Alfred Place Baptist Church

5:9-12 The humbling of Naaman

2 Kings 5:9-12 “So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, ‘Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.’ But Naaman went away angry and said, ‘I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?’ So he turned and went off in a rage.”

“Who is this man?” asks Charles Haddon Spurgeon in a sermon on this passage. “Ah, he is ‘Mr. Evil Questioning’” he replies and then Spurgeon proceeds to preach on “Mr. Evil Questioning Tried and Executed” in the form of John Bunyan. He bases it on Naaman’s angry outburst in our text, “I thought . . .” But fifteen years later Spurgeon returned to this passage again and this is how be began the second sermon, preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, a month before his fortieth birthday, in May 1874: “Our great object in preaching today will be the conversion of sinners. There is a great deal else to be done, saints want building up, comforting and quickening; but while myriads of men remain careless until they are swept away into perdition, it becomes us to bend our main strength in the most needful work of winning souls for Jesus. Therefore, again today I shall leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which has gone astray, pleading earnestly with God that he will bless my pleading with men, so that while I discourse with them concerning their folly in rejecting the Saviour, his Spirit may discourse with them also, and lead them to flee to Jesus for eternal life” (C.H.Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1874, Volume 20, “I thought.” 2 Kings 5:11, p.277ff.). This shall be my ambition too.

1. HOW DID NAAMAN APPROACH THE SERVANT OF THE LORD?

The great Syrian general Naaman was suffering from leprosy. No one in Damascus could cure him; he was in despair until a Christian slave girl in his house told his wife that she knew that Elisha the Jewish prophet would heal him. He was encouraged to go there by the king of Syria who valued the life of his successful chief of staff, and when he arrived in Israel a message came to him from Elisha welcoming him to his house. Naaman turned up at Elisha’s place carrying a lot of baggage, in more ways than one.

i] Naaman came with a wrong view of God’s true prophets. When Naaman arrived at Elisha’s home there could hardly have been a greater contrast. We are told that the general went to the house with his horses and chariots. There is a reference to “all his attendants” (v.15). An armed guard would have had to accompany him because he was bringing to Elisha “ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing” (v.5) – it was a huge sum of money. The home of the prophet wouldn’t have been what Naaman was expecting. Elisha didn’t live in the city of Samaria in the most salubrious section with the most desirable postal code near the royal palace where the top families and millionaires lived, in fact he didn’t live anywhere near Samaria but in an insignificant cluster of houses. What a contrast to the prophets and priests of Rimmon and of the other major gods of Syria (whom Naaman had got to know well in his desperate search to be healed of his leprosy). Those crooks lived in luxury from the gifts that were bestowed on the idols they served. They were the prophets of a health and wealth message. If you weren’t healthy and wealthy it was because you hadn’t given them enough money or you didn’t have enough faith. Elisha was very different, an itinerant preacher teaching the people from village to village, walking around the country with his disciples, dependent on the generosity of the remnant in Israel. Dr. Ralph Dale Davies says, “I doubt Elisha’s abode was very pretentious, and yet one day this whole diplomatic entourage pulled up outside his door. Neighbours probably gawked in bewilderment. Perhaps they were a bit upset that Syrian chariots were parking on their front lawns” (Ralph Dale Davies, 2 Kings; The Power and the Fury, Christian Focus, 2005, p.89).

How do you judge the truthfulness of a religion? By the numbers who attend their places of worship? So that in Italy truth is with Roman Catholicism, while in Greece it is Greek Orthodoxy. In Saudi Arabia it is Islam, and in India Hinduism. In Burma it is Buddhism, and in Utah it is Mormonism. Is that how you judge the truth, by statistics, by counting the numbers of those who profess a certain faith in a certain region? Or do you judge a religion by its wealth? The magnificence of their places of worship? The power they exert over the nations where they are numerous? Hear me! God tells us, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit you pass judgment.” Now we all know that there is no guarantee that small means beautiful in the eyes of God. There are cranky groups who believe the earth is flat; there are cults that worship planes, or cats, or bananas. Because they are small there is no certainty that what a tiny group believes is true, any more than great multitudes believing something means they’ve got the truth. Yet on Mount Carmel there were 850 prophets of Baal while there was just one prophet of Jehovah, but the truth was with the one man. The fire from God fell on his altar. What did Jesus say in the Sermon on the Mount? “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matt. 7:13-15). If many enter are entering through one door don’t go along simply because of the crowds. You might meet a false prophet with a shining face drawing people to hell with him. If Naaman was disappointed seeing the little house where Elisha the prophet of the Jehovah lived it was because he had a wrong view of the sort of people who serve God in the world.

ii] Again Naaman had a wrong view of himself, because worse was to follow; when Naaman got over the shock of seeing the dusty little house in which Elisha was staying nothing happened for a little while. The servant at the door went in and reported to Elisha that a great man and his entourage were waiting outside, but the prophet himself didn’t get out of his chair; he didn’t come outside to say a word of greeting or sympathy to Naaman. He paid him no respect at all, rather he sent to this important man, the chief of staff of the Syrian armies, a curt message to the effect that the cure for his leprosy would be obtained if he would wash himself seven times in the Jordan river. Only then would his flesh be restored and he would be cleansed. “Good-bye!” Then the servant, having delivered the message, went back into the house and shut the door, and that was that. One could imagine the stunned feeling on the whole group of Syrians, but especially on Naaman. “We have come all the way here for this?” The general went away very angry; he said aloud, “I thought that he would surely come out to me” (v.11). In the original the emphasis is on those two words, ‘to me!’ This is the commander in chief of the army of Syria, one who has traveled all the way Israel and now found his way to Elisha’s front door, knocked his knocker, yet he didn’t bother to come out . . . to him, but he sent his servant to deliver a message! Naaman had expected to see Elisha and do “some great thing” (v.13), perhaps the verse means ‘something difficult’ like walking on fire, or cutting a vein and filling a basin with his blood, not this pathetic standing in a local stream and washing himself seven times. Yet this is what he was told to do.

Why? It was because Elisha knew far more about Naaman than Naaman knew about himself. Not only did he have a wrong view of God, he had a wrong view of himself. Who was Naaman? Spiritually he was a rebel against God, defiant and sinful. In him dwelt no good thing. His heart was deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. His soul within him was dead in trespasses and sins. How do we know that? Because that is true for everyone of us. In addition what evil things he had done in the battles he had fought. What cruelties and atrocities in an evil age he’d been guilty of. Naaman’s greatest need was not to be delivered from his illness but to understand himself, to see his own heart as God saw it and get a new heart. If he returned to Syria healed but still in his sin his last state would have been worse than his first because he would return with his thinking confirmed that the mighty power of the only God there is had been kind to him, and so pronounced things were well with him. Hadn’t this God favoured him above all the lepers of Israel by healing him and not them?

I remember as students we were knocking on doors in Cardiff today selling Christian literature, and a pleasant middle-aged woman answered the door, so pleased to meet us when she discovered that we were Christians selling Bibles and Christian literature. She was eager to tell of a time when she was very ill and she went to a religious meeting, she had gone to the front for healing, hands were laid on her, and she was healed there and then, and from that day onwards she had had great health. When asked where she went to church she said that she hadn’t been inside a church service for many years but all was well because God had healed her all those years ago, and now she did her best and believed in life after death. We could call her Mrs. Naaman. I am saying to you that that would have been Naaman’s future if he had been healed as he requested but left in an unregenerate state. Elisha knew that this great man must be brought to see himself for what he was and be changed, and so the prophet of the Lord behaved as he did.

iii] So Naaman had a wrong view of God, a wrong view of himself and also he had a wrong view of deliverance from leprosy and the pains of death. “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy” (v.11), said Naaman. He thought the prophet would have told him to do some great thing (v.13). He thought there would be the official handing over of the gifts, first the ten talents of silver by one impeccably dressed servant, and then another servant would bring six thousand shekels of gold on a tray and lay them at the feet of Elisha, and then another couple of gorgeously attired servants would bring the ten sets of clothing and give them one by one to the prophet’s servants. When that was all done then it would be time for Elisha to respond, calling on the name of Jehovah waving his hand over the main spot of leprosy and the cure immediately be wrought to tumultuous applause, followed by a feast and a tender good-bye. What did Naaman want? He wanted a ceremony; he wanted pomp; he wanted something like Lady Diana’s funeral service where they use our buildings, and sing our hymns, and read our Scriptures, but never worship our Lord from one year to the next, and sing his hymns just at their family funerals.

Back in Syria Naaman had gone through all the healing meetings of Rimmon and the other gods and they all had one thing in common – shoutin’n’razzle-dazzle. Or as Ray Dillard described it, itching palms and magic shows. They were choreographed theatre. So here Naaman supplied the cash and he expected Elisha to supply the magic. He wanted something far more impressive than a simple command and promise. So people get so disappointed with us. Maybe they have heard about me because of my longevity in the pastorate. Some people from the town are curious and come along on the Sunday night of the Conference in Bethel at 7.15, and they hide in that vast crowd and they are disappointed. They have told me. No one is waving his hands in the air; there is no up-tempo band, no drums, no wise-cracking worship leader, no touchy-feely-felt-needs inspirational message, no shouts of Amen, no one is crying, no one is swooning, no one is speaking in tongues. It is all vaguely familiar, the ‘hymn sandwich’ and the climax is the word preached . . . and they feel flat. They don’t understand the things of the Spirit of God because they are spiritually discerned. It is a desperate disappointment. They felt they would go away saying that this lively razzmatazz is what their churches needed, that this is what would attract young people. They didn’t want the gospel of man’s Ruin by sin, Redemption through Christ alone, and Regeneration by the Spirit preached in the power of God. They didn’t want this desperately pessimistic view of man in sin, and his only hope the blood of the Lamb of God. Not that. Shoutin’n’razzle-dazzle – that is what they hoped to hear.

Our world is full of people disappointed with religion. There are the same odds of a person getting healed at Lourdes as of that person winning the lottery on Saturday night. People pray about something that really hurts and God doesn’t seem to do anything. They have a fixed mind-set of who God is like; he is someone you can safely ignore for most of your life but when you are in trouble you can call him in to help you out. Then when he fails to toe your line you carry a grudge about him for the rest of your life. Naaman was all ready to fit that groove; “I went all that way . . . all the way to Israel; I had a written letter from the king, but when we got to their prophet’s house he lived in a dump, and he didn’t even have the grace to come out to see me, and he sent me a message by some miserable little man to dip in their lousy local river seven times and then I’d be cured of leprosy. Think of it!” That was Naaman, prepared to parade his bitterness about Jehovah for the rest of his life. He expected God to heal him in a Naaman-enhancing manner. He wanted all the benefits he could get from this Lord but he wanted them to come to him in the way he set out. He had a wrong view of God, a wrong view of himself and a wrong view of salvation. Am I bound to think of everything as God thinks? Most certainly. Have I no liberty of thinking otherwise? None. You may do so if you choose to, but the consequences are fearful, for error is sin. Naaman was not bound to think as all his fellow Syrians thought. He was bound to think as God thinks, not in one thing only, but in everything. Woe be to the man who presumes to differ from God or reckons it a light matter to be of one mind with Jehovah. So we’ve looked at the spirit in which Naaman came to Elisha. And now . . .

2. WHY DID ELISHA TREAT HIM IN THIS WAY?

There are three things God has to do to everyone who becomes a true Christian. There is no possibility of your becoming a real child of God unless the Lord does these things in your life.

i] God humbles our pride.

After the king of Syria Naaman was the most powerful man in all that land. He might have been more popular than the king. He was everyone’s hero; both men and women idolized him. He had everything money could buy. He was the Beckham of his generation, the Lady Di, the Bill Gates, the Tom Cruise. This is the man who stood outside Elisha’s house, and the prophet might never have another occasion to meet him again. Elisha was now accountable to God for bringing the power of God to bear on Naaman’s life. The Lord Jesus Christ once saw a man coming expectantly towards him. According to Mark in the tenth chapter of his gospel this fellow had everything that the world idolizes. He had wealth; he had youth, and he had power – we call him the rich young ruler; he also had health because he came running along. On top of all that he had morality plus an eager interest in Jesus Christ. Three sessions of the Alpha Course and this man would have been assured that he was a Christian, four and he’d have been speaking in tongues and told he was a ‘Spirit-baptized Christian’. As Walter Chantry describes him,

“A worthy candidate for the ‘Citizen of the Year Award’, you might think. And certainly you would love to have him as a trophy for Christ. You would be delighted to see him confess Jesus and join your church . . . Here is an outstanding fellow begging to know how he can get to Heaven! This is the evangelist’s dream! Wouldn’t you open your Bible and ask him essential questions? ‘Do you believe that you are a sinner? Do you believe that Christ died for sinners? Will you accept Jesus as your personal Saviour? Pray this prayer after me . . .’ He would answer in the affirmative to every question with very little instruction. Just show him the usual verses. This rich man was ripe for our evangelism. Our inquiry rooms would have elicited his ‘decision’ in a few moments, and given him assurance of eternal life besides, he would be added to the statistic sheet and his conversion reported across the world. Such a cele­brity might even merit a personal write-up in the big evangelical magazines. Aren’t you a little disappointed to see Jesus handling this tender soul so roughly? How could our Lord use such obviously poor tactics with a sinner? He began with a rebuke, (“Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone”), and went on to talk about the Ten Commandments (of all things!). Jesus then demanded immense sacrifice as a condition of having eternal life (“Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor”), and finally Jesus allowed the ‘fish’ to get away! Didn’t He know how to lead a soul to Himself? If you are surprised, surely you are the one who doesn’t understand evangelism” (Walter J. Chantry, Today’s Gospel, Banner of Truth, 1970, pp. 20&21).

Isn’t this the way sometimes Jesus worked? When our Lord spoke to Nicodemus who had made a journey one evening to see him, though this leader of the Jews was a very moral and religious man, Jesus told him immediately that he had to be born again. When he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, although he was so respectful to women he told her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you have now is not your husband” (Jn. 4: 17&18). When he spoke to a Gentile woman who wanted her daughter delivered from demonic influence Jesus didn’t answer a word, and then finally he said to her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” and when she begged him he said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (Matt. 15:23,24,26). He is always humbling men and women. He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . blessed are the meek . . .”

To Naaman he sent a messenger because he wanted the general to be gripped by the message. I am sure that Elisha was a fascinating personality with loads of charisma, but that was the danger. He didn’t want Naaman to go home and casually tell his friends that he had met ‘this extraordinary fellow . . . I’ve never met anyone like him . . . he healed me of leprosy’ so that all the dinner guests drinking their wine thought what a boring lot they were and how they longed to meet fascinating personalities who lived far away in exotic places. The Christian message is not like that; it is not about holy men living in caves in the Himalayas, or about pastors of 100,000 member churches in Korea, or about miracle workers in Java. It is the message about Jesus Christ and it is the same message for everyone, that we all deserve eternal death because we are sinners, but Jesus Christ, because he loved us, has died for us as the Lamb of God, so that our sins can be forgiven for Jesus’ sake. It didn’t matter to Elisha who was the one who actually delivered the message, himself or his servant, but it mattered one hundred per cent that the God-given word be faithfully communicated to Naaman and his servants.

Elisha was a humble man; he ministered to his master Elijah by washing his hands. He did not think that a widow who had fallen on hard times was too far below him to spend time helping her, but Elisha was no sycophant; he would not toady to men of power. He did not feed the self-importance of the rulers of this world. Obviously Naaman considered himself a great man, entitled to kid-glove treatment. He felt he was giving an honour to Elisha to come all this way to his home; what a favour Naaman was bestowing on him. Did he muse of a future sign placed above Elisha’s lintel, “Physician to General Naaman of Syria”? Business would be good for Elisha from this day forth. He would soon be living with the good and great near the royal palace. Naaman didn’t realize the extraordinary rank of Elisha, the spokesman of the mighty Creator here in the world, the ambassador of the King of kings, the plenipotentiary of divinity. But Elisha knew this, and he let mere Naaman – this speck held moment by moment by the life of God – know that Elisha was at no man’s beck and call. God resists the proud, and that is not pleasant, but he gives grace to the humble. So Elisha was emboldened to act as he did.

ii] God reverses our expectations.

Naaman had already written God’s script for him. He expected that he would have to undergo some costly, demanding and painful rites before he could be delivered from death. That’s a very common view, that the way to heaven can eventually be obtained, but it requires self-denial, vows of chastity, poverty and silence, a regimen of early rising and prayer five times a day, a continued course of seeking and striving. Others insist upon constant attendance at the rituals of the church, the confessions, the masses, and even after death there are further centuries to be spent in the darkness of purgatory dealing with the consequences of our sin – all that is essential before anyone can get peace with God. Others emphasize that it requires mental effort, study, much knowledge of religious truth and Christian doctrine; yet others that it requires absolute freedom from sinning; yet others that it requires some great paroxysm of feeling, that we must go through deep religious convulsions, tumult and overwhelming emotions.

What is a consequence of holding ideas like that? It puts religion far, far away. It doesn’t bring it into a small congregation like this, and to little people like we are, who’d know God for ourselves, and soon know him, even today know him whom to know is life eternal. That view of coming to God makes people conclude, “Oh, how could someone like me ever know God and get to heaven?” So people put it off, and put it off, which is exactly Satan’s strategy. Men get discouraged about the great difficulties in front of them, and that there’s little use to all their endeavours. People come to the conclusion that to be healed of the moral leprosy of sin and become a Christian is an impossible work, with a great deal to be done, but perhaps in the distant future peace and joy might come to them – who knows? Let them have fun now; enough time for the self-denial in the future.

Naaman had always taken large sums of money to the gods and priests of Syria in his quest for life, and so he brought to Elisha ten splendid robes and a large sum of money. He would give it all to Elisha and do whatever demanding feats the prophet laid on him, but nothing like that was required. Nothing at all. Elisha wasn’t even interested in the money. What a disappointment. Naaman would pay a great price for a cure; he would like to pay a great price for it. Naaman was a proud man and he hated to receive as a gratuity what he could pay for himself. He would tell his buddies, “Cost me a pretty penny I can tell you,” smiling wryly. That feeling of paying your debts is natural enough between two equals, one man and another, but it is not a natural feeling between a creature and his Creator, because however you phrase it, repellent as it may seem, we are all bankrupt before God. We don’t have a penny to pay. There was not enough money in the whole Syrian empire that could pay for the cure of one leper. You could not hire the power of God to do this work; it is beyond payment and anyway you are a bankrupt. Drain all the banks and all the treasuries of the land, devote the energies of the longest lives to this work, tax the powers of the best brains in the country, and still you cannot secure the salvation of one soul by that means. Nothing in my hand I bring.

God and men do not meet on equal terms. Man is a criminal and God cannot look on sin. Man is guilty and helpless and God is the powerful judge of all the earth. Men are weak, guilty, hopeless and unworthy; God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. God has no obligation at all to respond to us; he cannot be bought or bribed or cajoled into doing sinners a favour. Yet the great message of the gospel is that God’s way of salvation is far easier and freer than man’s. Nathan would have shed his blood to obtain his deliverance; he would have sacrificed his nearest and dearest, and so he was gobsmacked by the simple word he heard, “Go and wash in Jordan.” It didn’t seem possible that this could be everything. “And then . . . and then . . . and then what?” He felt Elisha was playing with him; he wanted to be treated more seriously.

So it is when we hear how peace with God, healing of the leprosy of sin can be obtained, that it is a free gift of God received by faith, without money and without price, because of what Jesus Christ has done, and that then God becomes our eternal Father, it is utterly staggering. God reverses all our expectations. Hear me! You can become wise without study, rich without labouring, free without purchasing your deliverance. It is so simple that many cannot understand it, but many Christians will say, “I cannot understand why I did not see it years ago?” How near I was to Jesus, how accessible he was to me, how simple is the way of salvation;

Just as I am without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee
O Lamb of God I come.

Coming to him is a movement of my heart and soul under the influence of the Word of God as it is energized by the Spirit of God, to entrust myself for time and eternity into the safe keeping of the Saviour who loves me. Coming to Christ is not the result of study and passing eight exams. It is the healing cure of God applied to my soul by the Holy Spirit. So do not think that the conditions of cure are utterly unattainable – they are here; they are simple. Go to God; he sits as the Sovereign on his throne and in his hand he holds this great gift of salvation and he is not reluctant to give it to you. He does not look for righteous people and give it to them while withholding it from horrible people. Not at all. He extends it to the very worse men and women today. You need it! How much you need it! Never a sick man needed a cure as much as you; never a hungry man needed the bread of life as you do; never a criminal needed a pardon as you do; never an illegal alien needed citizenship as you; never a lonely person needed a close friend as you. You cannot buy it; you cannot earn it; you cannot deserve it, but today you can have it without money and without price. Would you be healed of the leprosy of sin? Then you go and wash in Jordan. Would you be saved? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

iii] God tramples all over our broadmindedness.

Wash seven times in the Jordan? The river Jordan? What about the clear rushing torrents of the Abana or Pharpar rivers back home fed by the mountain snows, much more cleansing, invigorating and powerful, all this way to Israel to be told to take a dip in their rivulet? Why this particularity? One river is only marginally better than another, but all rivers flow into the sea don’t they? Water is water. It sounded to Naaman like Israeli nationalism . . . like xenophobia. “No! In the Jordan,” insisted Elisha and such a command reeked of unacceptable dogmatism. But it is dogmatic to be told on the pill box just to take three tablets each day and no more? Why not take them all at once? Is it dogmatic to be told to take your passport if you want to leave the country and enter another? Is it dogmatic to have your car tested and certified once a year?

Wasn’t our Lord dogmatic? Didn’t he claim that he was the way, and the truth, and the life and that no one came to God the Father except by him? Those are the words of a megalomaniac or the truth of God the Son. Didn’t his apostles say that there was none other name under heaven given amongst men whereby we must be saved? Isn’t that dogmatic? Jesus spoke to the woman of Samaria and he told her straight that she worshipped what she didn’t know, and that salvation was not from the Samaritans (whose inspired Scriptures were just the first five books of Moses and no more – no psalms and no prophets, and no writings). Redemption didn’t come from Samaritan religion. The Messiah had not been sent to Samaria; salvation came from the Jews. All rivers don’t flow into the same sea. Again, when Jesus addressed those Jews of Jerusalem who rejected him he told them, “You are of your father the devil.” Was that unloving? If it were true it couldn’t have been unloving to have told them the trouble they were in. What we meet in Jesus Christ are extraordinary claims to be the only-begotten Son of the Father, and so the one way to God, supported by a life of transparent and loving integrity, endorsed by extraordinary teaching, and confirmed by as many mighty miracles as would fill all the books of the world.

Naaman must plunge into the Jordan river because that is what God said. Adam and Eve must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because that is what God said. We must come to Jesus Christ when we labour and are heavy laden and he will give us rest, because that is what the Lord said. The command and promise has all the authority of the one who walked on water behind it. Naaman has to learn that there is only one way of doing things and that is God’s way. What was the thrust of Elisha’s message? It is surely that if Naaman or any person aches to know life then he has to change his whole lifestyle. He must have new attitudes to God and self and the way of deliverance. Naaman’s self-identity was inextricably linked with his fame and power. That was the foundation of his total lifestyle. That is not the case for every person. There are men who have built their lives on other less splashy foundations, but they too are equally shaky. They are all foundations of sand. Men and women can build their lives on their families, on academic reputation, on artistic achievement, on business acumen, on media influence, on religious office. They have built their lives upon every kind of foundation imaginable. They have lived for every kind of idol; every life here has its own idol, its own preoccupation, and obsession.

God is requiring a seismic shift in Naaman’s thinking. The little test was dipping in the Jordan, like the test for Adam was not taking the forbidden fruit. Naaman was being told, “Here is your God henceforth and start to destroy all the influence the gods of Syria have over you. Turn your back on them completely and entirely and utterly. Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan.”

Naaman came to the prophet of the Lord with such anticipation, his gifts ready, and his hopes high, but he left him an angry man. Naaman came with a leader’s face, a hopeful face, an eager face, a leper’s face, but after Elisha had sent his message to him there was a different face. It was an angry face but it was still the face of a leper. How did Naaman go away? He went away with his leadership intact; he went away with his reputation in Syria and all his glittering prizes. He went away with his silver and gold and garments. He went away with his authority, and power, but he went away with his leprosy. That is how he came, and that is how he left Elisha. He went away far richer than you or me. The prophet didn’t charge him for his advice. No expenses were incurred for the message, and yet he went away a dying man, an angry man, a rebel against the simple word from God. He went away in a rage.

What shall we say? We shall find some consolation that he went away angry. That in itself is an amazing thing; a man one day heard the simple message of life and he went away angry. I didn’t think the Lord allowed things like that to happen. Why didn’t Elisha call him back? Why didn’t he compromise and say, “OK, you wash in the rivers of Damascus and you’ll be healed,” making it a little easier and less revolutionary? There was no other way, and if today you won’t do the simple thing that God is telling you to do, turn from your sin and trust in Jesus Christ, no preacher in the world has the right to speak peace to your soul, not even the incarnate God of love, especially not him.

I say to you that if you go away today with your possessions and with your old lifestyle and your leprosy . . . at least . . . go away angry. That is the only promising thing about Namaan, that the word of the prophet was clear and understood and it really got under his skin. He wasn’t bored listening to the message, and he didn’t sleep; he was really disturbed at what he heard. He was in a rage. If you reject my Saviour then go away angry. Yes, by all means, but there is a better way. Don’t go away. Don’t take your leprosy with you out of the door. Don’t go on in the way that it’s been. Don’t go on in that old sick lifestyle. Don’t take that home again out of the door.

Alas, if you do then do it in a rage, that the preacher in this pulpit should be so narrow and so bigoted and so literal about the exclusive claims of Christ the only begotten Son of God, but better still, don’t go away. Do what Jesus says, go to the Father by him. Go dip in the fountain opened up for sin on Golgotha. Take up your cross and follow him. Don’t say to yourself that you are going to think about this and that you are going to seek him. Don’t vow that before the next meeting you are going to deal with this problem. Don’t make any such promises. Salvation is not about vowing, it is about doing. Here is the Lord Jesus Christ, and he said to this man, “Wash in the Jordan,” and he says to us “Wash in the blood of the Lamb, the blood that cleanses from all sin.” You can never begin to follow Christ too soon. You can believe that you are following him too soon, but you can’t start following the Saviour too soon. Do what the Lord says through his servant and visit that fountain opened for sin and uncleanness.

I know a fount where sins are washed away;
I know a place where night is turned to day.
Burdens are lifted, blind eyes made to see;
There’s a wonder-working power in the blood of Calvary.

16th September 2007 GEOFF THOMAS