This morning’s text from 2 Kings tells us the story of Naaman, a man for whom almost everything seemed to be going his way. Almost everything. He was the patriarch of a household well off enough to have servants. He was also a mighty and valiant warrior who won great victories for the kingdom of Aram, a country that bordered the northern kingdom of Israel. Because of his great victories on the battle field, this man Naaman was highly favored by his king. However, as the NIV states so well, he was all of these things, “but he had leprosy.”
Naaman is presented to us as the epitome of strength, success, power and wealth. He is the American dream thousands of years before there was an America. But he had leprosy. Despite his standing, Naaman is a vulnerable and mortal being suffering from a very visible and quite possibly painful and irritating skin disease. For someone ranked in the upper echelons of society it must have been quite humiliating and perhaps it was holding him back from even more greatness as it dropped him down the social ladder. But as we’ll see, his story was about to become even more humbling. And it all begins with a little girl.
We don’t know the young girl’s name, but we do know that she came into Naaman’s service when she was carried off as spoil from a raid against Israel. She was robbed from her home and family and taken to a foreign land forced into the service of her captor. But this little girl over whom Naaman exercised authority and power was the one who first directed Naaman towards the prophet Elisha for healing. It was a reversal of power with the weak aiding the strong and it was the beginning of the breakdown of Naaman’s pride.
Armed with the words of a young girl Naaman approached the king of Aram and told him of the prophet who supposedly had the power to heal him. And the king with whom Naaman was highly favored did Naaman a favor and sent him to Israel with a letter addressed to the king of Israel. Perhaps this pleased Naaman that his king should care for his welfare so.
But then when Naaman arrives and deliver the letter to the king of Israel, we find out the nature of its contents and see the true intent of Naaman’s king, the king he supposedly has favor with. Naaman’s king doesn’t really care if Naaman is healed. Rather he saw this as an opportunity to have something against the inferior Israel. One wonders if he even believed Naaman had a chance to be healed. Perhaps Naaman’s king was looking for reasonable cause for war and this was his open door. This, at least, seems to be the opinion of the king of Israel. If Naaman’s king was really concerned with his healing, why didn’t he mention the prophet? Why didn’t he send him directly to Elisha? No, it appears that Naaman, the favored and valiant knight was really nothing more than a pawn in a game of thrones.
After delivering the letter to the king of Israel he is eventually invited to Elisha’s house. Of course, Naaman, who came to Israel with a fair amount of money, goes to Elisha’s house with his entourage in great fashion showing off his wealth and position with his horses and chariots. The spectacle of his arrival must have really been something. But the humbling nature of Naaman’s journey continued when Elisha didn’t even come out to greet him but rather sent a messenger to tell Naaman to go and wash in the Jordan seven times and be healed.
Wait, that’s it? At this, Naaman had enough. It’s one thing to be given advice by an insignificant little girl in the privacy of your own home and to follow out the commands of a king no matter his intention; but it is another thing entirely to not even be given the dignity of a proper greeting by the prophet you have come to see not to mention the indignity of being told to wash in the inferior waters of a second-rate country but his lowly messenger.
Naaman was a great man and great men have great diseases that require the most intense attention a prophet can give. One doesn’t go to a doctor full of malignant tumors only to be told to “take two of these and call me in the morning.” Naaman wanted none of this “wash and be clean” nonsense! There must be more too it! “Elisha should come out to me,” he said, “he should stand out here and call upon the name of his God and wave his hands over the spot.” Naaman’s rank commands a show and his pride demanded a say in his own healing.
We don’t like being told what to do, do we? Like Naaman we all have this innate desire to hold on to some semblance of control, to have some say in how things are done and to have something of our own that we can tie to the results. This is the way of our sinful nature and it was exactly what happened in the Garden of Eden as Adam and Eve sought to be like God.
You cannot believe how well three year old boys exhibit the pride of our sinful nature. They constantly have this desire to do things they are simply incapable of doing on their own. Just the other night, we were making tacos and the way we make tacos is to first fry the tortilla in some oil in a pan. (By the way, I’ve learned that this is the only way you make tacos.) Without us even knowing, Jude reached up and threw a piece of his tortilla into the frying pan of hot oil. He couldn’t be content with asking mommy or I to do it for him he had to do it himself. I cringe to think of what might have happened had he bumped the pan in the wrong way or if there had been more oil in there to cause some splatter. Our sinful nature causes us all to behave like rebellious little three year olds. We want things done our own way and on our own terms always to our own detriment.
Eventually, Naaman relented after hearing the pleas of his servants and he did what Elisha told him to do and he was healed and the promise of God’s Word through the prophet was fulfilled in the action. But Naaman couldn’t yet accept that a gift had been given to him freely. After being cleansed he returned to Elisha and offered a present in return for the healing, but Elisha refused it. Nothing about his healing was done according to Naaman’s terms and Elisha’s refusal prevented any possible way for Naaman to pin his merit on the healing he had received. There was nothing of Naaman’s own doing attached to the healing. He was simply given the promise, “wash and be clean.”
Just as there was no work of Naaman’s attached to his healing, so there is no work of ours attached to our healing. There is only the work of Christ done for us in the cross and resurrection of Christ. And just as Naaman received the promise to “wash and be clean,” so too we receive the promise and are cleansed in Holy Baptism where we are joined to Christ’s death and resurrection to new life.
The cross and resurrection is Christ’s work done for us and given freely to us through no merit of our own. Focusing on the work of Christ done for you is the eternal focus of our message at Park River Bible Camp. It is so much so that this year’s theme verse from Ephesians 2 sums it up really well. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
The circumstances leading to Naaman’s healing, though they were a humbling course of events for such a man of rank and power, were in fact a mercy. And so it is the same for us. Just as Naaman wasn’t greeted or treated like he wanted to be or as he felt he should be, so God does not greet us we should be. And thank God for that! You and I are sinners assaulted by the same pride and sinful condition that Naaman had and for God to greet us as such would be a terrifying thing! For just as Naaman was afflicted by disease so are we afflicted by the misery of our sin. And like Naaman our desire is to refuse to be healed except by our own terms and in our own way. We are so desperate to have a part in our own salvation.
But God doesn’t greet us as God should. Rather our gracious Lord greets us through his crucified and risen Son, Jesus Christ. Through Christ, God sees in us Christ’s righteousness, imparted to us in Holy Baptism where we too are given the promise, “wash and be clean.” God is able to look past our pride and past our sins for his son’s sake. “God views us in Baptism as people who have already died and been raised, put to death with His beloved Son on Golgotha and raised from the dead on Easter morning.” In this we are given the promise of salvation and are welcomed as sons and daughters of God.
Christ went to the cross on your behalf. Christ died for you and through his resurrection Christ earned new life for you. You have been given God’s promise of salvation and you are God’s child. None of this was done on any account of your own doing, but rather God has given you this gift freely and abundantly. It is yours. Just as Naaman couldn’t attach a blessing or payment for the healing done to him, we are also unable to offer payment for our salvation. It is utterly and completely the gift of God given and done for you. “By grace you have been saved… and this is not your own doing it is the gift of God.”