Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sermon Notes for Feb 27, 2011

2 Kings 5:1-27
Sermon for Heritage Center
Sunday, February 27, 2009 9:30 AM

The story in 2 Kings is a wonderful account of grace at work in so many different situations. And then, after such tremendous display of grace, one character makes a horrid blunder and makes mockery of grace.

I. The First Act of Grace: Kindness to a slave girl (5:1-5)

            There are four central characters in the story:

                        1) Naaman: his credentials
                                    a) captain of the King of Aram’s army
                                    b) great man with his master
                                    c) highly respected
                                    d) a valiant warrior
                                    e) a leper

There are those (ISBE, John Gray) who think that this was not the humiliating type of leprosy that got one kicked out of the Israel camp as in Lev. 13:46. I don’t agree with that logic. First the LXX translate the word for leprosy in 2 Kings 5:1 the same as in Leviticus 13. Second, the Levitical law applied to the Israelites; the Arameans would likely adhere to a different set of teachings. Third, others (Keil & Delitzsch) believe just that: Arameans with leprosy could still hold a very high position in society. Fourth, later on we will see that this horrid disease was transferred to Gehazi and he became white as snow (5:27).
Whatever the case, Naaman is no municipal lightweight. He is a very influential man in very high standing with the king! Naaman is no slouch! Naaman overcame his handicap, and became a great man in society.

                        2) Israelite girl: captured by Arameans
                                    a) an Israelite
                                    b) a servant of Naaman’s wife

I am not going to push this very far, but here is the general mindset in the Ancient Near Eastern world, the world of OT Israel. Two points:

            (1) The king of a country is construed as a god. Why could the prophet of God go to the King of Israel and rebuke him? It is only in Israel that the King was considered under God. This would never happen in heathen nations. Nobody had the privilege of chastising a king: you could easily get your head lopped off for that.   

            (2) The state of the land determined the status of the land’s god. Obviously Aram has some dominance over Israel that they can come and successfully raid the land and capture a girl for servant purposes. By this virtue, Aram likely saw their god as superior to Israel’s God.

Here is the question: How much of a risk to her life was the suggestion she made to Naaman’s wife? By implication, the little girl is essentially saying, “Your god is too puny. Naaman is not healed. I know of a God Who could heal your husband. He speaks through a prophet in Samaria!” Can you imagine how potentially insulting a remark that is?

There are two lessons to learn from this young servant girl:

            (1) Her faith. Look what is involved in this suggestion. She has radically upset the day planner for Naaman. He is going to have to adjust his appointments, and he will have to take some days off to travel to Samaria and find this prophet. This is no small issue, dear friends. But she believes God will heal Naaman! She does not just think God can, she believes God will!

            (2) Her boldness. What if she is wrong and he comes home having not been healed? This simply is not an option for her. She knows Naaman will be cured. And she boldly says it!

Lord, o that we may have such faith and such boldness!

Here is the first act of grace: Naaman accepts the girl’s suggestion. She is just a young foreign servant girl! And yet this prominent, influential and great man receives her advice, and so does the king. That is grace.

But perhaps the desperation of Naaman over rules all malice, and he is ready for any suggestion. And off he goes!

            The first act of grace disgraced: Naaman’s payment

Naaman is going prepared. He assumes this is going to be costly, and he is coming ready for what the invoice will be. Does he have a surprise coming that would make a Mennonite giddy?

II. The Second Act of Grace: Elisha’s Kindness to King Jehoram (5:6-8)

            The Next 2 Main Characters:

                        (3) Jehoram, King of Israel
                                    a) the son of the evil former King of Israel, Ahab
                                    b) Jehoram was likewise an evil king in the Lord’s sight
                                    c) he clung to the sins of Jeroboam
                                    d) he made Israel sin
                                    e) he had an unrepentant heart
                                    f) he did not get along with Elisha
                                    g) neither did Elisha get along with Jehoram (3:13-14)

                        (4) Elisha, prophet of God

The issue is that the King of Aram, thinking that perhaps the King was the highest in the land as far as power or having closest contact with God, sends Jehoram a letter stating that Naaman is coming to him to be healed. Friends, you have to appreciate the situation! It’s utterly hilarious. Aram has shown itself to be somewhat superior to Israel, making Jehoram a subordinate to King Aram, and here the greater is requesting the lesser for a miracle the greater has not been able to produce. And the inferior Jehoram panics! Jehoram doesn’t even have a close relationship with God- it seems from his history!

Here is grace! Elisha hears of it, and Elisha steps in. Why? So that “he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.” What is he saying? Remember, if you really boil all the water out of the pot, you’ll find a prophet, in Israel, is superior to the King. And what is a prophet? God’s minister! What is Elisha really saying? That you may know that there is a God in Israel. Jehoram is obviously not ruling in a manner to give anyone the impression that there is a prophet or a God in Israel.

The grace is that Elisha, who has no love affair with the King, comes to the rescue of his king, but even more importantly, Elisha is exceedingly more concerned about the name of God being exalted in Israel. And he sees an occasion to seize the opportunity to do just that- exalt the name of Yahweh!

And here comes Naaman with his horses and chariots, and parks in front of Elisha’s door. Imagine the scene. Hey, he has a lot of gifts to haul around.

I will jump over the account of Naaman being cured of leprosy, and pause to make some observations in the conversation subsequent to the miracle of healing.

III. The Third Act of Grace: Healing at no Cost (3:15-19)

            Naaman came with no short supply of gifts. Let’s try to consider the monstrosity of this gift. We know that the going price for a slave was about 30 shekels of silver. Joseph was bought on sale for 20 shekels. One talent equals 3000 shekels. Naaman had took along 10 talents of silver, or 30,000 shekels- with this amount, he could have bought 1000 slaves. How about the gold? Naaman transported 6000 shekels of gold with him to Israel. Now this is not such an overwhelming stupendous amount of cash considering that in 1 Kings 9:14 Hiram the King of Tyre brought King Solomon 360,000 shekels of gold! But 6000 shekels is still quite the sum of loose change.

What ever the value of the currency, Elisha wants no part of it. There is some follow-up urging by Naaman that Elisha change his mind, but the prophet is steadfast- he will have no  part in taking any form of payment. “Transactions make sense to people, especially people of power. Grace does not. Elisha’s refusal makes Naaman think again about how this God of Israel operates. It rubs his nose in grace” (Gaiser, 2010, p. 66).

Now there is a very interesting twist in the story.At first reading, this sure brought a chuckle to me. Try to place yourself as a fly on the wall of this scene. Naaman cannot give a present, so he asks for one: two mules’ load of dirt! Why ask for that? Just go down the road and scoop up some dirt!

Naaman is a bit like my dad was. He liked soil, and when I went to Paraguay his request was that I bring back some earth from there. Needless to say when I got to Winnipeg, Customs took it away from me. So I never tried that trick again.

Why on earth would Naaman want soil? Makes no sense, does it?

Here is how Fredrick J. Gaiser explains it. A deeply troubling situation for followers of Yahweh was how “to sing  the Lord’s song in a foreign land” (Ps. 137:4).Could Naaman’s dirt loads have a deeper theological significance in relation to that same problem? How was he going to worship God in his country where it would be almost unavoidable for him not to participate in the religious ceremonies of Rimmon, god of Aram.  The reader of this story knows that God is not bound to the borders of Israel. After all, God blessed Naaman with military victory. However, God has made certain promises about the land of Israel. When God divided up the land among the tribes of Israel, this showed how God granted them their inheritance- it was a sign of their participation in the promises of God. By asking for some land, that which became a sign to the Israelites that they had participated and were benefactors, or beneficiaries of His promises, Naaman is asking that he to now wants to share in the tribal inheritance of the land. In a way, Naaman has become an Israelite, a recipient of the promise, and for him it was not by birth, but by faith. Naaman is not at all attributing anything magical to this dirt, but it is a sacrament; it is the stuff of the earth that God has associated with the divine promise.

Naaman has much more than a physical healing experience (something he could not pay for); Naaman has a spiritual conversion experience (something he did not bargain for). Naaman simply wants a symbolic reminder that he to now shares in the promises God made to Israel, and the soil will remind him of that.

It is almost a hilarious scene. The soil becomes a more valuable commodity than all his gold, silver and changes of clothes. The soil reminds him of God’s promises which are of infinitely more value than the finite, temporal, passing riches of this world.

Conclusion: Grace Disgraced (5:20-27)

            Our last main character
                        5) Gehazi
                                    a) Elisha’s servant
                                    b) a bit of a weirdo: tries to push away the Shunammite woman                                                             from Elisha in 2 Kings 4:27 and Elisha rebukes him.
                                    c) a greedy self-centered man in 2 Kings 5

The story ends on a negative note, a sad conclusion to a very sad beginning, a very happy middle part, but a dismal ending.

Naaman is assured he can go in peace, and in peace he leaves for home. It just bugs Gehazi that Elisha did not take anything from Naaman, and so Gehazi says, “As the LORD lives, I will run after him and take something from him.” This is very important to notice: Compare this to what Elisha says in 5:16- “”As the LORD lives, before whom I stand, I will take nothing.” You see the difference? Gehazi omits the middle phrase: Before whom I stand or as the RSV has it whom I serve.

Does that not send up some flags? There is something amiss with this Gehazi fella.

Naaman sees Gehazi pursuing him, and Naaman is worried. Concerning Naaman’s question, “Is all well?” a better translation of the Hebrew would be, “Is there peace?” Elisha has sent Naaman off with a blessing of peace. Gehazi is coming, and the first thing Naaman is concerned about is not his money, but his peace. Gehazi returns the blessing that there is peace, but the buffoon cannot be trusted. He blatantly lies that Elisha has sent him, he lies about the two sons of the prophets, he lies to Elisha what he has done, and he takes the clothes and gold all for himself and he takes the name of the LORD in vain by his Godless saying in 20b. Gehazi does not accomplish one righteous act in this entire section. And he is the servant of one the greatest prophets of God! How can it be?

But this is not his greatest flaw!  What Gehazi has done is undone all that Elisha did. The peace Elisha bestowed upon Naaman and been called into question by Gehazi. Yahweh’s  religion of grace and forgiveness produces healing and peace. Gehazi’s world of rewards and exploitation produces dis-ease. Gehazi has successfully undermined Elisha’s determination to keep Yahweh’s grace free. By coming in the name of Elisha, Gehazi, using his master’s name for accreditation has compromised Naaman’s understanding of Yahweh. What Gehazi is doing is bringing Naaman back to the exact works oriented, rewards motivated, legalistic religion every nation other than Israel was trapped in. Elisha brought him out of that sordid pit of despair, and now this lunatic Gehazi, based solely on his decrepit self-centered ambitions, has negated all that which Yahweh gave through Elisha.

Is it any wonder why Gehazi received such horrible a reward as he did? As Mark 9:42 says, “And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.”

What ever became of Naaman? We don’t know. We just know that Jesus makes some stunning statements in Mark 4:24-27. One reason His teachings drove the Synagogue mad was that the story of Naaman would have evoked the same response from the Synagogue as from Gehazi: My master let Naaman off the hook too easily. What he and the Synagogue are saying is that the nations around Israel exist for Israel’s enmity and exploitation, and not nations with whom we are to share our divine favor with! Preposterous!

Folks, we are not only the recipients of God’s grace, but we are also ministers of His grace. I trust as we have heard this message that we will know how it applies to our life.

Go in grace, go in peace.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Getting New Hope in Hopeless Situations

Exodus 6:9 is indeed a low spot in the hearts of the Israelites. This is emphatically stressed by the complete rejection of all that precedes 6:9. According to the NASB, there are 15 confirmation, assurance, hope, promise and character citations of God. That's in excess of one per verse.This includes 5 references to Who God is, 2 cites of God admitting He has heard the pleas of the oppressed people, and 7 poignant statements of what God will do for them. And all this is met with this sad rejection: "but they did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage.(NLT: "So Moses told the people of Israel what the LORD had said, but they refused to listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the brutality of their slavery.")

Sometimes it seems things have to get worse before they get better.

As the story proceeds, it is evident that God worked on behalf of His people in spite of His people's continued broken spirit. This gives strong support to the eradication of faith being a necessity for God's intervention to happen. These people had no faith. Moses' faith is on shifting sand. At times great faith moves the heart of God, and at times it seems God simply helps us when we have not even the grunt to pray.

The issue is focus.Situations do not have the power to make me despondent. I make myself despondent. And this happens when the cross-hairs hope are lined up with something of this world. I desire to be were Habakkuk was at the end of the book. Every earthly hope was shattered! Yet his hope in Yahweh was firm. God would eventually intercede. The last verse in Habakkuk makes me chuckle. "He has made my feet like hinds' feet." Deer are seemingly always alert, jumping and bounding about.

The last few days have had many prayer partners inform me they are especially burdened to pray more for us. Thank-you so much. This has made the days easier. At times i border close to despondency. On occasions I can feel a broken spirit. We hope, and hope, and nothing seems to work to beat down the cancer. "Hope deferred makes the heart sick" (Proverbs 13:12). But the Holy Spirit has kept me hopeful. Your prayers keep me going. Thanks so much. I know God will come through in a marvelous way in the end. I believe that with all my heart. We continue to aim at the hope laid before us which is the anchor of our soul (Hebrews 6:18f).

Reviving a Broken Spirit

The inaugural voyage with the new 03 Hertiage Classic took us to the Grand Canyon. Brian was riding a FJ1200 Yamerhammer. He has never been short of words in attempts to vilify the durability of a Hog, but I had the last chuckle when his tank came off in Cortez, CO to do some carb work, mixed in with continuous chekcing on his clutch which finally necessitated him using the center stand to start the bike, and roll of the stand to get going. By Cheyenne, WY, the clutch was about done for. He made it home without a clutch.

The real laugh of the whole trip was Brian suggesting we take a short cut in the bottom of Utah. We came south on SH 12 which runs the western edge of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. We took a break at a small gas-and-grab country store at Cannonville. The thermometer read 106 F (in the shade). It was a calm, hot, sunny day. I took out the trusted H.O.G. map of Utah, and Brian noticed a line from Cannonville south to US 89 just east of Big Water, UT. He sarcastically remarked that it must be a good road since it was included in the H.O.G. map. So why not take it? We asked two people for advice. The lady in the store said don't take the road. It was a dirt road and it was bad. Our second opinion came from an old man driving an old beat up Ford pick-up. I knew we should not have taken his advice when I saw what he was driving. We took the road. Apparently the scenery would be worth it. I never saw much of the scenery. It's hard to look to the side when you all you have is a road that demands your full occupation with attention. At a temp of 106, and speeds of 10 mph because of the bumps and loose sand and those horrible short choppy sand-washboards, I was just happy I had no dentures to pop out.

How my air cooled HD did not seize up under such stress is truly a testimony of Harley Davidson's quality engineering and manufacturing. Today, after 117,000 kms, that bike still runs like a well oiled top.

But I still can't explain why we took a short cut on that trip. Nobody was more thankful to see US 89 than I was. That is my most memorable ride to date. That's one road I will not travel again!