Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
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. 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. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” 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. 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.” 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.” 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.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and 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, and you shall be clean.” 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. 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.” (2 Kings 5:1–12, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Naaman was an important man, and no friend to Israel. In fact, some of the early church fathers believe he was personally responsible for the death of a previous king. He was a brave man, leader of the armies of Syria. Second only to the king, it seems. But he had a problem. He had leprosy. It was a serious problem. It was a fatal problem. All that he had, his reputation, his wealth, his position was in jeopardy. So when the little Hebrew slave girl spoke up he listened. She had faith that God could heal through the prophet Elisha. Naaman wasn't taking any chances. He went to the king to request the necessary travel arrangements. The king quickly sent him on his way with a letter of introduction. Naaman gathered up offerings, expensive gifts, and hit the road. When he arrived he wasn't well received by the King of Israel. Of course it didn't help that Syrians were in the habit of raiding the border and carrying off people and treasure. The king of Israel was naturally suspicious. But more than that, given the impossible task of healing leprosy, he was sure it was a trap to give the foreign king an excuse for another raid. What he didn't see, was God's hand at work. The little girl was a foreign missionary. She trusted in the possibility of God's work through the prophet Elisha. She spoke out in faith. Naaman listen. The king of Syria also acted in a kind of faith that something could be done. The king of Israel doubted God's willingness or ability to act, but the prophet Elisha set him straight. "Send him to me, so that he can know (as you should know!) that God's prophet is in Israel." Naaman takes his whole company to Elisha's door. And there he stands waiting for the prophet to appear. But he doesn't. Instead he sends a servant with a message. "Go and wash in the Jordan river seven times and you will be healed." Now its Naaman's time to show his true nature. He is a proud man. "I've come all this way and he sends a servant! He should come out and meet me. After all I'm an important person, not some lackey who doesn't get the attention of someone who should be my servant!" His pride is so strong he would rather die than do what the prophet said, wash in the Jordan river. He knew the river. He likely crossed it on his way. It didn't even matter that he would probably have to cross it in order to return home. The Jordan was a mud hole. The rivers in Damascus ran crystal clear. In Damascus the river water was used to irrigate the farmland. The Jordan was even worthless for that. "How can that filthy water do anything! I'm an important person, my healing needs to be done some other way." He stomped away in a tantrum. But God's Word wasn't done yet. Just like the little slave girl spoke up, Naaman's other servants speak up. "Father! (a term of respect for their master) This is an easy thing to do. If he had told you to do something difficult you'd have been right on it. What have you got to loose! All you have to do is what he said, 'Wash and be clean!'" Again Naaman listens. He sets his pride aside make the trip to the Jordan and washes away his leprosy. "... and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child." And a miracle happens. He returns to Elisha and says, "Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel." It's a kind of double baptism. His disease is washed off and left in the dirty Jordan water. His unbelief, his sin, is washed off, too, into the water. As it is all washed away in that muddy water, in the washing, God gives him faith. It is the miracle of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
It is no coincidence that many years later Jesus washes in the very same water. But he doesn't need to do it to be clean, that's what John the Baptizer says. Jesus steps into the water and John protests. "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." (Matthew 3:14-15, ESV) You see, he is going into the water with Naaman. Down there in that filthy water is Naaman's leprosy. Down there in that filthy water is Naaman's unbelief and sin. Jesus is going down in there to take it up into himself. As, the perfect and righteous Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, steps in the Jordan river, his righteousness is filled up with Naaman's leprosy, Naaman's unbelief, Naaman's sin. Jesus and Naaman down there in the water together. Naaman comes up clean. Jesus comes up filthy. Naaman goes to Elisha to confess his faith.
Surely [Jesus] has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4–5, ESV)
To the cross he goes with sin, and unbelief and disease and suffering... he dies there to put it all to death there, and bury it all in the deepest pit.
This font is your Jordan river. "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." That's you in the filthy water, up to your neck in disease, and unbelief and sin, and death. And that's Jesus standing with you down there in the filthy water. Jesus is there to take it up into himself.
How can water do such great things?
Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three:
“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” (Titus 3:5–8)
And out you come confessing your faith. Out Jesus comes and to the cross, to suffering and death, your suffering and death, for your sin. Promising you rebirth and renewal. It's the word of God, brought to you by his servants. The word of promise. The word of life.
And there's more... there's always more. Jesus' death leads to Jesus' resurrection, his restoration before God, the Father. Naaman came up out of the water with resurrection flesh, like that of a young child. Baptism is your promise of resurrection flesh.
... Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25–27, ESV)
... without spot wrinkle or blemish you will stand before Christ for all eternity, perfect and holy. Fully human, fully forgiven, forever.
And so we remember that little splash of water, that promise of healing and forgiveness, our little part of the Jordan river. Just like the little slave girl focused on God's promises, just like Naaman's servants focused on God's word of promise through Elisha, we focus on God's Word of promise here. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.