Summary: A Biblical look at baptism and the place it has in the believer's life
Many years ago, there was a man of Syria named Naaman. He was a commander in the Aramean army, a valiant soldier, and he developed the infectious skin disease we know as leprosy. You have to understand, getting leprosy wasn’t like acne or poison ivy. Leprosy was a death sentence. Its Hebrew name means “a stroke or smiting” because getting it was considered being hit with divine judgment – kind of like the way we look at getting hit by a bolt of lightning.
Getting the infection meant basically 2 things: first, that you were a total outcast from society. In Jewish society, at least, lepers were forced to go and live off to themselves, because what they had was so hideous and contagious. No one wanted it. Secondly, leprosy meant slowly dying, a little at a time. As fingers and toes and limbs wasted away, so did the leper’s hope of any kind of recovery. There was no cure. Today, though it’s much more under control, there are still countries where some form of leprosy is a serious problem.
Naaman’s situation was so obviously serious, a little slave girl in his home says, (2 Kings 5:3) "If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." His situation is so obviously desperate in his own eyes that he listens. And his need is so great that he goes to the land of his enemies, not only armed with a letter from his king, but also with a load of gold, silver, and clothing as a gift, to seek help.
What motivates such a respected man, recognized as a great leader in his nation, to humble himself, take a bunch of gifts, get a letter of recommendation, and go to the land of his enemies to ask if they might be so kind as to help him?
Leprosy. Naaman looks in his mirror at a man without hope. Rimmon, his god, hadn’t helped. In that day, leprosy pretty well marked the beginning of your end, and Naaman didn’t want to end yet! At least, not that way! He was infected with a disease. He was wanting, and he was seeking a cure.
To what extremes might you go to be cured? We don’t get leprosy. To what might we compare it – something that makes you an outcast and spells the end? How about the leprosy of our era…how about…AIDS? Imagine, now, looking in the mirror at a person who’s HIV positive – a person infected and without hope. Would you at least do some research and look into what might help you? Would you learn about it and about any progress being made in treating it? To what extremes might you go financially, with your diet, your time, and would you want to be treating just the symptoms, or try to cure the disease? Maybe now you can appreciate the mental state of Naaman the Syrian as he travels to Samaria.
Elisha the prophet hears about Naaman and sends word for him to come over to his place. So, Naaman and his horses and chariots all pull up at Elisha’s gate. Ding-dong. Elisha doesn’t come out. Elisha doesn’t invite Naaman in. Instead, he sends out a messenger – monkey boy. (v10) "Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed."
Naaman has a dumb moment: “What? You’d think he’d at least come out and speak to me in person! I thought he’d come out and wave his hand over me and, badda-bing badda-boom, fix it! Wash in the Jordan? Stupid Israelites! We’ve got better rivers back home!”
Do you see the problem with that response? If a man is so infected, if his life is so without hope, if he’s willing to humble himself, go to the land of his enemies, and offer to pay a huge reward, does it make sense that he’d refuse to do something so simple? His servants saw the problem, and they realized the foolishness of turning around and going home in a huff. (v13) 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'!" Naaman comes to his senses. He goes to the Jordan River. He washes there…1X…no change…2X…3X…7X and (v14) “his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.”
What happened to Naaman isn’t our main thought today. Naaman wasn’t baptized. Jesus wasn’t even born until hundreds of years later. But what was going on inside of Naaman is really important to what we’re talking about today.
Can’t you hear the question Naaman is asking: Do I really need to do that? Do I really need to do something so humbling? Do I really need to do that here in Israel? Do I really have to do it 7 times?