by Elaine Maust
II Kings 7: 3-10
August 10, 2008
Today is the second in our series of sermons on Evangelism. Jubilee’s call from God includes worship, nurture, and service too, but in this series we will focus on evangelism. What is evangelism? It is showing and telling people about God.
Last Sunday I preached from John 1, the story of Jesus, Nathaniel, and Philip. I said that God is the one who first calls people. That just like Jesus went looking for Philip, just like Jesus saw Nathaniel before Nathaniel ever saw him, Jesus is looking for us. We sang the lovely song, I sought the Lord. “Thou wert long beforehand with my soul. Always thou lovest me.”
We approach sharing our faith (that’s another way to say evangelism) with the confidence that this is the Spirit’s work and we are simply assisting. God is working in the hearts of all people calling them.
There are other evangelism methods, right? In a few minutes Erin will sing about how acts of kindness and inclusion are evangelism. Duane will preach about how the way we live our lives is evangelism next Sunday. Today, I want us to consider the importance of putting the invitation into words.
Our text for today is a great story from II Kings 7. Please turn to it with me. II Kings is an Old Testament book about ¼ of the way through the Bible. Join me in exploring this story.
Here’s the setting… There was a classic political showdown going on between Samaria, the capital of Israel, and Aram. These two were long time enemies. Ben-hadad, King of Aram, and his entire army (6:24) laid siege on Samaria. It was a total embargo. Food prices went up faster than our gas prices have escalated lately! Nothing could go in or out of the city. Things went from desperate to tragic. You can read about that in II Kings 6:24-7:2. The people were starving.
Remarkably, Elisha, the prophet of God, predicted that very soon, there would be plenty to eat for everyone. (now remember at Bible school we learned what a prophet was… a messenger from God, right?) Anyway, in II Kings 7:1, Elisha, the messenger from God, tells the king and anyone else there that day, that there would be such a glut on the food market the next day that folks would be practically giving food away. What?
Well, that’s where our story for today picks up in II Kings 7:3, with the story of four lepers.
Now being a leper was exactly what you did not want to be if you were living at this time. The term leprosy was used to describe a whole battery of contagious diseases. The transmission of these diseases was curtailed by isolation. So, in other words, if you had anything that was diagnosed as leprosy, you were on your own, booted out of the community and separated from your family. There was no successful treatment for leprosy at the time. No cure.
That’s why we find our four friends living outside the city gates. But this made them particularly vulnerable. They weren’t behind the safety of the city walls. They were out there where Ben-hadad and his army were camped. But they couldn’t go back to the city, right? They had leprosy.
So we find these guys, I picture them sitting around a camp fire, coming to grips with their situation. They look each other in the eye and say, (this is my version of vs.3-4) “Wait a minute. Why are we just sitting here waiting to die? What are our options?”
1) We could go back into Samaria. But that doesn’t look very promising. Those folks are starving to death. What good will that do? Besides, they won’t let us in.
2) Or, we could turn ourselves in to the Arameans. Of course they may kill us, but we are fixing to die anyway. If they spare us, we’ll live. If they kill us, we’ll die.
I suppose being a leper provides one with a rather clear-eyed perspective on life. They had nothing to lose. Death was inevitable. So it was that they found themselves approaching the camp of King Ben-hadad that very evening at twilight. I wonder what they were feeling, a combination of determination, desperation, and resignation? Were they scared to death? I wonder.
Anyway, as they came closer and closer to this tremendous army camp, remember this was the entire army of King Ben-hadad (6:24), they noticed that it was very quiet. Strange. In fact as they got closer and closer, what?!? What? Why, they didn’t see a soul.
Now the Bible lets us in on information that they did not have. Verse 6 says that the Lord had kicked up such a terrific noise that the Arameans thought that Israel had hired all the kings of Egypt and all the kings of the Hittites, a world wide coalition, to come and fight them. They panicked and ran for dear life. And they were in such a hurry that they abandoned everything.
I wonder if God thought that this was pretty funny and clever.
Anyway, the lepers come creeping up to the Aramean camp. When they get to the edge of the camp (v 8) they slip into a tent. Amazing. It was deserted. And there was dinner, cooked and ready. And these starving lepers ate up. When no one came, they helped themselves to the gold and silver they found in the tent. They carried it back to their leper hideout and hid the booty.
Then they went back to the desolate camp. (okay, does the Bible have the best stories or what? Stay with me, we haven’t even gotten to the good part yet). Well, the coast was still clear, so they snuck into another tent. And carried more things off and hid them too.
Oh just imagine their relief and amazement. Stupefaction! One minute they think this will be their last day. The next minute they are rich! And what’s more, it looks like they may have the entire contents of that Aramean camp to themselves. Ho, ho, ho!!!
But stop! Wait! Look with me at II Kings 7:9… A great awakening.
Well, what happens next is a long story. Here’s the short version of the rest of the chapter. The lepers go up to the city gate in the middle of the night with the good news. The king, Jehoram, King of Samaria, suspecting an ambush, sends scouts. They discover the camp is empty and the starving people of the city flood out the gates and are fed. Just as the message God sent through Elisha had said, food was so cheap by the next day, they were practically giving it away.
Now, here’s why I’m telling you this great story this morning. (in addition to the fact that I just love it so much). What was it that the lepers said when they found this great life saving haul? Of course at first they were so delighted, they wanted to keep it for themselves. But then, what did they say? Look back at II Kings 7:9. “What we are doing is wrong. This is a day of good news…” Interpreters calls this “one of the greatest missionary parables to be found in the Scripture.”
Right outside the city walls was their salvation. But all those people were going to starve to death if nobody told them the good news. So even though the lepers had been thrown out of the city themselves, they went back to tell.
And that, brothers and sisters, is evangelism. Telling the good news.
Now as I have said there are other kinds of evangelism. There is the living in the way that makes people ask questions. If our lives are a bad advertisement for God, well, talking about God could be bad for business, if you know what I mean. So, of course, we need to live a faithful life. We need to show our faith.
St Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” I think the words are necessary, we have to tell. It is necessary. How else will people know what in the world is going on inside our hearts and inside this church?
Here are the words of Romans 10:13-15, “For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord…”
We have to show, live lives that demonstrate that God is changing us. We don’t need to be perfect, just faithful. I see you all doing this every day. Whether you have just given God first place or if you have been attempting to that for 20 years, I see you living for God in a way that kicks up interest in the community. Good for you. That is evangelism. Duane will talk more about that next Sunday. But like I said, we also need to find words for the invitation.
I think of it like this. Suppose you are hosting a great party. All your friends are invited. You have gone to great lengths to make sure everything is perfect, the food, the music, everything. You know all your friends will want to come. But if you don’t invite them, how will they know what’s going on? They might hear rumors of the party, but how will they know it is for them?
Brothers and sisters, people finding out about God is a whole lot more important than a party. There is urgency in our hearts. Like Philip in last week’s text, we have found Jesus and we’ve got to find our friends and tell them!.
In Mark 5:21-43, there is a story of a father named Jarius who was desperate. His little girl was dying. Jarius threw himself down on the ground and begged Jesus come to his house and to heal his daughter. Jesus went. But before they got to the house, they got the news Jarius feared. His daughter was already dead. Jesus told him, “Do not be afraid. Only believe.” When they got to the house, Jesus took the girl’s hand and said, “Little girl, get up.” Immediately she got up and began to walk. The Bible says (v42) that Jarius and the others there that day, “were overcome with amazement.” Jesus told them that no one was to know about this.
Don Fransico sings this story in a touching ballad. And this chorus is Jarius’ response to what Jesus has done for their family.
And us? We got to tell somebody too!
1) We begin with gratitude.
We begin by absorbing what God has done for us. The best witness is a grateful witness. What is it that you are grateful for these days? What exactly has God done for you? Maybe soak in that a little bit. Marinate in that awhile. Pretty soon, you will be so overcome with joy that you will just have to tell someone!
Like the lepers you will say, “This is a day of good news.” Not telling would clearly be the wrong thing to do. God had done something amazing for them. Somebody needed to know. The same is true for us!
2) We begin by listening.
When we were studying the book of Acts in Bible Study on Wednesday nights, we had the great story of Philip and the man from Ethiopia. Remember that one? Acts 8:36-40. The Holy Spirit told Philip, “See that chariot over there? Go up to it”
So Philip ran up to it. Then what did Philip do? Did he hit the man over the head with religion? No. He listened. He heard the Ethiopian, of all things, reading the Bible, the prophet Isaiah. And Philip asked, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” And the Ethiopian said, “How can I, unless someone guides me.” And with that the Ethiopian governmental official invites Philip to ride with him in the chariot and further on down the road, he asks to be baptized.
Like Philip we begin by listening too.
3) We begin where we are, with what we know.
That may seem too obvious, but here’s what I mean. I am professionally religious. I have been baptized for almost 40 years. I went to Bible College. But you know what; I’m not even close to understanding God or the Bible completely. But that’s okay. I will share what I do know. I know God loves me. I know God has forgiven me. I have found meaning in life. I know that God likes to save people’s lives. Those things I know. Those things I will share.
From those three beginning points, gratitude, listening and sharing what we know, we form simple words to tell the good news. We say something like, “God is changing my life and God can help you too.” We say, “I’ve found a church that I love. Come with me on Sunday.” We say, “God will forgive you because God loves you.”
Even though sometimes we may struggle to find the words, truth of the matter is, we can’t keep quiet. Like the lepers, we have experienced the good news and now, it is our responsibility to tell. Like the man whose little girl Jesus healed, we’ve got to tell somebody. This is a day of good news. Somebody we know needs to know.