When Having It All Isn't Enough
June 1, 2004 - If you think that money, possessions and power can bring fulfillment, just look at the wealthy and powerful people in the world whose lives are falling apart. The same, of course, can be said of many who aren't wealthy or powerful. All of us, rich or poor, have something in common: We have violated God's laws, and the resulting alienation leaves us empty and unfulfilled until we find peace with God. —the Editors
A Message by Billy Graham
Naaman was a commander of the armies of Syria. He was a great man in the sight of his king and of the people. Syria at this time [roughly 845 B.C.] controlled a great deal of the Middle East. Naaman was a brilliant soldier, a man of great courage, a conquering hero. He had it all: wealth, success, prestige. But he also had leprosy.
In those days, leprosy was the most dreaded of all the diseases in the world. It was incurable, and as the disease progressed, a sufferer could eventually be forced to live with other lepers in a place away from society. He would be declared unclean. He'd have to stay away from people and cry out, "Unclean, unclean" (Leviticus 13:45, NIV).
Leprosy would bring physical disfigurement, social rejection, mental depression, economic ruin and eventually death. Naaman was a successful man with everything to live for. But he was a leper.
This "but" is the history of every one of us.
Naaman is a picture of all of us. His leprosy is a picture of sin in our lives—a fatal condition that overshadows all successes and accomplishments, and ends in death. And that shadow of death hangs over every one of us.
Just as leprosy separated people from society, the Bible teaches that sin separates us from God. The Bible says all of us have sinned (Romans 3:23). We're all guilty of sin—we have a disease that's constantly eating away at us and has destroyed our relationship with God. That's the reason we can't find fulfillment in life. That's the reason we can't find peace and joy and happiness in life. We search for it, but because of sin we don't find ultimate joy.
Dr. Paul Brand spent most of his life working among people afflicted with leprosy. [While scholars note that the word "leprosy" in the Old Testament refers to a number of different skin diseases, Brand's research focused on Hansen's Disease, commonly known as leprosy.]
Through his research Brand established that leprosy works primarily as an anesthetic—it numbs the pain cells of the hands, feet, nose, eyes and ears. And with the warning system of pain gone, people literally wear away their extremities because they can no longer feel any pain.
That's exactly the way sin works in our lives. The Bible speaks of being "hardened by sin's deceitfulness" (Hebrews 3:13, NIV) and of being given over to a depraved mind (Romans 1:28). And we don't even realize that it is destroying us.
After a while, you don't even think about sin anymore. You become numb to it. The prick on your conscience is gone, deadened like the hand or foot of a person with leprosy. Your conscience no longer gives any warning of the damage being done to your soul. And perhaps as you read this, you cannot feel the impact of sin in your life. The Bible warns us not to harden our hearts, but sin causes your heart to be hardened toward God.
But there was one hopeful thing about Naaman. He realized his need. And amazingly, there was an answer for Naaman's leprosy. There was a young captive Hebrew girl who served Naaman's wife. The girl said to Naaman's wife, "If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy" (2 Kings 5:3, NIV).
Naaman saw his need. He knew he was helpless. But Naaman had to be humbled in order to realize that God's cure was a free gift that could not be purchased or earned. In the same way, there's nothing that you can do to cure your disease of sin. You can't give a gift that's big enough. You can't do enough good works to have your sins forgiven and to get to heaven. We can come only through Jesus Christ. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8, NIV).
Naaman decided to go to Samaria, where the prophet lived. But he went to the wrong place, in the wrong way. Instead of going to the prophet Elisha, he went to the king of Israel with a letter of introduction from his own king, along with great wealth. He brought millions of dollars worth of things in order to buy his healing.
Like Naaman, many people don't understand that the cure is free. You see, God requires only faith, repentance of your sins (which means turning from and confessing your sin), and then by faith putting your total trust in Jesus Christ. That's all God requires. It's so simple that many people miss it.
Naaman wanted to make it complicated. But the thing he needed was not for sale. The cure for leprosy couldn't be purchased for any amount of money. And the cure for sin cannot be purchased—not by any amount of money or good works. "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Peter 1:18-19, NIV), said the Apostle Peter.
We must come to Christ in all humility at the cross, saying, "O God, come into my heart. Forgive me and cleanse me. I commit myself to You."
After Naaman left the king, he changed. This time he went to the right place—but he still went in the wrong way. Naaman went to the prophet Elisha's house. But he went with his horses and his chariots and his military power and his beautiful uniform. He was like a dignitary arriving in a motorcade, and he expected to be treated like an important person.
People say, "I'll pay my way." God says, "Not by silver and gold." People say, "I'll perform good works." God says, "It's all finished at the cross." There's nothing you can do to add to what Jesus did on that cross. People say, "I'm not a bad sort." God says, "Your righteousness is as filthy rags in my sight" (Cf. Isaiah 64:6). People say, "I've got plenty of time. Maybe when I get older I'll make a decision like this, but not now." God says, "Now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2, NIV).
You may never have another moment like this as long as you live. This is your moment with God. You need to make a commitment to Christ now, because you may never again be as close to the Kingdom of God as you are right now.
Elisha didn't even bother to come out of the house to meet Naaman. He told his servant, "Go out there and tell the general to dip himself seven times in the Jordan River, and he'll be healed."
Naaman got angry. His pride was hurt. Here he is, the great general of the armies of Syria, and the prophet won't even come out to see him. Instead, he just sent word to dip seven times in the Jordan River.
The Jordan River was a muddy river. It's still a muddy river. And Naaman said, "Aren't the rivers of Damascus better than the Jordan River? Why should I go and dip in the Jordan?" You see, he wanted to dictate the terms. And you and I many times want to dictate the terms to God, but God says no, there's only one way: the way of the cross. Repent of your sins and turn to Christ. There's only one road, and it's a narrow road that leads to eternal life; and only a few find it (Cf. Matthew 7:13,14).
Naaman wanted the thing done his way. He went away grumbling about the rivers in Damascus being cleaner than the muddy Jordan. Likewise, the way of the cross is never dignified. "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18, NIV).
But Naaman finally went to the river. His servants came to him and said, "Sir, if he had asked you to do a hard thing, you would have done it. But he has asked you to do something simple. It's humbling, of course, to get into that muddy Jordan River in this foreign country. But you ought to do it."
So Naaman did it. He went down one time, two times, three times, four times, five times. And I imagine he looked at his hands, or wherever the leprosy was, and it was still there. And he may have been ready to give up entirely, thinking the whole thing was crazy. But, finally, he went down the seventh time. And when he rose, his skin was like that of a little child. The leprosy had disappeared.
God's plan of salvation looks foolish, but it's so simple. Naaman found cleansing from his leprosy in a muddy river. In simple, humble obedience to the word of God, Naaman became clean, as though he had never had leprosy. And you can come to Christ and be justified, just as though you had never committed a sin. Think of it! How wonderful to go to bed tonight and have all your past forgiven!
The story of this Syrian general can be your story. How will you live after reading this message? Will you remain in the same spiritual condition as before? Or will you, like Naaman, humble yourself and find healing?