm.  35 Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out upon him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.

People read this account and say that this is what happened when I came to the lady as an EMT (minus the esophageal tube). In the case of Elisha, people say the boy was in a coma or perhaps had also just stopped breathing and that when Elisha stretched out his body on the boy, mouth to mouth, he recovered.

But to draw that conclusion requires some tricky manipulation of the text. There is too much time between the boy no longer breathing and his mother’s trip to Mt. Carmel to find Elisha and then making the return trip.

What I want to know is why is it that we are not willing to believe what the two texts clearly indicate, that these two boys died and that God used Elijah and Elisha to bring them back to life.

When we come to the Gospels and read of Jesus raising the widow’s son from the funeral pyre to life, do we believe that? Was her son really dead? Did Jesus really raise him from the dead? When Lazarus had been in the grave for three days and Jesus raised him to life, did that really happen?

One of the reasons we don’t see miracles happening is that we resist the possibility that they can happen. Someone tells us of a medical problem someone is facing, cancer, MS, heart disease or whatever and while we may say, “I will pray for you,” what we are thinking is, “That’s too bad. So this is how he or she will die.” When someone has a financial problem, we have little difficulty praying that God will provide for them and we tend to believe God will provide. When someone does not appear to be a Christian, we have no problem praying that they will receive the light of Jesus in their life. But when it comes to healing, we are less likely to believe that it can happen.

Notice that the Shumannite woman went to Elisha because she knew if he came, her son would be healed. When the four men brought the paralytic to Jesus, lowering him through the roof, they did so knowing that Jesus could heal their friend. When the woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years crawled through the crowd just to be able to touch his robe, she did this knowing she could be healed if only she could touch him.

We need to come to Jesus with the expectation that Jesus can heal. Miracles of provision, miracles of healing, miracles of deliverance, miracles of transformation: I believe they can happen, that they happened as recorded in Scripture and that they continue to happen today. And I pray for people expecting that God will work in their lives. Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief.

This morning I want to talk first about how God uses miracles to get our attention then we will look at what needs to be in place in our lives if miracles are to have their intended affect. And finally we will talk about why we should desire to see miracles in the lives of people around us.

Those of you who have heard me preach the past three years know this story. A farmer sold a mule and told the man buying it that it was an exceptionally obedient mule. “All you have to do,” said the farmer, “is whisper in his ear and he will obey you.”

So the man bought the mule and went home but then no matter what he did, whisper, scream or shout, the mule would not move. He called up the farmer to complain and the farmer came right over to see what was wrong. He came out of his pickup truck, walked over to the mule, picked up a large piece of wood and hit the mule over the head. Then he leaned forward, whispered and the mule trotted off.

“He’s very obedient,” said the farmer, “but first you have to get his attention.”

Miracles are important because they are often the club God hits us over the head with to get our attention. Miracles are sometimes a merciful knock across the head.

Look at the story this morning of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. When Elijah first came to her, notice how she greeted him.
When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?”  11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”
12 “As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”

“As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied. She recognized Elijah as a holy man but did not identify herself with his god. She had her gods, he had his god.

And then Elijah’s god began to provide for her day by day. Each day she went to the empty jar of flour and jug of oil and poured out enough to make bread again for that day. The story does not say what affect this had on her. Perhaps it was just a light tap on her head and she needed more than a light tap to get her attention.

But then came the death of her son. As I mentioned last week, a widow without a son was destitute and the loss of her son meant much more than the loss of a child. In her grief she cried out to Elijah:
“What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”

Having a prophet in your house was considered dangerous because with the power associated with prophets there was the fear that a mistake or fault might be punished. So she assumed that she had done something for which she was now being punished.

Elijah took her son up to his room and the boy was raised from death to life.
Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!”
24 Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth.”

I would think that the flour and oil would have been enough, but apparently not. The miraculous provision of flour and oil that served perhaps as a light tap on her head was replaced by the more powerful whack of a miraculous healing. Her son was brought back from the dead and this whack across the head got her attention. The widow of Zarephath moved from the LORD your God to “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth.”

God uses miracles to get our attention.

Do you remember the story of Thomas in the Gospels? After Jesus resurrected from the dead, he appeared to the disciples but Thomas was not there.
So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

From this story has come the English expression, “Seeing is believing.” The miracle of Jesus appearing in a locked room and showing his wounds was the club on the side of the head that allowed Thomas to believe.

Jesus praised those who believe without having to see a miracle, but God will do whatever it takes to bring someone into the Kingdom, even if he has to take a stick and whack us across the head with a miracle.

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, wrote Paul to the church in Corinth and we live in a Semitic culture that also demands miraculous signs.

And so I pray that Jesus who is known in the Koran as the one who heals will reveal himself as the present day healer and get the attention of those who are blind to his presence. We live in a culture that has developed such resistance to Jesus that it may take a hard knock to the head to get its attention.

Now what about the environment in which miracles need to occur if they are to have their intended purpose.

In desiring to see a ministry of the miraculous, it is wise to consider what Jesus said about miracles.
Luke 11
As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.

Miracles are fun and exciting. When Jesus came to town or Elijah or Elisha, for some it was like the circus coming to town. “Nothing ever happens in this dumb old town.” But when Jesus, Elijah or Elisha came, finally some excitement. And because Jesus was aware of this, he resisted being the magic man coming to town. He resisted doing miracles to entertain.

The problem with miracles is that while they may get our attention, they do not by themselves lead us to salvation.

In Matthew 11, Jesus spoke some hard words
Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.  21 “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.  23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.  24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

Miracles need to be experienced in the proper environment in order for them to have the intended affect. If a miracle will be used by God to bring someone to faith, the person through whom the miracle comes and the community of faith surrounding the miracle need to be living a life that supports the miraculous work of God.

We will come to the story of Elisha healing the leper Naaman later in this series, but one of the things that is impressive about Elisha is revealed when Naaman was healed. Naaman came back to Elisha and wanted to give him a gift. Now Naaman had a lot of wealth at his disposal and Elisha could have become a rich man but Elisha had the integrity not to make money off the work of God. He refused to take a gift and sent Naaman on with his blessing.

When those who have been given the spiritual gift of healing attempt to make money off of the gift, the intended purpose of healing suffers. There may be a lot of excitement about healing and there may be a lot of emotional exuberance that produces some temporary improvement, but the true work of God suffers.

If someone in our midst is given the gift of healing and we begin to see it exercised, we need to pray for that person that they will be spiritually strong enough to support the gift they have been given. We need to pray that they will deflect any glory that comes to them and give all praise and glory to God who is responsible for any miracles we experience.

But it is not just the person who has been given the gift of healing that needs to be in the right spiritual position with God, the entire community needs to be functioning properly.

In Jesus’ High Priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus prayed for those who would follow him
May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:  23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Notice that Jesus did not pray, “May they experience signs and wonders so the world may believe you have sent me.” Jesus did not pray, “May there be many healings so the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

It’s fun and exciting to see miracles happening but much harder to work for unity in the body. There are personality conflicts. There are misunderstandings. There are genuine differences of opinion. There are hurt feelings. There is jealousy and envy.

It is difficult to keep unity in the body – as can be seen by the long and tragic history of churches separating from one another. But unless the church works to keep unity, any miracles that occur will have a limited affect. The person who is healed might say, “Well it was wonderful to be healed and I love God but do I really want to be a part of a church where there is fighting and discord?”

In order for miracles to have their intended affect, we must be growing and developing in our relationship with God. The Fruit of the Spirt must be evidenced in our lives. When our lives before God and our fellowship with one another are moving in the right direction, then when God unleashes a miracle in our midst, it will speak with power to those who are present and draw them into the Kingdom of God which is the greatest miracle.

So I repeat what I said last week. The most important thing any of us can do is to seek Jesus. First and foremost, before all else, seek Jesus. And then when we are blessed to see the hand of God at work in us with signs and wonders, we will see those miracles used to draw people into the faith and deeper into their relationship with Christ.

God often uses miracles to get our attention and we must seek Jesus with all our mind, soul and strength so the miracles achieve their intended purpose.

Now, why should we desire to see miracles in the lives of those around us?

What is the goal for us as Christians? Aren’t we to seek Christ? To seek to be like Christ? We want to be like Jesus.

How did Jesus respond to those in need around him? I talked about this last week. Over and over and over again the Gospels say Jesus looked at someone, had compassion on them and then prayed for their healing or deliverance or transformation.

We do the last of these pretty well. We often pray for someone we know to receive what is the greatest of all miracles, to be transformed and turn their heart to God and receive his salvation.

But we are less likely to pray for healing or deliverance, two things Jesus did quite often.

I would encourage you to begin to pray for people around you and begin to pray that God will put into your heart a love for those you see. I was driving down the Takadoum road and saw a man get off the bus. He was bent over with his head tucked into his chest. His back was rounded. And I prayed for him and thought of the day when he could experience the healing of Jesus in his life and have his back and neck straightened so he could stand up and no longer be crippled.

I looked at him, had compassion for him and prayed that the day would come when we could pray for people like him. Our maid is having a lot of head pain and she went to the doctor but the medicine she is taking is not helping. I long for a time when she could come to a meeting where she could be prayed for and have her mind and heart opened to Jesus who is the present day healer.

The guardian at the forêt where we run talks to us about pain in his ankle. I have taken medicine in the past to heal an open sore on his shin and ever since then, he asks me for help. And so I pray for him and long for the day when he can come to a meeting where someone can speak his language and help him to experience Jesus the healer.

There are people in the church who suffer from headaches that are quite debilitating. Lately there seem to be a number of people suffering from pain in the head. There are some who struggle with physical and emotional problems. I long to see God work in their lives and bring relief to the pain they experience.

There are physical symptoms that we suffer in this church and in God’s mercy may these physical problems be healed. But there are also many of us in the church who need inner healing. We carry with us memories from the past that imprison us and prevent us from living a full and complete life before God. Many of us are not aware of the burdens we carry. These memories may trigger physical symptoms. These memories may restrict us in our life with God. We need spiritual surgery to heal us and deliver us from this unecessary baggage we carry. Lately it is as if God has given me new eyes and as I think and pray for individuals in our community of faith, I have been seeing the need for inner healing in our midst.

I know that there is benefit in suffering and that we learn lessons through the trials and tribulations of life but does that mean we should rejoice when we see others suffer? When I suffer, I rejoice as James urged in his letter
James 1
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

But that is not to be my response when someone else is suffering. It is cruel to say to someone suffering, “Rejoice my brother because God is using this to build your character.”

There is a difference in our attitude when we suffer and when we see others suffer. When we suffer, we seek God’s help as James described in his letter
James 5
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.

But then we rest in the Lord. If we are healed, we rejoice. If we are not healed, we trust in God who will heal us, if not now then sometime between now and the day I enter into his Kingdom.

But how can you look on the suffering of another person without wanting to see them healed or delivered or transformed? Have mercy on those who suffer.

Be like Jesus. Look around and when you see the suffering of someone, be filled with compassion and then be moved to pray for their healing, their deliverance, their transformation.

Our Thursday night meeting is a time when we seek out God’s agenda for that evening. I am praying that God will use this time to lead us into a ministry of healing, deliverance and transformation. I am praying that God will use this time to draw us closer to him and enable us better to care for the needs of those around us. I am praying that the day will come when we will conduct this meeting in more than one language. I am praying that what we experience will spread to other parts of the church in Morocco and that we will see people across this land experience the love of Jesus.

And I am praying that this will begin with us.

This morning at the close of the service, we invite you to come forward to receive prayer for healing. The French-speaking church is not here today. They have gone to the beach so we do not need to rush out of here. At the close of our service, come forward and receive the healing God has in store for you.

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I Peter 2
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Jude 2
Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.