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I’d like to thank Pastor Kevin, Pastor Mike, and others, especially on the session for this wonderful opportunity to come and bring God’s Word to you. It’s a tremendous blessing for me to be here. I also here that Dr. Duncan is in town; it was great to see him earlier. Dr. Ligon Duncan is here as well, so I bring you my greetings to him. He’s my boss, actually, so I have to say this. He’s on the Board of Directors for the Gospel Coalition, but also a dear friend and colleague and mentor to me, and so I want to say thank you for that.
Is it just me, or is this pulpit really big? Can you see me okay in the back? It was designed for you. Yes, I am not the senior pastor here, clearly. I would have asked to be a little bit lower, but thank you for that.
If you have your Bibles, if you’d please turn in your Bibles to 2 Kings chapter 5, 2 Kings chapter 5, verses 1 through 14 will be the Scripture reading this morning. 2 Kings chapter 5, verses 1 through 14.
People of God, listen carefully, for this is the Word of the Lord.
“Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.””
“So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.””
“But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”
Thus far the reading of God’s Word. Let’s pray together.
Gracious Father in heaven, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Speak to us now, we are listening. For we ask this in the matchless name of Jesus. Amen.
It really is a small world. When Kevin asked me to come and preach this weekend here in Charlotte, North Carolina, I decided to do a little research. I’d never been to Charlotte before except through the airport a few times, but I’ve never been actually in the city of Charlotte, so I was curious, so I just started looking at, I’m kind of a, I don’t know, I love maps, I love looking at maps. So I went on Google Maps and said let’s look at the city of Charlotte. As I was looking around the city of Charlotte, I found the little town called Hickory, North Carolina. Do you know it? Okay, so you know.
And I thought to myself, “I know that town. How do I know Hickory, North Carolina?” Then I remembered. It really is a small world. You see, I’m a Korean Christian. I’m here today because Presbyterian missionaries about 100 years ago went to Korea, a nation that had not heard the Gospel, and began to preach, to teach, to serve, to give, and especially to give their lives for the sake of the Korean people. One of those people was a woman by the name of Mattie Ingold, one of the very first Protestant missionaries in Korea. You see, Mattie Ingold, from Hickory, North Carolina, pointed Koreans to Jesus. You see, Mattie was someone whose heart was gripped by gospel hope, so much so that when she graduated first in her class at the Baltimore Women’s Medical College, she prepared herself for a missionary career and at the age of 30 left for Korea on July 18, 1897, sent by her church and denomination, the Presbyterian Church US, also known as the Southern Presbyterian Church.
She focused her initial medical work on women and children through small clinics, seemingly small and insignificant clinics and dispensaries. But her work wasn’t just in healing bodies, but also healing souls. You see, she pointed Koreans to Jesus as their only Gospel hope. Captivated by the grace of God in her life, she simply pointed others to Jesus. So in addition to her medical work, she taught Sunday School, a women’s weekday Bible class, and when given the opportunity, she and her assistants offered Christian education classes to patients at local clinics and at home visits in the countryside. You see, she did this for 31 years. From Hickory, North Carolina.
In fact, the seemingly small and insignificant medical clinic that she helped establish in Korea has been providing medical care and proclaiming the Gospel for the last 124 years. At her farewell service at the First Presbyterian Church in Rock Hill, South Carolina, she said this: “I do not fear what may befall me. I am in God’s keeping and nothing can come to me without His permission, and whatever He sends is right and good.” She was a pointer to grace, and I am a testimony to that grace, now a Presbyterian minister coming back to North Carolina to say thank you. Thank you for believing in the Gospel, thank you that for believing in the Gospel you send out missionaries, you pray for missionaries, you participate in missionaries, you partner in missionaries. So thank you, and that is my prayer, not only for this morning but for every day and every week of this church’s existence, that as you’re captivated and gripped by the Gospel of grace, that every single one of you would be pointers to grace, like Mattie Ingold.
Now not all of us here will be called by God to go foreign mission fields to do missions, and that’s okay. Some of you will be. Some of you will be called by God to do this kind of ministry, and we’re so grateful for the missionaries that are here today that you are supporting. But I do believe this. I do believe that every single one of you in this room who have been captivated by Jesus and His Gospel, we ought to point others to that Gospel of grace. You can be Gospel pointers because of Gospel hope.
We’re going to discover that in this seemingly distant story about a Syrian general receiving healing from a prophet, for I think this story has some profound things to say about God, His sovereign purposes, about Christ, His saving work, and yes, about us, we. We are but ordinary people who can demonstrate extraordinary faith as we strive to be Gospel pointers because of Gospel hope.
Now how does this text teach us that? While there are many truths and insights we can learn from this wonderful Bible passage, I want to look at three characters, three specific characters from the narrative, and draw out some points that I hope will inspire you, encourage you, to become Gospel pointers because of Gospel hope. So we’re going to take a look at three characters and see what we can learn.
Okay, so first, Naaman. Let’s take a look at this Syrian general. What can we learn from him? Well, there’s at least two things I believe we can learn from Naaman, then learn about ourselves and the world in which we live.
But first let me give you a little bit of background. During this time Israel and Aramea, which is now modern-day Syria, had a long history of fighting over land, trade, water, etc. Now thankfully King Ahab of Israel was able to work out a tentative truce with the King of Syria. So while there was no official war in the land, there was still a lot of what we call kind of border skirmishes, right? Between the soldiers right there on the border. They were neither officially sanctioned nor frankly discouraged.
Now during one of these raids, a young girl from Israel was taken captive and she becomes, this Israelite girl becomes a servant in the household of Syrian general Naaman. So that’s where we find the story being.
So whose name, and verse 1 tells us, he’s this commander of the Syrian army. In fact, we read that he’s this great man. He was a man of power, a valiant soldier. In fact, he was one of the most powerful people, not only in the army but in their society. He was highly regarded for military victory, so as a result he held high esteem, he held a place of high esteem and honor in that society. In fact, we read that he can go directly to the king and talk to the king himself. That’s how powerful and respected he was in that society.
But he had a problem, didn’t he? The story takes a strange turn with the phrase at the end of verse 1, and it’s actually four words in our translation, but it’s actually just one word in the Hebrew. It says, “but he had leprosy.” The Hebrew here is much more abrupt than the English. The story actually has a kind of flowing prose, this narrative, and it comes to an abrupt stop. It says he was a great man in the sight of his master, highly regarded, because through him the Lord gave victory, he was a valiant soldier, then stop. Leper.
The narrator does this on purpose. You see, no matter how impressive this man was due to his military and political power, ultimately at the end of the say he was nothing but an outcast. A pariah. Because of a skin condition. So the first problem we see was this external physical disease of leprosy that had caused him much discomfort and pain.
Now most of us are not familiar with leprosy, so let me give you this description by a medical doctor: “Leprosy generally begins with pain in certain areas of the body, numbness follows. Soon the skin in such spots loses its original color, it gets to be think, glossy, and scaly. As the sickness progresses, the thickened spots become dirty sores and ulcers due to poor blood supply. The skin, especially around the eyes and the ears, begin to bunch with deep furrows between the swelling. Fingers begin to drop off or are absorbed. Toes are affected similarly. Eyebrows and eyelashes drop out. By this time one can see that the person in this pitiable condition is a leper. But by the touch of a finger, one can also feel it. Unfortunately, one can also smell it, for the leper emits a very unpleasant odor. Moreover, in view of the fact that the disease-producing agent frequently attacks the larynx, the voice acquires a grating quality, and if you stay with a leper for some time, you even imagine a peculiar taste in your mouth, probably due to the smell. All the senses of the well person are engaged in the detection of the leper, and though today we have medicine to cure this disease, in biblical times it was a horrific disease that literally wasted away the body. It was a dreadful and disgusting disease.”
But there’s a less obvious problem, isn’t there? That the story intends for us to see. It’s the internal problem. You see, the problem was more than skin deep. As a leper, General Naaman experienced a social exclusion that would have caused a lot of internal shame and depression. You see, even though he had a great resume and reputation, when people saw him, all they saw was his leprosy. It didn’t matter who he was. In their eyes, he was simply an outcast. Marginalized not only because of his skin disease, but because of what it represented spiritually.
You see, Naaman was cursed inside and out. You see, to Israelites first hearing and reading the story, he wasn’t just somebody to be pitied for his skin condition. It was actually much more serious than that. They all knew that he was considered spiritually unclean. You see, the Bible tells us from passages like Leviticus chapter 13 that the leper had to be isolated not only because of their contagion, of course, but actually more importantly because of what it represented spiritually.
So it’s not hard to imagine the kind of humiliation, depression, isolation of a leper’s life. He was ostracized from society, had to assume a disheveled appearance, and then there was the ultimate degradation. When anybody came within his range, he had to cry out to warn, “Unclean, unclean,” basically, “Get away from me. I’m unclean.” He had to wear black with a hood covering his face. He had to be outside the city walls.
The first century historian Josephus summed it up accurately by saying lepers are treated “as if they were, in fact, dead men.”
You see, even the King of Israel understood this, right? Remember what he said in verse 7? He goes, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life?”
Now remember, Naaman’s not even an Israelite. He’s from Syria. Don’t miss that. So he’s not only an outsider and spiritually unclean, he’s actually under God’s judgment.
So this is the first thing we learn from this story. You see, Naaman’s problem is actually all of our problem. For those outside of Christ, for those of you prior to Christ, his leprosy is but a physical illustration of our hearts that have not been cleansed by Jesus, whether you’re a Syrian general or the next door neighbor, we need to be able to see that this is a visible incarnation of ourselves and our people around us apart from the cleansing work of Christ. You see, prior to Christ and our neighbors next door and around the world are but walking dead. Forms dead in their trespasses and sins. Forms trying to cover ourselves with filthy rags. We can try to cover it up with our status, our reputation, our success, but in the end outside of Christ, we are all spiritual lepers, wasting away from the inside out.
This is the problem of all those who don’t know the good news of what Jesus has done.
But there’s another problem. That’s just the first connection we have, and that the world has to Naaman, a world that’s so desperately needs the Gospel. There’s another truth we can learn from Naaman.
Did you notice what Naaman tries to do in light of his problem? Inside and out? What does he do? Well, in verses 5 and 6, we read that he gets permission from the king and he goes to the prophet. But do you notice what Naaman does and what he brings with him? Let’s count them.
First he brings all of his resources. He actually brings an enormous amount of money. What you read there 10 talents of silver, 6000 shekels of gold, that’s 700 pounds of silver, 120 pounds of gold. 10 sets of clothing. Why? Why bring all these resources? He wants to buy a cure for his disease and his depression.
What else does he bring? He brings his relationships. He brings his resources and he also brings his relations, right? He expects the kings of Israel and Syria to open doors for him. What does he do? He relies upon somehow these connections we have in life. Right? To get us to the next phase of life, or to solve this problem that we have. I’ll bring my resources, I’ll bring my relationships to bear, to solve my problem.
But wait, there’s more. This is like an informercial, “But wait, there’s more.” Resources, relationships… He brings his reputation. He expects Elisha, did you notice? To be impressed by his status. He brings all of his horses and chariots, and what does he do? He waits for Elisha to come and greet him personally. He doesn’t go to Elisha’s door and knock. Why? Because he’s a powerful Syrian general who deserves to be respected.
Resources, relationship, reputation. What else does he bring? He actually brings his own race. Didn’t you notice? Elisha tells him to go be washed, you know, passive, right? Go be washed in the river. He’s upset. Why? Because the rivers in his home country he thinks are better than this muddy, insignificant river called the Jordan.
He brings his resources, he brings his relationships, he brings his reputation, he brings his race, and lastly I think he also brings his rewards, meaning I think he believes he can merit something but doing something great. His servants say that. He expected that he could do some great thing, verse 13, as his servants testify to earn or merit his healing and restore his honor.
So ultimately as we look at these five things that Naaman brings, what can we learn? At the end of the day, Naaman’s hope is in Naaman. Naaman’s security is in Naaman. Naaman’s salvation ultimately is in Naaman. His solution to his problem of disease and depression is ultimately himself. At the end of the day, Naaman, and frankly every single person that doesn’t know the good news of Jesus, their ultimate trust and hope, security, salvation, is in themselves.
At this point in the story, we need to learn that outside of Christ’s cleansing blood we are but the same. We may call it different things. But in the midst of the challenges of life, even for us Christians, how often do we look to ourselves for security and control, salvation and hope?
Friends, looking to ourselves, whether in self-pity or in self-pride, is nothing but a symptom of unbelief, a lack of faith and trust in God no matter what the circumstances. This is the solution that those without Jesus turn to. Friends, when we think about that, our hearts must break.
So we’ve learned that in the midst of the sin and severe trials of life how often those without Christ turn to everything but God for security and hope. In fact, let’s think about it. We do the same.
So Naaman’s problem and solution is our problem and solution. Naaman’s problem and solution is the world’s problem and solution. So this is what we learn from our first character.
Let’s turn now to our second character, Elisha. What can we learn about God through him? We learned about ourselves and our world through Naaman. Now we’re going to learn about our God through Elisha.
What does Elisha say and do when Naaman finally comes to him? Naaman brings his resources; Elisha refuses to accept anything. Naaman brings his relationships; those letters don’t mean anything to Elisha. Naaman brings his reputation; Elisha doesn’t go out to greet Naaman personally, but actually sends his servant. Naaman brings his race; Elisha says, “Go be washed in the river Jordan.” Naaman brings his reward; Elisha tells him simply to be washed, not to go do this great thing.
You see, first of all, do you notice what Elisha does? He rejects everything. Clearly this is not what God requires, so Naaman goes away angry, kind of like that rich young ruler in the New Testament, right? And that’s the first thing we learn about our God through this story. You see, God rejects all man-made, self-centered solutions for salvation.
Just like Elisha rejects all that Naaman tries to bring and to buy, God rejects all of our efforts and all of our assets. So all of Naaman’s resources and righteousness is rejected, they are rejected.
What else can we learn? Not only does Elisha reject everything, Elisha also then turns around and reveals where true healing and salvation can be found. In addition to rejecting Naaman’s self-centered solutions for salvation, Elisha also reveals that true healing, true salvation, is not something you earn or buy, it is actually something you receive. It is received by God’s grace alone, through faith alone. It’s that simple and yet that profound.
What does Elisha tell Naaman to do? He’s told to go dip himself in the river seven times, and though at first he wasn’t convinced by this seemingly insignificant act, he finally goes down, gets washed, and behold, after the seventh time, his flesh is restored and he becomes clean and pure, not only on the outside but also on the inside, because Naaman finally realized that God’s ways are different from our ways, and that’s a good thing. He realized things like his resources or reputation could never be enough.
So this is what we learn. The second thing we learn about God through the character of Elisha. You see, the only way to receive cleansing and healing is by grace alone through faith alone. You see, true cleansing and healing from being unclean, under judgment, outside of God’s blessings, comes by receiving God’s grace alone through faith alone. You see, Naaman’s leprosy is a picture of the sin and shame that isolates all of us from God, but coming to faith in Christ we are, before coming to faith in Christ, we are unclean, under judgment, outside of God’s blessing. We cannot cleanse ourselves of the leprosy of sin that has overtaken our hearts and our lives. God must do it. This is the beginning of true cleansing, recognizing that we are helpless by ourselves to get rid of the disease of sin and shame.
Friends, you know what’s amazing? What’s amazing is the story doesn’t end here. Many centuries later after Naaman, God will intervene yet again in the life of another leper. Do you remember what happened in Mark chapter 1? A man with leprosy comes to Jesus, asking for healing, and what does Jesus do? In verse 41 we read this: “Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man.” Friends, with that touch, Jesus healed him, forever changing his life. Perhaps it had been 20, 30 years since the leper had been touched by another person. Perhaps he was a father and had once known the embrace of his children and wife, but that was so many years ago. But now Jesus touched him.
The language here is more than just superficial contact. The word that’s translated is actually more like, “He grabbed hold of him.” Jesus placed His hand firmly on the leper. He didn’t need to do that. He could have waved His hand. He could have spoken the word. The disciples must have been shocked. You know why? Because now Jesus is considered ceremonially and spiritually unclean, and He also might catch the disease. What was Jesus thinking?
Friends, this isn’t just loving compassion. It is substitutionary identification. The clean touch of Jesus’ pure hand on the unclean leper was a sign of things to come. You see, Jesus ultimately became a leper for us. Do you see how scandalous this is? With that touch, the unclean became clean, and the clean became unclean. Here in 2 Kings 5 and Mark chapter 1 we have a picture of what Jesus will ultimately do to make all of His children clean.
You see, God took the sin and shame of what leprosy represents and placed it upon his perfect Son, casting His Son outside the city walls to a hill called Golgotha, and there on Calvary Jesus endured all the scorn and shame of not only Naaman’s leprosy, but the disease of all of our sin.
There on Calvary He was excluded so we can be taken in. There on Calvary He was cast outside of God’s favor so we can receive eternal blessing. There on Calvary He was placed under judgment so we can be declared righteousness. There on Calvary He became unclean so we can be clean. This is our God, beloved. He’s done it all.
God made Him who know no sin to become sin for us so that we might be called the righteousness of God.
Friends, our security and hope, indeed the security of hope the whole world needs, is not in ourselves but in God alone, because of grace alone, through the work of Christ alone, received by faith alone.
That’s why even for you and me sitting in this sanctuary, going through difficult divisive times, we can continue to have trust and hope in Him and in the Gospel, even when we are facing the most severe trials and tribulations of life that seem to insurmountable, God has claimed victory over the most difficult trial of all, death itself.
He’s done this for us. Will He not take care of the rest?
Beloved, this is what Elisha teaches us about our good God and the Gospel hope we have.
So we’ve looked at these two major characters, Naaman, Elisha. Let’s turn to our third and last character.
There’s one final character I’d like for us to learn from. You know, she doesn’t have the prestige of Naaman or the significance of Elisha. In many ways she is like Mattie Ingold. You’ll read about her, though, in verses 2 and 3. Let me read it again: “Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.””
She’s probably no older than 11 or 12. Here we are introduced to an unnamed, kidnapped, trafficked, servant girl. Far from her family, far from her home. She becomes a slave and a servant, not only in someone else’s house but in a different country. Sometimes I think we too quickly gloss over people like this as we read the Bible, but there’s actually a lot we can learn from her, friends.
Think about it. In contrast to Naaman, she’s about as low as you can get on the social ladder. She had no rights. She’s a foreign captive in another country. She had no reputation. As a female in the Middle East, she was uneducated, probably disregarded, and perhaps most telling of all, did you notice? She has no name. We are not told her name. But that’s because it wasn’t and isn’t important. We don’t know the name of this servant girl, imprisoned in a foreign land, surrounded by difficult and dark circumstances, but what we do know is this: In a remarkable testimony of faithful and humble missionary service, she pointed to the only one that can provide healing and hope.
You see, friends, she was simply a pointer to the God of grace. She simply told him where he can get help. She was just but a servant pointing to God, even in the most difficult of circumstances, being trafficked and kidnapped, made a slave of this family. She actually looks beyond herself, sees herself as a pilgrim on a difficult journey, yes, but knowing that this is not her final home, knowing in faith that God is her God and that God has the power and compassion to even bless this person responsible for her trafficking.
Notice how she views Naaman, the man responsible: “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” What extraordinary faith. She is able to see beyond the natural instincts of fear, bitterness, revenge. Astoundingly, she sees above all just simply a man in need, both physically and spiritually, and points that man in faith to God.
Friends, there’s so much I can inspire you with, put God first, love your family, pray without ceasing; these are all great exhortations. But I want to leave you with this: Friends, since Jesus has washed you and made you new, out of loving gratitude for what He’s done, just simply and humbly point others to Jesus, in your words and in your deeds, no matter how dark and difficult the circumstances.
Friends, I know we are but ordinary people, but you have extraordinary hope and extraordinary faith because the blood of Jesus courses through your veins, and because the love and grace and goodness of God, because of Gospel hope, you can become Gospel pointers. Amen? Amen.
Let’s pray. Father, thank you for this marvelous passage of Scripture. We believe that it is living and powerful, sharper than a double-edged sword, cutting through our hearts. So Lord, would You even cut us now that we might respond to Your Word, the words of life, the words of grace, the words of hope, that ultimately point forward to the Gospel of hope in Jesus Christ and the grace that He has poured out on us. May that so captivate our hearts. May we be so gripped by the wondrous grace of Jesus who became a leper for us that we would be able to point others to Jesus no matter where we are, whether here in Charlotte or overseas in places like Korea, I pray that we would be faithful to You because of Gospel hope, we pray that You would help us by Your Spirit to be Gospel pointers. For we pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.