Our text is today’s Gospel (2 Kings 5:1–15a): 1 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. 2 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. 3 She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 4 So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” 5 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 clothes. 6 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.” 7 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.”
8 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.” 9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 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.” 11 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. 12 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. 13 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’?” 14 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. 15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. (ESV)
Naaman has a big problem, and it’s not his leprosy—that’s his little problem. His big problem is that he underestimates the Word of the Lord.
Naaman stands outside Elisha’s house, expecting the prophet to come out and cure him on the spot. But when the door opens, out steps not Elisha but only a messenger telling Naaman to simply wash in the Jordan seven times. But this infuriates Naaman. He thinks, “what kind of prophet is this, who won’t even come out to greet me, and who apparently can’t even heal me on the spot? And aren’t the rivers back home every bit as good as the Jordan?”
Now, the water of the Jordan is just as ordinary as the water of the Damascus rivers. But what is extraordinary is the Word of the Lord. Through His prophet, the Lord speaks to Naaman a promise, a word of healing: Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.
The Word of the Lord could not have been clearer: “Go, wash seven times in the Jordan and you shall be clean.” But Naaman underestimates and even despises this promise, this word from the Lord. He cannot see how God can do so much with so little, how God can do the miraculous with something so ordinary as water. And so he goes off in a rage, refusing to wash in the Jordan and thus rejecting the means God has provided for his healing.
Like Naaman, we too are guilty of sometimes underestimating and perhaps even despising the Word and promises of God.
At times, we underestimate God’s Word, God’s promise to forgive. We think that our sins are greater than God’s mercy. And so we question whether or not we are truly forgiven—heirs of heaven.
Other times, we underestimate God’s Word, God’s promise to hear our prayers. And so we fret and worry rather than cast our cares upon the Lord.
And then, we sometimes underestimate God’s Word, God’s promise to give us our daily bread, all that we need to support our life in this world. And so we try to provide for our needs on our own, without looking to God for help, or we become bitter, thinking that God cannot provide for us.
Oh yes, when it comes to underestimating the Word and promises of God, we can be as stubborn and sinful as Naaman. But the Word of the Lord does not falter just because we sometimes doubt it. No, the Word of the Lord is perfect and revives doubt-filled souls (Psalm 19:7).
To us, who doubt God’s power to forgive, the Word speaks a tender admonition: Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool (Isaiah 1:18).
To us, who doubt God’s power to hear prayers, the Word speaks a gracious invitation: call upon me in the day of trouble [says the Lord]; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me (Psalm 50:15).
To us, who in the midst of life’s struggles doubt God’s power to care and provide for us, the Word speaks a comforting message: for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
In the midst of our sin and pain and struggles and doubts, God comes to heal us and to wash away our sins and to restore us in our life in Christ. He comes to us through His Word of Promise, which declares us forgiven. His Word connects with the water of Baptism, declaring that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16). His Word connects with the word of absolution spoken by His called ministers, through whom He absolves those who repent of their sins and want to do better. His Word connects with the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, which is the Lord’s true body and blood, given and shed for you for the remission of your sins.
But don’t we sometimes underestimate God’s Word, God’s promise to come to us through things as ordinary as water and words and bread and wine? And so we become complacent about the holy things of God—Baptism, the Word, the Lord’s Supper. Like Naaman, we are tempted to look for something more spectacular to heal us. We want twelve easy steps to becoming a better person just by trying harder. We want results we can measure and programs that will bring in people by the busloads. We want instant healings and immediate answers to our prayers, but only the answers we want.
The Church has often been likened to a hospital, where souls sick with sin come for healing. And so this morning, we have come to ask Jesus, the Great Physician, to heal us, to give us not only the spiritual healing of forgiveness for our sins, but also the healing of relationships damaged by pride and anger, the healing of hearts hurt and weighed down by life’s adversities, and even the physical healing of the body. Like Naaman, we struggle to trust in the Word of the Lord, and so we also ask the Lord to heal us of our unbelief.
Naaman was cured of his unbelief. God worked Naaman’s servants to stir him to faith in the Lord’s Word, so that he finally went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan. And then God performed a miracle through ordinary water: Naaman’s flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
We have an even greater servant who calls us to faith—the servant Jesus, the eternal Son of God. Jesus, the Son of Man[,] came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Two thousand years ago, He served us by giving up His life as the ransom that paid for our eternal freedom from sin, death, and the devil. And now He comes to us in water, word, bread and wine to give us faith and to sustain us in that faith, to heal us and to restore us.
Naaman was instructed to wash in the Jordan seven times. In the Bible, seven is the number of perfection, and so Naaman’s seven washings bring about a perfect healing. But it wasn’t the water—it was the Word of the Lord that was connected to that water, making it a water of healing.
Your baptism is a sevenfold washing that brings about a perfect healing. In God’s eyes, you are perfectly healed and forgiven and made righteous in and through Christ. And yet, in this world, you sin and you struggle, sometimes desperately, against life’s pain and afflictions. Between our inner struggles and our outward adversities, life has a way of beating us down. And so we need to be continually renewed in the healing Christ won for us on the cross. That’s why Jesus, the Great Physician, calls us to come for a weekly check-up in His hospital, the Church. Here, Jesus makes His rounds among us, and He never fails to perform a miracle through ordinary things—bread and wine—that are connected to His extraordinary all-powerful Word. He comes to heal and forgive you of your sins and to renew and sustain you in the midst of life’s pain and afflictions and to strengthen and preserve you in body and in soul to life everlasting. And at the end of this healing hour, Jesus speaks to you His benediction. Having healed you, He says to you: “Go, go in the strength, the peace, and the joy of the Lord, and come again soon to receive My body and blood, and being joined to Me, live toward the work and the beauty I would fulfill in you for Myself and for others. Go, you are healed!” Amen.