Friday, 24 July 2015

Elisha (2) A Miracle in Samaria

In our first study entitled Elijah and Elisha; Law and Grace we looked at the background to the prophet and how he was the prophet of grace.  Elijah's ministry had been characterised by judgement and the law and as Rev Alexander Stewart has said; 'Before Elisha could have sown the seeds of grace, Elijah must have ploughed the fields of judgement.'  As we also saw in our last study this was an age of prophetic action rather than great sermons.  We see this illustrated in the story of Naaman and his miraculous cure from leprosy recorded in 2 Kings 5.  We'll briefly look at 4 different aspects to the story and see how it radiates with gospel light.

1.  An Incurable Condition.

Naaman was the Commander in Chief of the Syrian army.  Given that the Syrians were warlike people their leaders would have been tried and tested in battle.  Naaman was no bureaucratic appointment.  He would have been a national hero with great achievements under his belt.  We are also told that he was highly favoured by the King (Ben-hadad II) so he would have wielded great power and influence.  In many ways he had it all.  Like so many today Naaman had all that his heart could wish for yet God allowed for a pot hole on his road to success.  He was arrested at the zenith of his glory.  We read in 2 Kings 5 v 1 'but he was a leper'.  The word 'leprosy' covered a number of conditions in the Old Testament but assuming it was what we know today as leprosy, it would have been a devastating diagnosis for Naaman.  Leprosy is a condition that damages the small nerves on the skins surface resulting in loss of sensation.  We think of pain as a great evil but pain is in fact a gift to tell us when something is wrong.  Those suffering from leprosy don't have this early warning system and often lose limbs, go blind and suffer terrible sores on their skin.  Even worse than this, leprosy, even today, leads to discrimination and isolation and people are shunned by their family and community. Amazingly there are still 3 million sufferers of leprosy today with 200,000 new cases each year (see Leprosy Mission for more information).  Naaman faced disfigurement, blindness, discrimination, social dislocation.  All his hopes were dashed.  

Is leprosy not a picture to us of what sin is like?  Doesn't sin create blindness?  Doesn't sin disfigure and twist our personalities?  Doesn't sin dislocate our relationships?  We are all like spiritual lepers. The question is are we aware of it?  Do we see our need?  Naaman at least saw that he needed help. This was the first step to a cure.  

2.  An Unlikely Messenger.

Who signposted Naaman to Elisha?  Was it a prophet?  A preacher?  A priest?  No, it was a little slave girl serving in Naaman's house.  In a heathen land this little Israelite girl remembered the covenant God of Israel.  She had every reason to remain silent.  Her master had ripped her from her homeland and her family.  Yet she showed him kindness by pointing him to Elisha the prophet.  Isn't this an encouragement to us?  God uses the weak things of this world to confound the wise (1 Cor 1 v 27).  God is building his Kingdom through little slave girls, fisherman and through feeble saints like us.

Notice also how God is at work in the seeming tragedies of life.  In what the Israelites would have regarded as a tragedy God was at work to save one of the most significant heathen generals in Syria. We can think of this in the life of Joseph.  He faced 40 years of setbacks and disappointments and yet all the time God was preparing him to be a great leader in Egypt.

3.  A Surprising Solution and a Radical Restoration. 

Naaman travels to Samaria.  He carries a letter from his king to Jehoram, the King of Samaria.  The King is beside himself; 'Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy?'  (2 Kings 5 v 7).

Thankfully Elisha hears of Naaman's arrival and invites the general to his house.  He arrives to no fanfare or great ceremony but just a lowly servant who asks him to wash in the river Jordan 7 times. What can we learn from this?

a) Naaman's cure shows us how God saves.  Many people turn away from the gospel in anger.  To them Christ crucified is a stumbling block and the gospel is foolishness.  You see the gospel runs counter to human wisdom.  Naaman had his own plan.  He had his position, his wealth, his letter from the King.  How could Elisha refuse to help him?  The easiness of the real cure made him furious.

You see, God's cure for Naaman went right to the root of his condition.  Elisha knew that even worse than Naaman's leprosy was his pride.  He prescribed a cure that would deal with Naaman's pride.  The gospel calls us to abandon our works, our self righteousness and our pride.  This is why people refuse the gospel offer.  As Alexander Stewart says; 'Our idols are too dear to be dethroned.  Our habits too strong to be given up.  Our transgression too pleasant to be forsaken.'  Salvation involves submitting to God and accepting Christ freely in the gospel.  Christ said we need to become like little children to become Christians - we need to have that simple child like trust in our heavenly father (Matthew 18 v 3).

b) Naaman's cleansing illustrates the miracle of conversion.  Naaman wasn't just miraculously healed from leprosy but he was spiritually transformed.  Look what he says in ch 5 v 15 'Now I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.'  His healing led him to see the living and true God so that he was physically and spiritually transformed.  Notice how the proud military captain talks about being a servant.  His encounter with God has humbled him.  He renounced his false gods and gave thanks to the true God.

4.  A Serious Warning.

The story of Naaman starts and ends with leprosy.  Elisha's servant Gehazi is given to us as a serious warning.  He runs after Naaman and makes up a story so that he can ask for some of the money and clothes that Elisha had already refused.  Think of the sermons and miracles Gahazi must have witnessed. Yet all the time he was a coveter, a liar, a cheat and a thief.  Gehazi reminds us of Judas Iscariot. He was close to Jesus but his heart was unchanged, he remained a coveter.  As Stewart says; 'the sin of covetousness is black with the shame and dishonour of the great betrayal; it is crimson dyed with the blood of the holy and just one.'

Gehazi and Judas remained in their sin despite their closeness to Elisha and Jesus. What does this teach us?  That outward privileges and associations don't make us a Christian.  We may have grown up in the godliest home, have the finest parents, have been brought up in the best church, sat under thousands of sermons, and yet none of these things make us a Christian.  We can remain just as hard as Gehazi and Judas.  It is not our religious efforts that make us a Christian, only the extent to which we rest on the finished work of Christ.


What can we learn from the curious story of Naaman?  Well just like Naaman, we all have a serious condition and we desperately need a cure.  The condition of sin is much more serious than leprosy. We are all twisted, diseased and terminally ill.  The wages of sin is death, eternal death.  Nobody spoke more about hell than Jesus - just read Mark 9 v 35 - 50.  The great news is that there is a cure.  Jesus came not for the healthy but for the sick.  If you have a sense that you are sick and lost, seek Jesus who is the only one who can restore you.

Why did Jesus reach out to so many lepers?  He was sending out a message.  He was saying 'I am here for the outcast'.  I'm here for the marginalised, the broken, the outcast and the rejected.  This is why Jesus mentions Naaman in Luke 4 v 27.  He was saying that he was here for Jew and Gentile alike.  He was here for pagan generals like Naaman.

God is restoring the outcast.  The question is have you received Christ as your Lord and Saviour? Naaman had religion but he didn't know God.  You need to humble yourself and receive Christ's finished work.  Come to him today. 

Monday, 20 July 2015

John G Paton on his Father

'My dear father walked with me the first six miles of the way. His counsel and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are fresh in my heart as if it had been but yesterday; and tears are on my cheeks as freely now as then, whenever memory steals me away to the scene. His tears fell fast when our eyes met each other in looks for which all speech was vain! He grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence, and then solemnly said: "God bless you, my son! Your father's God prosper you, and keep you from all evil!" Unable to say more, his lips kept moving in silent prayer; in tears we embraced, and parted. I ran off as fast as I could; and, when about to turn a corner in the road where he would lose sight of me, I looked back and saw him still standing with head uncovered where I had left him gazing after me. Waving my hat in adieu, I was round the corner and out of sight in an instant. But my heart was too full and sore to carry me further, so I darted into the side of the road and wept for a time. Rising up cautiously, I climbed the dyke to see if he yet stood where I had left him; and just at that moment I caught a glimpse of him climbing the dyke and looking out for me! He did not see me, and after he had gazed eagerly in my direction for a while he got down, set his face towards home, and began to return, his head still uncovered, and his heart, I felt sure, still rising in prayers for me. I watched through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonour such a father and mother as He had given me. The appearance of my father when we parted has often through life risen vividly before my mind, and does so now as if it had been but an hour ago. In my earlier years particularly, when exposed to many temptations, his parting form rose before me as that of a guardian Angel. It is no pharisaism, but deep gratitude, which makes me here testify that the memory of that scene not only helped to keep me pure from the prevailing sins, but also stimulated me in all my studies, that I might not fall short of his hopes, and in all my Christian duties, that I might faithfully follow his shining example.'

Quoted in Missionary to the Hebrides by John G Paton