Summary: This is a day of Good News--how can we keep silent?
“The Four Lucky Lepers”
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
The Aramean (Syrian) Army, led by Ben-Hadad, is waging a siege, a blockade against the city of Samaria. Cut off from all sources of provisions, the Jewish city is suffering and things are getting desperate. The enemy outside the walls of the city, has ample provisions and they’re prepared to continue their patient siege till the Jews either surrender or die of starvation. An enormous economic inflation affects the small amount of food that is left in the city. A donkey’s head is sold for 80 shekels of silver. The people have even turned to cannibalism, and king Jehoram, walking along the walls of the seemingly doomed city, weeps in utter despair.
But all is not lost. Elisha the prophet has assured the city that the famine will end, and that food will be so plenteous that bargain prices will result. His foretelling of the reduced price of goods sound like the cries of a vender. The royal officer of the king cynically mocks Elisha, doubting the power of God. He thinks even God cannot rescue the city, that the situation is hopeless. Meanwhile, outside the city walls another drama is taking place. The enemy has been routed; some scholars believe an army of angels caused them to retreat so swiftly…but only a few lepers know what has happened. In the passage read, we see unfolded human depravity, God’s mercy, and the believer’s responsibility.
1. Human Depravity, verses 1-3
Leprosy was the AIDS of ancient days. Leprosy is viewed in Scripture as a symbol of sin. Lepers were living corpses, separated from society for fear of contagion. Leprosy isolates, corrupts and eventually destroys the victim. In the same way, sin separates us from God and produces inner decay, unbelief and spiritual death. In contrast, the king’s officer was physically whole but spiritually sick.
The lepers understood their plight. The problem with most of us is that we fail to see our sinful condition. We see ourselves as fairly clean, yet we’re corrupted by sin. When people say they have a clean conscience, it usually means they have a bad memory. People don’t like being confronted with the truth about themselves. Denial of sin is like the man who kept reading about the connection between smoking and lung cancer…and decided to quit reading! I remember hearing a missionary tell of a leper who refused to receive medical treatment—because he refused to admit that he had leprosy. Have we seen our sins as leprous sores? This is how God views our sin. Even our “righteousness” is as “filthy rags” (according to the prophet Isaiah). Our leprous sins nailed Jesus Christ to the cross. Do we hate our sins enough to turn to Christ?
Another image is the siege. What armies are keeping us from life? We are assaulted by temptations and pressures, the pleasures of the world, and the siege of self-satisfaction. Are doubts causing us to question that our enemy has been defeated? I remember hearing about the end of Desert Storm on a short-wave radio about a hundred miles from Baghdad. At first I was stunned—it was hard to believe the war was over, and we were going home. Sin was defeated on the Cross. But sin can prevent people from knowing that the conflict is over.
2. God’s Mercy, verses 4-8
The Bible urges us to throw ourselves on God’s mercy. The sacrifice of Christ allows God to be merciful. Even some of those who shed Christ’s blood were saved by it.
It’s been said, “to flee God’s wrath, cling to His mercy.” Mercy means we are no longer condemned. Along with mercy comes healing. The lepers outside the city walls were brought to the point of desperation. They resolved to surrender to the enemy. Death had already stared them in the face and they had nothing to lose by going over to the Arameans. Blessed are they who surrender to the Lord, who call on Him for mercy.
At the end of the Civil War, when the Confederate Army had been defeated, Abraham Lincoln was asked how he would treat the rebellious South. The question hinted at the desire to see the South severely punished. Unexpectedly, the merciful President replied, “I will treat them as if they had never been away.”
We sometimes fail to appreciate the mercy of God. He has defeated our enemies—yet we continue to fret and worry about life. God has provided for us what we need, yet like Samaria, we’re starving, though near a feast! We don’t realize the enemy has fled and all that we need is readily available. The people of Samaria felt like prisoners, yet they were free. God tells us to cast our cares upon Him, because sin, and death are no longer issues, and we are more than conquerors through Christ. Those who cannot accept God’s promises cannot be happy. We need to live realizing the enemy has been defeated! We need to rest in Christ’s finished work and rejoice in His victory.