Only occasionally does a genuine hero come along. Only once in a great while does a person step onto the stage of prominence to receive universal acclaim and gratitude. That very kind of person, however, emerged in ancient Syria. His name was Naaman. Scripture is glowing in its description of him. He served as the Supreme Commander of his king’s armies. His personal traits were exemplary and esteemed highly by all. “Great,” “honorable,” “deliverer,” “mighty,” “courageous” all framed his name in glory.
He possessed one other trait, a trait that tainted all else. With a simple phrase, Scripture’s admiring description takes a sudden turn toward desperation as it states, “… but he was a leper” (2 Kings 5:1). Leprosy, known today as Hansen’s disease, is the oldest recorded disease in the history of mankind.1 Civilizations have for centuries believed it to be a sentence of cruel pain, lonely isolation, and horrible death. Until recently, considered a highly infectious disease that destroyed the body’s tissue, those who contracted leprosy faced a gruesome future which only found relief in death. Leprosy is now known to be a malfunction of the body’s pain system which allows sufferers repeatedly to damage their extremities until skin ulcers, open sores, deep wounds and extensive damage of tissue and muscle result. Infection often eventuates in the loss of limbs and ultimately life itself.
This understanding of leprosy was unknown in Naaman’s day, however. Consequently, when diagnosed as leprous, his future was sealed. No longer would he serve as commander of all the armies of Syria. No longer would he enjoy the comforts of family and the joy of friends. No longer would he be able to pursue the dreams and desires of his heart. All that awaited Naaman was a slow, excruciatingly painful and miserable death. For Naaman there was no cure and no hope. Life for him was over. He was a walking dead man. The only thing his future held was a funeral.
Years before, when life was better and he was in his prime, Naaman had led an incursion of his army into neighboring Israel. Being victorious as usual, the spoils were his for the taking. Among the trophies of that particular conquest was a young Jewish girl whom he took home to be his wife’s handmaiden. Apparently, with the passage of time, the servant girl became more than just another slave, more than just another attendant, more than just a handmaiden. Feelings of attachment and care unexpectedly emerged among them. She became a part of the family. Scripture unfolds a captivating scene of one fateful day in Naaman’s household (2 Kings 5:3). Perhaps on that day the young handmaiden busied herself with brushing her mistress’s long tresses as the predawn chill began to give way to yet another blistering morning. The wisp of a cool breeze touched her warmed brow with momentary relief. Suddenly her thoughts transported her across the miles and years to another home. Her real home. She found herself thinking about her other family.
As quickly as the gentle puff of air appeared, it was gone and with its passing, her thoughts were jarred back to the present. In her head lingered a blurred image with a muddled voice. It was a scene from long ago. The mumbling voice belonged to her father. “Now, what was it? What had he said?” she pondered. With scrunched brow she strained her memory. To the silent rhythm of her own heart beat she stroked the cascading locks of hair with the tortoise shell brush in her hand. Then like the unexpected flash of a late evening storm’s lightening, the memory for which she strained tumbled from her lips like a whispered surprise, “The prophet! The prophet in Samaria! The prophet could heal Naaman!” Soon the Jewish maiden’s whisper echoed through the house as a shout. “Good news! Great news! Wonderful news! Naaman can be healed of his leprosy!”
Immediately Naaman sought a leave of absence from his responsibilities so he could make the journey to Samaria. Finding the prophet with the gift of healing now became life’s highest priority. Naaman’s king was so thrilled with the news and so filled with hope for his friend that he provided from palace resources silver, gold, and exquisite clothing with which the leper could pay the prophet for his healing work.
Having made the strenuous journey in search of the prophet, Naaman finally arrived at Elisha’s doorstep (2 Kings 5:9). Getting straight to the point, inquiry was made as to how Naaman could be healed. The answer was unexpectedly blunt, “Go to the Jordan River and wash yourself seven times.” That was it! Nothing more and nothing less.
Naaman’s reaction was indeed curious. He flew into a rage. He threw a fit. He whirled his horse about while filling the air with curses toward the prophet and derision toward himself. One is forced to wonder why a man in such desperate circumstances would be enraged, would reject the healing of his leprosy, would gallop homeward depressed and defeated like a man headed toward his own funeral. Hasty? Foolhardy? Absolutely. Before condemning him too harshly, however, recall a similar scene that is acted out Sunday after Sunday in many churches. Week after week, as the good news of Jesus Christ is taught and preached, as cleansing from the leprosy of sin is offered, men and women of presumed intelligence turn away. They head back into their worlds under the impending danger and sentence of spiritual death.
Why did Naaman reject the healing he could have experienced? Why do people turn away from the healing of leprous sin through Jesus Christ? Answers to both questions are often similar.
The method of healing was too simple. The prophet’s instructions were not at all what Naaman thought he would hear. 2 Kings 5:11 reports his words, “I thought that [the prophet] would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy” (NIV). Naaman was expecting the prophet to perform some great miracle, some supernatural wonder. With every step of that long journey toward Samaria, he had visualized himself and the prophet climbing to a high altar in the mountains. In the eye of his mind, he had seen the prophet raise his out-stretched hand over Naaman while shouting heavenward, “Heal!” The very thought of God’s response, the thought of a cloudless sky cracking apart with lightening, thunder, and healing had sent shivers up his spine. So excited had he become that it seemed he could, even before arriving at the prophet’s home, feel a strange sensation sweep over his body. Of all things, “Go take a bath,” was not what he had anticipated. So, now he was ready to go home, to go home without being healed, to go home and die because the method of healing was not what he expected.
Out the door they walk. Time after time, when the final “Amen” is spoken, individuals head homeward without accepting healing for the leprosy of their sin which has been offered in Jesus Christ. “Thanks, but no thanks,” they seem to say with their determined strides, if not their words. Toward the sure and eternal consequences of their sin they head. Why? For many it is because of some preconceived notion of how God ought to work, of how He should miraculously remove their sinful past, give birth to a new life without guilt and eternal death, and fill them with the Holy Spirit.
It is absolutely true that God still performs miracles. He can heal a body or a relationship. He can provide resources where there are none. He can make a way for His own through any wilderness or sea. He can accomplish anything He chooses to do. It is also true that He can change a person’s heart, life, and eternity in a flash. As with Paul on the road to Damascus, God can instantaneously change the entire nature of a human being. Occasionally He still does it that way. In some critical and unexpected moment, God may move in such a dramatic and powerful way that immediately one’s spirit is awakened to faith in Christ, a new way of life, and an eternity with Him.
More often than not, however, the Lord’s offer of forgiveness and salvation is nurtured through the Holy Spirit’s wooing, “Come. Come, now. Receive Christ into your heart and life. Allow God to remove your sin. Let Him make a new person of you and give to you a new future.” Often the decision to receive Christ is reached over a period of time that allows for reflection, the study of God’s Word, maturation of understanding, and the work of the Holy Spirit. Though the decision is filled with emotion and transformation, it is rot always accompanied by traumatic circumstances.
Whether young or old, rich or poor, famous or infamous, healing of the leprosy of sin is available to all and it is such a simple thing. No pilgrimages of contrition to undertake. No exercises of penitence to perform. No offerings to be given. No preliminary meetings to attend. No waiting upon magic words to be spoken or the sky to open. All one needs to do is say to the Lord, “I need You. I need Your forgiveness, Come now, Lord Jesus, into my life.” For some, the method of cleansing the leprosy of sin is too simple.
The method of healing was too shameful. Naaman was set to go home, to lose everything, and eventually to die a lonely and embittered man. Why? Because the prophet’s method of healing leprosy was filled with embarrassment and shame. Down from its source in the hill country flowed the stream which eventually became the Jordan River. Just now the waters ran deeper and quicker than usual. The strong current flushed along everything in its path. The normally clear stream, especially where Naaman would have to bathe, was littered with muck, mud and debris. Angrily he complained (2 Kings 5:12), “Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?” How could a man of his stature, a man of his reputation, a man such as he, be asked to bathe in water so unsightly and so filled with the cast offs of nature and man? It was unthinkable. It was impossible. It was too shameful. Naaman was more willing to go home and die than to wash in that despicable water and be healed. Die rather than bathe in dirty water? Yes, indeed. That was his choice.
Like Naaman, there are many people who are more willing to accept the ultimate consequence of the leprosy of sin than to be healed, to be forgiven, to be saved, because the method of cleansing is too shameful. The cross has been made an attractive and appealing symbol by churches and by culture. Crosses appear on pinnacles of churches and in their worship centers. Crosses are designed as bookmarks and given out on Mother’s Day. Crosses of gold and silver are created to be ornaments on necklaces, bracelets, tie pins, earrings, and dozens of other things. Crosses are familiar, and often, attractive things today.
On that long ago day when the attention of heaven and earth focused on a little knobby hill just outside of ancient Jerusalem, the cross was not attractive or appealing. It was not a happy sight. It was, in fact, offensive to every human sense. The horrific sight, the terrifying sounds, the repulsive smell was so very devastating. Men avoided it. Women stayed away from it. Children would have been traumatized by it. On that day when Jesus, the very Son of God, took upon Himself the consequence of all mankind’s sin the cross was not pretty. On that day the cross was a means of torture and execution. Upon Jesus Christ was placed the ugliness of our debased spirits, the putridness of our selfishness, the abominableness of our self-will, the depravity of our choices, the wrongness of us all. Not for Himself, but for us He was crucified. Not because of what He had done, but because of what we have done.
In some expressions of the church, the horridness and crudeness of our Lord’s cross is so offensive that the “blood of Jesus” and the terrible image of Golgotha has become anathema in their teaching, preaching, and singing. However, the Christian faith is solidly grounded in the act of God through Christ on Calvary’s hill. As the writer of Hebrews put it, “… without shedding of blood is no remission [of sin]” (Hebrews 9:22). The old gospel hymn inquires, “What can wash away my sin? What can make me whole again?,” and shouts back the refrain, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus; Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Healing for the leprosy of sin is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. There is no other way and for some it is too offensive and shameful. Some people turn away from the offer of cleansing, healing, and life because of it.
The method of cleansing was too senseless. Between the prophet’s home and the Jordan River were several villages. When he heard the instruction, “Go to the river,” Naaman’s heart jumped into his throat. Perspiration glistened on his moist brow. His chest felt as if someone had slammed a bolder into it. His normally calm hands began to shake uncontrollably as he tightly griped the reins of his steed. What a terrible thing to require. Wasn’t it enough he would have to wash in water unsuitable for human use? But this was too much. It did not make sense.
As he tried to calm himself, he could not rid his mind of the image that seemed frozen there. Naaman imagined himself and his entourage making their way toward the river. The picture was crystal clear. As he rode through village after village, he would be recognized as someone important, someone special. The curious and irreverent would follow him to the river’s edge. He imagined a large crowd gathering on both sides of the water as he dismounted. He could see them stretching their necks around each other to get a better look. He could even hear the mumbling and giggling that would course through the crowd. In his mind, he could see the surprised faces, hear the taunting laughter, and feel the uncomfortableness of it all as he washed himself. What an embarrassment! What a humiliating experience! It would be easier — no, it would be preferable — to go home, face whatever he had to face, and die rather than go through that.
In a very large number of churches, after the gospel has been preached, an invitation is offered to worshipers. They are invited to face the messes they have made of their own lives. They are invited to accept God’s offer of forgiveness. They are invited to experience wholeness by receiving the living Christ into their hearts and souls. They are invited to express that decision publicly. In many churches, persons making such a choice move publicly toward the pastor, a decision counselor, or a prayer rail to express what is happening to them spiritually. With their actions, they declare, “I’m a sinner in need of help. I am asking Jesus Christ to do what I have not been able to do. I am asking Him to forgive me, to save me, to make me a new person, to give me a new future.” Because such invitations are, more often than not, occasions of public declarations of faith and commitment, some individuals have turned away saying, “Not me. Don’t expect me to stand before a group of people and admit to being wrong or needing help. I’m not going to stand in front of a church and tell them I am a sinner. No siree! If that is what it takes to become a Christian, count me out.” Unfortunately, too many walk away from the opportunity of spiritual healing, forgiveness, and wholeness because the method is too public and it does not make sense.
Happily Naaman’s story does not end there. Verse 13 reveals the quick thinking and action of a few of his men. They said essentially, “Come to your senses man! If you had been told to make a great sacrifice, or do some great service, or participate in some costly venture, you would certainly have done that. Why not do something so simple? So easy? Why don’t you just wash yourself like the prophet said?”
In spite of his objections and misgivings Naaman turned his horse toward the river. He rode through the villages. He arrived at the river’s edge. The leper dismounted and stepped into the irksome water. Standing waist deep in the debris filled flow and still cursing himself for doing it, he began to dip himself under the water. Into the current he plunged his entire body. Upon emerging, he quickly surveyed himself. The leprosy was still there. Nothing had changed. Under the water he went a second time and upon rising was dismayed to once more see no change in his diseased flesh. “What a fool I am,” he must have thought. “I knew it wouldn’t work. I knew this was crazy,” he must have mumbled to himself. “But since I’m already here, I might as well go all the way.” So a third, fourth, fifth, and sixth time Naaman submerged himself. No change. Nothing was different. Then into the water one last and desperate time. Upon lifting his body to the surface he nervously trudged to the river’s bank. Whether it was the air brushing his wet skin or the sight that greeted his eyes that caused him to shiver, he did not know. 2 Kings 5:14 describes what he saw, “… his flesh [had come] again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (KJV). What a sight! The sores had disappeared! The leprous wounds were healed! The disease was gone! He was whole again!
Likewise, when a person seeks release from the leprosy of sin and invites Jesus Christ into his or her life, there is a freshness of soul and tenderness of heart that spring forth as forgiveness and healing is experienced. So thoroughly radical is the work of salvation that Jesus described it as being “born again” (John 3:7). Sin’s disease is taken away and replaced by a new kind of life. Though simple, all one has to do is ask Jesus Christ to come into his or her heart and life; though shameful, it is through the shed blood of the Savior on a despicable Roman cross; though it is public, confession of belief before others is important; when a person obeys God’s Word, faith brings wholeness.
1Yancey, Philip, Where Is God When It Hurts?, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1997, p. 23.

Share This On: