When I was growing up, I loved reading fantasy fiction books about realms where supernatural things happened. Life was difficult at times. There was a season where my dad was in prison, and we didn’t have much money. I wasn’t one of the “cool kids” in school, wasn’t good at sports or band, or even academics. So I loved to “retreat” sometimes by enjoying a story about magical places. I might even spend time imagining – what if I had some sort of power? What if the world I know could be transformed by something I could do?
I would wonder: what if the supernatural wasn’t just for books and movies – but existed here in our world? This past Sunday was a special day in the church – a day we call “Transfiguration Sunday”. It’s a day we often talk about Jesus ascending a hill in front of Peter, James, and John, and crazy things happening. They saw reality, transformed by Heaven.
I chose the “other” passage from Sunday’s readings, from the Old Testament. It is the final moments shared by the prophets Elijah and Elisha. It’s good for us to remember – Elijah is the prophet who had the showdown with the prophets of Ba’al – and saw God consume his altar with fire. He was getting too old to continue. Elisha would go on to do great things, and even gave a widow a jug of oil that never ran dry. But at this part of the story, he was still young, and wanting to follow Elijah.
Elijah and Elisha began this passage, in a place called “Gilgal”. This was the place Joshua first camped with the Israelites after they crossed the Jordan River, as they were entering the promised land. He set up an altar there, with 12 large stones to remind God’s people of His faithfulness.
Then they traveled to Bethel. You’ve probably heard of Bethel before, as the place where Jacob saw angels coming and going on a ladder. (Genesis 28) It was a place that reminds us that God is connecting the realities of earth and the realities of Heaven.
Then they traveled to Jericho, where God proved His presence with the people of Israel by crumbling the walls, in an amazing first victory as they began to receive and inhabit the promised land. Elijah was taking Elisha – and they’re taking us today – on a tour that reminds us of the Faithfulness of God – that Heaven and Earth aren’t just connected – but God is establishing His reign and rule in Earth as it is in Heaven. God is crumbling strongholds that previously existed, and claiming new territory as His Kingdom.
Next, they went to the Jordan River. The Jordan always seems to symbolize “crossing over into something new” in scripture. Elijah was preparing Elisha, inviting Him to enter into a new season of life. They were followed by 50 other prophets – people who spoke with God’s heart and vision into the world. Perhaps Elijah wanted some privacy, as this is a moment not meant for everyone, so he hits the water with his coat – and the Jordan splits, allowing them to walk across.
Now, I’ve never split a body of water larger than a puddle. But God splitting a large sea or lake seems possible. But for God to split a large FLOWING body of water, like the Jordan River, or the Danube, seems impossible. The water is always flowing – from upriver, and to downriver. So here, just like in the book of Joshua, we can imagine the water piling up and flooding out on one side – while drying up slowly on the other. Just as it happened when God’s people were leaving the wilderness, and entering into a new season of God’s provision in the land He’d promised Abraham long ago.
After they’d crossed (we can assume the water began to run again, as the other prophets didn’t seem to follow), Elijah turns to Elisha and asks “What can I do for you before I go?” Elisha responds, “The Spirit you have – what God is doing through you – I want a double portion of that kind of living.” Elijah thinks back – probably remembering all the times his life had been threatened or difficult. He says, “you have asked for a difficult thing.”
Not long after, as they were still talking, Elijah is separated by chariots that were blazing with the glory of God – Elisha could only describe them as being “of fire”. Then a windstorm comes, and seems to swallow up Elijah, and Elisha is so overcome by awe, and with grief, he rips his clothes. He had seen – literally, the transformation of reality. The flowing water had parted – this is not something that we’re accustomed to seeing in our physical world. He had seen chariots blazing with God’s glory, and saw Elijah taken away – he seemed to be swallowed up by the wind.
My question is – did reality change for the 50 prophets on the other side of the river in those moments too? Do you think they noticed the transformation of those moments? If they didn’t, does that change the reality of what happened?
Today, I want to invite you as Elijah invited Elisha. To consider the faithfulness of God. I want you to remember the way God’s reality and the reality we know are connected even here and even now. I want you to know that God’s desire is to crumble walls that we have built up – walls that made us feel safe, or comfortable, or strong on our own. I want to invite you to this moment – this Jordan Riverside moment. Because right now, God is parting the waters and asking you to come across with Him. To leave behind yesterday. To leave behind the ways you trusted yourself, or things of this world. To finally be set free from what has been holding onto you for so long. To know God’s looking into your eyes, and asking, “Do you know what I’ve done for you?”
When Jesus came – he also entered the Jordan River. God was declaring – now humanity is entering into a new reality I’ve promised since long ago. Where all land becomes my “promised land”, and the Spirit of God will be poured out in all directions. In that Spirit, we live today in the promised land of relationship with God – no matter what the reality of our world declares.
Knowing that God has transformed our reality by the love and life of Jesus Christ – how does God invite your life to be transformed this week?