An Effective Witness

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2 Kings 5:1-14
2 Kings 5:1–14 NKJV
Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but a leper. And the Syrians had gone out on raids, and had brought back captive a young girl from the land of Israel. She waited on Naaman’s wife. Then she said to her mistress, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy.” And Naaman went in and told his master, saying, “Thus and thus said the girl who is from the land of Israel.” Then the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he departed and took with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. Then he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which said, Now be advised, when this letter comes to you, that I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may heal him of his leprosy. And it happened, when the king of Israel read the letter, that he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man sends a man to me to heal him of his leprosy? Therefore please consider, and see how he seeks a quarrel with me.” So it was, when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Please let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.” Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he 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 to you, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ Are not the Abanah and the 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. And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
If we were to follow the Gospel text from the lectionary this week, we would be looking at Jesus sending out the seventy to the villages he was about to visit (Luke 10:1-20). Jesus had spent much time teaching and preparing them for this. He gave explicit instructions of what to preach and do. He told them what to do if the message was rejected, to shake the dust off their feet as a testimony against them. Last week’s sermon was on the rejection tour and how he was rejected in a village of Samaria and by three different men who would follow Jesus only on their terms. When Jesus sent out the twelve on an earlier tour, He gave a long sermon to expect rejection. But in that passage in Matthew 10 as well as here with the seventy, the mission seemed to go rather well. There was no mention of rejection when the disciples returned, They did make the wrong conclusion as they were all amazed of the power over devils rather than rejoicing that their names were recorded in heaven. In the middle of the Luke 10 passage, Jesus condemns the cities of Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum for their rejection of Jesus.
I have chosen this morning to draw attention to the Old Testament text for this Sunday from 2 Kings 5:1-14. This passage links with the gospel text in the theme of bearing witness. The text we read from this morning has appeared in many Sunday School lessons, Vacation Bible Schools, and sermons. The emphasis is placed upon the mighty miracle that God wrought through the Prophet Elisha. The very miracle is a sign that God had called Elisha and established him as a prophet over Israel. But perhaps, like the report of the seventy to Jesus, we are missing the complete picture.
Many see this passage as a demonstration of God’s grace upon a most undeserving person, a Gentile from Syria, the enemy of Israel. Even Jesus mentions that Naaman was the only person cleansed of leprosy in the ministry of Elisha. This is a demonstration that God’s grace is available to all. There is much to be said about this emphasis on the text. But as we are looking at the theme of bearing witness, let us look at this text in another way.
One day, a baby girl was born in Samaria. Samaria was where the ten tribes of Israel were governed after they broke off from Judah and Jerusalem. We can see in 2 Kings which places much emphasis upon the history of the Northern kingdom that Israel was constantly falling into idolatry. It mixed the worship of Yahweh with Baal and greatly angered the LORD. For this reason, God raised up Syria to trouble Israel. The Syrians would raid the villages of Samaria and take away villagers as slaves. One can only think of the terror this young child felt when the raiders from Syria came and took her away into slavery. What happened to her parents. This young maiden ended up in the house of Naaman the Syrian as the slave of his wife. It says that Naaman was a very brave and honorable man, He worshiped the God named Rimmon. Yet is says that Yahweh used Naaman to deliver Syria. Why would God use a Gentile and worshiper of other gods to give deliverance to Syria against her enemies, including Israel. We must understand that the LORD was using Naaman to chastise Israel for her faithlessness to the LORD.
Naaman had an Achilles heel, though. He was a leper. Leprosy was the term used of many skin diseases in general, from staff infections, psoriasis, and various rashes as well as the dreaded disease which is medically understood as leprosy where the victim slowly and painfully lost limbs as the disease progressed. As there were no antibiotics in those days, all skin diseases were frightening. Lepers were shunned from society. Some skin diseases were contagious, so lepers were often segregated from society. In Israel, Naaman would have had to leave the city and beg from a safe distance from the road. Yet Naaman had a wife and servants, and he was able to carry out military duties. Bu human standards, he must have been en exceptional man, even as Scripture admits. So whereas we cannot be sure of what skin deformity Naaman had, it must have been debilitating and disfiguring.
Now back to the story of the slave girl. What do we know about her? We don’t even know her name. But what we know is important. She had heard about a great prophet in her native land and that this prophet would heal Naaman of this leprosy if only he were there. She does not indicate that she knew the name of this prophet. In many ways, her faith would be seen as quite deficient. We don’t know how much she knew about the God of Israel. But she witnessed to what she knew and believed. She had every reason to be bitter and not share this information. Yet she told Naaman’s wife about the prophet in Israel.
Naaman’s wife believed what the slave girl from Israel said and told her husband. Perhaps this was the belief of desperation, but it was belief, nevertheless. And Naaman believed and so did his master the king. Elisha was not named in the letter that was sent by the King of Syria to the King of Israel. The King of Israel was wroth and did not believe that their was any remedy he could offer the King of Syria. Even though the King of Syria had sent a large gift, he felt helpless. If he could not help Naaman, then Syria might make things even worse for Israel. The king, who was supposed to be the spiritual head of Israel had no faith. He made no effort at a remedy. It was only when Elisha sent note to the king to send Naaman to him that the king relented. Why didn’t the king think of Elisha. Did he not know? Did he not believe. The King of Israel had rejected the message but was happy to send Naaman and his entourage out of town before Naaman’s wrath broke out on him.
Naaman was in many ways like the three men we talked about last week, He wanted the transaction between him and Yahweh to be on his terms. As a high official, he was expecting a show worthy of his position. He was wroth when Elisha simply sent a message for him to dip seven times in Jordan. He expected a ceremony and god a message to wash in the Jordan River, whose waters in Naaman’s opinion were inferior to the snow melt pure rivers which fled through Damascus. But we must remember that Naaman was unclean. Elisha would not come directly into the presence of and unclean person.
Naaman’s servants talked sense into him, and he went to wash, and was healed. His skin wasn’t just restored to the normal skin of Naaman’s age, but like that of a little child. Naaman had been transformed. He was now a believer in Yahweh, the God of Israel. Even though he begged indulgence when he had to go with his master to worship in the temple of Rimmon, he was a believer. So often Jesus had cleansed and healed people who were only concerned about the externals. We remember the time that he cleanses ten lepers, yet only the Samaritan returned to give thanks. Naaman was not only cleansed on the outside but on the inside as well.
All of this was possible because the witness of an Israeli slave girl who cared enough for a person who was instrumental to her enslavement. Her witness was effective. She didn’t know much, but she was willing to share what she did know. there have been many who are much more theologically astute who do not share their faith. It wasn’t a theologian who brought the message.
This young slave girl demonstrates what it means to be an effective message. To be an effective witness, one must first believe that it is true. this young woman put herself at risk. Suppose Naaman had come home unhealed of his leprosy? Would there have been repercussions against her. We don’t know. but true faith acts free of repercussions. She believed that the prophet in Israel not only could but would heal a Gentile enemy of Israel. Add to this that no one in Israel in that day had been healed of leprosy through the ministry of Elisha. But she believed and shared.
It should also be said that the Holy Spirit worked through this woman and prepared the way for this miracle. One should also think that the Holy Spirit worked in Naaman’s wife, Naaman, and the king of Syria, even if this was the faith of desperation. The king was willing to send Naaman with many costly gifts. These gifts were totally unnecessary as God’s grace to Naaman was freely given. The only thing these gifts did was to be a snare to Gehazi, Elisha’s servant who coveted them and ended up with the leprosy Naaman had.
The young woman was motivated by unconditional love for her master. She was willing to share in spite of the trauma she has suffered at the hands of the Syrians. For a witness to be effective then, one must believe and act on this belief in a humble and loving spirit. She was willing to face rejection. As it turned out, her message was not rejected which was quite a contrast to her fellow countrymen in Israel. For the most part, the people of Israel were not willing to face rejection for their faith in Yahweh. In fact, they were willing to compromise their faith and add Baal worship to the worship of Yahweh so that they might be accepted.
To be an effective witness, one must also understand that as Paul teaches us, out part is to either plant (evangelize) or water (nurture). It is God’s work alone to cause the growth of faith in the one’s we witness to. (1 Corinthians 3:6). The woman simply shared what she knew. God took it from there.
Even though one can effectively witness from a limited knowledge as this young slave girl did, this does not mean that we should not learn all we can about Jesus and the Scriptures. The seventy had been directly taught by Jesus and knew more than she did. they were sent out to witness of Jesus. when Pentecost came, they had already had their eyes opened to the truth of Scripture (Old Testament), the teaching and acts of Jesus, and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Just because in the youth of our faith, we had a much simpler message to share, which God blesses when mixed with faith and love, we must grow in faith and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But as we grow in this knowledge, we cannot have the idea that knowledge without maintaining a simple faith can be effective. there are a lot of learned Christians whose witness is ineffective. But a witness based upon faith and has sound content is the most effective witness of all. We must not love our first love either or think that there are those who are not worthy to witness to. witness anyway. If they accept, you have gained a brother. If they do not, shake off the rejection and go on to the next person. Surely, One far greater than Elisha has come, the great prophet Moses talked about. So let us share our witness to Jesus in a troubled world.
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