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Pride – a block to grace

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2 Kings 5:1-16 (Naaman)
SMAS 10.30am All-Age
2nd Sunday before Lent (12/02/2012)

Dress children up and retell story as follows:
Naaman is the captain of the army in Syria. As such he is a very important person in the country, second only to King Ben Hadad 2nd. But underneath his impressive exterior, his authority, power and wealth, under his uniform there lurks a guilty secret - leprosy. He was a doomed man and would have become an outcast if anyone discovered this. It seems from the reading that at this point the infection was limited to one place, but leprosy spreads and left unchecked ultimately it kills.

Naaman needed help and he’s just about to discover where he might get that from. His army had taken some Israelites captive and he had given one of the young girls to his wife for a servant. She tells Naaman’s wife that the prophet Elisha in could bring him healing through Israel’s God. Naaman goes to speak with his king who gives him permission to go off to enemy territory and gives him a letter of permission to give to the king of Israel.

The king of Israel, who knows that he can’t possibly cure Naaman, thinks it is a trick so that when he fails to heal him the king of Syria can attack him. Consequently he blows a gasket and tears his robes in dread of the calamity he thinks is heading his way.

Meanwhile Elisha the prophet, who should really have been the person that Naaman went to, hears about the kings distress and tells him to send Naaman to him so that he can cure him. So Naaman and all of his big entourage go off to see Elisha. But, when they get there, Elisha doesn’t come out to meet him but sends a servant to tell Naaman to go to the River Jordan and dip himself in it seven times.

Now it is time for Naaman to throw a wobbly and he storms off in a rage. It can’t be because of the extra 30 miles to the Jordan because he’s already done over a 100. He’s annoyed because firstly: he thinks he is of such importance as to be worthy of this great healer coming out to him and effecting a dramatic healing; secondly: that the River Jordan is rather dirty and not a patch on the two great rivers back in Syria.

Fortunately his servants manage to talk sense into him, saying if the prophet had asked him to do something difficult or grand in order to be healed he would have. Because he said simply to wash in the Jordan he won’t do it? Off he goes to the Jordan and sure enough after his seventh dip he comes up totally healed with flesh like a newborn baby.

At this he realises that Israel’s God is the best and goes back to the prophet to tell him so and offer all of the of gifts he brought with him. The prophet refuses the gifts - I’ll explain why in a moment.(Give colouring out)

Now, there’s lots going on in that reading. Chiefly of course that Naaman’s healing only comes after he gets down off his high horse. This in fact means losing his arrogance and pride. Which in turn means that we can look at this washing in the river as like being cleansed from sin, as if the leprosy was standing for sin and although no direct reference to this it is alluded to elsewhere in the Bible. Of course there are similarities: deeper than skin, infectious, spreads, defiles, isolates and leads to death. This dip in the Jordan is like a fore shadow of Baptism. He is saved through repenting of his pride and washed clean with the Jordan water.

Nothing complicated. Nothing that smacks of anything he actually needs to do. Which explains why Elisha cannot accept the gifts. Naaman’s healing is by the grace of God. Not by anything he does. (Ephesians 2:8-9) It is interesting that both Nathan and his king assumed there would be a payment due not to mention that in fact the healing would come from the king.

The young servant girl, a prisoner really but free because she knew God, felt able to go and speak about Him. She never mentioned payment or that Naaman should go to the king.
A simple, free child who knew God. Naaman and his king present a typical picture of unsaved people who complicate things and think that healing and salvation come from
bringing gifts. In truth we are saved as a result of receiving by faith His gift of eternal life.

Elisha knew that Naaman had to be humbled in order to be healed. In contrast Naaman expected to be publicly received and recognised by the king. In return he could be seen lavishly dispensing the many gifts he’d brought with him.
It was a severe blow to be greeted by a servant and then told to dip in a dirty and alien river. Almost as if the better the water the better the healing. He decides to pack up and go back over a hundred miles to better rivers. Poor Naaman - so near and yet so far.

He becomes angry because he had already decided in his own mind how God would heal him. But God doesn’t work that way. Before sinners can receive God’s grace they must submit to His will. God resists the proud. Someone much cleverer than I has said that everyone ‘has the privilege of going to heaven God’s way, or to hell by their own’. Naaman is unaware of it but God has already begun to work on his pride:

  • Naaman has not been healed by the king.
  • The prophet never came to see him at the palace.
  • The prophet didn’t even come out to greet him himself but sent a servant
  • He was told to wash in a dirty river.

The great army captain had marked out his own way of healing and God wasn’t co-operating. Is it any different for us today? I think not. We too, work out when and how we will come and worship God, we adhere to religious rituals, decide how much we will give God, in both money and time, as if these things are acceptable substitutes for simply putting our faith in Jesus and receiving the grace He gives freely to those who come with open hearts ready to be obedient.

Fortunately the Lord once again uses humble servants to redeem the situation. ‘Come now’ they say, Elisha hasn’t asked him to do anything difficult or impossible. That would have only increased his pride. Elisha asked him to obey a simple command and perform a humbling act. Faith that doesn’t lead to obedience is not faith at all.

When he comes up out of the water for the seventh time his skin is like that of a little child. Do you recognise the significance? He has been born again! By his obedience he demonstrated faith in God’s promise and he is cleansed of his leprosy. As Moody said ‘He lost his temper, then he lost his pride, then he lost his leprosy: that is generally the order in which proud, rebellious sinners, are converted.’

Naaman then goes on to give a clear public testimony that the Lord God of Israel is the only true and living God and God of all the earth. He renounces the false gods and idols of Syria and identifies himself with Jehovah. What an illustration this was to those waverers in Israel never mind elsewhere!

But he still has a lot to learn. He can’t pay for this gift of grace. As we can’t either. What can we learn from Naaman?
Not to think we know how we can be saved.
Not that what we do, or gifts we bring earns our salvation.
That we must humbly obey and accept the advice of God’s servants instead of thinking that it is the rich and favoured who will bring us knowledge of God.

To know that matters of faith are not in complicated rituals but in the simple and humble cleansing God offers us.

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