The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost October 15, 2017
Text: 2 Kings 5:1-14 3 year revised series B 17:2035
Theme: God Loves Even the Unlikable
Do you have a Naaman in your life? My Naaman’s name was Bob. He lived down the street from us in a house that I passed on my way to school. Whenever I went that way, I kept watch and tried to slip by undetected. He was the neighborhood bully.
It started one winter during a school break. My brothers and I and the other professors’ children were allowed to use the gym on the college campus where our fathers taught. We always had great fun there and were allowed that privilege as profs’ kids. But for a variety of reasons we weren’t supposed to let others into the gym.
One day Bob and a few of his cronies showed up at the door, wanting to come in. Bob was about 4 years older than I, a great basketball player, tall, lanky, and strong. I had to tell him I couldn’t let him in. He was not happy and kept after me. But I wouldn’t open the door. Finally he left, muttering things under his breath.
A couple days later I was on my way home from school and tried to slip by his house undetected. I didn’t make it. First came a barrage of snowballs. Then Bob burst around a corner of his house. Have you ever had a face wash in snow? I got away and ran home. But ever after that I was afraid and avoided him. I never liked Bob. He became my Naaman.
Do you have a Naaman in your life? Someone who has harmed you? Bullied you? Gotten the better of you? A real thorn in your flesh? Would you do anything kind towards him? Could you love such an unlikable person? God does. This Naaman is proof.
I. A little girl knew this is true.
To the Israelites of his day, Naaman was the neighborhood bully. He was commander of the Aramean or Syrian army to the north which tormented God’s people. He stood tall and strong, a national hero, honored by his king, unstoppable, a man whom Israel feared. So what was this little Israelite girl doing in his home?
She had been captured by one of his raiding parties that attacked her village. Such raids wreaked havoc, tearing families and homes apart. Bodies and hearts were wounded; money and possessions stolen. In one such raid this girl was taken, transported from home, and made the servant of Naaman’s wife. Had her parents been killed? Her home destroyed? Her people mistreated and brutalized? Perhaps, since the Arameans were ruthless. They were bullies worse than my Bob, enemies of God and His people. What would it be like forced to live with and serve such an unlikable guy?
You would think she had every right to be bitter, wouldn’t you? You would think that when Naaman’s leprosy got bad she would say, “Good, serves him right for all the pain that he has caused. Let him suffer!” But this little girl didn’t think that way. She lived as the Apostle Paul later wrote, not repaying evil for evil nor allowing evil to overcome her, but she sought to overcame evil with good (Rm.12:19). She was kind, tender-hearted, forgiving just as God in Christ had forgiven her (Ep.4:32). Her life was shaped by a miracle.
That miracle you know as the Gospel and faith in it. It is the story of God’s love in Christ for sinners. That Good News made her a different kind of person, a person who thought and acted out God’s love. Yes, this man may have been unlikable! He had enslaved her! He deserved to die for his sins and the pain he inflicted! But she held no grudge against the man who had snatched her away from her family. She did not seek revenge or despise him who had reduced her life to slavery. She didn’t loathe him, disfigured by the awful sores of leprosy. She knew the coming Savior. The love of Christ compelled her to live for Christ (2Co.5:14) and to love, even a bully.
And more, she reached out to help him. Why? Because she believed that God does not want anyone to perish but all to come to repentance (2 Pt.3:9). She knew that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son for everyone, even bullies (Jn.3:16). She understood that no matter how far a person strays, the love of the heavenly Father for the sinner will always take the prodigal in when he comes in repentance (Lk.15). She knew the meaning of the gospel for herself and for others, and it changed her outlook on life.
The Bible says, “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins….Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1Jn.4:9-12,8).
A little girl knew it was true – God loves even the unlikable. He loved her, sinful as she was. Convinced of that she believed God loved Naaman, too. A nameless child of God resting her life in God’s redeeming love! A small child but a large faith! “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hb.11:1). In faith she was certain God would help Naaman, unlikable as he was. God grant us to grow in such faith.
II. A doubting man found it was true.
A faith like that sees blessed results, even if they haven’t taken place yet. So it was that she said, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
A ray of hope held out by a little servant girl. What an unlikely instrument. But God often uses the unlikely for His saving purposes. He can use the unknowns to make Himself known.
That is why, dear friend, you never should say that you are too small or that your life is too narrow or unimportant to have any effect in God’s Kingdom. God will use the most insignificant to bring the hope of salvation to others. For that reason the Apostle Peter encourages each of us to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1Pt.3:15). This girl was prepared. She may not have had all the answers, but she knew where to direct her master – to God’s prophet Elisha. Naaman and his wife grabbed hold of her encouragement. Even the king of Aram did as he sent his valiant commander off to Israel, which he had bullied in war.
First, they went to Israel’s king, the godless King Jehoram, the son of wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. But he didn’t know what to do or where to turn. Then Elisha urged the king to send Naaman on to him. So to Elisha he went.
Elisha’s command was clear and simple: “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and you will be cleansed.” Such an easy thing! God doesn’t require the impossible of people. He knows they cannot do it. As Jesus said in the Gospel Lesson today about salvation, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mk.10:27).
His command was easy. But for Naaman it was too simple; too humiliating. What would his soldiers think of him if it didn’t work? Besides, Naaman was looking for something flashy, something dramatic. “The Jordan!” he scoffed. “That old muddy river! The rivers back home are far better!”
Add to his brutal nature arrogance. Here God offered a cure that would cost Naaman nothing, an offer with no strings attached, similar to our salvation from sin, and Naaman refused it because of unbelief. Naaman would have stomped off and never come back. But God had given him wise servants who urged him forward saying, “Sir, wouldn’t you be willing to do something heroic in order to be cured? The prophet told you to do something that’s neither difficult nor costly.”
Naaman listened and followed the prophet’s instructions. And God was true to His word. God is always true to His word for “it cannot be broken” (Jn.10:35). Behold, a miracle! Naaman was healed! After all his blustering, a doubting man found it true; God loves even the unlikable and seeks to reach them.
There are countless “Naamans” in our world – bullies and brutes, doubters and disbelievers. Some are successful in their professions and influential in their communities. They commit their share of sins and have their share of sicknesses and problems. They may be unlikable to many. As a result they have no one to turn to for hope or help except you who represent Christ.
There are also “young girls of Israel” in the world today. They are the dedicated, humble Christians, sometimes living in tough situations, yet full of faith, hope, and love in the Savior. They know His saving love, even for the unlovable, and want to share it.
If people today are the same as back then, God is entirely the same! He does not, cannot, will not change for He is the “same yesterday, today and forever” (Hb.13:8). His hatred for sin has not changed, nor His threat to punish the sinner who remains in it. Likewise, His compassionate and gracious will to save the sinner is unalterable. He still loves the sinner and wants to act in his behalf. So He sent His Son Jesus to earth to die and procure life for all who believe in Him. In this way He loves even the unlikable. Do we?
You know, I don’t know whatever happened to Bob. I know that later he won scholarships as one of the top basketball players in the state. I wish I knew if he knew the Lord Jesus; but I don’t. And now I wish I could tell him; but I can’t. Still my comfort and hope lie in this: God Loves Even the Unlikable. Someday He may use some little girl to tell Bob. And if an opportunity to reach out with Christ arises for me or for you, God grant us the love, courage, and wisdom of a little Israelite girl and a faithful Hebrew prophet so that our “Naamans” might have the opportunity to hear the Gospel, believe it, and be healed not just for time but for all eternity. God grant it to us in faith for Jesus’ sake. Amen.