Trust in God’s Healing (October 14, 2018)
Trust in God’s Healing
2 Kings 5:14-27
One of the hardest lessons to learn is that by having nothing, you gain everything. In all observable circumstances, nothing just never becomes something. And yet, that’s what Jesus tells a rich man when he asked how to gain eternal life. Jesus said, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure” (Mk 10:21). In fact, Jesus went on to say that everyone who gives up home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children will receive a hundred times as much (Mk 10:29). Look at it again though. Although, when we read through a section like Mark 10 in the Bible, we might think that the rich man or the disciples are left with nothing – that Jesus is saying give up everything. But that’s not really the case, is it? Notice, Jesus says to the rich man, “Go, sell everything you have… Then come, follow me” (Mk 10:21). And he says everyone who gives up home, family, etc. for me and the gospel, will receive a hundred times as much (Mk 10:29). You are never really left with nothing. Jesus is teaching that when you have him, you have everything.
Regardless, it’s still a hard lesson. It’s a hard lesson because we easily fall into the mindset that having Christ is the final piece, something to crown the top of our lives. Yes, it’s at the top, we make it look very important, but that trust in Christ often only stays on top when all the other pieces are neatly in place. If something else in our lives is missing, then all our concern, and all our energy is on getting that piece back in our lives. That’s what happened with the rich man when Jesus told him how to inherit eternal life. He had his financial stability, and stacked on top of that he had his obedience to the Law of Moses, and stacked upon that he had his faith in God. But Jesus saw right through this. And so that the man could see through it as well, Jesus asked him to remove one of those stabilizing blocks – his wealth – to see if God would really remain at the top.
You and I do that too. If you’ve ever lost your job, you perhaps know how desperate it can be to try to figure something out. You wrestle with trusting God that it will work out. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like you will have enough time in the day. Sometimes medical trouble puts you out of commission. Sometimes the car breaks down or the house needs a new roof. These things can easily consume our lives. It’s easy to keep God at the top when our lives are all in order. Not so easy when one or more of our building blocks are missing.
I think a lot of this has to do with what is tangible. We are physical beings with 5 senses. We trust what we can see, touch, and hear. But when someone says, “Trust me” it can be hard. It can be hard even when it’s God who says, “Trust me, not your senses.” A man named Naaman had been driven to desperate measures. Leprosy not only consumed his body, but his heart and mind as well. He knew this disease was progressive. He knew that people rarely recovered from it. Yet, trying to find some means of healing consumed his life. As commander of the king’s army, he probably had access to all the help he wanted. I’m sure he tried the balms and ointments prescribed by the king’s physicians to cure him of his leprosy, but nothing worked. He was driven to desperate measures. That’s probably why he trusted the word of a slave girl who told him that a prophet from Samaria could heal him. So there Naaman found himself standing in front of the prophet Elisha. “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored, and you will be cleansed” (2 Kgs 5:10). Not exactly what he had in mind. He figured a prophet was someone who would wave his hands and speak powerful words. But simply washing in the dirty Jordan river? Once again, the tangible overcame Naaman’s trust. “Aren’t Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?” (2 Kgs 5:12). “How can washing heal this disease! You don’t think I’ve done that?!”
At the encouragement of his servants, his hope of being cleansed was restored and he trusted the prophet’s words. That’s where the section we read today picks up. Naaman washed in the Jordan seven times, and his flesh was restored. In fact, it seems that God even restored his flesh to better than it was before the leprosy. The Bible says it became clean like that of a young boy! Naaman was healed, just as God’s prophet said he would be. But was it really the waters of the Jordan that healed Naaman? Was it really the number of times he washed or how he washed that healed him? No. It was God’s promise attached to the washing. It was trust in what God promised he would do that healed Naaman of his leprosy.
Although God most certainly can heal diseases of the body – I’m sure you know someone who has fully recovered from a very dismal diagnosis – healing Naaman of his leprosy isn’t the main point of this biblical account. You see, leprosy on the body is nowhere near as deadly as leprosy of the heart. And God is able to heal leprosy of the heart as well.
This kind of leprosy is a lot more difficult to wrap our minds around because it doesn’t really seem tangible, like a skin disease. Knowing that, God did a lot to make it tangible. For instance, God gave many laws and sacrifices to the Israelites to make sin very vivid – constant reminders that sin clings to us and makes us filthy in God’s sight. As an example, God gave many laws regarding those who had leprosy. In Leviticus 14, it is stated that if someone recovers from leprosy, he was to show himself to the priest who would then perform a ritual which very vividly portrays the death of the sinful nature and the life we have from God. The priest would take two birds. One bird would be sacrificed over fresh water; the other bird, after being dipped into the same fresh water, would be released into the open fields. Interestingly, you probably noticed that this ritual also portrays what is happening spiritually in baptism. God was showing his people just what it means to be cleansed not just of leprosy, but of sin! And we still get that picture today as in baptism the leprosy of the sinful nature is destroyed, and the new man arises to live a life free from sin!
God proclaims this in his word again and again. God has blessings to give. He’s earned blessings for you and he holds them out to you – namely, the blessings of forgiveness from all your sins, the blessing of eternal life and of salvation! And he makes them tangible in the waters of baptism which trickle down your temples and wash away your sins. He makes it tangible in the bread you eat and the wine you drink, at the same time receiving Christ to nourish and sustain your faith. He makes it tangible in his Word where you read true stories about forgiveness, resurrection, and salvation. These gifts he holds out to you, to heal your soul. Faith trusts God’s promise. Faith sees what neither eyes can see, nor hands can touch. Faith trusts God’s Word and receives his blessings.
And then faith acts! We’ve seen how God certainly has the power to heal physical ailments and diseases. We’ve seen how God has the power to do the even more difficult thing of healing the soul – cleansing you from within and removing the disease of sin which would leave us eternally dead. But God doesn’t only heal the heart. He also heals the actions which flow from the heart.
Take a look at the difference between the actions of Naaman and Gehazi, for example. After seeing the great power of God to heal, and seeing that God does indeed provide for those who trust in him, Naaman believed! “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel” (2 Kgs 5:15). And moved by faith, he wanted to give a gift of thanks to God by providing for God’s servant Elisha. “Please,” he said, “accept a gift from your servant” (2 Kgs 5:15). And even when Elisha refused to accept it, Naaman urged him all the more. He was determined to give, because God had not just healed him outwardly, he didn’t give reluctantly. God healed him through and through. This gift came from a heart that was wholly grateful for the gracious mercy of God! Elisha still refused. Although he could rightly accept this gift given from a heart of faith, he didn’t want anything interfering with the Gospel that Naaman would take back home as he declared the wonders of God! Naaman wanted to give from a heart of faith, but for those who didn’t yet believe, it could easily be seen as payment for a gift from God. And that would make the true God appear no different from any other false God. It takes a healed heart to truly understand healed actions!
It’s also interesting to hear about how God works through healed actions. We know from the Bible that Naaman went home healed. His skin was healed. His heart was healed. And his actions were healed. He even showed that by asking forgiveness for something he knew he would have to do when he returned to his home country. “When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also – when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this” (2 Kgs 5:18). In this way, Naaman lived out his faith in his home country. In fact, there are even cuneiform tablets which show the result of Naaman’s healed actions. The tablets indicated that the king whom Naaman served, the Pharaoh of Egypt, came to worship one God – rather than the many Egyptian gods they had served for such a long time. In fact, the cuneiform tablets even mention that the one God this Pharaoh served was “Aton,” the Egyptian word for “Adonai” – the Lord!
A full healing moves us to new levels of understanding and trusting in God. Naaman knew that the Lord God was capable of great and miraculous things when his leprosy was healed by trusting in God’s promise connected with the washing. Naaman’s heart was also cleansed that day, and as evidence he confessed his faith and was moved to give out of healed actions! Elisha’s healed heart was on display as well that day as he refused the gift, not wanting anything to hinder the Gospel and trusting that God would continue to provide just as he always has. You too, can trust the Lord. When the physical and tangible things go wrong, trust that God has power over nature and will provide what you need even despite all evidence to the contrary. Trust this because God has already done the far more merciful thing of healing your heart even when you or I have not deserved it. For all this we ought to thank and praise, serve and obey him! Amen.