Picking Up The Cloak and Going On

When Elijah went up, Elisha went on.

On the same day, God brought them both to a significant juncture: the Lord called Elijah homeward–his work was done. Elisha moved onward–because his wasn’t.

The sights and sounds were phenomenal; it must have been an amazing event to witness.

So was the June 2nd Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI) graduation1 in Lilongwe, Malawi even though there was no whirlwind or chariot and horsemen of fire. That day was remarkably momentous. Not just because the students received a well-deserved diploma and congratulatory handshake, but because (in a sense) each one “picked up the cloak” and moved on.

The cloak?

Go back for a moment to 2 Kings 2:13. It’s there on the ground. But because of the attention-grabbing whirlwind and the “I can’t believe what I’m seeing” chariot and horsemen of fire, we sometimes miss the cloak.

Let’s not overlook it anymore.

The cloak had been Elijah’s. It had fallen when the old prophet ascended.2 It was the same cloak that Elijah had just previously rolled up and used to smack the waters.3 It wouldn’t be all that incredible had not the waters divided and dry ground appeared.

“My father!  My father!  The chariot and horsemen of Israel!”4

 And just like that, Elijah was gone.

Keep in mind, it’s not just any person who had left the scene. The person who is gone is Elisha’s spiritual father, his teacher and mentor! The one with whom he had spent time and built a relationship. This meant no more chats or discussions; no more opportunities to ask questions. No longer can Elisha sit at Elijah’s feet and learn from him. Might Elisha be feeling a bit alone? Inadequate? Intimidated? Elijah is gone. Gone! Ah, but look – his cloak isn’t! Elisha sees it and picks it up…

And goes on.

In a sense, the LBI students have done the same. They have gone on. But before they did so, they (like Elisha) picked up the cloak.

For three years they walked and talked with their “spiritual fathers.” But now the time is over with their teachers and mentors.  No longer will they study the Gospel of John with Pastor Panning or speak Greek with Pastor Nitz. They won’t learn any more biology with Professor Mwakatika or Pastoral Theology with Professor Kumchulesi.

Though a new class is coming to the LBI in September, the work of the professors is done for this particular group of “prophets’ sons.” Look, the cloak has fallen from the professor’s shoulders, and these nine students of the Word have picked it up.  They are off and running. A “passing of the baton” of sorts. Soon they will be found in Lusaka, Zambia in yet another classroom for three years.

God-willing, in 2020 these nine men will become full time called workers in the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA). Academically speaking, these men have run a marathon already… but the road ahead of them is equally long. Won’t you take a moment to offer a prayer on their behalf?

If you’d like, you can simply use the one the hymnist wrote:5

God of the prophets, bless the prophet’s sons;
Elijah’s mantle o’er Elisha cast.
Each age its solemn task may claim but once;
Make each one better, nobler than the last.
Anoint them prophets, men who are intent
To be your witnesses in word and deed,
Their hearts aflame, their lips made eloquent,
Their eyes awake to ev’ry human need.

“The mantle has been cast.” Keep in mind this mantle is not so much a swath of cloth but a symbol of something far greater. Elisha had begged for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah’s spirit was nothing less than God’s power and strength. And got it! He simply wanted to go on in the same power that Elijah had been given. He wanted to be able to do the Lord’s work and do it well.

And he did. Because the power was not from Elijah, it was from God.

Just as the Lord had given Elijah what he needed to do his work, the same Lord would equip the new man who would follow. Elisha would go on in the strength of the Lord.  He was, well, cloaked in it! Wrapped up in the grace of God!

So are the nine students who have graduated.

Yes, they have picked up the mantle and gone on. The campus is now quiet. The students and their families are gone. The only things that linger are memories and pictures of that graduation day. Oh, and the tree that they planted.

All in all, it was indeed a special event. But even though those nine young men were all wearing brand new suits and received unanimous recommendation to go on to the Seminary, we realize…

It really wasn’t about them.

It wasn’t even about their professors. And most certainly it was not about the piece of paper they can now frame and hang on their wall.

It was about Jesus Christ, our living God and Savior! It was all about the Lord who gives the power and abilities to teach and to learn. It was our gracious God who called each man to be in the place where God wanted him to be. All along it was the Lord who was daily strengthening faith, forgiving sins, equipping and empowering these students and their teachers “in the spirit of Elijah.”

That’s good to know when you reach your own significant juncture in life. Maybe you’re there right now. Or, perhaps one is right around the corner. There may come a time when someone special in your life leaves you behind. Not necessarily through death, but that may be the case too. It may be that that someone special in your life is called by God to go in a different direction than you thought–or hoped. But chances are, you may at least for a while, feel alone. Lonely. Perhaps intimidated by the work that God has called you still to do. You may wonder how to move forward with the gifts you have–or don’t have.

The answer is there, but it’s easy to overlook.

Sometimes the things that are the most near to us are the things we don’t see. What has been with us all along, is “the mantle, the double portion of the spirit of Elijah.” Better put: the gospel in word and sacraments. The power of God for salvation!

 My father!  My father!  The chariot and horsemen of Israel!

What a joy it must be for our Lord Jesus to see us doing what Elisha did…

Picking up the cloak…and going on.

By: Missionary John Holtz
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1.) 2017 LBI Graduates:

  • Four LBI graduates from Malawi: Baloyi, Mr. Gomezgani Anthony, Kalima, Mr. Greshan David, Mpingiza, Mr. Joel, Namakhwa, Mr. Justin Lackson
  • Five LBI graduates from Zambia: Banda, Mr. Daniel Favour, Banda, Mr. Jatelo Lingililani, Mwanza, Mr. Elias, Nhliziyo, Mr. Dumisani James, Nyirongo, Mr. Chisale Doubt Jackson

2.) 2 Kings 2:13

3.) Kings 2:8

4.) “Elisha’s exclamation… refers to Elijah, his father in the faith. Just as mighty horses and chariots are emblems of a king’s strength, so Elijah had been a spiritual bulwark of God’s people.” Arno J. Wolfgramm, The People’s Bible, KINGS, page 169.

5.) CW 543 God of the Prophets, Verses 1 and 2

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