This is about God’s missionary outreach to the idolatrous nation of Syria occasioned by Naaman’s leprosy, which would call for child-like faith in the promise of God who wants to heal, which brings fullness where there was emptiness. Our key verse is Eph. 4:13 – “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
I. The Promise
This Text begins with Naaman, captain of the guard in Syria, who suffers with incurable leprosy. Living within his household is a little captive Israelite girl stolen in a raid by Naaman and his forces, who is now his wife’s slave. But somehow she is not bitter and speaks out a message to Naaman’s wife: “Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria; for he would recover him of his leprosy” (II Kings 5:3). The God who is in Israel would heal Naaman!
Notice three things about the Promise: 1) It is given by a child and is child-like. 2) The Promise must be received with child-like faith. 3) The Promise is a Prophetic Word from the mouth of the Lord. Amazingly, it is received as such by all who heard it and repeated it and passed it on, as Naaman watched it move up the ranks, until it even reached the king of Syria, who also believed it. And then they acted on it, sending Naaman packin’ for Israel carrying the king of Syria’s letter. The King of Israel would surely understand, right?
II. Naaman’s Struggles and the Development of his Faith
But there is a difficulty for Naaman to journey to Israel, which can be summarized like this: 1) Since he has the stolen little slave girl in his very house, what right does he have that he should be welcome in Israel for anything? 2) The issue of Syrian prejudice: It would also mean crossing that ancient and despised boundary, the stinking (to proud Syrians) Jordan River, which is not so easily crossed. 3) There was the language barrier. 4) Most sensitive of all, there was the religious barrier.
Desperation can make people do things out of the ordinary, go outside their comfort zones and take steps they thought they’d never take. Naaman pushes past all these barriers driven by the intensity of his disease. Better, because he is inspired by the Promise, he ventures into the Land of Promise. For the first time in his life he is acting on faith, faith in something God has said, all packaged by the innocence and unassuming way of a child. Also new is this: God is not offering him a band aid. The Promise is about a sign and a wonder, dream-like, almost a fairy tale, yet a real thing. The Prophet’s God, illegal in Syria, is becoming both the object of his faith and the source of it (cf. Gen. 15:6). This is compelling for him since his illness has him locked up in a prison of what is unsolvable and overwhelming. His world has been rocked by a revelation: just maybe there is a God who cares for me, but why me?
Skipping ahead in our story, Naaman arrives with his entourage, his gifts, and his counselors at the Prophet’s door and knocks with high hopes. But disappointment begins to set in when the Prophet Elisha apparently isn’t even home. A mere servant answers the door with a very short, blunt, un-glamourous instruction. “Go and wash seven times in Jordan, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean” (v.10). Naaman thinks, ‘That’s it? He doesn’t even have the courtesy to come himself but instead dishonors me with this slave. What could be more important than my being at his door? Who is this Prophet to give me an order: Go wash seven times in Jordan and I’ll be clean? I could have done that in Damascus. I’m the one who gives the orders. He’s supposed to come and strike his hand over the spot, like on Christian TV. How could I be such a fool. Whatever was I thinking?’
Naaman is in a rage. He is so offended to be insulted like this. Things are not going as planned. He prepares to head home in defeat. But after a cooling off time, his servants appeal to him: ‘If the Prophet had asked you some hard thing, you would have done it. What do you have to lose? So do it already!’ So, Naaman could be reasoned with. Remember how Elisha challenged the King of Israel to send Naaman to him “and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel”(v.8).? He almost sounds arrogant. But now when Naaman shows up at his door Elisha doesn’t show. Why? It was actually humility to not show himself but use his servant. This way Naaman could not look to the charismatic personality of Elisha but would have to set his heart on only the spoken Promise, first by the little slave girl and then by the Prophet’s slave. He would have to depend on the One who promised. Would he (i.e. Naaman) and would He (i.e. God)?
III. The Prophetic River
The Jordan River was the sight of several prophetic acts. 1) Israel crossed over it on dry ground as the waters parted when those bearing the ark stepped in (cf. Joshua 3:15-16). 2) Elijah parted it when he crossed over preparing to leave (II Kings 2:8). 3) Elisha parted the Jordan when he took up Elijah’s Mantle (II Kings 2:14). 4) In the future, John the Baptist and Christ would step into the Jordan along with repenting Israel to be baptized. The Jordan is a witness of all these prophetic acts as it coursed its way through history. It was more than a boundary; it was a place that flowed with divine witness and grace, decision and faith. Not that Naaman knew all this.
IV. Naaman’s healing
Naaman acts on the Promise. In child-like faith, he wades into the Prophetic stream. Imagine his people on the Syrian bank, and Israel on its own bank watching. Question: Why must he dunk, immerse, or baptize himself seven times? Why wasn’t once enough? Several possibilities come to mind: 1)Because of the wretchedness of his disease. 2) Because of the darkness of his religion. 3) Because his need for God was so desperate. He didn’t need just a little bit of help. Seven dunks, God’s perfect number, put into motion a complete and entire immersion into the grace of God for Naaman. This seven-fold baptism wasn’t a game, it wasn’t a show, but it was a radical demonstration of faith, with his focus totally taken up with the Promise and nothing else. It could be that with each dunk the children began to call out each succeeding number, and Naaman’s faith increased with each submersion. And on number seven the miracle gave way to sight! It had begun with the little slave girl and her prophecy, to continue with Naaman ‘hearing with faith’ (Gal. 3:5) while acting on the Promise, working through disappointment, to finally wade into the River of Promise to be immersed in God.
V. The Meaning of the Sign
This wasn’t ‘just’ a miracle. It was a sign which signaled a greater meaning than the miracle itself. Nobody had to tell that to Naaman. For him it meant his total conversion to the God of Israel. And to think this was all free! Nothing could stop him from testifying of his cleansing and the joy of faith, not even the king of Syria and the house of Rimmon. To the Syrians who were witnesses, Naaman was a walking sign of the outreach of God to them, a foreign nation. One look at Naaman and the faith he demonstrated was such a draw to them. The God of Israel was for them. And that inspired faith. For us, we are like Naaman, for there is a loathsome disease in me known as sin, eating me up. And only my full immersion into the Deliverer, Jesus, will heal me. To believe that leads to inestimable gain; to reject it leads to inestimable loss.
Naaman’s leprosy represents an even worse condition we must call ‘judgment.’ But strangely enough, it is a judgment not to Naaman, but to Israel. Jesus said, “And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them were cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian” (cf. Luke 4:27). The judgment comes from rejecting Christ, then and now, and is a sign that points to the damnation or salvation that is to come at the end of the age.
But Naaman is also a sign about the power of Christ to save, that “it pleased God through the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (I Cor. 1:21). To save, to heal, to be delivered, all point to the same Greek word, sozo. That his leprosy was instantly healed points to salvation. This is part of the fullness that is in Jesus. Paul spoke of this in Col. 2:9 when he said that “in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” And this fullness came to Naaman, and to us, to make us “a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). This cannot be understood outside of eschatology and its view to the future and the coming of our Lord.
So acute is the judgment and emptiness! The human race agonizes for salvation and fullness, as Naaman ached for relief. When ‘healing’ was offered, he didn’t have to think it through, even though it sounded too good to be true. But notice: he had the surprising confirmation of his Syrian friends and even the king himself. In like manner, the pursuit to be saved and filled is promise-driven, and will not be stopped by national borders, wrongs done in the past, language, or even religion. Once faith gets within reach of the promise, it will not be conquered by circumstance.
Naaman got far more than he was expecting the day he was healed. He got salvation. His leprosy reflected the wretchedness of his soul. But one taste of healing riveted his faith to the One who also had power to save. The readiness of the promise (Rom. 10:11) overcomes the ‘you are not worthy’ accusation of the Law on our past. We should marvel that “the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). But we can shut out the voice of God. Why would he want to heal me? So we prepare ourselves for disappointment. We train ourselves to hear the Word of promise with condemnation rather than faith. We become experts in unbelief based on past failures. And now I’ve just made myself a judge over Scripture by my experience. But, it’s just the inverse that’s true: Scripture, which inspires my faith, must stand as judge over my experience, and my conscience. And real faith feels so good. It’s full of hope. And that leads to salvation and fullness, a foretaste of what is to come in heaven.