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The Judean Grandmaster

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

Christianity and Star Wars

Elijah and the Jedi Master | 2 Kings 2:1–2; 6–14

Most of you will know Yoda from Star Wars, a legendary Jedi Master, a small but wise green dwarf-like creature with extraordinary power. He is the Grandmaster of the Jedi Order, and mentor to Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker. He trained Jedi warriors for over 800 years. Here are some snippets from the Jedi sage:

“No! Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

“Truly wonderful the mind of a child is.”

“Always two there are, no more, no less. A master and an apprentice.”

I hope I am not being sacrilegious here, but for me, Elijah is the Yoda of the Old Testament. Elijah demonstrated great works of miraculous power:

He multiplied the food of a widow.

He raised a widow’s dead son to life.

In a demonstration against 450 prophets of Baal, he called down fire from heaven to consume an alter sacrifice soaked in water.

He called down fire to consume Ahaziah’s soldiers.

He parted the Jordan river

And of course, he is taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire and a whirlwind.

Do you notice how common fire was in Elijah’s miraculous feats?

If there ever was a grandmaster prophet of the Old Testament, it was Elijah. Now, Elijah and his protégé Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. There it is, “Always two there are, no more, no less. A master and an apprentice.”

Walking together along a dusty road, Elijah looks at Elisha, “Wait here, God wants me to go to Bethel.” “No, I won’t leave you!” Elisha blurts out. So together they went, master and apprentice.

Elijah seems to know that he is about to depart this earthly realm and he probably feels he wants to encounter God privately as he departs and doesn’t want anyone to witness it, not even his apprentice.

Again, Elijah hears God’s call to go, this time to the Jordan, and tells Elisha to wait behind. Elijah can’t get rid of the guy, Elisha is a loyal follower and will hear none of it, he wants to be with his master, and so the two of them continue their journey.

Elijah and Elisha stop at the Jordan River unable to cross. No problem for Elijah. He took his cloak off, rolled it up, and struck the water with it and the waters parted. Incidentally, Moses parted the Red Sea, and many years later, Joshua, his apprentice parted the Jordan River. The two of them cross, and Elijah places his hand on Elisha’s shoulder, “what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” His response is rather odd, “Allow me to have double the amount of your spirit.” It may seem rather rude, but Elisha was probably feeling inadequate for the task. After all, he was no more than an ordinary man. So, to be up for the task of being Elijah’s successor, he wants a supercharge of the same spirit Elijah had.

Elijah is not quite so sure that his apprentice is up for the task ahead either. And so, he says, “That’s a rather difficult thing you have asked, isn’t it Elisha? But if you are there to see me taken away from you, you will have the double portion which you ask, otherwise, you won’t receive anything.” He hands the situation over to God, if God allows Elisha to see his ascension, then that would be proof that he is worthy of the task ahead.

The two of them continue walking until the blue-sky crackles, the ground tremors, and the atmosphere jolts. The heavens rip open and light bursts towards them. A chariot of fire along with fiery horses appears. Elisha cries out to his mentor, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” A whirlwind swallows up Elijah together with the fiery chariot and horses through the opening in the sky, and he is gone.

Elisha mourns. He takes off his outer garment and rips them in two as a sign that he is leaving his old self behind and picks up Elijah’s cloak that dropped from the sky. He makes his way back to the Jordan, and now, to test whether he has Elijah’s double portion of power. He strikes the river, and behold it parts. He crosses over on dry ground. As he steps out of the riverbed the watery sides come together again.

A lot is going on here: Elisha was allowed to see his master ascend into the heavens which means he is worthy of the task. The relationship between Elijah and Elisha is very similar to the master-apprentice relationship between Moses and Joshua … Moses parted the Red Sea, and Joshua parted the River Jordan. Both Elijah and Elisha also parted the Jordan River, see the connection?

And what makes this even more interesting, is that these two masters, Moses and Elijah meet face to face with the Grandmaster of the universe, Jesus, at his transfiguration, here Jesus even had some of his own apprentices with him.

The Judean Grandmaster and Wannabe Apprentices | Luke 9:51-62

Come with me and let’s transport through the corridors of time. Here we find ourselves in Luke’s account, not Luke Skywalker’s account, but Luke the gospel writer. Here we are before the Grandmaster of the universe, Jesus Christ, and his 12 apprentices.

Like Elijah, Jesus would also be taken up into heaven. But before then, he and his disciples set out for Jerusalem. He is intentional and determined and has in mind to pass through a Samaritan village and probably would have spent a few days there. But the Samaritans would not welcome Jesus because he was going toward Jerusalem.

Remember the woman at the well in John 4? Well, she was also a Samaritan. Now you must know that there was serious tension between the Jews and the Samaritans. I won’t bore you with all the historical detail, but the Samaritans were half-breeds, while the Jews were here pure-blooded. They looked at one another with much suspicion and did not have anything to do with each other. The Samaritans worship God on Mount Gerizim and the Jews in Jerusalem. You can see where the religious tension lies and why they were not very excited about having Jesus stay with them on his way to the Holy City.

When two of Jesus’ apprentices, James and John, heard about this hostility against him, they were outraged.

I mentioned earlier that Elijah called down fire to consume his sacrifice to demonstrate to the prophets of Baal who the true God is, and that he called down fire to consume Ahaziah’s soldiers. James and John, reckon, they will give this a shot. They know they are not the Master, only apprentices, and so they ask Jesus, their Master, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” I don’t know what they were thinking, they knew they had no power to do any such thing, but they knew the power of their Grandmaster.

But Jesus’ ministry was not to bring judgment or coerce people to follow him through threat. Instead, he came to proclaim and demonstrate the kingdom of God. Jesus looks into their eyes and admonishes James and John.

On their way to Jerusalem, Jesus encounters three wannabe apprentices. This is picked up by three repetitions of the keyword, “follow”.

Wannabe One—A man comes up to Jesus and said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus looks at him squarely in the face and says, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” We don’t hear anything more from Wannabe One, presumably, he walked away.

Wannabe Two—This time Jesus invites someone to be an apprentice, “Follow me!” he says. The man responds, “No, not now, I need to go and bury my father first.” I always struggled with Jesus’ harsh response when he said, “Let the dead bury their dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Allow me to explain. Burying a deceased parent was an important duty, and Jesus does teach that we need to honour our parents (Matt 15:1–9). The issue is that the man turned his duty into an excuse for not following immediately. In Judaism at this time, the burial ritual took about a year from the time when the body was first buried until the bones were finally placed in an ossuary box. Jesus may have intended a pun for the “dead” meaning both “spiritually dead” and “physically dead.” Jesus is not asking us to forsake our family responsibilities, but he is asking that following him becomes our highest commitment.

Wannabe Three—He comes and says, “Jesus, I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus responds, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” This was a half-hearted decision to follow Jesus. I will follow you, Lord, but…

Listen carefully to 1 Kings 19:19–21.

So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.” “Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?” So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant.

No wonder Elisha felt unworthy and asked for a doubt portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah allowed Elisha to say farewell. But Jesus does not permit this. Jesus’ summons to follow him takes precedence over everything else.

Jesus tells us that the path of following him is not an easy or comfortable one. It is not cheap. It comes at a cost and sometimes that cost is huge. Don’t think for a moment that the cost is waking up early and coming to church every Sunday. It is easy to say to Jesus, “I will follow you.” But when he tells us what following him means, all too often we get ‘cold feet’ and opt-out and come up with excuses.

In my own life, I remember being called to Kenya as a missionary with our flight just a few weeks after Al-Shabab attacked a shopping mall in Nairobi where Cath and I were to be based. Fear gripped my heart, but knew we were called. The other day I make a stand for my convictions knowing the consequences would bring much pain. Often Jesus calls us to walk the difficult path.

Yet, he assures us that he walks alongside us. And when we need it, he makes this assurance so obvious and sure—we don’t walk it alone. Even when you feel pain, the Grandmaster fills you with peace. His burden is light.

Wisdom from a Seasoned Apprentice | Galatians 5:1; 13–25

Let’s hear the words from one of the most seasoned apprentices of Jesus, the Apostle Paul. He paints a picture for us in Galatians 5, of what it means to follow Jesus. In verse 1 he writes, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” After all, Jesus says in Matthew 11:28–30,

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

This should comfort us. Jesus calls us to follow him and tells us that it’s not going to be easy, yet he also calls us to be free because his burden is light.

Paul reminds us of Jesus’ instruction to serve one another in love, and we do this by loving our neighbours as yourselves. This is said to be the Golden Rule among all religions. Lew said something the other day that was rather striking: All other religions treat this negatively, “Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.” In Christianity, Jesus turns it on its head, not only making it positive, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, but also serving one another humbly in love. Jesus says in John 13:34–35,

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.

Jesus’ disciples don’t destroy one another. Instead, they walk by the Spirit, without gratifying their fleshly desires. This is exactly what Paul said when he wrote, “πνεύματι περιπατεῖτε καὶ ἐπιθυμίαν σαρκὸς οὐ μὴ τελέσητε.”

The flesh and the Spirit conflict with one another. The fleshly desires are sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and so on. People who practice these things are not Jesus’ apprentices and neither do they have anything to do with the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit marks out those who are being trained by Jesus, the Grandmaster: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Those who practice the fruits of the Spirit are true apprentices of the Judean Grandmaster. Those who belong to Jesus and are his apprentices, or disciples, if you will, have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires, because they live by the Spirit, and keep in step with him. Paul uses a different expression in Greek here than he did earlier, he wrote, “εἰ ζῶμεν πνεύματι, πνεύματι καὶ στοιχῶμεν.” The first instance was “Walk by the Spirit”, but a different Greek verb is used here, meaning to follow in line behind a leader.

Concluding Thoughts

To follow in line behind the Spirit implies both direction and empowerment. As Jesus’ apprentices, you and I need to make decisions and choices according to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and live in the spiritual power that the Spirit supplies.

I leave you with this thought. When Elijah ascended, he left Elisha his cloak when he ascended in a chariot of fire and a whirlwind.

But when Jesus ascended, he sent his Holy Spirit to you and me, when a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and tongues of fire rested on each of Jesus’ very first apprentices (Acts 2:2–4).

May the Spirit be with you!


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