Staunton Mennonite Church
2 Kings 5:9-14
9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”
11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he 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. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.
13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
40A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
41Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
43Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44″See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 45Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
One day God was looking down from heaven and he noticed a lot of bad things going on here on earth. So God sent one of his angels to the earth to take a survey of all of the earth’s people to see how many were actually following him. The angel returned and reported to God, “Only 5% of the people are following you, God. 95% simply refuse to do what you have called them to do.”
Obviously, this upset God and God thought, “Surely this can’t be correct. I’m going to send another angel to take a survey of the earth and report back to me.” So God does this and again the report comes back, 95% of humans refuse to follow God and only 5% are following him.
So God thought long and hard about what to do with these disturbing numbers, and God decided, Hey, it’s the 21st century, so I’m going to send an email to the 5% of people that are following me to encourage them in their work for the kingdom. So that’s what God did; he sent an email to all those people who were following him. And do you know what it said? Oh, I guess you didn’t get that email either.
Now I would like to think that there are more than 5% of the people of this world that are following God and serving his son Jesus. But I wonder how many people have fully submitted their lives to Him? Because I bet that while many people would call themselves Christians, many have not fully surrendered all to Christ.
Today I want to look at the two scriptures above to see how we are to fully submit, to surrender all to God through Jesus Christ. And I hope to see that we are not to submit to God because of what we believe we can “get out of it.” And I hope to see that when we submit to God, we are to submit all of our being. We are to submit mind, body, and soul.
Both of our scriptures for this morning involve people with leprosy, a skin condition that can range from a bad rash to loss of feeling, loss of fingers and toes, and loss of life. We really can’t say for sure how severe either person’s leprosy was, but regardless, we know that this was not a condition that anyone really wanted to have.
In the passage from 2 Kings, Naaman, a leader in the army of Aram, is the one suffering from leprosy. Naaman is not an Israelite, so he would not have had to observe the purity laws, which we will discuss when we talk about the passage from Mark. But even though Naaman was not made an outcast by his affliction, it was still something that caused him problems and may even cause him his life if not tended to.
Naaman had an Israelite girl as a servant in his home and the servant girl tells him that if he were to go and see the prophet Elisha that Elisha could heal him of his affliction. So Naaman gathers up some money and some things of value and he heads off to Israel to find Elisha to be healed.
When Naaman finally found Elisha’s home, a messenger from Elisha met him at the gate with a message: Wash yourself seven times in Jordan and you will be healed. Now this made Naaman angry. Verse 11-12 says, “But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, ‘I thought that for me he would surely come out and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not the Aban and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?’ He turned and went away in a rage.”
This says something about Naaman, doesn’t it? Naaman comes to Elisha because he knows Elisha is a man of God; a prophet of the Lord. He knows Elisha has a direct link to God and from time to time is given a message from the Lord. But now Naaman is saying, “I know better than this man of God.” Or perhaps, even worse, he is saying, “I know better than God himself.” Quite a humble guy, this Naaman. But let’s leave this passage for a minute and look to the one from Mark.
In our passage from Mark we find Jesus preaching and healing in the region of Galilee. So the word is getting out about this Jesus guy and verse 40 tells us that a leper came to Jesus, begging Jesus to heal him of his leprosy.
Now this man would have been a Jew and would have had to abide by the holiness laws. This means that this man would not have had any physical contact with anyone else that was not a leper. This means that he probably couldn’t touch his old friends, he may not have been able to hug his children, he may not have been able to kiss his wife (assuming he was married with children and they did not have leprosy.) He, unlike Naaman, was a social outcast. He was required by the law to call out “Unclean” in the presence of others just so they would know to avoid being close to him. One wouldn’t want to accidentally touch him and become ceremonially unclean, would they?
So this leper is being a little bit defiant, and is actually breaking a few Jewish laws by approaching Jesus. But he does so, and he speaks to Jesus in verse 40, saying, “If you choose, you can make me clean.”
How different is his attitude than that of Naaman? Naaman comes to Elisha, knowing that Elisha is a man of God, and yet Naaman is puffed up and gets angry when Elisha suggests something as simple as washing in the Jordan. The leper in Mark’s Gospel is different because he humbly submits to Christ, knowing very well that the choice is Jesus’, saying “If you choose…”
We believe in a God that cares about his people, don’t we? We believe in a God that is near to us, a loving God, a God that hears our prayers. Now I don’t believe that anyone here would claim that God always gives us the things that we pray for, and I know that this causes some confusion at times. Why does God choose to heal some people and not others? Is it a matter of faith? Is it a matter of sin? I don’t think that we can ever sum it up that easily, even if we really wanted to. But why God chooses to heal some and not others is not our focus for today. We will never know the answer to this question as long as we are bound by our earthly minds and bodies. But what I want to point out now is that we don’t submit fully to God because of what God can do for us. We submit fully to God because God is God.
If we return to the story of Naaman, we see that Naaman had gone to Elisha with the hope that Elisha would heal him in the way that Naaman had in mind. And when things didn’t go just as Naaman had planned, he stormed off angrily and still afflicted with leprosy. But after one of his servants had a little one on one with Naaman, Naaman realized how easy it would be to submit to what God was asking of him through Elisha. And when Naaman did submit to God he was fully cleansed. His skin was made like that of a young boy, and Naaman went away proclaiming that there was no God other than the God of the Israelites. He had fully submitted to God.
Now submitting to God does not necessarily mean that God will always answer your prayers. God is not a genie. God does not say, “Your wish is my command,” cross his arms, blink his eyes, and poof, it is done. But submitting to God means that regardless of what God’s decision is, you will respect that.
Look again at the leper from Mark’s Gospel. When he tells Jesus, “If you choose, you can make me clean,” the leper is submitting himself to God through Christ. And in this submission, the leper is saying, “I know that you might not do as I wish, and I know that you might do as I wish. But I know that you can do it, and I humbly submit myself to you.” The leper is saying to Jesus, “Your wish is my desire, even if your wish is to not heal me.” Now that is fully submitting to God through Christ.
Now I want to make sure we all see that submission to God is a lot more than simply paying him lip service and saying the right things. Submission to God means turning everything over to him, including your body, your life, your will. We are to submit to God our mind, body, and soul.
Jesus tells the story in Matthew 21:28-32 about a father who had a vineyard and two sons. The father went to the first son and told him to work in the vineyard. And the son said quite straightforwardly, “I will not.” But later that day, the son did go and work in the vineyard as the father had told him.
When the father went to the second son, he told the son the same as he told the first; go work in the vineyard today. And the second son said, “I will go, sir (lord).” But he never did go to work in the vineyard. So Jesus asks the chief priests and the elders, “who did the will of the father?” To which they replied, “The first son.” And Jesus’ point is, you can say the right things, but if you don’t actually do the things you are told to do, paying lip service to God is pretty much worthless. I would say that you can put on the right clothes, say the right things, wear the cross on a necklace or a WWJD bracelet, even go to church on Sunday, but unless you submit yourself fully to God, these things are pretty much worthless.
I believe that we are all called to fully submit to God through Christ. I hope that isn’t too controversial; that we would all agree to that. But there is a trend in the Christian world that bothers me. And this trend isn’t anything new, but it has been going on since probably the 4th century (if not before). I’m talking about the practice of calling people saints.
Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that these people are dedicated followers of Jesus Christ, and some of them have done wonderful things. I don’t have a problem with the saints. I have a problem with the way the rest of us view them.
The problem that I have with Christians calling other Christians a saint is that the rest of us followers of Jesus Christ seem to write off what they have done as something special, something to be respected but something that not everyone else is called to. We look at someone like Mother Teresa and recognize that she did some wonderful things in the name of Christ. We say, “Well she was a wonderful person who fed the hungry and cared for the sick in a special way and for that we should call her a saint.” But I think that by giving these titles to people that they become someone that we respect, but we are we saying that the average Christian is not called to do the same things that they did; that we are not called to fully submit to God in the same way. Christians have been calling other Christians “saints” for hundreds, soon to be thousands of years. And I believe we call other Christians saints so that we don’t feel bad about not doing the same things and not fully submitting our lives to Christ.
Calling someone a saint seems to me to be some sort of a copout. When we see someone doing something that is commanded of all people that call themselves followers of Jesus Christ, and we don’t want to do that same thing ourselves, we call that person a saint.
And I always come back to the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5, 6, and 7, which is said to be Jesus’ clearest teaching on how Christians are to live. Jesus tells his followers that they must love their enemies, pray for those who persecute them, give freely to all those in need, go the extra mile, turn the other cheek. Jesus calls us to do some very difficult things. Jesus calls us to do things that I naturally wouldn’t want to do. I don’t want to forgive others. I don’t want to give my money or my extra things away to the poor. I don’t want to love my enemies. But Jesus tells us that we are to do these things and many Christians don’t seem to care that Jesus tells us to do these things.
Many Christians read the Sermon on the Mount and they write it off saying that this is the way things will be in heaven, that the Sermon on the Mount is eschatological. Others write off the Sermon on the Mount saying that Jesus only really expected the religious fanatics, those we might call monks, nuns, or saints, or even pastors to actually follow what Jesus told his disciples. And some people say that Jesus was merely calling our attention as humans to how much we fail in life, but that he never really expected us to follow his instructions to the T. We say that would be legalism, and Jesus was about grace.
Well guess what. I think that Jesus meant what he said. He wasn’t joking, he wasn’t just trying to get us to think about things. Jesus was telling us how we are to live as Christians, how we re to live as redeemed people. Submitting to God means following his Son daily in our lives. And full submission to God is not only for the nuns, the monks, the saints, or the pastors. Full submission to God is for all who consider themselves Christians.
So I come back to the leper in Mark’s Gospel that approached Jesus and said, “If you wish, you can heal me.” The leper knew that Jesus could heal him. The question to the leper is whether or not Jesus desires to heal him at that specific time. That my friends, is full submission to God through Jesus. We are to approach God with the same sense of humility, knowing that God is all powerful, all knowing, and all loving and able to do infinitely more than we can even imagine. We are to submit fully to him, mind, body, and soul.
When we submit ourselves to God, we say, “If you are willing, you can heal me.” But we also are willing to say that if God does not choose to heal us, that we still know that God is all powerful and all knowing, and all loving and that we will accept God’s decision. We will give our money and we will give our lives if called upon to do so. Because even if it is against our will do so, it is not our will, but God’s will that must be done, on earth as it is in heaven.