Star Wars. It’s almost as much a part of American culture as apple pie.
A young Luke Skywalker happens across a couple of droids who get him into a whole heap of trouble. He is saved at the last minute by an old man, Obi Wan Kenobi, one of the last Jedi Knights. Afterwards, Obi Wan invites Luke to join him on a quest to save Princess Leah from the clutches of Darth Vader, a Jedi gone to the Dark Side of the Force and who was responsible for the death of Luke’s father. He tells Luke that he too, could be a Jedi like his father and offered to take him on as his last disciple. To make a long story short, Luke agrees and goes with him and ends up on an adventure that exceeded his wildest dreams.
In the process of rescuing the princess, Obi Wan and his nemesis Darth Vader meet and Luke sees Darth cut down Obi Wan right in front of him. Darth killed his father, and now Obi Wan.
Again, to make a long story shorter, in the sequel Luke ends up fighting Darth Vader and is almost killed, losing his hand. Hanging on for his life, Darth leans over and asks Luke to join him. But Luke refused. He had killed his father.
Then comes the now iconic line, “Luke…I am your father!”
Was Darth Vader Luke’s father? Yes, he fathered him. But was he his father?
The father figure throughout the original trilogy was Obi Wan Kenobi. He was the spiritual father to Luke…and quite literally so as he was a spirit for most of it!
Star Wars is fiction, but spiritual fathers are not. When you dig into the meaning of discipleship in Scripture, it is not long before you realize that discipleship is patterned after parenthood. To go and make disciples is to go and be a spiritual mother or father to someone you relate to as a spiritual son or daughter.
In 2 Kings 2:1-18 we have one of Scripture’s clearest pictures of spiritual fatherhood, of discipleship. For the next two weeks we are going to dig into this passage and what I teaches about what discipleship looks like.
The chapter opens with the news that Elijah was going to be taken away in a whirlwind. We are not told how he knew, only that he did know, and that he had not kept it from Elisha and the other prophets.
In making his way to the place where God would take him, he stopped in Bethel and Jericho to say farewell to the schools of the prophets that he had established there. In both places, when the prophets come out, they go up to Elisha and say, Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today? I love Elisha’s answer, Yes, I know…so be quiet. Simple, straightforward, and honest. “Yeah, I know…can we please not talk about it?”
Why did he answer that way? Elisha knew that this was his last day with his master, and he intended to spend all the time with him he could. Three times—at Gilgal, at Bethel, and at Jericho—Elijah told him to stay and not go on with him. Was it because goodbyes would be hard, was Elijah being humble about the way the Lord was honoring him by taking him directly to heaven, was he testing Elisha? We can only guess; perhaps all three. But whatever the reason, Elisha was determined to stay with him till the end, and reminiscent of Ruth’s pledge to Naomi he replies the same each time, As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.
When they arrived at the Jordan, Elijah removed his cloak and struck the water with it, the waters parted and they crossed over together while the rest of the prophets stayed at a distance.
Once there, Elijah turned to his protégé, his spiritual son, and asked, “What can I do for you?” Here he is at the end of his life, he is about to be taken away but his concern is not for himself, but for Elisha. I am about to be taken away, but is there anything I can do for you? As Elisha was committed to staying with his mentor until the end, Elijah as committed to spending himself for Elisha as long as that privilege was allowed him.
Elisha does not ask for wealth, or success, or honor, but for a double portion of his spirit. He wasn’t asking for twice the power Elijah had, he was asking to be seen as his first born, to take Elijah’s place, to be his successor as the leader of the prophets of Israel. To follow in Elijah’s footsteps, he would need the other prophets to see that while Elijah blessed all as his spiritual sons and had chosen Elisha as his first born, that God publically affirmed that as well.
Elijah knew that what he asked for was a good thing, the right thing, but he also knew it was not his to give. Only God could give it. So he says, You have asked a difficult thing…yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.
They continued to walk and talk together along the Jordan, until suddenly a fiery chariot came between them, took Elijah into it, and in a whirlwind carried him Home. As the chariot rode the whirlwind heavenward, Elisha is overwhelmed and in verse 12 he cries, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And then we read, And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.
Here we see two important things:
- Elisha twice calls him “father.” We know that Elijah was not his earthly father. Elisha left his father when Elijah had called him to be his disciple back in 1 Kings 19:20 (NIV) Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.” But while he started off as his master’s servant, he becomes a son and gains a father.
- By the unsearchable grace of God, in all of biblical history only two people never tasted the sting of death: Enoch and Elijah. Yet while Elisha literally watches him go up to heaven, knowing without a doubt that his spiritual father was with his God, and that in seeing him go that his request for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit had been granted, he still rents his clothes in grief. Losing Elijah was a painful as would be losing his earthly father.
Like Elisha, we need spiritual fathers and mothers who teach us what it means to live for God through Christ. The Great Commission is a call for us to be spiritual fathers and mothers; to be an Elijah to an Elisha.
Tomorrow we’ll start unpacking this truth.