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Cleansing Power: Receiving New Birth by Faith

January 14, 2024 Preacher: Kevin Godin Series: Various Messages

Topic: New Birth Scripture: 2 Kings 5:1-15

Sermon Trnascript:

One of the things my wife Beth and I enjoy is visiting old lighthouses. I’ve told this story before, but several years ago, we were in the upper peninsula of Michigan and we decided to go see the lighthouse at Crisp Point on Lake Superior. I'm pretty sure you have never heard of Crisp Point because it is literally in the middle of nowhere. I wasn’t even sure how to get there, so we  picked up a map from a group of lighthouse enthusiasts. The map had us going like 30 miles in the opposite direction and then catching a road that ran along the coast back up to the point. But when I got in the car, I noticed the GPS showed an unnamed road that went from the main highway basically straight up there.

Beth suggested we ask somebody, obviously that was a crazy idea, so I headed down my newly discovered road. At first it was gravel but after several miles, it became a logging road. Just two dirt tracks with grass growing in the center. Several more miles and it was basically a trail. Parts of it were grown over and in other places we were driving on nothing but sand or mud. Keep in mind, we weren't driving a Jeep or a Land Rover, we were in an SUV that we had just purchased. Thankfully, we had 4 wheel drive or this could have gone differently.

Finally, this road connected to a regular road and we made it. When we got out, the car was encased with dirt and mud and there were branches and vegetation sticking out all over the place. Let’s just say by this point Beth was not too happy. The truth is I didn’t know how to get there and rather than trust the word of those who did know, I decided to do it myself. A lot of trouble could have been avoided if I had just listened, but my pride got in the way.

It is often like that in our spiritual lives isn’t it? Jesus came from heaven knowing we are lost and unable to make the journey. He promises us if we stop trying to get there on our own and just trust and follow him he will take us there. But often our pride lures us into trusting ourselves and we insist on trying to live our own way. Even as believers, we encounter unnecessary difficulties simply because we fail to trust God’s promises.

This tendency to rely on our own understanding, to chart our own course without seeking divine direction, reflects a deeper issue - the illusion of self-sufficiency. The gospel, however, points to something starkly different. Salvation is not something we can achieve through our own efforts or wisdom. Salvation comes through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Unlike my trip to Crisp Point, there truly is only one way to heaven and that is to trust in the salvation that God offers through faith in Jesus.

That brings me to the main point of our message this morning,

Those who abandon self-sufficiency and trust instead in God's promises will be saved.

We have a clear illustration of this in our passage this morning. In fact, we will see several examples of different reactions to God’s word and the results of each, but our main focus will be on the blessing that comes from setting aside our pride and trusting God. If you have your Bible please turn with me to 2 Kings, chapter 5. We will begin at verse 1.

1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. 2 Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

We are introduced to this great man, a general of the armies of Syria, and a man with great influence. Syria was one of the superpowers of the world at that time. Naaman is a very powerful and important man, but we are also told he was a leper. He had a debilitating and disfiguring skin disease. There was no cure and those who had it were often quarantined until their death. Naaman had everything the world could offer, wealth, power, and influence but also had this crippling disease which brought him shame and would eventually bring death.

We are also introduced to a slave girl that worked in his home. She had been kidnapped from her home in Israel and forced into service in the home of this enemy commander. Although she had been kidnapped, her faith is strong. Rather than celebrating her captor’s misfortune she shows grace and shares good news with him that there is healing available through God. 

How often do we look at other sinners and pridefully think they are getting what they deserve rather than sharing the good news that healing is available? How often are we tempted to take pleasure at the misfortune of our enemies rather than pity them as she does here? This girl has nothing in this world. She isn’t even given a name, but she is rich in hope because she trusts God.

She probably didn't understand why her life was so difficult. Maybe you don’t understand why God has you where you are either, but watch what God will do through her childlike faith. You may not know what God is doing at this moment in your life, but you can trust that he has a loving purpose in it. You are not here or listening by accident. Neither was she. This poor girl, who isn’t even named, shares her trust in God with Naaman’s wife and he is healed and God is glorified because of her faith.

Brothers and sisters, we don't have to have impressive positions to serve the Lord. You don’t have to be a great preacher or evangelist. If you believe the gospel all you need is the confidence to tell others about what God has done and has promises still to do. We are not called to save people, we don’t have that power. We are called to point those who need salvation to the lord. We need only the faith that God will save those who go to him. Trust that God keeps his promises. I pray God would give each of us the faith he gave this little girl. Because of her simple faith, God was glorified and many have been blessed. Beginning with Naaman and down through the ages, perhaps even again this morning.

4 So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” 5 And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. 6 And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

When Naaman hears about this he tells his boss, the King, what the girl said, and the King approves. In fact, the king turns this into an official diplomatic visit. He writes the King of Israel a letter and gives him what is today around 7 million dollars. The Syrian king is communicating he wants Naaman to get the best care and attention and he wants to be sure the purpose of his coming isn’t misunderstood. Remember, Syria and Israel are enemies and Naaman is the commander of the army. There is a lot that could go wrong here.

7 And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”

When the king of Israel reads the letter, he thinks the Syrian king will use this as an excuse to go to war. He tears his clothes, which was a sign of great distress. He is terrified. We can understand his concern but his reaction is the opposite of the little slave girl. A lack of faith.

He did not trust in the promises of God or the power of his grace. He should have known better than most the nature of God’s grace, but he was blind to it. God had brought an enemy to the king, seeking a blessing but the king had no faith in the promises of God. In Genesis 12:2–3 God says to Israel,

2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”     

He was supposed to be a representative of God and yet he never even considers the power or promises of God. It doesn’t occur to him to summon the prophet or apparently even to pray. Instead of pointing the world to the one true God the king looks only to his own abilities and resources which leads to despair. 

How often do we do this? We are anxious because we look only to ourselves rather than to God to provide. Sadly, it is not uncommon for even those called to be messengers of the grace and goodness of God to fail to trust in it. Although God’s ministers sometimes let us down, God never does. The king is in despair…

8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.”

The prophet Elisha rebukes the king for his lack of faith. Although the King cannot cure leprosy God certainly can. Elisha trusts God and so he tells the king to send the general to him. This is an opportunity for God to show that he is greater than the false Gods of Syria and Elisha says let him come so that he may know there is a prophet in Israel. Unlike the king, he trusts in the God of Israel.

Like the little girl, Elisha’s has no hesitation inviting others to come and see and taste that the Lord is good. He is bold in his invitation and assured that God would act somehow to bring glory to his name. Oh, that God would grant us all hearts of faith like this. That we would be so satisfied in the goodness of God that we unhesitatingly invite everyone to come and see, knowing they will not be disappointed

9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.”

Can you picture this scene in your mind? Here comes the great general of the Syrian army attended to by all his servants and chariots and horses and wagons filled with treasure. It makes me think of that scene in Aladdin when prince Ali first comes to Agrabah. 

I’m not sure exactly where Elisha lived, but I am guessing it wasn’t exactly a palace, and down the road comes this parade. It must have been quite a scene! The great and mighty Naaman has arrived with his entourage. Elisha, however, is not impressed. In fact, he doesn’t even come out to greet him. Instead, he just sends out a messenger that tells him to wash in the Jordan river seven times.

Basically, he keeps Naaman waiting out on the porch. There is no official greeting, no pomp and circumstance, nothing. Naaman isn’t used to being treated like this. He is used to being acknowledged and treated as someone of importance. Elisha actually sends him the answer he was seeking but Naaman misses the point.

He is so absorbed with his own expectations he doesn’t grasp the deep and glorious truth that the prophet shared. It is a deep and glorious truth we need to hear as well. What is required to be healed is not a great deed or a great donation, but faith in the word of God. It means recognizing that you cannot obtain it except by receiving it humbly as a gift of God’s grace, so rather than being thankful, he is offended. Verse 11 says, 

11 But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. 12 Are not Abana and 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.

Now we learn something else about Naaman. Not only did he have leprosy of the skin, he also had leprosy of the heart. It was not just his body that was disfigured by a fatal disease, so was his soul. Naaman’s heart was infected with pride. Naaman isn’t just disappointed, he is in a rage. The word of God does not just disappoint him, it offends him. God gave him an answer, but he didn’t want to hear that answer because it did not accommodate his own high view of himself.

Although he was desperately sick, Naaman was not prepared to be humbled and so he was insulted by the good news he has received. He thinks, I have traveled a great distance at great expense and the prophet will not even come out and acknowledge me? 

Doesn’t he know who I am? Did he not see all the treasures and gifts I brought with me and am willing to give so that I may be blessed? Naaman expects there to be some kind of production. He says, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place

It is often the case with sinners that we are attracted to the show rather than the truth. Theologian A.W. Tozer observed,

It is now common practice in most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God's professed children are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games and refreshments.”

He wrote this in the late 1950’s. I can only imagine what he would think now. I want you to know that we at Redeeming Grace have nothing to offer you but the gospel. It is easy to find more compelling speakers, better musicians, facilities, and more exciting activities elsewhere. All we have is Christ, but I promise you, the more you come to know him, the more you will see that is enough.

God offers Naaman healing but rather than receive the word in faith and obey, he is looking for an impressive display. He is at the very door of salvation and yet because of his pride he is tempted to turn away. 

How many sinners have come right up to the door and never been cleansed because of pride. How many have turned away in anger rather than humbling themselves because a simple promise to be received by faith did not seem enough to them? They have heard the good news God offers but are looking for something more. They want the gospel plus. They are disappointed with the good news because it requires us to forsake everything else and trust entirely in God’s promise alone. 

As your pastor, I pray you will be so satisfied with Christ and so amazed at the grace of your salvation and so confident in God’s word that you need nothing more than his promises to satisfy you and drive you to worship. I pray if the word is faithfully preached, you never leave disappointed.

Naaman wants God to work according to his expectations and in a way that makes sense to his view of things. He is still focused only on the outward things and his pride makes the word he has heard difficult to accept. He says,

12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?”

I don't know if any of you have ever seen the Jordan river, but as far as rivers go, it isn’t very impressive. We aren’t talking about the Nile or the Amazon. Naaman assumes that the effectiveness in his obedience comes from the works themselves. How could the muddy Jordan be better than the clear and clean water of the rivers at home? Do you see how pride has blinded him?

He is the one in need. He is the one with the problem but when the answer doesn’t meet his expectations he rejects it. Isn’t that how it is with us sinners? God’s word tells us all we need to know to be healed and to find peace and yet we think we know better. We rob ourselves of peace because we worry and resist rather than trust and obey. 

Well Naaman, if your rivers are so good what are you doing here? If your answers are so much better than what God offers, why do you still suffer with leprosy? The priests, Kings, and prophets of Syria couldn't help him, and he has traveled all this way but is still unwilling to trust God’s promise and take a simple step of faith

13 But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 

Once again, the wisdom of the servants is contrasted with the foolishness of the mighty. First it was the little slave girl and now the servants. They point out to him that Elisha has actually offered him what he came for. The letters, the treasure, the journey, everything was prepared for him to come and be clean and this is exactly what is offered to him. How could he turn back now?

In fact, the Hebrew here can actually be read with a little stronger push back. The NASB translated it like this,

…My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”

He has tried everything else. He was willing to come this far and has no other options, what does he have to lose? If you have not yet put your faith in Christ, what do you have to lose?

He should be celebrating that all that is required is a simple act of faith rather than some great work. They basically tell him to trust God and see what happens. Verse 14,

14 So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.  

Naaman finally submits to God’s word. The word repent means to turn around and go the other direction and that is literally what happens with Naaman. His initial reaction was to turn away, but now he turns around. He responds in obedience to the word he has been given and through his faith he receives a new lease on life.

In fact, he gets more than healing. His skin isn’t just restored to the scarred and rugged skin of a warrior who had seen years of battle. It is made spotless and soft like a little baby. It is as if he is born again. 

As I reflected on this, what struck me was how absolutely scandalous this is. Naaman is the commander of the army of one of Israel’s fiercest enemies. Many of God’s people have died and suffered because of him. Anyone who killed or captured him in battle would have been a national hero and yet when he is on the verge of death, Elisha has healed him! 

This is outrageous! It would be similar to a Hamas leader being healed and blessed by a prominent Israeli leader today. It would be like Osama bin Laden coming to the best hospital in New York and receiving a life-saving surgery and then being sent home with the blessing of the city. It is shocking.

But do you know what else is just as shocking and just as scandalous? That salvation is offered to you and me. Brothers and sisters, our story is not very different from Naaman’s. What God does physically for Naaman is an illustration of what he does spiritually for every sinner that is saved.

We too were enemies of God and his people. The grace shown to us is just as outrageous. We too were afflicted with a fatal spiritual leprosy that cannot be cured by any means known to the world. Our salvation cannot be bought with great treasure or earned through great deeds. Our only hope is to set aside our pride, to be humbled and to go to Christ, accept the promise of his word by faith.  

There is nothing in us that is attractive or worth saving. The rebellion of our hearts against God is evidenced by the sin in our lives and every one of us knows that we have broken God’s laws. We have failed to live up to our own standards, let alone God’s standard of perfect righteousness. But in an act of tremendous mercy and love the holy God stooped to provide salvation to guilty sinners. God’s grace is amazing because it is poured out on his enemies.

Jesus came from heaven and lived a perfect life as a man, the life we were supposed to live. He fulfilled all righteousness, earning all the rewards God intended for his people. Then in an act of amazing grace, Jesus the innocent, took upon himself the guilt of all who would ever believe in him. He offered himself in our place and was crucified as payment for our sin on a cross where he died. Then after three days, he rose again, proving that the justice of God had been satisfied.

By the shedding of his blood, we, who were enemies, are forgiven. Not only that, but we who were rebels are adopted as sons and daughters of God made heirs of his kingdom. His blood purchased our new birth and the promise of eternal life. But we do not deserve this salvation. It comes to us by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Our sin is no less repulsive than Naaman’s leprosy. Just like Naaman our only hope of salvation is to accept the promise of God by faith. To trust him when he says that all who believe in Jesus will be raised up on the last day.

If, by God’s grace, you have come to understand that you are a sinner in need of salvation, then be glad because God has sent his son to save sinners. Jesus did not come to save good people. There are none. Nobody is good enough to earn a place in heaven. We are not saved by our great love for God, but his great love for us. Therefore as we come to the throne of grace let us be glad to accept in faith the promise of healing and not be proud of our earthly treasures and glory. 

Remember our main point?

Those who abandon self-sufficiency and trust instead in God's promises will be saved.

If you are not yet a believer in Jesus and are hearing this message, I want you to know you are standing at the very door of your salvation. Don’t turn away. God is offering you healing and peace and joy this very minute. You know your way isn’t working. Trust his word and put your hope for salvation in Christ alone and be washed clean.

In his death, burial, and resurrection Jesus has paid the price for sin and offers eternal life to all who will put their faith in him as their lord and savior. He is true to his word and his blood is sufficient. The price has been paid. 

The only thing that can keep you from receiving eternal life, resurrection, and a peace and joy that goes beyond all understanding is your own pride and unbelief. God is not reluctant to save. Just as God washed away Naaman’s leprosy in the muddy waters of the Jordan river, he promises to wash away your sins on the bloody cross of Calvary if you will repent and believe.

If you are already a believer in Jesus, I pray you and I will have the child-like faith of that little slave girl and point others with confidence to a gracious God so that they may also be saved. I pray whenever we are tempted to be proud, we remember that everything we have of any eternal value has come to us only through the scandal of God’s great mercy in loving those who do not deserve it.

I would like to finish this morning with the exhortation of the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 5:6–7,

6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.    

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