In just a few weeks it is going to be Super Bowl time. The two best NFL teams will be playing for the championship. At the end of the game, someone is going to be interviewed on a Disney commercial and asked, “You’ve just won the Super Bowl! What are you going to do now?” He will respond, “I’m going to Disney World!”, the idea being that when something significant has happened in your life, of course you should head to Disney World.
“What are you going to do now?” is a question people are asked after they have experienced a significant life change, such as retirement. “You’re retired, what are you going to do now with your time? Any plans?”
I want to share with you a story from the Old Testament about a man who had a significant thing occur in his life and how it affected the way he lived out the rest of his days.
The man’s name was Naaman and his story is found in II Kings, chapter 5. Please take out your Bible and read along as we explore this narrative.
“Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.”
We learn a few things about Naaman in this first verse. First, he was a great man in his community. He was highly valued by the king for his military successes. We also read that God was already at work in his life giving him victories. It is interesting to see where God shows up in life, isn’t it? Finally we learn that Naaman had an incurable disease called leprosy that was making his life miserable and hopeless.
But one day Naaman heard of a possible cure for his leprosy.
“Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, ÔIf only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.'”
“Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. ÔBy all means, go,’ the king of Aram replied. ÔI 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.”
It must have been an exciting time for Naaman, thinking of the possibility of healing. It also must have been heartwarming to hear the king show such support to help him out. Off he went with a smile on his face and hopes high, but things didn’t go quite as he expected.
“The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: ÔWith 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, ÔAm 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!'”
Not exactly the reception that Naaman was anticipating! The king of Israel had a bit of a tantrum. He tore his clothes in anxiety and declared that this was just a way for the king of Aram to pick a fight with Israel and beat up on them again. “What now?” Naaman must have wondered. But the story wasn’t over.
“When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: ÔWhy have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.'”
Those were dark spiritual times in Israel. Elisha the prophet was not considered a favorite subject of the king. He often told him the things he didn’t want to hear about worshiping other gods, so Elisha was put on the shelf out of the way. But Elisha was a man of God, and God spoke through him. When Elisha heard about the king’s fit, he sent word to him to send Naaman to him.
So the king did send Naaman on his way to Elisha. Again, Naaman had to have been very excited Ð he was about to get healed by a man of God. He probably had the picture in his mind of what was going to take place. Boy! Was he surprised!
“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, ÔGo, 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, ÔI 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.”
We have a fellow here with a wounded ego, don’t we? He had in his mind how he was to be treated. “I’m an important person, and he didn’t even come out to meet me face to face! And his prescription sounded absurd and humiliating to me. Dunk myself seven times in that dirty river? Never!”
So Naaman began to turn toward home. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and here is what happened:
“Naaman’s servants went to him and said, ÔMy father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ÔWash and be cleansed’!’ So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.”
“Naaman! You just got healed! What are you going to do now?”
We know what he didn’t do Ð he didn’t head straight home. Instead he went back to Elisha’s house, humbled and grateful. Listen to what he said:
“Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, ÔNow I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.'”
Dear friends, what we have here in these words is a man who has had a conversion experience. This is a profound profession of faith. “Now I know there is no other god but the God of Israel.” He then went on to say,
“Please accept now a gift from your servant.”
Elisha responded, “No, don’t pay me. It’s a God thing. God did this for you.”
Naaman was grateful, and he wanted to do something in response. Here is what he requested:
“ÔIf you will not,’ said Naaman, Ôplease let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other God but the Lord.’
“Let me take some of this holy ground back home with me so that I might build an altar and stay connected with this community of faith,” Naaman said. “I’m putting aside all the other things I’ve relied on in my life Ð all the other gods Ð that I looked to for my security. I’m going to love and worship the Lord of Israel, alone. He is my God.”
Then Naaman took it a bit further. A practical matter came to mind.
“But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I bow there also Ð when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”
Naaman was saying, “I know I am playing for an audience of one now Ð the Lord. I want my life to be pleasing in his sight. Still, I have this job back home, and sometimes I have to escort the old king to worship services at his temple. He leans on me so that he doesn’t fall over when he bows to Rimmon his God. So when I am on my knee holding the king up, may the Lord know that in my heart I still belong to him.”
Elisha’s response was, “Go in peace.” He gave his blessing to Naaman. Off Naaman went to live the rest of his days worshiping the one true God.
Do you ever wonder why stories like this get told and retold from generation to generation until they’re finally written and placed in Scripture? I have a couple ideas about this one.
First, it’s a wonderful grace story. We see God caring for all kinds of people, even an enemy of Israel. We see the truth of that statement in John: “For God so loved the world . . .” God poured his healing grace into this foreigner’s life as he swallowed his pride and jumped into the Jordan river. His life was changed.
Second, it’s also a great response story. Naaman responded to God’s grace in a God-pleasing way. He committed himself to first-commandment living. “You shall have no other gods before me.” Martin Luther once wrote of this commandment that it means we are to fear, love, and trust God above anything else.
That is exactly what we see Naaman doing in this story, and Elisha affirmed it. Naaman expressed his faith (“Now I know there is no other God but the God of Israel.”) He turned from his old gods and promised to worship the one and only God. He expressed the fear of a man playing out his life before God and not wanting to displease him as he did his duties. That is first-commandment living!
You might be wondering what this has to do with your life? Let me tell you.
The Bible tells us that God has provided healing from something far more deadly than any disease Ð sin. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We cannot cure it on our own. There are deadly consequences Ð the wages of sin is death.
Yet we have just celebrated Christmas. It is more than a tale about a baby. It is a rescue story. God gave his only Son, who grew up and died upon the cross, as the perfect sacrifice for healing our broken relationship with God. Read Isaiah 53:4-6. By his bruises we are healed.
God loves you and has promised healing for sin-sick souls. Come and dip yourself in the river of healing grace. He doesn’t want you to spend another minute without him in your life.
To those of you who have been touched by that grace, this story has much to say about responsive living to grace. Christian, you have been saved. What are you going to do now? Let me ask you, do you have any idols in your back yard that you fear, love, and trust? Any things to whom you look to for security other than the one who has saved you through his Son, Jesus Christ? Remember that first commandment. According to Scripture, there is a promise that delights God. It is from the book of Joshua and goes like this: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).