In Second Kings we see that God works through means, but His power is not limited by the means.
This is much the same thing that we mean when we say, “How can the water of Baptism do such great things? Answer: It is not the water by itself, but the Word of God in and with the water, along with the faith that trusts this Word of God in the water.”
So we should not say that the water is nothing at all, because God commands its use in Baptism. Without water, there is no Baptism. But the power of Baptism is from the Word and promise of God.
In the same way the bread and wine of the Sacrament of the Altar are not limited by the power of earthly food and drink. Instead, the Word and promise of God work in and with these elements to give great gifts to the faithful who eat and drink them.
Elisha the prophet of God shows three instances of the same principle. In Gilgal, during a time of scarcity, a desperate band of prophets sat down to eat a stew only to discover that one of the ingredients was poisonous. “There is death in the pot!” they cried. But Elisha commanded flour to be added, and then the stew was safe.
Is there magical power in flour? Are poisons neutralized by ground grain? No, and yet the Word and promise were given in and with the flour. The Word, which in the beginning made vegetables and grains, and which preserves life from threats and danger, has power to neutralize any poison. God decided to work in and with the flour to accomplish this, by the word spoken by Elisha.
We might add that the flour gives us a glimpse of the future Bread of life that has neutralized the poisons of sin and death for us. Even the bitterness of life is made endurable by the addition of the Bread of Life, Christ Jesus. He allows us to continue in spite of trials. He keeps us safe in the midst of danger, and makes us eat at His Table in the midst of our enemies.
Again, we come to the miraculous feeding of the 100. This is indeed a lesser miracle than the feedings of the 4,000 and 5,000 by our Lord Christ. He started with less food and fed many more. Yet the same Word that gave power to Christ’s distribution of loaves and fish also gave power to Elisha’s distribution of twenty loaves of barley and some ears of grain.
Here we see the Lord of life preserving His people in a time of famine. So He also takes care of us, although usually not in so obviously miraculous fashion. Yet was it not His Word at the beginning that caused plant and seed to grow and multiply and bear fruit for our consumption and life? Does that Word not continue now in power, so that every morsel we eat is from His powerful Word? So there is miracle and the power of the Word even in our so-called everyday meals.
But let us be clear. There is real and awesome power in the Word. A sack of twenty small loaves and some ears of grain is not enough for one hundred men. We should not substitute some ordinary explanation for how this feeding took place. The power and promise were in the prophet Elisha’s Word: “Give to the men, that they may eat. … For thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” This same God would not let His promise fall to the earth unfulfilled. So they did eat.
What if the men said, “No, it is not enough. I refuse to eat”? Perhaps they might refuse out of selfless motives, yet ultimately it would have been out of lack of trust in the promise of God through Elisha. They would have been looking at the earthly element of bread and judged its ability to satisfy hunger, rather than judge by the Word of the Almighty.
Yet the men trusted and ate and were satisfied. Taking our lesson from them, may we always trust God and not judge by the earthly elements provided to do His powerful work.
Lastly, we come to the baptism of Naaman in the Jordan River. Now, I use the word “baptism” here in a general sense for a washing in water. This is not the same as holy Baptism.
Here a leper was cleansed by means of water combined with the Word of God. The promise of cleansing made the Jordan into a health-granting bath. The sevenfold dipping in the river was a divine cleansing. On any other day, lepers wading in the Jordan were not cleansed. But the Word and promise bestowed a miraculous gift upon Naaman.
Did Naaman receive faith and forgiveness in the water? Not directly, since that promise was not given. Yet since he trusted the promise and washed and received the gift, surely he then looked upon the God of Israel differently from that day forward. Surely Naaman trusted that here was a God who cleansed lepers, and who had power to save even a foreigner. Surely faith followed after the washing.
Naaman saw, although originally he did not, that it was not the water by itself that cleansed Him. The power was in the Word and promise of God. Although better rivers were surely to be found in the world, that was not the point. The point was that the God of Israel makes promises, and He keeps His promises. He says, “Wash in water, and you shall be cleansed,” and you are, because He says so.
In the same way, he originally doubted Elisha’s effectiveness as a prophet. Here was a man who did not wave his arms around as a good prophet should in Naaman’s opinion. Here was a prophet who did not come out to stand before Naaman to do the healing. Elisha was very unimpressive and did not do the right things as Naaman saw it.
But the point was not Elisha, but the Word and promise of God given through Elisha.
So you should not judge too harshly the quality of the man God has placed before you. I may not do the things you think I should. I may not be impressive in your eyes. Perhaps I should wave my arms around more during the sermon. Whatever criteria you chose, you may certainly find a good number of things wrong with me. This is most certainly true, yet it is not the point. The point is not me, but the Word and promise that God gives through me. Trust that, because in that is the life and salvation of our dear Lord Jesus Christ.
Trust the promise in the washing that comes through me, because in this washing is eternal life and cleansing from the horrible leprosy of sin.
Trust in the promise in the meal that is served here. Here is a more miraculous feeding than you can imagine, as you consume the Body given in death upon the Cross for your sins. Here you drink the precious Blood of the Lamb of God. This is the food of immortality by which millions are fed. That is the promise of God, and He cannot break His Word.
In His Name, the One true God of Israel, the God who took flesh for you. Amen.
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