Gather The Empty Vessels
2 Kings 4: 6 (4: 1-7)
This message is about what happened to the widow and the jars of oil.
Here we will learn what constitutes the essence of the Christian religion and of the Christian life.
The Gospel message is the same in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament.
Salvation is always by grace.
There is an advantage in looking in the Old Testament to consider the essence of
the New Testament message.
The Old Testament generally presents the truth in the form of a picture.
When we look at the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament, we actually discover
the truth in a very clear picture.
John Wesley said that of all the definitions of Christianity that he had encountered, the best was
that of a Scotsman who lived in the 17th-century. He said: "Christianity is the life of God
in the soul of man."
Some people think of Christianity has something that belongs to certain countries.
Many would regard America as a Christian country.
Of course that is not true.
America is a pagan nation.
Many regard themselves as Christians simply because they are Americans, and not because
they have had any real experience with God.
Nor do they have any real interest in spiritual things.
There are others who conceive of Christianity in terms of infant baptism.
Some years ago in South Korea I was returning to my hotel after spending the day in evangelism and revival.
The King of Malaysia was staying in that same hotel, and security was everywhere.
When I exited the elevator on my floor, I was faced by a security guard.
He discovered that I was a pastor, and he said that he was a Christian.
I learned that he was a Catholic.
He stated that he was a Christian because he was baptized as an infant.
The baptism of an infant is an enactment that takes place between the minister and the parents.
The child is unaware of what is happening, and yet many think that the enactment somehow
makes them Christians.
The enactment of infant baptism has nothing to do with the life of God entering a person's soul.
Some people confuse Christianity with being received into the membership of a church.
Simply belonging to a church has nothing to do with the life of God entering a person's soul.
All of those non-Christian definitions above speak of Christianity in terms of something done,
whereas the Scotsman's definition describes Christianity as "The life of God
in the soul of man."
To illustrate the truth of that definition, let us turn to the familiar Old Testament incident
of the widow and the pot of oil.
If Christianity is the "life of God," then it is divine in its very essence.
And because it is supernatural it is obviously something that man can never arrive by his own effort.
It is a gift!
It is something which must be received.
Let us look at this picture of this poor widow.
She is in debt and her creditors are hounding her.
Her friends try to console her and help her with her creditors, but their efforts are insufficient.
This is a picture of a crisis.
So let us visit the village in which this widow from the second Book of Kings lives.
Let's go to the square in the center of the village one morning about 10 AM.
A group of people are meeting there.
They have met to discuss the case of the poor widow because they are anxiously concerned,
and yet they believe that her case is hopeless.
They believe that nothing can be done.
That is the scene in the morning.
Now, come back to that same spot in the afternoon.
The same people are there, but this time it is different.
They have just heard that the widow has been able to pay her debts, and she has an abundance left over.
How has this happened?
Her case seemed so utterly hopeless in the morning, but now they are rejoicing with her.
They cannot understand it.
This is an Old Testament picture of a New Testament truth.
We also have this in the case of Nicodemus and his nighttime interview with our Lord.
"Master, I have been watching you," Nicodemus said to Jesus.
"I have seen your miracles; I have listened to your teaching; and I can see clearly
that you are no ordinary man.
I have come to you so that I might discover the secret.
I am a master in Israel.
How can I attain the standard that you have reached?"
"Nicodemus," replies our Lord, "your question betrays you.
It is clear that you do not understand the elements of this life of which I speak."
Jesus was telling Nicodemus that it was not promotion that he needed.
He needed regeneration.
Jesus was telling Nicodemus that he must be born again.
Jesus told Nicodemus that the life of God of which He was speaking was more comparable
to the wind than anything else.
Jesus told him that he could not see the wind; he could only see its effect.
He could only bow his head and allow its gracious influences to exercise themselves on him.
Jesus was saying that this wonderful life of God was not to be understood, but to be accepted.
Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 2:14: "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God:
for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
Not only can this life of God not be understood by the person who doesn't possess it,
but even the person, who does possess it, cannot understand it.
In the story about the widow, the villagers were surprised when they heard the news,
but the one who was the most surprised was the woman herself.
Picture this -- see her standing there with the jar in her hand looking with astonishment
at the never-failing supply of oil.
In her distress this poor widow goes to the prophet and asks for his help.
"What do you have in the house?" He asks.
"I've got nothing except a pot of oil," is her reply.
"Well, that is alright," says the prophet, "as long as you do exactly
what I tell you."
Then he gives her his instructions.
First, she is to go into her secret chamber alone with her boys and herself.
The miracle did not take place in the middle of the village, but in the secret chamber.
God seldom does big things in the crowded market or in the busy street.
If we would enter into this life, we must find the secret chamber (the quiet place) into which we can retire.
In our busy world we must have a sanctuary in which we can be alone.
It's not enough that we merely shut out the world; we must also shut in ourselves.
Get into that inner room, and lock the door.
Get alone with God's Word; spend time dwelling on the things of God and eternity.
The second thing which the prophet instructs the woman to do is to gather together empty vessels
to receive the oil.
What should that mean for us?
I think many of us fail to enjoy the higher blessings of the Christian life simply because we never expect them.
We come to our place of worship on Sunday not expecting a blessing; we don't even believe that it is possible.
Many have simply explained away conversion and the miracle of regeneration.
If you do not believe in the possibility of conversion, you will never experience it.
Gather together your empty vessels!
Believe that this blessing is for you; then go to the worship service on the tiptoe of expectation.
Prepare for the miracle of God's grace; that is your part.
Get away from the mindset of the world and look to God for the blessing.
Finally, the amount of blessing we receive depends entirely on ourselves.
If the amount of blessing depended on God, there would literally been no end to it.
When the widow tells the prophet that she has nothing but a pot of oil, he tells her,
"Go borrow the vessels of all thy neighbors."
He was telling her not to just get one here and one there for God is going to work a miracle, therefore,
she must get all of the vessels that she can get.
God's blessings are an endless, eternal ocean.
Evangelist Dwight L. Moody told how for a number of years he was just a nominal, formal kind
of Christian, who felt he lacked this greater blessing.
He longed for it, and he prepared himself for it, yet it did not come.
Suddenly, one afternoon as he was walking down the street in New York City, the blessing came;
it was so overwhelming in its power that Moody felt it would kill him, and he held up his hand
and cried, "Stop, Lord!"
Do you see the progression of empty vessels receiving the oil.
The woman asks for another vessel and is told that there are no more -- "and the oil stayed."
As long as they had the empty vessels to receive it, the oil continued to flow.
What a tragedy it is that so many Christians are content to live as paupers, whereas God intends
them to be princes.
This mystic experience of the fullness of God was not something just for Paul and the first Christians.
It is something that ordinary men and women have received throughout the ages.
It is something that is offered to us here -- right now!
"Bring your empty vessels."
Sermon by Dr. Harold L. White