Stranger Things from the Bible

Stranger Things from the Bible: Elisha and the Bears

Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers
Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers

As I write this, we are just over a month away from the release of Tom Hanks’ new biopic, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The trailer has sparked nostalgia for Mr. Rogers; drawing people back to his model of kindness, especially to children.

As a child of the times, I can tell you that Fred Rogers showed me kindness through a black and white TV screen that few adults ever showed me in real life.

And I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have sicced bears on me.

Elisha was No Mr. Rogers

The second story in our journey through the Stranger Things from the Bible takes us to 2 Kings and the wicked city of Bethel. It’s here that newly appointed prophet, Elisha, is verbally assaulted by youths and responds with a curse. God hears his “prayer” and promptly responds by sending two bears out of the woods to maul them.

Disturbing story? You bet! Stranger thing from the Bible? Of course! But it’s a lot of fun to preach!

Elisha - 1453 French manuscript
The story of 2 Kings 2 from a 1453 French manuscript.

Timeless Lessons . . . and Bears

I had looked for an excuse to preach this story for years. At one time, I had considered preaching it with the title, “Bears Win by 42.” That’s perhaps a little insensitive to the heart of the story, though. Also, it would likely only appeal to Bears fans.

Still, it would be a lot of fun!

Part of the challenge of preaching it is the story is much broader than we first realize. This isn’t just about boys, bears, and a bald prophet. The story really begins at the start of the chapter, with Elijah’s assumption. It continues with a trip through Jericho and then finally the incident at Bethel. The bears are just the culmination of a really bad day and Israel’s rebellion into wickedness.

Elisha and the Bears by Panistheman
Elisha and the Bears by Panistheman (Deviantart)
Maybe not the best coloring page for your Sunday School class.

Check Your Presuppositions

There are a few issues that we need to check when reading the story. I cover them in the sermon as best I could at the time. The age of the “small boys” is one issue. The Hebrew would allow for them to be anywhere from 12-30 years old (and Elisha is likely only 25). This isn’t a matter of the man of God feeling threatened by the local elementary school thugs. And, of course, the text only tells us that 42 were mauled. It says nothing about how many were doing the actual jeering.

I wish I had read Derek Rishmawy’s excellent article on the passage before I wrote my sermon. He offers some intriguing takes on Elisha’s baldness and what it might mean. He’s researched the passage well and has much to offer.

Bald prophet, Bears, Bad Bethel Boys

Elisha and the Bears

This is, without a doubt, the most popular of the sermons from my Stranger Things from the Bible series. The audio file has been played three times as much as the other sermons. I’ve also found it’s a great sermon for when I’m a guest preacher. As I often say, “This one’s got legs.”

Stranger Things from the Bible

Stranger Things from the Bible: Saul and the Witch of En-Dor

Our Bibles are not the clean, happy books we think they are. They’re full of scary stuff. Yes, there’s faith, hope, and love in those pages; but look hard enough and you’ll find witches, ghosts, dragons and things that go bump in the night. The Bible is full of strange things . . . and even stranger things.

In 2016, I spent October, a month we normally look for ghosts and goblins, digging into some often ignored passages. I titled the series Stranger Things from the Bible after the Netflix series that drew us into the Upside Down. There’s much in the Bible that might also seem upside down.

The Stranger Things series, set in the fictional small-town of Hawkins, Indiana. Hawkins doesn’t feel all that far removed from our own small-town in Illinois. I felt the similarities and the callbacks to the heydays of the 1980s would go over well with our crowd. I also hoped that the strangeness of the stories would disarm my hearers and allow the punch of the message to surprise them.

And it helps that I love these weird Bible stories!

These stories might make us uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), right? The Bible’s stranger things deserve our attention. We can gain much from these stories.

Saul and the Witch

Saul and the Witch of Endor by William Sidney Mount
Saul and the Witch of Endor, by William Sidney Mount

I began the series with that bizarre story in 1 Samuel 28, when Saul consults a witch, asking her to bring up the ghost of his mentor, Samuel. The point of the story is not about being bewitched, bothered, or bewildered. Rather, the story calls us to consider just how far from God our disobedience can take us. 

Our obedience now provides confidence later.

Click to listen . . . if you dare!
Called Out

Colossians: A Little Letter to a Church Just Like Yours

I preach in a town of about 800 people. In fact, I’ve lived here my whole life.

It’s easy to feel like God misplaced you when you’re in a small town. Every conference I attend has speakers from big cities. Every preacher whose books I read is from a church that has more people attending than we do in our entire town. In the meantime, there are days when counting the dogs that randomly walk into the building would be tempting.

Who am I fooling? We’ve done that. Continue reading

Wake Up! A Christmas Sermon Series

Sooner or later in preaching you struggle with the issue of how to keep Christmas sermons fresh. The selection of Christmas texts seems limited to Matthew and Luke, unless you get a bit more creative. How many times can you tell the same story over and over again?

It turns out you can do it a lot, actually. It helps, though, to find fresh approaches and new themes rather than simply retell and rehash the same old stories over and over again.

This year I received an email from Sermons.com offering several different Christmas and Advent series for the coming season. I found an intriguing title that I thought would be fun to explore this year. It was a series by a user who goes by “King Duncan” (apparently a Macbeth fan) called “Wake Up!” I’m not one to spend money on a sermon series, but based on the title and the passages highlighted I was able to put together a decent Christmas series. Continue reading

Audio

Famous Last Words: My God, My God, Why have You Forsaken Me?

What would it take? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself this week. From time to time our kids disappoint us. We are at times upset about their choices. But as disappointed as we can be we would never abandon our children . . . would we?

And yet God the Father did exactly that. Jesus cried out those words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” because for the first time in all eternity he was truly alone.

The day after I preached this sermon a friend of mine messaged me as he was listening to it and contemplating adapting it for his own Easter sermon. It wasn’t until we began chatting about the message that I remembered the huge influence John R.W. Stott’s The Cross of Christ had on me and this message when I originally wrote it in 2009. Stott’s book was one of those transformational tomes that I read years ago and have never seemed to put down.

Rather, it’s never put me down.

In chapter three, Stott dissects the different views of Jesus’ “cry of dereliction.” Quoting John Calvin, Stott concludes:

As Calvin put it, ‘If Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual . . . Unless his soul shared in the punishment, he would have been the Redeemer of bodies alone.’ In consequence, ‘he paid a greater and more excellent price in suffering in his soul the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man’. So then an actual and dreadful separation took place between the Father and the Son; it was voluntarily accepted by both the Father and the Son; it was due to our sins and their just reward; and Jesus expressed this horror of great darkness, this God-forsakenness, by quoting the only verse of Scripture which accurately described it, and which he had perfectly fulfilled, namely, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.’

I was amazed again at the timeliness of this message. Even though it was written six years ago it spoke directly to many needs currently in our congregation. I credit that to the wonderful way God works through his word and, unfortunately, the universality of the feeling of abandonment.