Surprised by God’s Word

Our God is full of surprises! There is a story about a very dignified pastor. He visited a lady in a nursing home who was on her deathbed. As he stood to leave, he asked if he might pray for her, and she said, “Of course! Thank you, pastor.”

When he asked how she would like him to pray, she replied, “Pray that I might be healed.” He hesitantly swallowed, took her hand, and prayed that God would be with her and bring her comfort and strength Ð healing.

When he finished praying, her face began to glow. She said softly, “Pastor, I’m feeling a little better. Would you help me to my feet?” Not knowing what else to do, he helped her up. At first she took a few uncertain, unsteady steps. Then she began to jump up and down and then dance and shout and cry with happiness until the whole nursing home was aroused and people were crowding outside her door into the hallway. After she was quieted down, the dignified, solemn pastor excused himself then hurried out to his car and closed the door. He grabbed hold of the steering wheel and prayed, “Lord, don’t you ever do that to me again!”

Our God is full of surprises! This has been our theme these past few weeks on Christian Crusaders, as we look at some Old Testament stories. We’ve been surprised by God’s draft picks as He selects Gideon to battle the Midianites on behalf of the people of Israel. We’ve been surprised by the amazing grace God showed to Adam and Eve after their sin in the garden of Eden. Today we are surprised by God’s Word, His directives to Naaman.

Nathan was a mighty commander, a five-star general so to speak, an Aramian who was very successful in battle. Although the God of Israel gave him the victories, Naaman was not one of God’s people and was considered to be an outsider, unclean to Jewish folks.

He was also an unclean outsider among his own people. Naaman, you see, had a grotesque skin disease called leprosy. One day, Naaman’s wife told him about what she had heard from her young Jewish maid, who had been captured during one of his conquest. The maid told about a Jewish prophet who had a direct line with God. He was a spokesman of God who lived in the northern part of the Promised Land, Israel. “This prophet of God,” the young maiden said, “could take care and heal this leprosy of Naaman’s if they could just get together.” So Naaman acted upon this tip, which in itself was an act of faith.

Naaman went to the King of Aram and requested a leave. He told the king what he heard from his Jewish maiden. The king gave him leave and even sent a letter of approval and much cash to pay for this healing.

The unusual thing is, Naaman was sent to the King of Israel, not to the prophet the Jewish maiden had described. And when the king was approached by Naaman with the letter from the King of Aram, he went into a panic. You see, Israel had already been pretty beaten up by the Aramaeans. So when Naaman presented the paper requesting a healing, the King tore his clothes in great consternation and said, “Do I look like God? I can’t do that!” Believing the King of Aram was picking a fight with him, and he went in a deep, deep panic and depression.

Now when the prophet of God, Elisha, heard of the king’s panic, he sent a message, Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel. So the king sent Naaman to Elisha.

Naaman went to Elisha’s house with his entourage of chariots, servants, and stallions. He knocked on the door, but instead of meeting with him personally, Elisha sent his messenger with these simple directions containing a command and a promise: “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

Naaman, of course, was upset by what he considered to be an insult, poor treatment, and he refused to listen. His ego was wounded. This guy didn’t even come out and meet him face-to-face, and the prescription sounded so absurd and ridiculous! Naaman’s pride got in the way. He had preconceived notions as to how this healing should happen, and he was not getting it. Instead, he received a word from this man of God to go jump in a river. So he decided to go home!

However, cooler heads prevailed. His servants gently talked him down and convinced him to follow the prophet’s instructions to dip himself in the river. Naaman swallowed his pride and surrendered himself to Elisha’s word, God’s word. He dipped himself in the Jordan River seven times, and . . . Surprise! Surprise! He was healed! His skin became as smooth as a child’s skin. Naaman immediately became a believer, a servant, a worshiper of the God of Israel. Listen to this announcement he made: “Now I know there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. . .”

Naaman became a keeper of the first commandment of God, something Israel itself was not doing at the time, which is why they were having such trouble. He tried to pay Elisha, but Elisha said, This is God’s doing. I am not taking money from you. So Naaman asked for a couple loads of dirt from this place Ð God’s holy land Ð to make an altar to the Lord with it and keep worshiping God.

This is how the story ends Ð with Naaman now a believer in the God of Israel, surprised by God’s Word, and even more surprised by the truth of His Word.

It’s a funny little story in a way, don’t you think? It kind of makes you wonder why this story was kept around. What does this story from Israel’s dark, unfaithful days have to say to us today? Well, it is a lesson for those of us who call ourselves God’s people. Sometimes God’s ways seem all too simple, even foolish to us. His ways are so different from our ways. Naaman had his own preconceived ideas of how his healing should happen, and he was surprised by Elisha’s instruction otherwise. He balked at the command of God’s Word and rejected it. But then, his mind was straightened out by his servants. Naaman followed Elisha’s command and found himself cleansed and healed.

So what did he learn? There is no God but this God, and Naaman ought to take Him at His word. I don’t know about you, but I find I need to learn that same thing over and over again. Naaman is not all that unusual, is he?

This story is rather relevant for people like you and me. As human beings, we struggle with God’s Word. We are surprised by His directives and His promises. I am reminded of God’s words to the prophet Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8). We see it working in this story today. Let me give you a for-instance of how it can work in people’s minds, how we struggle with it.

A person comes to see me and says, “I’ve really loused up my life. I’ve feel far away from God. I’ve done some terrible things. What do I need to do to get right with God? I want to start over.”

I tell them, “God says, ÔBelieve in my Son, Jesus Christ, whom I sent to save you.'”

“Surely there must be something more I need to do in order to be spiritually healed,” is the response, “something special I need to do to involve myself. I need to earn this, don’t I, to get right with God? After all, you get what you deserve.”

The Word of God says, “Trust in Jesus for your spiritual healing and salvation.”

Again and again I find people struggle with that. They find it too simplistic. It sounds too easy, and they walk away.

This story of Naaman found its way into the New Testament. It was a personal favorite of Jesus, the Son of God. He used it in Luke chapter four as He began His ministry in His hometown of Nazareth. He had been asked to read at the Tabernacle on the Sabbath. He read from the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he appointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61:1-2). Then He said to the crowd, “Today, this word is fulfilled in your hearing.”

The people questioned His claims: Isn’t this Joseph’s son? God wouldn’t work like that through a simple carpenter’s son. No way!” They balked at the message and the opportunity to follow Jesus. So Jesus told the Naaman story about an outsider of Israel who was a leper, who acted in faith and was healed. It was His way of telling them to consider Naaman’s story and reconsider their doubts about Him. But they didn’t. They just got mad and tried to kill Jesus, rejecting the salvation He was offering.

The Naaman story is a reminder to trust our all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present God and take Him at His word. Like the old hymn says, trust and obey, not just in matters of salvation, but in all of life.

Perhaps someone has hurt you deeply. You’re really mad and very offended. The more you think about it, the more bitter you become. It is making you miserable. What should you do to get past it? God’s Word says, Don’t hang onto that grudge. Forgive as you have been forgiven. This is the way of life and freedom in My kingdom.

Hearing this, we want to add to it or neglect it altogether. We want to get even. This sounds too simplistic. We know better. That person needs to ask for forgiveness first. When she asks for forgiveness, then I will forgive and let it go. Or, he’s going to make is up to me somehow, and then I’ll forgive. Until it happens, I won’t forgive and let this go. By not forgiving, we end up feeling miserable. Holding onto a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It just doesn’t work.

My dear friends, the bottom line of this message today is this: Trust in God’s surprising Word, His promises, and His directives, just like Naaman did.