Naaman, The Leper
The chief character in the Second Book of Kings, the fifth chapter, is a general, a great leader, a commander-in-chief of the armies of the country of Syria. His name is Naaman. He was the idol of the crowd, the hero of his day. Wherever he went, he would be feted and admired. He was the Eisenhower of his time. A man of great reputation; a man of great popularity; a man of great courage who had earned his right to popularity by the sheer bravery of his deeds on the battlefield. This man, however, was stricken with a very serious illness about which very few people knew anything, for as yet it was in its early stages. He was a victim of leprosy.
In one of his many attacks upon neighboring countries, he captures a young girl and took her prisoner, and she became a servant in his own house and attended the table, and cared for his home. Not unnaturally, after awhile, she became aware of the real facts concerning this popular hero, this great general, and she dared one day to speak to his wife and say to her, “You know, if only Naaman would come to Samaria, I know a prophet there who would heal him, a man of God in my country.” Naaman’s wife, eager that her husband should be recovered from his dread disease, spoke to him about it. He, in turn, catching at every straw in the wind, and every possible source of cure, sought an interview with the king, explained his position, made known his true condition, and asked that he might have a leave of absence, that for awhile he might go into Samaria and see this man of God if there might be any hope of a cure. Only too anxious for his commander-in-chief to be fully restored to health, the king of Syria gladly granted his request and he set out for Samaria, accompanied by a letter of commendation from the king of Syria to the king of Israel.
Naaman was determined to see to it that if his leprosy was to be cured at all, it was going to be done in great style. He took with him a fortune in cash; and ten new suits. Whether he was expecting to be away for some time, I don’t know, but he was going to see to it that his wardrobe was plentifully stocked.
So, complete with a letter of commendation from the king, ten new suits, and plenty of cash, he set out for Samaria. He received a somewhat different reception from that which he had expected, for he went to the palace of the king only to find that the king was highly suspicious of him. Samaria was only a little country. Syria was a great big country, and at once the king of Israel began to be very suspicious of Naaman, and very suspicious of this letter from a neighboring power, and suspected that this was but a very diplomatic approach which was going to lead to a full-scale attack. And so there was panic in the city while Naaman waited to be received in audience. Meanwhile, the man of God heard the story, and heard this record of panic in headquarters in the capitol city, and he sent a message to the king—“Don’t you worry about it. It’s perfectly all right. Send Naaman to me.”
So the king of Israel sent Naaman to the prophet Elisha and I think this the most wonderful, thrilling scene of the whole story, that somehow or other one could dramatize so effectively. I picture in my mind, and I want you to picture also, the great Naaman standing with his horses and his chariot outside the door of the prophet of God, waiting for himself to be treated with the due respect that ought to be given to such an important person as Naaman. But it was his humiliation to discover that the man of God didn’t even trouble to come and see him. All he did was to send his servant and say, “Tell Naaman if he goes a further thirty miles along the road he’ll come to a little river called Jordan, and if he’ll dip himself seven times in the Jordan, his leprosy will be healed.” I can picture Naaman’s face. He was purple with rage, absolutely livid. He, the great Naaman, the commander-in-chief of the king of Syria, treated with so little respect. He gave an immediate order to his staff and to his army to return at once to Syria. And so the horses were turned around, and the chariot reversed, and away they went off back home.
But one of his servants, greatly daring, I think, went up to speak to Naaman, found him sitting in the chariot glum, and isolated, and snubbed, and frustrated, and furious, and he said him, “Sir, pardon me, but if you had been asked to do some very big thing, you would have done it, wouldn’t you? why then, when the man asks you only to do this little thing and dip yourself seven times in the Jordan, why not do it? It’s perfectly simple. Try it.” And I can imagine all that was going on in Naaman’s mind—“Shall I, or shall I not? I have been insulted; I have not received the treatment and honor that is due my position. The only reasonable thing for me to do to maintain my self-respect is to go back home; but when I go back home, alas, the story of my leprosy is known now—the king of Israel, he knows; the king of Syria, my commander, he knows; my staff, they know why I have made this journey; and soon the story of this awful disease, which so far I have hidden except in my immediate family circle, will be known throughout the nation and that will be the end of my career. What shall I do?” Naaman sits in his chariot and he works it all out and he decides that the only sensible thing to do is to, after all, have a shot at it.
So, once again, he reverses his decision, and he turns the horses around, and back they go, and for thirty miles they go along the road until they come to the Jordan and then, I see Naaman stepping out of his chariot; I see him leaving his fortune; I see him forgetting his pride—that was the hardest thing of all to do—and before the whole assembled company, I see him walk step by step down the muddy banks of that dirty river, and I see him step into it, and go up to his neck into it, and then dip seven times, and lo and behold, his flesh became again as a little child. And I am quite sure, that no matter what it must have cost Naaman to forget about his clothes and his cash, to forget about his character and his conduct and his reputation, to put aside all these things. When he came out of that stream clean, he would say to himself and to everybody, “My word, it was worth it.” And he want back home cured, cleansed and happy.
That’s the story, though I could take much longer in telling it to you and dramatizing it, but I must not allow myself to do that, because our chief object is to apply that story to your life, for I believe it has a very real message to all of us. I would like you to consider three different aspects of the life of this man Naaman. I want you to apply these three different aspects of his life to yourself. First, I want to examine with you, Naaman and his condition; and then we are going to look for a moment at Naaman and his conceit; and finally, I want you to look at Naaman and his cure.
Naaman and His Condition
This man’s condition, how vividly it is portrayed to us in this story—a great man, a mighty man, an honorable man, but—how often I hear in conversation, and I suppose we’d better be honest and say, I’m afraid that sometimes we were guilty of it—“Mr. So and So’s an awfully nice man and so charming, but…” and then all the ears begin to wag and everybody begins to wait for what’s coming, for that one little word “but” in a sentence is going to transform the whole picture. You can pile on all the compliments, you can make everything in the story sound wonderful, but the moment you introduce a “but” everything that has gone before is obliterated into oblivion, and nobody will remember a word about it. They are always waiting for what you are going to say following the “but.”
Naaman and His Conceit
He wanted his personal position properly respected. He wanted to see to it that if he was to be cured from leprosy, it should be done in a way that had due regard to the importance of the person who had been healed. And he made the amazing discovery that the man of God didn’t care two straws for his position. He treated him just as he would have treated anybody elese and made no exceptions, and he was treated not as a great man who merely happened to be a leper but as a leper who merely happened to be a great man. Therefore, my dear friend, I want to say to you that if you are on guard to respect your position before your sin is dealt with; if you expect God to treat you in some different way than anybody else, you are going to be disappointed I ask you not to quarrel with the Divine Physician, He knows the need; He knows the desperate condition of your heart; He knows the only remedy. Naaman wanted to be treated as a great man. God treated him as a sinner.
Again, I want you to notice that Naaman expected something sensational to happen—standing outside Elisha’s door, he waited for the prophet to come, no doubt to strike the leprosy, and for it to be dramatically cured and healed in the presence of his staff. The messenger of God never appeared at all. It’s a great thing when a preacher can keep in the background, but it isn’t always easy. My friend, there is nothing sensational about your conversion. If you are expecting something sensational to happen, it just won’t happen. The test of the reality of a message, and of a church, and its testimony, listen to me, is not the number of people who come to it, it’s the number of people who pray for it. It’s not the crowds that gather; it’s not the sermons we preach; it’s not the songs we sing; it’s what goes on behind the scenes when a few here, a few there, in sheer desperation, get before God and plead with him for revival and blessing. That’s the test of it. Oh, my friends, take the veil from the church, take as it were the curtain, strip it from its outward appearance, would you see men agonizing in prayer; would you see fellows and girls pleading with God for salvation? Would you? That’s the test of reality. Would you see God laying His hand upon this fellow and that one, and this girl and that girl, and sending them out to the mission field, would you? Oh, my friend, don’t let crowds deceive you; don’t let yourself expect something sensational to happen. It isn’t the crowd. It’s the people, who behind the scenes, are alone with God and pleading, pleading, pleading that God would pour out His blessing. That’s the test of the reality of the witness of any Christian church, and your confession, my friend,—it’s a miracle. Oh, it’s a wonderful miracle! But don’t wait for something sensational to happen before you are saved.
Then I want you to notice that Naaman was prejudiced. He showed his conceit by being prejudiced by his early attachments. Told to wash in the Jordan, he proudly replied, “Jordan, that dirty stream, why should I? What’s the matter with the rivers of Damascus, they are much better than Jordan?” You know, when you stand at the door of the Kingdom of God it’s just the same. Somebody says, “Why should I believe in Christ? Why should I come to the Cross? Surely there is some other way that God can deal with this “but” in my life. Surely, surely, if I attend church and if I remember the upbringing that I had—I’m a good Presbyterian or a good Methodist—and I’ve sung in the choir and taught Sunday school, these things are sufficient. What more can God do than that?” Listen! “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.” And there is no other way for the “but” in your life to be blotted out.
Naaman and His Cure
There may be some who, having become conscious maybe of the “but” and the fact that they are not really what other people think they are, would seek to shelter under the desire for the sensational or reliance upon prejudices, past achievements. My friend, let these things be stripped from your mind and your thought, and recognize that there is only one way between rich or poor; respectable or immoral, good or bad, there is only one way for all of us, if we would have the “but” cancelled out, namely we must come to Calvary. That leads me to say one last thing concerning Naaman—then went he down and his flesh came again as a little child. “Go, wash in the Jordan” was the command and Naaman was purple with rage. Can you picture him when he relented and repented, and he turned round and sitting in his chariot there he decided that he would take the chance? He stripped himself of his robe, and his uniform, and his medals, and he left behind him his cash, and his clothing, and he went down; he went down there alone before the full gaze of his retinue, leaving behind the hardest thing of all to part with—his personal pride and his reputation. And he went down into the Jordan and humbled himself and he dipped himself seven times, and when he came up, lo and behold, his flesh had come again like it was when he was but a little child. It was worth it all to know that he could go back again and it could be known publicly and everywhere that he had been made clean. Worth it to leave his reputation, his character and to forsake his pride, and to be humbled before his retinue, and openly and publicly, to dip into the waters of the Jordan.
Ah, my friend, that is a humbling moment, but oh, if there’s someone who has had his need exposed, I want to say to you that there is one cure. It’s in the blood of Jesus Christ shed for your sins. It means coming to Him with literally nothing—just as you are. It’s awfully hard to leave behind our pride, and our self-righteousness, and our conceit, but oh, isn’t it worth everything in the world to know that the past can be dealt with…
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, Savior, or I die!
I wonder if you have ever said to yourself, without being sentimental, but really expressing the depths of your heart, have you sometimes said to yourself, and maybe turned it into prayer, “Oh Lord, that I might begin again.” Ah, yes, but I want to say to you, and I speak here from some measure of experience of these things, there’s something infinitely more wonderful than starting life like the innocent child. I’ll tell you this, it’s starting life again to know that in place of impurity, God can impart His purity; that where sin abounded grace can now much more abound. And the thrill, the wonder, the reality of once having tasted of sin and its misery, now to know that in the power of the living Lord, that sin can be purged, and cleansed, and I may know victory. Isn’t that wonderful! Glory to God for the new song that Jesus puts in the hearts of sinners saved by grace.
Naaman and his condition; Naaman and his conceit; Naaman and his cure—down, down, seven times down till he had been humbled. But friends, the steps that take a man up to heaven, take him down first of all to the foot of the Cross. And I care not for your position or your reputation; for your respectability; for none of these things. If the “but” is to be dealt with you have to come as a guilty lost soul to the foot of Jesus and there find blessing. Will you come that way—the Calvary road, to be cleansed and to begin all over again a new life? Worth it? A million times worth it.