I have a skin condition. It’s not leprosy—at least I am pretty sure it isn’t—but it is pretty annoying.
There is an area of skin about the size of a fist on my right shin that is dry and angry looking. It’s usually some shade of red and it often itches. I’ve had it for years—it actually went away once for a while—but I am too lazy and foolish to do much about it.
My finger tips also dry out and crack from time to time. I go through quite a few adhesive bandages when that happens.
I guess I am just a dry person.
Like the spot on my leg, I know that there are probably ways I can minimize or even eliminate my fingers from drying out, but again, I am just too lazy and foolish to do much. I guess my main problem is that I don’t like the feeling of lotions on my skin. As if the dried out skin is any better. I know. I know.
I wonder what Naaman would say to me.
This week’s session, Elisha and Naaman (Unit 13, Session 3), is about Naaman, a Syrian, who actually did have leprosy. As you are probably aware, leprosy was a pretty rough disease that affected the skin much more than my petty little issues. To make matters worse, there was no cure.
And in stepped in a little servant girl—a slave actually—from Israel. The girl told Naaman’s wife about a prophet in Israel—Elisha—who could heal him.
Now, let’s pause for a minute here and think about this little girl. She was a slave taken from her home and perhaps her family. She was hauled off to a foreign land to serve the wife of the military leader who may have been the one to lead the raid that took her in the first place. This girl had every right from our perspective to be bitter. To be angry. To be glad that Naaman had leprosy and to glory in his suffering.
But not this girl. Instead she proactively shared a way for Naaman to be made well. How amazing is that? What mercy, love, and forgiveness to provide the message of how the man who had wronged her could be made well. And that is one of the first places we see Jesus in this passage. Jesus proactively stepped in and did what was needed to make us well—not just by healing, but by giving us life—even though we had sinned greatly against Him.
So Naaman went to Israel and ended up at Elisha’s door. And this is where things got quite curious. Naaman called for Elisha, but the prophet did not go out to speak with him. Instead, he sent his servant, which was a great offense to Naaman. He wasn’t used to this treatment at all. He was used to commanding men who obeyed…or else. And then to make matters worse, Elisha’s servant gave Naaman the random instruction to dip himself in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman had expected Elisha to come out, call on God, wave his hand, and then for the leprosy to miraculously disappear. This was not at all what he expected. It made no sense. Swimming does not cure leprosy! And swimming in the piddly little Jordan River at that!
Naaman was furious, and turned to go back home. But then his servants stopped him and asked him why he wasn’t willing to do something so simple, when he would have been willing to do something quite complex had Elisha instructed it. Naaman sure had some great servants, didn’t he? The logic was irrefutable, so Naaman went to the Jordan and dipped into the water.
Three times. Nothing.
Four times. Nothing.
Five times. Nothing.
Six times. Nothing.
Seven times. And his skin was restored fully—like that of a small boy. He was healed.
Naaman returned to Elisha and offered a gift out of gratitude, but Elisha refused it. Instead, Naaman committed to never worship false gods again and took soil from Israel so that he could use it for offerings to God.
So what is really going on here? The story of Naaman provides an amazingly beautiful picture of salvation in Jesus.
Naaman had an incurable disease—leprosy. We are dead in sin.
Naaman’s pride almost interfered with his one chance of being healed. We must die to ourselves to come to Christ.
Naaman had to exhibit faith to do what made no sense to him—wash in a river—to be healed. We must exhibit faith to do what makes no sense to the world—trust fully in Christ—to be saved.
Naaman had to realize that God’s gift of healing was absolutely free—he could not pay for it. We must remember that God’s gift of forgiveness is absolutely free—we can do nothing to earn it.
Naaman’s gift of healing prompted him to reorient his life out of gratitude. Our gift of salvation prompts us to reorient our lives out of gratitude.
What a great Bible story to teach kids the gospel this week! You shouldn’t be lacking for connecting points to the gospel as you share with your kids. One word of caution though. As we were writing these sessions, we really tried to be careful not to give the impression that we are only sick with sin—but that we are dead in sin. It was challenging at times to walk that line because of space issues in the leader guides and trying to be clear and simple with the different age groups, but I hope we balanced it well. As you teach, you should have more elbow room to ensure that your kids understand this really important difference between the story and the gospel. Naaman was sick and was healed. We were dead and needed life, but there is also an element of being healed too. Be sure to help your kids understand that.
How was God kind to you to help you overcome pride and develop faith when you first trusted in Christ? Leave a comment below.
Here is more help for leaders preparing for the September 18, 2016 session (Unit 13, Session 3) of The Gospel Project for Kids.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian, his wife, Tara, and their three children—Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb—live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 4-5 graders at City Church.