Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Naaman the Overachiever

            There is a fascinating story from the Old Testament from a time when Israel was struggling against enemy kingdoms all around.  The Arameans were neighbors to the Israelites, and they often raided Israel to pillage and take captives.  Listen to the story of how God forever changed the life of one of those Aramean commanders.

2 Kings 5:1-17
1The king of Aram had great admiration for Naaman, the commander of his army, because through him the Lord had given Aram great victories. But though Naaman was a mighty warrior, he suffered from leprosy.

At this time Aramean raiders had invaded the land of Israel, and among their captives was a young girl who had been given to Naaman’s wife as a maid. One day the girl said to her mistress, “I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.”

So Naaman told the king what the young girl from Israel had said. “Go and visit the prophet,” the king of Aram told him. “I will send a letter of introduction for you to take to the king of Israel.” So Naaman started out, carrying as gifts 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten sets of clothing. The letter to the king of Israel said: “With this letter I present my servant Naaman. I want you to heal him of his leprosy.”

When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes in dismay and said, “Am I God, that I can give life and take it away? Why is this man asking me to heal someone with leprosy? I can see that he’s just trying to pick a fight with me.”

But when Elisha, the man of God, heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes in dismay, he sent this message to him: “Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.”

So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and waited at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.”

11 But Naaman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! 12 Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” So Naaman turned and went away in a rage.

13 But his officers tried to reason with him and said, “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’” 14 So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child, and he was healed!

15 Then Naaman and his entire party went back to find the man of God. They stood before him, and Naaman said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”

16 But Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept any gifts.” And though Naaman urged him to take the gift, Elisha refused.

17 Then Naaman said, “All right, but please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me. From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the Lord.

Introduction
            There are a lot of different reasons to come to church.  Some people come to church to find fellowship with other people.  Some people come to church because their parents or their spouses make them!  Some people come to church out of habit because it just seems like the right thing to do.  Going to church has become way of life for some Americans—people’s parents attended church and it has just became ingrained in some people that Sunday is not complete without a morning trip to church.  That way of life is fading for many; church attendance is down for every Christian denomination across America compared to past decades.  Going to church has to be about more than just tradition or else what’s the point?  That’s why so many have stopped coming.
            I hope you come to church because you want to encounter the living God.  I hope you came to church this morning expecting to hear a word from God.  Do you think about what you expect to happen at church when you are at home brushing your teeth and fixing your hair and getting dressed?  Do you think to yourself, “Today I am going to encounter the Living God.  I wonder how that’s going to change me?”  For if you truly encounter God, something is definitely going to happen.
            What if as you are worshiping here today, you hear God speaking to you as clearly as you hear me speaking to you?  What if there’s no doubt at all in your heart that it was indeed God’s voice you heard?  What if He asked you to go on an amazing quest—something spectacular, something glorious and yet also treacherously dangerous that might even cost you your life?  Would you do it? 
            In the early centuries of the church, Christians were heavily persecuted.  Many of them lost their lives and became martyrs because of there faith.  Even today, in some countries, Christians are severely persecuted and loose their lives simply because they believe that Christ is their Lord and Savior. 
But sometimes I think it might be easier to die for your faith than it is to live for your faith.  Now death seems frightening and dreadful; but if we die, the struggle is over and (if we believe in Christ) we go home to paradise with God where there is no more pain and no more tears.  But to live for your faith requires you to be willing to die a little every day.  To live for your faith requires that you suffer a lifetime of deaths as we die to our own sinful desires and are reborn in the Spirit.  To live for your faith requires that you grow old and watch your friends and family die while your own body slowly breaks down.  Yet this is the quest that God gives most of us—not to become martyrs, but to take up our cross daily and follow Christ.
A Girl I’ll Call Kayla
This is the life of the young servant girl in our Old Testament reading from 2 Kings 5.  Unfortunately, we don’t even know girl’s name and it seems wrong to talk about her story without knowing her name so I’m going to take the liberty of calling her Kayla.  Kayla was kidnapped from her family and forced to live her life among her enemies in a foreign land as a humble maid to her capture’s wife.  Some might think it better to die than to live such a life of humility and suffering.  Yet Kayla bore the suffering and even helped her master.  When she hears Naaman—her master and the commander of the raiding party that kidnapped her—is suffering from leprosy, Kayla suggests a way that he can be healed.  She already understood the words Jesus would speak hundreds of years later, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  So Kayla suggests that Naaman go see the prophet Elisha. 

Naaman
Who was this guy Naaman?  Naaman was a mighty warrior—the commander of the Aramean army (the Arameans were the enemies of God's people, the Israelites).  When Naaman led an army into battle, his army was victorious.  I imagine everyone admired Naaman—he was successful, wealthy, powerful, and popular.  I bet he was even good lookin’!  The Bible says even the king of Aram admired Naaman (and when the king admires you, you must be pretty admirable—at least by worldly standards). 
Naaman achieved a lot in his life.  He was proud of his achievements too.  He expected respect wherever he went—whether it was by kings or prophets.  Naaman felt he deserved respect.  I mean, look at all he had accomplished!  Doesn’t a man of Naaman’s stature deserve respect?  Yet for all his accomplishments, Naaman was really just a rotting corpse waiting to die from leprosy.
            So what’s a man of Naaman’s fame to do—just lay down and accept death?  Absolutely not!  No, Naaman would proudly fight it to the end.  He would go to the ends of the earth if he had to.  He would climb the highest mountains.  He would seek the most skilled physicians and the most powerful prophets if that’s what it took.  He would face this disease with the same heroic pride and dignity he’d faced his enemies in battle. 
Yes, Naaman was a man worthy of this world’s respect.  And he insisted on being afforded the dignity he deserved.  And so he secured a personal letter of introduction from the king of Aram himself and he gathered together an entourage of officers, soldiers, horses, and chariots and went off on his quest to conquer his leprosy.  And he took with him treasures of gold and silver and fine cloths—worth more than $700,000 by today’s standards.  He wanted everyone to know that he was to be respected and admired.  And that he even deserved to be healed of leprosy.
            Yet when he arrives at Elisha’s house, the prophet won’t even come out and talk to him.  Instead, he indifferently sends out a lowly messenger to instruct Naaman.  “Surely,” Naaman must have thought to himself, “Elijah will come out and perform some elaborate healing ceremony.  He will chant and wave his arms and anoint me with the most expensive oil he owns.  And surely he will ask or even demand that his God heal me.  Doesn’t he know who I am?”
            But Elisha instead sends a mere messenger to tell him to go and wash himself seven times in the Jordan River.  This is an insult to a great man like Naaman.  The Jordan River was just a muddy creek compared to the majestic rivers of Naaman’s own country.  How could such a puny, insignificant river have any type of healing effect on such a great man as Naaman?  Naaman probably thought Elisha was just blowing him off.  And so he stormed away in conceited rage.

A True Miracle
            We, like Naaman, expect dramatic miracles from God, but we look right past the miracles that He performs everyday—miracles of natural healing, miracles of mercy on our sins, miracles of the natural laws of nature.  Do you know that right here in this sanctuary, in the air that you just inhaled, that there is enough germs and bacteria to kill you.  However, by God’s natural design, we have an immune system that can fight off these diseases that would normally kill us.  Yet do we thank God for this miracle?  No.  Most of the time, we aren’t even aware of it.  We only see dramatic cures from cancer and miraculous recoveries from near fatal accidents as miracles and we take the more common miracles for granted—even though God is at work in them all the time.
            In a similar way as Naaman, we often look for God to ask us to do something grand to earn His mercy, but we hesitate to do the little things God asks of us every day.  Luckily for Naaman, his officers reasoned with him and convinced him to give Elisha’s cure a try.  And when Naaman washed in the Jordan seven times, God healed Naaman’s leprosy just as Elisha said. 

You Can’t Impress God
I believe God healed Naaman of another disease that day too—the disease of thinking he was good enough to impress God.  Finally, God broke through Naaman’s armor of overachievement and showed him you can’t do anything to win God’s favor.  You can’t impress Him with all your trophies and accomplishments.  You may impress people, but you can’t impress God.
Who are you trying to impress with your life?  If you are trying to impress people then you may succeed, but to what end—it’s all in vain.  But if you decide instead that you will try to impress God—the one who really matters—and if you consider even a fraction of who God is, you are faced with the devastating fact that you can’t even begin to make a minor impression on God.  He is the one who scooped out the valleys, filled the oceans with water, and built up the mountains.  To Him, all your glorious triumphs, all your great victories, all the admirations of your friends, family, and colleagues are but child’s play.  And when you realize that, you are finally at a place when you are able to fall down on your knees before God and say—“Lord, I am utterly helpless!  Save me Lord!  Save me!”  And that’s what Naaman, the overachiever, finally realized.  And that’s why he said in verse 15, “I know at last that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.”  And I’m not sure, only God knows, but I believe Naaman receive salvation that day—even before Christ came into the world and died on the cross to show how it is possible for us to receive salvation.  Because Naaman finally realized that the God of Israel is the only God in the world, that God’s grace is a free gift that cannot be bought, and he decided that from day forward that he would not offer sacrifices to any other god but the Lord.
Sometimes we need to be reminded, like Naaman, that no matter what accomplishments and achievements we have, what it all boils down to is we’re all just the same—a bunch of rotten, leprous corpses waiting to die because of sin.  And the only thing that stands between us and death is the mercy and grace of God.  He has the cure.  And we don’t have to and we can’t do anything grand enough to earn the cure.  We don’t have to climb the highest mountain.  We don’t have to be martyred for our faith.  We only have to realize that there is only one God in this world and He is the only one who can save us.  And we have to trust Him and ask Him to save us.   

Tell the World
            Today, you have the opportunity to do just that.  You have the opportunity to fall down on your knees and cry out to God, “Lord, I am utterly helpless!  Save me Lord!  Save me!”  For all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
            There are some right here in this sanctuary who have not yet come to Christ; for you, today could be the day.  And there are a multitude of others out there in the world who have not yet come to Christ.  And for those of us who have already cried out to the Lord for salvation, we hear God’s specific message to us today in Romans 10:13-14 - 13For “Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?
So, if you already believe in Jesus Christ, God wants me to give you this message:  God is sending you to tell the everyone that there is hope and healing through Jesus Christ.  Go tell the world.
And if you have not yet give your life completely to God through Jesus Christ, God has this message for you today:  Today is the day.  Don't put it off any longer.  Decide today who you will serve--whether it will be the empty and useless and petty idols of this world--money, fame, power, prestige, things, drugs, alcohol, sex...  Or will you realize these cannot save you and you cannot save yourself.  Turn to God through faith in Jesus.  He died on the cross for your sins.  He rose from the grave to conquer death.  He offers forgiveness and everlasting life.  And Jesus will give true meaning to your life.  So decide today to worship him and him alone.  Do not spend one more minute of your life sacrificing to any other god.