Skip to comments."The Cleansing of Naaman: How Can Water Do Such Great Things?" (Sermon on 2 Kings 5:1-14)
Posted on 02/11/2012 11:06:52 PM PST by Charles Henrickson
The Cleansing of Naaman: How Can Water Do Such Great Things? (2 Kings 5:1-14)
Our text is the Old Testament Reading for today, the story of the cleansing of Naaman. Short version: Naaman was a man who had leprosy. He was told, Wash, and be clean. And, after some objections, Naaman did wash, and he did become clean. But theres more here than meets the eye, as we will see. For one thing, this story raises the question: How could simply washing in a river--and a pretty unimpressive river, at that--how could that cleanse a man of leprosy? And what does this story have to do with us? Most of us do not have leprosy, and were nowhere near the Jordan River. And so our theme this morning: The Cleansing of Naaman: How Can Water Do Such Great Things?
Lets start by reviewing the story of Naaman. Our text begins: Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. So lets set the scene. Naaman was a great and powerful man, the top army general for the nation of Syria. That also means that he was not an Israelite. Naaman was a Gentile, someone who was not part of Gods covenant people.
He was a mighty man of valor, our text says, but he was a leper. Leprosy. A dreaded skin disease. A chronic infectious disease that causes skin sores, nerve damage, and muscle weakness. It disfigures the body, and it gets worse over time. Naaman was a mighty man, but he had no power to stop the leprosy that had begun to afflict his body.
Our text continues: Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naamans wife. She said to her mistress, Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy. So this little servant girl, an Israelite, even though she had been taken captive by the Syrians, now, by Gods providence, now she is going to be a blessing to the very people who had captured her. She recommends that General Naaman go and see a prophet that she knows about back in Israel. She is referring to the prophet Elisha, by the way.
Notice what is happening here. A little servant girl is going to be Gods channel of blessing for a mighty man of valor. An Israelite is going to bring blessing to a Gentile. This is a story we see over and over again in the Old Testament. Think of Joseph bringing blessing to Egypt. Think of Daniel serving in the courts of Babylon. Here it is a captured servant girl getting Gods blessing to a general of Syria. The Lord has a way of getting his people in contact with the nations of the world in order to bring blessing to them. Think of what the Lord told Abram in Genesis 12: I will bless you, and you will be a blessing, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
The servant girl tells Mrs. Naaman, Mrs. Naaman tells her husband, and Naaman then tells the king: Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel. And the king of Syria says, Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel. The wheels are in motion.
So Naaman sets out for Israel, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. Naaman figures if he brings a big payoff for the king of Israel, this will help secure him a healing.
So Naaman arrives in Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom, Israel, and he presents a letter from the king of Syria to the king of Israel. It reads: When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.
Well, a big haul of money, official correspondence from one king to another, and on behalf of a mighty general. If a healing could be arranged by human means, this would surely do it. But no. Trust not in princes, the Bible says. The kings of this earth have no power to do what only God can do. Money cant buy you a healing from leprosy.
And the king of Israel realizes this. He reads the letter, and, knowing he does not have the power to do what the king of Syria asks, in his distress he tears his clothes and says, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? No, no king is God, having the power to kill and make alive as only God can. What to do? The king of Israel is at a loss.
But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel. The answer to the problem, the power to heal, will come not from a mighty king but rather from a lowly prophet, a preacher, a man of God with only the word of God at his disposal.
So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elishas house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him. Note this. Naaman goes from to a kings palace to a prophets home, and then, when he gets there, it is only a messenger who meets him. But the messenger has a word from the Lord to give him.
Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean. OK, clear enough. But this is definitely not what Naaman was expecting. The whole things seems like a major letdown to him. Naaman gets angry. He says: Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. No, Naaman, no big display of magic. Just a word to go on, a word to go and wash in the Jordan.
Go and wash in the Jordan? That too is not very impressive, as Naaman says: Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean? You see, if you were basing the power of the healing on the impressiveness of the water used, Naaman would be right. Look, I have been to the Jordan, Ive seen it, and it is no mighty Mississippi. More like a glorified creek.
Well, everything so far has been a letdown. So Naaman goes off in a huff. But his servants came near and said to him, My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, Wash, and be clean? So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
Wash, and be clean. Naaman washes, and he is made clean. According to the word. So heres the bottom line: No amount of wealth, no kings letter, no kings palace or power could get the job done. Only God has the power to heal leprosy, and he cant be bought off with a pile of gold. Only a word from the Lord can do the job, and even if its delivered by a humble messenger, the word will do the work. And if the Lord chooses to attach his word to water as his means, and even if that water is not outwardly impressive, if its got the Lords word working through it, the result is complete and total cleansing.
Now the message to us should be clear. The first thing is, we have a problem much worse than leprosy. Worse than any skin disease is our sin disease. Sin--disobedience to God, defiance of his will--sin is the disease that infects us all, and it is a killer. Our sin disease is terminal. Death, and eternal death, is the end result. And we cant do anything to heal ourselves of it. No amount of money can cure us of sin or deliver us from death.
Only God can do those things. And he has acted to bring about the cure. God sent his own Son into the world to pay the price needed to set us free. That price is far more costly than ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. The price paid was the blood of Christ, shed on the cross. You and I have been redeemed not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.
And how does that redemption, that cleansing, get delivered to us? Through means. And rather humble, ordinary-looking means. A preacher standing in a pulpit in a small-town church, preaching to maybe a couple dozen people in the pews. A pastor laying hands on a contrite sinner and saying, Your sins are forgiven. A piece of bread, a cup of wine, but with the words, This is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. And, like the cleansing of Naaman, just some water--and not very impressive-looking water, at that--but with a word from the Lord, Wash, and be clean.
You see, Holy Baptism is for us, in an even greater way, what the washing in the Jordan was for Naaman. Christian theologians have long seen a parallel between the two, Naamans cleansing and ours in Baptism. Back in the second century, the early church father Irenaeus wrote: It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but this served as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions, being spiritually regenerated as newborn babes.
And it is the word that does it. When the word of God is attached to the water, you can know for certain that God is at work, doing a mighty cleansing. As you learned in the catechism, Holy Baptism works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
How can water do such great things? we might ask. The catechism then gives us the answer: Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without Gods Word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.
Dear friends, just as Naaman was cleansed of his leprosy by the washing of the water and the word, so too you and I have been cleansed of our spiritual leprosy by the washing of the water and the word. Wherever the Lord God has attached his mighty gospel word, assuring us of forgiveness and life by the blood of Christ, there God is at work to do just what his word says. Dear friends, trust in that word. Thank God for the cleansing he has given you in Holy Baptism. Gods word will never let you down. No, it will always lift you up, no matter how outwardly unimpressive it may appear. God does mighty miracles through lowly means. Just ask Naaman. It happened in his cleansing in the waters of the Jordan. It happens in our cleansing in the waters of Holy Baptism. How can water do such great things? Answer: By the power of Gods word.
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naamans wife. She said to her mistress, Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy. So Naaman went in and told his lord, Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel. And the king of Syria said, Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.
So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy. And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.
But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel. So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elishas house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean. But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and 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. But his servants came near and said to him, My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, Wash, and be clean? So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
It is an act to show that one has already been saved by the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.
Spiritual baptism saves (1Cor.12:13), not water baptism.
In essence you are correct. But the WATER (or cleansing) is symbolic of Baptism and think of the love God is showing for us, His children, when he chose water as the symbol. Not something difficult to find and use..... just plain ole everyday easy-to-find water. And it easy to understand the analogy too. Even easy enough for children to understand the relationship of cleansing with the spiritual rite of Baptism.
When I was in Israel this past fall, our Jewish guide pointed out the "Mikvas" in all the historical ruins we toured and explained to us that by Jewish law, all homes had access to a "Mikva" (special bath house)where they went to immerse in water as an act of ritual purification.
And all the while, I am thinking, how like a loving Father is our God, who taught us about the spiritual reality through an easy to understand symbolic act... first his chosen people, then the rest of us through reading His Word.
Later in the week, standing in the shallows of the Jordan River, it was a very emotional moment to think about the powerful Symbol this "water" is and what it really means, and to have the opportunity to privately reaffirm my belief and love of my Savior Jesus Christ. That moment could of course have happened anywhere, on any day, but somehow it meant more to me, there in the "water".
I filled a used water bottle with water from the Jordan and brought it back with me to keep. Not that I think it is magical or special water, but because the memory of it will remind me of those spiritual realities you spoke of. We mre humans need symbols to help us understand.... don't you think?
Thank you for explaining that point.
I think the sermon made that very clear. God's Word, however, does have that power. Together they deliver that salvation through the faith in God's promises. Baptism is God's work, faith is God's work created by Him in us for us by His Grace.
Spiritual baptism saves (1Cor.12:13), not water baptism.
And from where does this Spirit come? Again, God's work, not ours for the forgiveness of sin.
There is no 'power' in the water, it is simply symbolic of the death and burial of Christ.
Going down, in is identified with His death and burial, coming up, with His resurrection.
One is saved before one enters the water, the water does nothing, nor does God do anything to the water.
The water is symbolic of the death and burial of Christ and coming up from the water represents identification with the Resurrection.
To Baptists who follow the practice of full immersion in Baptism rite, that is true. But to us Presbyterians (and some others), there is no "coming up from the water" as the water is sprinkled on our heads.
But as has already been pointed out.... the rite or ceremony is just the public acknowledgement. The act of personal salvation was already done the moment one confesses belief in the Savior, Jesus Christ.
So I would say that it is fine to add the "coming up from the immersion" symbol, for it has a true purpose. Our many and varied Baptism ceremonies have various symbolic acts in them. However the one that remains constant among all Christians is the symbol of cleansing, the washing away of sin (atonement through grace). Many of the laws that God gave to the Jews in the Old Testament were rooted in preparing them to understand the mystery of the messiah and what He would accomplish. For instance the sacrificing of unblemished sheep for the atonement of sins, was preparing them to understand the blood sacrifice of Jesus that accomplished the "perfect" sacrifice and thus atonement of all sins.
That is why Baptists don’t sprinkle, they immerse, baptism is representive of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, not OT cleansing. (Ro.6:4)