Believing Is Seeing
II Kings 6:8-17
I read to you from the Second Book of the Kings, the sixth chapter, a story which begins at the eighth verse. “Once when the king of Syria was warring against Israel, he took counsel with his servants, saying, ‘At such and such a place shall be my camp.’ But the man of God sent word to the king of Israel, ‘Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Syrians are going down there.’ And the king of Israel sent to the place of which the man of God told him. Thus he used to warn him, so that he saved himself there more than once or twice. And the mind of the king of Syria was greatly troubled because of this thing, and he called his servants and said to them, ‘Will you not show me who of us is for the king of Israel?’ And one of his servants said, ‘None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedchamber.’ And he said, ‘Go and see where he is, that I may send and seize him.’ It was told him, ‘Behold, he is in Dothan.’ And so he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city.
“Now, when the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was round about the city. And the servant said, ‘Alas, my master! What shall we do?’ Elisha said, ‘Fear not, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O Lord, I pray Thee, open his eyes that he may see.’ And so the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory. Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
We must take a few moments right here at the beginning to set the scene. The Syrians were engaged in war against Israel. Sounds familiar, does it not? Under the leadership of their king, a man named Ben-Hadad, the Syrians were pursuing a strategy of guerilla warfare. That is to say they would swoop down out of their own country, attack, kill as many Israelites as they could quickly, and then quickly retreat back into their own country again. For a time this strategy was brutally effective. But then suddenly everything changed. Suddenly the surprise attacks were no longer surprises. Now, whenever the Syrians would attack, they would find that either they landed themselves in the midst of a terrible ambush, or they would discover that the Israelite army had already been withdrawn from the area. In either case, they were being frustrated and in turn defeated.
And that happened frequently enough so that King Ben-Hadad began to wonder if there was not a traitor amongst his military advisers. He then called his counselors and advisers together to seek their advice. They said to him, “Your majesty, there is no traitor in the ranks. The trouble is, there’s a man down in Israel named Elisha, a man who lives so close to God that he in essence has the ability to know what you are thinking as you think it. And he then tells your thoughts to the king of Israel. That’s why we are being so consistently frustrated and defeated.” Well, needless to say, Ben-Hadad was angry. He demanded to know where Elisha could be found. He was told he could be found in the little town of Dothan. Ben-Hadad then ordered the entire Syrian army by forced march at night to immediately converge upon the city of Dothan to surround the city and to capture this man, Elisha.
And so it was that the next morning at the house of Elisha, the servant of Elisha got up and went to the front door to look out to check on the morning’s light, and saw to his utter astonishment the whole Syrian army arrayed before him. He was panicked. He went running back to Elisha and waked him up and cried out, “Master, what are we going to do? We haven’t got a chance against such an army. We shall surely be killed.” And Elisha said, very calmly, “Fear not. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And the servant said, “Come on, Master, you haven’t been to the front door yet. There’s a whole army out there. What are you talking about?” Elisha then said, “We need to pray.” And Elisha prayed that God would open the eyes of his young servant. And sure enough, the eyes of the young man were opened, and he saw the whole Syrian army arrayed, yes. But more than that, he now saw filling all of the surrounding mountainsides an infinitely greater army, rank upon rank upon rank of angels and archangels and chariots of fire. He saw nothing less than the armies of God come to the defense of Elisha. And in the strength of that army, Elisha defeated the Syrians.
Ah, it’s a great story, one of the great stories of the Old Testament. And there are many aspects of that story that I feel are worthy of our attention today, but I want to hold up just one of them. I want to hold up before you the startling contrast between the fear of the young man and the faith of the older man. The confusion of the young servant and the calmness of the prophet of God. You see, that young prophet looked out the front door and said, “Seeing is believing.” And all he saw was the Syrian army come to kill him. But Elisha looked out and said, “Believing is seeing.” And he saw more than the Syrians. He saw nothing less than the army of God come to save him.
Now, why was this true? Several reasons I think.
I think, first of all, it was because Elisha understood himself to be important to God.
Elisha was acquainted with what I suppose we could call the arithmetic of the Almighty. The arithmetic of the Almighty is this: God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love. Elisha understood that.
Centuries ago, back during the Middle Ages, there was a brilliant scholar who was taken seriously ill. He was a very poor man. He had given himself so utterly to the illumination of his own mind and his own heart and to the illumination of those who were his students, he had given himself so thoroughly and completely to that pursuit, that he had accumulated no worldly goods whatever. And so when he was taken ill, at that point he was taken to what I suppose to be called a charity hospital. Now, the doctors there were very well-educated men, but they looked down in scorn at the poverty-stricken who were brought to them. And so as they were examining this man whom they did not know, one of the doctors in nearly perfect Latin said to the other doctors, trusting of course that this poor fellow would never be able to understand the language – the doctor said to the others, “He’s nothing but a commoner. We ought to just let him die.” Whereupon this seriously ill scholar at that point roused himself up enough to say in Latin even more elegant than that used by the doctor, “Sir, call no man common for whom Christ died.” That’s the arithmetic of the Almighty.
And long before Christ ever came, Elisha understood that. He understood that no one whom God loves could ever be considered common. No one. And my friends, I want to tell you something. Wonderful things begin to happen in your life when you come to understand that arithmetic of the Almighty, when you come to understand that God loves you so much that He literally pursues you. You can read it in the Psalm of David, Psalm 139, where David tells us that even if we take the wings of the morning and soar off into some great ecstatic experience, even there when we are feeling on top of the world, even there God chases after us. Or on the other hand, if we make our bed in hell through some act of sin and disobedience, if we sink even to the lowest possible levels, even there God follows after us.
This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that in Christ God pursues us, you and me. He loves us with a love that will never let us go. When you begin to understand that in your life, then you can begin to say with Elisha and know that it is true, “I will not fear, for those who are with me are more than those who are against me.” My friends, it’s an awesome thing indeed to begin to discover in your experience just how important you are to God.
But secondly, Elisha was able to understand all of this because he understood that not only was he important to God but because he was important to God he was important to the work of God’s Kingdom.
That’s a crucial point. Understand, please, that the Kingdom in that day was Israel. And Elisha was of infinitely greater value to Israel than any number of tanks and chariots. That’s quite clear from the story. Elisha made the difference, one man in faith. The message is clear: faith will always overcome force, always. The church in our day is the completion of the Kingdom. And the church is built upon the faith and the loyalty of those who constitute its number. And that simply means that there is nothing in life more important for you to be doing than to giving yourself in some way to the work of the Kingdom of God through the church of Jesus Christ.
Now, I know the church is under heavy attack in our time. It’s being attacked by those without, by those who have no moral principles, by those who deride and degrade its holy Scriptures, by those who have no regard whatever for the Lord’s day, by those who discard the discipline of repentance and obedience to God, by those who have no devotional experience in their homes or in their personal lives. It’s being attacked by some captains of industry and some captains of labor who believe that their work is the only work on earth that really matters, and they could care less about the work of the Kingdom. It’s being attacked from within by those who exalt the ritual and in the process forget sometimes the truth that the ritual is supposed to represent, by those who believe that they’ve had some kind of a unique spiritual experience, and therefore they feel led then to look down upon other Christians as being inferior if their experience has not been exactly the same. It’s under attack by those within who claim that to hold to the Gospel of a personal Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is automatically to deny the larger needs that exist in society and in our world. The church is under attack by a whole variety of perspectives.
And yet I stand in this pulpit to say to you that I do not fear for the church. I had the thrill just recently of hearing Dr. Randolph Taylor, the moderator of our general assembly, affirm that the church is not our church, it’s God’s church. And that makes the difference. It’s God’s church, and nothing less than the armies of God surround it, ready to defend it in all cases. I do not fear for the church, oh no. Not as long as the church stands as a pillar of truth in the midst of a world filled with deceptions. Not as long as the church preaches Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever. Not as long as the church understands the rank of the Master, and how He laid aside that rank and came to this earth in mission service and sacrificed Himself for the sake of our sins. Not as long as the church preaches that on the third day He was raised from the dead and with indisputable, infallible signs to His disciples proved Himself to be alive now and forevermore. Not as long as the church preaches that one day Jesus Christ will come again. And when He comes again, His glory will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea. I do not fear for the church, oh no. The church can say with Elisha, “We do not fear. No matter the strength of those who attack, we do not fear. For those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
But then, thirdly, Elisha understood that because he was important to God and because he was important to God’s Kingdom, that it was important for him to share with other people how important they are to God.
That’s the first thing that he did. You know, he wasn’t concerned about the Syrians. The first thing that he did was to pray for his servant. He wanted his servant to experience the same power that he knew. He wanted his servant to know the freedom from fear that he knew. And so he prayed that God would open his eyes. That’s the first thing that he did. That’s one of the great Gospel principles: free people seek to set other people free. You see it happening all the way through the Scriptures.
I’m going to ask you sometime this week to take a look at the 20th chapter of the Gospel of John. It’s a great chapter. And in that chapter there are recorded three instances where Jesus appeared to people after the resurrection. And I want you to notice what happened after each appearance. In the first place, He appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden. She was bound up with fear and confusion. She thought He was the gardener. And when she discovered who He was, you know what the Scripture said she did? She ran out of the garden to tell others what had happened. She was free and she sought to set others free.
Jesus then appeared to the disciples. They were hiding in fear, locked away in the upper room, scared to death. Suddenly Jesus was in the midst of them, and their fear was gone. And what did they do? They went out from that place and proceeded to turn the world upside down. That’s what the book of Acts says about them.
And in the third place He appeared to Thomas. Thomas wasn’t at the upper room on the earlier time. Thomas, the disciple most chained by doubt and fear and bewilderment. And yet Jesus appeared to him. And when Jesus appeared to him, the chains of doubt were shattered. Thomas was free. And what did he do? He went forth from that place and proceeded to found the church in India, the oldest Christian church in the world today. And he died with a song of victory on his lips. Free people, free in Christ, making other people free. It happens.
Back in the 1920s there was an Olympic runner in the United States whose name was Charles Paddock. In the 1928 Olympics he won two gold medals, and he returned home a hero. Shortly afterwards he was giving a speech in the East Technical High School in Cleveland, Ohio. And in the course of that speech, he was talking about the fact that God enables you to do all of the things He has given you the capacity to do and even more than that if you put God at the center of your life. He ended his speech with these words: “Perhaps there is a future Olympic champion seated somewhere in this room today.”
After the program was over, a little, spindly legged Black child came up to him, said, “Mr. Paddock, do you think that I could be an Olympic champion?” And Charles Paddock looked at him and said, “Yes, you can.” And those three words became the source of his inspiration. And he began to work. And there came a day in 1936 when that little Black kid, now grown up, went to Berlin, Germany, and did what no one else before him had ever done: he won four gold medals in the Olympic Games. His name was Jesse Owens.
But the story doesn’t stop there, because, you see, when Jesse Owens came home from Germany, he was in a ticker tape parade given in his honor. And suddenly out of the crowd, a little boy came running up to the side of his car, and he called out to him, “Mr. Owens, do you think that I could be an Olympic champion?” And Jesse Owens remembered that years before he’d asked the same question. And so he stopped long enough to say to the little boy, “Young fellow, God has put all kinds of potential in you. You can do it if you and God will do it together. So get started.” That little boy went home that day and said to his grandmother that he was going to become an Olympic champion like Jesse Owens. And his grandmother laughed. “That’s impossible,” she said. “You’re nothing but skin and bones.”
In 1948 in London, England, six men lined up to run the 100-meter dash. The man in the outside lane with the blocked letters of the USA across the front of his shirt broke first at the gun, led the whole way, won the gold medal, and in the process tied Jesse Owens’s record. He went on to win two more medals in that Olympiad. His name: Harrison “Bones” Dillard.
It happens, yes. Free people set other people free. That’s what Elisha did. “Open his eyes,” he prayed. And the servant’s eyes were opened, and he saw what Elisha saw. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them. What a story.
I’ve got to change the end of this sermon. I can’t do it the way it was written. I think you’ll understand why in just a few moments. A couple of days ago I got this letter, and I have to reply to it. And this is the only way I can do it, because you see, I don’t know who wrote the letter. I only know that I shall treasure it for as long as I shall live. Listen, please.
Dear Dr. Edington,
This may just be another letter to you, but something in my heart urged me to write. You see, for almost four years now I have been a very bitter and angry person. I cursed God, I’ve dreaded mornings, and I’ve sinned in so many ways. I’ve gotten this bitterness from many things: the shattering of dreams that I had, the death of a person I loved greatly, and the experiences I had because of that death. I was raised in a church, became a member, was very active in it. And then suddenly everything caved in. My spirit is broken. My heart has been hardened. I’ve never believed anything would break through the walls surrounding me until this past Sunday’s sermon. You stirred something in me, the first person in several years to do that. And I am even beginning to wonder that maybe there is a God who really cares. I’m going to keep coming back. And maybe one day I’ll find this God who cares. I thank you again for your inspiration and ask for your prayers, as I seek to find Him.
A seeker of Christ.
My dear unknown, unnamed friend, there is a God who cares, a God who is actually reaching out to you at this moment. There is a Christ who loves you, loves you with His very life, loves you with a love that will never ever, ever let you go. And all around you, wherever you are seated, all around you are hundreds and hundreds of Christ’s people who would happily welcome you into their hearts. I know because they have welcomed me. So I’m praying for you and for all like you that your eyes may be opened, that you may see Christ, and Christ’s people surrounding you with love and with power.
Then, then you would be able to say with Elisha, “I shall not fear for those who are with me are more than those who are against me.” And then, then you will know what I long for you to know, that “neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, not things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation shall ever be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing now, nothing ever will separate you from Him. You are His. May your eyes be opened to see Him.
Let us pray. O God, our Father, open the eyes of those who cannot see for whatever reason, that they may behold the armies of God, the chariots of fire, ringed about in their defense. And more than that, may they experience now the loving touch of the Savior in their lives. Amen.