On my tenth birthday, my parents gave me The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales. I’ve always been a bookworm, you see. I can’t claim to have read every single tale in the book, but I did read a great deal. There is one that I vaguely recall, in which a king needed some great thing to be accomplished, the Roc’s Egg brought back to him or some such. He decreed that anyone who did this for him would be given his daughter’s hand in marriage. A peasant boy who had always dreamed of marrying the princess, undertook the quest. He braved mystic forests and foreboding mountains, fought ogres and elves, and returned, having been successful. He married the princess and became the hero of the kingdom.
Stories like this pervade most, if not all, cultures. Heracles went mad one night and killed his wife and children. Regaining his senses and overcome with grief, he undertook his famous 12 Labors to try to win redemption. Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table spent their lives looking for the Holy Grail. The Asian cultures also have their stories of quests and epic feats in the search of riches or immortality or redemption. Our culture is not without such stories: to save Middle Earth, Frodo goes on a long quest to return the One Ring to Mount Doom. Again and again, great treasures require monumental feats to acquire.
This teaches us good things. Get rich quick schemes rarely, if ever, work. If we want to accomplish something in this life, we have to put in the work, the effort, and the time to achieve it. However, this reinforced belief does leave us suspicious of any easy answer and that sometimes is a detriment.
The Bible contains a story about this. The first half of II Kings 5 will be our text. The first verse:
“Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper.”
Who was Naaman? He was the general of the Syrian armies. He was very well thought of by the king. He was a “mighty man of valor”. This was an important man, a proud man, a celebrity and hero in his country. He was SOMEBODY. But he had leprosy. Leprosy in the ancient Middle East was probably not the flesh rotting disease known in Middle Ages Europe. It was a skin disease that made the skin white and scaly. Often, it caused odors. Basically, it made the sufferer look, and even smell, like a corpse. Under the Law of Moses, lepers were to be quarantined away from the general population, but even in countries that did not follow the Mosaic Law, lepers were generally shunned and became secluded. Naaman, a proud man in a public career, was looking at losing all he had because of this disease. Do you think he was desperate for a cure? I imagine that he had tried every potion offered by every quack in Syria. To no avail. Keep reading with me:
“Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman's wife. She said to her mistress, "Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." So Naaman went in and told his lord, "Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel." And the king of Syria said, "Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel." So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing.” (vs 2-5)
Can you feel the desperation here? This small child, prattling on like small children do, mentions the prophet in Israel and his God-given abilities. Seizing on this last hope, Naaman goes to the king for permission to enter Israel and, receiving it, takes a huge gift with him to entice the prophet into helping him. The size of this gift is instructive. Ten talents of silver is 30,000 shekels of silver, which tells you nothing until I explain that the average ANNUAL salary of a laborer at that time was 10 shekels of silver. The silver alone that Naaman brought was the equivalent of 3,000 years pay for a common man! Or, another way to look at it, the silver would have weighed 750 lbs in modern measure, and the gold 150 lbs. I haven’t checked the spot price today, but one fairly recent book estimates the value at $750 million in modern buying power. Plus, ten really nice suits of clothes. How badly did Naaman want to be clean? Look at what he was willing to pay!
After some confusion as to where to go, Naaman arrives at Elisha’s house in verse 9:
“So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha's house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean." But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, "Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and 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.” (vs 9-12)
Naaman, great man of Syria, mighty man of valor and general of the armies, comes to Elisha’s modest house and . . . Elisha doesn’t even bother to come out to see him. He sends a servant. That had to have punctured Naaman’s ego a bit and then the instructions given are just ridiculous. ‘If it was as easy as washing, don’t you think I’d have done that?!’ He had expected an impressive display, chanting and arm waving and hocus pocus. Instead he is told to wash in the Jordan. ‘Our Syrian rivers are better for washing than that muddy stream.’ He goes away angry precisely because the answer was too easy. If there is any doubt on that, read on:
“And his servants came near, and spoke unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid you do some great thing, wouldn’t you have done it? how much rather then, when he says to you, Wash, and be clean? Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” (vs 13-14)
The servant points out that if a great feat had been prescribed, Naaman would have been all in for that. Remember what he was willing to pay; would there be anything he wouldn’t do? Imagine if Elisha had said ‘Bring me the heads of 100 lions’ or ‘Climb to the top of the tallest mountain’ and he’d be clean. You know that Naaman, mighty man of valor, would have been on his way with zest to complete such a quest. That wouldn’t have upset him at all. But washing was too easy. His servant finally convinced him that if he were willing to undertake the difficult thing, he ought to do the easy as well, and he washed and was cleaned.
Many people today make the same mistake Naaman almost did. We, too, have a problem. He had leprosy, we are disfigured by sin. Leprosy affects the body, sin rots the soul. If Naaman was willing to pay hundreds of millions of dollars and go on exotic quests to be rid of leprosy, what should we be willing to do to be rid of sin? It can’t be something easy, right? That thought is why many modern denominations teach that forgiveness isn’t something that we can reach, but that it takes the direct working of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit must overcome you and lead you to forgiveness. How do we know that has happened? We begin babbling in “tongues” or fall into the aisles in religious fervor. Surely it takes big things like that to be rid of sin, right? Well, what does the Bible say?
Rom 10:9 “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Rom 10:14 “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
Combining these verses, we must hear the word taught, believe in our hearts that Jesus was raised from the dead, and be willing to confess Him as Lord. What’s interesting is that we have an example of people just like that in Acts 2. They had heard the Gospel preached by Peter, including that Jesus had been raised from the dead – vs 32 “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” – and that He was Lord – vs. 36 “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” They believed, being pricked in the heart (vs 37) and asked Peter what they should do. His answer? “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”
Understanding all of this, then, means that we must hear the word preached and believe it. Believe in our hearts the gospel of the resurrection and be willing to confess Him as Lord. Then we repent of our sins and are baptized for the remission of those sins and we will be saved, have our sins removed, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. There is no mention of the Holy Spirit overwhelming us or of babbling in “tongues” or religious frenzies. It is much simpler than that. Too simple, in fact, for many people to believe in it. Like Naaman, they turn away.
But having achieved so great a salvation from so merciful and loving a God, how are we to worship Him? Surely so great a God demands extravagant, awe-inspiring worship. We need rock-and-roll bands combined with shouting, dancing, and rolling in the aisles, right? Or perhaps we need to build monumental temples to Him filled with statuary and decorated by beautiful artworks in which imposing priests in impressive robes conduct ancient rites in a dead language? Again, our great God deserves such impressive worship, right? Well, what does the Bible say?
Col. 3:16 We are to sing praises to Him and teaching to each other.
1 Tim. 4:13 We are to teach and preach God’s word.
Eph. 6:18, 1 Thess. 5:17 We are to pray.
1 Cor. 11:23-25, Acts 20:7, We are to partake in His supper on the first day of the week.
1 Cor. 16:1-2 On the first day of the week we are to take up a collection.
And that’s it. It is simple. Too simple for some to accept, but we don’t apologize for the simplicity of our worship to God because it is precisely what He asked us to do.
Paul warns us in 1 Cor. 1:21-23 that many will be turned away by the simplicity of the Gospel and the teaching of the New Testament. Like Naaman almost was, these will be turned off because it is just too easy. They can’t grasp that something so great can be achieved in such a simple manner. So they turn away.
Don’t be like them. For once, take the easy way out.