Running after death

 

We greet you this morning wherever you are listening to this message. We thank God for this opportunity to sit at His feet. With our mind’s eye we can see each other although we have not seen one another face-to-face for a long time. Long before we knew that we would face this situation, God knew and prepared us for it so that we can connect via radio or internet. Thank you that you are prepared to pay for the data in order to listen to this service.

As I was listening to Radio Khwezi this morning, the listeners thanked Rev Stegen for all that he has done for them as well as for his vision for the radio station through which people can be fed spiritually.

Today is Mother’s Day. We appreciate you mothers. We thank you for what you mean to us at home and in the Lord’s work. We have spiritual mothers who are pillars in the house of God and His work. They stand firm and strong and we lean upon them. They may have no physical children but thousands of spiritual children. May this day be like healing oil that revives you.

On behalf of the co-workers, mission residents and the congregations, thank you to Rev Stegen for what he has done for us. Thank you for your faithfulness and for that which you do for us and mean to us. You have never disappointed us. Presently people are experiencing hunger and they queue up for food parcels but we have received food from you, Rev Stegen and seedlings which we can plant. You do not only give us fish which you have caught but you teach us how to fish. You are a pioneer. May God bless, keep and strengthen you. You have always said that we do not need to thank you but should live for the Lord. We still need your advice, prayers and guidance.

Our reading today is from 2 Kings 5

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 valour, but he was a leper.[a] 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[b] of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.” But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 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.” 11 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. 12 Are not Abana[c] 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. 13 But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. 15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.” 16 But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. 17 Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord. 18 In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” 19 He said to him, “Go in peace.” But when Naaman had gone from him a short distance, 20 Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, “See, my master has spared this Naaman the Syrian, in not accepting from his hand what he brought. As the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.” 21 So Gehazi followed Naaman. And when Naaman saw someone running after him, he got down from the chariot to meet him and said, “Is all well?” 22 And he said, “All is well. My master has sent me to say, ‘There have just now come to me from the hill country of Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets. Please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothing.’” 23 And Naaman said, “Be pleased to accept two talents.” And he urged him and tied up two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of clothing, and laid them on two of his servants. And they carried them before Gehazi. 24 And when he came to the hill, he took them from their hand and put them in the house, and he sent the men away, and they departed. 25 He went in and stood before his master, and Elisha said to him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” And he said, “Your servant went nowhere.” 26 But he said to him, “Did not my heart go when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Was it a time to accept money and garments, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male servants and female servants? 27 Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever.” So he went out from his presence a leper, like snow.
2 Kings 5: 1-3,20-22, 26-27

Naaman was the commander of army of the king of Syria. He was a great man of valour. He was in good favour with the king. People far and wide had heard of his conquests. The Lord had given victory to Syria through him. Although he was such a mighty commander he had leprosy.
You too, may have a wonderful reputation as a child of God yet you have leprosy. We do not know for how long he was famous and yet had leprosy. People may be great men of valour who pray and preach but they have leprosy that only they are aware of.  You may be an eloquent preacher but you are leprous and others are unaware of it. You may preach in different countries but you may have leprosy such as the love of money or stubbornness – you know what it is. You cover it up so well with preaching singing and testifying. As a young person you may sing wonderfully yet you may be leprous with a leprosy that others do not know about.

This little servant girl could see that her master had a serious problem. She also knew that he could be healed in Israel. She was kidnapped on one of the Syrian raids into Israel and became a slave but she was a fresh breeze and a cure in the home of this great man. She did not think much of herself. She told her mistress that if the master would go to the prophet in Samaria he would be cured of his leprosy. God uses that which is insignificant to bring help into this home. This girl was in exile in a foreign land but she did not forget that at home there was a prophet who could help her master. Are you like this? Can people in your area look at your life and realise that back in Israel there is a prophet and if they could get to him, they would be helped.

 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[b] of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”

The Syrian king sent a letter to the king of Israel who asked whether his commander could be helped. When the letter arrived, the king of Israel reacted violently and tore his clothes. Somehow Elisha got to hear about it and he asked that Naaman be sent to him.

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 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.” 11 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. 

Naaman did not accept it very well when a servant was sent out to speak to him. Naaman was not told how he would be helped in Israel but he did not like the way in which he was treated.

 12 Are not Abana[c] 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. 13 But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 

He said that the rivers in Syria were so much greater than the Jordan. He was privileged to have servants who could speak to him. God uses people who are despised and they told him to rather do what the prophet tells you than return with leprosy. How do you treat those who try to assist you spiritually? Do you despise them because you are proud? You may have forsaken the faith because you despised those who tried to help you. You were not as privileged as Naaman whose servants helped him. You may feel that the bishop should have spoken to you and so you take your bags and leave – leave the faith. You may be a highly respected person in your church community who has leprosy and then a despised person assists you and that causes you to leave. You cannot handle it. After you have left, the leprosy is not visible at first but later it becomes obvious. When people tried to help you and point out your leprosy you became angry and left. When you leave, you are white with leprosy.

15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.” 16 But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. 

Gehazi was Elisha’s servant who worked under his leadership. Elisha was the minister and Gehazi ministered under him. Gehazi was Elisha’s personal servant and wherever Elisha went, Gehazi went too. Gehazi witnessed the miracles that God worked through Eisha. Gehazi had his own kind of leprosy – he wanted something from Naaman after Elisha had made it clear that he wanted nothing.

21 So Gehazi followed Naaman. And when Naaman saw someone running after him, he got down from the chariot to meet him and said, “Is all well?” 22 And he said, “All is well. My master has sent me to say, ‘There have just now come to me from the hill country of Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets. Please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothing.’” 

Gehazi saw Naaman leaving with all his wealth and he felt Elisha had made a mistake by not accepting any gifts. When Naaman saw this person running after his chariot, he stopped to meet and greet him. Gehazi told him a blatant lie and said that he had been sent by Elisha but he had not been. How often haven’t you run after a figment of your imagination, your desires – that which you want – and you say that it was from God, but you lie. When you reach that which you are chasing – your own will and desires, what you want to do, the world – you are embraced and asked, “Is all well?” Young person, when you run away from the discipline of your parents, the world embraces you and asks whether all is well? When you run away from their rebuke because they do not understand you, you are embraced compassionately by the enemy of the gospel who asks you whether all is well. When you meet the enemy you blatantly lie. You lie about Elisha saying that he said things which he never did. When the world embraces you so warmly, you are getting an additional gift that you never reckoned with – leprosy. Gehazi took the gifts from Naaman. There was so much stuff that two servants were sent along to help him carry it all. “This is my day,” he must have thought, “I am getting something at long last after working my fingers to the bone for Elisha!”

25 He went in and stood before his master, and Elisha said to him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” And he said, “Your servant went nowhere.” 26 But he said to him, “Did not my heart go when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Was it a time to accept money and garments, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male servants and female servants?  Elisha asked him where he had been. Gehazi answered that he had been nowhere. He tells another lie to a man of God who has discernment.  26 But he said to him, “Did not my heart go when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Was it a time to accept money and garments, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male servants and female servants? 

Elisha came with a needle to remove the thorn that was troubling Gehazi but he did not see this as help – he covered up by lying. “Where have you been Gehazi? Where did you go? Didn’t you follow that man and the desires of your heart?” He answered no, your servant went nowhere. “Gehazi, is this really the time for things like this – for money, garments, sheep and oxen?” Elisha tried to help Gehazi, sensitively using a needle to remove the thorn but Gehazi wanted none of it. Child of God, when God’s children try and help you to remove the thorn, do you allow them? When you remove a thorn, you do not just jab the needle in roughly but you work cautiously. Similarly people have been trying to help you but you do not want to be helped. Gehazi was privileged to receive help, it was available but he was unwilling to be helped and he covered things up with additional lies. Gehazi had a leprosy that clung to him, a hidden leprosy. He was part of God’s work, a servant to the man of God but when this event took place, his own leprosy came to the fore. He chased after Naaman for this gifts but he got a gift he did not bargain for – leprosy.

27 Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever.” So he went out from his presence a leper, like snow.

You may run after a person who has a problem which has not yet come to the light. You side with that person. You side with his leprosy. You fight for the wrong side. The world out there is asking you whether all is well and whether you are well. You tell lies and the result is leprosy.

I doubt that Gehazi’s desire for material possessions only started when Naaman arrived. It must have been there all along, simmering and growing within him and when Naaman arrived, the opportunity presented itself.

Child of God, the thing which you pursue which is not meant for you, will result in leprosy on you and your descendants. What misery you are bringing on yourself and your family! It will result in a curse on them. Gehazi probably justified himself. He had good reasons for his actions and things seemed to be working out well for him because Naaman stopped the chariot but little did he realise he was running after death. I plead with those who are pursuing Naaman and leaving Elisha because you feel it is of no use to stay with Elisha. Do you not realise that you are fetching leprosy?

I am reminded of a Zulu hymn which says, “Lord, I want to walk with You wherever you go even if the way leads to Golgotha…” Are you still walking with the Lord during this lockdown period? Have you remained true? Can you say, “I want to follow You through thick and thin, though the way be tiring and it leads to the cross, I want to walk with You.” Have you been true to this? Have you forgotten your promises? You may have turned your back on your church and the people of God because you did not see Elisha with your physical eyes. You have not reached the cross yet but are you faithful to the Lord through it all? Are you still true to Him? Naaman is famous as a mighty man of valour but he is not famous before God for that. Are you true to the Man who went to the cross? Have you forsaken Elisha, the man of God? Are you leaving all that for the sake of Naaman? You follow after the gifts he can give you. You tell lies because you want the gifts and you forsake the Man who went to the cross. When He says, “Let us reason together, where have you been?” You cover up with more lies. Gehazi, you may be a hero in some people’s eyes but you are a hero of lies. You have laid down your weapons before you reach the cross. You are great in the eyes of some people because you have ‘stood up’ and broken down the work of God. You are courageous in the eyes of some people but you have forsaken the Man on the cross. You have been unfaithful to your promises to follow Him to the cross. You have given up before reaching the cross. Naaman alights from his chariot and treats you so well but you have turned your back on the Man of the cross. The world treats you so well and kindly, asking how things are going but Gehazi had turned his back on Elisha. You did mighty things for the Lord but you no longer follow the Man on the cross. When people spoke well of you and praised you, you did not bring your leprosy to the light. You remained quiet and accepted their praise.
Young girl, you follow the pleasures of the world which you do not find in the church. There you will get things you never bargained for – a child out of wedlock, you become like a second hand car. Young man, you want to pick your lovely peach from the world but you do not realise that it is full of worms. You are disappointed. You blame others and you do not accept that you have leprosy. You are harvesting the fruit of your own actions.

If we were gathered as a congregation, we would have sung that hymn together: Lord, I want to abide with You wherever You go. Whether the way is long and tiresome, I want to be true to you, to the cross.

The Lord is faithful but people are so fickle. We have promised to follow the Lord and walk with Him to the end.

German translation

French translation