IS THAT ALL?
So he went and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times in keeping with the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored to the flesh of a little child, and he was made clean. 2 Kings 5:14
DO you wonder why God allows evil to go on and on, things that we would have redressed long ago? It is because He is patient with us; patient in the extreme, because He does not want any person to perish but desires that all should repent and be healed from the leprosy of their sin. This is not just wishful thinking for God so He sent His Son to seek and to save the lost; and gives His Holy Spirit to the church in order to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify the foulest sinners that earth can produce.
Naaman was such a man; a proud and powerful man who had attained great heights in his chosen field of military service. He was used to getting his way. When he barked orders things happened or heads rolled. He was not the kind of man you wanted to cross. As for religion, he worshipped Rimmon the Syrian fertility god. As such his piety consisted of satisfying every bodily lust without exception or restraint. There was no such thing as sexual immorality in Syria, nor did the Damascus police department have a “sex crimes unit.”
We are like Naaman. We may not have attained to high worldly office; few ever do, but we are like him in that we all suffer from spiritual leprosy, so no matter how much we accomplish in our lives, or how many thrills we can pack into our days, our sins hang over us like the Sword of Damocles, threatening at any moment to come crashing down on our heads. This makes us afraid and it makes us angry; angry at God.
Like Naaman we are outraged that God dares to impose His Law upon us and threatens to punish all who disobey, so we need to humble ourselves like Naaman finally did and come to repentance. For most of us this took place at baptism. In this primary sacrament we are separated from our sins, united to Christ and given the Holy Spirit to be our constant holy guide. Not everyone is brought to God’s house for baptism. Many have parents who don’t know or don’t care about this wondrous gift. Others bring their children because they perceive that there may be something important here, but sadly never come again. Still others who consider themselves Christians mistakenly think that there is no benefit to baptizing an infant because, they say, a child must decide for himself. Why do they think like this? Because, like Naaman, they want to be dazzled. They have a superstitious expectation of what God should do and how He should do it. But God delights in frustrating such pride and in giving the most extraordinary gifts in the most ordinary packages, and baptism, which imparts the Holy Spirit to us, is as elegant a gift as any sinful mortal could receive. With Him we not only read, but also comprehend and believe God’s word so that it becomes the “lamp for our feet and the light for our path,” (Ps. 119:105) It thus teaches us the best way to live, comforts us when we are sad, strengthens us when we are weak, and give us courage when we are afraid. It speaks the love of God to us which pierces through all of our sin and sorrow, and will give new birth to our dry bones on earth’s last day, when the Son of Man opens all graves. (John 5:28)
We must each learn to attend to the revealed word of God, both the Law and the Gospel. We can learn an important lesson about this from Elisha who did not come out to meet Naaman in person, but merely sent a divine word to him knowing that it would do the job. Why did he do that? Not to be cruel because God is never cruel. Even if it seems that way please know that He has something good in mind for you, and if you look with the eyes of faith you will see it! No, Elisha was not being cruel but rather showing himself to be a type of the coming Christ. Elisha is called “the man of God,” and Jesus who came to redeem us is the God/Man. Elisha’s name means: my God is salvation, and Jesus is God’s salvation for us. Elisha healed lepers and raised the dead, thus pointing us to the Great Physician of body and soul; who Himself submitted to death for our sins, and rose again to insure the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting to all who believe in His name.
Elisha was teaching Naaman what Jesus taught us all, “that whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Mt. 23:12) He was also teaching us the vital lesson that wherever God’s Word is, God is. Hear that again and try to understand it: wherever God’s Word is, God is: truly present, not to destroy us for our transgressions, but to cure us of our leprosy. However, we need more than just to hear God’s Word, not because there is any deficiency in it but because that is the way God designed things. Like Naaman the Syrian commander, and like the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts chapter eight, we all need to be instructed. We need loving parents, patient pastors and devoted teachers who will take the time to gently lead us like Naaman’s servants did for him; so that by the patience and comfort of the Scriptures we might have Hope. (Rom 15:4) Thus the church has never been satisfied only to read the Scriptures verbatim, or to allow only hymns which are direct biblical quotations. Reading Scripture is indispensible, but she does much more. She also teaches it, preaches it, enshrines it into creeds, confessions, prayers, hymns, liturgies and sacraments; and as need arises debates it and defends it against all enemies foreign or domestic. Why? Because it is the very Word and presence of God among us. It is the way God chooses to interface with His people until the end of the age, so nothing is more worthy of praise. Like Naaman, let us all thank God for our baptism, attend to Holy Scriptures, and put our faith in Jesus who is the Word of God made flesh and our Greater Elisha.
Rev. Dean Kavouras