A missionary lady was sitting by her window as she opened her mail. In one letter she found a crisp, new, ten-dollar bill. She was pleasantly surprised, but then she noticed a poorly dressed stranger leaning on a post by her window. She could not get him off her mind. Thinking that he might be in greater need than her, she slipped the bill into an envelope and wrote "Do not despair". She handed the envelope through the window to the man. He read the note, smiled, tipped his hat and walked away.
The next day she heard a knock at the door. There the same man handed her a roll of bills. When she asked what they were, he said, "That's your sixty bucks, lady! 'Do not despair" paid five to one! "
The Old Testament reading from 2 Kings 5: 1-14 is a classic example of the conflict between man's way of doing things and God's way of doing things. Naaman wanted to be healed, but in his own way. He wanted Elisha to come out and perform some sort of healing ritual. He wanted to wash in rivers of his own choosing. When he did not get his way, he reacted like a small child does when it does not get its own way-he had a temper tantrum. It took the words of someone insignificant to convince Naaman to humble himself and submit to God's plan. All of us are lepers who need God's healing touch, but sometimes we can not see beyond our successes and shortcomings and realize that we need to be healed.
Leprosy was significant in the Bible for several reasons:
1. The leper was considered to be unclean and had to be isolated form the rest of society. Whenever he went out, he had to cry "unclean", and he had to wear black with a hood covering his face. He also had to live outside the city walls.
2. Leprosy was incurable in Bible times just as sin is incurable by man.
3. When Jesus healed a leper he always pronounced the person cleansed, not healed.
4. The rite of purification in the Old Testament only recognized the fact that a leper was clean. It did not cure the leper.
5. Leprosy begins on the outside and then erupts on the skin. Sin also begins with what we are and then erupts on the surface.
6. The priest was to examine the leper and pronounce the person clean or unclean depending on his observation of the facts. Since Christ has provided cleansing from sin, every believer as a believer priest is to detect sin in their own life and pronounce it as sin when it first appears.
7. The pain of leprosy was not severe because it also killed the nerves in the affected area. Portions of the body became numb, muscles wasted away and fingers and toes developed ulcers. Sin is like that. We are dead spiritually, so we do not feel the pain of our sin.
8. The leper was often considered to be dead, and people without Christ are nothing more than spiritual zombies.
9. Leprosy and sin occurs regardless of one's position, power, honor, possessions or wealth.
10. The restoration of the leper is a metaphor for the restoration of us to God when we accept him in faith.
11. Leprosy destroys the body, and sin destroys our relationship with Christ.
God does not work according to our ideas or plans. In fact, there is an old joke that goes, "How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans". When we let God tell us what to do, we will be cleansed from our sins. When we follow God's plan for our lives instead of our own plans, we will be cleansed from our sins.
Believe it or not, God gave Naaman his victories. It was part of the greater purpose to reveal God's power and mercy to Naaman the foreigner. It shows that God is for everyone- both Jews and Gentiles. It foreshadows the opening of the Gospel to the Gentiles in the Book of Acts.
God often speaks through humble people. He used the Israeli slave girl to lead Naaman to Elisha-the first step in his healing. He used the soldier to convince Naaman to obey Elisha's orders-the second step in his healing. Elisha was also humble. He did not use any of his powers to heal Naaman-God did. Elisha did not even leave his house to meet Naaman in person. Humble people are used by God at any time and in any place he chooses and in any way he chooses.
God also acts through simple acts of obedience that do not seem to be related to the problem. For example, washing seven times in the Jordan River might not seem to be related to Naaman's leprosy. The solution called for faith. The faith began with the little servant girl when she innocently assumed God's power. Because of the girl's faith, Naaman's wife told her husband, and he told the king. Naaman had his doubts, but he went. His servants had more faith, because they convinced Naaman to try Elisha's remedy.
This story also shows how our intentions can be misunderstood by others. Naaman introduced himself to the king of Israel as both a courtesy and the belief that the king had the power to heal Naaman. The king knew that he did not have the power to heal anyone and saw Naaman's request as an excuse to start war between Israel and Syria. You see, according to the custom at that time, the main object of a letter was the only item mentioned in letters that were delivered in person. Other issues were discussed in person. There was also a belief that if a king or other sacred person touched or washed his hand over a sore, the sore would be healed. (Pause)
The story of Naaman the leper is a story of salvation. Naaman's healing led him to believe in God and worship God. It is a picture of what God would do later on through Jesus Christ. It is a picture of what man was like before sin took its toll. Elisha knew that it was God's power that owed Naaman, not Elisha's.
Today, we, like Naaman, will do anything spectacular to ensure our salvation. We suffer, build churches, give money, or sacrifice privileges when all we have to do is wash in the blood of Jesus and receive his gift of eternal life. Because the plan is so simple, many of us turn away as Naaman did and refuse the greatest of all gifts.
Naaman's healing ritual was a step down for him in more ways than one. It was a step down from toxic success to new health and life. Naaman's skin became like the skin of a little child, and his heart found new life. Some of us probably know people who have been victims of their own success. Perhaps we have been victims of our own success. These people have gone from the top of the ladder to the bottom, sometimes yanked down a step, sometimes moving more or less at will.
Elisha was a wise man. He knew that Naaman's healing was not simply a cure for his leprosy. Naaman needed to submit, know his weakness and dependence on others, expand his view of who was connected to his life, get naked and humble, and let go and die to his old self. God's free grace is for everyone. It's too simple to deal with our sin and guilt (or so we think), so we punish ourselves. We, like Naaman, are at times due to accept God's free gift. We, like Naaman, must be committed to see our cleaning through.
Being made whole is something else. It is to be changed or transformed. It is to know that God is at work in our lives. It is to be welcomed by joy. It is to be enveloped by a peace that passes all understanding. It is to know an uncontrollable joy. It is to know the power of God's grace in our lives. It is to respond with thanks, gratitude and laughter.
Naaman was healed of his leprosy, but he was also healed of his identity as a warrior. When he accepted his weakness and dependency on someone else, when he realized that he could not live his whole life by only trusting in himself, when he met the God who is well beyond his control and manipulation, Naaman discovered his true healing and his transformation into a whole man who can let go and trust others and God.
God overturns our human expectations and imposed limitations and breaks into our world with healing and new life. God chooses to make all things clean. It involves clearing pride, dignity and authority from the path. There is little room for things as they should be or for those whose self-adequacy closes them off to God's healing help. That may be surprising, upsetting and world changing for us. It is also a little threatening as it involves radical personal and social changes.
How do we respond to people who come to us for help? Do we ignore them? Do we listen to them and then send them on their way instead of helping them? Do we just throw money at the problem by making a donation or do we lower ourselves like Naaman did and actually do something to help them? If we actively receive them like Elisha received Naaman, we will have responded with God's love and we will have received a gift to us through them where we can fulfill his call to show love, mercy and forgiveness to all.
If we obey God, that does not mean he will pay off five to one like the horse in the story at the beginning of my sermon, but he will bless us with many blessings, he will not be in debt to us for long, he will return even greater gifts and he will reward us.