The Third Sunday in Lent February 28, 2016
2 Kings 5:1-15
15, 369, 498, 51
Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but a leper. And the Syrians had gone out on raids, and had brought back captive a young girl from the land of Israel. She waited on Naaman’s wife. Then she said to her mistress, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy.” And Naaman went in and told his master, saying, “Thus and thus said the girl who is from the land of Israel.” Then the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he departed and took with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. Then he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which said, “Now be advised when this letter comes to you, that I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may heal him of his leprosy.”And it happened, when the king of Israel read the letter, that he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man sends a man to me to heal him of his leprosy? Therefore, please consider, and see how he seeks a quarrel with me.” So it was, when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Please let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.” Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ Are not the Abanahand the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. And he returned to the man of God, he and all his aides, and came and stood before him; and he said, “Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from your servant.”
Dear Fellow Redeemed by the blood of God’s own Son:
It was the winter of 1974. A blast of unusually cold weather had hit the eastern plains of Colorado, driving the people indoors. One frigid evening just two days before Christmas, a man, a woman, and a little boy stood shivering on the steps of the Mt. Olive Lutheran Church parsonage, seeking food and shelter. Over the next few days the pastor helped the man get a job. The congregation provided food and furniture.
Three weeks later the sheriff told the pastor that the congregation had not been helping a family at all. The man was wanted by the law for writing 18 “hot checks” across the state of Kansas. While roaming Florida, he had picked up someone else’s unhappy wife and her son. When the pastor expressed the desire to visit this man in jail, the sheriff replied: “Don’t waste your time on him! He’s just plain no good!”
The sheriff was right. The man in jail for his crimes was no good. But then, neither am I, and neither are any of you, in the flesh. We all must say with the apostle Paul, “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, nothing good dwells” (Romans 7:18). Did Jesus say that He came to seek and to save those who are “good,” or those who are “lost”? (cf. Luke 19:10). The thief who was crucified next to Jesus was “no good,” but the Savior died for him too and promised him paradise in the last moments of his sorry life (cf. Luke 23:43). The woman taken in the act of adultery was “no good” in the eyes of her fellowmen, but Jesus offered her forgiveness for her sins (cf. John 8:2ff). AND GOD EVEN CLEANSED NAAMAN, THE SYRIAN LEPER!
Leprosy is a hideous disease—not a superficial skin disease, but deep-seated as described in the Bible. Leprosy begins as a rising boil-like skin eruption. As it spreads it turns whitish in color. In Bible-times the leper was an outcast and excluded from his loved ones in the camp of Israel. Whenever he approached someone who did not have the disease, the leper had to cover his upper lip and cry out “Unclean! Unclean!”
Naaman was a man of great importance in Syria, a man of courage, captain of the king’s army. He was highly respected by all, but he was a leper. No matter what his prominent station in life, Naaman was an unclean thing!
So it is with the ugly spiritual disease of sin. Sin infects the rich and the poor, the great and the small. “One common sin infects us all,” says the hymn (TLH 369:1). That’s the “Original Sin” we inherited from our Father Adam. The great problem for us is that we so easily see the ugly spots of sin all over the skin of others, while being nearly blind to our own. We are tempted to point the finger at other sinners and yell, “Unclean! Unclean!”
The little servant girl might have done the same to Naaman. Instead. She said to his wife: “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For He would heal him of his leprosy” (v. 3). The little Israelite girl had been forcefully taken from her home by this leader of the Syrian army. Yet, she wanted only good for her master!
It was not important to her that she knew Naaman to be her captor and an enemy of her people. It was what she knew about the true God that was so important to her. She knew that Naaman’s leprosy was no problem for the God of Israel. The most important thing to this Christian girl was that the man needed spiritual and physical help, and she knew where that help could be found.
She didn’t think that Naaman was a “no good,” or that she was “too good” to bother herself with such a man. She simply knew the Lord God from His Word. She knew her God to be a loving God “Who would have” everyone to be saved “and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
So it is with us and every true Christian: Whenever the Holy Spirit helps us overcome our proud, fleshly nature, we love everyone because we know that our God loves everyone.
The little servant girl wished with all her heart that Naaman might be healed by the prophet Elisha, but there were still some problems to overcome. The King of Israel was a big problem! For when the King of Syria sent Naaman to Israel with a letter explaining his problem and asking the help of the King of Israel, the king flew into a rage! He tore his clothes and said: “Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man sends a man to me to heal him of his leprosy?” (v. 7). He thought the King of Syria was trying to pick a fight with him for not being able to heal Naaman!
The real problem was that the King of Israel did not believe that he had access to the power of God for the healing of Naaman. The king forgot all about God’s Word and the prophet Elisha. So he felt helpless and personally threatened when faced with Naaman’s need.
Have you ever felt the same way when people bring their personal and spiritual problems to you for help? Do you ever feel helpless and even threatened because someone expects help that you are unable to give? At such times, remember the power of God’s Word, which you have! And don’t forget the prophet whom God has placed in your own midst! Use the Word of God to help your friend with his problem, and refer him to your pastor with confidence that God is able to heal and help everyone by the humblest means!
That’s what happened in the case of Naaman. When the prophet Elisha sent a message to him saying, “Go wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean” (v.10), Naaman became angry! He was too important to dip himself seven times in the muddy river Jordan. Weren’t the rivers of his own country better? He could have stayed home if a bath was all he needed! What nonsense!
What Naaman didn’t know is that the power to heal him lay not in the water itself, but in the Word of God working through the command of the prophet. When Naaman dipped himself in the Jordan River, as Elisha had directed him, “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (v.14).
So the Lord healed Naaman of his leprosy. But the Lord did even more: He even created saving faith in Naaman’s heart by means of Elisha’s word. For we are told that when Naaman returned to Elisha, he said, “Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel!” (v. 15)
A similar faith-creating, sin-forgiving miracle takes place in the washing of Baptism. What is more humble than baptismal water? Last month I baptized two children using tap water from the kitchen sink. It had the faint smell of chlorine. It was in no way purified or “holy water.” It makes no difference. No soap is added to baptismal water, and yet no soul is cleaner before God than the baptized soul! Why? Because of the power of the Word of God, whether read or heard. The Lord our God translates sinners from Hell to Heaven by the hidden, faith-creating, life-transforming power of His Word!
The wiseacres in the world laugh at these humble means. They say: “Baptism saves no one!” But we rejoice in these humble means—the Gospel in Word and Sacrament—even though they appear to be so weak. For God has chosen these means to help and save sinners. By the means He has appointed we are made certain that our help and salvation never depend upon the one performing the Baptism, or even upon our own feelings, but solely on the gracious promises of God.
He still holds out His arms and calls to all sinners through His Gospel Word: “Come unto me ALL you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). There is no class nor race of people our Lord does not love! There is no individual that the Lord cannot raise up from the gutter of sin and despair to the heights of Heaven through faith in His Son! For just as dynamite has the power to raise the lowest material sky high, so the Word of God is “the dynamite of God unto salvation” to raise up everyone who believes (cf. Rom. 1:16). Remember: God even cleansed Naaman, the Syrian who was a leper! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.