I recently watched a guy interviewing American students about people identifying as a different gender and whether they should have access to the toilets they wanted.
Everyone answered that we should be inclusive - people should be able to use the toilet they want to.
He then pushed it – what if I told you ‘I am a woman’ – would you agree with that - most say - ‘fair enough if that’s what you want’
What about ‘I am Chinese’ – he clearly isn’t – and now a few have some problems agreeing with that.
I am 7 years old
I am 6 foot 5 tall. He’s clearly 5 foot something. Most people are really struggling now.
But when he says ‘would you tell me I’m wrong’ – nearly all say – ‘no, that’s not my place, I can’t draw boundaries’.
He finishes by saying to the camera – it shouldn’t be hard to tell a 5 foot 9 white guy he’s not a 6 foot 5 Chinese woman - but it clearly is - what does that say about our culture?
Well our culture isn’t too different – there is huge pressure today to be inclusive – not to draw boundaries. Not to tell someone they are wrong.
At the same time that interview showed that being totally inclusive can end up in a very confused place. There are realities that bring boundaries and exclusions. Yet we can find that exclusivism – that marking that things are right or wrong – often is rather ugly or arrogant. We see that particularly in area of politics at the moment.
That often feels like the choice – inclusivism that welcomes but ends up confused. Or exclusivism which had boundaries might fit reality but is often harsh and ugly.
Giles has mentioned that this book of Kings was written to Israelites in exile in Babylon. God’s people are living in this foreign place – exiles from their true home. The Bible describes Christians as exiles too. Our true home – is heaven – or the new creation – but now we live as exiles – or strangers - in this world.
And Kings is written to help them and us live for God – in exile. I think our passage tonight helps us with these issues of a confused inclusivism, or an ugly exclusivism.
First of all let’s walk through the story again.
V1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy
Naaman is a success story. He’s a success in his career – he probably got top marks at school, graduated with honours - now commander in chief of Syria.
He’s a success in his reputation and connections – the king thinks he is a great man.
He’s a success militarily – he’s highly regarded – because he’s won battles for Syria.
He’s a success personally – a valiant soldier. He doesn’t just command well – he fights well.
But there is one personal battle he can’t win – but he had leprosy.
V2 Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”.
Notice this girl is an exile – living away from home in a foreign place. And she’s going to show us how to live for God in exile. For now she directs Naaman to Elisha.
Naaman asks the king for permission – gets a letter requesting healing – packs his money and gifts – and goes to the king of Israel.
It turns out all the king can say v7 “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”. Now the king is right – only God can give life – heal of leprosy – but it doesn’t occur to him to call for Elisha – God’s prophet. Which is a sad reflection on his state - this little girl in Syria thinks more of God’s prophet than the king at home.
But Elisha says send him to me – v9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house.
This reminds me of scenes from House of Cards – where Kevin Spacey - the President - arrives in his motorcade – he’s in a limo, there are 2 or 3 four by fours in front and behind him – motorbike outriders – lots of men in suits wearing shades. It’s all very impressive.
Well Naaman arrives like that – it’s horses and chariot, maybe donkey outriders. But it’s impressive. They pull up and the dust settles – there’s a pause – then the door opens and a boy comes out knocks on the window of the limo – gives them a note – go down there about 20 miles, river is on the right.
V11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.
Turns out Naaman is very proud. All that success – made him think he really was a great man, so surely he’d come out to me and give me the right respect.
But his servants persuade him – so v14 he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
And this healing leads to the most amazing change in Naaman.
V15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.” That is an amazing confession. As a pagan Naaman who have believed in lots of gods – gods who were in charge of different parts of life or different parts of the world. But he doesn’t say – wow – your god is really amazing in the skin department – or wow – your god is really powerful here in Israel - I’m going to add him to the gods I worship. No – v15 “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.”
In fact v17 “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. He’s only going to worship Yahweh now – wants to do so on home turf. It’s as though he’s become an exile too.
We could sum this is up with v14 – ‘clean like that of a young boy’ – that word ‘young boy’ – that is used in v2 – young girl – only this time it’s the masculine. We’re being told Naaman has become like her.
Much more than Naaman’s skin has changed – he’s become an exiled Israelite worshipping Yahweh.
So what we learn about how to live for God in exile?
First thing that stands out is that,
Grace from Jesus means anyone can be saved
Or if you like – grace from Jesus is totally inclusive – everyone can be included.
I’ve said grace from Jesus – in the OT the God of Israel is called Yahweh – but by the NT we meet that God in Jesus. By saved I mean being forgiven and coming to know God.
Grace from Jesus means anyone can be saved.
We see this played out in two ways – first of all think about our servant girl.
She’s probably a young teenager – who went to school and played in the street. She had her family, friends, her hopes and dreams. But one day some scary foreign men turned up – they were rough and violent – probably killed people. Maybe they killed her parents. And they grabbed her and carted her off to Syria.
Now – how would you expect her to feel towards Naaman? She’s lost her home, her family, her friends, her dreams. And he was the one in charge of that raiding party - he might have been the one who killed her parents.
She could look at Naaman and see the man responsible for devastating her life. You’d have thought she’d hate him for that. It’s easy to imagine her crying herself to sleep far away from home - thinking at least he’s got leprosy – I hope some more bits fall off him tomorrow. I hate him for what he’s done to me.
Then we read v3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” You expect to find hate and bitterness instead you forgiveness and love. She cares for him – she wants him to get better.
It’s the most incredible - counter intuitive - grace.
Now why is she like that? Well it’s not explained to us – but I can only think she’s got some sense that this is what God is like – he is God of incredible counter intuitive grace.
We saw how Naaman goes to the king and then to Elisha – and from him gets a message from God.
Now let’s ask – what would God think of Naaman? Well – Naaman is a pagan - he doesn’t worship Yahweh – he worships other gods – lots of them. And he thanks them and praises them for all of the things that actually Yahweh does for him.
More than that this is the commander in chief of the enemy. He’s organized attacks on God’s people. He’s killed God’s people.
So God can look down on him if you like and say – you ignore me, you don’t give me the time of day – you worship other gods in my place – you attack my people - you kill my people. And now you come and say you want me to heal you!
You’d think it would bring some sort of a divine slap across the face. How dare you ask me that! Naaman is the last person God would help.
And then God says – go and wash and v14 his flesh was restored and became clean.
It’s extraordinary grace. That God would look at a pagan, enemy, killer, and say – I’ll help you.
And if someone like Naaman can get grace – be healed or saved – that means anyone can. Doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve done. Grace is totally inclusive – it’s for anyone.
You may know the very definition of grace is being good to someone who doesn’t deserves it. But more than just a dry definition of grace – here we get a worked example of grace. Here we get grace ‘enfleshed’ – worked out. As we see someone as bad as Naaman being healed - we should think – wow – grace really is for anyone. There is no barrier of morality, or ethnicity, or age, class, sexuality, intelligence, wealth, background – if Naaman can be saved – anyone can.
I’ve thought this week about who Naaman is today. Who is the proud, successful, rich, attacking God’s people. Who’s the last person you’d think God would have mercy on? Could think of the religious terrorist, Islamic State? The secular celebrity atheist – a Richard Dawkins attacking Christians. The rich, successful city banker who ignores God - until they get ill.
In some ways they are Naaman’s in an outward way. Yet Jesus said ‘light has come into the world… but everyone who does evil hates the light’ – he’s saying that left to ourselves – we hate Jesus. We’re instinctively and naturally enemies of God.
In other words we are all Naaman – we can all say, I’m the last person you’d think God would help.
And as we think – how amazing that God would have mercy on Naaman – we should think – how amazing God would have mercy on me. Grace means anyone can be saved. Even us.
Now there is a second theme I want us to look at. While grace from Jesus means anyone can be saved. At the same time
Grace from Jesus is the only way you can be saved – it’s exclusive
Grace from Jesus is inclusive – it’s for all. But it’s also exclusive – it’s the only way you can be saved.
Again this girl gives us a sense of that – she says – v3“If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” She doesn’t direct him to the Syrian gods or any other prophets. It’s specific and particular – it’s Elisha – Yahweh’s prophet – that is where he’s got to go.
That particularity reaches its height in v15 Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. That’s pretty exclusive isn’t it? There is no God but Yahweh – who leads us to Jesus. There is no God but Jesus.
Now – how did Naaman come to that conclusion? It’s interesting that he seems to have been expecting some sort of healing. He travels a long way, he brings lots of money, he says v11 “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.
So in some way – he expected healing. But when he gets it – he’s amazingly changed. Why is that?
Part of the reason is the totality of his healing. He might have been expecting some improvement - the skin sores to get a bit better – the colour to come back a little.
This week I got some L’Oreal skin moisturizer – I was taken by their blurb “At L'Oréal Paris we know your skin inside and out. Proven science captured in luxurious textures for a sumptuous skin care experience. For beautiful skin today and more youthful looking skin tomorrow.”
I’ve been using this this week – I’m a bit upset actually that since I’ve been here tonight – no one has commented – on how youthful I was looking.
But v14 he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. This isn’t some L’Oreal improvement – he gets the skin of a child. He doesn’t get a bit better – he gets totally better. His skin was dying – and now it’s new.
And that is something only the real God can do. The totality of this – shows him – Yahweh is a God like no other– this can only be the one true God.
Think of the exiles in Babylon surrounded by foreign gods – or Christians today – surrounded by other religions – or the gods of our culture.
In exile there’s a temptation to join in with other gods. Or if not join in – at least keep Yahweh or Jesus private – downgrade him in our minds so that while he’s my God - he doesn’t affect anyone else.
Well to exiles we get v15 there is no God in all the world except in Israel.
That exclusivity – can feel too much today – Jesus is my God yes, but the only God – so that everyone else is wrong? – that’s feels too much.
I feel the same to be honest. But as we said earlier it helps to remember being totally inclusive – ends up in confusion. Religious pluralism – saying everyone is right – means you end up saying contradictory things. There is a God or there isn’t, Jesus died and rose again or he didn’t. To say we all agree is just wrong. I find it helpful to remember that.
But more than that here is a miracle – convincing a pagan, Yahweh is the one true God. We see the same in Jesus’ miracles – in Jesus’ resurrection – proving, convincing sceptics he is the one true God in the flesh.
We should read this and be reminded – be challenged – be assured – Christianity is exclusive - there is only one God who can do these things.
Grace from Jesus is the only way you can be saved
But there is a second part to this exclusivity – we’ve said grace from Jesus the one true God – is the only way. But secondly grace from Jesus that is the only way. So accepting that grace is the only way.
Naaman is told to go and wash – he responds v11 “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.
We see how he expected a prophet to operate. He would come out and do his magic – wave his hand, call on his God – there would be an impressive ceremony or ritual.
Added to that – remember he’s brought money with him v5 ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold – in today’s money that’s about 2 million pounds.
He sees God as a divine vending machine – put in your money – choose your gift – in this case healing – and press the button with the right prophet.
And notice that with that – Naaman stays in control – and he stays great. The great man – pays his great money – the prophets does his great magic – and he’s healed - becoming greater.
But God won’t heal him like that – God only saves by grace. And grace is for the undeserving – grace is for those who aren’t great. So to receive this grace – you have admit that – you have to give up on yourself – and give yourself to God’s grace.
We see this in what his servants say: v13 “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’!” Literally they say ‘has he told you to do a great thing’. Well – no.
If Elisha had told him to do a great thing – defeat this country in battle – climb this mountain – Naaman would have done it – he was a great man.
Instead he’s told to do no great thing - just to wash 7 times. That is what I want to call a ‘nothing something’.
It’s a something – it’s something he has to do. He’s not told ‘don’t do anything’ – it’s not – ‘do what you like’ – it’s ‘do this’. It’s very specific – in the Jordan, 7 times. So it’s a definite something.
But it’s a nothing – by that I mean - it’s of no merit – it’s doesn’t deserve anything. Naaman thinks - anyone could do that - and I’m not anyone – I’m someone. But he’s right – anyone could do it – it’s a nothing.
God is saying - this will only happen by grace – that means giving up being great – admitting you can’t deserve this – stop being in charge and trying to control me – submit to me and what I say – all that is captured in this nothing something.
Naaman humbles himself and he receives grace.
And then he confesses – there is no God in all the world but this God. Partly because it’s total healing. But I think also because it’s by grace. It’s though he says - I’ve never known a god like this. A God I can’t control, a God I submit to, a God where I don’t deserve anything, a God who acts in grace to the humble. It convinces him – this is the true, the only God.
Message is the same today – if you’re someone who wants to become a Christian – it’s no great thing God asks you to do – it’s a nothing something. We admit we don’t deserve it, humble ourselves, and we put our trust in a crucified savior and his grace.
The message to exiles – to Christians today is the same. As exiles, trying to live for God amongst those who don’t – you can become focused on what you do for God, trying to stay pure for God, distinctive from those around you. And if you do well at that – you can become proud. And if you do badly – you can want to give up. Well here’s a reminder to exiles - however much you live for God – or fail to live for God – you only know him by grace.
In a bit we’re going to take communion - it’s a nothing something. It’s something – we eat a bit of bread and drink some wine. But it’s a nothing – it doesn’t earn anything – it doesn’t bring any merit – it’s a nothing something and so it expresses our dependence – it says – no matter how this week has been – good or bad – I come empty handed and submit myself to God’s grace. And as we do that – God promises his grace to us continues.
So inclusivism or exclusivism? Inclusivism is lovely and welcoming but often ends up confused. Exclusivism can have right boundaries – but often ends up harsh and ugly.
Jesus brings both. He’s totally inclusive - the door is open wide – anyone is welcome in.
But at the same time it’s a particular door – it’s only Jesus who is the true God. And it’s only his grace that means you can enter.
Grace from Jesus means anyone can be saved.
Grace from Jesus is the only way to be saved.