Archive for February, 2016

A few days of temps…

For the last few days it’s been a combination of waiting and being laid low with temps. Most of the last days I’ve felt fine, but at night time a temp gets a hold of me. Temps are a massive deal when you don’t have an immune system because it’s the first and most significant indication of an infection, which my body is not equipped to fight. The nurses take bloods straight away and send them off to the lab to see if a particular antibiotic will be more effective. They also put me on a broad-based antibiotic straight away to start fighting the infection since my body can’t.

The good news is that my neutrophils are now 1.1. The minimum to go home is 1.0. That’s a big jump from the 0.2 of yesterday and is very encouraging. Hopefully I’ll get to go home Monday, but we’ll have to wait and see what the doctor says. Please pray that the temps will stop and the blood counts will keep going up.

Reflections on Matthew 21:33-46 Read the Passage

I’m feeling pretty rubbish so I’ll keep this short. What shocked me most about this passage was v43. The word for people is the same word for nation and in the plural is usually translated ‘Gentiles’. Here Jesus seems to be explicitly saying that he is taking the kingdom of God away from Israel and giving it to another nation. To another people. To a people that God will raise of his own from all nations and tongues under heaven. Along with 12:45 this seems a pretty clear indication that God is done with the political nation of Israel as his special nation. Israel as a people group are still important, but are one of all the people groups of the world. The key thing from here is not to be in the right people group, but respond to the son of the vineyard owner, and join the people that God is calling to himself. In light of this the recent Vatican decision to cease evangelising Jews is concerning. Rather than showing a greater respect to Jewish people it denies them the gracious message that they need to hear to live.


Anna Karenina by Tolstoy

Caution: this review contains spoilers. This book is well worth reading, or at least watching one of the movies, and reading this review will thoroughly spoil it for you, so read on if you dare.

15823480This feels very ambitious, but here goes. I’ve read Anna Karenina (I’m not even sure I’m pronouncing it right) over the last week or two and thoroughly enjoyed it. The copy I’ve borrowed has over 1000 pages, so it’s no small undertaking. It is still a very popular book, even if it was first published in 1877 in Russian (I read the Maude English translation). In a nutshell the book contains two stories at the same time. The title story is a romance between Anna Karenina, wife of Karenin, with her lover, Count Vronsky. She starts by initially conducting a covert affair with Vronsky, but then moves out from her husband and sets up home with the Count. This leads to her being publicly ostracized by her high society friends and eventually she suicides (told you I’d spoil it for you).

Meanwhile another romance goes on between the country bumpkin Levin and the young city girl Kitty. Though Levin is older, and Kitty initially has a crush on Vronsky (there’s a lot of plot in this book), they end up marrying, having kids and living in the country. While Vronsky and Anna end up miserable, Kitty and Levin end up happy, although they have their fair share of troubles along the way.

So why read this book? Well don’t bother because I just wrecked the book for you. Having said that, at least watch one of the movies. Actually read the book, it’s masterfully written. Tolstoy has a way with words unlike few others. He is a genuine master storyteller. Maybe it was the chemo speaking, but I was actually brought to tears by his account of childbirth in this book. And I’ve seen 4 births! Everyone I meet who has read the book wants to talk to me about it. Most people ask the question: what do you think of Anna? Do you like her? It’s one of the key responses to the book: do you like the main character who commits adultery, abandons her family and hooks up with another guy? It’s an interesting question which I’ll put off till later while we examine another issue: Tolstoy’s main point.

What is Tolstoy’s main point in this book? Tolstoy gives us a couple of clues. His first sentence I think is key to understanding the book: “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” There is a few happy families in the book, but the main happy family is Levin and Kitty. They follow the normal ‘plan’ for a family: love, marriage, children, productive service. Tolstoy sees this as instinctive and God-given. In his book there are several unhappy families, and all have deviated from the God-given plan. The key unhappy family is the relationship between Vronsky and Anna. By the end it seems that there is nothing they can do to be happy, so completely have they abandoned the plan. A lot of their unhappiness is supplied by their society, where Anna is very unfairly targeted as a woman of ill-repute, while Vronsky seems to get by without being publicly shamed.

The second clue is Tolstoy’s epigraph: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” This is a quote from the Bible, from Romans 12:19. Some connect this with a couple of moments of forgiveness in the story, one of which is quite key to the narrative. I’m less convinced. I suspect Tolstoy means this quote much more along the lines of Romans 1:18-32. Several times in that passage God gives people over to their depraved actions, and the consequences of their depravity form the punishment for the actions. In the same way I suspect that Tolstoy is saying that the unhappiness that comes from departing from God’s plan is part of God’s punishment for people ignoring his plan.

220px-annakareninatitleFew would agree with Tolstoy today, and yet this story still captures people’s imagination. Could Tolstoy be right? Is there an instinctive plan for happiness that God has put in our hearts of love, marriage, children and service? I think the Bible supports such an idea (although the order may not be quite so important: love before marriage is only a few hundred years old as an idea). I also think that our society, even as it supposedly leaves such antiquated notions behind, still ends up following the script. Where people depart the script it can be statistically shown that they are less happy (e.g. greater rates of domestic violence in de facto relationships). Perhaps Tolstoy has something to teach us?

Wonderfully, Tolstoy will teach us more than just to stick to God’s plan. Because of his great skill as a story-teller he’ll suck you into Anna’s world as well. Anna is a beautiful and charming woman trapped in a loveless marriage who only discovers what true love is when she is pursued by another man. She wrestles for a while with the temptation but then abandons herself to adultery and betrays her husband and abandons her son. Later she’ll torment Vronsky her lover and find herself trapped and isolated in her predicament, unable to undo the damage she’s done with no obvious way out. It feels easy to condemn her early on, but as she descends more and more into pretense and secret misery I find it hard not to sympathise with her. There’s no doubt that her society was unfairly cruel in punishing her alone for her adultery, but it’s also hard just to excuse her for betraying her husband and son. In Anna we see reflected ourselves, living with the consequences of our own sins, often trapped and ashamed. Dare we condemn Anna given what we’ve done?

I’m curious now to see the movies that have been made from this book. I suspect modern day cinema goers would struggle to condemn anyone who is being true to their emotions regardless of the damage left in their wake. Adultery is so commonplace in our society that in many instances it’s considered a good thing. But I think Tolstoy is a voice from the past worth a listen. If he’s right, and there’s a plan for life that leads to happiness, then wouldn’t we be stupid to ignore it?

Not a Lot of Clot

c0089193-activated_plateletssciencephoto-comMy counts really bottomed out today. I’ve had two bags of platelets and I’m about to get a second bag of red blood cells. My hemoglobin was 79 today. The healthy range is 130 to 180. The healthy range for platelets is 150 to 400. My platelet count was 6. The nurse woke me at 6am to let me know not to bump or cut myself or I might die. Good advice. I continue to battle with the headaches as well. I suspect I’m still suffering from the lumbar puncture headaches, as my headaches are getting worse while they wean me off the caffeine.

Reflections on Matthew 21:1-17 Read the passage

With this spectacular entry into Jerusalem Matthew begins the account of the last week of Jesus earthly life. I used to think that v1-6 recount a miracle, but I’ve since had my mind changed by an excellent book by Richard Bauckham. I now think that Matthew doesn’t include the names and details in the provision of the donkeys because those people were still alive and living in or near Jerusalem when the Gospel was written. Matthew doesn’t name them in order to protect them from potential prosecution because of their support of Jesus.

Riding the donkeys is a deliberate act by Jesus to claim for himself Messiah status. The crowd, probably from Galilee, don’t miss the fact and quote from Ps 118 among other things. Apparently Ps 118 was a procession psalm used by the king of Israel as he entered the city of Jerusalem on his way to offer a sacrifice at the temple. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus gets to the temple, but doesn’t offer a sacrifice. Instead he cleanses the temple, incensed that the court of the Gentiles, the closest place that Gentiles could get to God, had been turned into a marketplace. The blind and lame come as close to the temple as they can get and Jesus heals them, making them eligible to go further into the temple precincts. No one blind or lame was allowed far into the temple grounds. The chief priests show how far off the mark they are by complaining about the children proclaiming Jesus’ messiahship (Son of David v15). By the end of the week the chief priests will be baying for Jesus’ blood, and then by the end of the year they’ll be vainly making death threats to try to stop the spread of the gospel of Jesus.

solar-system-670x440-130502Jesus is the great king promised in the OT, he’s the fulfillment of the temple, the place where God and man meet, and he’s the sacrifice to be offered to satisfy the worship that God requires. When it comes to relating to God there is no going past Jesus. He’s at the centre of all God is doing and has done in this world. And he ought to be at the centre of our lives as well. Jesus isn’t someone we add to our busy lives, a bit of church or a new bunch of friends. He is our Lord, the one we live for, the one we obey, the one we love. We don’t add him to our solar system, like Pluto orbiting around the edge, he’s our Sun, the centre of gravity. When he enters our life everything reorients itself to a new orbit.


Still Waiting…

countvonMy blood counts are still hovering around the same, but they’ve started weaning me off the caffeine and so far I haven’t had any bad headaches. God-willing they won’t come back. I’m expecting to go home probably mid-week now given my past history after chemo. I’ve moved across to a window seat again, so I’m enjoying the view. Not much else to report right now…

Reflections on Matthew 20:17-34 Read the passage

It’s extraordinary how the two stories are put side by side. Jesus predicts his violent and terrible death (17-19) and then James and John, along with their mother, try to pressure Jesus to give good positions to them when Jesus comes into his kingdom (20-21). (The right and left seat are something like the Prime Minister and Treasurer positions in the cabinet.) It’s hard to imagine a greater misunderstanding of Jesus’ kingdom, but then the Zebedees are following the standard Jewish understanding of the Messiah – a physical kingdom on Earth. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, and he has come to serve, not be served. Matthew has been profiling for a few chapters now what it looks like for the first to be last and the last to be first (20:16), and now we see that Jesus, the first, will make himself last, and all those who want to be first in the kingdom to come will make themselves last as well.

This is a powerful and attractive message. It’s been central to the concept of power in Western democracies. It’s why we call the cabinet positions in the Australian government ‘ministers’ (i.e. servants). It’s attractive but it’s not easy. Simply recognising what we should do doesn’t empower us to do it. In this passage we see where the power comes from. First we must have our eyes opened to Jesus, like the blind men (v29-34). The power for such spiritual insight comes from God alone. That same power enables us not just to see, but also to follow, just like the blind men (v34). When we follow Jesus we also take up our cross (16:24), and like our saviour we serve others rather than ourselves. The power to do this is the Holy Spirit, whom God gives to all those who follow Jesus (Acts 2:38).

To serve rather than be served is not to be a doormat. It’s not to have your agenda dictated by others. Jesus never had his agenda dictated by any human authority. He did his Father’s will. We see when the Zebedees come to pressure Jesus into doing something he firmly resists. Jesus is no doormat. But what he does, he does for others. He does what he thinks is best for them. This is what a servant leader does. They do what is best for those they lead and serve. This may not be popular at times, but it will always be from a conviction in their heart that they have the best interests of those they serve foremost in their mind. Praise God for all those servants who have led me over the years. Their quiet and faithful service has profoundly impacted me.

Waiting for the Counts

62558092_15-thecountand8-richardtermineI’m now back on all the medication I need to be, so it’s a matter of being weened off caffeine, which has been helping my headaches, and of my blood counts recovering. So far my immune system is still at zero, but hopefully it will recover soon. I received a bag of red blood cells yesterday and my platelets are getting low today. Please pray that my body will recover quickly and start producing its own blood cells. Once that happens I can go home for a while. The next big step is an appointment early next month about a bone marrow transplant. Please pray that they’ll find a donor on the worldwide database that matches my tissue types.

Reflections on Matthew 20:1-16 Read the Passage

Again another strange passage about what the kingdom of heaven is like. I don’t think Jesus here is giving us a lesson about enterprise bargaining, or industrial relations, but about the kingdom. The kingdom is like a farmer who pays all the day labourers the same wage regardless of how long they work. Notice all the labourers share two things in common: they laboured on the vineyard and they were there at the end of the day. The main point, as with all of Jesus’ parables, comes at the end. The owner of the vineyard has the right to be generous. If we have a problem with that is it because of envy?

What do we make of this? Whether you’ve been a Christian 40 years or 40 minutes you can expect the same result to life: heaven. It’s not something you earn, it’s something that the owner of the vineyard loves to give. I’m not sure that any of us can claim to have been in the vineyard from the very first, but that’s beside the point. The point is that the master loves to be generous and we would be stupid to begrudge him that generosity. After all, we’ve all benefited from God’s generosity.

Some people will be Christians for 80 years, some for 80 seconds, but it’s not as if the one who has converted on their deathbed (and good luck knowing which bed is your deathbed) is better off than the faithful Christian who has served Jesus their whole life. That is to buy into the lie that serving God is a terrible suffering where we miss out on all that is good in life. Serving God is a privilege and leads to true happiness. That doesn’t mean that we end up with everything we want, the most possessions, best financial situation and best possible health. But even should we be diagnosed with cancer, serving God is still our greatest joy. And it’s great to know that heaven is not based on quality or length of service, but on the generosity of God.


On the Grog

glivec_400mgYesterday they reintroduced the drug they gave me when I went home: Imatinib. We can now say with confidence that it gives me headaches and nausea. In order to combat these they’ve been giving me some pretty strong drugs which make me quite groggy. I feel pretty useless when my head is in a swim and usually just go back to bed. We’re experimenting with alternative drugs to combat the side effects and hopefully we’ll come up with something that allows me to think straight and not feel rubbish all at the same time. All the chemo is done, the preliminary results from the bone marrow biopsy show that the cancer is all gone (praise God!), but there’s more tests still to be done to the sample. At the very least it shows that the chemo has been working. I’ve got an appointment at the Royal Melbourne in a couple of weeks where I’ll get to discuss the bone marrow transplant with the experts over there. I’m hoping to be going home some time early next week.

Reflections on Matthew 19:16-30 Read the passage

Matthew tells us little about the man who comes up to Jesus at the start of the story. We just know he’s a man. He understands a couple of things straight up. He gets that Jesus is on about eternal life. He gets that he doesn’t quite have it yet. And he thinks he can earn it just as soon as he knows what it is he has to do. This guy could be an Aussie. He knows he isn’t perfect, but he’s a pretty good person and if Jesus can just tell him what’s required he’ll be more than happy to do it. After all, eternal life is worth it, right?

Jesus starts by outlining some OT commandments (19:18-19). The man claims to have kept them all, and Matthew suddenly gives us some more information about this man: he is a young man. One can’t help but think that the claim to be a good person fits more naturally with the young, rather than someone who has lived long enough to come face to face with what they’re really like. Jesus gives him just one more command – sell everything and follow me. Matthew gives us a final piece of information about this man: he was very rich. It was because of his love of wealth that he could not follow Jesus. Jesus has already made this clear (“You cannot serve both God and Money” 6:24).

Jesus then teaches his disciples (19:23-25). The assumption of the day was that rich people were most likely to enter heaven. After all they were the ones who had worked hard by doing good and God had blessed them. Jesus reverses everything. The rich are the least likely. Easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (19:24). There is a story that some tell about a ‘needle gate’ to explain this statement, but it is not necessary. Jesus explains exactly what it means: “With man this is impossible” (19:26). Salvation doesn’t come from doing good, it must come from God: “with God all things are possible” (19:26).

What can we learn from this story? I want to suggest two things.

  1. Salvation is always and only a gift. We can never earn it, never give enough, never do enough, never say enough, never be enough.
  2. Are you willing to treat all that you have as belonging to God? Although Jesus doesn’t call on you right now to give all that you have to the poor, in a way he does. He expects you to stop treating what you have as ‘yours’ and to treat it as ‘ours’. To be willing to give it when called upon by the king for the sake of the kingdom. What do you have that you will never give away, no matter what?

The Valley of Horrors

It’s been a few days since I last blogged. Sometimes I don’t blog because I’m home with the family and want to spend the time with the kids. But this time I haven’t been up to blogging for several days. For those who pray, thank you for your prayers over the last week or so. It’s been a tough time.

The second round of chemo has been particularly hard. I came into hospital with head-aches related to the lumbar puncture and they got away from me again. They were so severe that for a while I was stuck in bed barely able to get out. The chemo also made me so nauseous that they ran out of drugs they could offer me. That meant for about three days in a row I vomited at least once a day. It was a particularly dark time.

I remember also feeling quite lonely. I didn’t want to express this to Simone, my wife, because I knew that would pressure her to abandon the kids and come to Melbourne. Wonderfully, she decided herself to surprise me on Valentine’s Day with a three day visit, which was sorely needed. I remember crying in the shower on Saturday, partly from loneliness and partly from the pain I had suffered the night before (one of the worst in my life), wishing that Simone would come but feeling I had no right to ask it of her. Imagine how happy I was to see her show up unannounced on Sunday morning. I’m so blessed to have a wife who sees it not just as her duty, but her privilege to be there for me when I’m at my lowest and in need. Certainly not the wife I deserve!

One of the things they do when I’m on chemo is pump me full of fluids. This time, because I was stuck in bed, most of the fluid went to my face, which puffed up like a balloon. I felt like Marlin Brando at the end of Apocalypse Now. The horror. And it felt at times like I was in a valley of horrors. I remember praying at one time that I would really feel God’s presence with me as I suffered. I never did feel that presence, but that hasn’t shaken my belief in God. I still knew his presence, even if I couldn’t feel it. Perhaps he was teaching me to hold on to truth even when it doesn’t feel true.

I’m feeling much better now. I’m out of bed, reading my Bible, praying, blogging and walking around the ward. The chemo is over. When they’ve got me settled again on the drug regime they want to send me home on, and my blood counts have recovered sufficiently, I’ll be off home until the next round of chemo. I’ve also received good news about the cancer. Initial results show that the chemo has successfully blasted all the cancer from my system. It will take about another week for all the results to come in and for us to know for sure that I’m in remission. Praise God and thank you for your prayers. The next thing to put in place will be a bone marrow transplant, and then the time gap until the operation will dictate the chemo regime from there.

Reflections on Matthew 18:23-35 Read the passage

It’s striking just how often Jesus links the necessity of forgiving others to our own forgiveness. This is probably the most powerful story that Jesus tells to reinforce the point. What’s hard to see in v33 is the necessity of forgiving once you have been forgiven a massive debt. The slave had been forgiven an unpayable debt. 10,000 talents was equivalent to 200,000 years wages. That’s equivalent to at least $10 billion in today’s money. The slave, now forgiven a massive debt, refuses to forgive his fellow slave a 100 denarii debt, equivalent to 100 days’ wages or about $18,000 in today’s money. Lack of forgiveness and an unwillingness to resolve relationship issues is one of the biggest causes of conflict in church today. Many people leave a church because of unresolved relational issues. Often these can be dressed up as theological or other differences, but at heart a relational issue is driving the change. Being the cause of the sin or the offended party is not an excuse for inaction when it comes to reconciliation. In 18:15 Jesus puts the onus on the offended party to reconcile. In 5:23 Jesus puts the onus on the offending party, even if the offence is just perceived and you haven’t actually sinned, the fact that your brother or sister ‘has something against you’ ought to be enough to initiate efforts to reconcile. Jesus is pretty passionate about this. He says that the necessary outcome of our forgiveness is that we will forgive each other (18:35). Let’s pray that we see the necessity and be quick to forgive, quick to reconcile.



Back in Hospital

Back in the ward again. We had an eventful trip to hospital (I’d steer clear of the gutter on the corner of Fitzroy St and Vic Pde until it rains). We arrived to find out that communication had broken down and I was meant to have fasted. But then the chemo was delayed because my immune system was too low. Then the bone marrow biopsy was delayed because my red blood cells were too low. It seems my bloods had gone a bit downhill while I was at home. Now, day 3 in the ward, and things are looking back up again. The biopsy is on, as is chemo, and we’ll be away and racing.

It seems the lumbar puncture has left me with head and neck aches, which haven’t been fun. Hopefully the neuro doctors will come around today to talk about my symptoms. So far today, though, none of the severe headaches have happened yet. It seems I’m finally learning what suffering should look like as a cancer patient. I guess that first stay in the ward was God’s easy introduction for me. Please pray they’ll get on top of my symptoms and I’ll get up and about again.

Reflections on Matthew 17:22-27 Read the passage

Jesus predicts his death a second time, and this time the disciples seem to understand that he will die. There seems to be no indications in the Gospels that they even expected him to rise, though he also predicted his resurrection three times. Death was a concept they could understand in their world. Resurrection was a religious belief for the end of the times, not something they ever expected to happen in their lifetime.

The tax discussion seems very strange. The key to understanding it is that Jesus claims to be God’s Son, the king of the temple. So a temple tax doesn’t apply to him. It’s a claim that he made as a boy in Luke 2:49, but is included here in Matthew to show again Jesus’ superiority to the temple authorities. They should be bowing down to him, not the reverse.



This week at home has been a struggle. The new meds I’m on have given me headaches and nausea. I have good days and bad days. On the bad days I stay mostly in bed. On the good days I’m up and about. I went to church today, which was brilliant. It was so encouraging to see our church family and to hear Rob preach. We enjoyed the Lord’s Supper together afterward as a meal and some great conversations. Tomorrow I talk to the hematologist and on Tuesday it’s back to the hospital.

Reflections on Matthew 17:1-13 Read the passage

Back to Matthew again, but we still see Elijah.  It’s another extraordinary scene. Jesus is speaking with Moses and Elijah and he’s glowing like the sun. Peter suggests three tabernacles (shelters) inspired probably by being with Moses on a high mountain (think Sinai), but God clears up the meaning of what they are seeing – it’s all about Jesus.

What do we make of this? Why Moses and Elijah? There are a lot of different theories and it’s hard to pinpoint one over another. Some suggest that Moses represents the Law and Elijah the Prophets. Others point out that a lot in Elijah’s life is reminiscent of events in Moses’s life. Some see Moses as the founder and Elijah as the reformer. Others still that Moses and Elijah are the two greatest prophets of the OT. It’s hard to know which one is best, but one thing seems to be clear, Moses and Elijah are all about Jesus. They are not equals with Jesus. God the Father makes that clear.

So what? First, the OT is all about Jesus. It points to Jesus and the greatest prophets are on about Jesus. Second, the OT is something that Christians should read. The OT is on about Christ, and as followers of Christ we will rejoice in the Scriptures that point to him. Third, Jesus is divine. God the Father speaks about God the Son, whom the prophets, now in heaven, return to speak to. Fourth, when God speaks about his Son he uses two quotes from the OT, the same ones at Jesus’ baptism, which identifies Jesus as the Messiah (Ps 2:7) and the Suffering Servant (Is 42:1), the promised king who suffers to save. These are some of the riches the OT waits to share with us. How well do you know the Old Testament?

The Leaning Tower of Meds

DSC_0003So I’m home! It’s great to be home. Yesterday dragged out nearly all day. Hospitals are great at doing many things, but getting you out of the hospital in a timely manner is not one of them. Before they let me go they gave me one and half lumbar punctures (resident and then the registrar) which has left my back feeling a bit sore today. The pharmacist has loaded me up with a whole lot of drugs, including a very new drug that will block one of the genes in my cancer cells. It can have some side effects of its own, but so far they haven’t been too bad. A massive thanks to all those who have been praying for me. God has been so good to us. He has thoroughly answered all your prayers and I feel very blessed. I’m just trying to take it slow at home. Part holiday, part helping out a little with church. I’m really looking forward to church on Sunday and seeing my dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

Reflections on 2 Kings 1:1-2:11 read the passage

I’ve added a link beside the reference because I don’t think you’ll get much out of these reflections if you don’t read the passage first. After all, God’s word is far more valuable than my reflections on it. A double whammy today since I didn’t have time to blog yesterday.

Ahaziah shows that he’s the product of his parents. Rather than following the LORD he sends messengers to consult Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron. Ironically, centuries ago the people of Ekron protested against the ark of the LORD entering their city, because he was too powerful, would destroy their god (just as he had done to Dagon in Ashdod) and give them tumours. Now the king of Israel who is supposed to worship the LORD is sending for Baal.

This is perhaps Elijah’s most exciting chapter. It’s his last action before being taken to heaven and it suits him down to a T. This time Elijah faithfully delivers the message word for word twice (1:6,16). That’s got to be a new record for Elijah! He does some improvising though too, with the fire from heaven engulfing the two detachments which I suspect may have pleased Elijah just a little. (It’s also the incident that inspired the sons of Zebedee in the NT – Lk 9:54).

Chapter 2 relates to Elijah’s departure. He and Enoch are the only men in the Bible reported to have never died. Elijah seems pretty keen to dump Elisha, but Elisha hangs with him the whole way. The double portion of Elijah’s spirit he asks for (2:9) is firstborn language (the firstborn son would receive a double portion of the inheritance) and suggests that Elisha wants to continue Elijah’s ministry. This just happens to be exactly what God commanded Elijah to do on Mt. Sinai (1 Ki 19:16), so it’s interesting that Elijah makes it so hard for him given that that is his God-given task. On the subject of God-given tasks, how did Elijah go with his three tasks (1 Ki 19:16)?

  1. Anoint Hazael – fail
  2. Anoint Jehu – fail
  3. Anoint Elisha – reluctant pass

The chariot of fire comes between them while they were talking (1 Ki 2:11), which I suspect would have been a slightly terrifying event. Elijah is then taken up in a whirlwind. (The usual picture painted is that Elijah ascended in the chariot, but that’s not what the text says. Fire generally makes a poor vehicle to ride in.)

How do we assess Elijah’s life? He was a man of profound faith. He relied many times on God in prayer and saw God do extraordinary things in his life. In fact he is known by the Jews as the second most important prophet after Moses. But he was also arrogant and stubborn. He improvised his way through a role that was not meant to include improvisation – passing on the word of the LORD. He was clear, though, between his own words and God’s. He was also stubbornly disobedient. Once God had rebuked him on Mt Sinai he barely carried out one of the three tasks given to him. And yet God takes him to heaven in a whirlwind and he doesn’t taste death. How does that work? It’s hard to process, but if nothing else we see God’s amazing grace in action. If my assessment of Elijah is right (and many commentators differ), then God backed Elijah in the most audacious of schemes, continued to use him in his stubbornness, even after he went near-suicidal and graciously honoured him in his ascent to heaven.

We are no Elijah, but every follower of Jesus is receives extraordinary honour and glory. First we’re honoured to bear the name of Jesus and to suffer for it. When others persecute us that is an amazing honour, because they are identifying us with Christ. It’s an amazing honour for God to entrust us with the gospel, which is the power of salvation for all those who believe. And we await unimaginable glory and honour when we are invited to reign with Christ for all eternity in heaven. None of this is deserved. All is grace. With Elijah we can praise God who gives us not what we’ve earned, but the exact opposite, a gift more precious than we can imagine.