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January 24, 2016

Sermon  II Kings 6:5-7 . . “It’s a Miracle: a floating axe head”

“It’s a Miracle: a floating axe head”

II Kings 6:5-7

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Will it sink or will it float?  It’s a fun game to play with children.

And since some of you are children and some of you are, at least, young at heart, let me try a few of them on you today.  

First, let’s try a can of coke.  Will it sink or will it float?  The correct answer is, it’ll sink.

How about a can of diet coke?  Will it sink or will it float?  The correct answer is, it’ll float.

How about an egg?  That’s a tricky one.  A fresh egg will sink, but a not-so-fresh egg will float.

How about a piece of wood?  Well, it depends.  Almost every kind of wood floats, except for about fifteen of them, like Mesquite wood, Ironwood and, of course, Leadwood.  (I suppose that’s why they call it “Leadwood”!)

And how about a rock?  Of course, rocks sink in water.  But there is one, and only one, that will float.  And that’s pumice, volcanic rock.

But as far as I know, there’s one thing that will sink every time and everywhere.  And to make it float would be impossible, an outright miracle.  And that’s the head of an axe in water.

But, believe it or not, that’s exactly what happened in the words of II Kings chapter 6.

We need miracles.  We believe in miracles.

The Bible is full of miracles.  Creation was a miracle and so was Noah’s flood.  When God sent ten plagues on the Egyptians—those were miracles.  And when He confused the languages at Babel and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, when He called Moses from a burning bush and when the walls of Jericho came tumbling down—those were miracles too.

But of all the miracles we find in the Bible from beginning to end, one of the strangest of all is found in the words of II Kings chapter 6.  And it all began with this:  “The sons of the prophets said to Elisha, ‘The place where we dwell is too small.  Let us go to the Jordan and each of us get a log, and let us make a place to dwell there.’”

Let’s step back for just a moment to see what’s going on.

Apparently at this time and place, in Israel, there were three “schools of the prophets,” three “mini-seminaries.”  One was in Bethel, another was in Gilgal, and a third was here in Jericho by the Jordan River.  And it was this one by the Jordan that just got a new professor, a prophet named Elisha.  

But Elisha was not only a prophet, he was scholar and a man of God.  So he was a big drawing card for the seminary.  And because everyone wanted to study with Dr. Elisha, attendance skyrocketed and the seminary admissions office was flooded with more applications than it could handle.  The lecture hall was too small and the dorm didn’t have enough beds.  Dr. Elisha had put this school on the map.

And feeling a bit cramped and crowded at their increasingly inadequate space, the students asked their esteemed professor if they could temporarily suspend class time so they could upgrade the facilities and build a new building.

So, sure enough, the students, along with their teacher, headed out to the woods to fell some trees for the necessary lumber.

But as one of those students was chopping away at a tree trunk, little did he realize that the axe head he was swinging began to loosen, and loosen, and loosen a little more.  When, all of a sudden, it flew off the handle, high up into the air and landed, “bloop,” into the middle of the Jordan and sank deep in the water.

The poor student didn’t know what to do, so he ran up to Elisha and said, “Alas my master!  It was borrowed.”

Now that seems a little silly.  Why was he so worried about some little axe head?  Why not just go out and buy another one?  What’s it going to cost him?  Twenty, maybe thirty dollars?

Actually, no.  To lose a borrowed iron axe head in ninth century Israel would be like wrecking someone’s car today and not having any insurance to cover the damages.  Iron was expensive and incredibly hard to find.  In fact, now the poor student would probably have to drop out of school and get a job.  Then he’d have to use his tuition money and his future earnings just to buy a new axe for the owner.  It could take him months to get out of debt and put his study for full-time Christian service on hold.

So when that student sent that iron axe head flying off into the water, it would have cost him a lot of money.  It was a big deal.

So not knowing what else to do, he ran to his teacher, Elisha, for help.

What did he expect him to do?  The student knew Elisha was not only a remarkable teacher, he was a prophet and a man of God.  

Maybe he heard the story about the widow who once came to him with a heart full of grief, and told him that her husband had died with a great debt and the creditors were threatening to take away her two sons as slaves, unless she paid the debts immediately.  

He asked her, “What do you have in the house?”  She answered, “I have nothing but a cruse of olive oil.”  So he told her to borrow as many containers from her neighbors as she could, and then pour oil from her vessel into all the others.

So she poured and poured and poured some more until finally, when the last container was filled, the flow of oil stopped.  Then she sold the oil, paid her husband’s debt and used the money that was left to support herself and her children.  That was a miracle!

Or maybe he heard of the time Elisha went to visit an old couple in a town called Shunam.  And even though the couple was so old and had so little, he promised them that, “about this time next year, you will have a son.”

And exactly as he promised, a year later, that old couple had a son.

Then, horror of horrors, when the boy was only a few years old, he died.  And when that Shunammite woman ran to ask for help, Elisha prayed to God and God brought him back to life.

So if Elisha could do such great things, such remarkable things, surely he would know what to do about an axe head lost in the water.

And so he did.  For just as soon as Elisha heard what happened, he asked, “Where did it fall?”  And when the boy pointed out to the middle of the river, Elisha cut off a branch and threw it into the water.  And at that very moment, as that stick hit the water, the axe blade popped up to the surface like a cork and bobbed like a beach ball.  By the grace and the power of God, he made the iron float.

So what does all this mean to teach us?

One lesson is found in this:  the God who created a trillion galaxies as well as everything on the face of this earth, who came to earth in the form of His Son, who healed the sick, cured lepers, and made the lame walk, the God who will someday come to make everything brand new, cared enough to make a student’s axe head float.

And if He cares enough about that, I’ll bet He cares about us too.  That’s what Peter wrote in his first epistle:  “Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you.”

Even more, even today, He’s still in the business of making iron float.  Your hurts, your failures, and your catastrophes, no matter what they are, no matter how heavy they are, no matter how deep they are, can become victories with Jesus.  By His grace and power, He can retrieve the irretrievable and save the unsavable.

And one more thing.  It’s funny that Elisha would cut a branch and throw it into the water.  After all, the ground around him must have been littered with any number of sticks.  A whole group of students was chopping down trees.  So why go out and cut a new one?

Maybe, just maybe, he could teach us something about Jesus.  

Jesus is the Branch, isn’t He?  That’s what the prophet Zechariah wrote in his sixth chapter:  “Behold the Man whose name is, ‘The Branch.’”  And Isaiah wrote in his eleventh chapter:  “There shall come a rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.”

And just as Elisha cut it off to save an axe head, Jesus was cut off to save sinners.  As Peter wrote in his first epistle:  “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By His wounds You have been healed.”

The story is told of a young lumberjack who went into a camp as a rookie.  The first day, he was gung ho and ready.  And even though he had never really cut down any trees, by the end of the day, he had felled twenty.

When he got back into camp to sit around the campfire, he bragged about how well he had done on his very first day, until one of the veteran lumberjacks put his arm around him and said, “Twenty might be a good first day for a rookie, but top men here do thirty trees a day.  Keep it up, and in no time at all, you’ll be right up there with them.”

So the next day, that rookie lumberjack, eager to impress, got up fifteen minutes earlier, cut off fifteen minutes from his lunch, and he pounded and hammered and sawed away.  But at the end of the day, he had felled only eighteen trees.

So he said, “I’ll get up thirty minutes earlier tomorrow and I’ll work all the way through lunch.”  But at the end of his third day, in spite of all his hard work, he had only felled sixteen trees.  By the end of the week, he was down to a dozen.

Swallowing his pride, he moped his way back into camp and talked to the veteran lumberjack.  He said, “I don’t understand.  The harder I try, the more behind I get.”

So the veteran lumberjack said, “Do you know why you’re so far behind?  It’s because you forgot to sharpen your axe.”

Sometimes we feel like we’re swinging and swinging and really getting nowhere.  And I can’t help but wonder if God were to lean over right now and whisper something in your ear, would He ask, “Have you taken time to sharpen your axe?”

Search His Word.  Focus in worship.  Open your heart in prayer.  Take time to sharpen your axe.

In the words of hymnwriter John Newton:  “Though kings and nations in His view are but as motes and dust; His eye and ear are fixed on you, who in His mercy trust.  Not one concern of ours is small, if we belong to Him; to teach us this, the Lord of all, once made the iron swim.”


We thank You, dear Lord, for this amazing miracle You once performed at the Jordan.  Help us to know that, even today, You still can make iron float.  This we ask in Jesus’ name.  Amen


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