The Bible is filled with some extraordinary people, is it not? Even if we were to remove Jesus from the equation (because He is the greatest of anyone who ever lived), we are still left with a large number of people who are known today. In fact, just think of some of the common names over the past century or so that come from the Bible – Adam, Eve, Joshua, Samuel, David, Esther, Daniel, Mary, Elizabeth, Peter, John, James, Paul, Timothy, etc.
Apart from Adam and Eve, each of these names is still popular because of something for which they are known. Adam and Eve are known simply because they were first. And, of course, the Bible is filled with many other names that are well-known, even if they are not as common as other names in our part of the world today. Biblical names like Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Jonah are well known, just to name a few.
But again, apart from Adam and Eve, and even including Jesus now, we need to consider why these names are so popular. It is because they are extraordinary people who did extraordinary things. Think about it: Moses parted the water; David was a mighty king; Daniel survived the lions; Mary birthed the world’s Savior; Peter and Paul led the early church; etc. These people were mighty. They deserve to be heralded as among the greatest who ever lived. But the fact is that everything I just mentioned was not the doing of the person, it was them responding to God.
In essence, these individuals are not really any different than you or me? Abraham was a family man whose father worshipped idols. Moses was a murderer who fled and learned to take care of sheep. David was a shepherd. Daniel was a teenager. Mary was a young girl living quietly in a small town. Peter, James, John, and Andrew were fishermen. These individuals were not born to greatness. But they did rise to greatness. Why? Because they acted on their faith.
I am switching gears for this series. With only a handful of weeks left here, I am preaching the series I was going to preach until we decided to try to coincide my sermons with the Sunday School lessons. I think that idea has merit, and I think it went well for a month. I plan to continue to record a couple of the weekday Discipleship Videos on most of the weeks, and I will do so by expanding on some ideas from Ezekiel and Daniel.
But I am turning my attention on Sunday mornings to preparing you, Fairfax Baptist Church, to see something greater…to experience something greater…to be something greater. I told the deacons on Wednesday that I still believe this church has a great deal of potential. The problem is that I am not certain that the people of this church believe that to be true. I am not questioning the idea of faith of the people of this church, but I am challenging each of us to take the mental idea of faith and make it more concrete in our lives. The reality is that no matter how much we have done, or think we have done, any (and all) of us can do more.
Today, I want to set up the series with what could have been a little-known individual – the prophet Elisha. In fact, compared to his predecessor, he is known less, even though he ultimately did more – it’s just what he did wasn’t of the same magnitude in people’s minds. And that is why this series is called Unsung Heroes. People do great things for God all the time, but most don’t get the accolades that a few do. But we don’t serve for the accolades of others; we serve so that God gets the glory. At the conclusion of this series on March 6, we will see the rest of Elisha’s story, but for today, I simply want to introduce him, show why we even have a chance to know his name, and introduce you to the rest of this series.
Elisha was a farmer. He was busy plowing a field with twelve yokes of oxen. If I understand correctly, that is 24 oxen. This was not a small field. He was not a poor son. But he must have desired more.
In 1 Kings 19.19, Elijah passes by and throws his coat on Elisha. This “casting of a cloak” is significant. It was the father’s responsibility to provide for the children’s clothing. It may have been the mother’s responsibility to make it, but the father was to provide. We can think of Jacob and the coat of many colors that was given to Joseph, for instance.
But here we have another person, not the boy’s father, who casts his cloak on Elisha. This moment is our introduction to Elisha. A few verses earlier (v. 16), Elijah received instruction from the Lord to anoint Elisha as his apprentice, and as his replacement as a prophet. But we know nothing else about Elisha before this point.
But what do we learn about him? He is obedient. He is tending the field for his family. And he is ready to follow Elijah. We can assume he knew of Elijah, although it would hard to know if he had met him or seen him prior to this moment. But Elisha knew enough that when the cloak was put over him, a calling was placed upon him. And he was eager to follow.
Before following, he did return to tell his family goodbye. Now, you might recall that when Jesus asked a man to follow that the man wanted to first bury his father (Luke 9.60). We might say that a difference exists because it was Jesus asking as opposed to Elijah. That is a difference, but that is not the difference. The difference is that Elisha’s parents were living. The father of the man Jesus asked had already died. By Jewish custom, handling the dead would have required a purification period of a week or more. Jesus was on the move. The man could join him in the moment or miss the opportunity entirely. Hold onto that thought for a moment.
Elisha did return to his father and then slaughtered the oxen. The text isn’t clear whether he killed and sacrificed the twelfth yoke (two oxen) or the full amount of 24. I tend to believe it was just the two oxen (see v. 19). But once that was done, he was on his way as an assistant (v. 21) or apprentice to Elijah, one of the great prophets, and miracle workers, of God in the Old Testament.
So, that is the beginning of the ministry of Elisha. And we know about him because he followed. We might have had his name in Scripture if he had rejected the opportunity. If he had ignored the opportunity, the story might have said something like, “And after he rejected Elijah, the oxen trampled him to death” or something like that. But he didn’t ignore the opportunity, and because of that we know his name, and his ministry, even if only a bit of it at this point (again, we will pick up the rest of the story on March 6 as we conclude this series).
At this point, Elisha would be considered an Unsung Hero. That would change in time, but for many people, they serve in anonymity for years, decades, or perhaps their entire lives. That is true in our world today, just as it was true in biblical times. In the next few moments, I am going to share a few names of people who might be known to some people, but they are largely unheralded. However, most of these individuals have a great deal to teach us even if we know little about them. A few individuals from the Old Testament to consider are Malchijah (Nehemiah 3), Ebed-melech (Jeremiah 28), and Baruch (Jeremiah 34). Perhaps a few who are a little better known would be Caleb (with Joshua) and Jonathan (with David). From the New Testament, we have people like Silas (who ministered with Paul), Tabitha (also called Dorcas) from Acts 9, two unnamed individuals who are otherwise well-known (the woman who poured the oil on Jesus’ feet and the widow who gave the mite – all she had), and several who are simply listed in various passages like the ones we recently reviewed from Romans 16.
So many people could be considered Unsung Heroes. Next week, we are going to look at a man who brought life to this idea. As I was reading through the Bible last year, one particular name jumped out at me, and gave birth to this series idea. The man’s name is Hathach, and we find his story in the book of Esther. But his story will wait until the 23rd. (Next week, we will take time to honor the service of a particular deacon, moving him to emeritus status.)
The people we will review in the coming weeks did not become more known as Elisha did. As we close today, I want to share one quick example of a person who would fit this idea so you can begin to understand the premise of this series about Unsung Heroes. The person is a servant girl name Rhoda in Acts 12. James had been killed. Peter was in prison. The people were praying and their prayers were answered as an angel freed Peter. Peter went to the house and Rhoda answered the door. When she told the people, they told her, “You are out of your mind” (v. 15). Essentially, they were saying, “Don’t bother us, we are busy praying!”
Now, please don’t hear me say that we shouldn’t pray. I am not saying that at all. However, sometimes we can pray to the exclusion of action. Rhoda is an Unsung Hero because she responded to knocking at the door and told the people about it. Sure, she could have let Peter in (that seems reasonable), but she must have been excited, and overlooked that idea. But if she hadn’t gone to the door, Peter might have left, and they all would have missed the moment.
And there it is again. The idea of missing the moment. Remember, I shared that phrase earlier when talking about the man that Jesus invited to follow Him. The man wanted to bury his dead father (a noble thing), but Jesus’ time was limited. In fact, Jesus was on a schedule. He was on his way towards Jerusalem at that point and had to be there to fulfill prophecy, which included even entering into the city on a Sunday (and not just a Sunday, but THAT Sunday based upon the calendar).
Like that man, we often miss our opportunities because of something we have to do. Our choice in the moment may not be known by anyone except us, but God knows. We may not be memorialized in Scripture (as good or bad), but God knows. Our efforts may not lead to anything great, but that’s probably what young Rhoda’s thought when she went to answer a knock at the door.
We have an opportunity. We have many opportunities. But it takes something extra. Too many people settle for average. Too many people want to be ordinary. God wants people that are more than ordinary. Yes, He takes us as ordinary people, but He makes us something far more. Like the farmer turned prophet, the sheep herder who led the people out of Egypt, the shepherd who became king, the fishermen who became fishers of men, etc., God wants people who will give a little extra.
After all, that is what it means to be extraordinary. It is just adding a little extra to the ordinary. Make a choice today to be extraordinary for Jesus.