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The power lies in the word

Tom Barthel

He had spent his life in a high position and was highly regarded. He is described on the pages of Scripture as "valiant." Naaman wasn't one to take orders, but to give them. But now this commander of the army of Aram was ready to listen to desperate measures, ready to follow the advice of the lowly. You can be sure he didn't like taking the suggestion of a servant girl from Israel. But desperation led him on. His skin was wasting away with a terrible and deadly disease.

He traveled to Israel. Picture the entourage. He was no lowly beggar. He arrived with royal funding - about one thousand pounds of precious metal. "Cure me; receive all this!"

But the prophet in Israel didn't even go out to meet him. He sent the simple instruction: "Wash ... and you will be healed."

Desperation turned to fierce anger and resentment. Naaman the valiant, the great, was supposed to wash in the Jordan river? He'd been to the very best rivers of Damascus. What difference would a little water make? He nearly left in a fit of anger. Desperation has its limits. Pride can only stoop so low. Water can only do so much.

But in the end he listened to the word of Elisha. Seven times he washed in the Jordan. And he was never the same. He left the river with more than new skin. He had a new heart - a newly kindled faith in the Lord, the God of Israel.

The water itself was really inferior. The word connected with the water was not. The pride of Naaman meant nothing. The power of Naaman meant nothing. The actions of Naaman meant nothing. It was all nothing without the promise from the Lord. He always fulfills his promise. His word never fails. That changes everything!

Now the riches to make payment, right?

Elisha wouldn't accept even the smallest gift. He wanted Naaman to understand grace: God's free gift for the sinner; like Naaman, like you and me. No payment can be made for grace. God's free gift given through water and the Word. His blood poured out on the cross to cleanse us from our darkest and most dreaded disease. His promise pulls us from the pit's death and hell. His body and blood present with the bread and wine, a "new covenant" and "for the forgiveness of sins." His resurrection to give us eternal life. Simple things. Powerful words.

Naaman's cynicism plagues every sinner's heart. We all by nature reject God's promise. We all by nature stand confused by grace. We all by nature spurn his Word. "God would never come in bread and wine!" ..."God would never say that about two people who love each other." ..."I'm smarter than that!" ... "God would never do that for free." Let the Word speak. Naaman was wrong, tragically wrong, so long as he held to his own ideas, his pride.The answer is simple. If only ... if only he would listen to the Word of the Lord (2 Ki 5). Set aside your pride. Let the sinful heart be silenced as it hears the Word of God. Learn what it is to "be still" and know that he is God (Ps 46:10).

The power lies not in the water but the Word for the lowly sinner. He tells you, 'Wash and be cleansed'!" so "be baptized and wash your sins away" (Ac 22:16). It's simple. Too simple. Easy to spurn and despise. Easy to turn from for the preservation of sinful pride. Easy to fail to understand that it comes only by grace. Many do to their own loss. As they do the rest of Scripture to their own destruction. Others with a childlike faith hear the promise of God. And like Naaman they are healed. Like the apostle Paul they see the light. Like the blind man told by Jesus to wash they receive the gracious Word in faith. And they open their eyes in a whole new way to see the one we call Jesus.