Elijah’s Mantle, Peter’s Shadow and Paul’s Apron
Pursue God. Be Real. Do the Work.
2 Kings 2:9-14 NKJV.
Then he took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, and said, “Where is the LORD God of Elijah?” And when he also had struck the water, it was divided this way and that; and Elisha crossed over.
Acts 5:14-16 NIV
… people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.
Acts 19:11-12 NKJV
Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs
or aprons were brought from his body to the sick,
and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them.
Fifty Years Ago
In was unseasonably cold in November of 1966 in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The youth of the Assemblies of God gathered in the old open-air tabernacle at the campground. It was my senior year in high school and I was seeking God’s will for my life. My search began when I was baptized in the Spirit in that same tabernacle at age 14. Two dynamic events produced two indelible realities for me: my call into the ministry and a challenging sermon on Elijah and Elisha—“Where Are the Miracles?” I wrote that question in the brand new Bible my parents gave me for my 17th birthday. The next day, during the closing communion service, I was called to preach. That Bible, my first preaching Bible, is still on my shelf today and the question is still in my heart.
Where is the demonstration of God’s power I read about in the Scriptures? I long to see the prophetic edge of Elijah’s mantle, the pastoral impact of Peter’s shadow and the priestly work of Paul’s apron. After all these years my heart still aches for the demonstration of the Spirit of God, just as it did on the eve of my ministerial call.
Elijah’s Mantle—the Prophetic Edge
With a careful reading we can understand the pursuit of Elijah by Elisha. Was the younger man star-struck? in pursuit of a hero? or seeking a mentor or some luminary individual? Though often invited to halt his quest, Elisha would not be turned away. He followed Elijah to Bethel, the place of the presence of God, to Jericho, the place of the power of God and to the Jordan River, the place of passage into the plan of God. Finally, when asked the motivation for his dogged determination, he gave his reason. It was not to bask in the light of a star or to become one himself. It was not an act of self-conscious heroism, an impossible dream of improbable glory. It was not even a thirst for knowledge or enlightenment. He longed to find a double portion of what he knew Elijah possessed.
The prophet and his protégé were forced apart by the entrance of a chariot of fire drawn by flaming horses as a tornado lifted Elijah out of sight. As Elisha looked upward, something floated gently back to earth—the prophet’s mantle. Elisha tore away his old clothes, took up the mantle and struck the waters of the Jordan with the question that opened his heart for all to see inside, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” He did not ask for power or presence or even a passageway. He asked for God Himself. He knew that Elijah had a relationship with God, not some functional power outlet in his personality. Elijah did not split the Jordan with technique or call down rain or fire with persuasive words. He did not dry the heavens of rain with personal influence over the weather. It was all done by the Spirit of God. Elijah wore a mantle of God’s power rooted in relationship. Now that the prophet was gone, where was the Spirit of God? As it had for Elijah, the Jordan divided upstream from down and Elisha passed over. He returned to Jericho whose water supply had been embittered and he sweetened it. He returned to Bethel where opponents, like those who stood against Elijah, were consumed by fire from the sky.
Today the church needs the prophetic edge. Political liberals talk about “speaking truth to power.” I think they are on to something. Not political power, but spiritual power—the demonstration of the Spirit of God—needs to be spoken into the 21st Century. Not with rudeness or callousness, and certainly without showmanship, but with the gentle power of Jesus to lift those who are bent and broken, to open blind eyes, to unstop deaf ears, to see feet and ankle bones rebuilt, to scatter demons from their nests and to rebuke sin in high and low places, all while saying, “Come unto me and rest.”
To have this prophetic edge, we must be in constant pursuit of God Himself—of Jesus, the Savior, Healer, Baptizer and the Rewarder, who is coming soon. Some seek powerful personalities, or prominent celebrities of the faith. This is useless. They cannot transfer their edge to us. Each of us must pursue the Lord, be filled with and led by His Spirit, consumed by His mission, soaked in His message, compelled by His love and schooled in His methods.
The preacher at that convention in 1966 challenged us to pick up the mantle of God’s power, floating down from heaven and from our Father’s generation. With a thundering voice we would call out to God, “Where is the God of my fathers? Where are the miracles of God? The troubled waters of our generation would part for us and we would cross over. Looking back, life might have been more comfortable without the prophetic edge, but when one knows a truth, sees an error, or senses a moment of opportunity, one must strike the river.
Peter’s Shadow—The Pastoral Impact
While the church needs the prophetic edge, people need the pastoral touch. Some preachers fail and a few fall, but many succeed, regularly and quietly, without the notice of the media or the acclaim of Christian culture. Great men and women lead great local churches. Much like the shadow of Peter in Acts chapter five, their leadership passes over the people in their path.
In the early church, Peter’s shadow was no media event. The only advanced publicity was the rising of the sun that day, another day in Jerusalem, the holy city, where there were sick folk in abundance and countless demonized souls, tortured through the night and day by the unchecked powers of hell. Among this throng walked men and women of God. Whatever errand might have brought them into the marketplace, their real mission was this—“Silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give to you.” (Acts 3:1-10) The people of the Jerusalem church flowed through the streets of the city like a healing stream. Jesus said it would be this way. He said the Holy Spirit would flow through believers like a river of life—no, The River of Life!
The church needs to rediscover Peter’s shadow—the influence of the true man and woman of God. This influence comes from the Spirit of God; we do not make it happen. Just as surely as some are called to pastor the church, we are all called to bless the people around us—the lost, hungry, hurting and the distracted, contented and comfortable. Just as Peter and the others walked in the light of the sun, casting healing shadows into the streets, we are called to walk in the warmth of Jesus, standing so squarely in His light that our every word, gesture and deed casts a soothing shadow of grace on those we meet each day.
Peter’s shadow is a metaphor for the overflowing life. Ministry to others is the overflow of our ministry to the Lord. As each of us pursues the heart of God, ordering our lives around the Lord and His call on our lives, He flows through us to a hurting world. We do not seek influence. We do not carefully position ourselves so the sun will cast our shadow where we want it to go. We simply walk where the Spirit leads and the influence of our redeemed, sanctified and empowered lives falls upon those we meet. How little weight a shadow possesses! We do no bowl people over, we simply pass their way. The Spirit in us shows them Jesus in us—the true shadow of Peter is the shadow of the cross.
I look back on the decades that have elapsed between that cold November convention and this warm day in Florida, and I have to report many, many miracles, quiet little healings, unheralded wonders, and secluded little signs. I have been healed by my father’s shadow and that of my mother. My childhood pastor cast a huge shadow over me, encouraging my teenaged calling. The most precious healing shadow of all is that of my wife. Family, teachers, pastors, friends, and collaborators in the arts of the Kingdom have all stood close to me in the light of Jesus, casting influence my way, leading me on in the Lord. They were not manipulators—they were “Elisha’s” themselves, pursuing the heart of God. Some for a short while, others for a lifetime, we joined our pursuits into one and together we cast a double shadow over those we met. When we pursue God, He sets us on a path where, when we pass by, others are healed by the Lord in our shadow.
Paul’s Apron—the Priestly Work
Unlike Peter and John who left their family businesses to follow Jesus, the great Apostle Paul, was a tradesman—a tentmaker—and therefore a bi-vocational minister. Paul paid his way on his missionary journeys and in his church planting. When he needed to affirm his apostolic credentials, he said that he was never a burden because he supported himself with his tentmaking. ( Acts 18:3-4; 1 Thess 2:6-9) Aprons that touched Paul’s body while he worked carried the healing power of Jesus. I don’t know how. No one does. But what does that mean? In contrast to today’s image-driven culture, we can be sure these cloths were not perfumed, powdered, lace dainties made for the marketplace. Paul didn’t stand at his work bench making tents while also turning out a daily quota of prayer cloths. He made tents and worked up a sweat while he did it. God chose to sanctify his work to the healing of the hurting. What matters is this—the apostles did their work. For the original eleven plus Matthias, that work was prayer and the preaching of the Word. For Paul this was church planting and tentmaking. God has given us each a work to do for Him and His healing power flows through us as we do the work. This is the power of Paul’s apron.
Leaders must have confidence in the work they are called to do. We deal in the “means of grace:” worship, prayer, the Word, the Lord’s Table, fellowship—the dynamics of the Kingdom of God! These things are powerful! Note how many miracles in the Book of Acts happened when the Apostles were attending to the “routine” of daily prayer.
- Peter and John went to the temple at the hour of prayer.
- The elders at Antioch were praying and fasting and the Spirit spoke.
- Paul and Silas probably prayed every night at midnight—one night they were in jail.
- While Paul preached, the Spirit fell!
The power of the routine is that God meets us at these appointed times and in these appointed ways. If we are not there doing the work, we will not see the miracle He has planned. If we long to see the interruption of our plans by the Spirit, we need to be faithful to the plans we have made!
This principle isn’t only for pastors. All of us are called to preach to the world, make disciples and honor God with the work of our hands. Paul, the craftsman, said it best:
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Col 3:17; 23-25 NIV
The work He has given us to do is worship. It is witness. The apron He has called us to wear flows with His healing power.
Where Are the Miracles?
How can we reclaim the mantle of Elijah?
The mantle represents a passionate pursuit of the Lord Himself, not power, not influence, not even integrity. This is the example of Elisha, of the disciples, of the church fathers, of the protestant reformers and of our Pentecostal founders. This is their gift to us. Let us strip away the garments of selfish ambition and modern thinking, take up this ancient mantle and strike the river that blocks our way. Like Elisha, perhaps we can sweeten the bitter waters of Jericho again.
How can we rediscover Peter’s shadow?
Under the New Covenant, the regeneration of the Spirit, the sanctifying ministry of the Spirit, and the empowering anointing of the Spirit give us substance. If we are phony, if we are stylish on the outside but empty on the inside, Jesus will shine right through us and there will be no shadow. People will see right through us, too. But if we allow the Lord to build us in His image from the inside out, He will fill us with truth and love and the power of the Spirit. The passing shadow of our time on earth, our years of ministry, will be a gentle, healing force in this world.
How can we locate Paul’s apron?
The answer is not a great mystery—do the work. There is such power in doing the work! Pastor, feed, and care for the sheep! Worship leader, ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in the Holy Place with the people of God. Leaders, lead the way Jesus taught us to lead! If we do the work our lives will flow with the anointing, not just in front of the people, but among them, not just on the platform but in homes and workplaces, not in high moments of public worship only, but in moments of crisis and grief, as well as in times of rejoicing.
On this warm day in Florida, I see the answer to the lingering quest that began that cold November day in Arkansas. The keys to a renewal of the power and demonstration of the Spirit of God are simple.
Pursue God. Be real. Do the work.
© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved