October 5, 2014

The Lie of Self-Sufficiency - Oct 5, 2014

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2 Kings 5:1-15 (ESV)

5 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. 10 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.” 11 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.’ 12 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. 13 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’?” 14 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.
15 And he returned to the man of God, he and all his aides, and came and stood before him; and he said, “Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from your servant.”
The story of Naaman shows us that the gospel can change anything, and anyone.

There was a lot of hatred and distain between the nation of Israel and the nation of Syria. They had been at war for some time now, and lately Syria was winning the battles.

But then, this great general leaves his country, and goes to Israel to secure some kind of help. It was a bit shocking that a Syrian would do this. It was even more shocking that an accomplished man like Naaman would do this.

From a distance, it looked like Naaman had his life well under control. What people couldn’t see, was that Naaman was rotting from the inside out.
As long as things are going smoothly, many have no time for God. They don’t seek him, and they don’t find him. We motor along through life, thinking that we are the captain of our own ship. WE are the reason things are going so smoothly. And it takes a serious tragedy to wake us up to the fact that we are anything but self-sufficient.
Naaman found God when he arrived at the conclusion that self-sufficiency is a lie.

The original Hebrew uses a single sentence to sum up the tragedy of Naaman’s life. It says that he was a commander in the king’s army, and was greatly respected by his king because of his success on the battlefield. Not only was he a great general, he was also a great warrior. BUT he was a leper.

He had all the right connections, he had wealth, he had power, he had skill. But it doesn’t matter what kind of storybook life you have. It doesn’t matter what kind of greatness you think you can attain. For something will ruin it.
That something may come from the outside. Someone dear to you may be dying. You yourself may contract some terminal illness. You may be betrayed by friends, or family. You may unexpectedly lose your job, or your savings.

Sometimes the thing that spoils everything comes from the inside. Perhaps some genetic flaw. Or a personality disorder. Maybe some secret addiction. Whatever it  is, you try to hide it, never letting anyone see the turmoil in your soul. But even though others may not see it, the damage still comes. Depression. Sadness. Anger. Resentment.

The Greeks had a whole genre of literature called “tragedy”, and it sprung from what they saw in life. It doesn’t matter what you think you can put together, something will ruin it. One minute you’re the king of the world, and the next minute, you’re totally lost.

But its like that country music lyric, “sometimes when you lose your way…that’s when you find yourself” (Find Yourself by Brad Paisley).

For Naaman, the first step to finding God happened when he lost his way, and began to see that self-sufficiency is an illusion.
The second step in Naaman’s journey to God was taken when he was forced to admit that the world could not help him either.

Note what Naaman had in Syria. He had powerful connections, great wealth, and personal power and skill. But these things hadn’t helped him. These things couldn’t eradicate his wasting disease. He was at the end of his rope.

But then that a little slave girl spoke up. And Naaman heard that there just might be help in Israel.

And so he packs up and goes to Israel. But he takes with him all the same things that he had depended upon previously. He takes a letter from his powerful connection, the king of Syria. He takes piles of silver and gold, his wealth. And he takes himself, the mighty warrior who had vanquished armies, and won the victory many times before.

When Naaman got to Israel, he couldn’t even begin to make any progress until he saw that these things still couldn’t help him. He had traded one king for another, one nation for another. But these still couldn’t help him.
Upon delivering his letter of recommendation to the king of Israel, the king tore his robes and proclaimed,

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” (2 Kings 5:7 NKJV).

The king of Israel was concerned that this was all just a plot to bring about an international incident.
But we won’t be too hard on Naaman here. That wasn’t his intention. He had come to the king first, because he thought that Israel’s God worked like all the other gods he had ever known.

In every other nation the religion was just an extension of the nation itself. Religion was a political tool. A form of social control, used to unite the land and control the people.

Naaman went to the king of Israel first because he thought the king must employ the prophets. Every other nation worked like this. You could buy your blessing from the gods, you just had to go through the proper channels.

By tearing his robes and making his questioning statement, the king of Israel was really saying, “You’ve come to the one place where this won’t work. Our God is transcendent. God’s prophet doesn’t say what the king pays him to say here. Salvation and blessing can’t be bought or earned here.”
If you go to the universities of today, you’ll find they think of God the same way the ancients did. God is just an extension of the culture. If you’re an Arab, you’ll be Muslim. If you’re and Indian, you’ll be Hindu. If you’re American, you’ll be Christian, or Jewish, or atheist. It’s all an extension of your culture.

The idea of a God who transcends culture, a God who is outside and above human invention—that isn’t even considered.

How are we to deal with poverty, racism, psychological breakdowns, or injustice? Well if we believe that society is the highest religion, then we’ll go to the top brains, the top managers, the top technology.

If only our experts would say what the king of Israel said. If only our therapists, professors, and political leaders would say, “I can do a lot of good, but I’m not God!” The king of Israel said, “I can’t give you what you need. Only God can solve humanity’s deepest problems.
A university student by the name of Becky Pippert once audited a counseling course at Harvard. One day a renowned professor was talking about a case that he had observed. There was a man who had all sorts of life problems. His therapist sifted through all the man’s problems and traced them back to a deep hatred that the man held against his mother. All the bitterness and anger that he held against her had distorted his life. The therapist’s analysis was impressive, and obviously spot on.

Becky raised her hand and said, “Thank you. Now, how do you help him forgive?”

The professor looked at her and said, “I think what the therapist would say to the man is, ‘Lots of luck.’”

At this the students became a little upset. Isn’t forgiveness something that can relieve suffering? Shouldn’t the therapist help the man to forgive?

The professor responded, “Look, we’re scientists. Forgiveness is a matter of right and wrong, a matter of values. Who’s to say who’s right or wrong? Now you’re getting into the area of faith.”

If Becky was looking for a changed heart, she was looking in the wrong department. You have to turn to God for a forgiving heart. The world can’t give you the things you need most.
When Elisha the prophet heard that the king had torn his robes, he sent him a short message.

Why have you torn your clothes? Please let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel” (2 Kings 5:8b NKJV).

Elisha didn’t say Naaman needed a miracle worker. What he needed was the truth about God. In the end that was what Naaman found. He came seeking relief for his physical suffering, but what he found was the God who forgives sins.

It really was a revolutionary thing that Naaman came to believe. In the end he professed…

“Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel…” (2 Kings 5:15a NKJV).

For a Syrian to say that, for anyone outside Israel to say that, was astounding. He went for a cure, but something greater happened. The nature of the cure drove out his false beliefs.
Naaman thought his biggest problem was his leprosy. But really, it was his self-sufficiency. It was his self-sufficiency that made him live life for himself instead of for the God who created him. What he really needed was a cure for the leprosy of his soul. He needed to shift from thinking that he could earn his own salvation with his skills and high standing. He needed  to rest in God’s free grace.

Elisha helped Naaman to see all this in the way he prescribe the cure for his outer leprosy.
When mighty Naaman pulls up outside Elisha’s door, Elisha doesn’t even leave the house. He just sends a lowly messenger.

To Naaman’s surprise there will be no flourish of hands from the prophet, no spectacle. Elisha wouldn’t have Naaman believe that any power of his own was the basis of this healing.

Nor would there be some great assignment for Naaman to accomplish. That would have been more in line with Naaman’s thinking. He had come prepared for that. A note from the king of Syria, piles of silver and gold, and a readiness to do whatever great deed the prophet asked of him.

If Elisha had said, “Yes, I’ll heal you, but only if you bring me the broom of the wicked witch of the west!” Naaman would have agreed. THAT would be something he could do! Blessing comes to the great, right? And he was great. He was able. He was a mighty man of valor.

The way of cure that the prophet actually offered was an insult to mighty Naaman. Wash?! Anybody can wash! Any child or weakling can wash! Prostitutes, murderers, and thieves can wash! Was the prophet really saying that there was no difference between those people and the mighty Naaman?!

And so away he stormed.
If there’s really a God who created you and keeps you alive every second of the day, then you should be living primarily for him. But few do. Most often we live for ourselves. And we only go to God when there’s a snag in life.

The truth is, we’re completely dependent on God for all things. And that complete dependence on God for earthly things should lead us to see that if we are to obtain forgiveness for our sins, and eternal salvation—that will have to be God’s gift, like everything else. Our greatest need in life is like all our other needs—something that God must supply.
The true God has incredibly high standards. He says, “I am holy. I will not clear the guilty. And the debt is too big for them to pay. If they are to have salvation, it must be by my grace. It must be my gift.”

In Romans 3 it says,

“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-25 ESV).

That’s what Naaman couldn’t understand. His self-sufficiency taught him to believe if you want something, you have to earn it. But the greatest deed to receive salvation is to admit there is no deed to be done. No matter how hard you try, you can’t earn it. But this is too hard, too humbling, too scary, too wonderful to allow yourself to believe it.

Like writer John Gersner once wrote,

“If you want to be a Christian all you need is need, and all you need is nothing, and very few people have that” (John Gersner).

The great deed that Naaman thought he could do, someone else did. Jesus Christ went through an ocean of divine justice and wrath. He went to the cross and took all the punishment of our sins. He went out and he slayed the dragon for us.

That’s why we just wash. What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts, and your minds, in Christ Jesus.

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