Alfred Place Baptist Church

5:4-8 The maid became a chain reaction

2 Kings 5:4-8 “Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. ‘By all means, go,’ the king of Aram replied. ‘I will send a letter to the king of Israel.’ So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: ‘With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.’ As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, ‘Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!’ When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: ‘Why have you torn your robes? Make the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.’”

We meet four men in this passage, all of whom were important personalities in their various spheres. Two of them were kings, one was the commander in chief of the Syrian army and the fourth was the man of God, Jehovah’s prophet in the world. The testimony of a little slave girl was passed on, upwards and upwards it went, from the lowest rank in Aram society until it reached the corridors of power in Syria and in Israel. General Naaman was told the words the girl had said to his wife. Then the King of Aram himself heard of it from Naaman. The King of Israel soon heard of it in a letter from the King of Aram, and Elisha the prophet heard about it from someone who’d seen the response of the King of Israel to the letter he’d received from the Syrian king.

1. THE CHAIN REACTION STARTED WITH A GIRL’S WORDS.

Have you ever considered the length of the chain that links you to those who in the beginning were eye-witnesses of Christ’s glory? There was some Christian who spoke to you about Jesus Christ, but someone had previously told her of the Saviour. However, another person had earlier spoken to him. Maybe a preacher had proclaimed it to him some years before that event, and a Sunday school teacher had taught him, and a parent had spoken to her . . . back and back the witnesses go, those millions of chains, all over the world, and as they go back further the links get closer together until finally we’ve arrived at the apostles of Christ.

Consider how literature can affect people. A book like Joseph Alleine’s Alarm to the Unconverted published in 1672 affected John Brown of Haddington in 1734. Then John Brown’s writings influenced a printer called James Nisbet. He went to London from Scotland where he began a publishing house which reprinted first of all John Brown’s Christian Journal. Then James Nisbet joined forces with Nichol of Edinburgh and Robertson of Dublin to publish the greatest sets of Puritan reprints the world has ever seen. In 1870 Nisbet published 22 volumes of the Works of Thomas Manton which he never would have done if John Brown in 1734 had not read Joseph Alleine’s Alarm of 1672. The Banner of Truth’s reprints in the 20th century were much in debt to Nisbet and Nichol’s publications. I spoke to a man this week who was converted in a Wesleyan youth club, and soon he found J.C.Ryle’s Holiness, and this put him in touch with the man who wrote the Foreword to it, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and thus he moved on to his sermons on Ephesians, and what a profound influence they have had over his life. His pilgrimage began in a Methodist youth club and that started a chain reaction in his life.

I am saying that as Christians we must see ourselves as links in a chain; every book you give away is a link in a chain; every sermon we preach is a link in a chain; every word we say to a friend or a stranger is a link in a chain. God won’t let a word fall to the ground. We have to remember that the king’s business does require urgency today because we are so few; so let’s always be abounding in the work of the Lord. Yet, let us be encouraged to view things from a perspective of decades and centuries in God’s work. We are building for eternity. Spurgeon’s ministry was not appreciated during his lifetime but later generations bless God for what he did and on the morning of the last day there will be someone in some distant part of the world coming to Christ through the words of Spurgeon.

So the girl who worked for despairing Mrs. Naaman one day spoke to her about the mighty power of the God of Elisha, and she told her sick husband what she had heard. He in turn told his boss, who gave the sick man time off work and a letter of introduction to Elisha’s boss, and then Elisha got to hear about it and he sent a message telling Naaman he was more than welcome to visit his home, and soon Naaman was knocking on his door. You cannot tell what influence a sentence can have on the lives of other persons. There is a gypsy scrap metal dealer in Inverness who has become an evangelical Christian. When my friend Donald who lives in that Highland town heard this he went to visit him full of curiosity as to how this miracle of grace had occurred, something that was affecting this man’s entire family. He told Donald it had all started when a new Roman Catholic priest had come to the parish and he had told the scrap metal dealer at a funeral service, “The answers to all our problems are found in the Bible.” What a simple remark, almost a cliché, but one which God used so that he bought a Bible and read it and sought out a church which preached it which led to the most widespread sanctifying consequences for all his family of tinkers. “The answers to all of our problems are found in the Bible.”

This little servant girl, humanly speaking, was defenseless and far from home. Who would expect her to do something very significant for God so that 2,500 years later all the world over she is still being talked about? She had her age against her, her nationality against her, her position against her. How few the openings for bearing witness to her Lord seemed to be hers, but the opportunities that she had she prayerfully seized. She did not say to herself, “I can do nothing here at all.” She lived a credible righteous life and with that manner of life endorsing her caring words of hope she spoke to her mistress who was frantic with worry. The Bible says, “Ears that hear and eyes that see – the LORD has made them both” (Provs. 20:12). Mrs. Naaman had been hearing the words of this little girl, and her eyes had been upon her behaviour for the past months or even years, and she had learned not to rubbish the lassie’s counsels – we’d have understood it if she had dismissed her words because our own words have often been ignored, but that fact doesn’t trouble us as much as the words we could and should have spoken when in fact we said nothing at all. The little girl’s reference to Elisha could so easily have sounded like foolish boasting to the effect that “the gods back home are better than Rimmon and your other idols,” but it didn’t come across like that, and it was true that none of the gods of Aram had been able to save Naaman. The General was rather worse in health and poorer financially from all his sacrifices and visits to various temples, priests and physicians.

So that night Mrs. Naaman spoke to her husband about this wee girl – not for the first time I’m sure – hadn’t there been a number of times when he’d listened to his wife talking about her – “Naaman, do you know what she said to me today?” – and he’d said to her, “My oh my, she’s a funny little thing isn’t she?” But, “Ears that hear and eyes that see – the LORD has made them both” (Provs. 20:12).Naaman’s hearing ear had been made by God and so it sucked in words that exalted God. God has given to everyone you speak to ears that respond to the truth and eyes that can see lives that are godlike.

Then soon Naaman was telling the king the claim that a young slave girl in his house had made and the king didn’t blink an eye. He did not look quizzically back at his chief of staff with an eyebrow raised disdainfully, rather the king encouraged his chief of staff heartily, “‘By all means, go,’ the king of Aram replied” (v.4). Why should a king be impressed by a scullery maid? Because the Lord had gone before the girl and before Mrs. Naaman and before Naaman himself every step of the way so that all they said prospered. God had given the girl the words to say, as well as the courage and wisdom to say them. Then God opened the hearts of three influential people to receive her message. He is the God who sent Philip to the desert road and then prepared the Ethiopian eunuch to receive Philip’s words. He is the God who overcame Peter’s Jewish prejudices about going to the Gentiles and then he prepared another soldier, Cornelius, to hear the things that had been commanded Peter by the Lord. If God be for us who can be against us? So that is the chain reaction as it started.

2. THE CHAIN REACTION WAS HINDERED BY THREE WEAK LINKS.

i] The first of three weak links in the chain stretching from the servant girl to Elisha was the king’s decision to send a letter to the king of Israel. It was meant with the best intentions, and we know that this kind of inter-state letter on medical matters was not uncommon at that period in history. We have examples of them in the Hittite and Assyrian archives. A sick king of a neighbouring state would hear good reports of a doctor in the adjoining kingdom and would seek permission from its monarch to see him. However, Naaman was not being sent to the king’s physician in Samaria. He was going to see a prophet of the God of grace. The message that Naaman had been given by the lassie was that if he saw the prophet he’d be cured. It was spectacularly clear. There was nothing about needing an endorsement from the king of Syria and the king of Israel. Go to the prophet to be cured. That was all he had been told to do.

So often it is the troubled and spiritually exercised men and women knowing they need new life from heaven above who are led astray at such times. The enemy of our souls is cunning. He does not introduce them to atheists when they are restless with the empty life of materialism, then he will bring a member of the cults into their lives. Or these people will go to faith healers or to great preachers, or to famous congregations; they will be encouraged to speak in tongues, they will walk to the front and kneel at the altar, they will ask for confirmation and get the hand of a bishop placed on their heads; they will ask for baptism or church membership. They’ll do many things rather than go directly to God! They will be taken or directed to meetings, and Christian concerts, and religious films, and retreats, and yet more meetings; it seems to me anything is suggested to them rather than their being hemmed in to God alone. “Go to God!” we tell them. Go to the one who understands and loves and can help you by saving you. Kneel before him, read his word, speak to him about your life and sin and ask him for his forgiveness; do not stop until you know he has answered you and your burden has been lifted and you have the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. But they are like the prodigal son who kept going and kept going, as far as he could on his own resources until he had absolutely nothing and nobody left. He was starving and all alone, without a roof over his head, but then, instead of casting himself on his father’s love, he went after a job for a pittance looking after pigs. There things got even worse; he couldn’t afford the price of basic food and longed to fill his stomach with the pods the pigs were eating and no one gave him a bean. How long did he stay there? It was not until he knew that he was a dead man, and he had no one who would help him, and he was facing the final curtain if he went on another week like this, that he came to the conviction he should have come to much earlier; “Only my father can help me now,” and he sought his father. We are telling you, “Start with the Father! Remember the words of Toplady as he describes a sinner closing with Jesus Christ? He is saying,

Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to Thy cross I cling.

Naked, come to Thee for dress;

Helpless, look to Thee for grace,

Foul, I to the fountain fly;

Wash me, Saviour, or I die. Augustus M. Toplady (1740-1778)

I fear some of you have not been there. You have not seen that. Let me ask you how far towards God have your inventions taken you? They may have led you to religion and that is all. They have taken you to doctors who couldn’t heal your sick heart. You have spent a lot of money for what you couldn’t eat and for all that jiggery-pokery that’s failed to help you. Your soul is as sick today as it was when you first got disillusioned with being a material girl. At the bottom of this whole journey is self, finding something that make you feel better, and make you happy, and that ‘self’ will never save you; it has never saved anyone. You are like the man who struggles in quicksands; the more he strives to get out the deeper into the quicksands he is sucked. You are like the convict on the treadmill – you climb and climb the sides but you never get any higher, all you get is weariness from the climbing. No good can come from any of your religious efforts apart from entrusting yourself to the Lord Jesus and his free salvation. Don’t look for human endorsement and regal letters; go to God!

ii] The second weak link in the chain from the slave girl to Elisha was one which Naaman himself created. He left for Samaria taking with him “ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing” (v.5). It was an obscene amount of money as a payment to Elisha for his cure. The silver alone was five times the price King Omri had paid for the site of the city of Samaria. Omri gave two talents of silver for that huge piece of land. Naaman will present to Elisha ten talents of silver, and six thousand shekels of gold as well as the clothing. He had emptied his bank of everything he’d got, but the little girl had said nothing to his wife about paying the prophet. She had said, “If only he would see him he would cure him.” She hadn’t said, “If only my master would pay him well he’d be cured.” See him! Go to him and see him! Healing comes from going to God’s great Prophet.

Do you understand the gospel of grace? Some will say. “What is that gospel?” Well, the gospel, as I take it, can be looked at in various ways, but I will put it today like this – the gospel is the preaching of a full, free, present but everlasting healing and cleansing from the sickness of sin through Jesus Christ’s atoning blood. As I understand the gospel it has in it a great deal more than that; but still this is the substance of it. I have to preach today the great fact that while all have sinned, the Lamb of God has been sent into the world and has died, and to all who see their need of life and cleansing from the leprosy of sin, who now will confess their sickness and cast themselves wholly and solely on the merits of the Lord Christ, there is a full and free healing – free in this respect, that there is no fee required to be paid in order to get it. The meanest sin-stricken leper has simply to pour out his plaintive griefs before God alone. That is all the Lord asks. There is no payment at all.

All the fitness he requireth,

Is to feel your need of him:

This he gives you;

‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam. (Joseph Hart, 1712-1768)

There is no need to bring gold and silver and expensive gifts; the gospel is as free as the air you breathe. You don’t pay for breathing; you don’t pay for touching the cold sea; you don’t pay for smelling lavender fields; you don’t pay for seeing the sunlight or hearing the birds singing. So what God does for us in salvation is as free as that; it is absolutely free; nothing is to be done in order to get it. No sacrifice or gifts need be brought in order to obtain it. No activities need be perfectly done in order to get it. There is complete healing through Jesus Christ, but you have to go to him alone. There is free pardon for the very worst sinner whom the world has ever seen through the blood of the Lord Christ. This is complete and total and comprehensive cleansing. When the Lord does anything he never does it by halves. I say that he is willing this moment to blot out every sin, and cleanse every iniquity of every soul present who is now prepared by God’s grace to seek his mercy. Come now, sinner. May God have put it in your heart to go to his Son, this great Prophet for wisdom, God’s great King for protection, and God’s great High Priest for cleansing. Then keep going to him alone until the healing which he is pre­pared to give you, you know to be yours, not a healing for some of your sickness, but for every part of it, leprosy of the head and heart and stomach and limbs, inward leprosy and outward leprosy, the destruction of any virus itself and all its effects in the body. The weakness and weariness that sickness brings is all ended by the new energy the Spirit of God brings.

Here is healing for your drunkenness, healing for your foul cursing, healing for your lust, healing for your rebellion against heaven; healing for the sins of your youth and those of your old age; healing for the sins of the church and the sins of the family and the sins of the pub and the sins of the web. Here is healing for all sin, for “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.” This healing which we shall ever preach to everyone is a present healing. If you feel your need of the Great Physician, if now you are enabled to believe in Christ, you will be cleansed. Those who think they have merely common ailments have a common hope that somehow all will be well and they’ll get better, but that is not the religion we preach. Its diagnosis of the human predicament is far more serious. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint; from the crown of the head to the sole of the feet there is no wholeness in any part of it, but rather wounds and bruises and putrefying sores everywhere, but if you now go to Dr. Jesus of the Golgotha hospital you will be healed. He is the one who was whipped and crucified for sinners, and with his stripes all may be healed, as long as they put themselves in his hands. It is possible for a man to have come in here today dying through the leprosy of sin, so that no one on earth could heal him, and yet for that same man to go out of this door today healed of his sickness, strengthened in his weakness, walking forward into a blessed future in the newness of life which Christ gives. This healing of a sinner is not a thing which might be done some time at the end of one’s days when one feels one is approaching the end, it is done this day while one is living – done now.

This was the simple message Naaman was told. Go and see the man of God. There was no mention of money and a price. If you know you are sick and dying then go to God and take the gift of life he freely offers you. But the best remains for the last; this healing which is proclaimed to you is not only a free, and full, and present reality, but it is one that will last for ever. If a top Harley Street physician performs the most brilliant diagnosis and discovers exactly what is wrong with you, and if he should prescribe a wonder drug that would destroy every cancerous virus attacking your body so that you become fully restored with a clean bill of health, 100 per cent fit and well again then still one day you are going to die . . .

But when God heals us he assures us of everlasting life. When he washes a soul it is cleansed whiter than the driven snow; God does things perfectly. But the best of it, I say, is that what the Lord does once is done for ever. This is the very glory of the gospel. If your sick soul is healed to-night, you are well and strong for ever. Jesus said to Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn. 11:25&26). If a man believes in Christ he will never die the second death. He will sleep in Jesus but he will never perish. His perishing days are over and gone never to return to him again.

God is not the kind of God who will give you eternal life to-day, and tomorrow let you perish; he doesn’t forgive to-day, but then punish the next day. As true as God is God, if you get his cleansing tonight then Christian, the earth may melt away like a candle and be lost for ever; the great universe may pass away like hoar-frost before the morning sun; but you cannot perish. It is utterly impossible. “They shall never perish,” the Lord has said. As long as God is God, he who has been dealt with by the Great Physician is beyond the reach of harm. I would not preach any other Jesus – I dare not. It would not be worth speaking about; who would cross the street to hear such a message? It would not be worth hearing. He who puts himself into the hands of Christ has a sure keeper, come what may, and though strong temptations come and strong pains torment us he that has helped us will take us through, and make us more than conquerors.

iii] The third weak link which hindered taking Naaman smoothly to Elisha was the reaction of the King of Israel on reading the letter of the King of Syria. We are told, “The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: ‘With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.’ As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, ‘Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!’”(vv.6&7). The king had been a free man while the wee lassie was a slave. He lived at home; she lived a captive in a strange land. He had immense riches while she had nothing. He conversed with kings and ambassadors while she washed pots and pans. Yet her faith in the God of Israel was vibrant while his was non-existent. He saw the arrival of Naaman not as the opportunity for the glory of the God of Israel to be manifest in his healing, but part of a plot to destroy him. This king Jehoram was as paranoid as people can become who are not conscious that they are being kept by a loving powerful Lord day by day.

Instead of getting down on his knees and spreading the letter before the Lord, as a later king did, he tore his clothes. How unworthy of the king of Israel; what theatricality! How unbecoming! How unbelieving! You notice that the public tearing of the royal robes is mentioned three times in verses seven and eight; the action was so shocking a display of unbelief. The little girl was thinking about others, her master and mistress and the desperate anxiety they were in. The king thought only about himself. The letter was a veiled threat to humiliate him and he was afraid. How much of the paranoid fear which many people have flows directly from their refusal to let Jesus Christ become their Lord? Let King Jehoram worship God! Let him trust the one who cares for him, that nothing better ever had happened in his entire reign than Naaman arriving in Israel with this letter from the king of Syria.

Doesn’t the response of the king remind us of many of our despairing excuses when we have refused to work for God and his church because we have pleaded we couldn’t possibly do such a thing. “We are not talented enough, don’t have the time or the energy to do that. It is all beyond our feeble powers. No, we will not get involved.” You thought you were being modest and acknowledging your weakness, but you were in fact being unbelieving. Isn’t this the case of your being weak while ignoring God’s grace which is super abundant. His strength comes perfectly into operation when we are weak. Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Shame on the King of Israel for his sinful shout concerning this letter. Of course he wasn’t God, but God is God. Of course the king could not bring back to life, but God could, and through Elisha God already had. A great miracle had been done in his land months earlier by Elisha. A dead child had been restored to life. Surely that would authenticate Elisha as the prophet of God in every part of the nation, but King Jehoram remained an unbeliever. It takes more than signs to make men Christians. It takes a sovereign work of the Spirit in their hearts.

3. THE CHAIN REACTION BROUGHT NAAMAN TO ELISHA.

We are told, “When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: ‘Why have you torn your robes? Make the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel’” (v. 8). Naaman shall not go back home disappointed. Let him not return saying that the God of Israel was as helpless to save him as the gods of Syria. Let him return with the message that the Creator of the universe has his prophet on this planet and there he is in Israel, and that he could do far above all Naaman asked or thought, far more than all the priests and heathen doctors and prophets of Syria were able to do. “Make the man come to me,” Elisha said to learn this. I am reminded of Jesus’ words, “Compel them to come.”

I have told you the message, and now what do you say of it? Remember, here was a man dying of an incurable disease with just one person in the world who could cure him, and that person wanted to heal him; “Make the man come to me,” he said. I am telling you that the Lord Jesus Christ can heal you of the sickness of sin and he desires to cure you today. Will you turn away? You tell me that all this is nothing to you, that you can’t listen to it, that you’ll think about it some other time, that you’ll go your way this day and attend to your business and plan your late summer holiday. Now you’ll go home to your television programmes and forget what you’ve heard. Stop and think brother, I wasn’t told merely to inform you about Naaman and then you could go about your business. No; I was told by my Lord to make you come to the living God, to compel you to come to him.

There is one thing I can say, to which God is my witness today, that I’m in earnest about making you come to my Saviour. You may think it will be a long time before you die, but we don’t know that. You may reject the very solemn diagnosis that the Bible makes of your condition, but I take it very seriously. You may despise your own salvation, but I don’t despise it. You may go away and forget what you’ve heard, but I can’t forget this or forget you, and each time I see you in town or your name comes up in a conversation I’ll bring you to my God in prayer. But that can’t save you! You must go to him. I beseech you by him who lives and was dead, and is alive for evermore, consider this message which God has spoken to you. I must make you come to him.

If that word ‘make’ makes you stubborn then I exhort you to flee to Christ. O my friend, do you know what a loving Christ he is? Let me tell you from my own soul what I know of him. I, too, once rejected him. He knocked at the door of my heart and I refused to open it. He came to me, times without number, morning by morning, and night by night; he touched my conscience and spoke to me by his Spirit. I can never forgive myself that I should have thought so ill of him. But what a loving reception I had when I went to him. His eyes were full of tears. He fell upon my neck and kissed me; he took off my rags and clothed me with his righteousness. He forgave all my sins and healed all my diseases. He caused my soul to sing aloud for joy. Sinner, you will never regret coming to him. You shall be healed of the leprosy of sin. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is everlasting life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Don’t continue leprous for a day longer. Don’t return to your home as sick as you left it. The trials of the Christian life you’ll find heavy, but grace will make them light. You will taste and see that the Lord is good; he is not only good, but better than human lips ever can describe.

I would make you come to my Saviour, but you do not like the word ‘make’ and so let me entreat you to come to him. Do you know what it is you are rejecting today? You are rejecting the Great Physician, the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount, the one who spoke and the winds and waves obeyed him, the only Saviour. “Other foundation can no man lay” save him. “There is none other name given among men whereby we must be saved,” but his name. My friend, I cannot bear that you go along a day longer suffering with the leprosy of sin. I remember what you are forgetting: the day is coming when you will want a deliverer. It is not long before weary months shall have ended, and your strength begins to decline; your pulse will be erratic, your breathing laboured, your strength will depart, and you and that grim monster – death – must face each other and who will win when you meet the last enemy?

What will you do in the swellings of Jordan without a Saviour? Death-beds are stony things without the Lord Jesus Christ. It is an awful thing to die anyhow; even the one with the best hope, and the most triumphant faith, finds that death is not a thing to laugh at. It is a terrible thing to pass from the seen to the unseen, from the mortal to the immortal, from time to eternity. You will find it hard to go through the valley of the shadow of death without Jesus with you and his rod and his staff comforting you. It will be a hard thing to die without Christ. I cannot help thinking of you. I picture myself standing at your bedside and knowing that you are dying without hope. I cannot bear that. I think I am standing by your coffin now, and looking into your cold face, and saying. “This man despised Christ and neglected the great salvation.”

I think what regrets I shall have that I wasn’t more loving and faithful to you now. Then your eyes will be fast closed in death. Will they seem to be saying, “You were not in earnest with me; you amused me, you preached to me, but you didn’t plead with me. You did not know what Paul meant when he said, ‘As though God did beseech you by us we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.’”

Then let me will tell you of the love of God, the love of God in Christ, and surely that must compel you, that must constrain you, whether you will or won’t. I could fill my mouth with arguments. Consider the greatness of the God whom Elijah and Elisha served. Think what he did in the life of a slave girl. She was no longer another statistic of the slaves of Syria. Consider the greatness of the price that was paid for sinners’ redemption. What provision there is for the lepers of this world. What more do you want? Consider God’s infinite condescension, that he has not given up on you, that he is calling you now, when you might have been in hell, “where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” That you might be without excuse, he has brought you here today and told me to make you come to him. O that you knew the one I know, then you wouldn’t want arguments to induce you to come in. You would run to his kingdom and beseech him to open the gates to you. Then come to him, even if you are the most reluctant person in the history of the human race to come. Come to the God of Jesus Christ now.

2nd September 2007 GEOFF THOMAS