It seems odd to have to say that grace really is free. But we’re not used to things actually being free. We’ve got Black Friday, then Cyber Monday, Boxing Day and New Year Sales – plus all the rest. You see something advertised at a “sale price” and bag a bargain.
But if you ever see something advertised as “free” you just know* it’s not. There’s a little asterisk, a footnote, some Ts&Cs. It turns out it’s “free” if you spend more than £x etc.
The Bible speaks over and over of God’s grace. He is a generous giver. We’re not, so we find it hard to believe he might be “as advertised.” 2 Kings 5 shows how gracious he is – correcting false impressions, and warning against religious people adding Tc&Cs to what God gives freely to all.
An encouragement to the would-be evangelist
We’ve been looking mostly at Elijah and Elisha in the northern kingdom of Israel. The kings and people of Israel had long since turned their back on God, but Elijah and then Elisha were forever calling the people of Israel to return to God.
So chapter 5 is a bit odd, because it’s about a man called Naaman who isn’t even from Israel – he’s a foreigner from Aram. But he is an impressive man. Read 1 Kings 5:1.
- Even more of a surprise, we learn that the LORD (YHWH) had given Aram successes through Naaman.
- God wasn’t only interested in Israel – he is the God of the whole earth. And he blessed Naaman with success.
And yet God also permitted Naaman to suffer with leprosy. [Technically it might be one of a number of skin diseases, but we’ll stick with leprosy for convenience, because we don’t know.]
In contrast to this “mighty warrior” (v1) we’re then introduced to a “little girl” (v2). Read 2 Kings 5:2-3. We’re going to see healing and blessing come to Naaman in this chapter. His body would be healed of leprosy, and his heart will be turned wholly to God.
Today, as you sit there, Naaman and that girl are now in heaven, in God’s presence, eternally blessed! But back then her situation was awful: A child, stolen from her home by foreign raiders, never to return. Frightened. The eternal blessing that would come to Naaman came at a terrible, frightening cost, to a little girl. We don’t even know her name.
You don’t get to choose the times you’re in
We saw this 18 months ago when we started looking at Jeremiah’s appointment by God. You don’t get to choose the times you’re living in. You’re required simply to live for God in the time and place of his choosing, as he appoints for you. In the pandemic. In pain and grief, even.
You’re not expected to wait until it’s all over before you start to live for God – serve him faithfully where you are. Eternal blessing came to Naaman because of the intervention of this one young girl one day. Was his eternity worth her pain? Yes. Who knows what God might do through you? Even you, now, as you are. You’re appointed by God to be where you are. So act.
Isn’t that an encouragement to speak up for Christ?
In verses 5 to 7, Naaman is sent by his king to the Israelite king. But Israel’s king is dismayed! Read 2 Kings 5:6-7. The king knows nothing. So he does nothing. He just panics and wrings his hands. Though his words betray him! He knows that God could heal Naaman, but he won’t turn to God for help.
It might have all unravelled there, but God is clearly intending to bless Naaman here. In verse 8, Elisha hears about the stupid king and tells him to send Naaman on to Elisha’s house.
I know a man who can help
You and I aren’t kings or prophets or commanders or rulers. We’re the unnamed servant girl. Trying to get through life. Life that’s often unfair, and hard. One day she speaks up out of compassion: “There’s a prophet who can help.”
She didn’t see it through. How could she? We’re often just stepping stones in someone else’s journey. You might get stepped on, but the end is worth it. Trust God to keep that person on course; you just need to be your own stepping stone.
Do you bit. Say your piece. Invite your friend. When people around you are despairing of the pandemic, or work, or health, or politics: “I know a man who can help.” Eternity makes it worth the risk. And it is a risk:
The offence of God’s grace (8-16)
This is a bit of a comedy, almost Monty Python, moment. Naaman – this powerful commander, along with all his servants and horses and chariots – leaves the palace, and heads out to the prophet’s house. They all pull up outside Elisha’s place – certainly not a major palace. It’s like they’d pulled up outside your house. But Elisha doesn’t even twitch the curtains. He sends a messenger out to tell Naaman to go dip in the river!
Naaman is an important man. He won’t be treated with such rudeness. “Do you know who I am?” Toys totally out of the pram. Read 2 Kings 5:11-12.
He’s expecting a bit show, not a dip in the river. Naaman brought all this money and the prophet won’t even come out to him. He’s come to the Boxing Day sale and he’s not expecting to get anything for free. But he is expecting great customer service.
- Isn’t that how religion is supposed to work?
- We put things in – like money, time, penance, charity stuff
- And we get stuff out – happiness, peace, heaven
- That’s what most people expect from religion.
- It’s certainly what Naaman expected.
- He was expecting a full-on bells & smells extravaganza!
Elisha’s apparent “rudeness” was nothing but a lesson in the grace of God to Naaman. You don’t impress God. You don’t buy grace. He gives freely out of the abundance of his love. Freely.
Thankfully, Naaman listened to some advice. Read 2 Kings 5:13-14. He showed a little humility. A little obedience. And he was healed. Miraculously, totally, wonderfully!
And Elisha wasn’t even there! Of course not; it was God who healed Naaman. God had blessed Naaman in battle and success. Now God had blessed Naaman with healing.
But we can press that a little further, in less comfortable ways. Read 2 Kings 5:15.
Jesus healed a paralyzed man in Mark 2. He only healed him to demonstrate that he could, in fact, forgive the man’s sin. The man’s greatest need wasn’t the fact that his friends had to carry him around – it was that his sin kept him from knowing God. So that man’s awful disability led him to Jesus. Jesus forgave his sin, and healed his body as a sign of Jesus’ authority over spiritual and physical problems.
And here in 2 Kings we find that Naaman’s illness had brought him to a point where he had also come to know the true God. Is there purpose in suffering? Anything that leads you to life with God is, in the end, a great blessing.
Where Naaman is now (right now), he’s glad he had leprosy.
If you permit your troubles to drive you away from God, then you turn towards curse, death, and misery. But God is incredibly gracious to all who call on him. So turn to him. Turn from your sin, your rebellion against him. He stands ready to forgive. Freely.
Forgiveness is in Jesus
Why? Because Jesus has paid the price for your sin.
- Your sin is an offence to God. He is just, and his justice demands that your sin go punished.
- But he’s also immeasurably gracious – and he has given you his Son as a sacrifice of atonement, atoning for your offence to him, your sin.
- As you trust that Jesus died to take the punishment of your sin, you confess that sin to God, and ask him for his forgiveness, he freely gives it!
- He will even adopt you – he becomes your Father, not your judge.
You bring nothing. Read 2 Kings 5:16.
You don’t impress God. You can’t buy grace. And many people simply can’t – won’t accept that. They turn to a form of religion that is “Jesus + [something]” which is really saying that God isn’t entirely gracious and that he held something back for you to do, or pay, or sacrifice. But we come to God by grace alone, by faith alone in Christ alone. There’s nothing to add or take away.
Sadly, religious people still mess this up:
A warning to the religiously privileged (17-27)
There’s something surprising in what happens next. Read 2 Kings 5:17-19.
- As part of his job, he has to take part in false worship.
- Because of his new allegiance to God, that bothers him.
- His heart is changed, and his conscience is stricken.
We might get a bit touchy about him taking part in false worship. But that’s to lose sight of the wonder of the change in his heart! The king of Israel was dead to God. The people of Israel worshipped Baal and even their supposed worship of God was through golden calves – it was idolatrous nonsense. But God worked a miracle in Naaman’s heart – even more than in his body.
When Jesus was getting stick in Nazareth for not doing signs and wonders, he reminded them of Naaman. Read Luke 4:25-27.
The religious practice and privilege of having access to Bibles and church and godly people counts for nothing if there’s no love for God. The people of Nazareth hated Jesus for saying that and tried to kill him. But Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, and that’s what he will do.
A false impression of grace
Back in 2 Kings 5, Elisha’s servant Gehazi nearly ruins everything. He’s covetous; he tells lies; he steals. And he misrepresents the grace of God to Naaman. He gives the impression that Naaman is to give something after all. That God is, after all, like other slot-machine gods. Blessing is available for those who pay…
In return, Gehazi was cursed with Naaman’s leprosy. Read 2 Kings 5:26-27.
Is that a bit harsh? No. When religious people distort the simple Good News of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, they are teaching a different news. Galatians 1:8-9 Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed.
- And by cursed, he means cursed to hell.
- Gehazi’s curse of leprosy was light in comparison.
Churches mustn’t ever give the impression that salvation depends on baptism, dress code, penances, mass, attendance, or giving. You’re saved by faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone.
Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. He will use even you to reach even them. Be a stepping stone, part of someone’s journey coming to know the Lord. Trust God to carry the person on to the end.
Do your bit. But keep to the truth of faith in Jesus. Lead people to Jesus. One step at a time.