A Sermon by Rev. Chris Skinner
The story of Naaman in the Word illustrates for us, in the form of correspondences, a very detailed account of the way in which baptism is a sign of a life of regeneration that leads to Heaven.
As we all know Naaman was a leper, obviously not an extreme case because he was able to perform his duties as an captain in the Syrian Army, but never-the-less, a leper. Leprosy affects that outer most part of the body namely the skin and in extreme cases, it eats away at the body.
In a very external way, we can see that it can be likened to the distortion or profanation of truth which is the literal sense of the Word Leprosy disfigures the body and falsifying the Word disfigures our ability to keep a wholesome spiritual mind. If we abuse our knowledge of the Word, then our life will be disfigured just as the externals of our body are disfigured.
We will be aware from the story, that Naaman wanted to be healed of his affliction and if we wish to reach heaven, then we have to be motivated to amend our ways. If this desire to change is not there, then we will remain spiritual lepers.
The first step that Naaman took was to go to the King of Syria asking him to heal him. It is important to realize that Naaman was a gentile and therefore the washing that would take is introduction into the church. When he refused, Naaman got angry. If we think about it, we often try to change using our own strength but this does not achieve the desired result. The King of Syria sent Naaman to Elisha, a prophet. A prophet in the Word always represents the Lord and it is to Him that we must look for healing. It is the Word or Divine Truth that heals and therefore Naaman was required to seek out the prophet.
Naaman sought Elisha as requested but was annoyed when he reached the place where Elisha was residing to find that he did not see Elisha face to face, but only received a message from him to go and wash in the Jordan seven times.
Naaman expected, that because of his status and position as an army officer, that he would meet the prophet personally. The fact that this did not happen also teaches us a lesson. Our path to Heaven is not about who and what we know, it is about living a life according to the commandments that we have learnt.
The events that led up to the washing of Naaman, provide a perfect example of the nature and purpose of baptism which is to be purified spiritually. This act cannot be seen in isolation to a life of love to the Lord and obedience to His commandments.
The command by Elisha to wash in the Jordan is very significant. It should be noted that Naaman could not see the importance of Jordan as compared to the rivers of Damascus namely those of Abana and Pharpar in Syria We also should note the difference between the two. If we are washing in the waters of Abana and Pharpar, we are washing in worldly ideas rather than the true washing in the Jordan.
We should not underestimate the significance of the River Jordan in this story. The Jordan is mentioned many times in the Word and of course, John baptized in the Jordan and he baptized Jesus in the Jordan. Wherever Jordan is mentioned in the Word, it is representing a link between earth and Heaven. The Israelites crossed the Jordan into the promised land of Canaan. The Jordan is an introduction into the truths of the church (Arcana Caelestia. paragraph 475). It is the first boundary to Canaan or initiation into Heaven or the Church. It can be likened to a new earth, new will or Holy Land of the Lord’s Church (Arcana Caelestia. paragraph 2576).
The washing is a sign of purification of false ideas. The fact that Naaman was required to wash 7 times in the Jordan, emphasized the need to be fully cleansed or purified.
Baptism, signified by washing, which provides purification from evil is a sign. Baptism and the Holy Supper provide a conjunction between Heaven and the human race.
As previously mentioned, baptism is an initiation into the church and those things of the church and a sign of the commencement of regeneration or spiritual growth. It is a sign of the marshalling of heavenly forces to assist us in our path to heaven. By means of the truths of the Word, man is reformed and regenerated. It is important to stress that it is the Lord who provides that regeneration and not ourselves. By being washed in the Jordan, we are introduced to new knowledges of His Word so that we can grow, having been cleansed of our old impurities of life.
It should also be stressed however, that the washing of baptism is also a sign of temptation (Arcana Caelestia. paragraph 10239). Our spiritual growth will still be a hard road because part of that growth involves testing times and as we know, it is often the testing times that provide us with the most helpful lessons for life and aid our development more than the smooth and peaceful times. It enables us to reflect on where we have been and where we are headed.
Following the washing in the Jordan, it will be re-called that Naaman offered a reward to Elisha and this was refused. Remember that Elisha represents the Lord. The Lord is not seeking repayment because he gives life to us freely. He gives us Baptism as a sign that he is always there waiting for us to acknowledge His presence in our life. He says “Freely you have received, freely give”.
The holy act of Baptism signifies spiritual washing. A sign or introduction to the Lord and Heaven by washing in water and for Naaman washing in the Jordan River. It is a sign of regeneration. We should also recognize that in our story, Naaman was an adult who was able to recognize his spiritual state and made a conscious effort to reform and be healed. His baptism was a commitment, a sign of his willingness to re-form and regenerate and baptism was the sign of the start of that process.
In the case of a baby, whilst the sign of baptism is an introduction into Heaven and conjunction with the angels, the growth process or regeneration is much less evident and relies initially on remains given to the child by the parents. The emphasis and responsibility must focus on the parents to assist the child in those formative years.
The washing of Naaman in the Jordan precedes the essential washing of people in the Jordan by John. He says, “I baptize you with water, being truth but one will come who baptises you with the Holy Spirit and Fire”.
If our baptism, whether as an adult or a child is to mean something for each one of us, we must acknowlege the presence of the Lord within our life, moment by moment and His love and goodness to warm and motivate us. External baptism without internal cleansing contributes little.
The baptism with water cleanses but the recognition of the Holy Spirit and Fire being the Lords Love & Wisdom enables us to reach our ultimate goal of a life of use in Heaven.
May we heed the command given to Naaman “Go wash in the Jordan seven times”. May our baptism whether as a baby or an adult represent that cleansing of our spirit in preparation for a life according to the commandments and the whole Word of the Lord.